So my song of this year actually came out last year. I haven't been able to stop going on about Courtney Barnett. I wish there was more of the kind of character, talent and wit she has out there. Noel Gallagher lamented a couple of weeks back that the UK doesn't produce any decent bands any more. I think he's onto something. We don't seem to have an interesting popular culture for them to feed on as exited previously. The same is not remotely true of either America or particularly Australia which seems to be just swimming in great bands. I look forward to Courtney's album at some point next year. I get the sense she'll just get bigger and bigger. There are almost a million hits on the YouTube video for this and the casual, uncommitted viewers are beginning to pass comment underneath. Spread the word! Meanwhile, I head back North towards my record player.
Speaking of the B52sSomeone chose to let Jon Savage review the bands debut album for Melody Maker when it came out in 1979. Well written and analytical that it is, you can't help but feel that he's missing something.
The B-52s: B-52s (Island)
Jon Savage, Melody Maker, 30 June 1979
Yesterday's Sound Tomorrow
NO ONE can do the (Boogaloo) like I do. Or something.
Why do all these new American groups come on like cartoons? (And then, not doing it proper, omit to get animated for kids' TV...just who will be the next Archies?)
While British A&R departments settle into blotting up heavy-metal bands or picking the head of the small-label crop, and fashion trips up over the "Mod Revival", the American riposte to punk-as-style (and thus, stylistic rebellion) gets into gear: all those groups who fuelled off the energy they heard was happening, or who – the American way – saw NBC's punk report.
Evolving in a decentralised, mega-dominated context, they chose and need to bounce off a localised and centralised market which is small yet influential out of all proportion (that's England, by the way) to gain the dream: fame and fortune. Meantime Island will use them to "move into the Eighties."
The true sound of the Eighties: cash-registers ringing with money that can't buy anything...
So why...? It's the American way: "He don't have roots/and he's proud of it." A saturation diet of media, especially TV, life as images, social fragmentation, people divorced from the consequences of their actions. Dynamism yet heartlessness. Life lived in freeze-frame. Bombardment leading to synthesis as the only escape. Fragmentation through success as the only goal makes collapse the more obvious, yet the means of dealing with it harder. How to start? Awww – why bother? Hedonism, solipsism, cuteness: Everybody Watusi! Everybody do the Megabuck!
Well, sometimes England's not that much better, and, all that apart, the B-52s are infectious fun, occasionally cutting. If the Cramps – latest reference point – plunder one American underbelly, the B-52s feast off another angle: teenbeat wackiness, fads, hula-hoops, kids-next-door rinky-dink gangs, Oxfam (or rather, thrift-store) fun, endless bad TV programmes. Everything is, forever, ginchy. (Except it's Manhattan, and Gidget doesn't live there anymore).
The music is an apt amalgam of influences: dance, garbage and garage – from the Randells to the Human Beinz – through girl groups – the Adlibs to Petula Clark – to more obvious moderns like Patti Smith. Wide-ranging, and – yes! – their roots do show, but most often the synthesis is carried off with wit, style and freshness.
Much of the wit has to do with a well-developed sense of the absurd as well as flash-fast word-play. In this, the occasional shrieks, high harmonies and sharp gurgles of Cindy and Kate are a constant delight. And, in best garage tradition they have all the asides down.
The music behind them is a constant, skeletal yet kinetic mixture of tight rhythm section – bass, drums and Stax-style rhythm guitar – and chips of weedy, piping ? & the Mysterians organ. Light yet forceful. As with many beat groups however, they walk a tightrope: while they're walking, you want to boogaloo too, when they fall...it's into candy-floss – a throw-away cuteness.
But, I suppose permanence is never the name of the game. At their most mundane, the B-52s threaten to fall into that self-conscious Sixties revivalism that is being set up for the next mainstream of American music – a new conservatism.
Sometimes, you can too easily hear the sound of not-so-distant influences: the opener, 'Planet Claire' (a pink-tinged '(I Married A) Monster From Outer Space') whizzes the rhythm riff straight off 'Secret Agent Man', adding only mildly offbeat lyrics and suitable space noises. 'There's A Moon In The Sky' rabbits on about Red Kryptonite, with charming asides like "You better move over/Here comes a supernova" yet remains rooted in Sixties love. Their charming – again that word! – yet faux-naif version of Petula Clark's 'Downtown' suggests that perhaps such deliberate innocence may be one way of coping with the Big Apple. Else, it's revivalist kitsch. Surely, no-one can be that innocent anymore?
Within that kitsch ambiguity lie the B-52s strengths and weaknesses. It provides freshness, yet leaves a soft centre, which may well mean that the group, like to many others have already (including – loosely – their English counterpart, the Rezillos), will crumple before market pressures and dynamics.
'606 0842' injects a slightly new twist (or frug) into the old 'No Reply' routine: man finds number in 'phone booth, rings to "have a good time", finds number disconnected. "Sorry," the girls croon, "sorry."
Side One ends with two conceptually perfect dance craze tunes: 'Do The Mess Around' mixes spoilt suburban voices with instructions on how to do the "Mess Around", plus guest dances the "Hypocrite", the "Dirty Dog", and the "Camel Walk", which I'm anxious to reprise in front of the mirror. 'Rock Lobster', their only 45, is here given an extended treatment, a fuller, more ludicrous guide through nether depths: how you react to the idea of the line "Here comes a norwhal" sung with accompanying ridiculous noise may well determine your reaction to the whole album.
As a litmus, 'Rock Lobster' isn't bad: it highlights both the charm and the lurking flimsiness of the B-52s approach. Perhaps it's the production (which isn't proper), but both songs don't make you want to shimmy like they should: 'Lobster's length, in particular, is only redeemed when the girls come out of a near halt with pure Yoko Ono shrills.
Yet: there are three songs I have shimmied to. 'Hero Worship' has, somehow, a deeper sound and vocals, which while more obviously indebted to Patti Smith, cut where others merely skate. The aces are 'Hot Lava' and '52 Girls'. The former has similarly Smithlike, yet emotional vocals and clever, slurring words ("Hot lava/lover": a conceit performed with pizazz). '52 Girls' is the album's only claim to greatness: a song which transcends the apparent banality of subject – in the true American way, they're talking about themselves – to become a manifesto. To do what? Produce dance music with emotion, without pandering or underestimating. I hope they achieve it. The swooping vocals (female) tease the music, which for once really drives.
Pop is such a messy way for people to trade their lives for fame – but people need it, and I'm glad the B-52s bothered. They'll be good live – the bare bones of the album given flesh, their good humour and sense of fun made more immediate.
As for the album itself, it ultimately appears (as do the group) as a witty, danceable, sophisticated cabaret. Yet, realistically, '52 Girls' would be as good on the radio as the best disco. At least, let's have new flesh aired!
A friend of mine and owner of The Jazz Cafe in Newcastle died a couple of years ago today. A documentary about him should appear at some point next year. Well worth looking out for and when it appears it will get publicity on here.
This seems to be the year for Australian artists on here. This guy first appeared, (at least to me) as the umpire in the tennis match for Courtney Barnett's video of Avant Gardener. Courtney and her band return the favour here.Again, this shows what it's possible to do with the medium given a bit of creativity.
Delighted to see that owing to a recommendation by the official Cowboy Junkies Facebook page the review I wrote of The Trinity Session on here a week ago has been much read today and slipped into the Top Ten read since I started the blog. Which is why I do this. Very pleased!
There are worse things to do if you have a bit of time at Christmas than watch a bit of Mad Men. Certainly if the alternative is terrestrial television. This version of one of the great 'pondering about life' songs is used as the finale for Season 6.
Here's Holly Johnson from The Quietus about this sleeve:
'With The Man-Machine, it had the perfect record cover, it was the whole red-ness. Futuristic art deco with a slight Hitler Youth edge to it, a sinister edge. I went down to London one time, down the King's Road - I think it was the week of release - and every single shop was playing it.'
A New York Times article about a film of great interest which should be coming out next year.
Iggy, Lou, Joey — and Danny
By CHARLES CURKIN
This month, a private screening was held for a rough cut of “Danny Says,” a documentary about the New York rock music legend Danny Fields. The theater was full of old friends of Danny’s and potential investors, but Mr. Fields was not in attendance.
Afterward, the director, Brendan Toller, who hopes to debut the film in March at the South by Southwest Festival in Austin, Tex., answered questions from the audience. The actor John Cameron Mitchell, who in the film refers to Mr. Fields as a “handmaiden to the gods,” asked if Mr. Fields would ever see it.
Mr. Toller, he later confessed, had been dreading that question. He hesitated. “Well —— ” he said.
“I’m never seeing it,” Mr. Fields, 75, wryly declared a few days later, sipping some microwaved sake in the living room of his West Village apartment. The man who introduced Jim Morrison to Nico, Iggy Pop to the world, and cocaine to Iggy Pop, simply doesn’t want to. “That’s Brendan’s thing,” he said.
Danny’s thing — and he is known to people in the business as “Danny” — was music. For roughly two decades, Mr. Fields found himself at the center of a revolution. He broke into the industry working for Elektra Records, first doing publicity for the Doors, then signing both Iggy Pop’s band the Stooges and the MC5 (on the same day), which would ultimately lead to his managing the Ramones. You could make a convincing case that without Danny Fields, punk rock wouldn’t have happened.
“Danny Says,” which took Mr. Toller five years to make — and takes its name from a Ramones song about Mr. Fields — is dominated by Mr. Fields’s tremulous monotone voice-over. But though he may claim that “Danny Says” holds little interest for him, the source material of the movie, his obsessively cataloged archives, certainly does.
Mr. Fields inhabits a cramped apartment filled with more priceless art and artifacts than its few walls can accommodate. As a proudly gay and puckish music industry executive, photographer, D.J. and journalist, Mr. Fields has lived a life most textured, and he has been re-examining it as Yale University’s Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library, which recently acquired a portion of his archives, comes to collect it one box at a time.
Timothy Young, curator of modern books and manuscripts at the Beinecke, is very excited about the acquisition. “My colleagues looked at me in silence after I pitched them Danny’s archive,” Mr. Young said, affirming Mr. Fields’s renown even in academic circles. “It’s such important material of such an important person.”
He also noted that the circumstances for the acquisition were strange. “It’s a new experience for me to work with someone who’s alive.”
Andy Warhol’s manager, the filmmaker Paul Morrissey, knew Mr. Fields well but lost track of him over the years. “Is he still alive?” Mr. Morrissey asked, over the phone. Mr. Morrissey, who was interviewed for “Danny Says,” recalled the many times Mr. Fields would stop by his office — what is referred to in popular culture as the Factory — with some friends in tow. “He was a really fun and intelligent guy,” Mr. Morrissey recalled. “I liked him a lot, but I never really knew what he did.”
Though it has been some time since Mr. Fields was influencing the culture, he is very much alive.
Today, Mr. Fields jokes that he doesn’t even like music, but then he’ll insist that it is the greatest of all the things that matter to him. He also considers himself an equally ardent cinephile — he speaks passionately of classics like “The Thief of Bagdad,” a Technicolor adventure from 1940 that still brings him to tears upon repeat viewings; its score, he says, is the first music he ever loved.
Mr. Fields likes to speak, and does it naturally, openly, and with great brio; it’s his talent. For stories, he’s an endless fount, with enough material to fill a few tomes. Those bites of oral tradition are his legacy. The people he knew, the things he saw, the places he has been: That is the gestalt of Danny Fields. They’re alive in his reminiscences, and in the surfeit of audio recordings, photographs, paintings, books and magazines he lives among.
Born Daniel Feinberg in Queens in 1939, Mr. Fields was raised Jewish and is the older of two children. He was a bright kid, graduating from high school at 15, then the University of Pennsylvania at 19, and then dropping out of Harvard Law at 20. “I didn’t want to be a lawyer,” he said. “I thought Harvard was where all the beautiful boys went.”
After Harvard, he moved back to New York and became a regular at the San Remo Cafe in Greenwich Village, where he befriended fellow patrons like Warhol, Robert Rauschenberg and Edward Albee.
Though he found himself surrounded by artists, his own talent was publicizing them. He became an editor at the teen magazine Datebook, where during a fabulously short tenure he managed to ignite controversy by publishing a quote from a 1966 interview by Maureen Cleave with John Lennon who had humbly declared that his band at the time, the Beatles, was more popular than Jesus Christ. (In “Danny Says,” it is asserted that Mr. Fields’s decision led to the band’s eventual dissolution.) He certainly had a yen for stirring the pot. When speaking about his mission statement at Datebook, he said: “I wanted to introduce the Velvet Underground to girls aged 11 to 14.”
From Datebook, he was hired by Elektra Records, which marked a turning point in his career — the observer became a participant.
Mr. Fields surrounds himself with mementos from his life. Some he is parting with now, and the rest he is keeping until he shuffles off: art by the notorious cartoonist Mike Diana, who was convicted of obscenity; hundreds of black-and-white photographs — shots by him and of him and his old coterie including Warhol, John Waters’s drag collaborator Divine, David Bowie and Paul McCartney.
“I’m so happy my things are getting a better place to live,” Mr. Fields said.
In January, his first shipment went out to the Beinecke. It was made up of materials largely relating to the Ramones. The second installment, which was collected in July, was mostly audio recordings newly digitized from cassettes, a task that Mr. Fields personally oversaw and underwrot
The recordings are of his conversations with people he knew or encountered, like Leonard Cohen, whom Mr. Fields took to the Chelsea Hotel to meet some of its tenants, including Edie Sedgwick. “He called me his Virgil,” recalled Mr. Fields, referring to his role as a guide through hell in Dante’s “Inferno.”
The big names he recorded have salience for a lot of music fanatics, but for Mr. Fields, it’s his conversations with the theater critic Donald Lyons (whose estate was also acquired by the Beinecke) and Steve Paul, who owned the Scene (the nightclub where Jimi Hendrix played his first New York show), that he considers highlights of his collection. “Everyone’s heard Lou Reed,” Mr. Fields said, “but no one has tape of Donald screaming, and Steve just being cosmically wonderful.”
Also part of his archives, which he hopes Mr. Young of the Beinecke will acquire, is his pornography: Polaroids of hustlers and videocassettes of blue movies he directed. “I have drawers full of mini-videocassettes of homemade porn,” Mr. Fields said. He described them as fabulous. So far, Yale has not disclosed exactly how much of the pornography it will be taking.
It has been a somber year for Mr. Fields, with the deaths of the punk photographer Leee Black Childers; Arturo Vega, designer of the Ramones’ logo; the poet Rene Ricard; and Tommy Ramone, the original Ramones drummer.
Mr. Fields wistfully acknowledged, “I got more than I deserved,” referring to a career as an important operator in the history of rock ’n’ roll. “I never put my stamp on anything,” he said. “I’ve tried, but never succeeded. I was just a witness.” One could get the impression that Mr. Fields’s self-deprecation belies how he truly feels about himself.
As he takes stock of a storied, tumultuous past, he makes his expectations for the future perfectly clear: He wants more great bands and people in his life to fall in love with. “That’s ‘The Thief of Bagdad,’ ” Mr. Fields said. “To be in love with the princess. Or the prince.”