Monday, March 30, 2009

Folks just melted away

I've always loved abandoned houses, and by extension, abandoned cities. The currently most famous abandoned city is Detroit in the USA. In 1970, about the time rock musicians like David Bowie were working up entire theses on TEOTWAWKI and making dance songs about them, the population of Detroit was 1,510,000, down from 1, 850,000 in 1950. By 2000, the city's population was 950,000 – about half that of its heyday. The spectacular hollowing out of the city has taken place while the regional population has grown normally - from 3,350,000 in 1950 to 4,740,000 in 2000. For an archeology rat like myself, convinced that something horrible has to happen to cause people to flee their centers – as I had always been told happened to the classic Maya in 950 AD, for instance – it's been a weird thing to watch. Or as I should more properly write, observe from a safe distance. I doubt if the Detroit natives would like me rubbernecking their empty skyscrapers.

Time Magazine recently had a photospread on Detroit, the beautiful, undisturbed decay of ornate buildings and fine furnishings captured by Yves Marchand and Romain Meffre.
Here's one of their photos – a nice Victorian house, almost settling into the earth.

And here a great theatre is so far gone it is not even fit for its ghosts.

A few years ago, the writers of Detroit Blog posted their adventures exploring these ruins at night, stepping between squatters and dealers and avoiding the police to catalogue such heart-wrenching sights as trees growing from gutters, the glamorous Book Cadillac Hotel reduced to fragments, Mayan symbols painted over the beautiful United Artists building, and flotsam and jetsam drifting from the Motown Building, including chits of Marvin Gaye's benefits statements. Motown, man! The music I grew up with. And these papers were not even snatched up by fans or historians, just scattered on desks and on the floor like autumn leaf litter. (Edit 2017: Detroit blog is no more, but the author has published this book.)

Most abandoned places are either abandoned entirely, like Pripyat, or run by successors to the original inhabitants who will, for several periods every era, vaguely tolerate a visitor for the tourist dollar they bring in, like Petra. My lifelong if rather diffuse ambition was to visit Babylon, and people do keep having wars over it so I haven't managed yet.

But I have been to Egypt. To fail to go to Egypt would be a serious omission indeed. Here we see the Colossi of Memnon, now in fields and towering over geese, repaired a few times over history and still standing, grim and hellish looking doorkeepers now, not fair guardians.

Nearby is the Ramesseum, with the fallen statue that inspired Shelley's Ozymandias.
Here's the view from the top of the pylon – the desert and the fields. On the skyline over the fields you can see the Colossi. They are aptly named.

The area – the Valley of the Kings – is still inhabited, as this picture of our guide shows. I say guide; he was actually a local man who would show you the way around the ruins if he got a kiss from a pretty girl. (Luckily I'd brought one with me.) I'm not really outing him too badly, I hope – the photo was taken over twenty years ago.

Dubai's next, of course. Now the entirely imaginary pile of money that fuelled its growth has disappeared, gone when we stopped believing in it, as with so many other ancient gods, the buildings are being abandoned in mid-skyscrape and the workers are going home, some so fast they are leaving their vehicles at the airport with the keys still in them as they flee their debts in a kingdom not particularly nice to debtors. Shame, in a way. I'd always hoped Dubai would be the Vermilion Sands or similar folly of Western Civilization, but it would have taken a few more years to truly cement (no pun intended) its place. If the towers fall in the desert, will they inspire the same (complete lack of awe) that the Ramesseum inspired in Shelley? Or would the giants be so tall that future explorers will genuinely despair at our mighty works?

A more prosaic explanation for the fall of the classic Maya civilization is, simply, crappy government.
So what happened in the collapse, at least in this part of the Maya world? It was a bellicose place," Emery acknowledges, with evidence of warfare and walls across some ceremonial sites. "But the bodies aren't there," from any massive fighting, she says. More likely, there was just a political collapse in which rulers came to be seen over a two-century period as no longer delivering the goods, better crops or more rain." Modern-day Maya still live relatively close to the abandoned sites, after all, descendants of the folks who lived there long ago. "Folks just melted away" from ceremonial centers, Emery says, just like people today changing rulers come election season."
(USA Today)

Much like Detroit, then

Ref: Buildings Are R Us Population Change.
Did Environmental Disasters Play a Role in Mayan Decline?

(Edited to renew links, where possible, 07/2017)

Sunday, March 29, 2009

I like splicicles

They're twicicles as nicicles.

I love mashups - I always have. I've pointed a few things out on here, such as Mother of all Funk Chords - before now. Today a friend of mine pointed me at a whole album of them.

Mark Vidler of Go Home Productions has created music and videos mashing such natural(?)twins as Ce Ce Peniston's Finally and The Sex Pistols' Did You No Wrong, The Rolling Stones' Miss You and Carly Simon's You're So Vain, and an improbable but rocking triplet, The Rolling Stones' Gimme Shelter and Street Fighting Man with The Temptations' Ball of Confusion. It's called Spliced Krispies. Marvellous stuff, available for mp3 download here, or tlook at he website for all the YouTube videos.

Here's the one C. turned me on to the album with:

Yes, it's T. Rex's Get It On combined with The Rolling Stones' 2000 Light Years From Home, and the video to match. Lovely stuff. Makes you wonder about pop music, though - is it really different styles on the surface and all just the same iron under the hood? Or does Mark Vidler just make it look easy?

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Myths, Legends and UFOs Quiz

Ha! 12 out of 13, or 92% That's what years of watching the X-Files does for you.

The one I got wrong? The last year that men walked on the moon. (Blush.)

Music - Doomed or Moribund? part 94

Apparently Robert Smith of the Cure is the anti-Lefsetz when it comes to his music. His rant makes sense, though it would make more sense if it didn't appear to have been tweeted onto his webpage like words from a dribbly word-hose full of words.










Monday, March 23, 2009

Holy Hand Grenade

A few days ago I wrote about a man cleaning a pond who had a Dalek float up to the surface and look at him. And about how surprised he must have been.
This weekend a pub was closed off in Shoreditch, East London after the police found a Holy Handgrenade of Antioch. (Usually only used for retiring Killer Rabbits.) They had to decide how to render it harmless before the pub could be reopened.

Story Here.

My society

Here is the Telegraph's obituary for Jade Goody.

Do people really have entertainment that involves encouraging mobs to camp outside the 'reality TV' house chanting slogans about pigs and wishing death on the inmates? Does everybody have form, a restraining order and a tendency to beat up their kids? I guess so.

I grew up in that society, you know. Reading about it in cold print is a wake up call.

Where's me sleeping pills?

Newspapers Doomed, say pundits

There's been a recent spate of articles and blog posts about how newspapers are doomed. I think the ur-post was this one by Clay Shirky. They knew the internet was coming all right. They weren't blind to it. But they can't figure out how to get anyone to pay for papers in this climate, and the small ads have gone to Craig's List. And newspapers are expensive to run. Hence, doomed. And if they go, proper news goes.

If you want to know why newspapers are in such trouble, the most salient fact is this: Printing presses are terrifically expensive to set up and to run. This bit of economics, normal since Gutenberg, limits competition while creating positive returns to scalefor the press owner, a happy pair of economic effects that feed on each other. In a notional town with two perfectly balanced newspapers, one paper would eventually generate some small advantage — a breaking story, a key interview — at which point both advertisers and readers would come to prefer it, however slightly. That paper would in turn find it easier to capture the next dollar of advertising, at lower expense, than the competition. This would increase its dominance, which would further deepen those preferences, repeat chorus. The end result is either geographic or demographic segmentation among papers, or one paper holding a monopoly on the local mainstream audience.
For a long time, longer than anyone in the newspaper business has been alive in fact, print journalism has been intertwined with these economics. The expense of printing created an environment where Wal-Mart was willing to subsidize the Baghdad bureau. This wasn’t because of any deep link between advertising and reporting, nor was it about any real desire on the part of Wal-Mart to have their marketing budget go to international correspondents. It was just an accident. Advertisers had little choice other than to have their money used that way, since they didn’t really have any other vehicle for display ads.
Think bloggers are going to fill the hole? Hardly. I'm a blogger and I know I couldn't.

Some folks think that a million bloggers on the ground will make up for the lack of paid reporters. Who needs a press guy in Afghanistan if you can read the soldiers' tweets or the blog of an Aghani woman right on the Pakistani border? Rhetorical question. You do need a press guy. You can't have everyone in the world reading everyone else in the world's tweets - it's not practical. And figuring out if the Afghani woman is actually an Afghani woman and not a Pakistani secret policeman sowing disinformation is beyond most of us anyway.

Shirky says,
"Print media does much of society’s heavy journalistic lifting, from flooding the zone — covering every angle of a huge story — to the daily grind of attending the City Council meeting, just in case. This coverage creates benefits even for people who aren’t newspaper readers, because the work of print journalists is used by everyone from politicians to district attorneys to talk radio hosts to bloggers. The newspaper people often note that newspapers benefit society as a whole."
Here is David Simon in the Washington Post with a long and interesting example. Am I going to show up to see the local police Desk Sergeant and demand his arrest log - even though I'm entitled to see it? Nope.

In response to such flummery [failing to hand over details of an arrest], I had in my wallet, next to my Baltimore Sun press pass, a business card for Chief Judge Robert F. Sweeney of the Maryland District Court, with his home phone number on the back. When confronted with a desk sergeant or police spokesman convinced that the public had no right to know who had shot whom in the 1400 block of North Bentalou Street, I would dial the judge.

And then I would stand, secretly delighted, as yet another police officer learned not only the fundamentals of Maryland's public information law, but the fact that as custodian of public records, he needed to kick out the face sheet of any incident report and open his arrest log to immediate inspection. There are civil penalties for refusing to do so, the judge would assure him. And as chief judge of the District Court, he would declare, I may well invoke said penalties if you go further down this path.
With his bureau eviscerated, it's hard to get that sort of information.
Half-truths, obfuscations and apparent deceit -- these are the wages of a world in which newspapers, their staffs eviscerated, no longer battle at the frontiers of public information. And in a city where officials routinely plead with citizens to trust the police, where witnesses have for years been vulnerable to retaliatory violence, we now have a once-proud department's officers hiding behind anonymity that is not only arguably illegal under existing public information laws, but hypocritical as well.

There is a lot of talk nowadays about what will replace the dinosaur that is the daily newspaper. So-called citizen journalists and bloggers and media pundits have lined up to tell us that newspapers are dying but that the news business will endure, that this moment is less tragic than it is transformational.

Well, sorry, but I didn't trip over any blogger trying to find out McKissick's identity and performance history. Nor were any citizen journalists at the City Council hearing in January when police officials inflated the nature and severity of the threats against officers. And there wasn't anyone working sources in the police department to counterbalance all of the spin or omission.
He's right. But nobody yet knows how to do that. The ability to keep an eye on the state is collapsing at the same time the state's ability to keep an eye on you is growing.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Early cut of Lucifer Rising available


Lucifer Rising, the film by Kenneth Anger that was originally intended to have a soundtrack by Jimmy Page, was eventually released in a much longer version with a soundtrack by Bobby Beausoleil.

An early cut of the film with Jimmy Page's music intact was shown a few times in the seventies. By the mid eighties, only four prints were thought to exist. It has never been available to the public.

Now, a VHS rip of a claimed early cut of the film, complete with Jimmy Pages's score, was available for download by torrent here. Bear in mind that two friends of mine have told me that the torrent site is not a safe website – unless you have good anti-virus protection you might want to wait until it shows up elsewhere.

It is described as:

Sent to me anonymously, this is the original version of Kenneth Anger's Lucifer Rising with Jimmy Page soundtrack.The quality of the VHS tape that I received is far from good, so the digital rip is exactly as is. Given that this is probably the only copy anyone is ever likely to see, I'm sure connoisseurs of the curious and unusual will be delighted to see it nonetheless.Don't ask me where I got it — I don't even know myself. All I can tell you is that I put the feelers out for this about twenty years ago, and somehow it ended up in my lap.

Jimmy Page's music

Jimmy Page's music for Lucifer Rising has been available in one form or another for many years. Recently, three separate and slightly different cuts have been available as a bootleg under the name A Taste of Satan.

The download for A Taste of Satan was described as:

This torrent was originally posted about a year or so ago. The original FLAC or SHN files weren't kept, so it was redone again from the same source.
There are three different versions of this piece which I have found, and there may be more. Page had scored this music for the Kenneth Anger film of the same title. Page and Anger had a falling-out somewhere along the way, and the use of Page's music was discarded.
The sources are as follows:An incomplete version of the film was screened in the 1970's, and an audience tape was made of the soundtrack. This version comes from the mega-rare boot LP "Solo Performances"
A supposedly finished version was also bootlegged on a 10" blue vinyl record, called "Lucifer Rising". This version was respliced together for this torrent.
The last version came on a video tape from an early ebay auction. It features outtakes from the film, along with a third version of the piece.

The version available on the new VHS rip torrent is the third piece of music. Edit: I checked the track against the Blue Vinyl version available at Lucifer Rising on MySpace and it matches. The credits at the beginning and end of the video match the description of the video shown by Chris Dietler. It appears to be the real deal.

For those just tuning in.

The film-maker Kenneth Anger is a practicing occultist who has described his films as "Spells and Invocations". The influence isn't exactly hidden in his movies, even the popular Scorpio Rising. When you watch Invocation of my Demon Brother, any other interpretation would be kidding yourself. Jimmy Page is a well-known collector of Crowleyana, owning a large collection of Crowley manuscripts and drawings. In the seventies he owned a London bookshop called Equinox which existed to trade in Magick-related items and to build up his collection. At one point he owned Crowley's house at Loch Ness, Boleskine House. He is believed to have practiced Magick, at least at some time in the past, but he does not speak about it in public if he can avoid it.

Jimmy has stated on more than one occasion that he does not worship the devil – not that I thought he did, but there may be others reading this who do not know he's put that statement on record. He has also said,

"But I'm not really interested in going on about Crowley in so much as, say, Pete Townshend does about Meher Baba. I'm not interested in trying to turn anybody on in any way whatsoever. You know, there are a thousand paths and they can choose their own. All I know is that it's a system that works. (laughs) Although, of course, there's not much point in following a system that doesn't work."
"I just don't want it rammed down people's throats as though I'm saying it's the be-all and end-all and the only way you'll be able to put things together. I'm not saying that at all. You might go off and study the Gurdjieff system and be equally.
"But what I can relate to is Crowley's system of self-liberation, in which repression is the greatest work of sin. It's like being in a job when you want to be doing something else. That's the area where the true will should come forward. And when you've discovered your true will you should just forge ahead like a steam train. If you put all your energies into it there's no doubt you'll succeed. Because that's your true will. It may take a little while to work out what that is, but when you discover it, it's all there. "You know, when you realize what it is you're supposed to be here for. I mean, everyone's got a talent for something. Not necessarily artistic but whatever you care to say. And it's just a process of self-liberation. I mean, I just find his writings to be twentieth century. As a lot of the others weren't. And there's really nothing more to say than that. I find him quite a curious, highly enigmatic character. Consequently I enjoy my researches into him. But it doesn't want to be blown out of all proportion, though, because that would be silly, you know. I'm just another artist, too." [Salewicz]

Jimmy Page and Kenneth Anger supposedly met in 1971 when Anger and Page were bidding against each other on Crowley manuscripts. Page thinks that's unlikely – he had 'people' to bid on his behalf – but wherever they met, they hit it off immediately due to their shared interest in Crowley.

"I was at his apartment when he outlined this idea for a film that became Lucifer Rising, that he had already started shooting in Egypt. Actually, he took some footage of me in the library, I remember. It was then he asked me if I would like to take on the commission to do the music and I agreed to that." [Knowles]

Here is that clip of Jimmy Page in the library. It ended up in the finished film of Lucifer Rising, not the work in progress I am discussing here. You can see that Page is holding the Stele of Revealing, which I mentioned a couple of days ago, and looks up from it to a picture of Aleister Crowley.

The work was productive. Jimmy said,

When I finished the first piece of music he came down to my place in Sussex and bought a projector with him. He put it on and played the film and the music was perfectly in sync with everything that was going on – it was astonishing. [Knowles]

Jimmy invited Anger to work at his London place, The Tower House. Anger was confined to the basement where he had access to good quality editing gear and a chance to work on the film for free and uninterrupted. However, the collaboration did not last long. According to the commonly told version of the tale, the housekeeper discovered him giving guided tours of the house. (Tower House is a beautiful work of art, designed, built and decorated by William Burges.) There was an argument between Anger and Jimmy's then wife, and he was asked to leave. According to Jimmy Page, Anger then retaliated with curses which signally failed to upset the fellow practitioner of Magick.

Didn't he come down here and stick things onto the door of this record company?
"Oh, that was his curse. That was pathetic. His curse amounted to sending letters to people. Silly letters saying 'Bugger off, Page' and this sort of thing. How can you take that sort of thing seriously? (Sounds quite deeply disappointed). A man you had thought to be a genuine occultist and it turns out to be just. theatre. It's a shame, really." [Salewicz]

According to Knowles, Jimmy said, "Kenneth took umbrage that he couldn't show people around and the next thing I knew I started getting all this hate mail directed at my partner and myself. It was quite pathetic, actually, because it was like newspaper articles underlined in red ink – I guess if that was supposed to be some kind of curse, it fell flat."

A source more sympathetic to Anger, the website Anger Rising, puts it this way:

Anger's work at Page's house was terminated by an extraordinary sequence of events beginning Tuesday night when Anger apparently the unwitting victim of domestic fracas was ordered to leave the house by Page's girlfriend, who was staying there at the time. No reason was given for his eviction. He returned to the house Wednesday morning to collect his film material and belongings to find the door locked and bolted. The same afternoon, Anger, unable to reach Page himself, informed his management/record company Swansong that the film collaboration was off and that Page had been fired from the project. Thursday morning Anger was eventually able to recover some of his belongings and the film from Page's now empty London home. Jimmy Page, in town for a friend's funeral, was unavailable for comment, but a spokesperson from Swansong claimed to be totally mystified by the news that the guitarist had been fired from the Lucifer project; he even expressed surprised at the information that Anger was even in London.

It goes on to quote Anger:

"The way he's been behaving is totally contradictory to the teachings of Aleister Crowley and totally contradictory to the ethos of the film. Lucifer is the angel of light and beauty. But the vibes that come off Jimmy are totally alien to that-and to human contact. It's like a bleak lunar landscape. By comparison, Lucifer is like a field full of beautiful flowers - although there may be a few bumble bees waiting to sting you if you are not careful. I'm beginning to think Jimmy's dried up as a musician. He's got no themes, no inspiration, no melodies to offer. I'm sure he doesn't have another "Stairway to Heaven", which is his most Luciferian song. "Presence" was very much a downer album . In the first place his commitment to Lucifer seemed to be totally serious, and he was very enthusiastic about the project. On the other hand he's very into enterprise and hard work. But on the other hand he has this problem dragging him down. He's been acting like Jekyll & Hyde, and I have to have someone who's 100%. This film is my life's work."

He went on to lambast Page for being under the influence of drugs and not a true Thelemite.

Whatever the actual story, the first 23 minutes of Jimmy Page's score for Lucifer Rising were completed and delivered before the fracas. The incomplete film was shown along with Page's soundtrack on at least one occasion. When he saw it, Jimmy said,

"The man's pacing is absolutely superb. It starts so slow and after say four minutes it gets a little faster and the whole thing starts to suck you in. The thing was, I only saw clips, and 20 minutes is a long time, and he put the music onto the visual - I know he didn't do any edits because I saw the piece with different music-and things just worked out in synch. Like certain bits match certain actions. It's so well crafted, and this undercurrent of everything working independently. It's just so arresting. I had a copy and while I was in the states I hooked it up to a big stereo and frightened the daylights out of everyone." He laughs softly. I was on the sixth floor and there were complaints from the twelfth. There's a real atmosphere and intensity. It's disturbing because you know something is coming. I can't wait for it to come out." [Anger Rising]

Kenneth Anger went on to ask Bobby Beausoleil, the man more famous for his association with Charlie Manson than with music, to complete the soundtrack. Anger added more material and a full length film was released with the Beausoleil music. It's available on DVD currently and is a glorious testament to Lucifer, the bringer of light, shot in saturated colors and starring a host of countercultural names from the sixties and early seventies.

A man named Christopher Dietler heard of the Jimmy Page soundtrack and contacted Anger. According to a 1987 article in the Sacramento Bee reprinted from a clipping in Lashtal, there were four prints of Lucifer Rising made, and Dietler purchased one. He had the soundtrack remastered on to vinyl, which eventually became the Blue Vinyl source for the bootleg. For his troubles, he was thrown out of his magickal order, the O.T.O.
In its review of this version of the soundtrack, Big O Zine says,

The Page material was released on a soundtrack album of uncertain legitimacy on the label Boleskine House Records on June 19, 1987. The blue vinyl disc contains 23 minutes of soundtrack music Page provided for the movie but was dropped from the final release. (Page played electric guitar, guitar synthesizer and the theremin.) Theall instrumental soundtrack was originally recorded by Page between November 1973 and 1974. As far as we can ascertain, this material has not been officially released and continues to be shared among Zeppelin connoisseurs. [Big O]

In the long and beautifully-researched piece on Lucifer Rising in Classic Rock (2006), Christopher Knowles says:

Although perhaps too short by half, Page's soundtrack to Lucifer Rising is one of the great unheard works of the rock era. (It was latterly released on 12" blue vinyl by Boleskine House Records in 1987). The guitarist synthesized Indian ragas, Moroccan Jajouka, Tibetan chants and Eno-esque electronic drones into a minimalist symphony that composers Terry Riley and Phillip Glass would be proud to call their own. The piece makes uses of Pan pipes, Buddhist chants, Tabla drums and cello. It bridges the gap between ambient and ceremonial music and packs a powerful occult charge even today. [Knowles]

When I heard the bootleg, I put it this way:

Page does a great job considering the synthesizers of the time. The wind instrument sounds are works of art. You can hear what sounds like a Ram's horn, a Conch horn, and the Ancient Egyptian silver trumpet everyone was so proud of in 1972. The sound of storms and wind eventually gets irritating to the modern ear. It was very effective back in the Seventies, but now a Hawkind-style atomic-bomb-blast-followed-by-soughing-wind to end a segment is just a little passé. The music is actually a great deal like Pink Floyd's Echoes – except instead of having that watery dawn feel, it has a desert pre-dawn feel. There is a feeling of struggle and potential failure in the soundtrack. You can tell from the moment it starts that Echoes is going to get its "million bright ambassadors of morning" and we'll all be happy ever after, but this soundtrack pulls back after every advance, retreating into some unfinished sounding chord or having the wind come by and erode all the victories in the previoussequence. The chanting strikes me more as whistling past a graveyard than glorifying anything. I'm still not convinced we even get the dawn in the end.

Jimmy thought of it as an advance over playing the guitar alone and saw it as something he would like to explore in the future. According to Guitar Player Magazine in July 1977,

"The trouble is keeping a separation between sounds, so you don't have the same guitar effect all the time. and that's where that orchestration thing comes in: it's so easy. I've already planned it. it's already there; all the groundwork has been done now. and the dream has been accomplished by the computerized mixing console. the sort of struggle to achieve so many things is over. As I said, I've got two things written, but I'll be working on more. You can hear what I mean on Lucifer Rising. You see, i didn't play any guitar on that, apart from one point. that was all other instruments, all synthesizers. Every instrument was given a process so it didn't sound like what it really was – the voices, drones, mantras, and even tabla drums. when you've got a collage of, say, four of these sounds together, people will be drawn right in because there will be sounds they hadn't heard before. That's basically whatI'm into: collages and tissues of sound with emotional intensity and melody and all that. "[GP]

And that's what he got across, all right.

So, what does the music sound like now I have seen it in situ, so to say? The portion of the movie on the VHS rip is much shorter and to the point than the final finished Lucifer Rising, consisting of short clips edited together in sync with the soundtrack. (Anger is often credited for inventing the MTV music video editing style). There is a lot of stock footage and not so high a proportion of acted footage that gives the finished film its slower rhythm. It is cut superbly to the music, enhancing both itself and the soundtrack. The occultism is much stronger than in the finished film, and at this stage looks to be the whole point – it is indeed an invocation, not an attempt to tell a story. When coupled with this kind of urgency, the music does not have that aura of melancholy and the surges and setbacks make perfect sense – oh, and there is a dawn at the end!

Symphony for the Devil by Christopher Knowles, Classic Rock 2006 (not online: see Knowles)
Clip of Lucifer Rising: Page in the library.

(Edit: I've restored what links I can - it's by no means all of them. 07/2017)

Which Science Fiction Writer Am I?

Not literally, you understand. Conceptually.

I am:
James Tiptree, Jr. (Alice B. Sheldon)
In the 1970s she was perhaps the most memorable, and one of the most popular, short story writers. Her real life was as fantastic as her fiction.

Which science fiction writer are you?

The Passing Show (DVD)

I netflixed The Life and Music of Ronnie Lane: The Passing Show.

A depressing tale in some ways, but it's different from the usual rags to riches to shagging birds till you're blind to drug addiction to rags Rock and Roll story.

Ronnie was the main songwriter for the Small Faces and subsequently The Faces. In the middle of their greatest hit period - without having collected any money - he left them and became a combo farmer-gypsy, hacking away on a farm with working class (rather than the usual middle class) cluelessness and attempting to stage a travelling show of musicians. Not many people turned up and eventually someone absconded with the meager takings. He hung around his farm jamming with some of the best sidemen on earth (as well as Clapton, Beck, Townshend etc.) and eventually developed multiple sclerosis (MS).

He set up a fund for MS treatment and one of the fund raisers was the ARMS tour, with a large number of world-class musicians including Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, Jimmy Page and Steve Winwood playing for the charity. According to the DVD, Ronnie Lane's luck held and someone ripped off the fund (much larger this time). This put Ronnie under investigation for running a fraudulent charity. Eventually the stellar sidemen brigade took him out on a number of tours in a wheelchair, he married a beautiful woman who liked looking at scenery with him, and then they lived happily, but not for ever after.

Ronnie Lane's music is marginal to me. A few years ago I couldn't stand fiddle and accordion stuff and I've made no secret of it not being my fave right now. But he was very good at it, sincere and full of feeling and compassion. Beware that the DVD doesn't contain any footage at all of the ARMS concerts. There's some great early footage of the Small Faces, but no complete songs. Various talking heads annoyed me by calling him a "gypsy" all the time, but eventually it was shown that he knew some Rom and they seemed to like him, so I suppose that's okay.

It was a sad, rather than elegiac, story and not just because one already knows the ending. There seems to be quite a few musicians who shone brightly because of, rather than in spite of, nervous system damage. Woodie Guthrie's wanderlust comes to mind. Ronnie Lane fitted that pattern and as I watched him leave The Faces and go to live in a tumbledown farmhouse with no electricity or weatherproofing and plan to run a circus (of all the childhood escapist fantasies!) without any idea how to put up a Big Top or run a generator, I just wanted to go back in time and tell him to stay with Rod and make a few bob. He didn't, and that's left us some good music and a lot of musicianly cameraderie that might not have happened without adversity as the spark, but I still felt melancholy. Perhaps it was the fiddles.

Friday, March 20, 2009

I'm Not There

I watched Todd Haynes' I'm Not There today. Loved it. Haynes is a visual fanfic, or band fic, writer and turns out some wonderful music films. I liked his Velvet Goldmine a great deal. Here he looks at Bob Dylan by getting different actors to play different parts of his personality, and running scenes which may be close to real life, a la Pennebaker, or completely fantasy, as in the case of the Billy the Kid scenes. The result is a picture of the man built up artistically rather than described linearly and it works perfectly, in my opinion.

Visually it's a feast - sumptuous colors and wonderful attention to detail in the 50's and 60's scenes which fit against the documentary footage without a visible join.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Jimmy Page's Stage Suit on display at the V&A

The Victoria and Albert Museum has a display of rock costumes - a Mick Jagger one from 1972, and a Jimmy Page one from 1975, it says here. I can't find any evidence that he actually wore this suit on stage but I guess that's not the point.

The satin suit on display is being widely touted as so small they are using a child mannequin to display it. The costume description says "ancient Hebrew and Egyptian symbols reflects his personal interest in esoteric religions and mysticism". It has long arms and it's tall for a child, though. The major problem with it is it does not appear to be finished. The lotus design on the front is nice. The back appears to have a sketched out eye-in-a-pyramid and the basic beginnings of the Stele of Revealing.

Don't know what happened - perhaps Jimmy realized it was going to look ugly, or perhaps he realized that walking around with a famous Aleister Crowley landmark on his back was going to give him a bit of a rep. If the latter, it was too late. People call Page names anyway and one more bit of Crowleyana wouldn't have mattered too much.

Here's what it might have looked like finished, courtesy of Photoshop.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Bad Paintings of Obama

A site which serves up bad paintings of Barack Obama - of which there appear to be many.

Hit refresh to see a new picture.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Modern Love

Two articles in the British papers today about women and sex. One is about rich women, one is about poor women. I wonder if the British have a different attitude to women and sex depending on their social status? Let's see.

In Inside the sex club for girls, the Times talks at great and tedious length about rich women who frequent a sex club "for women" (it appears to be mostly sapphic, but with a number of brought-along men who do not always play by the club's rules), where they can buy such extras as a weekend at a fully-equipped dungeon for three thousand pounds. It's called Killing Kittens, which gave me a start for a momentI thought it was for killing kittens, not for kittens who are killing.

The clientele, defined as 'single women and couples from the AB demographic' (PDF), are good looking, and rich.
“It’s also not about walking into a club and seeing a famous person. It’s about women — not alpha females who storm up to men — but feminine and sensual ones who cango and dance around in their underwear and drink with no pressure and no expectations, just free to feel sexy and have fun.”
The Killing Kittens website captures Sayle’s sales pitch: there’s her skimpy, Janet Reger-designed underwear range, Naughty Janet; there’s a “Dungeon Break” in a West Yorkshire mansion costing £3,000 to get manacled up in a fully equipped dungeon for the weekend; a “Kidnap Experience” — very popular, apparently — offering an adrenaline-inducing “real-life kidnap scenario” lasting up to 12 hours, with an optional transgender makeover — for £3,500; and a “Mini Mile-High Experience” for an hour’s satisfaction in a private jet for about the same price.
"So," the Times asks rhetorically, "who is this attracting? The liberated female sexual elite or the more ordinarily desperate and seedy? "

It's attracting the sort of tossers who can blow £3,000 on a cheesy scenario out of Eyes Wide Shut, Times. Rich women. The article talks several times about private schooling and 'filthy rich', 'posh' and 'elite elite'.

On the other hand, Who says sex workers want to be saved in the Guardian, discusses a proposed new law to fine johns who frequent prostitutes, because those prostitutes *might* be slaves.

Under the proposal, anyone who buys sex or other erotic services from someone who is "controlled for another person's gain" could be fined and receive a criminal record. Ignorance of the circumstances would be no defence. Harriet Harman, the minister for women, believes the proposed legislation will help stamp out sex trafficking, which she has described as a "modern-day slave trade". Yet if speakers at a panel debate this week on sex trafficking held at London's Institute of Contemporary Arts are to be believed, most sex workers – including migrant ones –do not see themselves as slaves, and few want to be "saved" by the likes of Smith and Harman. Scaring away potential punters will only rob those who work within the sex industry of their livelihood. (And this includes everything from charging for sex to pole dancing, providing attentive dinner company and selling erotic lingerie, literature or DVDs.)
Laura María Agustín.... says, "this is state feminism which has nothing to do with gender equality. It's about the state identifying a proper way for its citizens to behave and defining millions of women as victims."
Anyone who does not comply with the political elite's officially sanctioned lifestyle is seen as deviant. In relation to sex, non conformists become defined either as victims or perpetrators, as abused or abusers.
So poor women should become wards of the state, stripped of free will, just in case it is not free will, in case someone non-governmental is 'controlling' them. Got it.

It appears that rich women can and do choose who they have sex with, and - odd this -the government does not attempt to treat them as basket cases who cannot possibly have the nous to be living this lifestyle of their own free will.

Slavery, human trafficking, rape, abduction, kidnapping - all of these things are already illegal. The British government is always keen to show that, if laws aren't working, the best thing to do is to pass a newer, stupider law that covers the area the old law already covered. It's time it reconsidered that.

And as for the rich women in their club houses, I don't think we need any more laws either (not that the government was proposing any). We just need to start heeding my friend Mick's advice.

Eat the rich

Friday, March 13, 2009


YouTube makes my day again.

A funk epic made by sampling (or as we writers say, cutting and pasting) a couple of dozen YouTube videos to make a coherent whole that is not only technically brilliant but also remarkably listenable and danceable.

Includes two - count 'em two - theremins! I loves teh thereminz.

Their home page is at

The Giftie Gie Us

Jimmy Page spends his time, according to Mick Wall, watching footie on the telly. Meanwhile, Jack White has recorded a bluegrass version of Old Enough with Rickie Scaggs and Ashley Monroe, written, recorded and filmed the new James Bond theme, recorded a White Stripes album and made a movie with Meg White, done half a dozen other videos and re-recordings, opened some set of ventures or other to do with vinyl and wet photography, and has now formed a new band, The Dead Weather.

Jimmy Page formed a band in 1968, which besides himself (ex-Yardbird and session musician), included Robert Plant (ex-Band of Joy), John Bonham (ex-Band of Joy) and John Paul Jones (sessions musician). All of these musicians stopped what they were doing and bonded, forming what Page referred to as a "fifth element".

Jack White 'formed' a 'band', The Raconteurs in 2005. The Racs include Jack White (of The White Stripes), Brendan Benson (a solo artist) Patrick Keeler (of The Greenhornes) and Jack Lawrence (of The Greenhornes and Blanche). All of these musicians were doing something else, and they continue to do something else, hence the quotes around 'band' there.

Although The Raconteurs continue to exist as much as they ever did exist - they had a name, after all, and produced two records under it – Brendan Benson has a new record out soon, according to his MySpace page (warning: plays sound). The Raconteurs re-recorded their successful Old Enough with Rickie Scaggs and Ashley Monroe for a bluegrass feel. When I heard it I had no clue why they'd done it; they seem to be enjoying themselves and some people will probably buy it, sure, but it's not a move I recognize as a rock'n'roll ploy. Isn't it mixing things? Isn't it complicated and hard to find out about and…just a little casual and irresponsible?

Wait, am I too old to get it? Try again. Bands like Zeppelin aren't just called dinosaurs because they're huge. They're called that because they're extinct. Maybe Page is stuck in an outdated paradigm and can't break it. He's waiting for his band to come round again, the one that broke all the records the first time. If it's not Led Zeppelin, it won't be that thing he does. And if it's not that thing, he doesn't want it. This is so frustrating for fans that even uber-fan Steve Sauer recently said:

Screw it, Jimmy. Go ahead and tell us what your next band will be like. Forget your image. Just go out there and play some killer music already. Do it quickly before John Paul Jones and Jason Bonham slip away from your grasp once and for all. Can't you see that Michael Lee is already gone. Robert Plant's a lost cause. You can have Jones and Bonham today. Go and get them.Defending the work of Led Zeppelin is a task that is unending. But your work as Jimmy Page the artist is for a limited time only. You must act now. (From Lemon Squeezings, December 2)

On the other hand, Jack White is perfectly happy in a new paradigm, as at home in it, and possibly as unaware of what he's doing, as a dolphin swimming in the sea. It comes naturally – he's living in the musical equivalent of the gift economy.

The old model – the one based on building, breaking and milking an act – has tanked. It won't make money any more, as Bob Lefsetz' blog, among many others, will tell you. They can hardly get anyone to buy a CD anymore, and although iTunes is said to be doing well, it's only doing well in comparison. It's still not making money, except for Apple, who make the MP3 players.
Atlantic Records Says Digital Sales Trump Physical CD Revenues. What blows my mind is that the "New York Times" can write this tripe with no analysis and Websites like can repeat it. This wouldn’t have happened when Jeff Leeds was on the beat. But he’s gone. Cut off your nose to spite your face. The newspapers are good at this…To say that Atlantic is making more money from digital than from CDs is like saying Harley-Davidson makes more money off tchotchkes than motorcycles. Like HP trumpeting its printers are selling like hotcakes but its computer sales are down. Like HBO saying that they sold a ton of "Sopranos" DVDs but ten million people canceled the service.The point is, Atlantic Records is in the recorded music business. And sales at the iTunes Store are not making up for the fall-off in CDs, they’re factoring in ringtones, satellite radio, all kinds of revenue. The question is, when are they going to come up with a reasonable way to monetize music?
Live music has been trumpeted as the savior of modern music – give 'em the tunes for free and the punters will come to your concert and buy t-shirts and posters and keychains, they said. Objects which are solid, not digital, and can't be traded through the wi fi by the youngsters. But live music is tanking too. No one's ever heard of the younger bands, the older bands are tapped out and above all, the experience of going to a live concert is almost as much fun as going through airport security, except you have to buy tickets at outrageous scalped prices (tickets are distributed by a virtual monopoly) before being put through the indignity.

(See Bob Lefsetz, again, and Caroline Sullivan in The Guardian.)

The old economy is dead. The old ways of making it big have died, and dinosaur-sized bands have gone with it. The reason for keeping a recognizable brand name in the forefront of people's minds – as Jimmy Page has been doing with Led Zeppelin – has vanished. Loyalty, of band member to band member, of fan to brand-name band, of record company or manager to artist, has bitten the dust. The remaining musicians are living in, and living off, a variant of the Gift Economy.

Jem Matzan, writing at (about free software) explains it like this:
A "gift economy" is a social system in which status is given by how much one shares or gives to one's community, as opposed to an "exchange economy" where status is given to those who own or control the most stuff. In today's world we're used to the latter economic philosophy, as it has been closely affiliated with the capitalist system since at least the Industrial Revolution and the invention of the corporation. But the Industrial Age is over -- this is the Information Age now, and things are changing.
The gift economy concept does not interfere with capitalism at all, despite the general misunderstanding and mythology that surrounds it. There are already many microcosms that thrive on the concept of the gift economy, the scientific community being the most famous.
The Gift Economy pays its providers, not with money but with prestige. As you make things and provide them to others, your status grows. If you have high status, people will know your name, and buy your products. They will give you things for free – their own products. People who have something of yours feel an obligation to give something back, to you or to the community in general. Bruce Sterling has written a famous story about a Gift Economy future – Maneki Neko. Charlie Stross has written about a high-status Gift Economy individual in his successful novel Accelerando. It's a very simple model to apply to software. Eric S Raymond wrote a nonfiction book about it – The Cathedral and the Bazaar. The model has been around literally forever – in a hunter-gatherer society, the status of a hunter is based, not on the size of the antelope he kills, but on the number of his people he feeds with it. The modern variation is anarcho-communist, and has been around since at least the Situationists in the sixties. If everyone provides what they can, the model says, each person will get out of it more than they put into it.

Like software developers, musicians can now (or once again) carry their businesses with them. Gone are the days when a record company was needed to front $40K for a recording session in a multi-million dollar studio in a distant city. Pro-Tools is cheap – cheaper than Photoshop. Instruments and equipment can be bought in large, expensive emporia where you can drop thousands on a signature something-or-other, or it can be bought from some electronics genius who does some effect that some guy told you about. If someone brings their good instruments, and somebody provides the good home studio, and somebody's willing to do the mixing, if, in other words, the musicians gift each other, they can record. Distribution, which once involved mastering and vinyl distribution through dedicated chains of brick and mortar stores, can be done on the internet (largely built by hacker culture as a gift) and may not involve any pressed plastic at all. Feedback, via MySpace, blogs and fansites, is instant.
The key to the new economy, Gifford Pinchot says, is in taking pride in our contributions to others instead of taking pride in our ownership of possessions - including pride in our ownership of past glories.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Just What the World Needs...

Just what the world needs - another record label. (Attributed to Frank Zappa).

I said I'd write more on Jack White's announcement yesterday regarding his new band The Dead Weather, and Third Man, his wet photo studio, music studio, performance space and record company.

Jack's band The Dead Weather sounds interesting, a bit like The Kills with a decent drummer. The record company venture sounds more interesting, if très Marc Bolan. Alas for music, T. Rex Wax Co. ended up putting out only T. Rex material and the money was diverted offshore to a holding company that thirty years later, is still holding it. (I think his son got his first payout a couple of years ago.) Jack probably has more common sense, and the business has changed a bit since then.

[Jack said] Third Man would focus mainly on his musical projects. He aims to reissue whatever music of his own that's out of print as well as recordings that are out of circulation, and he spoke energetically about restoring some of the physical component of experiencing music that's been lost in the age of downloading and what he calls "invisible music.""Only 20% of music released during the 20th century is available right now," White said. "That's a lot of music that's getting lost."
I couldn't work out from Jack's comments in the LA Times article quoted above whether he intended to do anything about the 80% of 20th Century music that is no longer available, or he just wanted to make sure his music was immortal. The latter doesn't make sense - if 80% of music issued on vinyl last century is unavailable, then creating your own company to issue your own stuff on vinyl is not redressing the problem, it's adding to it. Duh!

He says he can record a band that comes through Nashville in the associated studio and have vinyl at the band's shows in three weeks. Faster than the old record companies, but a crawl by digital stands. Phish can play anywhere, and have the soundboard mix available as mp3 on their website in a couple of days - and there are bands trying to have CDs available as you leave the concert hall. I know Jack White doesn't like digital, but apart from a few retro students and boho basement dwellers, vinyl will continue to be a minority taste. Most people prefer to go to a gig and have the mp3, or just plain stay at home and listen to the mp3. I can see this catching on with the thrift stores and vintage clothing crowd but with most folks not so much.

I suppose the business plan assumes the money will come from the artifactual nature of vinyl – it's a manufactured object, and can't be duplicated for online free trading. (At least until 3D printers are in most houses which will take five years or so.) In that sense it's like a White Stripes matryoshka, rather than a sound recording.

I like the model of having the pressing plant just down the street. And it's great that he knows a good acetate cutter. It's a dying art and keeping it together is valuable, the same way my local mission employs a blacksmith to make stuff using 18th Century technology.

But if making music immortal is the real goal, you need get it into the Cloud. As any fool kno, dead vinyl goes to YouTube to dwell forever at Tim Berners-Lee's right hand. For example, one of Marc Bolan's influences, the wonderfully named Sleepy La Beef (Sleepy Labeef in YouTube land, for search engine purposes) can be heard playing his hit rekkid All The Time there.

It's said to be an inspiration for Jeepster.

Fight for net neutrality and fair copyright laws, folks. We could lose YouTube, you know, and without it Jack would have a lot more music needing to be saved from oblivion.

Jack White's New Band: The Dead Weather

Jack White has formed another new band. Called The Dead Weather, they debuted last night in Nashville at a launch of themselves and another set of simultaneous Jack White ventures. One is beginning to think the man is an automaton - Unstoppable Jack.

The Dead Weather
Photo by Christopher Berkley for The Times

According to the LA Times today,
Reporting from Nashville -- Jack White took the wraps off his new band here Wednesday night, launching phase three of his ever-evolving career with a 20-minute live performance by Dead Weather, fronted by the Kills singer Alison Mosshart, at the site of his new Third Man Records headquarters.

The private show, attended by about 150 invitees, took place in the downtown building that houses not only the label's offices but a performance space, a record store specializing in vinyl, a photo studio and a darkroom.
He is also close to a pressing plant and intends to be able to record bands that come through Nashville and get vinyl records pressed for them to sell at gigs within three weeks.

The new band's website is here, and comes with two tracks for your listening pleasure. Sounding much like The Kills with a good drummer, they have Hang You From The Heavens and the venerable Are Friends Electric - which used to be punctuated differently in my day - to which I guess the answer is 'yes, but not digital', at least in Jack White's world.

A less breathless-pajama'd-blogger take on this will follow later. It Made Me Think.

Update: More on Dead Weather's first gig, April 14th here and here.


Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Resurrect Your Own Osiris For Spring

It's almost spring, the time when the dead ground brings forth new life. That means it's almost Easter. At that time, the Christian God is resurrected. For the rest of us most modern rituals at this time of year involve things like coloring rabbits' eggs and putting Peeps into baskets of excelsior.


In olden days, the new life was considered to be part of a cycle. The new shoots were cause for celebration, but the death of the old plants was a cause for celebration too - you grew them to make beer and bread, after all, so their death was your life. There's a British figure that corresponds to Osiris in this way, called John Barleycorn.

Robert Burns describes his life and death. And the beer.

They took a plough and plough'd him down,
Put clods upon his head,
And they hae sworn a solemn oath
John Barleycorn was dead.

But the cheerful Spring came kindly on,
And show'rs began to fall;
John Barleycorn got up again,
And sore surpris'd them all.

If the peeps and rabbit eggs aren't doing it for you, it may be time to resurrect a god yourself. How about Osiris?

The ancient Egyptians used to resurrect Osiris using a simple technique. In Tutankhamun's tomb, in the room called the Treasury, was found a wooden frame filled with Nile silt. It had been planted with wheat seeds and watered, germinating in the tomb to symbolize the resurrection of both the god and the deceased.

In her classic book on Tutankhamun, Tutankhamen (Penguin books, 1965) Christiane Desroches-Noblecourt says:
In the south-west corner of the room, beneath several of the black chests, was a long narrow box containing a frame outlining the mummiform silhouette of the god Osiris. It contained alluvial Nile mud sown with corn. The grains had germinated in the darkness of the tomb, and had thus recreated a sprouting and new-born outline of Osiris, symbol of resurrection. Of human size, it had been wrapped in linen like a mummy.

Later she explains:

To assist the deceased to reconstitute himself and be reborn, the great silhouette of Osiris, laid flat in a coffer at the bottom of the tomb, was covered with grain which was watered. The corn soon germinated, its tender young shoots giving promise of a harvest. This magical mechanism was intended to recreate the process leading to resurrection.
Here's the original from Tutankhamun's tomb. It's a bit faded but it is several thousand years old.

To do this yourself, you need an outline of Osiris (here's one as an Excel file), some paper, some earth, and some wheat seeds, or failing that, grass seeds. You'll also need water and patience.

Print the outline and cut out the seedbed center

Put the outline on earth and sow the seeds on it. Sprinkle some more earth on top of them and water. Here the paper is held down by stones. I've laminated the paper to help it last for two weeks while being watered.

A week later, the seeds have sprouted

In less than two weeks, you have a living Osiris!

The first day of spring this year is March 20th. Easter Sunday is on April 12th.
In a city, you can get wheat and barley seeds from a beermaker's supply shop - plus ca change there.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Aquatic Wonders Part 94

Fish With Human Faces Found In Korea

It's rather cute. Shame both known fish are females - I sense a new pet phenomenon if they could be bred.

Dalek Head Found in British Pond

A team was clearing weeds from the pond.
The 42-year-old said: "I'd just shifted a tree branch with my foot when I noticed something dark and round slowly coming up to the surface. "I got the shock of my life when a Dalek head bobbed up right in front of me."
They would have had to bring out the smelling salts for me.

Don't ask me why I'm reading the Torygraph. They just came up on the news, that's all.

More aquatic news from Oceangal - the drunk-with-lost-keys fish, the transparent-headed fish and the vandalous octopus.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Pink Dolphin

Yes, it's a pink dolphin. Apparently, according to this article in the Daily Telegraph it is an albino, so the color of its blood is showing through its skin. It's so striking that tourists are being asked to keep away so it is not frightened or injured by the crowds.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

You're doing it wrong: P2P defense breach claimed

While we're on the subject of censorship and goverment limitations of the web, here's something that's NOT censorship.

Report: Pennsylvania Company Discovers Marine One Security Breach

Sensitive information about Marine One was reportedly found by Tiversa employees at an IP address in Tehran.

Tiversa CEO Bob Boback said a defense contractor in Bethesda, Md., had a file sharing program on one of their systems that contained highly sensitive blueprints for Marine One and financial information about the cost of the helicopter.

"We found a file containing entire blueprints and avionics package for Marine One," Boback said.

"When downloading one of these file-sharing programs, you are effectively allowing others around the world to access your hard drive," Boback told WPXI.
Now, any firm that allows its employees to download P2P on to work computers, or allows employees to take sensitive files to their home computers with P2P installed are, frankly, delinquent. I work for a medical company, and there's no way I could get an unauthorized program installed on my work computer. And if I put medical or business information on my home computer, they'd fire my ass inside 30 seconds. Which is exactly how it should be.

How can a defense contractor not know this?

Mind you, this is an interesting sentence from the report:
A Pennsylvania company that monitors peer-to-peer file-sharing networks discovered a potentially serious security breach involving President Obama's helicopter, Marine One, NBC affiliate WPXI in Pittsburgh reported.
Tell me again why this company, Tiversa, monitors P2P networks? Does this mean that when downloading one of these file-sharing programs, you are effectively allowing Tiversa to access your hard drive? Why yes, it does!


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