Sunday, 30 April 2017

Album of the Month: SELF-TITLED by Robyn Hitchcock

While I can hardly improve on my review of Hitchcock's previous record, while I was fully expecting this to not be the best album of April - what can I possibly do when "Sayonara Judge" starts playing? Having that timeless, "N.Y. Doll"-sized melody that literally sucks your soul into infinity? 

What can I possibly do when "Raymond And The Wires" is as pretty and disarmingly surreal as classic Robyn Hitchcock?

The trick is simple enough. Years ago, there was a corny music programme on the national television. A guy with a haircut and no imagination was interviewing artists and bands and playing snippets of their most famous songs. The Rolling Stones, Aerosmith, R.E.M., Live (yes, fucking Live)... The whole thing was shallow and painfully irrelevant. 

However, there are things which stick, especially when you are impressionable and fourteen. Once, Sheryl Crow ("Leaving Las Vegas" is still a bloody good song) mentioned that when she and her friends heard a really exciting record back when she was a teenager, all they wanted to do was jump into a car and drive somewhere. Anywhere. Which they did. 

And all these years later, I still believe this to be the measure of all music. The opening bars of "Detective Mindhorn" do that with great abandon - pumping as they do through your veins and whatever endless road lies ahead. 

At some point you do of course realise that these are some of his best tunes since Olé! Tarantula. Caterpillars, autumn sunglasses, Virginia Woolf. The usual. "My eyes have seen a trolleybus in 1964...". There is no shame in knowing where your strengths lie.

Wednesday, 26 April 2017

Jonathan Demme

I haven't thought about Jonathan Demme in days, maybe years. But all the same - he died today. 

This unsettled me. The way someone whispered it: "The director of The Silence Of The Lambs has just died". Unnerving. Which is odd, because I haven't thought about Jonathan Demme in days, maybe years. I believe part of it is the childish idea that people we rarely think about are in some way immortal. They do not die. 

Part of it is Jonathan Demme himself. 

The man has always unsettled me, in a profound way. His films have, and The Silence Of The Lambs is in the bottom half of the list. More of the way David Byrne played "Psycho Killer" on the acoustic guitar in Demme's legendary Stop Making Sense

Or the way Robyn Hitchcock appeared in Rachel Getting Married, completely out of nowhere, to perform "America" in that faux intimate setting of a dysfunctional wedding. The dishwasher scene. More of that whole film, really, with Anne Hathaway doing something mentally devastating, something you never thought she would be capable of.

To me, Jonathan Demme was all about naked wires. He took the pure essence of people and things, stripped them of their sheen and made them bleed onscreen. Beautifully. Like a true artist. One of the all-time best. The scenes must have stayed with me, for that's what I thought when somebody whispered the news.

And now that I think of it, Tom Petty's "American Girl" has never sounded the same again... RIP. 


Tuesday, 25 April 2017

travelling notes (xxv)

In a roadside cafe a local family will serve you the best dinner of your life. You will pay a few coins and walk to the station wondering how it could possibly be this cheap. By this point, however, the green wine will have taken its effect, and getting on the train, you will not remember much beyond the rough hands of the woman and the language you could not understand.

Wednesday, 19 April 2017

Favourite Bookstores, p.4

There are books so rare they basically do not exist.

However, before I get to this idea - something about Livraria Lello. In a word, overrated. Because after paying three euros (for entering a bookshop, no less), you will be struck by the huge back of a giant Turk making a selfie at the entrance. Your blood will be up already, but wait until you see the screaming multitudes of Harry Potter fans blocking the staircase. Which is an impressive staircase, and would be even more impressive if you were here alone. The book selection is all right I guess, but it's not about books, is it?..

Ironically, my new favourite bookshop is not about books either. Or maybe it is, but I wouldn't be too sure. The place is called Alfarrabista Chamine da Mota and it's in Rua das Flores, Porto. I do not even know if I'm describing a particular spot or a series of similar-looking places (I've seen a couple of bookshops like that in Portugal).

When you enter the place, you feel the dust and the sheer age of things on display. Old maps, globes, postcards, gramophones, things you can't even name. It's a fairy-tale sight, and you are allowed to view it from within. The shopkeeper? The shopkeeper won't care as he is a man from the past inspecting a leather-bound ledger in the far corner of the giant room. He looks like a sleepy insect who will not be disturbed by any noise, never mind a visitor. His hair is silver by default and he is wearing a corduroy jacket abandoned by every moth possessing a vestige of self-respect. 

Soon, however, you focus on the centuries-old bookshelves soundlessly cracking under the weight of centuries-old books. You come closer to inspect the green, yellow, brown covers, but there's a catch. The book selection is vague to the point where you start wondering if these writers ever existed in the first place. For years you read English and American literature, you think you know it all, but you are left licking your wounds in the face of such mind-numbing obscurity. 

Inevitably, you open one of these books written by an author whose name sounds vaguely familiar (it is not familiar, you are deluding yourself), and you see a barrage of words you know well and you almost have to scream in bewilderment: "How in God's name?..." After which you close the book without buying it because buying books here will seem like an act of sabotage totally uncalled for.


Portugal is filled with bookshops. In fact, I haven't seen another country that would compare. 'Livraria' is the word you will see as often as someone will say 'obrigado' to you. You will see it under bridges, by liquor stores, in dead-ends, at places where bookshops do not belong. And you will walk in (unless you are dead inside), you will look around and you will see a million books that either do or do not exist.

Thursday, 13 April 2017

How I Learned to Love Edith Piaf

In art as well as in life, you can only achieve greatness through obsession. Things you do not obsess over are bland and easily forgotten. In the final moments, on your deathbed, alone or else surrounded by people, you will not remember them. Not a flash. Not a fucking flicker. 

Filmmakers who do not obsess over their characters simply waste your time, as do poets who drive cars and musicians who write to order. They have no sense of passion, loss or true enjoyment of what they are doing. Like anyone who falls in love with an idea of getting married, they have no grasp of the process and will only look for the result.  

So I bought a vinyl player. 

God knows when the sense of obsession will hit you. But it will, and not necessarily the moment that "A Whiter Shade Of Pale" starts crackling softly but distinctly around your apartment. Could be Mark E. Smith snidely intoning 'Oh! Little brother! We are in a mess!' Could be at any point during "Town With No Cheer".  

The thrills are not cheap, and there is nothing materialistic about the needle plunging into narcotic depths of The Delines' Colfax (still one of the greatest albums of this century). And once, lying on the floor after a great day at the gallery, you and I, we fall in love with the voice of Edith Piaf like never before. 

It is the voice of Paris as it used to be, slightly muddied by the time and the dust. It is time-travelling, and it will not be forgotten. Because you know what I think? A trip is not a trip if it's not a journey. 

Monday, 3 April 2017

travelling notes (xxiv)

There is always a scene from an unwritten book taking place in a certain part of a city. A local citizen wouldn't know, stuck as he is on his way to work or behind the familiar spot of a bar counter. You, however, are right in the midst of it. With your clumsy ways and your travellers' handbag, you came out of nowhere. Like a character from an unwritten book.