At last, the angels are coherent. I can’t begin to tell how antsy I’ve been with excitement, running around like longtime believer about to receive communion after 37 years. At last we can accurately intimate Brian’s vision of America, humour and the loss of innocence. The whole picture is here.
Musically, thematic/continuity, arrangement-wise, Smile shits all over Sgt Pepper’s. There’s so much more detail here — vocal/structural colour, amazing instrumentation and variety from banjos to harmonicas, horns. The tension of ascending & descending melodic lines. The continuity of musical theme: Heroes & Villains, Child is Father, Wind Chimes. The backing vox don’t sound as full as the Beach Boys’ — the unique character of the voices is somewhat absent — methinks the mix is to blame for this. The songs are all so damned familiar now, I want to hear the original identities as on the Box set versions. Sadly. I prefer the warm mellow browns and greens of the analogue masters, not the crisp digital mix which certainly lacks fullness. Brian’s voice is notably less expressive and sad-intimating than before, more clipped in range, and Carl is sorely missed in the lead role.
But the loss of innocence suite (it’s divided into three sections) with Surf’s Up and the Child songs, is superb, moving, sculpted, complex. Beautiful strings. Amazing vocals. It starts with Child is Father of the Son, the search, the choppy child-child-child, then lullaby guitars and echo chamber riffs, ‘It’s enough to believe…’, and at the coda to Surf’s Up, with innocence broken and collapsed, it becomes Child is the Father of the Man, their song is love etc. I still think it a noble, rich idea/sentiment, especially now we have the complete poetic picture and development. I still have my first impression of the song in my head, of Brian at the piano for that TV special, singing, I thought, in a way that pushed his songwriting drive and melody to the expressive maximum, singing for his life (or his mind, as the case may be). Superlative. Mature.
I like that you can hear that it’s conceived, recorded and edited in sections. The joins are still there. Some pieces sound incomplete, partly because that’s how we’ve always heard them, but I think they’re deliberately left open because they sound good in the stoner sense of when they were written. You just can’t fill an entire album with supreme structure and intense backing vocals, cf Orange Crate Art. You gotta leave some things open. I like the supremely druggy You are my Sunshine. I like the rock, fire and water. And (the air of?) Our Prayer at beginning and end. The revamped Good Vibrations could’ve been left off, but it’s a nice closer, with a nice little structural surprise. I like the geographic crossings from East to furtherest West America. With trains, rocks, fields and hammers in between. Mrs O’Leary’s Cow/Fire is still very fucking freaky. The water of In Blue Hawaii don’t come quick enough. Freaky Brian makes it sound like the fire’s in the head, and not of the good lysergic kind.
This album represents pop music closure on a cosmic scale. And yet, it's lightyears away from the standard idea of the Beach Boys, a world far advanced from Pet Sounds.
Definitely a bigger, more detailed essay in the works. So much more to say.
Israel recently 'assassinated' an Hamas leader in Damascus, using an ignition-wired car bomb. I wonder, how many of the media reports called this an act of terrorism? According to Google, not many.
It fits so many of the definitions of terrorism: striking fear, acting across borders with massive force and no regard for civilian life. Certainly, assassinating political group leaders in another country ('political' is debateable here) would be a heinous crime otherwise...
Now, turn the players around, imagine the fallout if Palestinians assassinated an Israeli politician in like manner. Imagine the reprisal attacks. Imagine the headlines. Who's exploiting the use of the word Terrorist? There's always goons like this (and there are countless op/eders like him) who who follow the jargon line and don't really consider their terms. The abuse of the term Terrorist and its broad tar-brushing effect is one of the first reasons why the problem won't go away. It keeps alive the hypocricy.
Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon ‘Classic Albums’ doco on DVD.
Interesting to hear Roger Waters emphasise the empathy theme, which started (he says) with Echoes way back on Meddle. Also interesting to watch Dave and Alan Parsons isolate the tracks on the original tape, to prize apart individual overdubs and reveal how much work went into the mix, all the double tracking and effects, even the early use of sampling with the Money cash track — one very long tape wound around a mic stand. Yes, all the bits were kept for posterity. Interesting to watch Dave at the pedal steel — such a delicate touch. Actually, one mightily impressive impression was just how gentle and delicate all the musical parts are — especially the bit part overdubs, especially the piano (two to three separate dubs on some tracks) — they are amazingly simple, apposite and above all, when considering how much space they left for everything else, gentle. An amazing statement of band unity and positivity (despite a few lyric gaps); coherent and unified as a unit, open and listening, and hence emotionally affecting and wide-ranging as a musical statement. Had never fully appreciated Rick Wright’s place and ability. Hadn’t fully absorbed the power of leaving things open and letting them run (the Time drum intro). Or the sheer power of removing all the echoes and effects from the track between solos in Money, where it’s stripped back to the raw for the Floyd’s habitual funky break. And then turned back on. Dave is not only a superbly lyrical lead guitarist, he’s one of my fave rhythm players. So much work in the mix, yet so much simplicity. Though I wished they’d come clean and say that Eclipse was inspired by acid.
A superlatively subtle, obscene (I know, mincing my adjectives) routine by Ali G in da USA. In discussing IUDs with a sex educator (here’s how to apply a condom to a negro dong), Ali explains how once the aerial broke off when he stuck his mobile up his girl’s punani ‘cos he had it set to vibrate. And how he still got really good reception ‘cos ‘is friend rang up and had a conversation with him, talking down her punani. She got good reception down there, unlike when ‘e put it in his grandma’s fridge. And the woman, unfazed, saying well, ‘I learn something new every day in this job.’ The comedy of embarrassment.
Also, Denys Arcand’s The Barbarian Invasions. Nicely paced and balanced (short/long vignettes) study of friendship and departure/closure. Into death, that is. Shot in slightly green-yellow filter, like so much bad hospital lighting. A large ensemble cast with just the right amount of individuation. The mores of post-divorce/pre-divorce relations and affairs, and the implication that affairs are just as much part of living as food and wine. The frankness of middle age maturity blended with mocked academic paradigms (like philosophical problems that rightly cease to matter); the occasional stupidity of seduction (a Roth hint methinks); and a rather distinctive balancing of empathy and cynicism — traits supremely difficult to harmonise, here effortless. The cynicism of moneyed ease buying its way into everything, even false sympathy; and the genuinely ‘present’ empathy of company, recollection, laughter. Also some rather deep attacks on Faith and the Church, slipped in for weight. A film surprisingly lacking in plot tension though never meandering, and yet honestly choosing not to resolve the issue of marriage/affairs and the emotional fallout for wives, children etc. Enough humour to keep it bouncing (and some judiciously cut out, in the extra scenes), enough cynicism to ‘keep it real’. It all comes down to personality. The context of 9/11 and the heathen at the borders coulda been dropped.
Richard Pryor Live on Stage, Long Beach, California, 1979, DVD.
Beginning with the house lights still on, Pryor rushing on stage, and masses of late people shuffling back, actually an astounding mass of late folks, and he exploits it to the full. ‘The niggaz done stole the white people’s seats!’ Also a moron taking photos for a full five minutes. Pryor just unloads. Not quite as acidic or acerbic or even spaced-out as some of his routines, there’s still enough familiar material here (re the box set) to enjoy watching him act and fill it out. Naturally he makes far more sense visually/physically, hence it’s clear why the box set chose the verbally acute stuff. He fully uses the stage and dances with comedic energy. Dances in the same sense Ali could be said to, and he does Ali well. His imitation of a woman peeing in the woods, and of a deer drinking by some water and surprised by some huntin’ folk, are intensely funny registrations of face and expression. The extras from Live and Smokin’ and the Richard Pryor Show were decidedly flat.
A presage of modern war — of the massive hypocrisy and touted ideals for making war; of double standards, lies and contradictions and the consequent (outrageous) loss of life; of the abuse of language and the maligned tentacles of propaganda; of power, hubris and corruption. A tragedy (is Lebanon) in the classical sense, except the number of deaths and lies are modern. A disturbing and bleak view of the creation or support and sanction of militias by the Israelis; of the gradual causal rise of the Hezbollah movement (in a country as abused and wracked as Lebanon, no surprise); of the desperation of hijackings, kidnappings, suicide bombings; of civilian slaughter, the brutal killing of people who are refugees two or three times over. Of fruitless victories and meaningless ceasefires; of American battleship diplomacy; of retreats played out like glorious exits; of the Israeli use of phosphorous and cluster bombs (American weapons); of Ariel Sharon’s culpability for the Sabra and Shatila massacres; of peace-minded armies welcomed with rice and rose water only to leave destruction and death and the seeds for the next civil war.
Fisk’s observation is bravely acute, honest and of the highest journalistic calibre. He’s keenly aware of how important language representation and integrity are as media concerns, cf the abuse of the term ‘terrorist’, or of how skewed and feelgood-hollywood the war looks on TV; to the mutual use and exploitation of media by the warring parties.
This is a book that every Israeli, Arab and Westerner should read. It contains the mode, methods and terms (in eerie parallel) of our current wars. And it’s proof that the Palestinian issue has still not been resolved equitably and humanely. And that Michael Stipe was wrong: it’s Robert Fisk who’s not afraid.
P280: In East Beirut, the Israeli army officers — even the Israeli journalists who now travelled regularly up from Tel Aviv — used the word ‘Terrorism’ loosely, giving the war a moral flavour which it did not in reality possess. Terrorism, Terrorism, Terrorism. Never before [this is 1982] had its use become so all-pervasive, so ominous and dangerous. In one sense, it was the most frightening aspect of the war. For who were the ‘terrorists’ in Beirut? The Palestinian guerrilla fighters who had slaughtered their Christian opponents in the civil war? The Phalangist gunmen who had slaughtered so many Palestinian civilians and who were now allied to the Israelis? The Israeli soldiers and pilots who killed thousands of innocent people while pursuing the ghost of ‘international terrorism’?
P384: [Terrorism] had become not just an obsession but an amorphous military objective with neither end nor meaning.
P388: Like the Syrians, the Soviets, the Americans and the British, the Israelis drew a careful distinction between good terrorists and bad terrorists. In Israel’s case, the former were sympathetic to Israel and were graced with various, less harmful epithets — ‘militiamen’, ‘fighters’, ‘soldiers’ — while the latter opposed Israel and were therefore terrorists pure and simple, guilty of the most heinous crimes, blood-soaked and mindless, the sort of people who should be ‘cleansed’ from society.
— and how, importantly, labelling all Palestinians ‘terrorist’ in a strangely illegitimate way sanctions Isreal’s illegal occupation of the disputed territories, washing away the issue of land ownership and rights; that is, purest propaganda. A way of dehumanising people out of the debate for their own land.
[ibid] If the Palestinians could be portrayed as mindless barbarians, surely no sane individual would dare regard their political claims as serious. Anyone who expressed sympathy for the Palestinians was evidently anti-Semitic…
P407 The old terminology — of ‘pre-emptive strikes’ against ‘terrorists’, of ‘surgical precision’ bombing, of ‘pin-point accuracy’ bombardments, of ‘mopping up’ operations — was no longer accepted by reporters who could see for themselves what these phrases really meant.
P435 And yet… why was it that Western hostages were called ‘hostages’ — which they were — while Lebanese Shia Muslim prisoners held in an Israeli-controlled jail in Southern Lebanon were referred to by journalists simply as ‘prisoners’ [held for the good conduct of their brethren]?
…That one word ‘terrorist’ has been used to justify more political and military action than any defined policy in the Middle East in the past decade [the 80s].
P441 … ‘terrorism’ no longer means terrorism. It is not a definition; it is a political contrivance. ‘terrorists’ are those who use violence against the side that is using the word.
Don’t worry, it’s not just the Israelis who come out looking hypocritical. Arafat’s PLO is just as brutal, as are the various militias of the Druze, the Maronites, the Phalange government. Of particularly urgent reading is the Fisker’s brief holiday in Ireland, where he realises a slaughter is about to unfold in the Beirut refugee camps; and his rush back to discover hastily-dug mass graves, fresh kills while stumbling over a mass of corpses and bodyparts, and the Israelis standing guard in the distance. The epicentre of the book and the war, the massacres are testimony to the absolute of ruthlessness and depravity which warring sides descend to, and the true obscenity of mass murder. Also of note is how pathetic the yanks (and Reagan) come across with their technologist mania-religion and firepower diplomacy. Also, the Israeli pursuit of critical voices in the Western media during the ‘82 invasion.
The book speaks of indiscriminate shelling and bombing, lies and rhetoric, militia cruelty, hypocrisy, truth, politics, secular fighting, propaganda. And the political denial and suppression-management of (journalistic) truth.
Over on Popmatters, my rather tired analysis of the gold medal phenomenon and the horse that won it for Ireland.
Claps! Fingerclicks! Tambourines! Tight-ass drumming! Motown provides. A few surprises this time round: Smokey's rather mature and strikingly accurate relationship songs. Also, sound-wise Motown is the preview to Spector methinks.
Because there's something fatiguing about listening to the Motown label non-stop, I selected Accuradio's subchannel Sixties: SubSoul for a bit more variety. Some faves:
Ball of Confusion (That's What the World Is Today) The Temptations (great count-in)
Uptight (Everything's Alright) Stevie Wonder
Ooo Baby Baby The Miracles
I Was Made to Love Her Stevie Wonder (right, note great guitar-work, backing vox, musical tension/drama)
Money (That's What I Want) Barrett Strong
Land of 1000 Dances Wilson Pickett (rock out! The drummer can almost not keep up)
I Only Have Eyes For You The Flamingos (such sweetness and feel, deep backing vocals, it's crying out for a Lynch film all its own. I love this song.) (lo fi mp3)
Shop Around The Miracles (amazing advice for 1961, listen to yo momma! Try and get a bargain, son!)