Posts Tagged ‘obituary’

50,000 miles beneath my brain


When a teenager at school someone in the same year as me said he had just got a load of cassettes from a relative and would I like to buy them. ref=sr_1_3They weren’t prerecorded but previously blank tapes that people had recorded albums onto. They were in a cardboard box and I didn’t get to choose which I wanted it was all or nothing. There were some I wanted and some I knew nothing about. One of the ones I knew I wanted was the whole Woodstock album. David Hepworth talks about the film of the same album here.

One of the tapes that fell into the second group, that ref=sr_1_3-1I knew nothing about, was Ten Years After’s ‘Cricklewood Green.’ It’s not often that something blows me away but this did. In particular tracks like, ‘Love like a man’, ‘50,000 miles beneath my brain’ and ‘Working on the road’ are just fantastic with a mix of blues and great organ playing topped off by the fantastic guitar playing of Alvin Lee. His big break came via the performance the band put in at Woodstock.

The cassettes have done what my mother calls “gone the way of all flesh.” A couple of years ago something reminded me of the tracks and I downloaded them, I think they might even have been the first tracks I downloaded, and I enjoyed playing them again. On Tuesday night whilst out seeing Jake Bugg at the venue round the corner I’d been reminded that Ten Years After were playing there in October and I’d remembered that I wanted to go.Then yesterday it was announced that Alvin Lee had died. I was sorry that I would now not get to see Ten Years After but in the process of writing this I discovered that he had not been playing with the band for some time and that the gig seems still to be on. Here they are with working on the road. Enjoy:

The pop genius of The Monkees


The Monkees TV programme was on regularly when I was growing up and I enjoyed the exuberance and sense of fun and the songs were not too bad also. Like a large number of the people I am friends with on facebook I was upset at the death of Davy Jones in the week. I wrote previously about the writings of former Go-Betweeen, Robert Forster, writing in ‘The Ten Rules of Rock and Roll‘ and The Monthly magazine. I do not think I can put things better about the Monkees better than he did in February 2008 here:

Sometimes I play a game in my head: name the five best American rock bands of the ’60s. My list goes: The Velvet Underground, The Byrds, The Beach Boys, The Doors, and then I stall on the fifth. Creedence? The Band – although they’re mostly Canadian. Simon & Garfunkel? Jefferson Airplane? The Lovin’ Spoonful? But I plump for The Monkees. Song for song they are the best pop group of the period, and their story is one of the most intriguing. The myth which shadows them is that they couldn’t play, they weren’t really a band and their music was sugary top-ten fodder. Yet the excellent reissues of their first four albums with bonus discs, released by Rhino Records in the past couple of years, show a band with real depth – one that not only crystallised the very best qualities of west-coast pop but also pulled off one of the greatest inside coups in showbiz history.

The bones of the group, its talent and temperament, goes back to the two men who put it together. Bert Schneider and Bob Rafelson, who hatched and pitched the idea of a television show based on the wacky antics of The Beatles in A Hard Day’s Night and Help!, were west-coast hipsters with the pulse of the ’60s within them. Their off-beat approach meant that the four actors/musicians they chose to play the band members in the series were not going to be the square-jawed, Brylcreemed types who usually played anyone under 30 in the TV shows and movies of the time. Those they picked from the 437 applicants to the Variety ad calling for “four insane boys” sealed the fate of the band, the show, the music and all those who worked with them. Put simply, if almost any people outside of Michael Nesmith, Micky Dolenz, Davy Jones and Peter Tork had made up The Monkees, we would now have only a slim greatest-hits album to evaluate from a show that might have lasted a year.

The casting net was thrown wide. Tork was a Greenwich Village folkie, Nesmith a wry Texan singer-songwriter, Dolenz an LA-based former child actor, most famous for playing Corky in the late-’50s TV series Circus Boy, and Jones was an English-born Broadway singer with roots in vaudeville. That was the band. Actually, it wasn’t a band initially because they were only actors playing a band, but then life began imitating art and they became a touring and recording group beyond the one they were hired to be, and they kept their name, The Monkees. So, if nothing else, long before MTV, American Idol and every ‘reality’ show blurring on- and off-camera life through the prism of mass entertainment, The Monkees were pioneers. And this being the ’60s, and with the corporate screws not yet so down on the younger generation, the band had room to wriggle and rebel, leading to some fantastic music, some eye-popping TV, and finally a movie named Head that starred Frank Zappa and Victor Mature and began with the four Monkees busting a police cordon and diving off a bridge to their symbolic death.

The first four albums of their squashed (1966-70) recording career can be neatly cut in two. The Monkees (’66) and More of The Monkees (’67) are straight-up pop albums from what could be called the ‘fabricated’ era, when the instruments were mostly played by studio musicians and the production and direction of the records was out of the band’s hands. Notwithstanding this, both albums are crunchy, hit-laden collections of great songs. There’s a ridiculous number of hooks, and an exuberance and glee that is forever tuned to the golden pop of the last half of ’66. The Monkees has about six potential hit singles on it, yet only one was released: ‘The Last Train to Clarksville’. More of The Monkees, which followed very swiftly, has ‘I’m a Believer’ and ‘(I’m Not Your) Steppin’ Stone’ (later covered by the Sex Pistols), plus ‘Mary Mary’, ‘She’ and ‘Look Out (Here Comes Tomorrow)’ as further hits – if only there had been time to release them.

What separates the band from their one-hit garage-band and proto- psychedelic contemporaries is that they had a television show to push their music and a corporate music-business structure built into the show that delivered a constant flow of top-notch pop songs. The man behind this, and in some senses the villain of the story, was an old-school music-biz heavy from the east coast called Don Kirshner. He was the musical supervisor of the first two records. He liked songs with girls’ names in them. He discouraged the band’s involvement in the recordings, aside from their singing, but had a good ear and fantastic contacts: a horde of Brill Building songwriters struggling in the singer-songwriter world of mid-’60s pop. Kirshner brought in Carole King and Gerry Goffin (responsible for the sublime ‘Take a Giant Step’ and ‘Sometime in the Morning’), Neil Sedaka and Carole Bayer Sager, Neil Diamond (‘I’m a Believer’), and David Gates, later of Bread. On the west coast he had Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart, members of the LA band The Candy Store Prophets (what a band name!), who wrote the show’s theme song and a host of killer tunes, including ‘Last Train’. And finally there was the stellar songwriting of Michael Nesmith, who by this time had already written ‘Different Drum’, later a hit for Linda Ronstadt, and who went on to write a dozen very strong songs for the band.

The Monkees had two geniuses: Nesmith and Micky Dolenz. Dolenz is the great unheralded white male pop singer of the era. Top-40 singers before him sound arch and histrionic; Dolenz purrs and glides, skating the curves of a song’s melody with a knowing confidence yet able to raise his voice and push and scream – he did a James Brown medley in Monkees concerts – and then pull back into the pocket. Listen to ‘I’m a Believer’. Nesmith is a different kettle of fish, and to list his qualities and achievements is to wonder how they could all be contained in one person. For a start, he’s a country-rock pioneer: his ’66 recordings for the band have banjo, fiddle and steel guitar jangling and bouncing amid the usual guitars and drums. He’s a master songwriter who went on to have a fine ’70s album career, capped by the hit single ‘Rio’. He was a music-video producer and director who in ’81 won the first Grammy for a video. He was the executive producer for the film Repo Man. He wrote a novel (The Long Sandy Hair of Neftoon Zamora), ran a large home-video distribution business and is now an internet guru expounding knowingly on virtual reality and Second Life. Back then, though, he was in The Monkees and causing trouble. It was he who demanded that they become the band they were pretending to be, play their own instruments and take control of the records coming out under their name.

For all the discussion that follows The Monkees, and the very keen criticism they received at the time for their supposed fakeness and plasticity, you wonder how many of the bands with their revolutionary rhetoric on full blast would have held a television network, a record company, an entire hit – and money-making machine to the fire in the name of artistic control. And the answer is, very few; but The Monkees did. Nesmith and Tork, mainly – the two musicians of the band – demanded the band choose the material for their records and play it, or they’d quit. The legacy of their move is Headquarters (’67) and Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones Ltd. (’67), the group’s third and fourth albums. Perhaps they don’t seem too different to the first two records, but there’s a unity to their sound and a perceptible wind-down in the search for hit singles that signals The Monkees’ shift to being an album band. There is still the gloriously rich mix of songwriting and there is still the sound, a big warm studio mix of live instrumentation at the exotic end of the pop scale. But there is a voice here, hard won by four young men who in making two classic albums became the Frankenstein’s monster that walked.

Prejudice toward The Monkees reigns supreme. Nesmith still curses the fact that audiences his own age just don’t get the group. Yet if the music they made is dismissed, often on the basis of the singles only, then a closer look at the people around the band would lead you to believe that something was going on beyond a one-dimensional pop outfit and a TV show. The Monkees were a product – but not only of corporate television culture. They were also the product of an LA-based scene explosion, when people involved in rock and pop, film and television, drugs and art, gathered around the city from ’65 to ’75 to push a younger and wilder voice into mainstream American culture. Peter Tork’s house was one of the prime hangouts for the LA folk-rock scene. Schneider and Rafelson went on to produce Easy Rider and The Last Picture Show. Rafelson directed Five Easy Pieces. Jack Nicholson co-wrote Head. Tim Buckley and Jimi Hendrix got their first mass exposure through the band, and Micky Dolenz can be spied in full American Indian regalia at the Monterey Pop Festival. With friends like these, The Monkees just have to be fabulous.

I’m looking at an online petition. It’s to get The Monkees inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The fools that run this institution are obviously inclined to the old position that The Monkees just aren’t rock enough or hip enough to be inducted. The situation is the reverse: The Monkees are too hip for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. They have skipped free, the same way they jumped off that bridge back in ’68, and are outside rock history. But still, the next time you’re thinking of adding a record or two to a collection of classic rock albums, get Headquarters or Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones Ltd. and put them up beside The Byrds’ Younger Than Yesterday or The Velvet Underground’s first album, because it is where they belong.


Ronald Searle RIP


I am currently listening to a broadcast of the BBC program me Desert Island Discs from July 2005.(Which is where I stole the picture from) It is about the illustrator and satirist Ronald Searle whose death was announced today. I was new to one of his most famous creations, Molesworth, only recently. When I was younger I was not allowed to have anything to do with the books because it was thought I might be infected by the (deliberate) wrong spellings in the book. I forgot about the books until JTO talked about her love for the books and a few years ago I bought her a collection of the books which Searle’s drawings are such an important part of. I didn’t get round to reading them until last year and fell in love with them too. I am sorry I did not have Down With Skool, How to be Topp etc as they would have helped me survive my time at school with the observation and humour.

He is also well known for drawing the St Trinians stories which featured what the Desert Island Discs site described as:

“the horrible, suspender-wearing schoolgirls who devote more time to gambling, torture and arson than they do their lessons.”

and  were made into seven films.

He continued drawing political. satirical drawings and reportage. and his archive is held in Hanover. An exhibition of his work was organised only just over a year ago. Here is the announcement from Reuters. Molesworth can be followed on twitter @reelmolesworth. UPDATE. By far the best obituary was this from The Economist written in the style of Molesworth, it well repays the few minutes it takes to read it.

Until Joan As Policewoman came to the local music venue I knew nothing of them apart from hearing one track on the CD that accompanies my monthly magazine, The Word. I saw them and had a great evening and I bought The Deep Field and have been enjoying it all year. Here’s the track I first heard, The Magic, enjoy:

Václav Havel II


After my post about Václav Havel here yesterday I got the following message this morning from a friend who was formerly a member of the Riga chapter but is now working in Prague:

He was the single best person I’ve ever met. Walked behind the funeral cortege earlier. Extraordinary. A very peculiar mix of emotions. And some very funny anecdotes.

As you can see in the picture (hat-tip AFP, Robert Michael), here in a commentless piece for the BBC and here in the Daily Telegraph thousands of people joined Stephen to walk behind the coffin and pay their respects.

On Monday I contacted the Czech Representation to the Council of Europe here in Strasbourg to see if they were going to have a book of condolence in memory of the former President. They emailed me back the next day with details of the place and times it was available for signing. This morning I went to the Representation which is at the top of a building on a crossroad, pictured. As I made my way up to the top I passed a number of SAMU staff who I discovered were going into a flat below the Representation.

When I got to the representation the door was opened by a woman and I was shown by a man into a darkened room with the curtains drawn. Near the middle of the room, set at a 45 degrees angle, was a table with a book on it and a pen on an open page, the book of condolence. There was another table more in the corner, closer to the closed curtain windows, which had on it a photo of Václav Havel, some candles and a vase containing some white flowers. I sat down and composed my self then picked up my fountain pen. I read the previous entry from the Representation of Azerbaijan before turning to the next blank page and started to write something based upon Anthem by Leonard Cohen, particularly the lines;

There is a crack, a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.

Whilst writing my piece the bell went. I finished, got up and walked over to the table with the candles on it for a moment of pause before turning and waiting at the door to let the next person in. I was then seen out by the two members of staff and went down the stairs again. At the bottom the SAMU were getting two people out of the lift, one on a wheeled stretcher and the other in a wheelchair heading towards two ambulances on the pavement with their lights flashing. I got on the bus and went home still thinking about the gloomy room and the man I had gone there to commemorate.

Václav Havel


Just over a year ago I wrote here about my admiration for Václav Havel so it will be no surprise that I was saddened by his death at the weekend. On my pile of books to read was “Letters to Olga” which Mr Amazon had only recently bought round on his bike. In 1979 Václav Havel was sentenced to four and a half years hard labour for his involvement in the human rights movement Charter 77. In prison he was only allowed to write one letter a week to his wife, Olga, and he used that chance to write on theatre, society and philosophy. I imagine it will be a different book from the one in the earlier post which covered his time as President of Czechoslovakia then the Czech Republic.

A friend posted the following on Facebook:

RIP Václav Havel, a politician for whom I had much respect, not least because of his literary achievements. In tribute, here is an anecdote illustrating his self-effacing character. If it’s not true, it ought to be. Council of Europe summit, 1997: Strasbourg is packed with diplomats and high-level politicians. Among them Václav Havel, who, during free time, eschews the company of his peers and goes for a walk around town. Evening comes, and Havel feels in need of a bite to eat. He goes into the nearest winstub [Alsatian restaurant] and asks for a table. “Ah, non, Monsieur,” says the patronne. “All tables are reserved for the heads of state.”

That fits with the personality which comes across in the book. Here is a piece from Spiegel featuring a quote from Milan Kundera.

Christopher Hitchens RIP


I came late to Christopher Hitchens and have not read greatly of his writings but I have come to appreciate greatly his clarity of thought, his wit and his willingness to debate his view with others. I share with him a hostility to religion and totalitarianism. It is often said and not very often true but the World is a worse place for his passing. A light that pierced the darkness has gone out and we are all the worse that there will not be another article, book or public appearance from the Hitch. RIP.

Here is, typically a much more eloquent remembrance from Norm. Read it. Here’s is the tribute from his brother.

The day the music died


The last 24 hours has seen the death of two great songwriters, Jerry Leiber and Nick Ashford.

Jerry Leiber, who formed a fantastic partnership with Mike Stoller and wrote such great songs as Hound Dog and Jailhouse rock but also inspired and worked with other fantastic songsmiths in the Brill building.

Nick Ashford also wrote songs with a partner, his wife Valerie Simpson, and was best known for writing ‘Ain’t no mountain high enough’ and a whole host of other hits for Motown and others, like I’m every Woman for Chaka Khan,

The couple then had a hit of their own in the 1980’s, Solid (As A Rock).

They might have both left us but the pleasure their handwork brought remains and continues to give us enjoyment and happiness, who could want more? Play the songs and enjoy.

Suze Rotolo RIP and a tale of the gap in my education


Who?  Even I know she was the muse of Bob Dylan for a period and the woman pictured with the singer on the The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan‘ album.(Pictured)

What I hadn’t heard about before was a “Suze Rotolo lipstick holder”.  This item came up in conversation when we were discussing last night the death of Suze Rotolo.(wiki Obits at the end if you want the links.)  Being a second decade of the 21st Century type of guy I even posted a Facebook status update:

Hmmm clearly my education is incomplete I don’t know what a Suze Rotolo Lipstick case(sic) is, or what it’s for. Suze Rotolo RIP.

Clearly I am not alone in this gap in my education as a relative responded:

I’m with you Andrew, but I am sure it costs oodles of money and therefore chic

JTO went to the shelves that contain both our record collections to get his eponymous first album which on the sleeve notes has the following:

Dylan had never sung In My Time of Dyin’ prior to this recording session.  He does not recall where he first heard it.  The guitar is freted with the lipstick holder he borrowed from his girl, Susie Rotolo (sic), who sat devotedly and wide-eyed through the recording session.

So the question of what a Suze Rotolo lipstick holder is has been answered.  It is something which holds a lipstick that belongs to Suze Rotolo.  But it was assumed that as a person who played a guitar a lot in my youth I would understand the sentence but I didn’t know what ‘freted’ meant and I had never done it with a lipstick holder, belonging to Suze Rotolo or anyone else.  A search using Google returned many debates about whether a freted or fretless bass is better and two bands named either Freted or FRETeD.  I know the fret is the metal bar that crosses the neck of a guitar to delineate the different notes.  Having read about ‘how different cords are freted’ as another result of my search, meaning where the fingers are placed on the notes to make the different chord sounds when a guitar is strummed.  So presumably Mr Dylan was using the lipstick holder to block off strings when forming chords.  The second picture is Suze Rotolo with the director of the Bob Dylan film “I’m not there“, Todd Haynes.

Obits – Mail, CBS, Guardian, BBC, Yahoo, MSNBC, and Rolling Stone.

Big Mal RIP


Legendary: Manchester City management Joe Mercer (right) and Malcolm Allison I was sorry to read yesterday of the death of probably the greatest football coach ever produced in England, Malcolm Allison, who, in partnership with Joe Mercer (pictured together here) took Manchester City from towards the bottom of the old Second Division to Division One Champions, FA Cup winners, League Cup winners and European Cup Winners Cup winners in just six years.

As with other successful partnerships. eg Tony & Gordon, they were better working together than when one forced the other out and tried to do it on their own. After Joe Mercer left Malcolm didn’t achieve anything and then returned to Manchester City in 1979 only to leave again after having lost some longstanding successful players and spent a lot of money on players who achieved nothing precipitating the decline of the club which saw them sink to the old Third Division in the 90’s.

As a coach Malcolm was second to none, introducing thirty years ago a fitness, training and diet regime still thought leading edge today.  It has been good to read reminiscences from former City players outlining how he was always on the side of the players and helped them give more than 100%.  Here is the tribute from the MCFC site, a review here, and the fans tributes here.

And another one’s gone


Sometime in the early 80’s my father returned from somewhere with a collection of singles which had been taken off an old jukebox.  I played all the singles to see what we had got.  I say what we had got although I appropriated them, I was the eldest child they belonged to me right, and they became mine.  What had I got?  The usual mixture of fantastic music – Dylan, Lay Lady Lay – and the less inspiring down to the downright unknown.  One of the latter was a track ‘The Pied Piper’ by someone called Crispian St Peters.  I was grabbed by the positive bright start and kept by this perfect example of less than three minute upbeat pop:

No apologies for the TV show’s decision to interpret the song literally, isn’t it just wonderful?  I subsequently found another song of his, which was good but not as good and discovered that he had once claimed he would be bigger than Elvis and was better at writing songs than Lennon and McCartney.  I found out today (here) that he died earlier last month. (Telegraph obit)

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