And more retro-loveliness

OK, so I’m indulging the kind of retrogressive fanciful nonsense that I’ve derided before on this ‘ere blog (can’t find the entry at the moment, but it was a rant about oldies stations), but I’m really loving finding 80s classics on YouTube… I guess I can console myself that I’m digging up songs I really like, and still like, not Amytiville by Lovebug Starski or Just Say No by the Grange Hill Cast… I’m not even dipping into guilty pleasures like Hi Ho Silver by Jim Diamond (it’s the association with Boon, I’m afraid) or any of the great 80s power ballad duets from crap films…

So here’s installment 3 in Steve’s video nostalgia trek… I promise I’ll dig up some new music soon to counteract this pointless reminiscing.

BTW, there’s a thread started over in the forum – I’m sorry that comments are still down… Will try and stick pins in Sarda and get him working on it… it’s not like he’s actually busy with work and moving back to England or anything.

An unflinching commitment to one's blog readers/viewers

Now, y’all know I’m a huge fan of Questlove’s blog – he’s the drummer/bandleader of The Roots, also plays with Eryka Badu, D’Angelo etc. etc. etc. He’s one of the greatest drummers anywhere. He’s also one seriously funny blogger.

Here he hits a new blog-commitment high – during Hub’s bass solo, he’s filming back stage, and then goes on stage, keeps filming, then sits down at his kit, starts playing ONE HANDED and KEEPS FILMING! Now, if I did that y’all would know I was looping. No big deal. Funny, but hardly complicated. But in front of a packed house, Questo plays one handed so he can capture for us what’s going on. Great stuff.

"I like pretty much anything…"

so goes the beginning to So many people’s list of favourite music on MySpace. They then proceed to list only music that has a) singers, b) that sing in english and c) bands with drum kits, or programmed drums that sound like drum kits.

THAT’S NOT ‘PRETTY MUCH ANYTHING’!! By any stretch of the imagination, that’s a very very narrow range of what’s on offer in the world of music. This faux cosmopolitan approach to music is fostered by radio and TV shows that claim to have a hugely wide booking policy that reminds me of that line in The Blues Brothers ‘we have both types of music – Country AND Western’.

I feel like bombarding these people with MP3s of Gamalan orchestras and Harry Partch, Tuvan throat singing and Gustav Mahler, Bollywood soundtracks and Andean pan pipes, Noel Coward and Fats Waller, Henry Purcell and Meshuggah… ‘pretty much anything’ really, until they say ‘I have, in the greater scheme of things, incredibly conservative music taste, it runs the gamut of ‘white-boy stadium guitar nonense’ from Coldplay to Stereophonics, but I have got a Boards Of Canada album, cos someone told me they were cool, and it was cheap in Borders.’

For the record, I don’t like ‘pretty much anything’ – I actively dislike most of the music I’ve heard in my life. It’s not out of some musicological misanthropy, it’s just that even across the range of styles and genres I like, I tend to only like the best of it. The reason being that most music isn’t very good. That’s what’s magical about music – if it was as easy as breathing, we wouldn’t value it at all. We wouldn’t have favourites, in the same way that most of us don’t have favourite ‘walkers’ – (“ooh, just look at the way he puts one foot in front of the other”) – we can almost all do it, it’s a hugely useful skill, but it’s not generally considered a uniquely artistic one in the way that making great music is.

That said, our reasons for liking music go beyond the sound of the music itself, often. There are emotional resonances based on things we’ve heard before, there are cultural, social and personal connections with the performers and writers, there are lyrics that grab us and draw us into styles we wouldn’t previously have bothered with, there’s music played by people we know (The Cheat is always laughing at me for spending most of my time listening to music by friends of mine), there’s music that we encounter in good situations (opening for a favourite band, soundtracking a favourite film, or just on in the background when great things happen).

But that still doesn’t come close to ‘pretty much anything’ – so if you have that on your myspace page, please go and change it, and put something more honest! ;o)

I Know I'm Not Alone

Just found the perfect way to focus my thoughts about world politics on a day when everyone’s talking about it. I watched I Know I’m not AloneMichael Franti’s documentary about his time in Baghdad, Israel and the Occupied Territories. It’s a fantastically well made documentary, especially for a first time film maker – fabulously put together, brilliantly edited and profoundly moving.

Franti’s commentary is as you’d expect – insightful, wise, observant, and full of choice quotes about our reponse to conflict, war, and the search for peace.

He says towards the end ‘If I’ve learnt anything from this trip it’s that I’m not on the side of the Americans or the Iraqis or the Israelis or the Palestinians – I’m on the side of the peacemakers, wherever they come from.’ Sounds kind of sermon-on-the-mount-ish, dontcha think?

A blessing be upon the head of Michael Franti for his gift to us of this film. Buy a copy, watch it and take it round to your friend’s houses. And while you’re at it, buy the new Spearhead album, ‘Yell Fire’. It’s amazing.

Steve Irwin's death…

So the big news today pretty much across all the news sources I’ve looked at has been the death of Steve Irwin. And, like a lot of people, TSP and I have been talking about him, his conservation work, how his work as a naturalist contrasted with his ‘crocodile hunter’ image (which never involved hunting them at all, as far as I can see).

I always feel a bit weird about the sadness that surrounds celeb deaths, especially those who haven’t really made much of a dent in your life – I mean, John Peel’s death felt like something major had gone from the lives of an entire generation of British radio listeners and musicians, but Steve Irwin was always a novelty character on UK TV, someone to be giggled at as he hammed up an encounter with some poisonous critter or other.

There’s a deep and genuine sadness for his family – his wife and two small children – it’s always terrible to hear of families that are bereaved. And that’s just it. There are loads of bereaved families every day, there are naturalists and conservationists dying, there are humanitarian workers being killed, peace protesters in the middle east, aid workers in Darfur, good people, unknown, unsung wonderful selfless people who die and leave a devastating hole in their families, but don’t make the news because they weren’t showbiz enough.

This isn’t to take anything away from sadness of Steve Irwin’s death, or to suggest that we should have a TV channel for obituaries of ordinary people. More that we should be aware of our own dispensation towards colourful characters, be they in the media or in our social situations. It’s easy to mourn the death of a star, just as it’s easy to mark any event in the lives of people who make themselves the centre of attention, but it’s harder to see, to recognise the good done by those who don’t do their positive work in the spotlight, who don’t have a catchphrase, or a film about their life, but instead get on with doing their thing. And if we’re not careful we’ll miss them, miss the chances we have to celebrate them, the encourage them and to support their families if they are tragically taken away.

back from Italy

Back from a fantastic trip to Italy – a hugely enjoyable and creative time with Luca Formentini – a fabulous guitarist, and a great friend.

The trip started with a gig in Brescia, playing a soundtrack to a silent film, ‘The Unknown’ by Todd Browning. I’m not much of a silent/old film buff (I’ve seen Dodgeball more times that I care to remember but had never heard of Todd Browning before, and have never even seen Citizen Kane), but I really enjoyed this film. For the soundtrack I was joined by an Italian guitarist, who did a good job (though the circumstances surrounding him playing in the first place were a little more murky – I’ll save that blog-story ’til an email or two have been sent), and the whole thing was well received.

the plan for the weekend was to record a load of duo stuff with Luca – we’d recorded together before, and one of the tracks has ended up on a compilation of Italian electronica artists (Stefano Lawsoni? perhaps…) – the last time we recorded was certainly interesting enough to warrant a repeat session. With both of us being loopers, it always takes a few sessions to settle into roles and what to do with all the shared sonic space.

However, before that, we had a total nightmare with getting soundcards sorted out – Luca had ordered a new RME card, which wasn’t available in time, so his local music shop (the remarkable Musical Box in Verona) were lending us a card. First up, we took a MOTU 828, which just wouldn’t work at all. No good. Not happy running with Audition on a PC.

Back to Musical Box, and swap it for a PreSonus FirePod. Once again, not happy with the PC set up. Which eventually led to Luca swapping over his looping laptop with the Pc, so he did all his loopage on the desktop and we recorded onto the laptop, finally using Cubase LE.

Much stress and lack of sleep was the result for Luca, so it took us another half a day to settle into playing, but from there on, we got a lot of great music recorded. Whereas the first session was predominantly dark ambient, this time we were more melodically driven with more groove oriented stuff. I’m really looking forward to mixing these tracks…

So lots of recording lovely music was punctuated by regular swims in the pool, great food, much inspiring conversation, cuddling the cats, and generally having a totally wonderful time in Italy…

those of you of a sports-fan persuasion will already have worked out that I was there for the football final on Sunday night, when we decamped to a local restaurant to eat great food and watch the game. Penalties are officially a really shit way to end a football match. I reckon widening the goals by a foot every 10 minutes, and tying one of the goalies hands behind his back to speed up the chance of a goal would be better… I was really glad Italy won, though Zidane’s headbutt aside, the French played MUCH better football in the second half and in extra time…

Tuesday morning I got the train back to Musical Box to talk with the owner about playing at EuroBassDay in October, which is booked now, and to show him and the rest of the guys who work in the shop the looperlative, which naturally they all thought was amazing (because it is).

Then Tuesday afternoon I was special guest at a week-long intensive english language camp for teenagers, playing some tunes and having them interview me about what I do, about live in england and generally allowing them to try their english and stretch them in trying to understand me. A hugely enjoyable way to spend an afternoon, which I hope to get to do again.

And Tuesday night, as if all this wasn’t enough, Luca, Gio and I had dinner with Roberto Zorzi – a fantastic improv guitarist and fascinating bloke all round. Another magical Italy evening.

Got back Wednesday night, and poor TSP drove to Gatwick to pick me up in an overheating car. Need to get that fixed ASAP.

All in a marvellous week in Italy. It’s such a great country, the people are generous and positive to a fault, and the climate is just amazing. Love it.

Life Lessons From Songs

TSP bought the DVD of Love Actually on Ebay last week. I’d seen it before, but watched it again. I quite like Richard Curtis, despite thinking Four Weddings was largely nonsense, and Notting Hill suffered from the much-publicised lack of black people in a very heavily black part of London. I like the fact that he wrote Blackadder – that’s a good thing. And I like his commitment to the Make Poverty History campaign.

Anyway, this isn’t meant as a review of the film (though it must be said, the scene where Hugh Grant disses the American president is a blinder… sad that he had to be inspired to do it by the pres. hitting on his tea-lady, rather than just out of some kind of moral response to the evil horse-shit that American presidents are so often involved with, but viewers can’t be choosers, and it’s a sweet moment, nonetheless). the interesting bit of the film is in the extras.

Richard Curtis does a little talking head slot about each of the featured songs in the film, and makes the comment that he’s spent his life learning about emotions and being instructed in human relationships by female singer/songwriters. And it was a point that struck home. Particularly because two of those he picked were Joni Mitchell and Mary Chapin Carpenter – two of my favourite singer/songwriters, and also lyricists that I’ve learnt loads from.

So I’ve just been listening to ‘Come On Come On’ by MCC, which features the first song I ever heard by her, ‘He Thinks He’ll Keep Her’, which I bought on single when I was 18 or 19, and played to death. I think the album was one of the first CD albums I ever bought, and I’ve been collecting her stuff ever since. But I was struck by the lyrics, about bored housewives in loveless marriages finally having enough and leaving, and the husbands being all surprised at the end of the relationship. And it made me think, made me aware to some degree of how things are. As did so many other songs by her, and a whole host of other great female songwriters – Tracy Chapman, Suzanne Vega, the Indigo Girls, Jonatha Brooke. Some times the lessons were political, like ‘War’ by Jonatha Brooke. Sometimes just about feeling alive, like Gallileo or Watershed by the Indigo Girls. But all of them vital lessons.

And then it got me thinking about what happens when that isn’t there. Where instead of strong, intelligent female figures, you’ve got faux-feisty soft-porn-alikes, telling us that a man ain’t no man if he ain’t buying me bling, or coming out with imbecilic horse shit like the Pussycat Dolls. ‘Don’t You Wish Your Girlfriend Was Hot Like Me?’ – no, you moronic, corporatised, tragic shell of a human being, I don’t wish my girlfriend was anything like you at all.

Lads are growing up with this as their lessons from women. was it much better in the 80s? Who were the equivalents of these totems of fuckwittage that parade across top of the pops? Mel And Kim, the Bangles, Janet Jackson before she apparently went on the game, Salt And Pepper, Kylie, Bananarama… a mixed bag, for sure, but not half as bad as the genetic detritus that passes for celebrity today. Who is there to save the day? KT Tunstall, at least. She’s fab.

So if you’ve got kids, get them into singer/songwriters. Buy them some Joni CDs, and Mary Chapin Carpenter, James Taylor and Paul Simon, Carly Simon, Bruce Cockburn, KT Tunstall, Suzanne Vega, Jonatha Brooke, Kelly Joe Phelps – story tellers not clothes horses, observers of the human condition not shills for the corporate dollar.

In a world where the bardic tradition is all but lost, we need surrogate poets and story-tellers, mythic historians and reflectors of who we are, who we want to be and who we can be if we get it together. And it’s not even about them being amazing people – John Martyn’s a disaster as a human being, but a great weaver of poetic magic. James Taylor was a violent smack-head when he wrote ‘Shower The People You Love With Love’. We just need story tellers to show us the way.

So, a comment thread – favourite songs for telling how it is, should be or could be? at least one from each of you, dear bloglings, thankyou. ;o)

Brian McLaren on The DaVinci Code

While large sections of the church are getting all het up over a popular work of fiction, we can always rely on the ever-wonderful Brian McLaren to talk sense. He’s interviewed in the latest Sojourners SoJoMail newsletter, and it’s great stuff. Here’s the first couple of Q and As –
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What do you think the popularity of The Da Vinci Code reveals about pop culture attitudes toward Christianity and the church?

Brian McLaren: I think a lot of people have read the book, not just as a popular page-turner but also as an experience in shared frustration with status-quo, male-dominated, power-oriented, cover-up-prone organized Christian religion. We need to ask ourselves why the vision of Jesus hinted at in Dan Brown’s book is more interesting, attractive, and intriguing to these people than the standard vision of Jesus they hear about in church. Why would so many people be disappointed to find that Brown’s version of Jesus has been largely discredited as fanciful and inaccurate, leaving only the church’s conventional version? Is it possible that, even though Brown’s fictional version misleads in many ways, it at least serves to open up the possibility that the church’s conventional version of Jesus may not do him justice?

So you think The Da Vinci Code taps into dissatisfaction with Jesus as we know him?

McLaren: For all the flaws of Brown’s book, I think what he’s doing is suggesting that the dominant religious institutions have created their own caricature of Jesus. And I think people have a sense that that’s true. It’s my honest feeling that anyone trying to share their faith in America today has to realize that the Religious Right has polluted the air. The name “Jesus” and the word “Christianity” are associated with something judgmental, hostile, hypocritical, angry, negative, defensive, anti-homosexual, etc. Many of our churches, even though they feel they represent the truth, actually are upholding something that’s distorted and false.

I also think that the whole issue of male domination is huge and that Brown’s suggestion that the real Jesus was not as misogynist or anti-woman as the Christian religion often has been is very attractive. Brown’s book is about exposing hypocrisy and cover-up in organized religion, and it is exposing organized religion’s grasping for power. Again, there’s something in that that people resonate with in the age of pedophilia scandals, televangelists, and religious political alliances. As a follower of Jesus I resonate with their concerns as well.
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Top stuff, and heartening to read in the midst of mad people trying to sue Dan Brown and The film-makers for blasphemy or some such nonsense. I still can’t be bothered to read the book – I none-too-bothered by messianic conspiracy theories, especially as he’s rehashing all that ‘Holy Blood, Holy Grail’ stuff from a few years back.

OK, who the hell is going to explain the 2nd Matrix film to me?

Right, I remember it getting a bit of a slagging when it came out, but I watched the Matrix Reloaded this evening (it was on TV finally) – what the hell was that all about? I mean, other than the fighting and crap attempts at sexual chemistry? Plot? er, no. Any clue? Loads of jumbled up references to the same stuff as the first film – Faith, destiny, fate, sacrifice, the search for meaning… only this time they were crassly squeezed in between the fight scenes, which were all at least 50% longer than they had to be.

Is being cleverly animated enough for a film these days? Was it just me, or was that largely a load of shit?

McWebChat with the McDevil

I’m currently watching a web chat on the channel 4 website with Steve Easterbrook, the managing director of McDonalds in the UK. It’s in response to channel 4 having just shown Supersize Me again. I watched bits of it again, and it’s a fantastic bit of film making.

Clearly, McTurdBoy is going to be a shitbag – you don’t take a job like that in the first place without being McScum – and the webchat is being filtered so it’s all the questions that look really edgy but allow him to recite the McShit party line.

I’ve submitted three questions so far – one of about the Judge’s conclusions in the McLibel trial, one about the McDonald’s statement that none of their meals are guaranteed free from meat contamination and one about whether or not the film has an impact on the ‘diminished consumer confidence’ that McShit listed as one of the reasons for them closing 25 of their hellholes last month… – perhaps not surprisingly, McSatan hasn’t bothered to trouble me with a McAnswer.

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