Tuesday, 25 October 2011

What's Wrong With Our Rock Stars?

You glorify the past when the future dries up.

Always one to be overly aware of the distinction between the golden ages of yesteryear and the musical culture of today, my nostalgia has never appeared more grounded than it has over the past week thanks to the contrast of reading Nick Kent’s The Dark Stuff – ‘selected writings on the most gifted and self-destructive talents in rock history’ and simultaneously being exposed (unwillingly) to what society and the media today wish to promote as ‘rock n roll stars’ or ‘rebels’. Never before in the history of modern music has there been a time where a marketable image has taken precedence over anything else; where we don’t just have manufactured music, but manufactured people (dare I refer to them as 'musicians') living manufactured lives.

While I hate to bring him up or even give the franchise the time of day, I feel that in this instance it would be an utter waste not to draw upon the example of this year’s X Factor contestant; Frankie Cocozza. Through no fault of my own, I became aware of this poor, lost little boy this week thanks to various media coverage, and articles screaming out such headlines as "Frankie’s F-word Meltdown" after he - heaven forbid – swore on television. Having then made the regrettable decision to lightly scratch the surface of the charade that is this factory built mass-produced specimen, I stumbled across his shameful performance of Primal Scream’s Rocks Off from last weekend and well, found the whole ordeal to be just too repugnant for words. For anyone else unfortunate enough to have witnessed his (and the X Factor publicity circus’s) attempt at mixing the insultingly simplistic ingredients of a few tattoos and a cocky demeanour wrapped in a parcel of skinny jeans in order to build an image of rebellion and create a; ‘wow, that Frankie sure is a mad one’ reaction, you will know what I mean. To anyone who wasn’t aware of his existence til now – I apologise, but I must offer you this delightful quote, just to give you a clearer idea as to what this joker is all about;

“To sum up my life I’d probably use the word; mental. If you came out on a night with me, you’d probably wake up wondering what happened last night.” – Cocozza, F. 2011

Alas, this is not the only example of the mockery currently being sold to today’s youth in a nice little package titled; this is rebellion - thus providing a very misguided view as to exactly what ‘pushing the boundaries’ means, as I discovered when walking past the magazine section in my local shop. “Sarah Harding urged to go to rehab” and “Sarah Harding reportedly sought rehab after ultimatum from other members of Girls Aloud” screaming out at me from the front cover of every glossy magazine and tabloid: is this news? Is this what the ‘rock n roll’ image has been reduced down to, packaged neatly for every teenage girl to read in from the confines of their Justin Bieber adorned bedrooms, whilst trying to perfect their take on Cheryl Cole’s latest hairstyle? 

Rebellion for the itunes generation in five simple steps.

As if to add more fuel to this farcical fire, a friend of mine recounted a story this week highlighting the despicable decline in rock musician etiquette, and I think it serves to prove my point of image above substance quite perfectly. Whilst being stood at the side of the stage at Glastonbury festival a few years back, he was approached by the bassist from Scottish indie-nothing band ‘The View’. Having initially asked whether there were any beers going spare (a little ironic perhaps, seeing as they were the ones with a spot at Glastonbury), he then went on to enquire as to whether my friend had a cigarette he could have. Any attempt at appearing cool or respected at this point then began to crumble pitifully for the 21st century wannabe as, when presented with a pouch of tobacco and some rizla, he had to sheepishly admit that he couldn’t roll and ask whether my friend would mind doing it for him. A bit of a contrast to past musicians who’d learn how to shoot up before their eighteenth birthday, however perhaps not surprising from a band whose idea of rebellion is having the same jeans on for four days.

I don’t think it’s entirely necessary to justify this argument any further by giving examples as to how previous generations could put these deluded souls to shame. However, I would recommend Nick Kent’s book to anyone who wants to remind themselves of what the true spirit of rock n’ roll was all about. Recounting tales as to how Syd Barrett and Brian Jones lost their minds to one too many acid trips, or how Lou Reed lost ten years in a heroin haze, it brings a bit of perspective to what the media today will have us believing a trip to the joke-worthy concept of ‘rehab’ is all about. The simple fact being that anyone who needs to go on about how much of a mess they are, is wasting too much time caring about projecting this image as a marketing tool, and not enough time practicing what they preach.

Now, don’t get me wrong – I’m not saying that we need all of our musicians to be fixated by the glint of the needle or chained to the mirror of their razorblades, however unless they really are truly living out the lifestyle of someone who is that way inclined, then I would rather not hear about their lame, over-publicised attempts at being “mental”. Why don’t they just admit that they get their kicks from reality TV and get their rocks off to the latest Coldplay album, and leave the rest of us in peace.

Sunday, 16 October 2011

Unemployment : A Few Words From The Wise.

Call up the craftsmen
Bring me the draughtsmen
Build me a path from cradle to grave
And I'll give my consent
To any government
That does not deny a man a living wage – Billy Bragg

Having spent the past few months unemployed and subsequently going through a myriad of emotions on the subject; first thinking that I would only take a job that I wanted and suited my own interests, followed by a rapid descent into the depths of ‘I will take any job going’ territory, facilitated by crawling around various agencies and applying for call centres, I then rediscovered my soul (with a little help from the misguided benefit system) and proudly proclaimed: “why should I take a job that I don’t want to do?” Especially when in many cases, you would be worse off if you took a job…and you’d have forty hours less a week in which to do things that you actually want to do. Madness surely, and a fair reflection of the state of society that we live in today. Instead, I’ve reached the conclusion that until I find a job which takes me in exactly the direction I want to be heading in, I will be much better off using this time to fulfill creative ambitions, volunteering and acquiring experience which will ultimately lead me to my career of choice. I opt for this instead of spending my days assisting, and therefore condoning, a pointless system of administration upon which we are all unfortunately forced to rely, by taking any stupid office administration job pushed in my direction.

In times of trouble or unease, music usually has a way of coming through for me - reaffirming my beliefs and assuring me gently that millions of people have felt this way at some point…hell, they’ve even screamed it at the top of their lungs in stadiums. While I can see a fair point in the argument that musicians ‘use’ the working-man’s gripes in their music in order to maintain a grasp on their fan base’s reality – while in the meantime they are chauffeured around in Rolls Royce’s and drinking only the finest champagne in penthouse suites - there is no element of fakery involved when singing along to The Smiths ‘Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now’ on a grey November morning on your way to the office. As such, I have acquired a list of songs which I think sum up a great deal on the subject, and have discussed them in short below;

Oasis – Cigarettes and Alcohol
Is it worth the aggravation 
To find yourself a job when there's nothing worth working for?
It's a crazy situation
But all I need are cigarettes and alcohol

This song highlights the appeal and subsequent dependency on cigarettes, alcohol and drugs as a remedy to the futile nature of working class life. While many people could not be blamed for finding vices in such things, it is particularly insulting when we witness constant rises on alcohol and tobacco taxes as the government steadily ensures that the working man can no longer afford the few items that get him through the mundane activities of day-to-day life. Tapping into the common sentiment of western disenchantment, it’s no wonder that it has re-appeared several times in the charts since its first release in 1994.

The Smiths – Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now

I was looking for a job, and then I found a job 
And heaven knows I'm miserable now
In my life
Why do I give valuable time
To people who don't care if I live or die?

Taken from the 1984 compilation album ‘Hatful of Hollow’, this is perhaps the most explicitly simple statement of how I feel right at this moment. Why are we forced to donate the most valuable asset that we have - our time – to a faceless corporation or activity in which we hold no belief and derive no pleasure? What The Smiths have done so brilliantly here is demonstrate how we find ourselves in such a position without real choice or thought, as this is the path we are all forced to go down whether we like it or not.

John Lennon – Working Class Hero
When they've tortured and scared you for twenty odd years, 
Then they expect you to pick a career,
When you can't really function you're so full of fear,
A working class hero is something to be,
A working class hero is something to be.

Keep you doped with religion and sex and TV,
And you think you're so clever and classless and free,
But you're still fucking peasants as far as I can see,
A working class hero is something to be,
A working class hero is something to be.

This song is a take on the class split of the 1940s and 1950s, and of the 1960s in which John Lennon was famous. The song appears to tell the story of someone growing up in the working class. According to Lennon in an interview with Rolling Stone magazine in December 1970, it is about working class individuals being processed into the middle classes, into the machine. Another demonstration of the inevitability that many people face thanks to the systems in place to keep the working class unquestioning of their fate, this song faced much controversy upon its release – most probably for fear of raising awareness of exactly such issues.
 (Exerts from : en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Working_Class_Hero)

Pink Floyd - Money
Money, get away
Get a good job with more pay and you're okay
Money, it's a gas

Money, it's a crime
Share it fairly but don't take a slice of my pie
Money so they say
Is the root of all evil today
But if you ask for a raise it's no surprise that they're giving none away

Focusing more on the financial side of things, ‘Money’ from Pink Floyd’s ‘Dark Side of the Moon’ brilliantly illustrates why millions of people find themselves heading off to jobs they hate every morning of the week – because we are repeatedly being told, from an increasingly young age, that everything is all about money. That is apparently enough justification to hate our lives, to waste our precious time, to start wars and to repeatedly screw over our fellow human beings. Money, it’s a gas.

Bob Dylan – Maggie’s Farm
I ain't gonna work on Maggie's farm no more
No, I aint gonna work on Maggie's farm no more
Well, I wake up in the morning
Fold my hands and pray for rain
I got a head full of ideas
That are drivin' me insane
It's a shame the way she makes me scrub the floor
I ain't gonna work on Maggie's farm no more

Well, he hands you a nickel
He hands you a dime
He asks you with a grin if you're havin' a good time
Then he fines you every time you slam the door

Within ‘Maggie’s Farm’, we see Dylan singing for the youth of his time, urging them to reject society and question what is happening around them, as opposed to quietly accepting an unfair fate and as a result; pushing any ideas and hopes that you had to one side.  The "farm" that Dylan sings of could easily represent racism, state oppression and capitalist exploitation, and has subsequently been used and covered on numerous occasions since its release in 1965 as a symbol of protest.

The Beatles – Taxman
Let me tell you how it will be; 
There's one for you, nineteen for me.
'Cause I’m the taxman,
Yeah, I’m the taxman.

Should five per cent appear too small,
Be thankful I don't take it all.
'Cause I’m the taxman,
Yeah, I’m the taxman.
Now my advice for those who die, (taxman) 
Declare the pennies on your eyes. (taxman)
'Cause I’m the taxman,
Yeah, I’m the taxman.

And you're working for no one but me.


‘Taxman’ is a song written by George Harrison released as the opening track on The Beatles 1966 album ‘Revolver. Its lyrics attack the high levels of progressive tax taken by the British Labour government of Harold Wilson. Harrison said, “‘Taxman' was when I first realised that even though we had started earning money, we were actually giving most of it away in taxes. It was and still is typical." The Beatles' large earnings placed them in the top tax bracket in the United Kingdom, liable to a 95% supertax introduced by Harold Wilson's Labour government, so while they were wealthier than most, they certainly knew a thing or two about the unfairness of the tax system.
(Exerts from : en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Taxman)

The Enemy – Away From Here
I'm so sick sick sick and tired
Of working just to be retired
I don't want to get that far
I don't want your company car
Promotions ain't my thing
Name badges are not interesting

Reverend and The Makers – Heavyweight Champion of the World
It might be boring so boring
It might put you to sleep
The same old routine repeats week after week
And you work harder, work harder
Cos you’re told that you must
And you must earn a living
And you must earn a crust…like everybody else
Just be like everybody else

Here, with these songs by The Enemy and Reverend and The Makers, we find two more recent examples of how disillusionment with the working system is still as prevalent as ever. In these cases, the most apparent themes seems to be of boredom with the repetitive routines, and fighting out against what is expected of us, despite whether this bares any relevance to what we actually want to get out of our lives – lives which we only have the pleasure of living once. For as long as society keeps such outrageous systems and restrictions in place, more songs on the subject will continue to be written, and we can continue to enjoy them in the understanding that there is hope and a shared desire for a time when this will no longer be the case.

Right, back to the jobhunt…

Thursday, 13 October 2011

A Lesson In Self-Respect.

Sometimes I wonder whether David Bowie can do no wrong.

Perhaps he has a lot to thank for his origins on a far away planet – from which he descended to brighten up our world in the late 60s – as they have served him well in avoiding any of the usual human slip-ups or falls from dignity and grace that many aging stars of his generation or later, seem unable to resist succumbing to.

With this observation, I seek not to clarify how amazing Bowie’s musical contributions are (for this is now as widely accepted as the laws of science), or indeed how the revolution he bestowed upon us in the 1970s continues to reverberate around the music and fashion industries with a deafening roar. No. Today what I hope to get across is that it’s the decisions that he has made since this time that make him so worthy of respect and admiration, whilst simultaneously ensuring that all that he achieved before seems even better.

As we are constantly made aware these days by musicians who are somewhat less dignified with their aging, the 21st century is a time with temptation and empty promises around every corner, waiting to trap and lure the icons of yesteryear. I need only mention the names of Iggy Pop, Axl Rose and Joan Jett in order to paint an image of degrading advertisement deals, shameless flogging of a band that's been unrecognisable and irrelevant for twenty years and copious amounts of plastic surgery – paths all too often taken by the once adored, successfully undermining any reverence or respect that they once commanded.

It is at the opposite end of this spectrum that we find Bowie, holding music with the highest respect and refusing to let any foolish endeavours of later life tarnish the genius that we know of his younger years. This is a lesson that other aging musicians should definitely take heed of, for in their greedy desire to maintain a level of prominence, they could well be ruining their legacy in the process. I personally hold Iggy Pop as the prime example of this – his crimes being all the more hard to swallow due to how incredible he once was as the frontman of the protopunk movement. What is such a shame is that now, even though I herald ‘Lust For Life’ as one of the best albums of the 1970s, I can barely listen to it for fear of conjuring up terrifying images of a lost old man selling his soul, dignity and self-respect for £25 million under the slogan of “Get A Life”. An innovator of punk rock selling car insurance? What a disgusting and disgustingly modern state of affairs. Next we'll be seeing the man who once snarled down the camera shouting "God save the Queen, a fascist regime" dressed in tweed, proclaiming that we sell-out like him and buy 'Country Life' butter "because it tastes the best".

I don’t think it is necessary to point out that this is not something that you’d catch Iggy’s close friend David Bowie doing - his dignified silence over recent years speaking volumes. Gracing us with his presence on only a few occasions, usually in situations which serve to remind of his position at the forefront of all that is still cool in the music industry. His appearances onstage with Placebo, Arcade Fire and Moby have been a nod to the new generation of gifted and respected musicians. (A far cry from a special guest slot on ‘X Factor’, I think you’ll agree).

His complete and utter success in growing old gracefully and gloriously is prominent when one notes his absence from the chat show circuit, within which we find a continuous stream of autobiography-holding, greatest-hits-promoting, reunion-tour-plugging shadows. Instead we catch Bowie say, in a photo shoot for Q Magazine, Kate Moss dangled round his neck, looking as though the pleasure is all hers.What Bowie has succeeded in doing is creating the blue print for how people can not only grow old in a way that will give their previous achievements all the more respect and appreciation to new and old generations alike, but also how to live your life as fulfilled and content as possible. It is easy to see that Bowie is no longer hung up, unlike so many of the prime offenders in this category, on the power and money driven fame game. Releasing new albums only sporadically, often under the radar of the commercial market – holding artistic satisfaction as the main aim, and refraining from making anything at all if not suitably inspired.

Admiration for David Bowie in the year 2011 is as prominent as it has ever been, and rightfully so. Respect for himself has got him a long way, now enjoying retirement cuddled up to a supermodel wife and bringing up his young daughter in New York, undoubtedly able to look back on his extensive career with few regrets and much pride. This of course works both ways, for it is thanks to this self-respect and dignity that we – as fans – can continue to love and enjoy David Bowie’s artistic offerings, happy in the affirmation that he 100%, absolutely, positively and certifiably was and is as incredible and other-worldly as we ever believed him to be.

Thursday, 6 October 2011

The Man Who Shot The Seventies.

One thing I am really and truly grateful for in the history of modern music is that Mick Rock was there to capture it all.

We owe a lot to Mick; for it is him who's responsible for permanently freezing Debbie Harry's flawless face in suspended motion, capturing Syd Barrett during an aesthetically pleasing pre-meltdown juncture and preserving Freddie Mercury's chiselled cheek bones far beyond his mortal years. Were it not for the enviable talents of Mick Rock within the visible spectrum, we may have never been certain of exactly how perfect, beautiful and glorious the 1970s were, or indeed the stars whose existence made it so.

Having made his name in the world of music photography by capturing David Bowie during the Ziggy Stardust era, it wasn't long before Mick Rock was the biggest and most revered name in the industry, being called upon to capture the most talked about stars of the day (often by their own request) and as a result, becoming the man behind some of the most easily recognisable photographs and iconic album covers in musical history.

For many years now, Mick Rock has been my favourite photographer - in part because he has the most enviable job one could dare to imagine, but also because he successfully manages to portray so much more than his beautiful subjects within each photo. He effortlessly manages to freeze a moment in time, a moment within which the excitement and promise of a budding career is forever suspended; along with all the beliefs of the world around it.

In short, Mick Rock is a genius because he managed to capture some of the greatest people in the exact moment that we wish them to remain, and thanks to his photographs they shall forever be immortalised as such.

Here are some of my favourite shots :

Bobby Gillespie, 2006

Debbie Harry, 1979

David Bowie, 1973

Lou Reed, 1975

Freddie Mercury, 1974

Iggy Pop, 1972

Joan Jett, 1981

Kate Moss, 2002

Syd Barrett, 1969

Michael Stipe, 2005

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

New Is Good Too.

Having spent the last few posts discussing and praising ways-of-old in the music industry, I would hate to give the impression that there is little to be excited about in 2011, as this would clearly be some dirty propaganda in my campaign to get everyone to revert the world to 1968 (and quite frankly, it just isn’t true).

There is an incredible amount of exciting and brilliant music around today, and one of the brightest, shiniest and most glittering stars – it has to be said – is Mr Patrick Wolf. Despite ten years having passed since his first album was released, the public – whose affections for the star seem to ebb and flow depending on the weather – appear to have half-heartedly climbed back on board for his latest album release; ‘Lupercalia’. It says a lot of Patrick Wolf that he can credibly be considered reminiscent of Bowie in various ways; including a penchant for avant-garde fashion endeavours, a sexual ambiguity that has kept people guessing and a voracious desire to repeatedly transform and redevelop a new sound for each new music offering – all the while maintaining something indefinable which renders them instantly recognisable. Perhaps their most striking resemblance however, is their possession of an unfathomable and almost otherworldly amount of talent, one which they almost seem to be channelling from galaxies invisible to us mere mortals.
From the cleanly tailored dove-white outfit on the album sleeve to the opening majors of the first track; ‘The City’, it is irrefutably apparent that this album is going to be a far cry from Wolf’s sinister and brooding 2009 offering – ‘The Bachelor’. An album full of songs laced with dark eccentricity, intricate ideas and observations of a world in turmoil; coated in a rich layer of organ, violin and any number of instruments that Wolf is able to turn his hand to. As such, it is hard to believe that ‘The Bachelor’ and ‘Lupercalia’ were ever intended to be a double album, unless released under a concept of polar opposites.

With each album that Wolf releases, it is easy to fall into the trap of believing that this will surely be the one that finally elevates him into the musical lap of the gods - rightfully claiming a place which has been reserved for years. However, while 'Lupercalia' may have shown promising signs of such a feat, it seems again to have mainly fallen on the ears of his loyal fan base, never quite making the leap to arena fodder, but ensuring packed theatres and small venues up and down the country whenever he honours them with his presence. While it is a crying shame that such a gifted and charismatic performer does not get to tread the boards of larger venues, it also makes him the nation’s best kept secret, providing his fans with an intimacy and relationship that serves Wolf very well.

With ‘Lupercalia’, we find Patrick Wolf back to his optimistic best, and upon listening to this album it is impossible not to rejoice in the happiness that he has clearly found in his own life over the past few years. Full of hearty defiance that love shall survive and conquer all, it would be hard to find a more positive and content set of lyrics, and indeed a more positive or content man; as one discovers when watching any performance on his accompanying tour. Bounding around a stage laden with harps and all manner of string instruments like a magical pixie, singing to raise the roof whilst parading the biggest and most genuine of smiles throughout the entire show, there is no doubt that this is a man with something to smile about.

Perhaps the most notable achievement of Patrick Wolf on this album, is his absolute triumph in writing the most optimistic and inspirational break-up song in the history of music. ‘Time Of My Life’ is incredible, and the positive spin which he places upon what is potentially one of the most depressing and difficult occurrences - the end of a relationship – is inspiring;

From the east to the south
I tongue the roof of my mouth 
To new days of doubt without you 
First gear, I face the trouble ahead 
Final word has been said 
Long distance spread between us 

I tell myself to 
Hold on, won’t be long 
Till I grow through this struggle
Time to wake up, find my soul
Happy without you 

We go on
Heart beats strong
Still whole 
As we divide 
Our love goodbye 
Thanks for, the time 
Time of my life

This is undoubtedly a song that each and everyone should hold fast to in their arsenal of motivational and invigorating music for when things get tough, as before you know it, ‘Time Of My Life’ will have you, not just back on your feet, but dancing in the ambience of it’s infectious optimism.

The rest of the album carries on in much of the same vain, and even when Wolf threatens to show signs of a bleaker sound, such as the beginning of ‘Together’ or in ‘The Days’, it does not last long before we’re returned to the defiant, shouting-my-love-from-the-rooftops sounds of ‘Lupercalia’. Uplifting strings, thumping drums and delicate piano often revealing the warm sentiments, even in songs which could be considered more subdued.

While an album of brilliance certainly, I cannot pass without questioning whether forty-one minutes and three seconds of uplifting electro-pop provides the listener with enough of a well-rounded sensory experience. The consistency in emotion may be admirable, however what Wolf has failed to do here unlike his most comparable album to date – 2007’s ‘The Magic Position’ – is touch on the dizzying heights of euphoric contentment as well as the inevitable accompanying lows. This is perhaps why, despite the absolute joy that can be derived from witnessing Patrick Wolf as a beautifully at ease human being who has found happiness and inner peace in all that surrounds him, even as a true fan you find yourself thinking that all we need now is a break up album to get him back to his gutsy best (closely followed by a return to happiness, of course.)

Here is ‘Time Of My Life’ :

Patrick Wolf - Lupercalia
2011 Mercury Records

My Zimbio