Friday, February 29, 2008

Mike Smith, RIP

It was sad today to learn of the death of Mike Smith of the Dave Clark Five. The DC5 were a big part of the soundtrack of my childhood. In fact, I think they were the first band I ever saw, but if I say that my bruvver will probably write in and say that was The Hollies or something.

RIP Mike.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Her ways are high and steep

English Language mutation alert:

There's a buzz phrase that I've always pretty much disliked which appears to be changing meanings into something else I hate. The phrase is "learning curve".

A learning curve describes the "performance at the start of training, the rate at which learning occurs, and the flexibility with which the acquired skills can be used" (Koedinger and Mathan 2004). It's a diagram of the duration of learning plotted against the progress. A more nuanced way to describe it is to say it displays the rate of improvement in performing a new task as basic skills are acquired and practiced. It's a graph, one which is describing a dynamic process.

It's always been a problematic phrase because most people don't think in terms of charts or graphs and the concept of a "steep learning curve", has two opposite meanings. It originally meant quick progress as the basic skills are learned followed by some indefinite period of lesser improvements after practice. Nowadays, because "steep" sounds like "hard work", a "steep learning curve" is used to describe something that's hard to learn.

Here's an example, from the NYT, describing a TV show:
"Mr. Wolf said there were running plotlines involving the characters, most of whom are young and relatively new to prosecuting. "It's a learning-curve show," he said. "They're learning how to be what Sam is in 'Law & Order' "

And here the same article misuses "steep learning curve":
"The character with the steepest learning curve may be Nick Potter, a young lawyer from a well-off family who is giving the prosecuting life a try. "Each episode he's faced with some intense ethical or moral dilemma that he usually makes the wrong choice on.""

But that is not what I'm whining about. Oh, no. What I'm riled up about today is, I've recently heard "learning curve" used, as near as I can figure out, to mean "a body of knowledge", or perhaps "the tangible result of hard work or hardship". The association with progress and dynamism and the rate of change has disappeared. It's now a noun phrase with a definite implication that a process has finished.

Here's an example from an internet message board I read today:
Sometimes the most painful things can bring about great self revelation and learning curves.

Here's an English rock band called InMe describing sex and drugs and rock and roll:
"On our first tour we just went full on, drinking too much and smoking too much before the shows. But it's a learning curve. We now know our limits."

And here's Robert Plant, describing singing Bluegrass instead of Rock.


Interviewer: "Musically though, how challenging is it for you?"
Plant: "Well, it's just a learning curve. I mean, the music's beautiful. It's just learning how to sing demurely."

Of course, it's always difficult to keep a straight face when listening to Plant speak English. His choice of words is often so odd that fans give his speech snippets a new name – Plantations.

I know you're going to want to watch all of the Robert Plant interview, so here's the other parts.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Since I've Been Loving You

I'm posting this here as an antidote of sorts to yesterday's post on male bonding in rock music with special reference to misogyny. There isn't much original thought of mine in it, but since the Susan Fast's book can be hard to get hold of, here goes.

I mentioned that Susan Fast, who wrote In the Houses of the Holy - Led Zeppelin and the Power of Rock Music, was "Zeppelin friendly". In her book she spends a lot of time going over, and in many cases rejecting, the anthropological scholarship that foregrounds the 'male gaze' and also claims rock music as masculinist. There is a chapter on the subject, Whole Lotta Love. In it she describes the experience of women listening to Led Zeppelin.

She submitted a survey to an internet fan group, For Badgeholders Only, and so has a lot of real life descriptions to draw on. One thing I found of tremendous interest was the results of the question about which member of the group the fan identified with. Of the women who answered, 30 identify most closely with Plant, 24 with Page and 15 had no preference. Of the men who answered who had a preference, there were 116 for Page, 25 for Plant, 24 for Jones and 25 for Bonham. I can't be bothered to type that into any statistical software but I'm pretty sure that's a real difference between the sexes and not a distribution you could get by chance. It's certainly the most statistically significant thing I've ever seen anyone set down on the subject, most of which seems to be derived from testosterone-soaked anecdotes. (Apart from the ones derived from estrogen-soaked anecdotes.)

Song Remains the Same

She starts the chapter by describing the long reaction shot of the woman in the crowd in Since I've Been Loving You, in the Led Zeppelin movie, The Song Remains the Same (above). Why, she asks, if rock has always been coded as male, and Led Zeppelin has been described as misogynist, is one of the most memorable shots of TSRTS a female - a non-hysterical one - who appears to be concentrating on the music and musicianship?

To describe it, she recaps a whole busload of male reviewers who have said that Led Zeppelin is unfriendly to women - as I did yesterday - and then goes back to the image of the woman in the audience. Clearly the concert-goer was a female Zeppelin fan in 1973. There are other women in the audience too. The critics quoted are wrong. Fast describes her own experience with the music, which was basically thinking that Immigrant Song was well hard. She's a professor of music, so I think she uses a different term, but I know what she means. Her fantasies about the band (at 14) mostly consisted of seeing herself as a being a beautiful, accomplished musician, Plant's equal – and him noticing her. "Appropriating the power of those performers for oneself was as important for some as was the sexual freedom they suggested …and for some reason I thought that this was in the realm of possibilities, certainly not that it would be impossible because I was a woman." "I listened to their music with pathological exclusivity because it was such a powerful, liberating, intellectual, sexual and spiritual experience for me."

Of her questionnaire on FBO she says, "Most of the fans – male and female – who answered the questions on my survey relate similarly powerful experiences with the music." She goes through the comments in detail. The comments she relates don't differ much from the types of comment I see every day on internet fan groups. Women do like Led Zeppelin. It's an unavoidable fact. Her own experiences with the music sound like mine. I loved it because it was heavy; it didn't scare me, and I wanted to be Jimmy Page's equal so he would notice me. Same thing.

She refers back to gender and the so-called homosocial environment. She relates Frith and McRobbie's statement that "these shows are about male sexual performance and Weinstein's that this music culture is "masculinist" and that it is about male bonding." But Fast says, "female responses…reveal that they are also a source of erotic pleasure for women…I received no indication…that this kind of iconography was ever off-putting or frightening to women, even in the 1970s, as Frith and McRobbie claimed."

So, no real conclusions, just a rejection (based on the evidence of real fans on a message board) of the rock critics' view of Led Zeppelin as female-unfriendly. This chapter in her book is plainly "true" - the female fans aren't making it up - but Fast presents no alternative theory as to why women are so happy to be part of what has been so heavily hyped - not least in my post yesterday - as a male-bonding ritual. If I knew anything about anthropology, I might be tempted to remark that no alternative theory is forthcoming because the original theory about homosocial bonding is a load of crap made up as a just-so story to explain what the originators thought they saw (a sea of female-fearing boys) that wasn't actually true. Susan Fast's questionnaire puts that boner to rest. If I can call it that.

I suppose a good place to start a new theory would be to ask why the originators of the male-bonding theory thought they saw what they said they saw.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

John, I'm Only Dancing

In another forum I was asked: For example, have we ever examined quite what was the attraction of almost exclusively male rock bands in the 1970s to other men? I went and looked.

Heavy rock music, prior to Glam Metal, provided masculine role model for boys who had to go through puberty during a time of significant changes in gender roles. It was important for them to have a space where no girls were allowed – or at least where they believed that no girls were allowed – which rock in general seemed to offer. Led Zeppelin's lyrics and music combined to affirm their fear of women while simultaneously providing a hypermasculine model onto which both feelings of alienation and sexual feelings could both be projected.

The sixties. We've all heard about them. The seventies were worse.

The sixties and seventies – the Sexual Revolution – was a time of significant change for gender roles. It was an unusually difficult time for a male adolescent to grow up, and the extreme image fluctuations of rock bands during this time both mirrored these changes and helped drive them. Jack Burton, in Dude Looks Like a Lady [10] says the fact that Robert Plant "continues to be all man, while simultaneously looking and sounding like a woman, suggests that the straight camp of the rock god provides a more complex function than the questioning of gender roles," and that "this commercialisation of gender ambiguity takes place at a time of extensive social change is no coincidence. After any revolution comes a period of uncertainty, and the sexual revolution of the 1960s was no exception. With the contraceptive pill not only allowing people to engage in seemingly risk free sexual intercourse, but also, more importantly, allowing women to take control of their own reproductive potential, traditional gender relations were suddenly shown to be problematic."

No girls allowed.

Music critics over the years have generally assumed that rock music is a male-only preserve. Simon Frith and Angela McRobbie say of rock, "the general atmosphere is sexually exclusive, its euphoria depends on the absence of women."[1] Sue Wise said, "it is undoubtedly a prospect threatening to men and many women that male rock stars' power and sexuality could be understood, appropriated, or even controlled by a woman."[2] Camille Paglia, quoted in the Washington Post article below says, "Rock is a male form. For an adolescent boy, your guitar speaks for you, it says what you can't say in real life, it's the pain you can't express, it's rage, hormones pumping. Women can be strangers and all of a sudden have an intimate conversation. Boys can't do that. The guitar for a boy speaks to an aggressive sexual impulse and suppressed emotionality, the things that boys can't share, even with other members of the band. It's a combination of rage and reserve and ego."[3] According to Chuck Klosterman, author of "Fargo Rock City: A Heavy Metal Odyssey in Rural North Dakota, "metal stops being good when it develops a female audience, in turn, alienating its primary male audience." Frith and McRobbie add, "Cock rock shows are explicitly about male sexual performance, which might explain why so few girls go to them – the musicians are acting out a sexual iconography which in many ways is unfamiliar, frightening and distasteful to girls who are educated into understanding sex as something nice, soft, loving and private."[1]

Clearly, there aren't many female rock stars. In the Washington Post article, David Segal says, "Reasonable people can argue about whether there are any guitar heroines" and "women buy just 7% of all electric guitars in this country…the electric guitar…is considered unladylike". He writes, "Boys learn guitar to meet girls. For a girl, outplaying the boys onstage isn't necessarily a key to the male heart." [4]

Soul of a Woman…something to do with legs…

For young boys in this phase, Led Zeppelin provides a supportative environment backed up with lyrical examples. Critics have noted this tendency in Zeppelin lyrics many times over the years. "…Plant's overt misogyny fused with Page's obsession with the occult… since that combination allows adolescent males to reconcile the alienation of unhinged teenage sexuality with their own inescapable geekiness." [Chuck Klosterman, 7] "On their masterpiece, "Dazed and Confused," for example, Plant made the same old misogyny sound like profound insight, while Page thundered through his orchestral guitar rumble."[Rolling Stone, 8] "Led Zeppelin's music is based almost entirely on misogyny. Their defining lyric is 'soul of a woman was created below'. (Although this is partially contradicted by the line 'a big legged woman ain't got no soul'.) Whenever Robert Plant ran out of something to sing, he fell back on the woman-worshipping-woman-chastising clich├ęs of the blues. And if all else failed there was always, 'Baby-baby-baby... waaaaaagh!'" [Toby Litt, 9]

"When the Levee Breaks" has been read as the singer fearing "feminine engulfment"[5]. Susan Fast (a Zeppelin-friendly female critic) disagrees. She has doubts about Reynolds and Press's description in their take on Levee in which they say "women often loom as a demonic threat in Led Zeppelin's songs". "Reynolds and Press do not tell us, specifically, where or how the "fear of feminine engulfment" occurs in the song." However, I believe Fast is wrong; it can quite easily be read that way. When the levee breaks, it says, it's enough to drive a monkey man from his home. To hammer home the point, the mix turns inside out, washing out the entire band in a flood, and Plant, half afloat, moans "going down, going down" – a double entendre eminently readable as representing a man overwhelmed by female sexuality. And Fast does agree with Reynolds and Press in their gloomy take on Dazed and Confused. "Love is disorientation, debility and paralysis. Dazed and Confused is the definitive take on this scenario". They say of the singer, "his mind is poisoned and befogged by the noxious fumes of her feminine miasma. He's at death's door, flaccid and enfeebled."[5, 6]

Hieros Gamos and suchlike.

How does a rock band provide a substitute for the female companionship it claims you are better off without? Why is the spectacle attractive to young male fans? There is a major analysis in Jack Burton,[10] which is available in its entirety on the web. I'll briefly recap his argument here. Frith and McRobbie, in Rock and Sexuality[1] define Cock Rock thusly: "Cock rock performers are aggressive, dominating, and boastful, and they constantly seek to remind the audience of their prowess, their control. Their stance is obvious in live shows; male bodies on display, plunging shirts and tight trousers, a visual emphasis on chest hair and genitals - Cock rock shows are explicitly about male sexual performance."

At the same time as the performers are acting out the hypermasculinist fantasies of their male audience, they are providing a mixed message of masculinity and femininity to their already dazed and confused devotees. Chuck Klosterman says, "They sound sexy and sexist and sexless." Burton points to the symbolism of the guitar, "Firstly: the obvious phallic symbolism of the guitar. Usually worn at crotch height, the long, straight neck is wielded like a weapon. Drawing focus away from the musician and onto the instrument the guitar serves as phallic symbol of the performer's potent masculinity. Secondly: the mastery of an instrument is an example of the acquisition of technical skill, again often associated with a traditional masculine posture." But to that must be added the femininity of the singer, "Plant's physicality on stage deliberately emphasises this almost feminine sexual allure. He is described by one male reviewer as "breathtakingly beautiful, rather like a choirboy possessed by the spirit of Gene Vincent." Burton quotes Helen Davies as saying, "Singing is generally regarded as natural. Anyone can do it and it is wrongly perceived as not requiring practice and work, and therefore undervalued - I would argue that it is generally assumed that singing is a feminine skill." In The Popular Music Studies Reader, Susan Fast quotes Robert Plant as saying, "My vocal style I haven't tried to copy from anyone. It just developed until it became the girlish whine that it is today." [11] She quotes from various critics who make a point that Plant's vocal style, from the throat and not the chest, is not "bodily" – "It's as if in rock convention… the sexiest male voice is the least bodily" – but she disagrees saying, "it is precisely this straining and the use of distortion that puts the body into the music" and "this high male voice opens another interesting space for the consideration of gender performance…male fans have commented on this [girlish whine] as a desirable attribute." She goes on, "the moaning, screaming, and 'overflowing of channels' characteristic of hard rock signing points very strongly to an emotional landscape that has traditionally (and also essentially) been associated with femininity."

The masculine and feminine elements on the rock stage have often been described as "a marriage". Jack Burton: "That the relationship between the lead singer and the lead guitarist of a rock band is often referred to, in the music press, as a 'marriage,' suggests a level of gender complexity beyond the theatrical camp of Mick Jagger's stage persona. In these 'marriages' the guitarist usually assumes the more masculine role." Burton quotes an interviewer who asked Keith Richards, "How's the wife?" Richards answers, "He's a good bitch." Burton adds, "Page and Plant took the features of the rock marriage familiar to us from our analysis of the similar relationship between Mick and Keith, but amplified the ambiguity as much as they amplified the music."

This marriage ritual serves to supply the masculine and feminine aspects entirely through male figures, thus achieving the exclusion of women that the audience is seeking, while still providing a balanced and satisfying image. Burton again: "Ruth Padel comments on Plant's willingness to express a feminine sexuality in this track, terming Whole Lotta Love: a cock-proud slam. "I'm gonna give you every inch of MAH LURVE," howls Robert Plant, and roars out the woman's orgasm for her. They are his achievement. Here Padel identifies the main purpose of Robert Plant's vocal cross dressing; to express the complete exclusion of women from the world of hard rock."

Burton concludes of Led Zeppelin, ""At the same time as providing a model of masculinity more rampantly sexual than ever before, their music contains this sense of sexuality within the safe fantasy of a homo-social world, an all boys club where even the voice of women is produced and controlled by men."

In conclusion then, the attraction of exclusively male bands to men in the seventies was driven by a combination of standard adolescent and post-adolescent fear of women's sexuality sent into overdrive by the rapidly changing gender roles of the 1970s. The love and worship of these bands provided a safe masculine zone complete with a hypersexual model of masculinity.

[1] Frith, Simon and Angela McRobbie. "Rock and Sexuality." On Record: Rock, Pop and the Written Word. Eds. Simon Frith and Andrew Goodman. London: Routledge, 1990
[2] Sue Wise, Sexing Elvis (1990).
[3] Camille Paglia in No Girls Allowed? In the World of Guitar Boasts, Few Women Let Their Fingers Do the Talking By David Segal Washington Post Staff Writer Sunday, August 22, 2004; Page N01
[4] David Segal, Ibid.
[5] Simon Reynolds and Joy Press; The Sex Revolts: Gender, Rebellion and Rock and Roll 1995
[6] In the Houses of the Holy: Led Zeppelin and the Power of Rock Music; Susan Fast 2001
[7] Chuck Klosterman, Killing Yourself to Live.
[8] Rolling Stone,
[9] Toby Litt, in,,214511_9_1,00.html
[10] Jack Burton, Dude Looks Like A Lady: Straight Camp and the Homo-social World of Hard Rock. University of Edinburgh. Available in full at
[11] The Popular Music Studies Reader, Andy Bennett, Barry Shank, Jason Toynbee p 367

Excerpts from the books quoted are available on Google at
In the houses of the holy;,M1
The Popular Music Studies Reader,,M1

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Transformers (DVD, 2007)

I just saw Transformers. Not sure why; I didn't order it. It was actually far better than I thought it would be. Great production values and some astonishingly well-framed shots, particularly of violence and mayhem. (It's a Michael Bay film.) I particularly loved the girl's slo-mo scream during a rocket attack near one of the endings. Bravo!

However it went on approximately four thousand hours too long and the creepily obvious attempt to stuff in every single stereotype character from every film ever made - I couldn't possibly begin to list them all, I'd fall asleep - makes me give this a thumbs down.
And for its implicit assumption that the only humans ever to have lived on Earth are Southern Californians from the year ca. 2000, I sentence the writers and directors to be hanged from a bridge by their feet pour encourager les autres.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Summerisle Blues

I recently bought Black Rat Swing, a CD of Jo Ann Kelly's music.

I've known of Jo Ann Kelly since the time I first began to buy music -she's on that album "Immediate Anthology Best of British Blues Volume II" or whatever variation of that title it has in your country/era - you know, the one with the Clapton/Page tracks that are called dumb English blues names like Draggin' My Arse and Gonna Buy Me a Bulldog or something...that were just jams but Page turned them over to the record company anyway and attracted Clapton's long lived venom**.

Er... well, back to the subject: Jo Ann Kelly is on there with a couple of stand-out stormers, and for a long while I'd vaguely wondered if she was the reincarnation of Memphis Minnie, or whether she'd just managed two and then faded into obscurity. Turned out she managed about 20, before the usual thing that happens to purists happened to her (i.e. obscurity by another pathway).

She was a small, white, blond, mousy-looking person but she sure managed to not sound like it. The sleeve notes confirm that she sing like Memphis Minnie - and plays guitar like Fred McDowell. At various points on the CD she has the help of other blues stalwarts like Danny Kirwin and Tony (T.S.) McPhee. I can't bear the last 20 tracks on it, frankly, because they're polished R'n'B and New Orleans ...stuff, but the first twenty are just outstanding.

I have no idea how she gets the sound she does with 1960's recording technology - bury the microphone in a bucket of sharp silver sand and stand at the other end of the hall yelling at it, I suspect - but she certainly gets it right. After a while she eases off the imitation and gets into her thing, although it remains standard British Blues all the way. No points for correctly guessing that I Can't Quit You Baby is on there, along with Can I Get to Widness and The Catfish Song (you know, the one Jimi Hendrix did, except she had boys swimming after her, as opposed to wimmin).

But I love standard British Blues. It's my thing! So I love this album! Or at least the first CD of it.

I ordered it from an Amazon third party dealer. When it arrived the envelope was marked with a rubber stamp reading "Summerisle Apples" and a smiling Old Sun in woodcut style. Hello, I thought to myself, I am expecting a CD of the soundtrack to Kenneth Anger's Lucifer Rising from a marvelous benefactor, and this must be it! Who else, I say, who else, would have their envelopes marked Summerisle Apples? For it is a jolly clever rubber stamp!

But no, it turned out to be the commercial CD.

If you don't get it, "Summerisle Apples" was the marking on the envelope that lured studmuffin Ed Wood Wood Wood to the pagan isle where he ended up a flaming sacrifice to the sun god inside the Wicker Man, in the 1973 film of the same name. It was a bit of a shock.

**Can't find a current Anthology blah blah British Blues Immediate blah blah, but here's a re-assortment of some of the tracks.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

The Song Remains The Same - or not.

For those of us who bought the new 2007 DVD of Led Zeppelin's The Song Remains the Same (or who are about to purchase the rerelease after it was removed from some markets due to some spat I don't quite follow), or who bought the accompanying CD, good news: The Garden Tapes has been updated.

The Garden Tapes are the work of the obsessive Eddie Edwards, who can (and does) tell you where every clip shown in the concert sequences comes from, and where every splice in the audio is.

Here's a brief excerpt:

The available menu options are: THE FILM : SONGS : AUDIO & SUBTITLES. (big snip)
The second "Songs" sub-menu features a series of sewn-together extracts from No Quarter, totalling 65 seconds. The third is accompanied by a further clip from Whole Lotta Love, and it's another interesting selection. It's 50 seconds of the funky interlude that follows the opening verses, from the 27th. This was on the original album but missing from the original film. Because of the necessity of fitting the new soundtrack to the original visuals, it's still missing from the new DVD main feature, but here it is (or most of it, anyway) on this menu. A nice touch.

It's a big website.

[pic link broken]

I just want to know why he has a key on this outfit. And whether it's the same key he was photographed with in Hiroshima, in 1971. But alas, even the anoraks are not anoraky enough to tell me such things.

[pic link broken]
(Sorry, I don't have the photo credit for the
Hiroshima one.)

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Day Geckos

I have several day geckos of various species, so when someone sent me the news item below, I was charmed. The geckos (they are the same type the Geico Gecko is modeled on) find insects called hoppers, but instead of eating them, they give the day gecko version of the lizard recognition symbol, the head bob. The hoppers recognize them and flick a dollop of sweet honeydew right at their mouths.

Watch the video
The stylized, jerky motion of the approach is part of the recognition procedure. When they want to move smoothly, day geckos are very fluid and fast. They are some of the few geckos to have such mobile necks, although they can't actually face as far forward as the Geico Gecko. (In fact I cringe when I see him, as some of his movements would be pretty painful for a real gecko.)

In case you're wondering, I don't squirt honeydew at my geckos. I do give them peach babyfood, though. They love peach babyfood.

The picture is of Fatty, a male Phelsuma madagascariensis grandis. I've had him about ten years and he was adult when I got him.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

The Shadows - cooler than the coolest thing ever

In a recent discussion of the famous beat number, "Apache", someone mentioned that they hadn't been able to find any "proper guitar tab" only the tab to "some group called the Shadows".

The Shadows are of course the only interpreters of Jerry Lordan's tune one should consider. To boot, they are the coolest band in the world. Here's a YouTube clip as proof.

Hope it helps with the tablature.

Rock and Roll is Here to Pay, cont. part 94

In the last post, Simon Napier-Bell on the Music Biz, I mentioned Peter Grant and tough managers. I thought I'd add this little anecdote. This is paraphrased from a review of a bootleg of the Led Zeppelin gig in Memphis TN on April 17, 1970. I do have a proper cite somewhere but I don't feel up to re-reading my nice print books yet.

While in Memphis, Led Zeppelin were made honorary citizens and given the keys to the city. During the How Many More Times medley, the audience began to go yipshit. Plant was later interrupted onstage by the announcer twice during the medley, making an appeal to the audience to get off the chairs and rails. He joked about the chairs being for the hockey games held at the venue and carried on.
Backstage during the show, Peter Grant was held at gunpoint backstage by the promoter. The promoter demanded that he pull the band offstage to avoid an audience frenzy. Grant reportedly responded, "You can't shoot me, ya c*nt. They've just given us the f*cking keys to the city!"

Yeah, tough managers. Rock & Roll!

Monday, February 11, 2008

Simon Napier-Bell on the Music Biz

An excellent Big O Zine article by Simon Napier-Bell on the music industry and the way it has screwed artists for more than sixty years and intends to go on doing so.

Simon Napier-Bell - the life and crimes of the music biz.

Napier-Bell was the Yardbirds' manager in the Sixties. He thought he was a good one. It was only after he negotiated the deals he realized how he had still gotten shafted. A lot of people say that Peter Grant was one of the first managers to get reasonable deals for his artists., and a lot of people regarded him as vicious.

In this article, Napier-Bell talks about being left in a record company waiting room that had no handles on the inside of the doors - an understated description of dealing with the Mafia that took a little while to sink in for me. But when it did, it was more chilling than the description of the record company executive choking his producer in a blizzard of racial slurs.You can see why it took an ex-wrestler like Peter Grant to out-frighten some of these people.

The article is trans-Atlantic, too, which is unusual. There's some things about EMI and some things about Atlantic or CBS. Usually an article is "my life with Stax" or "my life with Cliff at the 2I's" but not both.

Napier-Bell says that sometimes being a manager felt good,

But at other times - when your nitwit star... wakes you in the middle of the night with a call from Sydney to say he can't go on stage because he has no clean socks (as the lead singer of the Yardbirds once did) - it feels less so.

So not all of his problems were with record companies. Only about 99% of them.

Seen via DOC 40 - Mick Farren's blog. Mick's always worth a read.

Mine Eeen

I can't see very well at the moment, so please forgive any repeated words or other evidence of lack of re-reading.

I'd be better of if I were looking through Gary Gilmore's Eyes.!!!111!

And that magically leads me to:

The Adverts.

A song I remember very well from my first flush of youth. (My eyes weren't great back then either.) The song is about Gilmore, a murderer who insisted that his eyes be donated for transplantation after his execution - by firing squad, folks! this is America we're talking here! Two people got his corneas.

It would be nice to report that they went mad and started murdering people, but I don't think that's what happened.

I wonder if they told the recipients whose cornea they got?

Monday, February 04, 2008

Positive Vibrations

Reader S. T. Banovitch points out that The Be-atles' Across the Universe was not, in fact, the first song inflicted on aliens.

From the LiveScience Blog, SETI Battle of the Bandwidth: Beatles Outsignaled by Bob Marley, we learn that in 1999 and 2002, Charles Chafer leased the large (70 meter) steerable radio astronomy dish in Evpatoriya, Ukraine and beamed over 100,000 messages from people from all over the world to several stars they had selected on the basis of possibly having an Earth-like planet near them.

Apparently there's a bit of a kerfuffle of this "active SETI" - beaming signals deliberately into space where someone might actually intercept them and come over to see what the commotion's about.

Frankly, since it's 431 light years away, iirc, I'm not going to worry too much.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Sixx of the best.

In the third installment of my thrilling series, "Three books with the word Magus in the title" I looked at George Case's unauthorized biography of Jimmy Page, Magus Musician Man.

Among other things, I said:

So what is Page's story, assuming that he is really 'there' under the sketch created by artful re-arrangements of his words? It's a fairly typical one. Immeasurably talented young boy, loves Elvis (or rather Scotty Moore), joins a band, finds fame and fortune, does a spectacular amount of sex and drugs, cleans up just before death sets in, then becomes a family man and elder statesman, floating amongst the richocracy as stately as a galleon, bearing an OBE and adored by legions of fans.

Both of the magus books in this series of reviews so far have concerned death and rebirth … in this case Page from a very complex, beautiful and accomplished young man into quite an ordinary man. Rock music in general does seem to produce this progression, this reversal of the Monomyth, a journey downhill.

After the 02 gig I reversed myself a bit, and edited it to read that Jimmy Page probably wasn't an ordinary bloke after all. But my point still stands; the public like to read about someone who went somewhere spectacular and then came back again. They – we – prefer Sam Gamgee, back home with Rosie and the hairy-footed kids, to poor, changed Frodo Baggins fated to go to the Grey Havens to wait out his melancholy wasteland of eternity.

Another version, or reading, of the typical VH1 progression is The Man Who Learned Better – that's a Heinlein plot description for SF writers, but one which many rock stars live, or at least summarize themselves as having lived.

Yesterday I read the funniest thing since I first saw Spinal Tap, and it wasn't even a Rock Book – but a review of a rock book. It's the Sp!ked review of The Heroin Diaries: A Year in the Life of a Shattered Rock Star, by Nikki Sixx. I've never read the book, but the review, by Guy Rundle of Arena, is quite amusing enough for one rock reading session.

The review covers the history of rock and roll excess in a couple of hundred words. The first rock and rollers, like the recently deceased Ike Turner, expected to produce music and then gig to support it for ever. They were not regarded as poetic geniuses too fragile for this brutal world. But now you can't spit in a crowded room without hitting a troubled rock star. What the hell changed?

It wasn’t inevitable that the self-conception of the rock star would change from working muso to vitalistic genius, an image ingrained forever by the near-simultaneous excess-deaths of Jimi, Janis and Jim. The template was set for a career-path that became as rigid as a fitter-and-turner’s apprenticeship – early wild success, cultural hero status, world tours, excess, exhaustion, jadedness, breakdown, and the option of early death or eventual return; older, wiser, grislier, just wanting to talk about the music, man.

I said that too – see above. But Rundle takes this riff much further:

…as their couple of years of wild glory comes to be seen as mere pretext to the main business of collapse, redemption through rehab and the rediscovery of the simple things in life. This without anyone really noticing that the rock’n’roll lifestyle has become its very opposite. The early excess is now simply a long Shrove Tuesday before the dutiful lessons about original sin and concupiscence are taught to the downloading public. The whole process long ago became ghastly boring. With the premiere of the Osbornes reality show it became genuinely funny.

It would be unfair to pick out some gems from the review to put them here – it's worth reading it all. Suffice to say, Nikki Sixx is A Nartist, a sensitive soul, who flew too close to the sun, like Icarus, and tumbled to earth a wiser man. Sixx was, as Rundle says,

someone with a deep and unfathomable interior which needs must be expressed to the world - the full Wordsworth trip. This, above all, is the signal development of Sixties and after rock music; the belief that one was doing something more than running a danceband.

The reviewer gives some examples of Sixx's artistic output and profound thoughts on life, and one does get the impression that he tumbled to earth a wiser man (or Learned Better) for the simple reason that it is not possible to be less self-aware than the young Nikki Sixx. Therefore the journey, while statistically random in direction, is constrained at the lower limit, giving the casual onlooker the mistaken impression that it necessarily tends towards enlightenment. Luckily, Rundle is not a casual onlooker.

I often think about the variants of The Hero's Journey, and VH1 and rock books like Sixx's, have provided me with endlessly entertaining variations on the theme. In this case it looks like we've finally managed to find a personal story that really is archtetypal – only, unfortunately, it's archetypal of a prat.

You can be sure I'll be buying it.

Nikki Sixx, The Heroin Diaries
The Spiked Review of the above

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Question answered.

A couple of hours ago I asked why people email me instead of leaving comments. I got this reply. By email.

Because we're subscribed to the RSS and if we hit Reply, you get an email :-)

I guess that answers that...

Anyway, time for pictures.

Here is a picture of the mysterious key on Jimmy Page's belt, shown during Black Dog, on disc 2 of DVD.

[link disappeared]

And here is a picture of Jimmy Page's winklepicker on an effects pedal, shown during an audience recording of Whole Lotta Love at the 02 in December 2007.

Times they are a'changin'

I went to the Friends of the Library bookshop today, as I always do on Saturdays. Today I bought The Mismeasure of Woman for a buck.

On the way out I spied a handful of vinyl albums - including Fresh Cream and Disraeli Gears, 50c each. And a bunch of Eric Clapton albums from when he was at his beardiest and most good-looking, but at a definite nadir when it comes to music. I left those.

It occurred to me, as I was checking out the condition of the vinyl, that no-one would call a group Cream today. Not because it's boastful, but because it might alienate the lactose-intolerant. The record company wouldn't risk putting a negative image in the minds of a "minority". Probably all bands today are called things like 1-2-3-Yeah!! to avoid this kind of thing. (Not 1-2-3-4-Yeah!! because that would alienate the Japanese.)

Except punk bands, who are probably called things like Kill The Lactose Intolerant!! (or 4-4-4-In-UR-Face!!) because that's what's expected of them also.

When I paid, I had the correct money ready for the volunteer, which surprised her.

And I surprised the folks at the Post Office yesterday with the same cunning trick. The guy rang up postage on four identical mailers. The first one was $1.30, the second one was $1.30. Sensing a trend, I got $5.20 out of my pocket and put it on the counter. The third one was $1.30. The fourth one was $1.30. The little machine then tallied it all up and he turned to me. "$5.20. Oh, will you look at that! You've got the right money!"

Yes I have. And I'm not exactly a math genius, either. However, at primary school I was required to do "Change from £5" sums every morning as a warm up, and that was in the days when the purchases were things like 2 Guineas or One pound fourteen and eightpence ha'penny. I think the difference is not that young people of today are stupid - the tellers who have been surprised by my uncanny abilities have ranged in age from 12 to approx. 84 years old - but the way American stores operate.

Here, the price on the can, or these days price on the barcode on the shelf corresponding to the unpriced one on the can, is the base price. Sales tax is always added at the register. Sales tax is variable, and I honestly couldn't tell you what it is here. 7.5%? 7.75%? Something like that. So the usual way to buy things when I was young in England, which was to add up the price of each thing as you put it in your basket, can't be done unless you are unusually fast in calculating. (And more interested in local politics so you know what taxes are due.)

The amount rung up on the register is always a surprise. The weirdest things have sales tax, and stranger things still don't have tax. Then there's the loyalty card discount at most stores, and then the fact that many things are either marked as sale price but aren't, because they forgot to move the sale sticker, or are sale-priced when not marked as such, because they forgot to put on the sale sticker.

I do think it's deliberate. I think there is a conspiracy in America to keep American citizens teetering along the edge of just-about-managing-to-run-their-own-lives. I think it suits those in power (i.e. large companies) to keep the population guessing, and the random pricing is just one of those little ways it's accomplished.

Perhaps I am becoming paranoid. Perhaps I will vote for Ron Paul next week. If I can figure out the 72 page supplement to the voter's booklet that arrived a couple of weeks ago, I might be able to work out if that's a good idea. But most probably, I won't be able to follow it. The page from the WE ARE FOR PROPOSITION #XX COMMITTEE saying VOTE NO ON PROPOSITION #XX was enough of a taster for me... and you heard about the Florida primary, right?

Copyright Grade Inflation

If you look at the Patent Laws, the first thing you read is that they are set up precisely so that inventors have time to profit from their inventions (if they pursue them diligently), but the rights lapse after a reasonable length of time so that inventors don't become horrible Holdfast[1] dog-inna-mangers putting a drag on the economy.

On the other hand, Copyright laws are a drag. I mentioned yesterday that copyright holders don't deserve some of the payments that are given to them. This paper explains why. It's from the Yale Law Journal. It is about the law creep, or grade inflation issue from which US copyright law suffers. The paper does covers music publishing, but is focused on other issues.

In brief, there are few things that require licenses from the copyright owner under law. But it's much better for someone wanting to use a piece of copyrighted material to seek a license from the owner and pay it. This has consequences down the road as the mere existence of licenses for a use in the real world is then cited by lawyers to 'prove' that this use requires a license. So, the types of things requiring licences get broader and broader.
They call it "doctrinal feedback".

Warning: it's a 70 page PDF. There's a response to the paper on the site as well.

[1] Joseph Campell, The Hero with a Thousand Faces:
For the mythological hero is the champion not of things become but of things becoming; the dragon to be slain by him is precisely the monster of the status quo: Holdfast, the keeper of the past. From obscurity the hero emerges, but the enemy is great and conspicuous in the seat of power; he is enemy, dragon, tyrant, because he turns to his own advantage the authority of his position. He is Holdfast not because he keeps the past, but because he keeps.

In Space No One Can Hear You Scream

Two people have written to me to say they have no idea why I'm not overjoyed with fluffy kitty luv'n'hugs about Beatles Songs - In Space! (I don't know why people email me instead of putting it in the comments section; I guess it has something to do with my regular threats to kill people if they start an argument in comments. Anyway, it puts me in the strange position of having to admit that The Lurkers Don't Support Me In Email.)

Here was why, anyway. But I'm over it now, thank you.

First, it's a publicity stunt. It has no meaning. There's no one there to hear it anyway.

Second, it's a "Beatles Historian". WTF is a Beatles Historian?

Third, he asked for permission from the copyright holders, which gives the impression that beaming radio waves into nowhere is either a 'copy' or a 'public performance' of a song. It is neither, and these bastards don't deserve a red cent for half the uses they get paid for these days. (See next post.)

Fourth, a movie called Across the Universe is still in theaters, and I don't trust the "Beatles Historian" not to have made money.

Fifth, NASA is a government agency, spending my money on space exploration. I get to have a say in what it does, and sending meaningless Beatles songs into space is not in in my top ten.

Sixth, the idea that anybody will be charmed or interested or piqued or otherwise jollied up by the thought of a 40 year old popular music song being sent into space shows how out of touch NASA (and Beatles Historian) are with any sort of reality whatsoever. Who cares?

Seventh, Yesterday, insurgents taped bombs to two Down's Syndrome women and sent them into a pet market in Baghdad, then detonated the bombs by remote control, killing the pets on sale, the disabled women, very many women pet-buyers and some men and some pet sellers. If they're going to start sending John Lennon songs into space to make some sort of a difference, how about "Happy Christmas, War is Over", or "Give Peace a Chance" or "Imagine"? Not that I personally think they'd be any better but at least it would show Beatles Historian and NASA are both living in my reality.

And that was about it, really.

Everything I know I learned from the internet.

Oh, and my dad. But my dad didn't teach me to crochet cosies for a Smith and Wesson pistol.

Seen via Making Light, this is an instructional flash video for those of us who need to keep our guns warm.

Happiness is a Warm Gun

In fact my dad didn't like guns much. It was my mother who did all the gun things.

Friday, February 01, 2008

NASA to beam Beatles song to North Star

In space no one can hear you trying out new swear word combinations in an effort to express your feelings about this POS:

NASA on Monday will broadcast the Beatles' song "Across the Universe" across the galaxy to Polaris, the North Star.
This first-ever beaming of a radio song by the space agency directly into deep space is nostalgia-driven. It celebrates the 40th anniversary of the song, the 45th anniversary of NASA's Deep Space Network, which communicates with its distant probes, and the 50th anniversary of NASA.

That must be from The living person could possibly have been hard up enough for publicity to actually do it 4rlz. Jesus H Christ on a flying bike. Underwater. With knobs on. Could they? Wait, it's from CNN, the Clown Prince of Infotainment. There's a slim possibility it's true.

The idea came from Martin Lewis, a Los Angeles-based Beatles historian, who then got permission from McCartney, Yoko Ono and the two companies that own the rights to Beatles' music.

#*%!!!!!111eleventy!! There is no word in the English language rude enough for me express my feelings about that sentiment, and don't get me started about the implied need to have permission to narrowcast "intellectual property" into mid-air where no-one is listening. No one is listening! But he got permission from the companies that own the rights! And Yoko Ono! They're all mad! Beam me up instead!

As J. G. Ballard said when the Apollo astronauts put a plaque on the moon saying, "We Came In Peace For All Mankind": "If I were a Martian I'd start running now."

Edit to add: Having been called on this one, I put my reasons for my rant here.


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