I wrote an article about Bob Monkhouse a little while back which was warmly received. It’s nice then that I should stumble upon a lovely piece by Barry Cryer also about Bob. It can be read here on the BBC Comedy Blog and it’s well worth it. Like me, Barry worked with Bob and it makes me wonder what else we have in common. Is Barry’s preferred spirit of choice rum with a bit of coke in it? Does he struggle to find jeans long enough for his lanky legs? Does he believe that flip flops should only be worn by men on a beach and have no place as Saturday night attire in Camden Town? Alas, at the time of writing I am none the wiser.
Archive for July, 2010
With the imminent British cinema release of the Serge Gainsbourg film Vie Heroique, it may be the case that the general opinion of the French cultural icon in the UK will be altered, and for the better. To many in Britain and indeed elsewhere, the name Serge Gainsbourg is familiar solely due to the worldwide smash hit Je t’aime moi non plus which he originally recorded with Brigitte Bardot but re-recorded with Jane Birkin which is the version that hit the charts with such oomph. For others, recognition could be down to the fact that on a French chat show in 1986 he told a completely unprepared Whitney Houston that he wanted to fuck her. It may simply be that people recognise his image as that of a quintessential Frenchman with a Gitane in one hand and a look of obstinance in his eyes. The fact is, he did write Je t’aime non plus, did tell Whitney about his sexual lusting and did look “French” to some casual observers (although he was in fact of Russian Jewish parentage). What I don’t think he got enough credit for outside his home land was the fact that he was also a great songwriter, producer and composer, something that has been far too overshadowed throughout the years. Hopefully the film will go some way to remedy this but thankfully there are books which have already cast light on the artistic life of Gainsbourg.
In A Fistful Of Gitanes, the music writer Sylvie Simmons does an admirable job of unravelling the different facets, talents and contradictions of the man and I would recommend it highly for those wanting to learn more. Somewhat surprisingly, at the moment there are only two books on Gainsbourg available in the English language but I haven’t read the other. Going by reviews afforded to it, it’s a hastily cobbled together piece of work with more than a few factual inaccuracies to warrant never contemplating buying it. There are of course a multitude of books written in French and if your linguistic skills in that language are up to it a couple of worthy examples are Gainsbourg by Gilles Verlant and Mort Ou Vices by Bruno Bayon.
As much as he appeared the archetypal French artist, he had great regard for English music. When the music of the UK was taking the world by storm in the sixties, Serge decided to record in London with the best session musicians available. Some of these recordings can be found on the excellent compilation album Comic Strip which contains some of Serge’s most famous collaborations with Brigitte Bardot and Jane Birkin. This album like many others of Serge’s features his distinctive use of franglais and helps showcase his intelligent lyrics, sadly lost on those who cannot speak French. Merd. Nonetheless, there’s nothing not to love about this rendition of Initials B.B., this one of Qui est in, qui est out and (et) the shear nonchalance in this rendition of 69 Annee Erotique. I would of course recommend the full albums these songs are plucked from - Initials B.B. and Jane Birkin/Serge Gainsbourg.
Perhaps the most celebrated Gainsbourg album is Histoire De Melody Nelson. This is an album that Beck has described as “one of the greatest marriages of rock band and orchestra I’ve ever heard”. It’s not surprising to find out he’s a fan having sampled several of Serge’s songs, all in a very good way I would hasten to add. It’s also worth reiterating that there aren’t too many French concept albums that mention the city of Sunderland, at least not that I am aware of. The plot of the story contained on this recording is a typically controversial one, the music sublime and very influential on not just Beck but also Jarvis Cocker, David Holmes and countless others. Even when he turned his hand to reggae, and lets face it French reggae has never been chart busting, the results were not just interesting but genuinely successful. This is partly down to again choosing the best musicians to work alongside. Traveling to Kingston to record the album Aux Armes et Cætera, Gainsbourg managed to acquire the services of reggae’s premiere rhythm section, Robbie Shakespeare and Sly Dunbar. Not only did this add to the records authenticity, it helped contribute to the very first appearance of reggae in French music. In fact, the experience was such a pleasurable one for Sly and Robbie that they even travelled to Europe to play gigs in support of the album.
Whilst his output of the eighties might not have matched that of the previous two decades, Serge remained an intriguing character with absolute hero status in France. It’s rather surprising that’s it’s taken until 19 years after his death for a biopic to be released but as they would no doubt say on the Left Bank, mieux vaut tard que jamais.
I hope that the film brings in a new audience for the man and his music whilst helping to in some way rid the caricature he remains to some. There is no denying he permanently had a Gitane hanging out his mouth or that he drank too much. No-one would dispute that he went out with some of the most beautiful women in the world whilst not being a natural beauty himself. It’s just that these tend to mask his genuine talent and hopefully the film will act as a catalyst for a greater number of people to discover his musical genius and indeed more about the man behind the image. I understand why much is written about him appearing drunk on a chat show or writing the album Rock Around The Bunker as opposed to the fact he was a loving father but I’m glad to know both sides of this captivating character. Thankfully, the broadsheet press in the UK seem to have cottoned on to the fact that there will be a renewed interest in him with recent articles to be found in The Guardian, The Telegraph and The Independent. It’s telling that Jane Birkin, his ex-girlfriend and mother of his daughter Charlotte, still speaks extremely fondly of him and how he is still sadly missed. You wouldn’t do that for someone who simply had a 60 a day snout habit and a penchant for booze and women would you?
Image – lastfm
It’s not too often I’m compelled to urge people to watch a TV show, I tend to do it more with films or dvd box sets but I shall make an exception after seeing what will probably end up being my televisual highlight of the year. The show in question was Rich Hall’s The Dirty South (BBC4, 12/07/10) which set out to prove that Hollywood’s depictions of the American South throughout the years are wide of the mark in many cases. Attempting to disprove the notion that the South can be easily catergorised by the three R’s – rednecks, racism and religion, this programme was not just insightful, it was very funny thanks to Hall‘s pieces to camera which were crammed with wit and polemic while all the time remaining informative. I doubt if anyone will be as consistently funny as a presenter of a show this year.
With the work of novelists and playwrights such as Erskine Caldwell, Tennessee Williams and William Faulkner all coming under the spotlight it would have been easy to film a whole show simply on the literature that has come from the south and how it has been depicted on the big screen but with the inclusion of other films set there and the music created there this really was quality television. Add to that Hall’s guiding and sardonic presenting style and the show was the complete package. I’m not sure how often this programme will be repeated but it’s currently on the BBC iPlayer here and I’m sure it will pop up on YouTube at some point. I would certainly hope for a DVD release although I’m not sure if one will be forthcoming.
I could easily fill up half a page with superlatives and adjectives concerning The Dirty South but I shall wrap up on the following nugget. It’s not often I laugh out loud when watching something on my own but I did on various occasions none more so than when inside Sun Studios in Memphis and in front of the famous photo, Hall commented “Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins in the same picture,”. Quickly followed by “If you were a religious scholar, that would be the equivalent of Jesus, Buddha, Mohammed and Carl Perkins in the same picture.” Priceless.
Image – metro
Very sad to hear of the death of Harvey Pekar, someone I respected greatly and whose writing meant a lot to me. It was only recently that I posted an article I had written about him on this site. My thoughts on his work are probably best articulated in that article and you can read it here if you so wish. I wasn’t aware he was ill and so the news came as a bit of a shock. For those who haven’t read any of his books or seen the film American Splendor I would urge you to do so. The cultural world is a lesser place without him, but probably just as complex. So long Harvey, you did a great job.
Image – albumdefigurinhas.tumblr.com
I’ve been listening to quite a few debates on the radio recently concerning The World Cup and in particular the proposed introduction of goal line technology. I’m all for it as the absence of it has shown the multi-million pound tournament to be a tad farcical as a result. There have been many other debates flying around especially after England‘s exit at the hands of Germany. The whole country has been in a state of disbelief as to how such a bunch of talented players can’t perform on the world stage which has in turn led to a bout of national depression. As a Scot this is something I can fully empathise with. When Scotland have qualified for major tournaments in the past, they have gone there with hope and expectation which ultimately lead to failure and disappointment.
It’s at times such as these that culture can become even more of a trusted friend. Quite simply, a great album, book or film will never let you down. Conversely, a football team, even if you are Brazilian, will. I’m not sure how the millions who watched England being eliminated from the World Cup dealt with the blow of being dumped out the cup to a superior German side but I would imagine plenty alcohol was used as a crutch. This is fine for a short period of time but as Morrissey so presciently put it – “I was happy in the haze of a drunken hour, but heaven knows I’m miserable now”. I have walked home from watching football matches in the past with a hangover kicking in after seeing my team lose. It’s not a lot of fun. Over time I have learned to go straight for a piece of art that keeps on giving. It might be Forever Changes by Love or Marquee Moon by Television. It could be a dvd of All The President’s Men or The Lives Of Others. It may be a battered old copy of L’Etranger by Albert Camus or a relatively new copy of John Niven‘s Kill Your Friends. Point being, these examples and countless others will not let you down at any time but are especially welcome when dealing with sporting disaster. I hope this helps at least some of those who are despondent at their teams premature exit from the World Cup. There is another avenue to go down for comfort and that is nostalgia. Harking back to a time when your team were much better is understandable and it got me thinking about some of the things I miss about the football of yesteryear. Here are three examples -
1. I miss walking to a football ground as a young kid and getting a rush of excitement at the first sight of floodlight pylons in the distance, such as those of the old Hampden Park below.
2. I miss the design classic that was the Adidas Tango football. Still the greatest match ball ever.
3. I miss the fact that there was a time when you could buy replica football tops that weren’t emblazoned with a sponsors name thus maintaining a simplistic yet cool aesthetic.
Image 1 – www.urbanglasgow.co.uk
Image 2 – www.doncastergraphicdesign.com
Image 3 – www.oldfootballshirts.com