Wednesday, 30 November 2016

travelling notes (xii)

Lisbon. After all the cheap wine of South Africa drunk on board the plane, first thing you notice is him. Christ the man is a character. Perhaps the character, the one who has all the heart and soul of the city you visit. Stylish blue overcoat, sports trousers in a rather horrifying state, hopelessly worn-out black shoes and this huge beige bag over his shoulder that is perhaps one of the greatest things you have ever seen. It's right there, in that seven foot tall man. All the sloppiness, all the charisma of Portugal. 

Monday, 28 November 2016

Nijinsky's pagan dance

There's a brief episode in Chronicle where young Dylan sees Ulysses on some bookshelf and wants the host to explain Joyce to him. The phrase looked odd. Explain Joyce? Excuse me? What sort of explanation would that be?

Yet part of me knows exactly what Dylan was thinking. Simply because I've always wanted someone to explain Stravinsky to me. Frank Zappa never could, and neither could millions of others swearing by The Rite of Spring. I guess a Norwegian orchestra performing Apollon Musagete at the Proms in 2015 came close ("Apotheosis" was otherworldly), but even that could hardly convince me.

From Petrushka to Symphony of Psalms, Stravinsky remained unexplained.

And then this woman changed everything. Studying the notes of Ferruccio Busoni, making a transcription of her own, she gave the most extraordinary piano performance I've ever heard. Stravinsky's Firebird was breathless yet it came alive. Over those twelve minutes (either too brief or too endless), her exquisitely slovenly fingers dragged me through every human emotion conceivable. Her facial expressions remained unmoved as Stravinsky's work was coming alive. Glorious and no less complicated and all of a sudden - explained. 

Funny how one small performance can change so much. Funny how you can still get a glimpse of Nijinsky's pagan dance, more than a century later.  

Monday, 21 November 2016

travelling notes (xi)

There's always a great feeling when a noisy group of British youngsters barges into a bar and starts ordering red wine and tries to do it in the language of Paris and Madrid and Rome. The barman frowns and cringes and winces and tries to explain that he speaks perfect English. But they do not care. They absolutely have to impress. Oddly, they always do. 

Friday, 18 November 2016

Head Carrier

I'm a hundred years too late, but I feel compelled to say something about this new Pixies album. Because I do not even know what is more fascinating - people's reaction (no Kim Deal / Frank Black's solo record / "All I Think About Now" / they should just quit and go fuck themselves) or the fact that Head Carrier is...... whisper it...... really good.

Unclog your ears and drop your bullshit arrogance. The songs are great. Honestly, if you can't hear that they are better than 99% of what is being written these days, I feel sorry for you. 

Frank Black is a master of twisted pop music. Unlike the somewhat bland run of EPs from a couple of years back, Head Carrier is tuneful, edgy, charismatic. Granted, two last songs come and go with little to say for themselves, but stuff like "Might As Well Be Gone" or "Classic Masher" or "Tenement Song" are worthy heirs to "Here Comes Your Man".

As for the opening riff to "All I Think About Now", don't be silly. Black knew exactly what he was doing. It's not a full-blown parody and the riff quickly dissolves into a whole new song. Which brings me to my final point. Songwriting on Head Carrier. Not as good as on Trompe Le Monde. On par with Frank Black. Better than on Pod

Sunday, 13 November 2016

travelling notes (x)

There's a Dutch guy sitting next to you. He's had one too many. He is basically falling off his chair. And then he tells you, in a half-drunk whisper reminiscent of Leonard Cohen, that invariably you fall in love with the person who tells you the most simple things.

Tuesday, 8 November 2016

The Last Picture Show

New sensations. One of Lou Reed's most underrated albums as well as what Frank Zappa said when he tried to explain the Mothers' debut album. Freak Out! was supposed to give people what they had never experienced before 1966.

I have no idea how it felt back when Peter Bogdanovich released his film in early 70s, but as of 2016 - The Last Picture Show feels like a nervy bag of new sensations. Powerful, raw, utterly disturbing. There was a beautiful life beating next to me, in the dark, half-empty cinema, and I kept wondering how one could ever live it down. That kind of experience.

It is terrible, electrifying, wickedly appealing. The 'appealing' bit has little to do with the plot, which is typically non-existent in a coming-of-age story, and a lot with just how the film was made. The billiards scene? Christ Jesus those two minutes are unsettling. I can give you a million sex scenes that are much more racy and graphic and just plain direct, but this felt different. This was like a big black rat scuffling under your sofa.

Nothing is compromised and nothing is stylized about The Last Picture Show (except for its black and white surface), which is why it feels so different to the modern eye that needs to be harnessed and honed. However, this also means that when the sentiments come pouring towards the end of the film (like the beautiful revelation in the car or the inevitable death scene or the final minute), they knock you down. 

A friend of mine once told me that he no longer goes to the cinema all that much. 'Emotionally', he explained, 'I know what to expect. It just feels smooth. Because you have to understand, it's not about the gore and the guts. It's not about sex. It's about the feel of it'. 

This conversation took place a couple of days after he had seen Fritz Lang's M at some introspective screening in Newcastle. I would do that too, years later, and would be blown away by the new sensations that feel, somehow, out of this time. And possibly that time, too.