Monday, December 8, 2008

Let fury have the hour, anger can be power, do you know that you can use it?

Sunday afternoon I managed to take a second viewing of the Joe Strummer documentary The Future is Unwritten. I saw it for the first time last year in the film festival, but it was good to take in a second viewing to understand the contradictory man that was Strummer and his role in The Clash.

Now, while I wouldn't pretend to be a die hard fan of all things Clash, I would consider myself a fan of some of their music. In particular, their early singles and London Calling, which I would include as one of the best albums ever (with the best album cover of all time, hence my profile picture).

WIth their first three singles they burst out of the blocks with White Riot, 1977, and London's Burning. All were an almost literal call to arms to knock down the tired and staid state of rock at the time. Indeed, the song 1977 is almost a year zero for music with Strummer's scathing "No Elvis, Beatles or the Rolling Stones." With a collective time of less than 6 minutes, it contained more excitement than some bands muster in their entire careers.

However, by 1979 much of the steam had run out of punk. The Sex Pistols were gone, replaced by a number of knock off bands. The Clash moved away from the pure anger and thrash of their debut and diversified. It mixes its own brand of ska, reggae, punk and rockabilly with some potent storytelling. Themes range from the political: and Spanish Bombs and Clampdown's anti fascism call to arms, to the disillusionment of consumerism (Lost in the Supermarket), bands selling out (Death of Glory) and even Hollywood actor Montgomery Clift (The right profile). While the songs are not outwardly angry, the way Strummer can craft a story in the lyrics proves even more potent.

London calling, for me at least, was their zenith, and would prove to be an album they wouldn't match. They followed it up with a bloated triple record Sadinista, and the only slightly better Combat Rock. Unfortunately, they quickly succumbed (Strummer most of all) to the standard rock death sentence; stadium concerts, drugs, and in fighting. Within a few years they would be no more. Strummer himself comes across in the documentary as a walking contradiction, and while he is unfortunately no longer around to defend himself, I am sure he will agree. Through his life he traversed the scale from a middle class boarding school upbringing, to dropout hippie, to an angry punk, to embracing being a hippie again. While he can be seen as a contradiction in the broadest sense, it is hard to doubt the intesity that he had for which ever hat he chose to wear.

No matter Strummer's contradictions, in London Calling The Clash produced one of the finest rock records of all time. We unfortunately live in a time where angst, anger and protest songs are homogenised. As another great band, Sleater-Kinney, sang in their homage to the Clash "where is the questioning where is the protest song." While the majority of contemporary music has largely failed to rage against the machine (no not even that band has), it is helpful to jump back to records such as London Calling, which are often as if not more applicable to today's environment than they were when they were released.

"The ice age is coming, the sun is zooming in
Engines stop running and the wheat is growing thin
The Clash - London Calling

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

We did it all for the glory of bad taste

I come here for a time of confession. This is not easy, and I am not really proud of it so I will just say it. A Tears for Fears song is currently sitting in my top 10 most played songs on my ipod.

Now this is a hard thing to own up to. If you had a look at the other songs contained in the top ten you would see The Who, Blur, The Clash, The Stone Roses and Sonic Youth. But rounding out my top ten is Tears for bloody Fears.

How can I listen to Everybody wants to rule the world and at the same time moan about cheesy pop music without getting ritualistically murdered by Joe Strummer (if he was still alive)? After many sleepless nights and much thought I have stumbled upon how this might be possible. Some songs that I would otherwise hate, I do like because of the time it came out or what it reminds me of. For me many moments of life can be soundtracked, and it doesn't always have to contain good music.

Case in point: The Feelers. I absolutely despise The Feelers. They put out some absolute excrement, disguised as music. However, I do still own their first album Supersystem. While some of the songs, on paper are crap, it does remind me of my last year of high school and the people I was friends with then. Maybe I was slightly too young to experience better music, I was in Napier and there was no Youtube, but every now and then when I hear some of their songs from that album I can't help but nod the head.

Likewise, when I was about 5 or 6 a cousin made me a tape which contained such gems as the afformentioned Tears for Fears and such other classics as You're the Voice and Electric Blues. Those songs, while undeniably cringeworthy, remind me of what the 80's was for me, namely childhood; Richard Hadlee, the All Blacks last winning the world cup and the first wave of fluro. Thankfully I wasn't older and I didn't have to worry about mass unemployment, Rogernomics, hair metal or commies under the bed.

I suppose what I am trying to say is sometimes, just sometimes, it is ok to like a few songs which you might like to hide. We can all have a few songs that we might only like to listen to on headphones, but which we secretly enjoy. Everyone has their own favorite guilty pleasures.

This song is not one of mine, it has no sentimental value, only laugh out loud value.

(BTW: Peter Cetera is coming to New Zealand tickets are available here. For each ticket purchased $10 will go to Al Qeada, they have both terrorised the world in their own way)

Just to balance the ledger

Monday, November 3, 2008

Fight the power?

There is a new archival website which came along a couple of weeks ago from NZ on Air: NZ On Screen and it is an amazing website. NZ On Screen is a free archive that has been established with everything from the first episode of Gloss (truly cringeworthy) to some good quality documentaries. One that I took in over Labour weekend was Patu!, a documentary taken from the protesters point of view in the 1981 Springbok tour.

Having been born in 1982, obviously I knew how much of a schism the tour struck through New Zealand. I had seen the stock footage of protesters and of Alan Hewson, with his 1980's slug of a mustache slotting the penalty to give the All Blacks victory. But Patu! gave me quite an insight into the groundswell that was actually against the tour.

Seeing McAllister park, literally just around the corner from my house, covered in barbed wire was a wake up call. Indeed, the most disturbing aspect was the anger that was projected towards the protesters. New Zealanders literally setting upon other New Zealanders over a canceled game of rugby seems to frightening to be true.

In fact in one part a member of the public asks one of the protesters "How would you feel if your daughter brought one (an African) home?" For such a level of racism to be shouted in public today just seems downright foreign, however, this was only 27 years ago. It does reassure me that we have, thankfully, moved a long way since then.

Watching Patu! I was almost struck with a sense that we really do not have a defining political or social movement to stand behind. We had the Iraq war, but there seemed a complete sense of futility surrounding it. I remember going down to parliament and watching the protest just before the invasion. All it involved was some anarchists getting arrested, nothing that stirred my emotions. And yet in Patu! you see people literally risking their lives to stand up against what was a condoning of a racist institution (the South African government), and I could imagine myself getting in there and doing it (despite and maybe because I am a massive fan of rugby).

Talking to people who were around during the Springbok tour, however, it seems as though it was a watershed moment, the only other event which came close was the 1951 Waterfront Strike when New Zealand came the closest it has ever come to a dictatorship. Through other times we have been lucky enough to live in a relatively peaceful and democratically free country.

While I believe that a good amount of people now are either extremely apathetic, or very cynical to stand up for a cause, perhaps since we enjoy a peaceful and democratic existance, we are not forced to take to the streets to stand up for such things. Perhaps we should be greatful for that.

But ultimately it doesn't mean we should forget our history. So I'm off to watch the film 1951 on the 1951 Waterfront strike, when New Zealand supposedly came the closest it has ever come to a dictatorship. Time to find out more.....

Monday, October 20, 2008

You may ask yourself... how did I get here...

You know it must be over (touches wood) when the guy who helped put the USA into Iraq gets pissed off with The Republicans.

Colin Powell has now come out and endorsed Barack Obama. In his interview on Meet the Press he criticises the Republican right wingers for going way over the top and making up every crazy rumour known to man about Obama (see my previous post).

Now I haven't been a massive fan of Powell in the past, he is partly responsible, for starting the Iraq war. But in this interview he is rational, calm, and purposeful in his endorsement of Obama. This can't be a small thing for him either, Powell gave money to McCain, who is also a personal friend. But when Powell can come out and say McCain/Palin have gone too far, you know they have gone too far.

Let us hope that in three weeks time the United States can elect someone who can somehow undo 8 long years of what can only be described as the worst presidency in the history of the United States (a big call after Reagan and Nixon).

And on that note, there is an Oliver Stone movie on George W Bush. It look interesting, although whether it may be too soon, or possibly too late, remains to be seen. Having said that, the trailer is pretty fantastic, set to Talking Heads Once in a Lifetime. Never has a song summed up a President so well.

"And you may find yourself living in a shotgun shack
And you may find yourself in another part of the world
And you may find yourself behind the wheel of a large automobile
And you may find yourself in a beautiful house, with a beautiful
And you may ask did I get here?"

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Folksy wisdom and all that

Unless anyone has been sleeping under a rock for the last year, the world's longest job interview is currently taking place for the president of the United States.

While this is a serious thing, you have to take some time to laugh at how crazy some of it is. In particular how flippin crazy Sarah Palin is, not to mention how bloody hilarious Fox news is. I actually turn on to Fox News occasionally to have a little snigger at how they can even claim to be fair and balanced. Sit back and enjoy.

The Daily Show is gold at the moment!

Reasons we should be scared

Reasons we should be scared II

Thursday, October 2, 2008

I don't have to sell my soul, he's already in me.... The Stone Roses

There is an extremely strong argument that a good amount of excellent music comes during times of hardship. Indeed look at the advent of punk during the 70's, and also the roots of alternative music in the 90's started in the turmoil of the 80's. While some bands such as the Clash and the Sex Pistols, and later bands like Sonic Youth in the 80's drew their inspiration from a political stance, some bands chose to ignore the struggles of the day and instead let the music take you to another place.

While in a lot of cases this led to the creation of absolute commercial drivel (see the emptiness of 80's glam metal and MOR), in some cases this created an escape to what could possibly be better times.

It was against this backdrop of gloom, that the Stone Roses were born. Their eponymous debut album quickly showed they were a band that meant business.
The sound of their debut showcased a distinctly retro band, but given a jolt of late 80’s realism. In fact, the beauty of the Roses was that they managed to counter some of their gloom with distinctly uplifting songs, add in some true Manc attitude, and you had a winning combination.

The rise to prominenace came about around the same time as the explosion in the drug ecstasy, which people were increasingly taking to escape from the dreariness of 1980’s Britain. The Roses fitted perfectly into this, with guitarist John Squire’s Bryds-like jangly guitars Ian Brown’s sleepy vocals, Mani’s grooving basslines and Reni’s amazing drums (and equally amazing backing vocals). That a band could release a debut album this good, almost defies belief.

The album starts off in an almost dream-like state with “I wanna be adored” which gently easing you into the album, before crashing into the thunderous chorus. This is quickly followed by the beautifully, fast paced, “She bangs the drums.” I dare you to not be cheer up after hearing that song. “Waterfall” and “Don’t Stop” follow on nicely, they are essentially the same song, with the latter being the former played backwards with different lyrics. Reni’s drums on Waterfall simply defy belief. I dare you not to dance to this song.

After the extremely dark 'Made of Stone' the album finishes up on an extreme high. When listening to "this is the one" (particuarly on headphones)all troubles cease. Indeed this should be played more in the Middle East. To me this is possibly the most perfect piece of music to be made, a piece of pure escapism which we all need at this time of woe and despair.

Just when you think it couldn't get any better, along comes the album's pièce de résistance, the 8 minute plus epic "I am the resurrection". It has possibly the most arrogant, some would say blasphemous, lyrics, ever put into song, but for a small moment you almost believe Ian Brown when he sings "I am the resurrection and I am the light." No he is not Jesus Christ, but I know I could listen to that song for all eternity. But what beats this is the instrumental section at the end of the song, with multiple false endings and a groove that you simply can't resist.

Simply put the Stone Roses is one of the best albums ever made, but don't take my word for it, take a listen for yourself. It is an album which manages to counterpoint some dark brooding moments with some beautifully joyous ones. Unfortunately after this album, the band went into a legally educed hiatus, from which they would never recover. They produced one more album, Second Coming, which had its moments, but fell prey to the second album syndrome. It would be their last.

With the world, economically, hitting tough times perhaps it's a good time escape the madness of the world andinstead enjoy some musical madness. Enjoy!

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Blogging, it's a hot potato: catch

Why yes I have jumped onto the blogging bandwagon. The question is why?
The answer is why not? No seriously, while I feel that blogging has possibly become incredibly passe, I feel that I have wanted an avenue for a while to express my feelings on certain matters by want of the (non)printed word. So here I am.
I am not trying to break any new ground or become any way authoritative on any subjects, but I just would like to share some thoughts on culture, history, places and politics (mainly international for State Service Code reasons) amongst other things. You know, all that small stuff.
So on this blog I will share my thoughts, some you may agree with, some you may not, or you may not even be bothered to read at all!
However, its a bit of a bandwagon, so lets jump on it.

To kick things off, for your viewing pleasure here is possibly the most amazing perfomrance of live music ever.
The Who performing Sparks at Woodstock