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Bob Dylan – Stray Gems


Bob Dylan – Stray Gems

Some Dylan albums anyone would take to a desert island. Others have gotten lost in the tide. Here’s a guide to some high spots between the masterpieces.

by Jonathan Lethem

from rollingstone

Forget bootlegs. Forget, for the moment, bonus discs and DVD extras. What if the best Bob Dylan songs you’ve never heard were simply tucked away on below-the-radar discs with “nice price” stickers on them, unrescued by Biograph, Greatest Hits or The Bootleg Series, or by any movie soundtrack (recall how “The Man in Me” blindsided you in The Big Lebowski?).

Along with Down in the Groove‘s “Rank Strangers,” Under the Red Sky‘s “Cat’s In The Well,” and Knocked Out Loaded‘s “Brownsville Girl,” here are a few more gems concealed in plain sight:

“In The Summertime,” from Shot of Love. By now everyone knows that “Every Grain of Sand” is this album’s keeper – and as far as fine-hewn lyrics go, they’re right. But for sheer vocal heartache, this harmonica-drenched lament goes a great distance down another road entirely.

“Copper Kettle,” from Self Portrait. Dylan with strings, splitting the difference between Hank Williams and Bing Crosby, to make a kind of western-movie dream sequence in Technicolor.

“Idiot Wind,” from Hard Rain. A familiar song, yes, but in a ten-minute raging punk version like you’ve never known, with a band that teeters over several cliffs and survives.

“Pressing On,” from Saved. Ideally, you’d hear Dylan’s humblest and most sheerly gorgeous devotional song in one of its shimmering live versions. But the album take, complete with Dylan’s own piano work, will do.

“Ninety Miles an Hour (Down a Dead End Street),” from Down in the Groove. Goofy backing vocals can’t mask the relish Dylan takes in tackling this doomy Hank Snow hit, which takes the widely used motif of the dead-end love affair and adds a vehicle.

“Day of the Locusts” and “Sign on the Window,” from New Morning. From an album that revealed a Dylan both tender and hesitant, a slice-of-life recounting of his uneasy receipt of an honorary degree, and an ambivalent fantasia of pastoral life, both sung with questing beauty.

“Delia,” from World Gone Wrong. For those who know this early-Nineties solo covers record and its predecessor, Good As I Been to You, they’re not overlooked, just boon companions. Dylan’s murdered Delia is a different girl than Johnny Cash’s, but the poor things probably knew each other in school.

“Under the Red Sky” and “Handy Dandy,” from Under the Red Sky. The first is a beguiling, gnomic pass at nursery rhymes, which Dylan mines as profitably as he does the Bible and the blues; the second, a perverse revision of “Like a Rolling Stone,” pointing to the sly japes of Love and Theft.

The remastered Street Legal – the entire album. Unlike the heralded Bootleg Series, this crucially cleaned-up version of possibly Dylan’s most undervalued collection of songs was dropped into the marketplace so quietly that few even noticed. Since the murk of the production was the biggest obstacle to hearing Dylan walking a tightrope between divorce and Jesus, why not give it a second chance – or a first? Just be certain you get the new version.

“Spanish Harlem Incident,” Another Side of Bob Dylan. Heard it lately?

Play ALL of these Bob Dylan tracks



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November 7, 2008 Posted by | Music_ClassicRock, OTHER_ARTICLE, _BOB DYLAN, _MUSIC | 1 Comment

Lester Bangs on Astral Weeks

If I ventured in the slipstream
Between the viaducts of your dreams
Where the mobile steel rims crack
And the ditch and the backroads stop
Could you find me
Would you kiss my eyes
And lay me down
In silence easy
To be born again

Van Morrison

My heart of silk
is filled with lights,
with lost bells,
with lilies and bees.
I will go very far,
farther than those hills,
farther than the seas,
close to the stars,
to beg Christ the Lord
to give back the soul I had
of old, when I was a child,
ripened with legends,
with a feathered cap
and a wooden sword.

Federico Garcia Lorca

Another fine piece on this masterpiece from the greatest music writer of em all, Mr Lester Bangs!

Beautifully constructed and written as always!

This one comes from 1979.

It sounded like the man who made Astral Weeks was in terrible pain, pain most of Van Morrison’s previous works had only suggested; but like the later albums by the Velvet Underground, there was a redemptive element in the blackness, ultimate compassion for the suffering of others, and a swath of pure beauty and mystical awe that cut right through the heart of the work ……

Astral Weeks
by Lester Bangs
from “Stranded” (1979)

Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks was released ten years, almost to the day, before this was written. It was particularly important to me because the fall of 1968 was such a terrible time: I was a physical and mental wreck, nerves shredded and ghosts and spiders looming and squatting across the mind. My social contacts had dwindled to almost none; the presence of other people made me nervous and paranoid. I spent endless days and nights sunk in an armchair in my bedroom, reading magazines, watching TV, listening to records, staring into space. I had no idea how to improve the situation and probably wouldn’t have done anything about it if I had.

Astral Weeks would be the subject of this piece – i.e., the rock record with the most significance in my life so far – no matter how I’d been feeling when it came out. But in the condition I was in, it assumed at the time the quality of a beacon, a light on the far shores of the murk; what’s more, it was proof that there was something left to express artistically besides nihilism and destruction. (My other big record of the day was White Light/White Heat.) It sounded like the man who made Astral Weeks was in terrible pain, pain most of Van Morrison’s previous works had only suggested; but like the later albums by the Velvet Underground, there was a redemptive element in the blackness, ultimate compassion for the suffering of others, and a swath of pure beauty and mystical awe that cut right through the heart of the work

I don’t really know how significant it might be that many others have reported variants on my initial encounter with Astral Weeks. I don’t think there’s anything guiding it to people enduring dark periods. It did come out at a time when a lot of things that a lot of people cared about passionately were beginning to disintegrate, and when the self-destructive undertow that always accompanied the great sixties party had an awful lot of ankles firmly in it’s maw and was pulling straight down. so, as timeless as it finally is, perhaps Astral Weeks was also the product of an era. Better think that than ask just what sort of Irish churchwebbed haints Van Morrison might be product of.

Three television shows: A 1970 NET broadcast of a big all-star multiple bill at the Fillmore East. The Byrds, Sha Na Na, and Elvin Bishop have all done their respective things. Now we get to see three of four songs from a set by Van Morrison. He climaxes, as he always did in those days, with “Cyprus Avenue” from Astral Weeks. After going through all the verses, he drives the song, the band, and himself to a finish which has since become one of his trademarks and one of the all-time classic rock ‘n’ roll set-closers. With consumate dynamics that allow him to snap from indescribably eccentric throwaway phrasing to sheer passion in the very next breath he brings the music surging up through crescendo after crescendo, stopping and starting and stopping and starting the song again and again, imposing long maniacal silences like giant question marks between the stops and starts and ruling the room through sheer tension, building to a shout of “It’s too late to stop now!,” and just when you think it’s all going to surge over the top, he cuts it off stone cold dead, the hollow of a murdered explosion, throws the microphone down and stalks off the stage. It is truly one of the most perverse things I have ever seen a performer do in my life. And, of course, it’s sensational: our guts are knotted up, we’re crazed and clawing for more, but we damn well know we’ve seen and felt something.

1974, a late night network TV rock concert: Van and his band come out, strike a few shimmering chords, and for about ten minutes he lingers over the words “Way over yonder in the clear blue sky / Where flamingos fly.” No other lyrics. I don’t think any instrumental solos. Just those words, repeated slowly again and again, distended, permutated, turned into scat, suspended in space and then scattered to the winds, muttered like a mantra till they turn into nonsense syllables, then back into the same soaring image as time seems to stop entirely. He stands there with eyes closed, singing, transported, while the band poises quivering over great open-tuned deep blue gulfs of their own.

1977, spring-summer, same kind of show: he sings “Cold Wind in August”, a song off his recently released album A Period of Transition, which also contains a considerably altered version of the flamingos song. “Cold Wind in August” is a ballad and Van gives it a fine, standard reading. The only trouble is that the whole time he’s singing it he paces back and forth in a line on the stage, his eyes tightly shut, his little fireplug body kicking its way upstream against what must be a purgatorial nervousness that perhaps is being transferred to the cameraman.

What this is about is a whole set of verbal tics – although many are bodily as well – which are there for reason enough to go a long way toward defining his style. They’re all over Astral Weeks: four rushed repeats of the phrases “you breathe in, you breath out” and “you turn around” in “Beside You”; in “Cyprus Avenue,” twelve “way up on”s, “baby” sung out thirteen times in a row sounding like someone running ecstatically downhill toward one’s love, and the heartbreaking way he stretches “one by one” in the third verse; most of all in “Madame George” where he sings the word “dry” and then “your eye” twenty times in a twirling melodic arc so beautiful it steals your own breath, and then this occurs: “And the love that loves the love that loves the love that loves the love that loves to love the love that loves to love the love that loves.”

Van Morrison is interested, obsessed with how much musical or verbal information he can compress into a small space, and, almost, conversely, how far he can spread one note, word, sound, or picture. To capture one moment, be it a caress or a twitch. He repeats certain phrases to extremes that from anybody else would seem ridiculous, because he’s waiting for a vision to unfold, trying as unobtrusively as possible to nudge it along. Sometimes he gives it to you through silence, by choking off the song in midflight: “It’s too late to stop now!”

It’s the great search, fueled by the belief that through these musical and mental processes illumination is attainable. Or may at least be glimpsed.

When he tries for this he usually gets it more in the feeling than in the Revealed Word – perhaps much of the feeling comes from the reaching – but there is also, always, the sense of WHAT if he DID apprehend that Word; there are times when the Word seems to hover very near. And then there are times when we realize the Word was right next to us, when the most mundane overused phrases are transformed: I give you “love,” from “Madame George.” Out of relative silence, the Word: “Snow in San Anselmo.” “That’s where it’s at,” Van will say, and he means it (aren’t his interviews fascinating?). What he doesn’t say is that he is inside the snowflake, isolated by the song: “And it’s almost Independence Day.”

you’re probably wondering when I’m going to get around to telling you about Astral Weeks. As a matter of fact, there’s a whole lot of Astral Weeks I don’t even want to tell you about. Both because whether you’ve heard it or not it wouldn’t be fair for me to impose my interpretation of such lapidarily subjective imagery on you, and because in many cases I don’t really know what he’s talking about. he doesn’t either: “I’m not surprised that people get different meanings out of my songs,” he told a Rolling Stone interviewer. “But I don’t wanna give the impression that I know what everything means ’cause I don’t. . . . There are times when I’m mystified. I look at some of the stuff that comes out, y’know. And like, there it is and it feels right, but I can’t say for sure what it means.”

There you go
Starin’ with a look of avarice
Talking to Huddie Leadbetter
Showin’ pictures on the walls
And whisperin’ in the halls
And pointin’ a finger at me

I haven’t got the slightest idea what that “means,” though on one level I’d like to approach it in a manner as indirect and evocative as the lyrics themselves. Because you’re in trouble anyway when you sit yourself down to explicate just exactly what a mystical document, which is exactly what Astral Weeks is, means. For one thing, what it means is Richard Davis’s bass playing, which complements the songs and singing all the way with a lyricism that’s something more than just great musicianship: there is something about it that more than inspired, something that has been touched, that’s in the realm of the miraculous. The whole ensemble – Larry Fallon’s string section, Jay Berliner’s guitar (he played on Mingus’s Black Saint and the Sinner Lady), Connie Kay’s drumming – is like that: they and Van sound like they’re not just reading but dwelling inside of each other’s minds. The facts may be far different. John Cale was making an album of his own in the adjacent studio at the time, and he has said that “Morrison couldn’t work with anybody, so finally they just shut him in the studio by himself. He did all the songs with just an acoustic guitar, and later they overdubbed the rest of it around his tapes.”

Cale’s story might or might not be true – but facts are not going to be of much use here in any case. Fact: Van Morrison was twenty-two – or twenty-three – years old when he made this record; there are lifetimes behind it. What Astral Weeks deals in are not facts but truths. Astral Weeks, insofar as it can be pinned down, is a record about people stunned by life, completely overwhelmed, stalled in their skins, their ages and selves, paralyzed by the enormity of what in one moment of vision they can comprehend. It is a precious and terrible gift, born of a terrible truth, because what they see is both infinitely beautiful and terminally horrifying: the unlimited human ability to create or destroy, according to whim. It’s no Eastern mystic or psychedelic vision of the emerald beyond, nor is it some Baudelairean perception of the beauty of sleaze and grotesquerie. Maybe what it boiled down to is one moment’s knowledge of the miracle of life, with its inevitable concomitant, a vertiginous glimpse of the capacity to be hurt, and the capacity to inflict that hurt.

Transfixed between pure rapture and anguish. Wondering if they may not be the same thing, or at least possessed of an intimate relationship. In “T.B. Sheets”, his last extended narrative before making this record, Van Morrison watched a girl he loved die of tuberculosis. the song was claustrophobic, suffocating, mostrously powerful: “innuendos, inadequacies, foreign bodies.” A lot of people couldn’t take it; the editor of this book has said that it’s garbage, but I think it made him squeamish. Anyway, the point is that certain parts of Astral Weeks – “Madame George,” “Cyprus Avenue” – take the pain in “T.B. Sheets” and root the world in it. Because the pain of watching a loved one die of however dread a disease may be awful, but it is at least something known, in a way understood, in a way measureable and even leading somewhere, because there is a process: sickness, decay, death, mourning, some emotional recovery. But the beautiful horror of “Madame George” and “Cyprus Avenue” is precisely that the people in these songs are not dying: we are looking at life, in its fullest, and what these people are suffering from is not disease but nature, unless nature is a disease.

A man sits in a car on a tree-lined street, watching a fourteen-year-old girl walking home from school, hopelessly in love with her. I’ve almost come to blows with friends because of my insistence that much of Van Morrison’s early work had an obsessively reiterated theme of pedophilia, but here is something that at once may be taken as that and something far beyond it. He loves her. Because of that, he is helpless. Shaking. Paralyzed. Maddened. Hopeless. Nature mocks him. As only nature can mock nature. Or is love natural in the first place? No Matter. By the end of the song he has entered a kind of hallucinatory ecstasy; the music aches and yearns as it rolls on out. This is one supreme pain, that of being imprisoned a spectator. And perhaps no so very far from “T.B. Sheets,” except that it must be far more romantically easy to sit and watch someone you love die than to watch them in the bloom of youth and health and know that you can never, ever have them, can never speak to them.

“Madame George” is the album’s whirlpool. Possibly one of the most compassionate pieces of music ever made, it asks us, no, arranges that we see the plight of what I’ll be brutal and call a lovelorn drag queen with such intense empathy that when the singer hurts him, we do too. (Morrison has said in at least one interview that the song has nothing to do with any kind of transvestite – at least as far as he knows, he is quick to add – but that’s bullshit.) The beauty, sensitivity, holiness of the song is that there’s nothing at all sensationalistic, exploitative, or tawdry about it; in a way Van is right when he insists it’s not about a drag queen, as my friends were right and I was wrong about the “pedophelia” – it’s about a person, like all the best songs, all the greatest literature.

The setting is that same as that of the previous song – “Cyprus Avenue”, apparently a place where people drift, impelled by desire, into moments of flesh-wracking, sight-curdling confrontation with their destinies. It’s an elemental place of pitiless judgement – wind and rain figure in both songs – and, interestingly enough, it’s a place of the even crueler judgement of adults by children, in both cases love objects absolutely indifferent to their would-be adult lovers. Madame George’s little boys are downright contemptuous – like the street urchins who end up cannibalizing the homosexual cousin in Tennessee Williams’s Suddenly Last Summer, they’re only too happy to come around as long as there’s music, party times, free drinks and smokes, and only too gleefully spit on George’s affections when all the other stuff runs out, the entombing winter settling in with not only wind and rain but hail, sleet, and snow.

What might seem strangest of all but really isn’t is that it’s exactly those characteristics which supposedly should make George most pathetic – age, drunkenness, the way the boys take his money and trash his love – that awakens something for George in the heart of the kid whose song this is. Obviously the kid hasn’t simply “fallen in love with love,” or something like that, but rather – what? Why just exactly that only sunk in the foulest perversions could one human being love another for anything other than their humanness: love him for his weakness, his flaws, finally perhaps his decay. Decay is human – that’s one of the ultimate messages here, and I don’t by any stretch of the lexicon mean decadence. I mean that in this song or whatever inspired it Van Morrison saw the absolute possibility of loving human beings at the farthest extreme of wretchedness, and that the implications of that are terrible indeed, far more terrible than the mere sight of bodies made ugly by age or the seeming absurdity of a man devoting his life to the wobbly artifice of trying to look like a woman.

You can say to love the questions you have to love the answers which quicken the end of love that’s loved to love the awful inequality of human experience that loves to say we tower over these the lost that love to love the love that freedom could have been, the train to freedom, but we never get on, we’d rather wave generously walking away from those who are victims of themselves. But who is to say that someone who victimizes himself or herself is not as worthy of total compassion as the most down and out Third World orphan in a New Yorker magazine ad? Nah, better to step over the bodies, at least that gives them the respect they might have once deserved. where I love, in New York (not to make it more than it is, which is hard), everyone I know often steps over bodies which might well be dead or dying as a matter of course, without pain. and I wonder in what scheme it was originally conceived that such an action is showing human refuse the ultimate respect it deserves.

There is of course a rationale – what else are you going to do – but it holds no more than our fear of our own helplessness in the face of the plain of life as it truly is: a plain which extends into an infinity beyond the horizons we have only invented. Come on, die it. As I write this, I can read in the Village Voice the blurbs of people opening heterosexual S&M clubs in Manhattan, saying things like, “S&M is just another equally valid form of love. Why people can’t accept that we’ll never know.” Makes you want to jump out a fifth floor window rather than even read about it, but it’s hardly the end of the world; it’s not nearly as bad as the hurts that go on everywhere everyday that are taken to casually by all of us as facts of life. Maybe it boiled down to how much you actually want to subject yourself to. If you accept for even a moment the idea that each human life is as precious and delicate as a snowflake and then you look at a wino in a doorway, you’ve got to hurt until you feel like a sponge for all those other assholes’ problems, until you feel like an asshole yourself, so you draw all the appropriate lines. You stop feeling.

But you know that then you begin to die. So you tussle with yourself. how much of this horror can I actually allow myself to think about? Perhaps the numbest mannekin is wiser than somebody who only allows their sensitivity to drive them to destroy everything they touch – but then again, to tilt Madame George’s hat a hair, just to recognize that that person exists, just to touch his cheek and then probably expire because the realization that you must share the world with him is ultimately unbearable is to only go the first mile. The realization of living is just about that low and that exalted and that unbearable and that sought-after. Please come back and leave me alone.

But when we’re along together we can talk all we want about the universality of this abyss: it doesn’t make any difference, the highest only meets the lowest for some lying succor, UNICEF to relatives, so you scratch and spit and curse in violent resignation at the strict fact that there is absolutely nothing you can do but finally reject anyone in greater pain than you. At such a moment, another breath is treason. that’s why you leave your liberal causes, leave suffering humanity to die in worse squalor than they knew before you happened along. You got their hopes up. Which makes you viler than the most scrofulous carrion. viler than the ignorant boys who would take Madame George for a couple of cigarettes. because you have committed the crime of knowledge, and thereby not only walked past or over someone you knew to be suffering, but also violated their privacy, the last possession of the dispossessed.

Such knowledge is possibly the worst thing that can happen to a person (a lucky person), so it’s no wonder that Morrison’s protagonist turned away from Madame George, fled to the train station, trying to run as far away from what he’d seen as a lifetime could get him. And no wonder, too, that Van Morrison never came this close to looking life square in the face again, no wonder he turned to Tupelo Honey and even Hard Nose the Highway with it’s entire side of songs about falling leaves. In Astral Weeks and “T.B. Sheets” he confronted enough for any man’s lifetime. Of course, having been offered this immeasurably stirring and equally frightening gift from Morrison, one can hardly be blamed for not caring terribly much about Old, Old Woodstock and little homilies like “You’ve got to Make It Through This World On Your Own” and “Take It Where You Find It.”

On the other hand, it might also be pointed out that desolation, hurt, and anguish are hardly the only things in life, or in Astral Weeks. They’re just the things, perhaps, that we can most easily grasp and explicate, which I suppose shows about what level our souls have evolved to. I said I wouldn’t reduce the other songs on this album by trying to explain them, and I won’t. But that doesn’t mean that, all thing considered, a juxtaposition of poets might not be in order.

If I ventured in the slipstream
Between the viaducts of your dreams
Where the mobile steel rims crack
And the ditch and the backroads stop
Could you find me
Would you kiss my eyes
And lay me down
In silence easy
To be born again

Van Morrison

My heart of silk
is filled with lights,
with lost bells,
with lilies and bees.
I will go very far,
farther than those hills,
farther than the seas,
close to the stars,
to beg Christ the Lord
to give back the soul I had
of old, when I was a child,
ripened with legends,
with a feathered cap
and a wooden sword.

Federico Garcia Lorca

NOTE:

We do not host any files here. If this post contains a link to content hosted elsewhere, this is content found by a simple search on the worldwide freedom web. However, if for some valid reason, you object to a said content, or any content here, please let us know and we will remove the content in question.

Any content linked to here is only meant as a taster for the original work itself and is posted on the strict understanding that anyone who downloads the taster, deletes said content within 24 hours. We would assume that these fans will then buy the original work and we greatly encourage them to do so.

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November 5, 2008 Posted by | OTHER_ARTICLE, Van Morrison, _MUSIC, _OTHER | Leave a comment

Sean O’Hagan on ‘Astral Weeks’ – 40th Anniversary

Is this the best album ever made?

On its release in 1968 Van Morrison’s second album, Astral Weeks, baffled both the public and his record company.

Now, 40 years later, it’s regarded as unique – a mystical, dream-like blend of spontaneous blues, jazz and folk. And Van himself is finally ready to play it live……


Sean O’Hagan
The Observer,
Sunday November 2 2008

Though this anecdote may have grown in the telling, it illustrates the adolescent Van Morrison’s otherness. A working-class boy from a Protestant neighbourhood, he had left Orangefield school with no academic credentials, and seems to have been an aloof-to-the-point-of-arrogant teenager; an only child who never quite shed his sense of aloneness. Years later, when his Belfast peers recalled the young Morrison, they stressed his solitary nature as well as his eccentricity. ‘Van was his own master,’ his boyhood friend George Jones told biographer Johnny Rogan. ‘People didn’t understand him.’ Another friend, Billy McAllen, remembered him as being ‘a bit strange, a bit weird’.

Fast forward to 25 September 1968. Morrison, 23, and already in retreat from pop stardom, stands in the centre of Century Sound Studios in midtown Manhattan. In the past few years he had tasted fame as lead singer of Them (dubbed ‘Belfast’s answer to the Rolling Stones’ in the music press), singing on two hit singles, ‘Here Comes the Night’ and the proto-punk ‘Gloria’. His first solo album – released in 1967, and entitled, in the spirit of the time, Blowin’ Your Mind – had yielded another hit, the buoyant ‘Brown-Eyed Girl’. Now, though, newly signed to Warner Brothers, he was intent on reinvention .

Strumming gently on an acoustic guitar, he begins to sing the first of several strange, stark songs he has been recently performing in small venues on the east coast to general disinterest. Around him, listening intently, are gathered three jazz musicians of the highest calibre: bassist Richard Davis, who had played with the likes of Miles Davis and Sarah Vaughan, guitarist Jay Berliner, best known for his work with Charles Mingus, and drummer Connie Kay, a member of the esteemed Modern Jazz Quartet. They had been assembled, alongside arranger Larry Fallon, by producer Lewis Merenstein, who on first hearing the songs had immediately sensed that they would not work in a rock setting.

If the young Van Morrison felt awed in such exalted company, he did not show it. In fact, he betrayed little emotion at all, and throughout the session, spoke only to the technicians. ‘There wasn’t much communication,’ recalls Richard Davis, who now teaches music at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. ‘As far as I can recall, I don’t think I exchanged one word with the guy. We just listened to his songs one time, and then we started playing.’

Brooks Arthur was the sound engineer on that same session, though, inexplicably, his name would be left off the subsequent album credits. When he talks about it today, 40 years later, regret soon turns to excitement in his voice. ‘From the moment Van hit the first note I knew we were involved in something special,’ he recalls. ‘You have to understand, everything was live. There were no music charts. He ran it down once for the players and went into the vocal booth. Then we got the sound levels right and I hit the red light and he started singing.’

That first working day comprised two three-and-a-half-hour studio sessions, during which three extended songs were recorded. ‘There wasn’t too much stopping and starting,’ says Arthur. ‘Van took off and the musicians went with him. They were serious players, they didn’t have to think about it, they just did it instinctively, and it caught fire. We were working at the speed of sound. I tell you, we were breathing rarefied air in there.’

On 15 October the musicians and sound men reconvened. In another two short sessions, according to Merenstein, they produced ‘six or seven songs, two of which just didn’t fit the mood of the album’. Larry Fallon then spent another day overdubbing strings and horns on certain tracks. Throughout Morrison remained uncommunicative, self-absorbed. ‘People told me later that he was shy,’ says Davis, ‘but to me he seemed aloof, maybe a bit moody. He was caught up in his own thing. He communicated through his singing.’

It still seems scarcely credible that, under such strained conditions, an album was created that has since come to be regarded as perhaps the greatest work of art to emerge out of the pop tradition. Released in November 1968, Astral Weeks is a work of such singular beauty, such sustained emotional intensity, that nothing recorded before or since sounds even remotely similar – or, indeed, comparable. Elvis Costello would later describe it as ‘still the most adventurous record made in the rock medium’, adding that ‘there hasn’t been a record with that amount of daring made since’. When I spoke to Nick Cave about it a few years ago, he spoke enviously of ‘its power to mesmerise and disturb’, and wondered ‘at the sheer nerve of this young guy to attempt something so obsessive and uncompromising, and then actually pull it off’.

Initially, though, Astral Weeks was greeted by both the critics and the public with utter bemusement. The NME compared Morrison’s extraordinary voice to the mannered Latin stylings of José Feliciano. Initial sales were disappointing and it received little support from Warner Brothers. ‘They just didn’t know what to do with it so they did nothing,’ says Merenstein, scathingly. ‘They were expecting “Brown Eyed Girl”, and the first thing I played them was a seven-minute song about rebirth with no electric guitars and an acoustic bass. They just shook their heads.’

Since then though Astral Weeks has gone from a cult album to an acknowledged classic and has been celebrated, alongside the likes of Dylan’s Blonde on Blonde and the Beatles’ Sgt Pepper’s, in countless best albums of all-time lists. It was voted No 2 in a Mojo magazine critics’ poll of 1995 and at No 19 in Rolling Stone’s selection of the 500 Greatest Albums Ever Made in 2003. More surprisingly, it was also voted ninth greatest album of all time in the more populist Music of the Millennium poll conducted by Channel 4, the Guardian, HMV and Classic FM in 1997.

Now comes the news that the ever-contrary Morrison, having continually shrugged off Astral Weeks’ legendary status in interviews over the years, will be performing the album in its entirety at two shows at the Hollywood Bowl on November 7-8. The concerts are an intriguing prospect but it turns out that I am not alone in wondering at the wisdom of such a risky undertaking. ‘How does that old Buddhist saying go?’ says Merenstein. ‘Something like, “You can’t bathe in the same river twice.” I hear he is going to record the concerts for a live album, too. Man, I have mixed feelings about that. Part of me thinks, just leave it alone. It’s a moment in time that has become timeless. It’s just too unique, too magical to try and recreate.’

Astral Weeks is that rare thing in pop music, an album that lives up to its own legend. Its singularity lies, as Costello points out, in its vaulting ambition. It is neither folk nor jazz nor blues, though there are traces of all three in the music and in Morrison’s raw and emotionally charged singing. There are no solos save for the ethereal flute and soprano saxophone improvisations that are woven through the last, and shortest, song, ‘Slim Slow Slider’, the album’s elegaic coda. Throughout, there are interludes of breathtaking beauty when the music surges and subsides, rises and falls, around Morrison’s voice.

And it is that voice, by turns flinty and tender, beseeching and plaintive, that is the most extraordinary instrument of all. It is the sound of someone singing to himself, utterly immersed in the words that are pouring out of his mouth. This is that adolescent aloofness transmuted into a kind of enraptured self-assurance. ‘His voice has so much integrity and conviction,’ says the singer Beth Orton. ‘It’s as if he has sung the whole album into being just by his conviction, his absolute self-belief.’

At times Morrison seems overwhelmed by the intensity of the feelings he is attempting to express. ‘His voice is a thing of quite extreme beauty,’ says the psychologist and author Adam Phillips, a longtime fan of the album. ‘What is extraordinary is the emotional atmosphere he creates in the songs and the sense that he is not even remotely concerned about communicating with an audience or a listener. He’s just singing out his songs, and we are, in a sense, listening in.’

It has long been my contention that Astral Weeks is an album rooted in adolescence; its confusions and frustrations, its often volcanic emotional turbulence. On ‘Cyprus Avenue’ he is ‘caught’ and ‘captured’ by adolescent sexual desire, and ‘conquered in a car seat’. On ‘Beside You’, the most dense and tortured song on the album, he sounds traumatised – though by what one never knows.

‘On Astral Weeks I think he is haunted by something,’ says Phillips, ‘and I am not even sure he knows what it is. He sounds confounded, literally confounded. I don’t think he has a clue what this music is about, other than it comes from somewhere deep inside him. As a psychologist, one often encounters people who harbour these sort of confused feelings but what you don’t very often encounter is someone who has found a form for them. That is what is startling here, and almost unique in the medium of popular music.’

For all that, there is a mood of exultancy and, in places, abandonment, on Astral Weeks: words break down or are repeated until they lose their literal meaning and become mantras of desire and loss. ‘I always think Astral Weeks sounds somehow victorious,’ says Beth Orton. ‘It’s as if he has won a great victory but lost so much too. He sounds altered.

There are few moments in popular music as affecting as the repeated refrain on ‘Madame George’ of the line, ‘dry your eye, your eye, your eye…’ as the strings swell around his voice then fall away, leaving just his acoustic strumming and Davis’s wonderfully insistent bass pulse. It is the sound of someone trying to retrieve the irretrievable: lost youth, lost innocence, lost love; and at the same time realising the impossibility of ever experiencing those heightened moments again.

Astral Weeks is also a long goodbye, both to his younger self and to the city of his youth, a prelapsarian Belfast untouched by bomb or bullet. It was recorded just as the Troubles began, and remains, alongside Derek Mahon’s poetry and Gerald Dawe’s memoir, My Mother-City, one of the most tender…#65279; evocations of a straight-laced and hard-edged city, whose more progressive youth were embracing the creeping bohemianism of the times. On his brief return to Belfast after Them split, Morrison hung out for a time with an arty student crowd, but he was an outsider there too.

The two songs on Astral Weeks that are most infused with a sense of place – ‘Cyprus Avenue’ and ‘Madame George’ – are also undercut with the deepest sense of melancholy and longing. ‘What he is tapping into on those songs is a collective experience,’ says Dawe, a Belfast-born poet who knew the young Van Morrison. ‘It’s about describing the familiar in extraordinary detail, even as you are leaving that familiarity behind once and for all. Van grew up in an intense, tight-knit community, and knew early on that he did not fit into that community, that he was, as artists often are, an outsider. That feeling was really brought home to him when he returned to Belfast after his brief pop stardom. He didn’t fit, and knew he would have to leave again, this time for good. All those complex emotions echo through Astral Weeks. That’s why it resonates so deeply with people from home, many of whom have left there with the same anxieties of belonging.’

Astral Weeks may be the moment when Van Morrison accepts that he can never truly go home again. ‘Ain’t nothing but a stranger in this world,’ he sings towards the end of the title track, echoing the gospel hymns of his youth. ‘I got a home on high…’

When I interviewed Morrison back in 1987 he did not want to talk about Astral Weeks at all. We met in the Chelsea Arts Club. He arrived very late and for the first hour was tight-lipped and combative. It was only when we moved off the subject of his music that he began to open up. ‘Basically, Irish writers, and I include myself here, are writing about the same things,’ he mused at one point. ‘Often it’s about when things felt better. Either that, or sadness… It’s the story about going back and rediscovering that going back answers the question, or going back and discovering it doesn’t answer the question. Going away and coming back, those are the themes of all Irish writing.’

In a way, Van Morrison has grappled with those same themes ever since. For a long time his albums were about the great quest for home, the search for a place to belong, be that a tradition or a belief system or an actual landscape. In his songs he has drawn on Romanticism and esoteric theosophy, and evoked the names of John Donne and WB Yeats, TS Eliot and Seamus Heaney. On Astral Weeks, though, there is no questing. He is simply there, transported by his words and his voicing of them. No one in popular music, including Van Morrison himself, has since come close to that exalted place .

1968 and all that

In the news

5 November Richard Nixon narrowly beats Hubert Humphrey in the US presidential elections.
26 November New race relations law in the UK makes it illegal to refuse housing, jobs or public services on ethnic grounds.
30 November The Trade Descriptions Act outlaws the selling of an item with a misleading label or description.

At the cinema
Barbarella Jane Fonda plays the 41st-century astronaut in this hedonistic sci-fi romp.
Oliver! Musical version of Charles Dickens’s classic tale.
Girl on a Motorcycle Road movie with Marianne Faithful.

In the shops
Sliced white loaf – 1s 7d (8½p)
Pint of milk – 11d (4½p)
Bag of sugar – 1/4 (6½p)
20 cigarettes – 4/10 (24p)

On the radio
‘Those Were the Days’ – Mary Hopkin
‘Hey Jude’ – The Beatles
‘With a Little Help from My Friends’ – Joe Cocker

At the theatre
Hair Controversial rock’n’roll musical.
Forty Years On Alan Bennett’s first West End play.
The Real Inspector Hound Tom Stoppard’s farcical whodunnit.

On the bookshelves
The Armies of the Night Normal Mailer’s Pulitzer-winning nonfiction novel.
The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test Tom Wolfe’s pioneering account of Merry Pranksterism.
Eva Trout Elizabeth Bowen’s last major work. Ally Carnwath

How Van the man found his voice

Born George Ivan Morrison on 31 August 1945 at 125 Hyndford Street, Belfast, Northern Ireland.

Courtesy of his father George’s extensive jazz and blues record collection, he grows up listening to the likes of Ray Charles, Leadbelly and Mahalia Jackson.

1958 Joins the Sputniks as a saxophone player. Later groups he plays in include Deanie Sands & the Javelins, the Olympics and the Monarchs.

1964 Forms Them, and the group begin a residency in the Maritime Hotel in Belfast. Two hit singles follow: ‘Baby Please Don’t Go’/ ‘Gloria’ (November 1964) and ‘Here Comes the Night’ (March 1965).

1968 Astral Weeks, his masterpiece, is released.

1970 Changes direction again and releases Moondance, a soul-jazz classic.

1973 Tours with his finest band, the Caledonian Soul Orchestra, and in 1974 issues one of the great live albums, It’s Too Late to Stop Now.

It is followed in October by Veedon Fleece, a record that some critics compare to Astral Weeks.

1980 Releases Common One the first of a series of albums, among them Inarticulate Speech of the Heart (1983) and No Guru, No Method, No Teacher (1986) that explore themes of transcendence and spirituality.

2008 Decides finally to revisit Astral Weeks. He will play the album in its entirety at the Hollywood Bowl this Friday and Saturday.

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November 5, 2008 Posted by | OTHER_ARTICLE, Van Morrison, _MUSIC, _OTHER | Leave a comment

Van Morrison’s full Q&A on ‘Astral Weeks’ – 40th Anniversary

I only am what I am. But I sure do like the timbre of John Lee and I wouldn’t mind if I sounded like Leadbelly.

Nice piece on happy-go-lucky prankster and Bob Dylan pal (and rabid hater of all things file-sharing!), Norn Iron songster Van da Man talking about his greatest LP, the sublime Astral Weeks which still sounds as fresh today as it did 40 years ago.

However, I should not have said “… still sounds as fresh today as it did 40 years ago.” I can’t say that with certainty since I never listened to it 40 years ago.

Why? Well because I didn’t have a record player then.

Oh, and also, I wasn’t fucking born!!!

Vanmo450_2 In-depth interviews with Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee and two-time Grammy Award winning singer-songwriter Van Morrison are exceedingly few and far between. But in conjunction with his performances Nov. 7 and 8 at the Hollywood Bowl, where he’ll perform his 1968 album “Astral Weeks” in its entirety for the first time anywhere, along with other songs from throughout his career, he agreed to respond by e-mail to questions from Times staff writer Randy Lewis. The feature story will appear in Saturday’s Calendar; the following is the full text of that Q&A.

What combination of opportunity and motivation was behind the decision to revisit “Astral Weeks” in a live setting now?

I am not “revisiting” it, as this is a totally different project. I had always wanted to do these songs fully orchestrated and live. I never got around to it — then I thought, well, we have lost the great [drummer] Connie Kay already and Larry Fallon the original arranger –- so I thought I should probably get to it now. Jay [Berliner] and Richard [Davis] have never done it fully orchestrated and live before either so I see it as a new project.

Update: In the paragraph above, we originally identified Connie Kay as the bassist. He was the drummer on “Astral Weeks.”

What’s your thought at this stage of your career about the boldness of a 22-year-old Belfast musician with some rock hits to his credit going into a New York studio with the likes of Downbeat’s jazz bassist of the year [Richard Davis], the Modern Jazz Quartet’s drummer [Connie Kay] and one of Charles Mingus’ collaborators [guitarist Jay Berliner]?

Well, first, I think I have probably always been more advanced in my head, in my thinking, than the calendar age of 22. My thinking musically has always been more advanced — it is difficult to get it down onto paper sometimes, even now. And the Music on “Astral Weeks” required these great musicians because no one else could have pulled it off like they did. There is another reason, too, and that is the fact I did not settle for anyone other than these guys — they were the ones I insisted on.

What, if any, contact has there been with Richard Davis and Jay Berliner (or Kay before his death in 1994) over the years?

Connie Kay called me a lot over the years, on a regular basis. He was the drummer on “Tupelo Honey” and “Listen to the Lion.” He is also on several recordings I did in the ’80s, numbers I have not released yet. Connie was the best drummer I have run across yet. The original arranger, Larry Fallon, kept in touch with me over the years, but we had lost contact with him, unfortunately. I actually called him for this project, but I found out he had passed away not too long ago. That was a shame — he was a great arranger. He seemed to understand this music — which is rare and is not easy to do. I was in touch with Richard a few times over the years.

The circumstances that brought you to the East Coast of the U.S. at the time [in 1968]?

I had been with Bert Berns’ Bang Records label, and I didn’t get paid, so I was living on a shoestring — a very hand-to-mouth existence at that time — in Boston and for a long time after that too. I went down to New York and this is when I got the offer from Warner Brothers. They had told me they had to buy out the Bang deal. Then I got involved with [producer Lewis] Merenstein, et al. The real reason I made Astral Weeks Recordings in New York is because I was literally broke and they kept me stranded there.

Did these songs emerge more or less fully formed lyrically and melodically, or did you spend considerable time reworking, shaping and editing them during the live performances that led up to the recording session?

Well, I had already written “Ballerina,” in 1966!, if this tells you anything, and the poetry written on the backside of the “Astral Weeks” album [cover] was an excerpt from something else I had written prior to that! Matter of fact, thinking back, I had previously recorded “Madame George” and “Beside You” well before the ’68 Warner release, for Bang Records. But the arrangements were nothing like what I had in mind for those songs. I had also previously played versions of a few of the songs Live at the Catacombs [club] in Boston well before going in and making what became the “Astral Weeks” recordings that ended up as the record. We made that record straight through finally like I wanted them, without stopping. We did it my way in the studio that day.

So, yes it took a very long time and a lot of thinking and arranging and hard work to structure these songs like I wanted them, like I envisioned them in my head. That was the hardest work, but then I found out I then had to work through the people in the music business, and then the people that come around as a result that you are in the music business, and that was even harder, but in a different way. All for the sake of making my music, my song.

What were you reading, listening to, experiencing, feeling after “Brown Eyed Girl” and all the Bert Berns sessions that sent you in this direction musically and philosophically?

“Brown Eyed Girl” is misunderstood. I already had that song down — so I did not turn anywhere or change direction — it was already done, just not released. If you listen closely you can hear there is depth to that song; there are layers of arrangement in my original version. Thing is, Bert required a “hit” record. He thought “Brown Eyed Girl” was the hit single. The song sounds catchy and pop, but [it] is really multi-dimensional. I was not happy with it, as the music in my mind is much more sophisticated than that.

I call that ‘The Money Song’ — because they got all the money and I got none. What happened after that is I ended up with zero money. I was broke and depressed and remained that way for many years after that, and I just decided to make a stand for myself and do things my way, not theirs, like I was already doing in songs like “TB Sheets” and “Who Drove The Red Sports Car?”— which I guess were over the heads of those who were so-called “in the know.”

I did not ever want to be on a pop label — I thought Bert was musically beyond that, but it turned out he was more interested in money than musical ability, song craft and poetic artistry. Despite all that, if Bert were not in with a bad crowd, I think he may have been interested in having the ears that hear. He probably did.

How did you settle on Lewis Merenstein to produce “Astral Weeks”?

Merenstein came about when my back was against the wall. I did not have a choice at the time. I was all the way on the ground. People only have a choice when they have money — I did not have either, they made sure of that. Then I found out when you have success, then come the sharks in disguise — and those [were] quite obvious. I did most of the [production] work myself, though, if the truth be told. I wrote it all, put it all where it needed to be.

What was the immediate aftermath for you? Was it a natural evolution, or a sharp turn toward the more easily accessible verse-chorus song structures you used in many of the songs on the “Moondance” album?

First of all “Moondance” was written by me in 1965, as an instrumental, so I did not turn toward anything other than what I had already written and done. I have always played what I feel like playing whenever I feel like playing it.

I put out records to this day that are not necessarily in a sequence of anything. Some could be written a while back, some not. There is no set pattern. I just put things out when I decide to put it out; [that] does not mean that it’s what I was thinking or doing or writing in any time frame. It usually comes down to what goes with what else, or what needs to go out whenever. It would be a mistake to think such and such because something comes out or came out when it did. My records do not require a lot of thought of ‘What is this?’ and ‘What is that?’ That would be too contrived for me.

Vanmo450_2Do you connect differently now with the “Astral Weeks” material, and what is it about these songs that make them feel like they exist outside of time? I’ve talked to some musicians who say they didn’t understand the real meaning of some of their songs until years later; that their music reached beyond their intellectual understanding of themselves at the time.

“Astral Weeks” songs were written over a period of time -– some early 1966 — and evolved musically. They are timeless works that were from another sort of place — not what is at all obvious. They are poetry and mythical musings channeled from my imagination.

The songs are poetic stories, so the meaning is the same as always — timeless and unchanging. The songs are works of fiction that will inherently have a different meaning for different people. People take from it whatever their disposition to take from it is. It is like Tolkien’s “Hobbit” — the hobbit is what it is. I doubt he would change what the stories [are] just because time went by.

“Astral Weeks” are little poetic stories I made up and set to music. The album is about song craft for me — making things up and making them fit to a tune I have arranged. The songs were somewhat channeled works — that is why I called it “Astral Weeks.” As my songwriting has gone on I tend to do the same channeling, so it’s sort of like “Astral Decades,” I guess.

I am about the arrangements and the layers of depth in the music. So, no, I do not see it any differently than it is — it just is whatever it is.

Did you know what you wanted and what you’d achieved right away?

It is all poetry I made up anyway. It’s like asking “What is art?” It is whatever the beholder decides it is. To this day most all of my music comes from a similar place. I am not exactly sure where the location it comes to me from is located, but it always comes from the realm of the imagination. It is all fiction, and like all art, listeners can take from it what they want from it — or not.

Like the song “The Way Young Lovers Do.” What is it? I do not know — I made it up. Anyway, what 90-year-old does not want to feel like young lovers do? Most probably would — it is as simple as that.

It’s a funny feeling that you actually have the courtesy of asking me about my songs. Did you know there have been numerous books written about my music where none of the authors were interested in my take on my music? None of the authors have ever had the courtesy of asking me to elaborate on my own music — 500-page books and not one word did they want from me — on anything, ever. I have tried to offer up help and am refused. They have flat out refused all insight from me. 🙂

I guess they all want to make it into something it’s not or was not intended to be by me. Anyway, it’s bizarre to me.

Does it mean anything to you that “Astral Weeks” is so highly regarded — No. 2 on the Mojo list of all-time greatest works — yet it took 33 years to go gold?

The music on “Astral Weeks” is sophisticated poetry that is multi-layered in sounds that I do not think the majority take the time to wrap their head around. It’s subjective. I think it would be reductive for me to try to answer why.

I’d guess there are many reasons why it took so long, but yet it is recognized. It’s different than anything then and different still than anything that is obtainable now. Maybe there is not a big market for thoughtful deep music, I do not know. It speaks different things to different people. Maybe it spoke “Don’t buy me” to some –- not sure. I have always been quite sure it is not Top 40 material.

Does “Astral Weeks” represent to you something unique and extraordinary within your own body of work, more than any other album you’ve made?

Now that I really think about it, this, like all of my work, comes from the collective unconscious, I suppose. That is why it speaks different things to different people. All of my records are unique unto themselves and this one is no different. It is just part of what I do as a songwriter. These are just another set of stories and poetry, like all of them.

Over time has it gotten easier or harder to make your records the way you want to make them, and why?

Harder to find musicians that understand the depth of the arrangements as I originally write them, and harder because my style is a mixture of many elements. But easier because I am my own producer and I make them myself. I have the freedom to create, rather than to be stifled by someone else’s notions or far off-the-mark ideas.

Vanmo450_2Your albums continue to sell impressive quantities of physical CDs — nearly 2 million in the last year, I understand — in an era when the music industry has shifted its attention to downloads and sometimes can’t give music away. How do you interpret the continuing success of your music when it’s not being played heavily on commercial radio or promoted intensively by record companies?

Yes, I am lucky I have an audience that is not into the fad of the download. I am very grateful for that. My fans must intrinsically understand the value of having a record in their hand. With so much standing to kill the record business and make it extinct, I think it is great there are still people who appreciate the beauty of a record — a real record, not a purchase of bad quality air through a wire that can erase with a punch of a button 🙂

People must really want to save the records — in spite of the record business that cannot seem to see the forest for the wood.

People in the record business have always been concerned about making money, but when you were a young fan and then started out as a recording artist, there were label owners like Sam Phillips, Ahmet Ertegun and Jerry Wexler who actually had ears — people who knew music inside and out, rather than treating it strictly like a commodity to be marketed for maximum profit. You’ve made no secret of your disdain for many aspects of the music business -– did you start your own record label at least in part to show what’s still possible when music itself is the driving force?

Let’s put it this way: When these men started selling off and moving on it was the beginning of what is now becoming the end of the record business. For the record business to win and win big it has to have people within it that have ears for music and who understand the old greats and respect [them]. With the way things have gone, it looks more and more like there is not much of a chance for new men with ears to emerge in the music business. It’s too money driven and no one seems to know how to really do simple mathematics.

Ahmet knew the value of respecting true ability and those who were there for the long haul. Today record companies are run by 30-year-olds who are more into who “famous” came in the building. They don’t care about selling hard copy CDs, where their real long-term money is. If they did, they would stop shooting themselves in the foot by ignoring the tried and true, and stop betting on so many losing horses. And they would learn how to use a calculator.

I have been independent with my own label since late ’70s early ’80s. I am really not trying to set any example for anything. It is the only way I can do what I do. It is the only way I can operate.

You’ve written some of the catchiest pop songs in the history of rock music (“Jackie Wilson Said,” “Wild Night,” “Bright Side of the Road”), as well as some of the most deeply spiritual (“Listen to the Lion,” “In the Garden,” “When Will I Ever Learn to Live in God”). Do those come from two different places inside?

No, I think everything comes from the same place in the imagination, just a different topic du jour, so to speak. I have worked with my art of song craft, and the result of that is somewhat of an across-the-board variety. I have experimented with many types of singing and use of voice as well as many types of songs, most ending up a mixture of a lot of different styles. But I prefer writing and crafting the spiritual-leaning songs the most.

Is there a legitimate place for music that simply entertains rather than music like yours that seeks to touch the heart and soul? Conversely, is it inherently destructive to commercialize music, which is fundamentally a sacred form of human expression?

Well, I myself will start playing entertainment-type songs if the audience is not understanding, or if I get a vibe they are not really listening, or if they seem to need to go somewhere else, or if I need to go somewhere else.

When music is commercialized, others tend to copy the formula. Then we end up with the drone of the constant loop of the same old thing over and over.

When music is contrived to the nth degree I do not think it can be sacred in that form. It loses its soul its heartbeat; its freedom to be.

Were you always a spiritual seeker?

Of course. How could I be a musician or write poetry if I am not?

Has all the inner work you’ve obviously done led you to a deeper understanding or knowledge of your role in life? Is that a never-ending process for you?

I do therefore I am. I do not assume that I have any “role” — I do not think I do. That word does not feel right to me. I do not wear it well.

Perhaps the better word would be “purpose,” or “mission”?

My spiritual understanding has grown only to the extent [of my knowledge] about myself. But there is no role. That is illusion placed upon me by other people. I have no illusions about who I am. As a writer interested in wordsmith, what I gain spiritually can only help me and my writing or topics of my writing. But I have no role, no role at all. I am on no mission. I am what I am, and I write what I write.

I’ve always admired your sax playing, because it truly seems to express something you can’t get out any other way. So even though you could probably hire whatever session great you wanted –and many times you have — those where you choose to play sax yourself seem very special. What outlet opens for you when you pick up your horn?

Thank you for the compliment. I really enjoy the sax and [in] fact, I sometimes throw in an ‘entertainment’-type of kick-up song just so I can play it. On the other hand, I like playing very spirit-driven songs like ‘St. James Infirmary’ live on the sax. Can’t beat that feeling of just taking it where it wants to go. There is a freedom in that — a good feeling, for sure.

I’ve been told by record execs at Warner Bros. and Rhino that the reason there has never been a Van Morrison CD box set is that you never wanted to stop looking ahead long enough to do it. Is that true, and given this decision to return to “Astral Weeks” now, is that still the case?

Well, Warner Bros. and Rhino don’t speak for me. They do not know me. I have always been forward-thinking, but other than that I have not really thought much about it. Putting “Astral Weeks” live to orchestration is my idea of being forward-thinking.

For all B.B. King has accomplished as a guitarist and a singer, when I talked to him recently, he said “If I could sing like Bobby Bland I’d be a happy man.” Do you ever have a similar view of your own abilities as a songwriter, a singer or instrumentalist?

No, I only am what I am. But I sure do like the timbre of John Lee and I wouldn’t mind if I sounded like Leadbelly.

What musicians haven’t you worked with that you’d still like to?

I would have loved for Miles Davis to have played on a record of mine. Actually, he said he would, but I didn’t get to him in time. I would have loved to have played with Howlin’ Wolf, Leadbelly, Lightnin’, Mahalia Jackson, Ella, Billie Holiday, so many.


Photo credit: Mark McCall


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November 5, 2008 Posted by | OTHER_ARTICLE, Van Morrison, _MUSIC, _OTHER | Leave a comment

No end to Chinese suppression in Tibet

by Achillies875

Despite the new “relaxed” media rules in China, Tibet is still very much excluded from free media expression, from freedom of speech.
Recently, China announced that the relaxing of reporting restrictions on foreign journalists which was first exercised prior to the start of the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, will now be permanent. Well, just as long as you’re not trying to interview anyone from Tibet!!

According to Liu Jianchao on Oct 17:

“Foreign reporters still need to ask for permission to do reporting in Tibet and other areas that are off-limits to foreign reporters, like some military facilities”.

It’s easy to see what news China is trying to stop coming out of Tibet!

While journalists have been granted permission to enter low-risk areas, however those regions where major protesting has occurred – responded to recently by the killing of at least 13 Tibetans by Chinese armed police – such as Ngaba county and the Amdo region, are strictly off limits.

In these regions, there have been reports of civilians and even Nuns who have “disappeared” as well as Nuns who have been beaten in the street for defending their right to practice their religion and for refusing to denounce the Dalai Lama despite China’s demands that they do so.

A number of Tibetan filmmakers have been imprisoned too for attempting to tell their story.

So there is a total clampdown on freedom of speech. It’s clear that the Chinese policy is to stop the truth getting out and to reinforce its long held policy of denial!

When will China’s soul become more important than it’s face?

It’s all too easy for the Chinese Government to get away their repression of Tibet, when its mammoth economic clout unfortunately means that no other major power will speak up against its continued colonialist campaign in Tibet.

thanks purplezoe



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November 3, 2008 Posted by | China, OTHER_ARTICLE, Tibet, _OTHER | Leave a comment

MTV’s new video hosting site is apparently bleeping out the names of file sharing sites in Parody Song !

More insanity! This time MTV bleeping out the names of filesharing hosts in a dumb parody song!

What fucking genius thought up this course of action? Is Sarah Palin working for MTV?

The trolls are trying to demonise file sharing like some dumb GW Bush “Axis of Evil” strategy! Expect ads soon warning parents that their kids will become satanists and/or homicidal maniacs if they use file-sharing!

As we’ve said before, the fucking Troll Wars have begun!! The dark days are upon us! Time to arm up and get into the trenches!!

Article below from techdirt.com

MTV‘s new video hosting site is apparently bleeping out the names of file sharing sites in Weird Al Yankovic‘s famous 2006 song “Don’t Download This Song.”

The opening verse to the song goes as follows:

Once in a while maybe you will feel the urge
To break international copyright law
By downloading MP3s from file-sharing sites
Like Morpheus or Grokster or Limewire or KaZaA

Yet, in that new MTV version, the last line is “Like *BLEEP* or *BLEEP* or *BLEEP* or *BLEEP*” rather than naming the four file sharing programs.

You can see the original (unbleeped) video on Weird Al’s own YouTube site, which (again, inexplicably) has embedding disabled, or we’d put it here for comparison purposes.

MTV’s actions really have me scratching my head. Do they think that the names of file sharing programs are the equivalent of curse words? Or do they really think that, by bleeping them out, people won’t be able to figure out what’s in the song? Seems like yet another sign of how out of touch MTV has become from today’s musically-inclined youth.

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November 1, 2008 Posted by | OTHER_ARTICLE, _CARTOON, _MUSIC, _OTHER | Leave a comment

Greil Marcus on Bob Dylan: A talk with the country’s foremost Dylanologist


Greil Marcus on Bob Dylan: A talk with the country’s foremost Dylanologist


by Britt Robson
http://www.minnpost.com

Greil Marcus
Photo by Thierry Arditti

Greil Marcus on Bob Dylan is a match made in High Fidelity heaven: A highly influential and formidably intellectual analyst of American pop culture parsing the most profoundly creative and myth-generating troubadour of our time.

Marcus, a seminal shaper of modern music criticism since his days as the first-ever record reviews editor for Rolling Stone, has written two books about Dylan: “Invisible Republic: Bob Dylan’s Basement Tapes,” and “Like a Rolling Stone: Bob Dylan at the Crossroads.” Tomorrow at 5 p.m., on the University of Minnesota campus, he will appear with Todd Haynes, director of “I’m Not There,” the brilliant and occasionally bewildering bio of Dylan that Haynes himself has said was inspired in part by Marcus’ work. On Saturday night at the Walker Art Center, Marcus will introduce and then lead a post-screening discussion about “I’m Not There,” at 7 p.m. And a week from today, Dylan will perform for the first time in his career on the campus of the U of M, where he briefly attended school — starting the concert just as the polls are closing on perhaps the most important and historic presidential election in the singer’s lifetime.

It seemed like an appropriate time to talk with Marcus, who is teaching a short course at the U of M this fall and graciously agreed to a phone interview last Sunday.

MinnPost: Todd Haynes has specifically cited your writing as one of the influences and inspirations for the making of “I’m Not There.” Did you immediately notice this?

GM: Yeah, Todd had set up a screening in August of last year and when the movie got to the riddle section [featuring actor Richard Gere], I said, ‘Hey, wait a minute, I recognize this.’ But he is so inventive visually. He is no mere narrative storyteller. He gets things right in terms of what things did look like or ought to look like at certain moments in time, the images in front of the story. And in the riddle section that is especially true.

MP: Todd has been quoted as saying that people like and understand the film more with multiple viewings. How many times have you seen it?

GM: About five I think. Because it is so alive visually. Most people, me included, see a movie for first time and the energy is going toward figuring out what is happening, who is who and what is what, and in disjointed film like this one takes a lot of work. But there is so much going on visually behind all of that. Each time I see the movie, the opening sequence seems more and more powerful, and more valuable.

Bob Dylan and his band performing “Masters of War” at Stadthalle, Vienna, Austria on June 10, 2008.

MP: As an artist, Dylan has been notoriously allusive and elusive, refusing to be pigeonholed and disdainful of being anointed as a protest singer or the voice of his generation. Consequently, there is a lot of myth and obfuscation built up around him. Why do you suppose it has unfolded this way?

GM: It comes back to him because intellectually he doesn’t rest. He is always thinking, probing; he doesn’t seem to ever be bored as an artist. He is interested in new music or a new discovery, like an 80-year old Blind Blake track he hasn’t heard before. I always felt that what drives his work is an extraordinary gift for empathy, for imaging himself into characters who outwardly are nothing like him — from another century, or female, or black, or older or younger. As a very young man, he sings “No More Auction Block”; this is a song that originated from being first heard from black soldiers during the Civil War, but my god, [when Dylan is singing it] he is on the auction block. It is not acting, it is going into character and leaving himself in some way. That’s what draws me back.

I don’t think his not wanting to be known is that complicated. Because he was able to write songs that — as Joan Baez and so many other have said — speak to what we are feeling and can’t express, and because of that gift of empathy I just mentioned, he connects with so many people. They think, ‘He knows me and so I know him. If we could meet, we could become best friends and I could become him.’ These are psychotic leaps that in some ways are what being a fan is all about. But that happened to him with so many people who took themselves seriously — college students and radicals and people who felt they had a gift to give to the world — that, as he said in [his autobiography] “Chronicles,” there were people coming down his chimney and through his doors and windows. Dylan noticed what happened to Elvis and worked hard to avoid that fate. At first he wanted to be Elvis Presley, but he learned he didn’t want to be defined by Elvis Presley, that he could go beyond that.

MP: Were you surprised at how much he came out of hiding in “Chronicles,” how forthright he was?

GM: I was surprised by two things. One, that it was so clearly written. You can sense the choices between one word and another. This wasn’t spoken into a tape recorder or ghost-written. There are lines like him talking about ’50s rockabilly artists [who play like they are] navigating burning ships — flashes like that. The other thing is just the concept of the book, which totally ignores years that made him into someone whose book we would want to read. It is like Eisenhower writing his autobiography and leaving out the Second World War.

MP: Speaking of glory days and pivotal moments, Dylan is enjoying an amazing creative resurgence. The three records of original material he has put out in the last 10 years have all been highly acclaimed and appeared at or near the top of critics’ polls. But culturally, they don’t seem to have had the same profound impact and resonance that his classic material from the mid-60s had. Do you agree?

GM: Well, you are talking about completely different times and different audiences. Bob Dylan now is 67 years old. The notion that anybody could achieve the kind of cultural critical mass that Dylan — or for that matter, The Beatles — achieved seems very far away. But I would also say that we shouldn’t speak too soon. Someday we may look back on “Time Out of Mind” [released in 1997] as a defining artistic statement in the same way as “The Great Gatsby.” The album was released just before Clinton was taken down with the Monica Lewinsky scandal, and also look what was happening when he wrote it. Clinton had been reelected in the most insignificant way — he let Bob Dole beat himself. One of the big issues of that election was school uniforms. As much as he could be, Clinton was an empty vessel, consciously running a race about nothing. And at that time Dylan is making an album about a ruined landscape, a country that has used itself up — it is a completely nihilistic record. We will look back on that and it will loom larger than it does today.

Bob Dylan performing “A Change Is Gonna Come,” during a Sam Cooke Tribute at the Apollo Theatre in 2004.

MP: Which brings us neatly to Tuesday night, when Dylan is playing the U of M, where he was briefly a student, for the first time, at the same time Obama and McCain is being decided. Do you think it will be a special, historic concert?

GM: Well, I can’t imagine it is a coincidence. It’s too perfect. It is not Dylan at Xcel Center. It is Dylan playing on a campus he attended, a five-minute walk from the little dingy apartment by Gray’s Drug where he used to live.

It will be a historic event depending on the quality of his performance. I heard what he did with “Masters of War,” on Election Night in 2004, performing in Wisconsin. Nobody yet knew the outcome of the race. And he sang “Masters of War” as if the fate of the world was in the balance. So it won’t just be because of the date; what he is able to offer will or won’t make it a historic night. He is capable of putting in a terrible performance, although I don’t think he will. He has made it clear he is for Obama and most of the audience will be for Obama. As an Obama victory has become more likely, I think the alternative is that it will seem more monstrous if he loses. Win or lose, I don’t know how [Dylan] will respond to the situation. But I am planning to be there.

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October 31, 2008 Posted by | Greil Marcus, OTHER_ARTICLE, _BOB DYLAN, _MUSIC, _VIDEO | 1 Comment

Sick Punters bet on football legend Gazza’s death

Paul Gascoigne – It’s a dead cert!

Punters bet on football legend Gazza’s death

It may be a grave situation, but for many punters it’s a dead cert – members of an internet fan forum are taking bets on when England football legend Paul Gascoigne is going to die.

from http://www.bild.de

Gascoigne, known to millions as Gazza, has had very public issues with alcohol and mental health problems since he quit the game.

But now, supporters of Scottish club Celtic – the bitter rivals of Rangers, a club Gazza once played for – have invented a sinister betting game when participants can guess the time of his death. The game appeared on the ‘Huddleboard’ website after the latest lurid story involving Gazza, who once took centre stage at World Cup 90 and Euro 96, reported that he had drunk a bottle of whiskey for breakfast.

The British ‘Daily Star’ newspaper published some of the bets being taken:

Benedicts11 wrote: “I give him three months,” while MartyBhoy believed it would be “nine months”.

AyrshireCSC said: “On the Queen’s birthday. They can both go. What a day that would be!”

Why is Gascoigne such a target for Celtic fans? Well, not only did he star for Rangers, but he is also English.

While the Celtic fans giggle over the betting, Gazza’s nearest and dearest are understandably shocked. A friend told the Daily Star: “It’s unbelievable. He [Paul] has gone through a rough time, as everyone knows. That’s really kicking a man when he’s down. Paul needs support, not sick b*****ds who want to push him into an early grave. I hope they rot in hell.”

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October 21, 2008 Posted by | Football, OTHER_ARTICLE | Leave a comment

New US President must learn the lessons of Bush’s stupid adventures

https://i2.wp.com/www.cagle.com/working/081020/wolverton.jpg
by Monte Wolverton, The Wolvertoon

New US President must learn the lessons of Bush’s stupid adventures

20.10.2008 Source: AP ©



Respectful US diplomat Charles Freeman described the period of George W. Bush’s presidency as the stage of stupid adventures that weakened the United States. The official believes that the new US president must change the home and foreign policies of the nation, Saudi newspaper Al-Watan wrote Sunday.

Former Ambassador Charles Freeman, who chaired the US mission in Saudi Arabia from 1989 to 1992 (during Operation Desert Storm to liberate Kuwait from the Iraqi occupation) said in an interview with the newspaper that the current US administration exhausted its friends, weakened its allies and eventually exhausted and weakened the United States itself.

The diplomat, which replaced Senator George McGovern at the chairman of the US Council for Middle East Policy in 1997, set out a hope that the period of stupid adventures was over. The official added that the new US president must learn the lessons of Bush’s presidency well.

New US president must learn all lessons of Bush’s stupid adventuresIn the meantime, Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama says that former secretary of state Colin Powell is welcome to campaign for him and might have a place in his administration.

Powell crossed party lines Sunday and endorsed the Democratic presidential candidate on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

Obama told NBC’s “Today” show Monday that Powell “will have a role as one of my advisers.” Whether Powell wants to take a formal role, Obama said, would be “something we’d have to discuss.”

Obama said Powell, a retired four-star general, did not tell him ahead of time that he’d be making the endorsement. At the time, Powell said he didn’t plan to campaign for Obama before the Nov. 4 election, the AP reports.

Obama said he would love to have Powell on the campaign trail.

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October 21, 2008 Posted by | GW Bush, OTHER_ARTICLE, _CARTOON, _OTHER | Leave a comment

Mark Lewisohn – The Complete Beatles Chronicle

Mark Lewisohn – The Complete Beatles Chronicle
PDF | 368 pages | Publisher: Hamlyn (May 2000) | 26.2 MB | English | ISBN: 0600600335
A massive and wonderful chronicle of the Beatles’ days together, from Mark Lewisohn, the producer of the successful The Beatles: Recording Sessions.

This great tome exhaustively documents the group’s public and private lives from the early days until their breakup.

A must have for fab-four fans!

Here she be:

Big thanks to amadou


We do not host any files here. If this post contains a link to content hosted elsewhere, this is content found by a simple search on the worldwide freedom web. However, if for some valid reason, you object to a said content, or any content here, please let us know and we will remove the content in question.

Any content linked to here is only meant as a taster for the original work itself and is posted on the strict understanding that anyone who downloads the taster, deletes said content within 24 hours. We would assume that these fans will then buy the original work and we greatly encourage them to do so.

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October 5, 2008 Posted by | OTHER_ARTICLE, OTHER_BOOK, The Beatles, _MUSIC | 1 Comment

How the dramatic Nico became a music iconoclast – by John Cale et al

A wonderful piece about the great Christa Paffgen, better known as

The piece comes from The Times UK

We do love ‘s work, not only her contribution to the greatest group of all time but also her innovative solo work, which was decades ahead of its time!
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Here, a group of people who knew her well – including a pivotal figure in the “original” and best Velvets line up – speak about their late great friend.

Cale is also of course a wonderful pioneering solo artist and magnificent producer (who has produced seminal and ground breaking albums -including Nico’s best work The Marble Index (1968) and 2 later Nico albums – but also an array of great LPs from acts we love ranging from;

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Nico’s life was beset by extreme tragedy and horror throughout.

The extent of this tragedy is surreal, crazy. It ranges from being an illegitimate child, to being born in a war ravaged Hungary in 1938, to having her father killed by the Nazis when she was 5 years old, to being raped at 15 by a US soldier, to testifying about that rape resulting in capital punishment for the perpetrator, to getting involved in damaging relationships with a series of abusive men, to bearing an illegitimate child, to becoming a chronic heroin addict, to being penniless, to ending up dead aged only 49 from a freak situation, a death which could perhaps have been prevented.

For over fifteen years, Nico was a heroin addict. Biographer Richard Witts speculated that the habit was caused by her traumatic experiences of war and of being an illegitimate child.

In his book Songs They Never Play on the Radio, James Young, a member of her band in the 1980s, recalls many examples of Nico’s fiendish behaviour due to the addiction.

But just before her death, she had managed to kick the habit and had embarked on a regimen of exercise and healthy eating.

On July 18, 1988, while on holiday with her son in Ibiza, Spain, Nico had a minor heart attack while riding a bicycle, and hit her head as she fell. A passing taxi driver found her unconscious, and had difficulty getting her admitted to local hospitals. She was incorrectly diagnosed as suffering from exposure, and she died the next day. X-rays later revealed a severe cerebral hemorrhage as the cause of her death.

Nico was buried in her mother’s plot in Grunewald Forest Cemetery in Berlin. A few friends played a tape of “Mütterlein”, a song from Desertshore, at her funeral.

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beefheart.com published a wonderful biographical piece on Nico, from which we quote below;

According to popular folklore, she was born in 1938 in Budapest, named Christa Paffgen, and lived under Nazi Germany in Cologne while Churchill rained bombs all around her.

Her father was conscripted into the German army and, after suffering brain damage resulting from a head wound, was killed in a concentration camp by the Nazis in 1943.

At the ago of 15 Nico was raped by a US Air Force sergeant who was tried and shot for his crime. Her tour manager in the later period of her career commented:

“Not only does she have to carry the horror of the rape but the secret guilt of somehow being complicit, by her testimony, in his execution. Sex, for Nico is irrevocably associated with punishment.”

(Young, 1992, p150)

At a similar time she started modelling, with great success, which eventually took her to New York via Rome and Ibiza, changing her name along the way.

Once in New York she met Brian Jones and, later, Bob Dylan, and involved herself in the music scene, releasing a single, “I’m Not Saying” before ending up at the Factory. Warhol was so taken with her that he wanted her to front his in-house band, the Velvet Underground.

This was to the absolute horror of the misogynistic band themselves, for whom women were simply not welcome. Moe Tucker had faced similar hostility from the band when she first joined – a move which was only agreed to by John Cale when he was assured that it would only be a temporary measure.

Cale wrote in his autobiography:

Nico intended to sing all the songs and, at first, looked upon us as a hired back-up band. We had a different idea. However, remarkably quickly, and as a sign of Warhol’s amazing ability to overcome objections and get things done his way, we agreed to let Nico sing a few songs and otherwise stand on the stage looking unenthusiastic and play the tambourine. She was tone deaf and had an abrasive voice, but it turned out to be a great casting.

(Cale, 1999, p82)

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It seems from this quote that Cale at first valued Nico for her image rather than any musical contribution that she offered. Her coolly detached vocal phrasings were extremely distinctive, but she had another asset which made her stand out from the rest of the band during their performance: she had a poise which commandeered the attention of the audience. Notice the subtle differences between the following description of Nico’s stage presence and the one quoted above from Cale:

Onstage in her white pantsuit, she was the centre of attention. She was an inch taller than Cale, and despite the fact that Reed sang most of the songs, everything was geared so that she just had to stand there to command attention. Every drug-induced movement she made became significant. It was a talent she had developed in her years as a model with which Lou Reed could not compete.”

(Bockris, 1995, 120)

It is this poise which also helps to make her voice so striking. A model learns to make every movement as precise, captivating and assured as possible, and Nico employed a similar technique in the movement of her vocal chords. Every syllable, every note was perfectly and precisely formed with such grace, in a way that mirrors a performance on a catwalk.

Nico’s time with the Velvets was somewhat fraught. She continued to insist that she should be singing all the Velvets songs, regardless of the appropriateness of her voice for tunes such as “I’m Waiting For The Man” and “Heroin”, and her tempestuous love-affair with Lou Reed increased the tension even further. It was a love affair which Cale referred to as being “both consummated and constipated” and Lou savoured his bitchy revenge on her by verbally attacking her at every opportunity, criticising her ability to sing, to keep time, etc etc.

By the time White Light White Heat was being written and recorded there were no more songs written for Nico to perform with the Velvet Underground. Her fall from grace from the Factory crowd, and Warhol in particular, is described by Victor Bokris in his Warhol biography thus:

Andy never developed the kind of rapport with Nico that he has with Edie. For all his talk of beauty and glamour, Andy had always admitted that he liked good talkers best. Nico had a wonderful presence. She was mysterious, intuitive and fascinating to be with, but she was no Brigid Polk in the rap department. She was on different drugs. Edie and Andy had been able to communicate on the speed that made them so alike. Nico’s use of LSD and heroin tended to distance her from Andy’s mentality. Worse, Nico was a star in her own right and was not completely dependent on Andy, although she was somewhat identified with him.

(Bokris, 1989, 327)

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1969 saw the release of her second solo album, The Marble Index which is her most commonly critically acclaimed work. Recorded in New York at the end of 1968, all eight songs are written by Nico, primarily composed on her harmonium.

The harmonium is a nineteenth century reed organ powered by foot pedals which force air over the reeds, producing a distinctively mournful drone. Nico made this instrument her own, teaching herself to play it, with its tones making the perfect accompaniment for her icebound vocals and lyrics of forbidden fruit and folly which seldom follow any specific narrative. Her words are a collection of abstract images, which waft in and out of the sound of her harmonium’s drone, with images of the unusual setting of her childhood.

The next two albums, Desertshore and The End, are very similar both musically and in atmosphere. Ever-so-slightly lighter and more accessible that The Marble Index, like a picture which has fully come into focus, these for me are the real delight.

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The years after The End saw Nico’s heroin abuse worsen and consume her talents. There was no recorded output for some years due to her narcotised incapacitation. Cale wrote of his attempts to resuscitate her career in this period:

“I tried to persuade him [Lou Reed] to write songs for Nico. He could have done it so easily and it would have changed her life. He said he would but unfortunately, all Lou seemed able to do when Nico was around him was torture her.”

(Cale, 1999, p162)

She would have left an unblemished recorded legacy behind, but Nico returned in the 1980s to half-heartedly attempt to resurrect a career long since sidelined by the more pressing concerns of heroin addiction. These albums, while occasionally offering glimpses of something once special, merely detract from what was recently described in The Wire as:

“…the most uncompromising and original body of work to emerge from any of the five participants in the founding document, 1967’s The Velvet Underground And Nico.”

(Biba Kopf, The Wire, June 2000).

In Young’s wry yet affectionate account of Nico in the 80s, we are presented with a life gone very dreary indeed; a festering universe far removed from the grimy glamour which Nico possessed during her Factory days. It is also a chilling portrait of what happens when one’s career disappears from under one’s feet, though Nico appeared not to realise that her underground superstar status had very rapidly faded. Surrounded by unsympathetic musicians, she was left completely without an audience, save for the few handfuls of Velvet Underground enthusiasts dragged along and eventually let down by their own curiosity.

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Sometimes, the best a person can do is to retire, which Nico did do towards the end of her life (from touring, at least). Cleaned up and relatively rejuvenated post-heroin, she was preparing to write her biography when a minor heart attack prompted her to fall badly from her bicycle, causing the brain haemorrhage which killed her at the age of only 49.

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Nico’s amazing works have for a few years now been critically reassessed, and slowly she is beginning to get the levels of credit she so well merits.

It’s all too later for her now though, sadly.

Two great Nico Tributes are about to take place this month;

  • Life Along the Borderline — a Nico Tribute, curated by John Cale, Southbank Centre, London SE1 (0871-663 2500), Oct 11 2008.
  • Nico tribute concert curated by Lutz Ulrich, Volksbühne, Berlin (0049 30 24 065 5), Oct 17 2008

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How the dramatic Nico became a music iconoclast

Nico was the supermodel who hated being beautiful, a junkie muse, musical pioneer and femme fatale whose only regret was being a woman.

Two decades after her death John Cale and other friends recall a true iconoclast

Nico wanted to be an enfant terrible, a problem child, and maybe even thought that was the way you became an artist. And there are plenty of previous examples to prove that she was right.

The first time I met her was at Andy Warhol’s Factory in New York. It was 1966. It was impossible not to be struck by her. She was so statuesque and serious. Certainly, we were stunned by Andy’s suggestion to include her in the Velvet Underground. No one knew what to make of her but we were far too self-concerned to either argue or refuse.

Here was this formidable woman, the world’s first supermodel. We were awed by her style – something that we were just beginning to taste the fruits of ourselves, with Kenneth J. Lane jewellery and Betsey Johnson designs. Of course we’d seen her in Fellini’s La Dolce Vita – the first time you see her on screen she is introduced as “that German cow”. She was quintessentially the person that Andy used to make us aware of another dimension to music: publicity and image-making.

She was unbelievably dramatic. Along with an already imposing physical presence she had worked at the Actors Studio, where Elia Kazan had helped her to hone her timing to a sharp blade. The silences that threw people off their stride were the result of Kazan’s advice that she “use time to carve a space for herself in everything she did”, as she described it to me later. This style of social conduct had hilarious as well as caustic results. She was a sucker for creating the “perfect storm”.

Being in New York in the Sixties with that kind of sonorous German accent had specific connotations no matter how beautiful you were. And she played on that. She wanted to explode the air around her.

On the one hand she was a threat, but it was such a startling threat that everybody decided to make it work – and, as it turned out, the blonde and statuesque Nico was exactly what Lou Reed was looking for. I was always suspicious of blondes, Lou was not. The band had no idea how to deal with her — the timing, the accent — but Lou rose to the occasion. His songs for her such as Femme Fatale are some of the most beautiful ballads he has written.

Being in the late Sixties with Nico was great. From the band’s point of view, we were all entranced by being on the Exploding Plastic Inevitable tour and all the kerfuffle and pizzazz that went along with it. Touring the US was surreal. Nico loved driving the Winnebago and one time we were stopped by the state police who thought that we had kidnapped the chief of police’s daughter. They eventually let us go, having spent most of the time in awe of Nico’s stunning looks.

We were all for her being a songwriter and heaved a sigh of relief when she left. Although her leaving was not untinged by disappointment, we felt we had failed her in some way. She had that ability — to make you feel you had failed her but no matter: she would survive all the stronger for it.

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Her leaving New York was typical. One night she was having drinks in a bar with two women, one of whom was rumoured to have been Jimi Hendrix’s groupie/girlfriend. This woman was complaining about what a tough life she had, she was relentlessly going on about it, Nico kept telling her to stop and eventually she cracked. “You don’t know what a tough life is,” she said and threw a glass in the girl’s face. It wasn’t pretty. She had to leave town that night; went to San Francisco and then Europe. That temper had its cost.

All the revisionist speculation about her being a racist is ridiculous. I do know she’d try to zone in on the vulnerability of others, so I wouldn’t be surprised if she “used” the topic to force a confrontation and discomfort. Really, though, this is someone who grew up in a war zone, hiding from British bombing raids, whose father had died on the Russian front and who, if she hadn’t been plucked out of nowhere to be a model, would have stayed in a German town being preyed on by sleazy managers of the supermarket she worked in as a teenager.

All Nico had of her childhood was a blurry, tattered black-and-white photo of her mother leaning against a tank. Nico had made her own way and she couldn’t take this person going on about what a tough life she’d had. That, and the liquor and whatever else was going on, that was her perfect storm.

Another story that has been twisted came from when she was dating Lou. She came into the Factory one time without him and Andy said: “So where’s Lou?” And she replied, after a silence: “I cannot zleep with Jews any more.” People chuckled and got on with their chores.

These were explosive remarks done for dramatic purposes. And there was so much drama of that kind going on. Things like that went on all day long and no one paid attention. It was outrageous. Life in the Factory went through the gamut and people don’t ever really want to be put through the gamut.

Most importantly for Nico, she learnt from Lou and Andy how to access a more freewheeling creativity — independence was Andy’s gift to Nico. She also met Jim Morrison in New York. He drew her into his poetic circle, from which she emerged with English as her poetic language. Being deaf in one ear didn’t prevent her writing songs on a harmonium she picked up in India. She read Steppenwolf and Siddartha. After meeting Jim and quitting the Velvet Underground her blonde life was changed. She died her hair red with henna and then to raven black.

She really related to Jim on an artistic level, if you like, her “soul-brother”, as she had done with Lou at one point. But despite all of her lovers, all that the men really did, I think, was remind her of her imperfections. She felt that they were a danger to her and that she would never get any respect from them. Really, she never thought of herself as a woman. It’s what made her relationship with her son, Ari, so difficult. His father [the actor], Alain Delon, never accepted paternity and Nico didn’t know how to be a mother. Ari was brought up by Delon’s mother, but ran away to live with Nico when he was a teenager. She was heavily addicted to heroin by then and would say, so despondently: “I can’t deal with him, he thinks he’s me.”

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And he did, he went through all of that and hit rock bottom. I believe those days are well behind him now.

Her first album Chelsea Girls (1967) had featured the Velvet Underground. Dylan gave her a song for it (I’ll Keep it With Mine), as did Jackson Browne and Tim Hardin, yet everyone agreed it was too MOR. She was totally indifferent to it, later saying: “I cried because of the flute . . . There should be a button on record players, a ‘No Flute’ button.”

Marble Index (1969) was what four days of entrenched self-interest created. Her view was pre-punk. The sense of impending nihilism was goth before goth. Most reactions were of shock. In among the murk there was real drama. I played the LP for the composer Aaron Copland, proud of its Neo-Classical European style. Copland’s only comment was about her “gravelly voice”.

I always felt somewhat protective towards her music. I felt it needed presentation that elevated her to the status of a serious female songwriter, very different from those celebrated at the time. I think she understood this — felt that I appreciated and “understood” her — although the “understanding” was focused exclusively in musical terms. Her life made me depressed. Every recording session I came away from thinking I had seen her inner self and that it was a little girl trying to reach the daylight. Eventually I was left to consider that the drugs in her life were stronger than my attempts to use music to delineate a pathway ahead.

The few times I’d witness her childlike laughter and utter amazement at her finished work — those were the moments a collaborator clings to. The payoff, the reward! Those times were so rare, but they kept me on the string that was Nico’s to dangle — the belief in her, even when she didn’t believe.

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ANDREW LOOG OLDHAM, the manager of the Rolling Stones and producer of Nico’s first single

My Nico story is a short one but, like her life, it’s reasonably star-studded. Brian Jones brought Nico over from Paris, where she was modelling, in 1965 and said: “How about recording my friend too?” I’d already been through it with Marianne Faithfull, and I thought that I could tell who could sing just by hearing their speaking voice — and what a voice Nico had.

I sent her to John Paul Jones and Jimmy Page to audition; they thought she was quite something, totally scrumptious. We weren’t used to this European allure. She was no doormat. She was a lethal woman. She was one of a new breed of woman, like Anita Pallenberg and Yoko Ono, who could have been a man. Like Carla Bruni is today. Far better that than the silly little English teacups around at that time.

We got it all wrong on the record, though, I’m Not Sayin’. I made the mistake of recording her with a big orchestra. It was a Gordon Lightfoot song and it just didn’t swing. Decca rejected it and I hated it. It was in the wrong key, her voice sounded like a horse on steroids. But the B-side, The Last Mile, written by Jimmy Page, was good. [My label] Immediate Records put it out and we did a tour of the all the recording factories around the country. She was a trouper, a real laugh. They all loved her on the factory floor.

We were a stepping stone for her but happy to be one. All the drugs and darkness came later. When I worked with her she was pure Harvey Nichols, and wonderful for it. Well done, Brian, he certainly knew how to pick ’em.

JAMES YOUNG, member of Nico’s band from 1981-88 and the author of Nico — Songs They Never Play on the Radio

A favourite Nico anecdote comes from spring 1982. I was in the tour van, at the back. The air was thick with Marlboro smoke, patchouli and something else. I pushed open the rear side window. A pocket of air whooshed around the interior and slapped Nico in the back of the neck. She turned round. “What are you?” she said. “Some kind of fresh-air freak?”

I’d first heard Nico’s voice as a 14-year-old back in Oldham. A friend had brought round a copy of Chelsea Girl. What was this? A voice deeper than the foghorn on the Bismarck but with a strange inwardness; the music folky but with lyrics that were urban and startling.

I got to hear her voice again, on my doorstep 14 years later. I was living in Oxford by then. I had a place at the university to begin a masters in romantic literature. Nico was with an old schoolfriend, Alan Wise, who had become her manager. She was performing at a local disco, Scamps, above Sainsbury’s in the Westgate shopping centre. I hadn’t planned to go to the concert, and I certainly hadn’t planned to abandon the academic life. But things change. I ended up playing piano for her until her death six years later.

With a Nico performance, whether you were on stage or at the back of the hall, you had to be there all the way with her. You had to remember the world she was born into, without seeing her as a tragic beauty and sentimentalising it. Nico was a beautiful, dreaming, gifted monster.


ALAN WISE, New Order promoter and Nico’s manager

Twenty years on, it seems as if her little funeral in Berlin, with the help of the Rev Michael Gartland, an old friend of mine and hers, a weedy tape player and a few non-famous people, preceded, not followed, the seven years I had known her.

I’d met her on the stairs at the Rafters club in Manchester in 1981, when she was 42. I liked her at first, and after a couple of years I loved her. I made little money with her, just got to travel. The Smiths were just happening, I promoted the first show, but I ignored them for Nico. I had no head for business, only for romance. I loved the travel, and the taste of a faded bohemia.

Looking back I think we undervalued her. Her real stuff was the Germanic lullaby music, not the rock. She had something, a gravitas, even if she was not a “musician”. She could speak five languages and was ashamed of her lack of formal education. But she usually read good books and watched good black-and-white films.

She was the real thing. Fascinated by drugs, she feared whatever her real self was; was scared that she might be mad and changed her mood every minute. She was ashamed of being a German and she was ashamed of being a woman. She was never an anti-Semite. That was crap. She chose to live among Ashkenazim Jews when she lived in Manchester and those of a Jewish cultural background for most of her life, ie, 80 per cent of the music industry here and in New York. She was no snob. She liked playing pool with bums in the pub.

She was a pretty unusual person — a disaster, but also some kind of angel. I wanted her to love me and she never could, though she said once: “Of course I do.” But she loved only one person, her son, Ari. The rest of us vaguely amused her.

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Nico: life of an icon

1938 Born Christa Pfaffgen in Cologne
1954 Is spotted at 16, becomes a model
1959 Appears in Fellini’s La Dolce Vita
1962 Gives birth to son Ari
1965 Records first single in London
1967 Dylan introduces her to Warhol who makes her a Factory superstar and member of the Velvet Underground. Releases solo album, Chelsea Girl.
1969-85 Records series of remarkable albums with John Cale
1988 Dies of a brain hemorrhage


Life Along the Borderline — a Nico Tribute, curated by John Cale, Southbank Centre, London SE1 (0871-663 2500), Oct 11 2008.


Nico tribute concert curated by Lutz Ulrich, Volksbühne, Berlin (0049 30 24 065 5), Oct 17 2008


October 3, 2008 Posted by | John Cale, Music_Alternative, Nico, OTHER_ARTICLE, _MUSIC | 2 Comments

Bob Dylan nominated for Nobel Prize … AGAIN!

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Can I ask an obvious question? Why the fuck has Bob Dylan not won this prize already?

A peerless canon of work spanning almost 50 years!

Countless songs wherein the lyrics are pure poetry!

Countless books of these lyrics chock full of great poetry.

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Works of’ ‘pure’ literature also!

The wonderful, experimental “Tarantula”.

The greatest memoir of recent times – Chronicles – a perfect and beautiful book!

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What the fuck is going on here?

Well, I know. It’s, simply,dumb literary snobbery!

Total bullshit!

The saddest thing – and it hurts me to say this – is that, should Bob suddenly die, he would be a sure shot to win this bullshit prize a few months thereafter!

That is disgusting!

Give it to Bob now! He fucking deserves it!

Ask any of the other nominees. They’ll tell you the same fucking thing!

STOCKHOLM (Reuters) –

Perennial favorites, from American novelist Philip Roth to Japanese writer Haruki Murakami, top the list of hopefuls for this year’s Nobel Prize in literature.

British betting agency Ladbrokes gives Italian scholar and journalist Claudio Magris the edge with 3-1 odds, followed by Israel’s Amos Oz and American author Joyce Carol Oates.

Bottom of the Ladbrokes list with odds of 150-1 is singer-lyricist Bob Dylan.

But such secrecy shrouds the Nobel committee’s deliberations over literature’s most illustrious yearly prize that even the date of the award is kept hush-hush until news of a winner is close at hand.

Dates for the other Nobel prizes, for achievement in the sciences, economics and peace, are set well in advance with the first — for physiology or medicine — due on October 6.

Bookmakers are not the only ones to play oracle about the Nobels, which dynamite inventor Alfred Nobel established in his will and which were first handed out in 1901. Publishers and writers themselves often weigh in.

American novelist Michael Chabon lists writers he would like to see win, led by Ursula K. Leguin and including Michael Ondaatje, Cormac McCarthy, J.G. Ballard and Roth.

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October 2, 2008 Posted by | OTHER_ARTICLE, _BOB DYLAN, _MUSIC | 1 Comment

Uncut reviews Dylan’s new great Tell Tale Signs: The Bootleg Series Volume 8

Bob Dylan

May, 2008. The door of the hotel room opens and I’m introduced to someone who looks not unlike Billy Bob Thornton: tall, elegant, sharply turned out in a black suit. This is Bob Dylan‘s manager, Jeff Rosen, here to play SonyBMG’s London chiefs tracks from the latest in the Bootleg Series he initiated in 1991.

Rosen first of all plays me a revelatory early version of “Most Of The Time”, stripped of the swampy atmospherics producer Daniel Lanois surrounded it with on Oh Mercy, and performed as it might have been for Blood On The Tracks, just Bob on guitar and harmonica. I’m flabbergasted, listen to about nine more tracks in wonder, and can’t wait for the thing to be released.

Six months later, here, finally, it is: Tell Tale Signs: The Bootleg Series Volume 8 – 39 rare and previously unreleased Dylan tracks, available as a 27-track double CD with a 60-page booklet, and a Limited Edition Deluxe Collectors’ Edition, with the content from the 2CD set complemented by a further 12 tracks, a 150-page hardcover book of vintage single sleeves and a seven-inch single. There’s also a four-LP vinyl set.

The material in all formats is drawn from the past 20 years of Dylan’s career, the bulk of it from the sessions that produced Oh Mercy and Time Out Of Mind, with outtakes elsewhere from World Gone Wrong, and two startling alternative versions of two key tracks from Modern Times. Additionally, there are eight live tracks, including a thunderously exciting “Cold Irons Bound”, first hearings for two tracks from the unreleased 1992 sessions with guitarist David Bromberg (covers of Jimmie Rodgers’ “Miss The Mississippi” and the traditional “Duncan And Brady”, a former concert opener), as well as a smattering of songs written for movie soundtracks, including the hitherto unreleased “Can’t Escape From You” and the great Civil War epic, “‘Cross The Green Mountain”. Finally, there’s “The Lonesome Mountain”, a duet with bluegrass icon Ralph Stanley, from the latter’s Clinch Mountain Country album.

There have already been rumblings about the apparent eking out of what is clearly an abundance of previously unavailable material and the consequent duplication of songs – there are three versions, for instance, of “Love And Theft'”s “Mississippi”, the earliest dating from the Time Out Of Mind sessions, and there are two versions each of seven other tracks. Where, the plea goes up, are the rest of the Bromberg tracks? And why hasn’t there been a live album, culled from the shows Dylan played at New York’s Supper Club in 1993, which on the evidence here of “Ring Them Bells” would be mindblowing?

These may be legitimate quibbles, but you’d have to say in reply that whatever way you look at it, there are treasures here galore for the avid Bobcat and an opportunity to consider the many ways Dylan sees a song –an opportunity, that is, to appreciate his relentlessly myriadic vision. And who would put a price on that?

There are alternative takes here of familiar songs that differ not just in mood and tempo from the versions we know, but boast partially or completely different lyrics – as with the solo piano demo of “Dignity” and the jaunty rockabilly incarnation of “Everything Is Broken”. The two songs from Modern Times, meanwhile, are a radically altered “Someday Baby”, set to a slow martial beat, and a mesmerising early go at “Ain’t Talkin'”, with a swathe of new words.

I remember after seeing Dylan’s Temples In Flames tour in 1987 trying to explain to sceptical colleagues how astonishing it had been to hear Dylan tearing up classics from his vast repertoire, in some instances reinventing them brutally. Their reaction was much the same as many of the people who’d been sitting around me at the gig: why didn’t Bob just play the songs like he recorded them?

For these people, Dylan’s evisceration of his back catalogue was typically capricious, perverse, wilful vandalism, nothing less, and ruined their evening. The hits were played, perhaps, but you sometimes had to sit through half a song before you realised what it was. Clearly, for Dylan there was nothing to be gained by the faithful reading, replicated nightly with numbing repetition. For him to continue to make sense of his songs, they would have to be approached anew whenever they were played, as his moods dictated, and everybody would have to get used to that.

It’s become such an embedded part of the Dylan myth that he never repeats himself that we perhaps take it for granted. On the following pages, however, as our Tell Tale Signs special continues, there’s ample testimony from some of the people who have worked with Dylan over the past two decades about his quixotic urgency, the impatient imperatives that drive him, his almost phobic insistence on not doing something twice the same way.

In these days of boxset anthologies with innumerable extras, we’re used to hearing how songs develop from rough-sketch demos to the finished thing, which then becomes the unalterable text, omnipotent and inviolate, embellished occasionally in concert but usually recognisably the song you know from the record. With Dylan it’s different, as it usually is.

Tell Tale Signs is awash with evidence of his staggering mercuriality, his evident determination even in the studio to repeat himself as little as possible, re-takes not merely the occasion for refinement, the honing of a song into static finality, but serial re-imaginings. Witness the three versions of “Mississippi” – all of them as different from each other as they are from the one on “Love And Theft”. You can hear on them the working of nuance, a successive revealing of things. Similarly fascinating are the two versions of “Can’t Wait”, both more desperately intimate than the Time Out Of Mind recording. The first, piano-led, is fleetingly reminiscent of Planet Waves’ “Dirge”, dark and unsettling. The second, with glowering organ and a vocal drenched in reverb, is a doom-laden trip, eerily reminiscent of “Under Your Spell”, an unlikely collaboration with Carole Bayer Sager from Knocked Out Loaded, with a lyric that went on to become part of “Love And Theft'”s “Sugar Baby”.

Previously, the Bootleg Series has given us unreleased gems like 1965’s pivotal “Farewell Angelina”, “Up To Me”, dropped from the final version of Blood On The Tracks, which itself exists in two different forms, and “Blind Willie McTell”, unfathomably not included on Infidels.

Their equivalents here would be a majestic “Born In Time” on Disc One that’s in every way superior to its Under The Red Sky incarnation, and three tracks from the Time Out Of Mind sessions that didn’t make the album. This is extraordinary in the case of the eight-minute cantina reverie of “Red River Shore”, which is high-tier late Dylan, fatalistic and windswept. And only slightly less so in the cases of the gospel-based “Marchin’ To the City” – which turned later into “Till I Fell In Love With You” – and “Dreamin’ Of You”, Dylan wounded and haunted, much as he haunts us all.

ALLAN JONES

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October 2, 2008 Posted by | OTHER_ARTICLE, _BOB DYLAN, _MUSIC, _OTHER | Leave a comment

John Lennon: The Life by Philip Norman – The Sunday Times review

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Good review by Robert Sandall of the latest Lennon bio!

If anyone want to send me this book – John Lennon: The Life by Philip Norman – feel free!


John Lennon: The Life by Philip Norman – The Sunday Times review

A compulsive biography that uncovers the conflicts that made John Lennon a mess of insecurities


by Robert Sandall

from:http://entertainment.timesonline.co.uk

Unlike most rock stars — unlike most people — the life of John Lennon would probably have been a compulsive read whatever he’d achieved as an adult. From the moment he entered the world in 1940 during a German bombing raid on Liverpool, to the point at which he left it 40 years later, shot dead on his New York doorstep by a schizophrenic fan, Lennon was a lifelong stranger to normality.

Emotionally, he was a mess of insecurities. The son of a working-class merchant seaman with showbiz aspirations and a flighty middle-class woman in permanent denial of her genteel background, Lennon fervently believed that he had been, as a child, “never really wanted”. Scarred by a bizarre scene when his soon-to-be-absent father ordered him, at the age of six, to choose which of his separated parents he wanted to stay with, he ended up with neither following the intervention of his mother’s older sister, a strict and childless former nurse, aunt Mimi. Mimi’s motivation for taking John off to live with her and uncle George in the polite Liverpool suburb of Woolton was not maternal or conventionally affectionate: it was driven by her class-bound disapproval of what she regarded as the proletarian habits of John’s mum Julia, a free-spirited fan of pubs, banjo-playing and extramarital relationships.

Lennon’s affinity for his errant mother, whom he visited on a regular basis, extended way beyond her taste for popular music. In the course of his conversations with Lennon’s inner circle, Philip Norman heard several reports of an incident when John was 14 in which he accidentally touched his mother’s breast one afternoon while lying next to her on a bed. “I was wondering if I should do anything else,” Lennon later told a journalist from the Daily Express. “I always think I should have done it. Presumably she would have allowed it.”

Feelings of intimacy were, for this extra- ordinarily unlucky man, often a prelude to bereavement. When Lennon was 17, Julia was run over and killed by a speeding off- duty policeman, a tragedy that left him, he said, “in a blind rage for two years”. He had barely recovered from that when the Beatles’ first bassist Stu Sutcliffe — whom Lennon worshipped with a quasi-sexual intensity and to whom he wrote letters similar in length and tone, he claimed, to the ones he later sent Yoko — died sudd- enly of a brain haemorrhage. (Norman discounts the possibility that this was provoked by an earlier, drunken attack on Sutcliffe in which Lennon-allegedly kicked him in the head.)

The fatal drugs overdose that did for his surrogate father figure, Brian Epstein, in 1967 hit him much harder than it did the rest of the Beatles. For one thing, Lennon blamed himself “for introducing Brian to pills”.

More to the point, he was devastated to lose the cultivated, sensitive soul he had once holidayed alone with in Spain and who, despite all the cruel jibes about Epstein’s being “a faggot and a Jew”, deeply touched the middle-class sensibility implanted by Mimi. When Epstein first checked into a London rehab centre to try to deal with his problem, Lennon sent him a huge floral bouquet with the message, “You know I love you . . . I really mean that. John.”

The loss of Epstein was a disaster which presaged the end of Lennon’s first marriage to the long-suffering Cynthia, as well as his creative relationship with the Beatles. It seems to have coincided with, if not contributed to, the falling-out with Paul McCartney, another close buddy for whom Lennon, Norman suggests, might have harboured some sexual feelings. He quotes Yoko remembering people in the Apple office referring to McCartney as “John’s princess”. But rather than outing his subject, in the stridently accusatory style of his previous biographer Albert Goldman, Norman is more wisely tuned to Lennon’s wayward intellectual curiosity. He attributes his gay moments to a commitment to “the principle that bohemians should try everything” and concludes that, where McCartney was concerned, Lennon had been “deterred by Paul’s immovable heterosexuality”.

Norman has written about Lennon twice before but he has uncovered much new mat-erial in his research for this impressive and highly readable book. One intriguing nugget concerns the revelation that the unidentified girl Lennon sings about “having” in Norwegian Wood was the German wife of the Beatles’ photographer Robert Freeman, with whom Lennon had a clandestine affair while the couple were living in the flat beneath his and Cynthia’s in South Kensington.

The fact that Norman has had the blessing and full co-operation of Yoko Ono means that he is not short of new things to say about the relationship which, according to popular writ, broke up the world’s favourite pop group. He argues convincingly that, far from being an opportunistic schemer, the high-born, wealthy Yoko was reluctant to take up with the Beatle she regarded as her social and artistic inferior, and whose crude sexual foreplay — employing the Beatles’ roadies to cart her off to a bed in a flat near the Abbey Road studio — she initially rejected.

The most interesting part of Lennon’s complicated life on which Norman sheds fresh light is the troubled relationship with his seaman father, Alfred. Usually seen as an absconding rascal, Alf emerges here as a stoic victim of the caprices of his serially unfaithful wife and volatile son. He tried to hang on to John, offering to take him to New Zealand after Julia walked out on their marriage; and when he finally re-established contact with his Beatle son, he seems not to have expected anything much in the way of help, despite being broke and virtually jobless. Like just about everybody else in John’s family and life, Alf was, in his way, a remarkable man. At 54, he successfully romanced a 19-year-old girl, whom he married and had two sons with. Shortly after this, in what was to be their final meeting, John unleashed the fury he had long nurtured for his hapless dad and threatened to have him killed. The statement a terrified Alf filed with a solicitor in the event of this threat being carried out is one of the most moving and scary pieces of Lennon’s sprawling legacy. It is greatly to Norman’s credit as a biographer that he does justice to all of it in a book whose 854 pages simply fly by.

Book available at the Sunday Times BooksFirst price of £22.50 (inc p&p) on 0870 165 8585


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October 1, 2008 Posted by | John Lennon, OTHER_ARTICLE, OTHER_BOOK, _MUSIC | Leave a comment

What Lennon’s sexual fantasies have to do with Gandhi and Keats…

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Curiously titled but interesting piece from the Independent about the latest John Lennon “proper” biography John Lennon: The Life by Philip Norman … another review of which we’ve posted here

I really want to get this book.

If anyone want to send me this book – John Lennon: The Life by Philip Norman – feel free!!

What Lennon’s sexual fantasies have to do with Gandhi and Keats…

Tales of the city … Tuesday, 23 September 2008

John Walsh


http://www.independent.co.uk/opinion/columnists/john-walsh/

Do we need another book on John Lennon? In the 28 years since his death, a tsunami of Beatles history, biography, song analysis and memorabilia has engulfed fans of the Working-Class Hero. Lennon’s own family have joined in; only last year Julia Baird, his half-sister, published a harrowing description of the tug-of-love between their mother Julia and their aunt Mimi, with whom John grew up. Can there be more to find out?

And can Philip Norman, the author of the new 300,000-word John Lennon: The Life, be serious when he tells The Word magazine, “[Lennon deserves a] real biography, as if he were John Keats or Mahatma Gandhi. Not a pop person, but a major towering presence in his century”?

The answer to both questions is emphatically Yes. Norman is perhaps going a bit far with the Gandhi comparison, but it’s undoubtedly time we started taking the architects of the cathedral of rock more seriously, before the rest of them (Chuck Berry, Dylan, Jagger and Richards, McCartney, Ray Davies, the remainder of Pink Floyd) are mown down by Time. They presided over a revolution in human sensibility more profound and lasting than anything engendered by politics in the Sixties and Seventies.

And yes, Norman has unearthed startling things. We knew, for instance, that Lennon adored his mother, Julia: she was exuberant, headstrong, red-haired and musical, and taught him his first instrument, the ukulele, standing behind him with her hands on his (she also did a fine George Formby impression). We didn’t, however, know that Lennon fantasised about having sex with her, and told many people. At 14, apparently, he lay down beside Julia during her afternoon rest, “and wondered how far she would let him go”. He also, according to Norman, flirted with the idea of having sex with Paul McCartney. Norman also reveals that the short-lived girlfriend in “Norwegian Wood” wasn’t Maureen Cleave of the Evening Standard, but Sonny Freeman, the German wife of his friend Robert Freeman who lived downstairs from John and Cynthia, and whom John used to visit when Robert was working and Cynthia was changing the infant Julian.

Hints that John Lennon could be a prize shit to his intimates are amply borne out by Norman. He tells the story about Lennon’s father, Alfred, a chronically absent merchant seaman who reappeared from time to time to say “hi” to his son. Once he visited the grown-up Lennon, bearing a gift of some aftershave. Lennon by then was sporting a beard and the gift (which showed how much his father knew him) sent him into a fury. He threatened to have Alf killed. His father took the threat seriously enough to contact a lawyer.

You might argue that this is mere smut and family tittle-tattle. That would be to misunderstand a) what we like to read in biographies and b) the importance to Lennon of his problematic childhood. It lurks behind so many of his world-changing songs. His half-sister Julia told me: “John once said in an interview, ‘I’m not one for doing autobiography, I’ll never do anything like that.’ And I thought, ‘John, all your songs are autobiographical.’ Didn’t he see it?”

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October 1, 2008 Posted by | John Lennon, OTHER_ARTICLE, _MUSIC | Leave a comment

Sacrifice operatives out to kill Paul McCartney!

“Did I really get $50 million for nothing? Really? ….
“The sacrifice operatives will be waiting for him.”

Yes, Macca is in trouble!

Someone’s threatening his life!

And this time, it isn’t uber-rich divorcee and former adult-star/ hooker (allegedly Mr Lawyers … as claimed by numerous media publications! And I’ve seen a lot of the naughty pictures of naughty Heather too!) Heather Mills!

Some militant Muslim leader called Omar Bakri’s threatening to kill Paul McCartney!

Maybe he’s a music fan and is sick and tired of Macca’s mountain of post-Beatles muzak?

Maybe he heard the Frog Chorus, Mull of Kintyre and Ebony & Ivory in succession on whatever crazy radio station he listens to, and it made him snap?


Maybe he’s angry at Macca’s marriage to crazy legless
Mills?

Maybe he’s angry that crazy
Mills received a divorce settlement of a billion, trillion dollars?

No! No! No!

Surprisingly, none of those quasi-logical reasons are causing the madness!

More prosaically, it’s Macca’s upcoming gig in Tel Aviv!

If that whacko hates the Israelis so much, he should be happy to have Macca play for them, and make them endure a night of awful muzak from which their eardrums and brains may never properly recover!!


Macca is unrepentant though! He says the Frog Chorus, Mull of Kintyre and Ebony & Ivory are still huge hits in Israel, so he must go there!


Looks like the wonderfully titled sacrifice operatives will be waiting for Macca! I hope they have ear-muffs!!


BTW, how does one get a job as a sacrifice operative? Sounds exciting! Is there a a special college?

//www.haaretz.com/hasite/images/iht_daily/D140908/250_PaulMcCartney_AP.jpg” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors.
Muslim leader threatens to kill Paul McCartney over Israel gig

By Haaretz Service and Reuters

An Islamic militant leader warned that former Beatle Sir Paul McCartney could be the target of suicide bombers unless he cancels his first concert in Israel, reported the British Sunday Express.

The celebrated rock star plans to arrive in Israel as part of a world tour, and give a single concert at Tel Aviv’s Park Hayarkon on September 25.

Omar Bakri, an Islamic preacher, said McCartney’s decision to perform as part of Israel’s 60th anniversary celebrations made him the enemy of Muslims worldwide.

“If he values his life, Mr. McCartney must not come to Israel,” Bakri was quoted as saying. “He will not be safe there. The sacrifice operatives will be waiting for him.”

Bakri added, “Instead of supporting the people of Palestine in their suffering, McCartney is celebrating the atrocities of the occupiers,” Bakri was quoted as saying. “The one who is under occupation is supposed to be getting the help.”

McCartney was also been pressured by pro-Palestinian groups to cancel the show, but has resisted.

“I was approached by different groups and political bodies who asked me not to come here. I refused. I do what I think, and I have many friends who support Israel,” McCartney said in an interview with Yedioth Ahronoth.

Pro-Palestinian groups have frequently called on international academics and prominent cultural figures to boycott Israel over its occupation of the West Bank and blockade of the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip.


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September 15, 2008 Posted by | Heather Mills, OTHER_ARTICLE, Paul McCartney, _MUSIC | Leave a comment

Harry Dean Stanton: The Hollywood Interview

A lovely piece about the great man – who talks about an array of stuff including some of his more famous roles and also meeting Bob Dylan on the set of Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid

This article originally appeared in the August 1997 issue of Venice Magazine and comes via thehollywoodinterview

HARRY DEAN STANTON:
AMERICAN CHARACTER
By
Alex Simon

This article orginally appeared in the August 1997 issue of Venice Magazine.

“Genius is formed in quiet, character in the stream of human life.” –Goethe

Harry Dean Stanton is probably the most recognizable character actor working in film today. A veteran with over 80 films to his credit, 1997 marks Harry Dean’s 40th year as a film actor.
Just a sampling of the Harry Dean Stanton oeuvre includes: Pork Chop Hill, How the West Was Won, Cool Hand Luke, Cisco Pike, Two Lane Blacktop, Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid, Dillinger, Godfather II, Rancho Deluxe, Farewell My Lovely, The Missouri Breaks, Straight Time; Wise Blood, Alien, The Rose, Private Benjamin, One From the Heart, Escape From New York, Christine, Repo Man, Paris Texas, Pretty in Pink, The Last Temptation of Christ ,The Mighty with Sharon Stone and Gena Rowlands, and his newest release, Nick Cassavetes’ She’s So Lovely.

Taken from a screenplay written by the late John Cassavetes (Nick’s father), She’s So Lovely tells the Charles Bukowski-esque tale of Maureen and Eddie, played by Robin Wright Penn and Sean Penn (who won Best Actor at this year’s Cannes Film Festival), two unstable barflies whose combustible romance causes havoc for everyone around around them. Harry Dean plays Shorty, one of their inner circle of drinking buddies, who tries to help Eddie cope upon his release from a mental hospital. The film is a sight to behold, as these seemingly low-life characters are brought to life and made sympathetic and very real, thanks to the skill and talent of the very impressive cast, script and direction. As always, Harry Dean is a delight to watch in his role as the boozy sage Shorty.

In addition to his film work, Harry Dean worked extensively in TV throughout the late 50’s and 1960’s. As if he wasn’t alrea dy busy enough, Harry Dean is an accomplished musician, whose band The Harry Dean Stanton Orchestra, plays weekly Monday night gigs at The Mint on Pico Blvd. in West L.A., as well as at the Moonlight Supper Club 13730 Ventura Blvd. Friday August 8th.

Born in West Irvine, Kentucky, Harry Dean Stanton grew up around Lexington, Ky. and served in the Navy during WW II. Following graduation from the University of Kentucky, he trained at the Pasadena Playhouse and for many years performed modestly on stage before entering films in the late 1950’s. Before long, he emerged as one of Hollywood’s most convincing character actors, a versatile performer with a broad repertoire of roles, from psychos and villains to sympathetic, even good-humored leading men. With his lean, everyman looks, and down-home folksy manner, few screen actors since James Stewart or Spencer Tracy could be called as quintessentially American as Harry Dean Stanton. On screen, he represents the sort of man we both know and would like to know. He carries this quality over into his own life, as well.
Harry Dean recently sat down at his comfortable hilltop home, surrounded by his collection of guitars, records, books and photographs, and reflected on his phenomenal life both on and off-screen.

You were born in West Irvine, Kentucky, a long way from Hollywood. What was that like?
HARRY DEAN STANTON: It was a small town, mostly tobacco farmers, things like that.

As a kid were you always interested in acting?
I always had a dramatic flare. I’d like to dress up as a cowboy, play make believe…but I didn’t realize acting was something I had to do until I was in college.

You served in the Navy during WW II, before college. See any action overseas?
Yeah. I was in the battle of Okinawa when the suicide planes were coming in. But I was pretty lucky. We had so many ships over there. One of the (Japanese planes) got through one day, they’d come in with the sun behind them. But usually the destroyers would go out and meet them. I was on an LST–ammunition ship. If we’d gotten hit…like I said, I was lucky.

Did you study drama in college?
No. First journalism, then radio arts…and I did a play and got a good response from that. I understood it. I was at home on stage. At that point I was trying to decide if I wanted to be a singer, musician or an actor. But I thought that by being an actor I could dabble in a little bit of everything, because I’ve always been interested in lots of things. But as an actor I figured I could travel and hopefully make a little money (laughs), which I did and I’ve been lucky.

What was that first play you did?
Pygmalion by Shaw. I played Alfred Doolittle, Eliza’s father, with a Cockney accent. I was pretty good. I had a good ear for dialects, so I guess it was a pretty good stage accent, but a real Cockney probably would’ve turned over in his grave, or a Brit. (laughs) And from there, I hopped on a Greyhound bus and studied at the Pasadena playhouse.

What was that like?
Well, I studied there for two years and then stayed two more years after that, but I should’ve gone to New York after (I graduated), like everyone was telling me. That’s when the Actor’s Studio was really hot and the Neighborhood Playhouse. But I found myself a home in Pasadena and stayed there for two more years, doing plays, then I went back east, did another play in Lexington (Kentucky), then I answered an ad in the paper that said “Singers Wanted” and got on a singing tour with this Baptist preacher who wanted to spread the word of God through song. So we’d go into a town, pass out leaflets, give concerts. Actually we sang in Tennessee, too, for (Jimmy) Carter when he was Governor of Tennessee. I was impressed with him then and I still like him. I think he was one of the most decent Presidents we’ve ever had.

I think he’s our best ex-President with all the humanitarian things he’s done after leaving office.
Yeah, he’s done a lot. I just don’t think he was strong enough to deal with all those high-powered politicians…but I think he’s the most decent President we’ve ever seen, at least in my time. Especially, like you said, with all the work he’s done out of office. Carter was probably the truest public servant we’ve had in the presidency.

What happened after the choral group?
I went back to Kentucky for about a year, then went to New York where I signed up with Stella Adler, but then got stuck doing another miserable road tour with a children’s play (laughs) that went all over the country. Then when we got out here I quit and that was 1957 and one of my early gigs was an episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, which Hitchcock directed. I was impressed with him. I loved Hitchcock. He was great. Then I got a movie called The Proud Rebel, starring Alan Ladd and Alan Ladd, Jr., when he was just a little kid. It was directed by Michael Curtiz, who did Casablanca. And ever since then, I haven’t stopped working.

I understand that during the 1960’s, you and Jack Nicholson were roommates?
Yeah for about two and a half years in Laurel Canyon on a road called Skyline Drive. And during that time is when Jack did Easy Rider. Jack’s always been very smart. Even then he was producing, writing…he’s very well-grounded.

Any great stories about living with Jack?
Oh yeah. I could talk forever about that, but…it’s all a lot of personal things. We’re still good pals. He’s a crumudgeon sometimes, but he’s been a loyal friend. He’s been attacked enough in the press.

Tell me some more about working with Hitchcock.
He was great. I remember we had a whole sequence to shoot, me and this kid Tom Pitman, who later got killed in a Porsche driving in Benedict Canyon, rest his soul. And we were standing around waiting for Hitchcock to direct us in the scene, where Tom and I were kidnapping E.G. Marshall, tying him up. So Hitchcock tells us (imitating him) “You fellows just go down there and work it out.” (laughs) Never said another word! Nothing! He just let us do it. That’s what I loved about him. All great directors do that, they say very little to actors. It’s the insecure ones who start giving a lot of directions, thinking that they have to be doing something all the time. You never want to tell an actor how to do his job. Good actors know what to do anyway.

Tell me everything a director should know about actors.
Well number one, you don’t have to be an authority figure. If you hear a director say “I’m the director and you’ll do what I say!”…If you ever feel yourself wanting to say that, you’re in deep shit. (laughs) I worked with George Lucas too, and you wouldn’t even know he was there, hardly. I did a video for him with Linda Ronstadt, Dolly Parton and Emmylou Harris. Still plays sometimes. If you know your material, you’ve got to get good actors. Casting is 75% of it, or more. If you’ve got a good script and good actors, you’re in good shape.

Was Hollywood pretty overwhelming to a nice boy from Kentucky at first?
Not really when I started to do films, because I’d already been doing plays and those two nightmare road tours…but it was rough at first because I got stuck doing so much television…I did a lot of westerns, Gunsmoke, The Virginian, did The Walter Winchell Files, where I played a cop killer and that got me the The Proud Rebel, my first break. I kept doing TV until ’69.

Was any of your family in Kentucky artistic at all?
No, not really. We sang a lot. Our mother taught us. My brothers Ralph and Archie and I sang barbershop harmoney together. We’d sing Irish songs. I was always singing. I was in the Glee Club, choral groups in high school and college, in the Navy. I had a barber shop quartet in high school. Still love barbershop. I still love music. I’ve got a band now, playing every Monday night down at The Mint. I’m the lead singer and play rhythm guitar and harmonica.

Tell me some more about your family.
I had two brothers and two half-sisters and later on I had a half-brother when my mother re-married. My folks got divorced when I was in high school. My father was a farmer, tobacco farmer. He combined that with being a barber. My mother was a hairdresser. And that’s about it. My family was the usual family, you know. 50% or more of all marriages end in divorce. It’s sad. It’s a dysfunctional society as far as I’m concerned. Religion…I’m not into religion much. It hasn’t really done the job.

Tell me some more about The Harry Dean Stanton Orchestra.
I’ve got a great bunch of musicians with me. Jamie James is my guitar player. He was with the King Bees. They had some records on the charts in the early 80’s. Tom Slick is the bass player. He’s great. Danny Marfisi is our drummer. Stu Ulster plays keyboards. They’re all great. We’ll be playing at The Mint through September. We’re building up a good crowd. We also play Jack’s Sugar Shack at Hollywood and Vine about once a month and New Year’s Eve.

Have you ever sung on film?
Yeah. In Cool Hand Luke I sang a song called “Just a Closer Walk With Me.” Matter of fact, they gave me the guitar that I played in the film. I also taught Paul (Newman) that song he sang, “I Don’t Care if it Rains or Freezes, Long as I Got My Plastic Jesus.” (laughs) It was a good time. A good shoot.

What was it like working with Sam Peckinpah on Pat Garrett?
Well, the thing I remember most about that shoot is becoming friends with Bob Dylan. We hung out quite a bit during the shoot. Drove together all the way from Guadalajara, Mexico to Kansas City together. We jammed together quite a bit. He liked my Mexican songs. I can sing in Spanish. But Peckinpah, he was a volatile, very difficult guy. He never got on my case, but he was very hard on women. He was a drinker, you know. A real character. My theory was, he had a TV series once about an anti-hero called The Westerner, or something. The guy had a dog, and didn’t always win the gunfights. It got canceled…Sam was really trying to do good work, but my theory is he just got pissed off at the whole industry and started making violent films. I never really liked that whole genre, the western. Most were just morality plays with a good guy and bad guy…not really my bag.

What is your favorite genre?
No genre, really. Anything that’s original.

You seem to be drawn toward character-driven material and to stay away from blockbuster films with lots of pyrotechnics, explosions, and so on.
Yeah, well that stuff’s all too obvious. It’s like a circus. Circus maxiumus. It’s reminiscent of the Forum in Rome, with the lions and the Christians. (laughs)

Tell me about doing Godfather II.
Well working with (Francis) Coppola is always fun. I did three films with him. One was a television film. I played Rip Van Winkle (laughs). I love Francis. He’s a wonderful director. Respects actors. He did something on One From the Heart that was, especially for a “big time” director was really wonderful. There was a scene with Teri Garr and Fred Forrest and he came up to me and said “Harry Dean, you direct this scene.” No director has done that before, or since with me. And I did, I helped him direct it. Of course he had the final word on it, but for a director to do something like that is pretty special.

You did Farewell My Lovely with Robert Mitchum, who just died. What was he like?
Oh, he was a legendary character. Great story teller. He was good to be around. Always stoned (laughs).

You hung out with some legendary people yourself during the 60’s: Nicholson, Dennis Hopper, Peter Fonda. It must’ve been a great time.
The 60’s were great. They ought to re-run ’em. A lot people didn’t get it.

What didn’t they get?
The whole revolutionary concept is the consciousness revolution against the whole system. The state, government, religion, everything. A lot of eastern religion started having an effect on the culture, too, at that point. Alan Watts, Kerouac, Ginsberg, Leary of course, who leaned a little too heavily on LSD saving the world, but I understood exactly what he was doing. On LSD the ego just goes out the window. It’s all tied in to eastern philosophy and Bhuddism, although they certainly wouldn’t recommend LSD (laughs) because that’s not the answer to it.

It sounds like you really relate to eastern philosophy and spirituality more than western.
Oh yeah, totally. I can’t relate to the Judaic-Christian concept at all. It’s a fascistic concept. All fear-based. All about there being a boss. Someone in charge. A creator. As far as we know, infinity is a reality. There’s no beginning to this and no end. So (the Judaic-Christians) made it, ‘Okay, after you die you’re gonna live forever, but not before.’ But with a positive eternity, there’s no ending and you also have to realize there’s no beginning, which blows the creationist theory totally out the window.

The other interesting thing about most western religions if you read about their history is that they were all based on commerce: the upper class exploiting the lower, uneducated class.
Well I’m convinced that Christ was a Bhuddist. And the Jewish hierarchy and certainly the Romans didn’t want any part of that, because that would blow their whole trip. They were in charge and they had their “Bossman” religion. It’s totally hypocritical, egotistical and presumptuous to think that God is a guy, you know?! Mark Twain I think, said “God created man in his own image. Who do you suppose thought of that?” (laughs) It’s almost naive, such a ludicrous concept. It’s a Bronze Age concept. You have to be careful not to go around preaching, you know. Get labeled as “subversive.” Which is why they killed Christ! They always talk about there were years they didn’t know where Christ was. I’m convinced that’s when he went to India, because everything he talks about is Bhuddistic. “Take no thought for the morrow.” “The way and the light.” He was trying to teach everybody that everybody’s the son of God. Then the Romans came along and said “Uh-uh. You can be the son of God, but nobody else.” (laughs) So they kept their authority and kept Christ as the authority figure: followers, fear.

Let’s talk some more about your films. Alien sticks out as the one blockbuster you’ve been involved in.
Yeah. And that’s a really classic movie now. I never liked science fiction movies or monster movies, but that one was very believable. I told Ridley Scott during my interview with him that I didn’t like those sorts of films and he said “Well I don’t either, actually, but I think I can make something of this one.” And he did.

How about Repo Man?
That and Paris, Texas are my two favorites. Repo Man was hectic. Both were low budget films, which makes it tough. But I thought Repo Man was a brilliant satire on the whole culture, on everything: violence, religion, desperation of the whole society trying to make it. How a man’s got to have a “code.” Some wonderful lines in that. (Writer-director) Alex Cox did a wonderful job.

Your performance in Paris, Texas is one of the most amazing I’ve ever seen, especially since you remain silent throughout most of the film.
Thank you very much. Sam Shepard’s writing also contributed a great deal to that. The script is the thing that draws all the talent together: director, actors, everyone. The emotional effect it all has on the audience is due to the script.

Your character in Paris, Texas is one of the saddest I’ve ever seen. How do you get to a place like that?
I just play myself. Even with other actors, I just play to the actor, I don’t play to the character. I talk to the other actors as myself, as the actor, not as the character. That’s my approach. Nicholson helped me to start doing that. I had been thinking about it for a long time anyway, that I want to learn to play myself before I start worrying about getting into character with all the limps and accents, which some actors are really good at, like Dustin, Sean Penn, Marlon, Johnny Depp, Meryl Streep.

When you have to go to a dark place with a character, like in Paris, Texas, does that take a toll physically?
No, not with that kind of character. There was something haunting about him, very believable. Dark characters to me are serial killers, like Dennis Hopper’s role in Blue Velvet. As a matter of fact, David Lynch wanted to meet with me to play that role originally and I turned the meeting down because I think I was afraid of it. That was a big mistake, though. I wish I’d done it and just seized the bull by the horns. The older I got, the more I didn’t want to go (to those dark places) which is a mistake for an actor. And this isn’t to say that in the end I would’ve gotten the role…this is tricky, but Dennis knows all this. There were three roles I turned down that he wound up doing: Blue Velvet, River’s Edge and Hoosiers. And Dennis was nominated for an Oscar for Hoosiers. For River’s Edge I told ’em to call Dennis (laughs). And I sincerely don’t want to sound self-serving or to rain on Dennis’ parade, although I probably have (laughs). Dennis and I have laughed about it before.

What was it like working with Scorsese on Last Temptation of Christ?
He’s one of the best. I think it was great material. I think that film will be around for years, in spite of all the protests from the whole Christian world who didn’t want to see Christ as a human being.

What amazed me about all the protests was that Last Temptation is one of the most reverent films ever made!
It is! All it did was show his last temptation on the cross which was that he wanted to be married with kids and live a regular life. And most of the protesters and their leaders never even saw the film. It was just a follow-the-leader situation.

Do you think most people find it easier to live life that way?
Oh sure. That way they have no responsibility. Total tunnelvision. Wilhelm Reich, who was a contemporary of Freud’s, had something interesting to say about that. He said that human beings are terrified of total freedom, and of feeling good. I’m talking about total psychological freedom, which the eastern religions are into, where you’re your own guru, really. And your own master, ultimately. In fact everybody’s God and capable of that consciousness. That’s what Christ was talking about. That was the good news, the gospel, which is a Bhuddist concept. Again, he was a Bhuddist, philosophically and a Jew ethnically.

How was it working with Nicholson, Brando and (director) Arthur Penn on The Missouri Breaks?
That was a great experience. Marlon has since become a great friend to me. Me and Sean Penn and him have talked about doing a film together. And Arthur is a great director. There was this scene where I was with a big group of people around a campfire and all hell breaks loose with shooting, running…and I said to Arthur “What do I do?” and Arthur says “Nothing!” And it was great! It gave me the freedom just to honestly react to everything going on around me.

Almost every movie I’ve seen this summer, I’ve wanted to yell at the actors “Bring it down!”
There’s a great story about that. A veteran director is talking with this young actor who’s just chewing the scenery, hamming it up and the director tells him “Cut it in half.” So they do another take. The director says “Now cut that in half.” They do another take. “Now cut that in half.” And the actor yells “If I cut it down anymore I won’t be doing anything!” And the director says “Exactly!”

That’s a great story.
And the other biggest problem an actor faces is rushing. That was my biggest enemy. Don’t let the camera crew and lighting people…they take all the fucking time in the world. Mostly it’s the lighting people. And when they finally get ready to shoot it, they’re rushing the actors. “C’mon, we gotta get this shot!” Meanwhile you’ve got a lighting crew taking all the time they want.

Tell me about your newest film She’s So Lovely.
It was a real pleasure working with Robin, Sean, John Travolta and Debi Mazar and the rest of the cast and crew. It’s always a pleasure working with talented people.

Did you ever work with John Cassavetes?
No. I love Nick, though. I loved working with him. Nick’s practically a first time director. This is only his second film as a director. He’s as good as any director I’ve worked with. He’s great with actors.

Music plays a major part in your life. What’s your favorite kind?
I love all kinds of music: country, folk, rock n’ roll if it’s not loud. I hate blast out rock n’ roll, which most of them make the mistake of doing. They start way up here at a volume and they’ve got no place to go. As far as artists I like there’s Phil Ochs, Dylan, Kristofferson, Credence Clearwater Revival, I love. John Fogerty, their lead singer, is great. Muddy Waters, Jimmy Reed, all the black blues singers. I like roots rock. Pretty much everything.

Since we’ve talked so much about eastern religion and philosophy, how did you discover it originally?
I started reading Ralph Waldo Emerson, which got me started questioning the whole traditional concept of religion. I was at the Pasadena Playhouse and found this book just lying in the dust one day. Somebody had dropped a book of Emerson and I picked it up.

That was no accident that you found that.
No. There are no accidents.

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September 15, 2008 Posted by | Harry Dean Stanton, OTHER_ARTICLE, OTHER_CINEMA, _BOB DYLAN | Leave a comment

Former UFC champ Evan Tanner dead at 37

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A rather bizarre – and very sad – story here.

Apparently, Evan Tanner was found dead in the Californian desert near Palo Verde on Monday.

The context seems to be that, while on some sort of Carlos Castenada spiritual journey into the desert, his motorcycle ran out of gas and he died due to heat exhaustion while trying to make his way to safety on foot.

Tanner had embarked on a camping trip some time around Sept. 2 into the desert-like region north of Brawley, Calif., approximately two and a half hours east of San Diego.

What makes this even stranger is the fact that, according to his friend Ian Dawe, “I knew how well prepared he was for this excursion. Although Evan was somewhat of a nomad, he was also very meticulous and organized. He kept a notepad full of tasks that needed to be accomplished for the day, and as most of you know, a very detailed journal.”

There seem to be a few other critical facts here that need to be made known.

I saw a couple of Evan’s fights back in the day and he was one hell of a fighter! He was a former UFC Middleweight and USWF Heavyweight champion with a professional record of 32 wins and 8 losses. He was also the first American to win the Pancrase Neo-Blood tournament in Tokyo, Japan.

Hard to believe he’s gone – aged only 37! And in such a bizarre – and assumably very avoidable – context.

All sympathies to his family and loved ones.

THE FOLLOWING WAS WRITTEN BY IAN DAWE, ONE OF EVAN’S CLOSEST FRIENDS.

There are no words to explain how I feel right now.

I had seen the threads on the internet about Evans disappearance earlier today and thought nothing of it. Over the past year and a half Evan and I spent a lot of time traveling, training, and living together. Just recently Evan made the trip from California to Quebec to corner me, he hadn’t even moved into his apartment yet. That is just an example of the type of friend Evan was.

After my fight Evan and I spent the entire night talking about women, motorcycles, and supplies for his trip. I knew how well prepared he was for this excursion. Although Evan was somewhat of a nomad, he was also very meticulous and organized. He kept a notepad full of tasks that needed to be accomplished for the day, and as most of you know, a very detailed journal.

Evan meant a lot of things to a lot of people. To some he was a drifter, a poet, a warriror. To others he was a world champion and source of inspiration, he was my best friend. More importantly, Evan was his own man. He knew his path, and he walked it, as he will continue to walk in our hearts.

Please leave comments of memories or stories you have of Evan.

BELIEVE in the POWER of ONE.

Ian Dawe

Read more here:

http://www.evantanner.net/
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Evan_Tanner

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Former UFC champ Tanner dead at 37

By Jeff Cain, Ken Pishna, and Tom Hamlin/MMAWeekly.com

Former Ultimate Fighting Championship middleweight champion Evan Tanner was found dead near Palo Verde, Calif. on Monday. He was 37.

Tanner had trekked into the desert on a journey to “cleanse” himself, according to Douglas Vincitorio of Tanner’s management team. “He went out to the desert to do a ‘cleansing’ as he called it. Kind of like ‘Survivorman.’” These short trips were not new to Tanner, said Vincitorio. It is something that he has done numerous times over the years.

“What we were told is that (Sheriff’s officials who found Tanner) believe his motorcycle had run out of gas, so he went to walk out in like 115- to 118-degree heat,” Vincitorio said. “He was miles away from his camp. That’s where the helicopter found him. Right now, they just think that he succumbed to the heat.”

Tanner had apparently told friends before he left that if they hadn’t heard from him in a couple of days, they should contact officials, which is what happened. When he stopped responding to text messages, friends waited a couple of days and then notified officials at the Imperial County Sherrif’s Department on Friday.

A search ensued and Tanner’s body was found Monday.

On Aug. 10, Tanner wrote a blog on Spike TV’s website, proclaiming his desire to start an adventure in the desert east of his new home in Oceanside, Calif. An avid outdoorsman and wandering spirit, he wanted to escape civilization for a while.

“I’m not just going out into the desert, I’m going out into the desert to hunt for lost treasure,” he wrote. “I’m going on a pilgrimage of sorts, a journey to solitude, to do some thinking, and to pay my respects to the great mysteries.”

On Aug. 16, Tanner wrote about collecting supplies for his journey, and wrote about the dangers he might face.

“I plan on going so deep into the desert, that any failure of my equipment, could cost me my life,” he said. “I’ve been doing a great deal of research and study. I want to know all I can about where I’m going, and I want to make sure I have the best equipment.”

Of course, this led followers of his blog to fear for his safety, as they often did when Tanner reported his frequent by-the-seat-of-his-pants adventures. In a blog dated Aug. 27, Tanner tried to calm his audience.

“This isn’t a version of ‘Into the Wild,’” he wrote. “I’m not going out into the desert with a pair of shorts and a bowie knife, to try to live off the land. I’m going fully geared up, and I’m planning on having some fun.”

But he also affirmed that things could go wrong if his equipment wasn’t up to snuff.

“I do plan on going back pretty far, so I did mention in one of my posts that I wanted to make sure to have good quality gear,” he said. “Any failure of gear out in the desert could cause a problem.”

On Sept. 2, Tanner wrote his final blog entry, documenting a training session at a facility in Oceanside.

The Amarillo, Texas native was a high school wrestling stand out who won the state championships his junior and senior years despite only getting into the sport as a sophomore. He entered mixed martial arts in 1997 encouraged by friends.

Tanner rose to the top of the mixed martial arts world by winning the UFC middleweight title over David Terrell at UFC 51: “Super Saturday” Feb. 5, 2005. He lost the title later in the year to Rich Franklin. Tanner, who had a career MMA record of 32-8 last competed in the UFC on June 21 losing to Kendall Grove by split decision.

“He will obviously be sorely missed,” said Vincitorio. Adding, “I think that Evan would want to be remembered as a very complex man with many layers, not just a fighter.”

Tanner was surely a unique personality. He’s eclectic spirit and competitive nature will be sorely missed in the MMA community.

September 9, 2008 Posted by | Evan Tanner, OTHER_ARTICLE, OTHER_SPORT | Leave a comment

Noam Chomsky speaks about American Foreign Interference and other big issues!

Interesting recent piece from Stuart Alan Becker in bangkokpost where the great Noam Chomsky speaks about America’s role in the many fucked-up situations in SE Asia – the worst now being the evil repressive Burma junta situation – and considers other “big questions”!
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‘Resonant and unwavering’

Noam Chomsky talks to the ‘Bangkok Post’ about the Vietnam War, Burma and the future of the human race

Story by STUART ALAN BECKER

He opposed the Vietnam War long before it was fashionable to do so. He revolutionised the field of linguistics and helped spark the cognitive revolution in psychology. He changed the way scientists approach the study of the human mind.

His “Chomsky Hierarchy” is taught in basic computer science because it offers insight into the nature of how languages are structured. His theories of Generative and Universal Grammar indicate that the human mind comes hard-wired with default settings that enable infants to quickly learn any language spoken around them.

When the US dropped the atomic bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, Chomsky walked off into the woods to be alone and contemplate what he later called “one of the most unspeakable crimes in history”.

For the last 50 years Avram Noam Chomsky, now in his 80th year, has been a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He was voted No. 1 in the 2005 Global Intellectuals Poll, a list of the 100 most important living public intellectuals, compiled in November, 2005 by Prospect Magazine of the UK and Foreign Policy of the US on the basis of a readers’ ballot consisting of more than 20,000 votes.

Chomsky was followed by, in order, Unberto Eco, Richard Dawkins, Vaclav Havel, Christopher Hitchens, Paul Krugman, Jurgen Habermas, Amartya Sen, Jared Diamond and Salman Rushdie. Further evidence of the quality and resonance of his work comes from the 1992 Arts and Humanities Citation Index, which noted Chomsky was cited as a source more often than any other living scholar from the 1980 to 1992 period, and was the eighth-most cited scholar during any period.

Because of his universal appeal and academic accolades, Chomsky is highly desired as a lecturer and speaker almost everywhere in the world, giving him a unique ability like few people have to cut across all political lines and be welcome and desired everywhere, if for no other reason than you can’t help but respect somebody whose convictions are resonant and unwavering, even if you disagree with them.

Chomsky took the time to answer questions for the Bangkok Post, providing some fascinating answers about the Vietnam War and the current situation in Burma.

You opposed the Vietnam War long before it was fashionable. When and why did you make that decision? Do you feel you made a difference?

I opposed the Vietnam war from the mid-1940s, when the French invaded, a few years later receiving direct US support. But I did not do much beyond signing statements and the like until 1962, when the back pages of the New York Times casually reported that the US Air Force was flying a large proportion of the bombing missions against South Vietnam, with the planes disguised with SVN markings. At that point I realised that I had better learn more about this, began to look into it more carefully, and had to make a hard decision. I had enough experience with political activism to know that if I became involved, it would soon grow to be a major undertaking, with few limits, and I would have to give up a lot that meant a great deal to me. I decided to plunge in, not without reluctance. It took years of hard and painful work of protest and resistance before a real anti-war movement developed. There is no doubt that it made a difference. One illustration comes from the Pentagon Papers, the final section, dealing with the immediate reaction to the Tet revolt; in imperial terminology, it is called the “Tet offensive”, on the tacit assumption that a revolt against our military occupation is aggression. The government considered sending several hundred thousand more troops to South Vietnam, but decided not to because of concern that they would need the troops for civil disorder control at home in the likely event of a mass uprising of unprecedented proportions. We also know that by then 70 per cent of the US population felt that the war was “fundamentally wrong and immoral”, not “a mistake” – while intellectual elites debated whether Washington’s “bungling efforts to do good” were a “mistake” that was becoming too costly to us (Anthony Lewis of the New York Times, at the outer limits of dissidence within the mainstream).

How much any one individual contributed to the radical change of consciousness and understanding, and the willingness to do something about state crimes, it is hard to say.

You have said the US played a significant role in actions that led to the installation of the Burmese junta back in 1962. What’s the subtext, the background we’re not understanding: What are the consequences of the enormous UK investment in Burma, of earlier US weapons sales, of recent Israeli weapons sales to the junta – and of Chevron Oil’s continued supply of millions and millions of dollars in oil money to the junta?

Burma had one of the few elected governments in the region in the 1950s, and was intent on pursuing a neutralist course. The Eisenhower administration was carrying out vigorous efforts to enlist the governments in the region into its Cold War crusades. As part of this broad campaign of subversion and violence, Washington installed thousands of heavily armed Chinese Nationalist troops in northern Burma to carry out cross-border operations into China. Burma vigorously objected, but in vain. The China forces began arming and supporting insurgent minorities in that turbulent region. In reaction, power within Burma began to shift to the military, leading finally to the 1962 coup. The matter is discussed by Audrey and George Kahin, Subversion as Foreign Policy. George Kahin was one of the leading Southeast Asian scholars, virtually the founder of the academic discipline in the US. The consequences of the US-UK-Israeli operations you describe are, of course, to strengthen the military junta. These matters are unreported and unknown in the US, apart from specialists and activists, because they interfere too dramatically with the doctrine that “we are good” and “they are evil”, the foundation of virtually every state propaganda system.

Do you think there’s any chance of a popular uprising being successful in Burma, or do you think those who rise up will only be slaughtered because there’s no advantage for the generals to give up their power?

I do not know enough to be able to answer with any confidence, but I suspect that now it would be a slaughter. On the other hand, the military leaders are ageing, and there may be popular forces developing that can erode their power from within.

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Was the Kingdom of Thailand morally justified to host US military bases during the Vietnam War? What lasting effects did the Vietnam War have for Thailand and the region? Is that part of why Thailand is an island of relative easy life, compared to neighbours with more severe problems?

Thailand’s involvement in the US wars in Indochina was a disgrace. I presume Thais, at least some of them, made profit from their participation in the destruction of Indochina. I know that Japan and particularly South Korea gained very substantially. It helped spur their “economic miracles”. To evaluate the lasting effects we have to imagine what Southeast Asia would have been without the sadistic Western (mostly US) interventions of the postwar period – not to speak of what happened before. That’s a topic for a carefully researched book, not a brief discussion – and it would still be highly speculative, by necessity.

Do you find George W. Bush and his wife Laura calling for change in Burma insincere? Do you think the US president’s action on behalf of the suffering and the marginalised in Burma in the wake of Cyclone Nargis would be more justifiable on moral grounds than the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan?

Bush likes to posture as a deeply religious Christian. Perhaps he has even looked at the Gospels. If so, he knows that the famous definition of the hypocrite in the Gospels could have been written with him in mind. One can think of all kinds of ways in which the Bush couple could show their sincerity, were it to exist.

If Saddam Hussein had given some money to hungry children it would have been more justifiable on moral grounds than his gassing of Kurds in Halabja. The same principles hold in the case of Negris vs Iraq-Afghanistan.

What do you think China’s reaction would be if an internal uprising in Burma was successful?

China would likely tolerate, maybe even welcome, the overthrowing of the junta. There was, of course, a significant US role in actions that elicited the military coup that installed the still-ruling tyranny. But I don’t know how much that bears on the present situation either.

Can you offer any insight into the behaviour of the Burmese generals, their motivations and how things are likely to work out for the people of Burma?

The rulers have a good thing going for themselves, nothing to gain by yielding power and no major risks in using it violently. So that’s what they’ll probably do, until the military erodes from within. Mass non-violent protest is predicated on the humanity of the oppressor. Quite often it doesn’t work. Sometimes it does, in unexpected ways. But judgements about that would have to be based on intimate knowledge of the society and its various strands.

If a regime is so terrible that its generals loot the wealth of the country’s resources for their personal gain, carry out murders, political imprisonment and forced labour, is there a moral justification for an armed uprising of the suffering people?

There certainly is, in my view, with one qualification: An armed uprising would have to evaluate with care the likely consequences for the people who are suffering. I think it’s appropriate for people to rise up, but it’s not for me to tell people to risk mass murder. As for assassinating leaders, the question is very much like asking whether it is appropriate to kill murderers. They should be apprehended by non-violent means, if possible. If they pull a gun and start shooting, it’s legitimate to kill them in self-defence, if there is no lesser option.

Would you give any examples of what could happen if the principle of universality were applied in the world today, between nations that are in conflict?

One example is that Bush, Cheney, Blair, and a host of others would be facing Nuremberg-style tribunals. And the observation generalises very broadly.

What are the greatest dangers facing our human species in the world today and what can we most effectively do about them?

There are two dangers that could reach as far as survival of the species: Nuclear war and environmental disaster.

About nuclear war, we know exactly what to do. In fact, the World Court has ruled that it is a legal obligation of the signers of the non-proliferation treaty to live up to their obligation to eliminate all nuclear weapons. And the non-signers can be brought in as well. To give an example that is highly relevant right now, the US population is overwhelmingly in favour of establishing a nuclear-weapons-free zone (NWFZ) in the Middle East, including Iran and Israel. The US and the UK are formally committed to this policy. When they tried to construct a thin legal cover for their invasion of Iraq, they appealed to Security Council resolution 687, which calls upon Iraq to eliminate weapons of mass destruction. The US-UK invaders claimed that it had not done so. Resolution 687 also commits the signers to establish an NWFZ in the region. If the US were a functioning democracy, in which public opinion influenced policy, the exceedingly hazardous confrontation between the US and Iran could be mitigated, perhaps terminated.

Naturally, none of this can be reported or discussed, and it is inconceivable that any viable political candidate would even hint at the stand of the overwhelming majority of the population. One may recall a remark of Gandhi’s when he was asked what he thought of Western civilisation. His response was that it might be a good idea. The same is true of “democracy promotion”, which, if sincere, would begin at home.

How to stave off the threat of severe environmental catastrophe is less clear, though some measures are obvious: Conservation, research and development of renewable energy, measures to cut back emissions sharply, and others. What is eminently clear is that the longer we delay in addressing these problems, the more grave will be the consequences for future generations.

Stuart Alan Becker, author and a longtime journalist in Asia, is working on a history of US foreign policy since World War Two, and a book containing a lively exchange of correspondence with Professor Chomsky, called ‘Letters to Chomsky’.

September 7, 2008 Posted by | Noam Chomsky, OTHER_ARTICLE, OTHER_Philosophy, _OTHER | Leave a comment

Would you buy a condom off the Ramones?

Rather strangely titled piece from the Guardian newspaper in UK blogs.guardian.co.uk

Everything you wanted to know about the Ramones but were afraid to ask!

Would you buy a condom off the Ramones?
by Nicholas Blincoe

February 25, 2008 9:30 AM

If any Ramone was going to get into the condom business, surely it had to be Johnny. But I wouldn’t turn to the band for help with my love life!

The Ramones
The Ramones: wore their sexual dysfunction on their sleeve. Photograph: Getty

Marky Ramone, the longest-serving drummer with American punk group the Ramones, has got into the condom business. The prophylactics are sold in twin packs with a tube of lubricant, inside a tin box printed with the Ramones’ signature American eagle and surrounded by the words, “Marky Ramone Too Tuff to Break”. In the adverts, Marky – aka Marc Bell – poses in black leathers with an extended clenched fist, which makes me think of another kind of sexual practice entirely, and not one that I fancy trying.

If any Ramone was going to get into the condom business, surely it had to be Johnny. But after a lifetime spent listening to songs like I Don’t Wanna Walk Around With You, the Ramones are the last band I would turn to for help with my love life.

The Ramones were a band who wore their sexual dysfunction on their sleeve. The two main lyricists, Joey Ramone (Jeffrey Hyman) and Dee Dee Ramone (Douglas Colvin), were each, in their own way, scarred by romance. Dee Dee specialised in angry rejection, Joey in being rejected, making it easy to tell who was responsible for any given song. It was Dee Dee who wrote I Don’t Wanna Walk Around With You and Loudmouth (lyric: “You’re a loudmouth, baby. You’d better shut it up”). Although awarding authorship is complicated because Joey occasionally wrote in the persona of Dee Dee; for instance, Beat on the Brat (“with a baseball bat”). These songs date from Dee Dee’s ill-starred relationship with Connie Ramone, a drug-addicted prostitute. As Dee Dee was also a drug-addicted prostitute, this must have seemed like a perfect romance but it soon soured. Connie was tall and powerful, and apparently gave as bad – or worse – as she received, as well as attacking any woman who dared to talk to Dee Dee. After a typically violent fight, Connie stormed out of their apartment and Dee Dee yelled the “brat” line out of the window, inspiring Joey to write the song. Dee Dee’s autobiography recounts that after their final break-up, Connie continued her life on the streets and then died. It seems clear that Dee Dee never got over their affair.

Dee Dee’s time as a prostitute is recounted in the song 53rd and 3rd. His readiness to use autobiographical material in his songs gave Joey the courage to write about his own life. Joey had severe Obssesive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). The documentary film, End of the Century, recounts that it would take Joey hours to walk down a street, avoiding cracks and counting gate posts. Joey was a romantic who loved the girl groups of the early 60s – the Shangri-Las, Ronettes and others – and inevitably his love affairs were tragic. Or, rather, his sole love affair was tragic: his only girlfriend, Linda, dumped him for Johnny Ramone (aka John Cummings). Joey and Johnny never again spoke directly for the rest of their lives, though they continued to sit together on tour buses for more than 15 years. Joey wrote the song The KKK Took My Baby Away to remind the Republican-leaning Johnny of his crime.

The Ramones may have loved, and too well, but they seemed to be incapable of expressing it outside of two-minute songs. Would you buy a condom off these men?

August 22, 2008 Posted by | OTHER_ARTICLE, The Ramones, _MUSIC | Leave a comment