Wednesday, August 26, 2020

JAGGER SINGS. SORT OF

Rare images of Jean-Luc Godard hanging out with The Rolling Stones | BFI
It's been a week for visiting old albums, and the Stones were the band in the spin cycle, specifically their monumental efforts Let It Bleed and Exiles on Main Street. One could wax poetic and vaguely in the style of Greil Marcus about how these songs form a moment in time when so much of the invisible stuff that holds reality together would come undone unless we seized the moment, listened to the records and acted on the philosophical irony our millionaire visionaries were laying out, but that is another round of binge daydreaming. What's important now is a realization, a reminder, of the particular genius of singer Mick Jagger's way of articulating, mumbling, growling, mewling lyrics.Mick Jagger is a vocalist who learned to work brilliantly with the little singing ability God deigned to give him: knowing that he didn't have the basic equipment to even come close to simulating Muddy Waters or Wilson Pickett, he did something else instead in trying to sing black and black informed music-- talk-singing, the whiny, mewling purr, the bull moose grunt, the roar, the grunts and groans, the slurs and little noises , all of which he could orchestrate into amazing, memorable performances. One Plus One(Sympathy for the Devil)Godard's film of the Stones writing, rehearsing and finally recording the song of the title, is especially good because it captures the irresolute tedium of studio existence (in between Godard's didactic absurdist sketches attempting to address the conundrum of leftist media figures being used by invisible powers to squelch true revolutionary change). More than that, we see Jagger piecing together his vocal, his mewling reading of the lyrics from the lyric sheet; his voice is awful, in its natural state. But we do witness Jagger getting bolder as the song progresses through the endless stoned jamming, a grunt added here, a raised syllable here, a wavering croon there. Finally, we are at the last take, and Jagger is seen with headphones on, isolated from the others, screaming his head off into a microphone while the instrumental playback pours forth, in what is presumably the final take. Jagger, all irony and self-awareness, created something riveting and for all time with the marginal instrument he was born with, and is part of what I think is a grand tradition of white performers who haven't a prayer of sounding actually black who none the less molded a style of black-nuanced singing that's perfectly credible: Mose Allison, Van Morrison, Felix Cavalari (Rascals), Eric Burdon (early Animals), Peter Wolf, late of the under appreciated J.Geils Band.We cannot underestimate Keith Richard's contribution to Jagger's success as a vocalist. Someone had to know how to write tunes Jagger could handle, and Keith was just the man to do it. Richard's guitar work, as well, riffs and attacks and staggers in ways that match Jagger's strutting and mincing. Writing is everything, as always. Fogarty is obviously influenced by black music, and his voice does simulate an idealized style of southern black patois, but it's the tunes that make CCR's music matter. Fogarty is in the same tradition of Chuck Berry in his ability to write short, punchy tunes that have a story to tell, as opposed to a philosophy to impose or a depression to share.

Saturday, August 22, 2020

LYRICS v POEMS

Designer Brown Leather Boxing Gloves Vintage Style Handmade ...Seems that we all have rocks in our head, or at least the idea of rocks, notions of round hard things that can damage us if they strike,  solid masses of earthen material that defy our ability to out think them. Stupid rocks. Ideas get in the way of things, a tenet shared by flightier versions of zen and more solid versions of a modernist decree. The essential point is that one cannot know anything about rocks until they retire from the debating society: all the focusing on how tight one's theory is as it clashes with the dense physicality of reality is like taking a trip only to worry about the contents of the luggage. You can win the argument and walk away with nothing but a fleeting smug satisfaction that your designs held fast. Zbigniew Herbert's poem "Pebble" offers us a picture of the title entity as something that is gleefully self-contained, caring less about the content of our arguments or the character that makes them.


Pebble

by Zbigniew Herbert

The pebble
is a perfect creature

equal to itself
mindful of its limits

filled exactly
with pebbly meaning

with a scent which does not remind one of anything
does not frighten anything away does not arouse desire

its ardor and coldness
are just and
full of dignity

I feel a heavy remorse
when I hold it in my hand
and its noble body
is permeated by false warmth

---Peebles cannot be tamed
to the end they will look at us
with a calm and very clear eye

An interesting contrast for this poem would be Paul Simon's song "I Am A Rock", recorded when he was in Simon and Garfunkel; the most notable difference between the lyric and Herbert's poem is that Simon, at the time, was suffocating in his mannered seriousness.


 I Am A Rock
by Paul Simon 
A winter's day
In a deep and dark December;
I am alone,
Gazing from my window to the streets below
On a freshly fallen silent shroud of snow.
I am a rock,
I am an island.
I've built walls,
A fortress deep and mighty,
That none may penetrate.
I have no need of friendship; friendship causes pain.
It's laughter and it's loving I disdain.
I am a rock,
I am an island.
Don't talk of love,
But I've heard the words before;
It's sleeping in my memory.
I won't disturb the slumber of feelings that have died.
If I never loved I never would have cried.
I am a rock,
I am an island.
I have my books
And my poetry to protect me;
I am shielded in my armor,
Hiding in my room, safe within my womb.
I touch no one and no one touches me.
I am a rock,
I am an island.
And a rock feels no pain;
And an island never cries.


 Simon eventually became a solo artist and shed the freshman composition overreach of his earlier poetic style. He developed a consistent sense of humor and revealed a superb sense of irony; best of all he pared back the dried garlands of creaky literary language from his work and was able to convey his subtler points in a fluid tongue that was informal, direct, understated. He decided to abandon Big Themes--Alienation,  Despair, Inability to Communicate--and instead take what was in his own backyard.  But he did write some grandiose statements while he was a serious younger man who hadn't yet learned to live life like it were a loose suit. Everything was so damned important, so damned serious. How serious he considered it seems nearly comical in retrospect.His desire to be a rock was the extrapolated angst of a teenager who had been hurt in love and is aghast at how cruel the world has turned out to be, It is, if we recall, a young man's first experience of having his idealism betrayed by an intrusive and uncaring world. "..and a rock feels no pain" is what S and G sing in the refrain and it comes across as whining and a wallow. Teens like myself, sensitive and eager to experience the bigger world in a hurry, related to this paean to self-pity; it is a song I have been embarrassed to admit to ever liking. It seems like only a modified version of the typical Bobby Vee or Gene Pitney three-hankie wounds of the heart that held the music charts not long before.

Herbert, in contrast, has his rock, his pebble more precisely, seem like nothing less than an entity unto itself, neither representative of anyone's anger nor a metaphor for anyone's bad experience. The pebble, in fact, is offered up as an example to be noted, studied, emulated in some sense;

The pebble 
is a perfect creature 
equal to itself 
mindful of its limits 
filled exactly 
with pebbly meaning  


"...filled exactly with pebbly meaning. " This goes along with a notion from William Carlos Williams' idea that the thing itself is its adequate symbol. This was something that I had heard by way of Allen Ginsberg in a broadcast some years ago, and it stays with me because it really does get to the heart of much of the modernist poetry aesthetic, which was to cleanse the language of the freight of a several hundred years of metaphysical speculation and restore the image of the thing as something worth investigating in itself. Herbert presents us with an item that is minute and already perfect, complex and intriguingly self-sustained; it is a mystery for us to parse on terms outside our egos. His is a poem that invites a reader to discover the world with it mind that we have to abandon our filters and templates and formula paradigms that gives phenomena an easily classifiable meaning.

Friday, August 21, 2020

PROG SLOGS

There are occasional stirrings among those my age, music fans of a certain generation of decade, who become nostalgic for the surface noise and commotion of their own record collection and, in indulging their yen for a commodity fatally beyond its expiration date, will wax, wane and syllogize until the music of the spheres play slow blues solos some now deservedly disputably fad was, actually, not so  bad, not bad at all, in fact, pretty damn good and unfairly maligned. Beware these acolytes, lest someone try to convince you of that the true worth of progressive rock, that hyperventilated amalgam of trick pony riffs that made radio something you dreaded turning on. 

I don't buy it, for the most part. The fascination with progressive rock  grew out of the long improvisations pioneered by the essentially blues-based bands like The Butterfield Blues Band, Jimi Hendrix Experience and Cream, as the going conceit of the time was that rock and roll had become something smarter like "rock" and could now rival jazz as a young musician's medium for instrumental chops. 

The transition to classical borrowings, occasional jazz motifs and jacked up time signatures and tick-tock chord changes made for its own kind of monotony. Jazz, whatever its form or origin, was premised on the idea that, as a form, it was in a state of constant transformation--the musicians we still listen to rarely played the signature tunes the same way twice. Progressive rock, generally proud and defensive about the form's gerrymandered fussiness--this was the best place to learn the distinctions between the words "complicated" and "complex"--became insulated ever so much faster than jazz did. A one idea concept, with rare exceptions --Zappa, King Crimson, Pink Floyd--progressive rock could only become fussier, crankier, more incestuous. 

It actually became something resembling "rock" not at all, in any sense. It was the arena of sterile perfection and was truly unlistenable to a young listener having no desire (or need) to stare at the sky and ponder stoned philosophies. Punk rock was the shock rock and roll needed; stupid, obnoxious, repetitive, angry, the rude style pretty much revealed what a conceptual crock of mung progressive rock turned into. It was time to flush things away and allow the progressive rock to become something actually useful, such as fertilizer.

BILL BRUFORD AND ALLAN HOLDSWORTH

One of a Kind — Bill Bruford (Polydor):
See the source image The former Yes, King Crimson and Genesis drummer deftly leads a band of superb musicians through a session that combines the best of progressive rock (compositional organization with a rich sense of harmony and counterpoint) and the best of fusion rock (inventive soloing meshing hard-rock dynamics with fleet-fingered technique). Guitarist Allan Holdsworth performs  in fluid, fluent state of grace, and bassist Jeff Berlin works rhythmic miracles with Bruford as the do provide an engrossing set of propelling polyrhythms and twisting time signatures that gives the guitarist the means to expand his boundry -pushing excusions. Especially arresting is the compostional tone, complex, mature, with a wonderful sense of dynamics and development, showing both the influence of the impossibilities of Zappa in the limb-twisting changes Bruford's crew negoiates,and  and the etheral atmospherics of  a Brian Eno in the quieter stretches. The best moments, remain with Holdsworth, who extreme legato rivals that of any post-bop saxophonist in or out of this life, Coltrane, Shorter, Rollins, Michael Brecker, Josh Redman, you name it, and his technique, smoothly deployed as he tests the out rings of a chord progression and seems to begin solos in the center of an idea and then exploring the logical note sequences in both directions simultaneously, is stunning in the ways his spotlight moments build tension and then releases it. 

SOMETHING ABOUT OZZIE OSBOURNE

Ozzy Osbourne is now using CBD oil | Elixinol Europe James Parker has a fine appreciation of Ozzy Osbourne in Slate, inspired by Osbourne's new book I Am Ozzy. Less a review of the memoir than contained think piece that contemplates the essence of Osbourne's former band, Black Sabbath, and Osbourne's peculiar form of haplass genius, Parker does a good job of revealing why this pioneer of fuzztoned dystopia is the enduring guilty pleasure he is. Regardless of what one has read about him with regards to communing with Satan and the dark side in general, Ozzy is likable. Very likable.I interviewed Ozzy for my college paper in the 70s, and he was actually one decent guy, a decent sort and all.It was the week of the mass cult suicide of Jonestown, and as I and the photographer asked Osbourne the usual questions about life on the road, groupies, drugs and guitar strings, the television in Ozzy's hotel room was blaring an update on the unspeakable tragedy. Ozzy turned to look at the screen where a news film clip showed a jittery scan of the bodies lying over one another in the fatal compound."How can anybody do such a fucking awful thing" he said, "forcing little kids to drink cyanide. You know what that does to your insides? It eats at you, it's a terrible way to die, fucking sadists..." His gaze drifted off for a few seconds and then he returned to the interview when his manager knocked on the hotel door to remind him that there were other media folks waiting to talk to him. We spoke some more about rock and roll in general, and when the photographer and I rose to leave at the end of our interview, a "Star Trek" episode came on. I forget which episode it happened to be, but what was certain was that the special effects were cheap and cheesy even then."Oh, man, this is the greatest fucking show" said Ozzy as we left, and that's where we left him, at the extreme ends of things, Jonestown and "Star Trek". Fucking Awful or Fucking Great. And that's how he remains.
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Thursday, August 20, 2020

The Duke Murders the Mood

The reviewer at the All Music web site opines that premiere genius Duke Ellington rose to the occasion when he had the chance to compose a full movie score for Otto Preminger's film "Anatomy of a Murder". This was not a case of saying that Ellington sustains his brilliance as a composer solely already established criteria, the implication that Ellington not just rose to the challenge of writing music for the moves, but showed himself to be the equal of genuine film composing giants, bumping shoulders with Bernard Hermann and Alfred Newman. Insert your favorite composer. What bothered me especially was the claim that Ellington composed his music that served the scene and that it was discreet, unobtrusive, intuitively supportive of the narrative and the emotional dynamics under view. I disagree; I do consider Ellington to be America's greatest musical gift to the world in the  20th Century and consider him an American Master of his art, the good maestro doesn't seem to have had any idea of how to compose something that was meant to augment a filmed story. All the classic touches, coloration, impressionistic sweeps and slyly insinuated improvisations are here--as an album, this is a fine work of ensemble concert jazz composition--but the don't just intrude on the scenes and sequences, they stomp on them. There is a struggle for attention. The final effect is that of being in a crappy hotel room where the neighbors are playing the radio too loud for too long. It would be nice if this resourceful innovator could claim with pride that he had artistic success in the movies besides all the other forms he greeted and seduced into becoming his very own expression. Some shoulders remain could to the seduction. Remember that the name of his memoir is "Music is My Mistress".  Mistresses , in the movies at least,have minds of their own and will keep their own consul.