ukelele

In the same spirit as my love for ballboy, I’m now rather keen on getting hold of this record.

Meanwhile, I’m reading David Peace’s Tokyo Year Zero, and despite my previous praise for his work, my feeling is that he’s becoming too close to a novelty act for comfort. I very seldom abandon a book midway, but here I’m sorely tempted to do so.

Peace’s style, and particularly his insistent use of repetition, is becoming downright irritating. James Meek wrote a very good review of this novel’s sequel (Occupied City) in a recent London Review of Books. The title he chose for his review, “Polly the Bleeding Parrot,” is both a quotation from a character in one of Peace’s books, and also (as Meek observes) a rather good indication of the gore and the excessive doubling that characterize them.

consolation

The Wednesday quotation, part XII: Anthony Lane on “Lips” (on the right in the photo), the lead singer of Canadian heavy metal band Anvil:

How can you not love a man who thinks like that, dredging the television of consolation from the swimming pool of disaster? (“Rock Solid”, The New Yorker [April 20, 2009])

ballboy

I have been accused of having a taste for “novelty” books, and perhaps this is simply another instance of the same poor taste, in another sphere… but a large part of the reason why I like the Scottish band ballboy is because they consistently have the best song titles in pop.

I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone else who has even heard of ballboy, yet alone a fellow fan. Their albums are hard to obtain, and don’t seem to circulate in North America. I ran into them first when I came across their single, “All the Records on the Radio are Shite.” How could I resist?

I later picked up Club Anthems (sample song titles: “Essential Wear for Future Trips to Space, “I Hate Scotland”, and “I’ve Got Pictures of You in Your Underwear”) and A Guide for the Daylight Hours (featuring “Where Do The Nights Of Sleep Go To When They Do Not Come To Me,” “You Can’t Spend Your Whole Life Hanging Around With Arseholes,” “I Wonder If You’re Drunk Enough To Sleep With Me Tonight,” and “I Lost You, But I Found Country Music”). And I’ve just belatedly received The Royal Theatre (“I Don’t Have Time To Stand Here With You Fighting About The Size Of My Dick” and “There Are Only Inches Between Us, But There Might As Well Be Mountains And Trees”).

Here they are live, with “You Can’t Spend Your Whole Life Hanging Around With Arseholes.” Though as they sagely observe, in fact you can spend your whole life hanging around with arseholes; but you shouldn’t.

demolición

It’s Peruvian (proto)punk. From 1964, would you believe? “Los Saicos” (pronounced “Psychos”) and “Demolición” (“Demolition”)…


The lyrics:

Echemos abajo la estación del tren / demoler, demoler, demoler, demoler / Nos gusta volar estaciones de tren / Ye ye ye ye ye ye ye.

Let’s bring down the train station / Demolish, demolish, demolish, demolish / We like blowing up train stations / Yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah.

Update: If the video above doesn’t play, try this link.

To hear how that might sound today, here‘s a cover version.

Los Saicos are featured, along with other Peruvian groups of the sixties such as “Traffic Sound” and the “Shains,” in an exhibition “Arte nuevo y el fulgor de la vanguardia” (El Comercio‘s note here) that has just opened in Miraflores, curated by Emilio Tarazona and Miguel López. Go see it if you can.

manchester

Tony Wilson“Look at Tony Wilson, live on Channel Four.”

Sadly, no more. And the earth itself groans. (Via Who Knows Where Thoughts Come From, who likewise was put in mind of The Times’s song, “Manchester.”)

NB even the BBC can’t decide if the man’s name is (Cambridge-educated) Anthony or (Salford lad) Tony.

Now watch 24 Hour Party People in which Wilson, played by Steve Coogan, meets God on a Manchester rooftop. “It’s a pity you didn’t sign the Smiths, but you were right about Mick Hucknall: his music’s rubbish and he’s a ginger.” Marvellous.

Oh, and then there’s this (via Blood and Treasure):

And you, forgotten, your memories ravaged by all the consternations of two hemispheres, stranded in the Red Cellars of Pali-Kao, without music and without geography, no longer setting out for the hacienda where the roots think of the child and where the wine is finished off with fables from an old almanac. That’s all over. You’ll never see the hacienda. It doesn’t exist.

The hacienda must be built.

Bruce

Bruce CockburnIt turns out (wood s lot tells me) that yesterday was Bruce Cockburn‘s birthday.

I don’t have much to say about Bruce, and don’t even listen to his music much if at all any more; at a certain stage, it somewhat lost its appeal. But, back in the day, songs such as “Nicaragua” and “Dust and Diesel” were a large part of the motivation for me to go to Central America in the 1980s, and so to start the process that has led to my teaching Latin American studies for a living.

And one of the highlights of being in Nicaragua in 1988 was to find out that he was in town, cycle to his hotel, grab him and chat for an hour or so. Later, he played a small concert at an Arts Centre in Managua, of which I no doubt have the only bootleg recording in existence.

Meanwhile, he also was one of the first Canadians I had heard much about. And I know that next week, in Toronto, songs such as “The Coldest Night of the Year” will come to mind, as I too try to take in “Yonge Street at a glance.”

We saw him play Vancouver three years ago (on my birthday). At some point, while Bruce was tuning up (as he endlessly does between songs), a woman shouted out “Sexy Beast!” It was so un-Canadian, and so unlike Bruce’s followers, so unlike Bruce, that it took the whole theatre aback for a moment. Bewildered, he shook his head, thanked her politely, and went on with the next song.

So here’s to Bruce (belatedly).

reticence

Bob DylanBob Dylan is 65 today.

I’ve seen Dylan live a few times: in London, Earl’s Court, about fifteen years ago; in Manchester, the MEN Arena, about four years ago; and most recently in Vancouver, the Orpheum, just last year.

Each time there’s been something unimpressive about these shows. Dylan refuses the spectacle more than any other musician I’ve seen. No doubt others refuse it more: The Jesus and Mary Chain, for instance, used to be notorious for playing sets sometimes only ten minutes long with their backs to the audience. At the same time, in both cases, this refusal is part of these performers’ mystique: the fact that they refuse to perform is what makes their performances stand out. Put another way, they perform refusal.

In Dylan’s Vancouver show, he and his band were arranged in a rough semi-circle around the stage. At the center of this semi-circle, and so front and center of the stage, was a microphone on a stand. One expected and hoped that at any moment Dylan would break formation from his backing singers, and come to the microphone. But though he did enter the semi-circle a couple of times, this was mainly for his harmonica solos, and the stand at the front remained an empty site of non-performance.

No doubt part of the point is also the notion that there is no distinction between Dylan and his band. Indeed, he seems to want us to believe that we are simply eavesdropping onto some kind of jam in which a few friends are laying back and playing some riffs. Not that there’s much all that laid back about (what I’ll continue to call) the show: everything was up tempo, with scarcely a break between songs, each of which came to sound increasingly similar. It was as though we were witnessing one long medley of Dylan cover versions.

“Witnessing” is probably the best description of the subject position that Dylan appears to want for his audience. Neither spectator nor participant, we seem to be there but strangely not quite there in his mind. Only the most minimal gestures (a slight wave of the harmonica after a solo) are overt signs that he even notices our presence.

There’s something attractive, almost seductive about such reticence. But it is of course all in immensely bad faith. There’s no doubt that Dylan is the star, however much he may wish to deny it. And we are indeed spectators: spectators of a performance of a very particular type.

It’s been some thirty five years since David Bowie articulated Dylan’s relationship with his public (the public?) as one of abandonment or betrayal:

Now hear this Robert Zimmerman
Though I don’t suppose we’ll meet
Ask your good friend Dylan
If he’d gaze a while down the old street
Tell him we’ve lost his poems
So they’re writing on the walls
Give us back our unity
Give us back our family
You’re every nation’s refugee
Don’t leave us with their sanity
(“Song for Bob Dylan”)

This was after Dylan’s famous withdrawal, following his 1966 motorcycle accident. It’s no great coincidence that the recent fuss around Dylan (the Scorcese documentary with its accompanying CD and book, “Bob Dylan’s American Journey” at Seattle’s EMP, even Bob’s own Chronicles, however coy) has centered around this pre-1966 period. It’s as though we were seeking to reconnect, to bring Dylan back. And so ironically to bring back a presumed “unity” even from the social divisiveness of the 1960s protest movements with which the early Dylan was so associated.

But the real truth of Dylan is in this betrayal, this reticence, a sort of mutiny from above which may even have begun before 1966, but is now ensconced and strangely celebrated in the “never-ending tour”.

Dylan on tour