Tuesday, April 7, 2015

A barbed-wire maypole: Three Derek Jarman movies

Jubilee (1977 film) poster.jpg
"Jubilee (1977 film) poster" by Source. Licensed under Fair use via Wikipedia.

Jubilee (1977)

Jubilee is Derek Jarman's wet kiss welcoming and also saying a last good bye to England during the economic despair that led to the punk movement. It has a Shakespearean cant to it - much of the dialog involves a wild-eyed seer making a speech to a gathering of dim bulbs until it is time to watch one of them light up and say their part. There is a time-travel plot involving the arrival of Elizabeth I into the ruins of Elizabeth II, but really, it is a cascade of punk apocalypse charm. The recurring theme throughout the film is scavenging among the dead. Car wreck victims, royalty, one poor girl (presumed dead) being trussed on the street by a barbed-wire maypole are stripped of their earrings and jewelry. Everything is ravaged. And over-acted.

If this sounds like too much of a downer, there is a healthy dose of groovy 70's nudity and the introduction of a baby-faced Adam Ant.

VHS Cover from Brainwashed

In the Shadow of the Sun (1974, finished and soundtracked in 1980)

I've always known of this film for the Throbbing Gristle soundtrack. Fittingly, the imagery of this 48-minute mood piece consists of layers of washed out film juxtaposed so you have slow-moving figures engaged in some kind of trance ritual mixed with anonymous car-window landscapes and people tapping on typewriters. Like how the noodling soundtrack never commits to a song, the film never commits to a vision and yet together the impression emerges. The world is layed waste not by politics or punks, but by a wearisome existence. All that is left is a ghost. If I'd seen this when I was nineteen, I would have declared it the greatest movie ever made and likely thrown a copy of Naked Lunch at you for disagreeing.

Blue (1993)

Jarman's last film is part conceptual art joke, part intimate poem. The filmmaker was in the final throes of AIDS related illnesses, rendered nearly blind, when he released this film consisting of a single shot of the color blue as a number of actors and musicians muse in an ethereal collage over the various meanings of blue: sadness, the sky, the planet Earth, the wind. The soundtrack is a compelling, stream-of-consciousness sound collage. It's easy to think the image isn't important, but I found myself turning to it as if I was going to miss something. I suspect Jarman felt the same way. It is a final joke on transformation, in that there isn't any.

A common misconception is that the blue in this film is International Klein Blue, the pigment created by avant-garde artist Yves Klein. It is a similar hue, inspired by Klein's color and his "leap into the void" as Jarman faced his own.


Friday, April 3, 2015

Record Score: Remember Wynn, Pensacola, FL

Remember Wynn in Pensacola, FL has all the trappings of being a hipster vinyl haven - in a house in an off-the-beaten neighborhood, almost no social media presence - but

is actually the kind of store the true record nerd relishes and those for whom vinyl is a lifestyle enhancer might blanche at. Wall-to-wall, floor-to-ceiling Pac-Man maze of records. *This* shy of being a hoard. The owner, Jackie Seale, was setting out box after box of dollar records in which these were found:

He said Little Feat's WAITING FOR COLUMBUS was not supposed to be in there, but finders keepers. He plans to fill the front yard with vinyl come record store day. I've almost bought those Genya Ravan albums a bunch of times, so I let the price pull the trigger. Lou Reed plays on one of them, I think.

His prices are good to average. This $50 copy of Baton Rouge blues legend Silas Hogan's TROUBLE AT HOME was too rich for my blood, but he does mail order. He has the original  Lightnin' Slim ROOSTER BLUES as well, both on Excello.

The true record score:

Maya is way into The Doors and now I am too again. You can make up your own words while stuck in beach traffic.

I had a premonition that the Terry Riley record would be here and found it tucked away in the 60s section. He has things sorta organized by decade. The Howlin' Wolf is on the prestigious United-Superior label and the super score live nightclub Lightnin' Hopkins LP is on Guest Star. I love semi bootleg blues records.

Should this not be enough to get you to P-cola, the Al Fresco food truck court in their quaint downtown is what every food truck scene should be like. Meaning: the food is actually delicious, there are tables and no roar of gas generators.

And they have a beach.

Remember Wynn
7007 Lanier Dr.
Pensacola, FL 32504

Thursday, March 19, 2015

A library moment


I am going to miss Middleton Library when I leave this campus job in May. I've told people for years my favorite perk of working on campus was the library and they all thought I was crazy.

It was the first place I was excited about when I started college in 1987. The same copy of the Susan Sontag Artaud anthology is on the shelf with the same stain from where I spilled my first cappucino on it, nursing my malleable adulthood in the terrible cafe they had on the second floor of the Union.


I still like the sturdy, academic glow of bound journals. I always wondered if anyone ever looks at these or do they sit there like batteries, waiting to be hooked up to the right flashlight.


I love this view from the fourth floor. I wish there was a zip line from here to the tip of whatever that tower is atop the architecture building.


On my way out, I saw one of my former students on his laptop in the fourth floor lobby. I was amazed. Most students only know the library as having computer labs and never even venture past the second floor. Which is okay; it is the way of things.

That said, I made an Intro to Mass Media assignment once where students had to check out a book and submit a photo outside of the library with themselves and the book. Many of them captioned the photo with "Last time I'm ever doing this!"

I checked out an Artaud book like old times, Harry Crews' FLORIDA FRENZY where he called the South "the hookworm and rickets belt" and Denis Johnson's RESUSCITATION OF A HANGED MAN. Hopefully this spate of activity will keep them afloat a little longer.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

If you're feeling introspective about IF YOU'RE FEELING SINISTER

If You're Feeling SinisterIf You're Feeling Sinister by Scott Plagenhoef
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book was particularly good at relating the appeal of Belle & Sebastian, which is not the easiest thing to do.  Thanks largely to one line from Jack Black's character in HIGH FIDELITY, B&S are regarded as sad bastard music, when in fact, they are sneaky bastard music. Stuart Murdoch's art lies somewhere mid the line between Morrissey's Vegas-sized dispesia with himself, love and the world and Stephin Merritt's open distaste for it. I think Murdoch likes his little corner of the world, the cadre of misfits who parade through it and correctly views the rest of mankind as dangerous and/or tedious. But the deal with B&S is that their melodrama is an embrace of adolescence rather than a continuance of it.

I never knew the backstory about Murdoch's long period of isolation recovering from chronic fatigue syndrome basically birthing the songs from TIGERMILK fully formed into the world.  The first track, "The State I'm In," is one of the greatest things indie rock has done. If TIGERMILK had been his/B&S's only release, it would give creedence to the "everybody's got one good album in them" theory, but truth is, they continued and eveolved and wrote even greater songs (at least up through THE LIFE PURSUIT, anyway).

Granted, the book talks more about TIGERMILK (only at the very end does it really delve into SINISTER at a fine level) and probably should be named for the first records. But if that doesn't really hang you up, this book does a good job watching the incubation and hatching of a little genius band wthout blowing it out of scale. And like every good 33 1/3 book, it made listening to a great record and even more rewarding experience, even if it didn't go through it micron-by-micron.

View all my reviews at GoodReads 

The book's discussions of C-86 scene in Scotland made me want to listen to that whole delightfully scrappy era of indie pop, particularly Orange Juice, whose "Rip It Up" titles this little handy but not totally Scottish playlist, which, unlike the book, culminates in IF YOU'RE FEELING SINISTER in detail.

To cap it off, all this Scotland-climate preciousness coupled with this dour rainy weather we're having led me to write this twee bossa nova about staying in. Contains a little cussing. Enjoy!

Alex V. Cook - "Nasty"

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Charming Hammond


I did talks and panels at Hammond, La. Regional Arts Center's "Celebrating the Written Word" literary festival over the weekend, which was great. You should go, not just because the people there run a great festival, but because you get to experience charming Hammond. It's a living downtown of funky bars and restaurants and so on. Even the buildings that were not in use (a minority) were full charm assaults. I had no idea, even though I've lived half an hour away for decades.


I might have begged off a panel to go see a movie in the old Ritz theatre.


It reminded me immediately of Keokuk, Ia., the city I was born in but didn't live in. My grandma lived there and when we'd stay there, we'd inverably have to go to the Revall drugs to get a refill on her nitroglycerin.  The buildings in Keokuk all had upstairs apartments like those in Hammond do. As a kid, I dreamed of living in one of those apartments. I thought it would be so cool to say I lived above the Rexall, to bound down the stairs to get candy with couch-cushion change.


I double-dog dare you to drink whatever is in this bottle in Rexall's window. Speaking of drinking, all the bars we went to had package liquor setups in them, namely shelves of wine bottles. It's probably how things are where you live, but it's a rare sight here. I like it. Why should one have to endure the harsh flourescent reality of a convenience store or grocery to get your drink on. And since I'm here...


I really wanted to see an adolescent me peer back at me from the apartment over the Mason Lodge. I bet the magic hour light makes cool shadows on the cheap ancient carpet in that living room, even if it puts glare on the TV.

Anyway, check out Hammond! And thanks Hammond Regional Arts Center for a great festival. Check them out, too!

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

To see her naked body: Leonard Cohen's film I AM A HOTEL

The '70s-'80s music of Leonard Cohen can be a bitter taste if you are not accustomed to it.  That art comes off as dated, louche, a one-note baroque internal symphony performed by the orchestra that is the gazing male ego. Yet, it is classic and, to me, irresistible. This 1983 film for Canadian television, I AM A HOTEL, is Cohen manifest.

It takes a painfully '80s ballet leap through five of Cohen's songs, most notably "Memories," a tune from Death of a Ladies' Man, an album Cohen himself can't take. The album started as a collaboration with Phil Spector that was wrested by the latter (it is reported that a gun was involved, go figure) to become a lush, arrogant monstrosity. Each chorus swells up like a tropical storm only to reveal its goal in the momentary calm - "To see her naked body." It's as honest as a rock song gets. It is really good. Old pond frog Cohen even wails "herrrr nakkkked bodddyyyy!" at the end.

Tablet published a beautiful tribute to that album.

The "Memories" scene has Cohen as a mannequin/1950s ballroom singer (maybe a Roy Orbison shadow) perched on a balcony stage as the chambermaid and bellhop lunge at each other. It's notable that Cohen opens the door to the ballroom for these two and then sings as they cavort. That seems to be the deal with Leonard Cohen; he opens doors you know you shouldn't. He is the last ladies' man so you don't have to be.

Otherwise, Cohen sits in his room singing to women only in memories. I'm reminded of one of the greatest Cohen tunes, "Tower of Song" (not included in the film) where he sees himself stuck in a flophouse of artist tradition.

I said to Hank Williams: how lonely does it get? 
Hank Williams hasn't answered yet 
But I hear him coughing all night long 
A hundred floors above me 
In the Tower of Song 
(from here)

The film doesn't really go many places Cohen isn't already headed in song, but then, he is the celebrated dark rider in folk music's cloistered sexuality, and he is always motioning for you to jump in the saddle with him.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Push forward! The Ten Vinyl Albums of My 2014

I like to think I'm not a nostalgic person - push forward! - but my year defined by a growing vinyl habit says otherwise.

Here are the ten vinyl albums that defined my phonographic habit this year. Mostly 70s, overwhelmingly white and male - I know what ground I need to make up in 2015.

1. Drive-By Truckers - ENGLISH OCEANS

particularly the song "Hanging On" on side 2. It is a simple tune by DBT standards but it chokes me up a little with its frailty. 

2. Hot Tuna - HOT TUNA

One in a massive pile purchased from Dylan Bell, mostly for the back cover, but it jangles a note in every corner of the room.


Drew me dangerously into eBay. The congenial jangle and the laughing idiots on the motorcycle on the cover make me think of those I've had fortune to play music with this year, esp Lance Porter, Lewis Roussel, Leon LeJeune, Jamye St Romain, Anna Byars and Ben Bell.

4. Funkadelic - MAGGOT BRAIN

Back ages ago I realized the vast majority of the music I listened to was by white people and sought out this album to help correct it. Fortunately, Tess Brunet up at Lagniappe Records had it in stock when the condition returned.


Seduced by the elaborate package, it was one of the first times I listened to Elton John on my own volition rather than it just being on. He's pretty good, Elton is.

6, Bob Dylan- PLANET WAVES

In high school, I found myself defending Bob Dylan to my dad, who said, "Elton John, now there's a good singer." F Elton John, I thought. I tried to sell my daughter on Bob Dylan and I forget what she said about him, but it was funny. This album and NEW MORNING are my Dylan.


So simple. Talking about almost nothing. Piano tinkling. Tablas in a hypnotic telegraph from the universe. It's the best thing I listened to all year, the very year where Ashley left us.

8. Lyres - LYRES

Tremolo, scream, drum break, everything.

9. Sly & the Family Stone - THERE'S A RIOT GOIN' ON

Purchased and played on the day of the Ferguson verdict. Not on purpose, but it served one anyway. Sly became a gun-toting recluse, girded against The Man, during the recording of this, but didn't lose sight of the shared beauty of humanity that begat "Family Affair" - one of the world's greatest songs. You can be fearful and have a gun even. Just don't kill anyone.


I got to sing in a David Bowie tribute night and it pushed me forward in my singing. My daughter is baking herself in a Bowie-shaped pan pushing herself forward.  Push on in 2015. No cocaine necessary on that the 70s  took it all for us. Push forward!