Monday, June 29, 2009

Introducing Miss Demeanour

Did you notice how Jack White introduced Alison Mosshart as Baby Ruthless in this video? If she can be Baby Ruthless, I can be feminine but transgressively-named too.

Lessee... Miss Demeanour. (Note British spelling - much more exclusive.)

Here's me as Miss Demeanour eating a packet of Horehound-flavoured spogs (behind the bike shed or somewhere similarly frowned-upon by 'the man').

Nope, that looks like me, not Miss Demeanour.

No, a bit too "Hope".

Nope, too fine art.

That's it! Xerox art, that's the mark of someone who's actually pasted a fanzine together rather than just wittered on a blog. I'll go with that. [1]

[1] Although I didn't go to the effort of finding a Xerox and making multi-gen copies. I made it in Photoshop in like two minutes. It's pulling cute antics like that which got me known as Miss Demeanour, the transgressively-named blogger.

Dancing Japanese Robots

Just that - Dancing Japanese Robots. Nothing else to say, really. I like the way they subverted my expectations, which is that all Japanese robots are masculine. The only thing that could be better is if they were to be Dancing Japanese Robots playing teh thereminz, because that would riches beyond the dreams of avarice.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Led Zepagain Live

Summer's here and the time is right. Today we headed off once more to Santa Fe Springs, which is not a cactusland spa resort in Arizona, but a swap meet in deepest Southern California, a little way up the road from Disneyland in Anaheim. I say swap meet, but it's not. When I think of a swap meet, I think of the flea market in Amsterdam I used to go to as a kid, filled with penniless hippies selling their shoes, bits of newspaper they've collected and various debris they've picked up on the road. Or I think of Brick Lane in London where sharp-tongued East Enders sell old meat-grinders and shoe-trees and boxes of random brown stuff they've found in their cellars (or other people's cellars). The Santa Fe Springs swap meet sells new clothes, shoes, belt buckles, knives, air guns and rabbits. I wasn't there for any of those things, but having a couple of hours to spare, I wandered round looking at them.

Most of the adult clothes were black, with skulls and roses. Some were candy skulls, some tattoo-artist skulls. Many of the shirts with the tattoo skulls had blades with curved spikes, like a Klingon bat'leth. Since I was a teen the main thing that's happened is the artists have spent years perfecting tattoo art. One can imagine them in junior high carving skulls and crosses on their desks with their shiny, alien-looking flick-knives. And thus we found ourselves at one point looking through not-very-official looking DVDs of bands with names like Slipknot, surrounded by teddy bears in bondage (on black t shirts), Mexican wrestlers' masks and skulls, and yet finding the usual leaf-litter of the counterculture, like Penelope Spheeris movies and Russ Meyer t-shirts underneath all of this like the grain of sand that forms a pearl. Believe me, it was hard not to buy some.

Jamie Hince of the Kills said that skulls symbolize rock. Photographic evidence backs him up. But note that Harley Davidson and curvy Klingon knife shapes are also rock and roll. (The lady's tattoo is of an eagle tearing at the eye of a skull.)

I was there to watch Led Zepagain, who play Santa Fe Springs at least once a year, and at a dollar on the door, the price is definitely right. They play three sets in a day there, although I've never actually seen the first two as getting up on Saturday morning is not my strong point. There's a fair sized stage inside a dance area with some aluminum bleacher-type seating. It fills up rapidly for a band like Led Zepagain, a mixed crowd in age and gender, mostly Hispanic, and mostly drinking beer in giant plastic tumblers labeled "BEER". (I think the labeling is so that people can be carded; the American attitude to beer and ID will remain a mystery to me forever, so I can't be sure.) It was in the high 90s F today and simply walking around the swap meet at a leisurely amble was enervating, so the chance to sit on the tiered stands under a garden shade-cloth was very welcome. Still, the sweat was pouring down my back. It hasn't been this hot where I live or work - it must have one of those Southern California outbreaks of joke weather arranged by some trickster god somewhere.

Luckily Dad had put this little girl in charge of spraying the audience with water, so we were quite comfortable.

Led Zepagain play a storming set. The four members act the parts of the four members of Led Zeppelin and their music and vocals are spot on. The effect is the same as hearing the vinyl (or The Song Remains the Same) played through a full-sized PA, with the added interest of having real people to applaud and cheer and generally react to. The band mix and match albums and years, playing a couple today that Swan, the singer, said don’t always go down well live, but today they did. (One was The Rover; I don't remember what the other one was.) Well, they all sounded perfectly fine to me. The crowd was happy and excited, and moving as much as anybody could in that heat. "Complicated music," my friend said. "Difficult time signatures and odd keys." And he's right. Led Zeppelin's music is complicated compared with modern rock. I wondered several times throughout this performance what younger people thought of it. To modern ears, Led Zeppelin's music must sound as though it can't be done live – despite the fact that Zeppelin did not use Pro Tools, Autotune or any other modern perfecting software, it does not sound rough on vinyl and the complexities of the music are scary. Led Zepagain make it sound easy. (And for those who are convinced Robert Plant used Varispeed on The Song Remains the Same – well, Swan can sing it with the same tone at the same pitch live.) We had a great time, a good singalong to Black Dog and Whole Lotta Love, and almost wrecked the bleachers (we read the notice too late that said "no jumping on the stands").

This time I didn't get away with less than one minimal erythemal dose. I burned my nose. But overall, not bad for a buck.


Friday, June 26, 2009

The Dead Weather Live at the Forum

Here's the video round up of The Dead Weather's show at the Forum in London on June 24th 2009.

Every time this band go out they get better. The first couple seemed pretty shaky, the one I went to last week vastly improved, and this one is significantly better again. It's like watching a butterfly develop right in front of you, except this butterfly is sort of dusty black with a skull and bones on each wing. And is noisy.

Actually, butterfly is probably a crap simile now I come to think about it.
Before the videos though, check out this nice review and excellent live photo collection from LiveOn35mm. Some lovely B&W photography here, with a handy how-to section at the end!

The Dead Weather will be playing Glastonbury in a few hours - Friday evening, British Summer Time time.

60 Feet Tall

Child of a Few Hours

Treat Me Like Your Mother

Hang You From The Heavens

Hang You From The Heavens (Color)

I Cut Like A Buffalo

Forever My Queen

No Hassle Night

Bone House (Color)

Sixty Feet Tall (Color)

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Manacles (not the good kind)

I work for a health care company. A few days ago I mentioned that not only does my company provide me with a BlackBerry, an item I'll end up paying for in my taxes whose only function is to make sure I'm connected to work even when I'm at home supposedly relaxing, but also with a pedometer so I can get into the health vibe thing when I'm not at work.

This week the management - that includes me, believe it or not - was reminded to consider the patient first in everything we do. Fair enough. I understand and approve of that sentiment. We were also given a Lance Armstrong-style rubber bracelet with a slogan on it and instructions to wear it to keep being reminded.

In the article a few days ago, I said they'd give me any piece of plastic with the company name on and require me to wear it if they could get away with it. I didn't expect this to come true quite so quickly.

Patients: you do come first in my mind.

Bracelet: you're in the drawer getting deprecated. Deal with it.

Copyright and King Lear

Groklaw on Shakespeare's King Lear, which wasn't entirely his, and in this day and age would be regarded as criminal copyright infringement.

Does that mean Willy wasn't a genius? Why, no. It means today's copyright laws are nonsensical.
Groklaw also goes off a bit on Jammie Thomas, the woman ordered to pay $1.92 million because her young sons (probably) uploaded a couple of dozen songs to a sharing site. That's $80,000 per song, a pay out so unreasonable it's likely to be challenged on constitutional grounds.

RIP Steven Wells, Michael Jackson and Farrah Fawcett

Oh man, what a day.

Can't say I knew much about Farrah back in the day, though I certainly saw her posters everywhere. She was the ever-present media face of my youth.

Michael Jackson was part of my music life and just about my age. I used MJ (and Madonna) as a sort of pop culture barometer about what people my age were doing. I guess what people my age are doing is dying. This isn't a good feeling. Poor Jacko.

Steven Wells I first met as one of the NME's brilliant young writers, though many people heard him first as the ranting poet Seething Wells. His loud, inventive, scathing and sweary left-wing rhetoric consistently tickled my funnybone as well as giving me food for thought. He was actually younger than me, as it happens, and now dead of Hodgkin's lymphoma.

From his last published column in the Philadelphia Weekly:

And of course all this bollocks is written by an idiot who has polished his image as an existentialist, atheist hard-man and anti-mope, forever sneering at the tribes who wallow in self-pity -- the gothers, the emo kids, the Smiths fans -- the whole 900-block-wide marching band composed entirely of the white male urban middle classes who are convinced that (as the most affluent and pampered human beings who have ever walked the planet) theirs is a story worth hearing. Blissfully unaware that they are but a few generations away from regular visits to the doctor who would wind parasitic worms from their beer bloated assholes using sticks. (Check out the AMA logos, those smiling beasts are not snakes.)

You could blame this fallacy on poor education, cultural deterioration, or simple moral decline.

Me? I blame it on sunshine. I blame it on the moonlight. I blame it on the boogie.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The Dead Weather live From The Basement - video

For those of us who missed the stream of The Dead Weather playing live From The Basement (because we were watching It Might Get Loud at the LA Film Festival), here's the video. Thanks to tireless uploaders (in this case charlesd1990) and link hunters (O'gal) for getting these to me.


I was hoping someone would seed a torrent, but I haven't seen one yet. However, here is a good quality mp4 file without logos or glitches. (LMK if the download button goes inactive.)

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Sunset Strip Trip

So, I've been to LA twice in the last week, to see a band and to see a movie. Although I only live about 60 miles south of downtown, I rarely get here. There's nothing much here I want, although I do have a hankering to go to the Getty. After all, I've lived here twenty years so I could hit the local kultcher repository about now.

Anyway, last Wednesday I drove here by the I5/101 route, more properly known by its technical name, "The Parking Lot". Still, even at 10 mph, the sight of LA city center appearing on the left hand side never fails to bring out the awe in me. I don't know why – I lived in London for twelve years, but London is differently big. It's huge and massive and hulking. LA by contrast is tall, willowy and thin, a sort of supermodel city. Seeing that group of spires clustered together in the desert landscape is a surprise and delight each time. LA makes up for the little bloom of beauty, though, by having about sixteen zillion square miles of two-storey strip malls surrounding the center.

Yes, I took a cellphone photo. Sue me.

I was going to the Roxy Theatre on Sunset Strip. The strip is a thin ribbon running horizontally along the hills to the north of LA. There's a steep drop from the road to the LA basin with all kinds of difficult-to-park-on steep winding streets leading up and down from it. The Roxy is a tiny club at the sleazy end of the strip, along with the Viper Room, the Whiskey-a-go-go, the House of Blues and the infamous Rainbow Bar and Grill, a hang out of Led Zeppelin.

The last time I visited here the nearby Continental Hyatt House was being renovated. Known as the Riot House, it was another site of infamous rock and roll mayhem on the part of Led Zeppelin in the early seventies. It's now a new hotel called the Andaz. The famous TV-hurling balconies are gone and there's no sign the new management wants anything to do with the sleazy clubs a block further down. What I hadn't realized is the even more infamous (to Led Zeppelin fans anyway) Chateau Marmont is just one block further east. When people said it's in Hollywood, I assumed the rich part – I mean, the name alone suggests that! – but it's a block up the hill from the strip. I looked for the windows from which Led Zeppelin peered in 1969, but couldn't see them from the road.

Chateau Marmont/Led Zeppelin

I could have popped in to ask which room Jimmy Page was wheeled into on a cart by the roadies, covered in whipped cream, as a treat for the groupies. Or for that matter, which bathroom it was where Jimmy Page watched a groupie get more than friendly with a few baby octopuses during her bath time.

Yes, it's the sleazy end all right.

On the plus side I racked up something like 14,000 steps on my company pedometer.

Monday, June 22, 2009

It Might Get Loud (movie, 2009)

Ah, now I can sleep. I've seen the movie, and it is good.

Warning: spoilers. I know it's not a fictional movie and I can't spoil a plot point, but it occurs to me it would be just as well to see some of these moments for the first time on screen rather than reading about them beforehand. So my advice is just go see it when it comes out but click away from this spoiler-filled review right now.

Also I turn into a hippy at the end of the review and it's not a pretty sight.

It Might Get Loud is that marvelous thing, a documentary that doesn't look like a documentary. It's founded in fact but looks like a fantasy. Guggenheim takes an unpromising premise – musicians talking about music, which was once called the equivalent of dancing about architecture - and he paints events, pictures, movies and music around it, making an impressionistic collage.

There is a structure, of sorts. The two older musicians are initially portrayed as innocents and Jack White as the villain. He's in stage villain costume, derby hat, bow tie, cigarillo in hand, driving to the showdown and talking about a possible fistfight. The meeting between them, on a soundstage in LA, is intercut with their reminiscences of how they got here. Jimmy Page gave up gigging in 1963 to become a session musician – retired, as he puts it, before jacking that in to form Led Zeppelin. The Edge grew up in a bleak, economically devastated Dublin surrounded by sectarian violence. It's hard to say how Jack White grew up because it's difficult to believe a word he says. Until, that is, he plays Son House's Grinnin' in Your Face, and it's clear that the record taught him a respect for others that is fully as passionate and genuine as The Edge's memory of personal growth inside a milieu of car bombs and drive-by shootings.

At their meeting, working without any script, or as far as I can tell question prompts, the musicians play records and chat with the usual awkwardness of total strangers. But whereas most of us at a cocktail party will meet, talk with and then leave the others without any method of connection besides small-talk, these three are musicians. They show and tell their guitars and play a little of their own material. And then they play together, and their understanding of each other goes off the scale that mere mortals use. A stand out of the movie is watching the total awe on the faces of White and The Edge as Jimmy Page, who appears on the surface to be a white-haired pensioner, plays the riff of Whole Lotta Love with the same attack and fury he did in 1969. One jaw-dropping moment for me was watching The Edge teach Jimmy Page a riff. Skeptical of his spoken explanation of the chords, Jimmy at first doesn't follow him. After a moment he begins to play along. But he doesn't watch The Edge's hands. More than half of the time he's looking intently at his face, and only occasionally glances at his fingers. That said a lot to me. (Mostly that I'd like Jimmy Page to look that deep into my eyes, but that's another story.) Watching them feel each other out is exhilarating. You can't be sure it will work, possibly because it wouldn't work in a cocktail party setting. Perhaps musicians watching this know the ending already – that it is all going to work out fine.

Jack likes broken guitars, bent necks and difficulty. He wants to struggle with his instruments. He believes it makes better music. He makes an instrument on camera from a piece of wood, a coil-wound magnet, metal string and nails. It looks like scrap and sounds like Jack White. Jimmy loves his guitar, saying it is like a woman, running his fingers over the wood and gushing over the workmanship. The Edge doesn't really notice his guitar. He fixated on the first one he found and has since concentrated on the effects units that enhance it as a tool in hewing U2's sound. Jimmy Page shows us Headley Grange and takes us around the now well-furnished interior to explain microphone positions and the science of his production work. (It's only the historical footage of him onstage with Led Zeppelin that show how much of his music comes straight from his hips – that and his reference to the crescendo in Stairway to Heaven as 'the orgasm'.) There's archival footage if him with Robert Plant, playing with a couple of dogs, having fun on the lawn at Stargroves, a magical moment that doesn't seem quite historical, more mythical, as though it were shot in Rivendell.

All of them remember primal musical moments. For Jack White it is the Son House record. He's been trying to get that feel ever since, he explains. As he plays the vinyl and sits there listening, there's a shocking shattering of the thick glass he's placed between himself and us. It's as if he'd thrown the hammer he uses so dexterously elsewhere when making his primitive guitar; the barrier's down. For The Edge it's the explosion of punk in Britain in 1976. For Jimmy Page it's the badass attitude of rock and roll. He plays Link Wray's rumble and smiles with the feeling it produces in him still, fifty years later. And when Link Wray lays on the vibrato about a foot thick, Jimmy bursts into delighted laughter and so did the entire audience at this screening. It's a wonderful moment.

A little bit of film-schooliness creeps in as Guggenheim feels obliged to give each musician a little bit of the Dark Night of the Soul. Will I make it? Am I any good? We fail to bite our nails, of course, because we know they did. The Edge breaks through his block and explains that his epiphany took place in a managed broad-leafed forest. In the film the story is accompanied by beautiful shots of the trees in their regular rows, a million identical, leaf-scarred, silver trunks. Seen at one angle it's an impenetrable thicket; seen at another, it's a series of wide lanes carpeted by tiny flowers. The way forward is suddenly as plain as the Yellow Brick Road. As a metaphor for the release from despondency and as a visual for suddenly being able to see the wood in the trees, it's quite stunning.

Near the end, although not quite near enough the end to be a perfect counterpoint to the beginning, villain Jack White is redeemed. "You have to join the family of storytellers," he explains. And so he does. He joins it as the Howling Wolf of the group, filled with mystery, darkness, violent struggle, voodoo and metaphor. Jimmy has a Tolkien story, that of the king of the final days of glory of men, before the coming of the Dark Lord. And The Edge, guileless and almost impossibly open, is a William Gibson cyberpunk, working the transistorized tools of Akihabara under the glittering city lights to bring back the passion that was once found in the wood.

Hmm, I've turned into a hippy.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Rolling Stones/Gathering Moss

It's not all hanging out with Jimmy Page, drinking expensive gin and watching dissolute rock stars radiate hot hateful sensuality around here, you know.

I work for a health care company and this month is be healthy month. For a month, we've all been given a pedometer to wear on our hips, and the goal is to walk at least 10,000 steps a day, with the top few of us at each site entering into a walk-off competition of some sort where I can win some object or other with the name of my company printed on it. I've been taking it seriously and this week I've made the 10,000 steps a day.

Usually I've been stairstepping to infinity and beyond at the gym, but on Wednesday I stepped out to see The Dead Weather instead. Leaning on a monitor guzzling alcohol didn't actually add healthy, invigorating, Chinese-made-plastic-doodad-winning steps to the gadget's counter, so it was lucky I had previously walked about half the length of Sunset Boulevard. Since I usually avoid the outside world like I avoid Shigella, I'd forgotten about the existence of Sol (the nearest star, apparently) and didn't wear sunscreen. But - the technical term for "enough sun to go pink" is "minimal erythemal dose", and I didn't reach it. That strikes me as odd in southern California in June. But never mind, the doctors make me take Vitamin D tablets anyway. Sun exposure is apparently as unpopular with doctors as it is with me these days.

Another thing I usually avoid is being beholden to work on my days off. Apparently accepting the BlackBerry was a bit like Proserpina accepting the pomegranate in Hell. Now I'm tied to work by it, and even worse, I'm gathering more bits and pieces on my hips that report back to work about my non-work habits. If they could put urine drug tests and antismoking technology into a piece of plastic with my company name on, I'd have been fitted with one already, I'm sure.

I'm gathering moss. When I was young, I used to think that "a rolling stone gathers no moss" meant that a living, quick stone was blissfully without encumbrances. Later I heard it used in a way that suggested moss was a blessing - the coat of moss is the reward, the glory of the stone, making it beautiful. I'm thinking here of a scree slope compared with a Japanese garden. But still, deep inside, I don't want the moss. Heavy and clammy and slowing me down.

Workers of the world, unite and throw away your company pedometers. (And lose the chance to beat out Jim in Accounts Payable in the big walk off.)

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Protest singers and protesting singers

I scored a used copy of Ellen Sander's Trips the other day. I think many Led Zeppelin fans will know why. Sander was the reporter on assignment from Life magazine who traveled on Led Zeppelin's plane with them and lived and worked in their company for several days on their second American tour. After noting that it was an exhausting, dehumanizing way to work, she came round to almost appreciating why their behavior failed miserably to live up to a basic human level (as she put it) and seemed almost on the edge of writing a sympathetic article when, on her last day, she stopped in to say goodbye, and two members of the band assaulted her, ripping her clothes and seriously scaring her. She shelved the planned article and couldn't bring herself to write about it for months. In the end, she wrote it up for Trips, and it's that chapter I bought the book for.

But Trips is subtitled Rock Life in the Sixties, and covers far more ground than travel with tetchy (and apparently smelly unwashed) British rock groups. Sander started out as a folkie and so the sixties to her was not a journey from segregation, cha cha heels and high school principals to Woodstock, but a saga from committed protest song lover to …. Well, Woodstock and stuff, I guess. They all ended up in the same place.

From that vantage point she has unique view on the 1965 Newport Festival. This is the one in which Dylan "went electric", an odd phrase that suggests he had a conversion on the road to Newport. He was backed by an under-rehearsed Paul Butterfield Blues Band. The story out there is that the crowd were outraged at the sound and booed. Dylan left the stage but was persuaded to come back and finish acoustically, and all ended well. But Wikipedia has some additional complexity on the matter– some people remember, for instance, that the boos were not for the electricity, per se, but because of the poor sound. Whatever, Dylan did not return to Newport for 37 years and eventually returned wearing a wig and disguise.

Ellen Sander has an additional episode that isn't in the Wikipedia article.

Never before had the antagonism between folk purists and young folk stars been more vivid. The stuffed shirts of folkdom despised the coat of many colors the young ones wore, insisted that real folk music came from and strictly adhered to traditional sources. The political people, too, were incensed that this music had turned back to songs of changes people go through with themselves, with one another, leaving protest music to seed itself. The new music to hit this festival was a Judas’ lamb and the venom was rife.
At one afternoon workshop for which Alan Lomax was the emcee, he introduced the Butterfield Blues Band with some stupid remarks about, well, they’re white and young and use electric guitars, but for what they’re worth . . . with the implication being not much—and like that. Mind you, here was a band whose key organizer hung around the south side of Chicago for years, sitting in with Muddy Waters, hanging out with James Cotton, absorbing the blues as directly as he felt and identified with them.

She says that Paul Butterfield had paid his dues and recognized the depth of the blues masters musical knowledge. He played the music with all the respect due, and turned many white kids on to the blues, helping to guarantee the older black stars some commercial success.
Albert Grossman (who also managed the Butterfield Blues Band), himself a refugee from Chicago’s folk and blues scene where he’d once run a club, was mottled with rage. Since his association with Dylan he’d grown his hair long; it fell around his full face knotty and white like seaweed transfigured by the Ajax white knight. He looked for all the world like Ben Franklin on acid and being on the Dylan trip had given him a kind of smug obscurity he wore like a banner and a shield. He was a hulking porterhouse of a man with an aura of sternness about him which broke right on the brink of some amazing private scheme the music-biz monarch always seemed to be concocting. But when Grossman heard Lomax’s introduction for the Butterfield Blues Band he blew his everloving cool.
As Lomax turned to leave the stage, Grossman strode over toward the steps to meet him and he was fit to be tied. “That was the dumbest introduction I have ever heard!” he said, leveling Lomax with blood in his eye. Nobody was sure who shoved first but in an instant they were both on the ground, these two old men, rolling around in the mulch, punching each other out, arch symbols of the polarities in the musical tug of peace of the time, scrapping big brawny brats on the ground.
Who knew that folkies had so much hatred in their hearts? The book is a fascinating read. It's long out of print but is available through the usual resellers.

Writing, unplugged - or what I did at the Dead Weather show yesterday

The Dead Weather, Roxy Theatre June 17th 2009

I got to the Roxy Theatre in time to hear the strains of sound-checked Treat Me Like Your Mother pounding out through the flat black walls. Southern California is good at make-believe – it is the local specialty after all. Films, Disneyland, Universal Studios, Ripley's Believe It or Not – but when applied by the amateur, you can see the joins. In the case of the Roxy Theatre, painting it flat black does not necessarily make it phew rock 'n' roll – at least not in the daylight. And LA has PLENTY of daylight. Illusions whimper and die under the glare of the sun. We're just across the road from Hustler headquarters, which sells vanilla lingerie from bored looking mannequins in the windows and promises videos (not DVDs, videos). There are walk-of-fame style handprints outside. I read them on the way here. One is the handprint of Jenna Jameson. Think where those hands have been. Small hands, pointed fingers. Like an Orc.

The sound check has a deep and throaty rumble, like a muscle car. Leg pipes roar. It's working well, firing on all cylinders, though the band stops regularly, presumably to point out sound problems to their Homepride Fred roadies with their hats and suits.

I Cut Like A Buffalo booms out. That's Jack, all right. Hang You From the Heavens follows, Alison singing on that one. They're all here for the sound check, taking this seriously. Jack White had said that he wanted to tour the south for a lot of gigs, get used to things, wear it in, hone the edge and stuff but the internet had ruined that. I'm not sure how the internet ruined it – I live there, and it didn't say anything to me about ruining things for Jack White, but he comes from a different space from me. This sound check is a full blown rehearsal. I've never heard anyone take one so seriously. Rumor is Jimmy Page was coming tonight, so maybe there's some pressure.

I'm writing this stuff in a journal with a pen and paper and it occurs to me that while The Dead Weather is inside doing what it does, I'm outside doing what I do – writing – except given the nature of my venue I'm doing an acoustic set. I haven't written unplugged for years. It's taking a toll. I have painful dimples in my writing calluses and my pen is about to give up the ghost. Poor me, trapped away from my toys.

A tour photographer turns up (with a yellow wristband for his camera) and photographs the Roxy's sign. He takes a picture of a typical Dead Weather fan, which apparently isn't me but a young couple clad in black, no logos. He gets a picture of the Dead Weather marquee (mostly made out of masking tape – the Roxy seems to be short on pre-fab letters) about five seconds before it's replaced with the next band. There's two shows on tonight, so the Dead Weather are history even before we get into the venue.

Men in Homepride costumes come out and argue a few line-jumpers away from the entrance to the Roxy's minuscule parking lot. I turn to see them jump back in their bus still in perfect Homepride formation, and behind the tinted windows of the bus I can see the sphinx silhouette of Little Jack. Once they're out, we're in. The poor put-upon support band gets about five minutes for a check and then we're into the auditorium, which holds about 800. Although I'm about twentieth in line, a momentary dither as I walk into the dark unknown means I don’t get a stage position. I adopt the octopus technique, putting my hand on the stage (it's at thigh height) and then oozing up my own arm until I'm miraculously sitting on the stage. It's worked before, and it worked again.

The sound system gets into Lyle pleasing mode immediately by playing NWA's Gangsta, Gangsta. Crisp, lovely drum sound with a shattering snare, driving bass, stunning Dr. Dre production, Easy E's cool vocals. Excellent song that hits all the chakras and makes the body sway. The acoustics here are outstanding. We're in a venue the size of my front room with a stage you could trip over, about to watch people you would normally see at a festival with a ten foot security pit in front of the stage.

I order a gin from the extraterrestrial waitress. She must be. How else is she going to find me in a crowd with a drink for me? Ten bucks for a gin. I haven't had a drink in four years. Let's see what this does. I talk to the woman who's facing the stage as I sit on it, facing out. She told me her name, and of course I've forgotten it. (Edit: Sherry, or Sherri. Hi, if you're reading this.) She's so pleased I'm writing in a journal. Something tangible, she says, echoing Jack White's recent comments about "tangible music" (music on vinyl as opposed to mp3).

The curtain rises. The stage has two sides; the Little Jack side and the front. I'm at the Little Jack side and so I can see the front row of the audience as well as I can see the band. It wasn't till the next day I found out the opening band's name. Mini Mansions. Three pieces – a keyboard player, who looks like an Osmond Brother, a guitarist who doubles as a drummer, playing a snare and tom-tom arrangement standing up, and a bassist who is a thrashing demon from hell with about 20 effects pedals in a tic-tac-toe board at his feet. The harmonies are marvelous, beautiful Beatle-ey songs which are mostly without guitar because the guitarist puts it down and hits the drums harder than I thought possible. For one song he plays slide guitar and between the melody and the harmony it seems Syd Barrett's Pink Floyd is alive again. Then the band slide into Blondie's Heart of Glass, the sublime power-pop song now with fuzz bass guitar driving it into a feedback frenzy. Good stuff.

The curtain falls for a brief moment and we all get chance to listen to Blank Generation, the Richard Hell and the Voidoids tune that charmed me around the year Jack White was born. I order a second gin. The ET waitress finds me again. There's no lights in the auditorium – just the beer light to guide us – and so the light show is provided by the audience checking their calls, the lambent screens of their cells glowing into existence one by one all over and extinguishing as they finish, great slow glow worms moving around the audience in a pretty random walk.

The curtain rises again and The Dead Weather are in front of us. The stage is well lit. There are no strobes or color spots or moving twirling shit, leaving the entire band visible along with the first row of listeners. There's stage fog, of course, making the cramped, flat black place feel like a showcave filled with tourist breath (except it's warm in here). Jack's at the back with his drumskin showing the Brides of Dracula. Little Jack's a yard away from me with an abbreviated pedal board - at least compared with the bassist before him. Alison's a skinny figure in the middle pacing and glaring out with Iggy-level intensity, and Dean's on the far side with his guitar, his keyboards behind him.

Now, I mentioned writing is what I do, the same as music is what The Dead Weather does. But while it's okay for DW to play music in front of me, it's not okay for me to write in front of them. There's a social contract here. If they play the part of a band, I have to play the part of an audience. Audiences don't scribble in little books, they nod appreciatively and clap and say "Whooo!" I'm failing in my role. Enormous social pressures briefly load up and I put my book away. So I have nothing contemporaneous to say about DW's set. The notes were taken later. Isn't that odd how we play our assigned part?

They played a similar set list to those of the preview shows this month – I Cut Like a Buffalo, Treat Me Like Your Mother, 60 ft Tall, Will There Be Enough Water. There's an mp3 of the show already uploaded and I will listen to that later and revise this. The encore was Hang You From the Heavens and Dylan's New Pony.

Little Jack has a giant white Gretsch bass guitar the size of Moby Dick, and a wedding ring. How cute. He got married a few weeks ago. I wonder if it feels different, playing with an unfamiliar ring on your finger. He's probably the most self-contained man in Christendom. I was four feet away from him and could see his eyes focused at infinity, the place where music happens, instead of individual faces, the place where influence happens. He never looks at individuals, and that seems to be a DW trait, at least the men.

Alison Mosshart wore skinny black jeans, gold boots, a black t and a blue top. She's filled with nervy energy, jumping on the monitors, pacing and whirling. During the encore she lay on her back, still projecting brooding intensity. The puritanical atmosphere of LA must have broken her chain-smoker nerve, though, because she turned her back to smoke.

I saw a front row Egyptian Queen, kohl eyes and jet hair transfixed as Alison balanced on a monitor and touched her head. I remember Alison looking at me, and a sharp jolt of Medusa venom firing into my flesh, freezing the skin on my face, leaving me wondering if I could fight or if I should just submit and turn to agate. The choice was taken from me as she looked away and I was allowed to revert.

Jack wore black and a cheery scowl. Hey, it's Jack. He was the only one to address the audience and that was a "Hello LA wherever you are!" type comment. Someone shouted "We love you, Jack!" and he replied, "I love you too, baby, unless you mean the other Jack." Which it could well have been, as the other Jack is LJ, who really does get a lot of well-deserved love from the audience. Big Jack is imposing (more like an ox than a buffalo), good-looking and possibly the most gifted guitarist of his generation, but didn't knock me dead with his star quality, which was unexpected. The camera loves him, and I thought he had that in person too.

Dean had a giant Gretsch as well. He has a great deal of charisma but he wasn't using it and may not actually know where the on-switch is.

Later on, during Will There Be Enough Water, I really thought the band gelled. That's the song where Jack was on guitar and Little Jack played drums. The Jacks looked into each other's eyes, shared the vision and acted as one entity. Jack White has plenty of rhythm. When he plays rhythm guitar with Meg White he swings, Meg follows, and our bodies move with it. It's perfect – and I mean perfect. The White Stripes have produced the best jumping-around music of this decade. When he's behind the drums, he doesn't reverse that flow and do the same for TDW. This will get better with practice. Right now it's an issue. Oh, and I was behind Alison, looking towards Dean, and I could see they aren't actually close enough to drink beer out of each other's mouths as they sing. His guitar solo, which he made look effortless, was a stone cold killer.

Verdict? They're better than 95% of bands. But then again, pace Sturgeon's Law, most bands are better than 95% of bands. Did I enjoy myself? Fuckin' A.

They're not doing themselves any favors by avoiding their best instruments. Yes, restrictions produce better art blah blah but equally one can argue that virtuosos produce better art too. Dean's guitar playing was always good, rarely great. His keyboard work is better. Jack's drumming is competent. Turning the band around to put Jack on lead guitar and LJ on drums produced a notable improvement, so that tells you something. Either way, The Dead Weather is hard to dance to.

Alison's vocals are a stand out. She has a powerful presence that knocked the men in the audience for six and did a number on the women (including me). She's got star quality and if time anneals the rhythm section, I think The Dead Weather has it made.

As I was walking back to the parking lot, I heard a guy lean out of a cab and shout to a pedestrian, "I just saw The Dead Weather!" The man asked, "How were they?" and taxi man said, "Awesome! Better than the Raconteurs!"

No torrent that I know of but here is an mp3 download of the show.

Set list was (from the NME)

'60 Feet Tall'
'Treat Me Like Your Mother'
'Bone House'
'You Just Can't Win'
'So Far From Your Weapon'
'Child of a Few Hours'
'Rocking Horse'
'I Cut Like a Buffalo'
'No Hassle Night'
'Will There Be Enough Water'
'Forever My Queen'
'Hang You From The Heavens'
'New Pony'

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

It Might Get Loud at Los Angeles Film Festival

Both Jimmy Page and Jack White are in Los Angeles. Jimmy's mentioned in Ross Halfin's ever interesting diary here. Jack White plays the Roxy on Sunset Strip today, Wednesday, and Conan O'Brien on Thursday.

It Might Get Loud premieres at the LA Film Fest on Friday the 19th.

Ya think they might both be there? I'm thinking yes.

Annoying if so, because I'm not going to see It Might Get Loud until the Monday showing. Ah well, I went to Jimmy's last film premiere - The Song Remains the Same - in London so I can't feel too left out.

The LA Film Fest is odd to me. I live 60 miles south of LA and I've never heard of it before this year, although pretty much everyone talks about Sundance at every available opportunity. LA, I probably don't need to tell you, is a movie town. Everyone talks movies all the time. It's a major employer and the source of a lot of liquidity in the economy. Our local paper, the LA Times, has devoted many column inches recently to an HIV outbreak amongst the adult film performers and the efforts of OSHA (the Occupational Safety and Health regulatory body) to mandate the wearing of condoms. Campaigning for safe work places in the city is a staple of local papers, of course, but LA being a movie town, instead of hard hats on construction sites, we have articles explaining the term "bareback", why it is in demand and why it is dangerous. The paper constantly has stories on the movie industry.

And yet I've never heard of LA Film Fest until this year. The LA Times' cut-out-n-throw-away section on the LA Times Book Festival was significantly thicker than last weeks' one on LA Film Fest. Dunno why.

Smile (BBC)
Anyway, I'm going to it. But I will be missing Jimmy Page's characteristic radiant smile and Jack White's characteristic scowl on the red carpet. Damn and blast.


Saturday, June 13, 2009

It's what’s the deal were dealin’ in

Personally, I think torturing prisoners is a bad idea because if you do it, then Al Qaeda might as well win, since it means you're as bad they are. Realizing that's not a conclusive argument for everyone, some of whom would rather be evil than slightly scared, I present a round-up of people giving another reason why it's a bad idea. It doesn't work. The people saying it doesn't work aren't J Random Commie or Johnny Arab, either. They're the CIA, the FBI, American army bods, US government officials and so forth.

It's a handy cut-out 'n' keep guide to why it shouldn't be in the interrogation arsenal.

Washington's Blog: Why We Need Torture to Keep Us Safe

Title from Frank Zappa's The Torture Never Stops.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Pitchfork Culture

Velcro City Tourist Board has two links today which were not proposed as similar in any way - in fact Paul Raven didn't even comment on them - but seem somewhat akin.

In Search and Destroy Engines, h+ magazine discusses the phenomenon of internet lynch mobs. Starting off with a cat-torture story and the perpetrator's come-uppance, it presents lynch mobs as an exciting and just emergent property of the web.
Wang Jue was going through a difficult time in her life, feeling distraught and powerless. She connected with cameraman Li Yuejun and together they committed an extremely sadistic act, unforgivable and senselessly violent. William Gibson says the "The street has its own use for things." The Internet decided that Yuejun and Jue would pay.
Shortly after the video was uploaded, enraged masses mobilized online to find her. Traditional media was then alerted and joined in the hunt. Less than a week later, volunteer cyber sleuths were able to discover her location by analyzing the background of the video. Then they matched the shoes worn in the video to an online purchase. With this information they uncovered her identity and address. These details were posted online and she was attacked with thousands of phone calls and threats. She was mercilessly shamed, lost her job, and was forced to post a video apology online where she acknowledged her actions and asked for forgiveness.

In Reports of my death, Wired looks at a few of the stranger cases where an internet denizen has gotten hirself into some sort of a corner where the only way out is to fake hir death. This seems to be done to evoke sympathy and can be done slowly in posts of increasing medical complexity, in which the poster apparently develops a wasting disease and fades away to the sad goodbyes of hir online friends. (Incidentally, I loved the line "She introduced numerous other similarly-afflicted characters, known by medical professionals as "sock-puppets" - it's not actually a medical term, but an internet term, one I'm quite familiar with.) Apparently, tired of being fooled by these Lord Lucans of the Interwebs, groups have formed to investigate 'deaths' and determine if they are genuine.

In many of the cases, it seems that once the lynch mob (see above) has outed the faker, the faker feels the need to come back to the internet and explain why they did it. That's the most puzzling part to me - if I ever felt the need to kill my online self I can't imagine doing the "Hah! Only fooling!" part. How hard can it be to stay away from the old haunts? Judging by the article, the answer is very hard indeed.
A LiveJournal community, known as fake_lj_deaths, has more than 6,000 members committed to investigating suspicious "deaths" reported on the social networking site. The sleuths are motivated by a desire to spare credulous readers the all-too-real grief and bereavement over the imaginary passing of a sometimes-imaginary friend. "I would venture only one in ten deaths that we are asked about turns out not to be fake," said Anne Soffee, the moderator of fake_lj_deaths, the community that has investigated, and exposed, hundreds of such frauds.

The h+ article is the real toughie. It's hard to care what happens to cat torturers - two examples in the article - and only a little easier to care what might befall an adulterer whose wife committed suicide while he was with his mistress (another example). The internet lynch mobs found them all very quickly and made their lives hell.

But there's a word missing from the paragraph above, and it's "allegedly". Alleged cat torturers, in a civilized society, should be subject to due process, not a program of calls to their employers and friends. But the internet, home of the flash mob, doesn't wait for evidence, and the style of communication - the length of a tweet or a few words in IM - does not allow for evidence, or even reflection and equivocation. If someone is 'seen' torturing a cat on a YouTube video, they are presumed guilty - and of course I have to point out that Stephen Spielberg really had dinosaurs acting in Jurassic Park.

To make matters worse, as one of the commenters points out, the internet is non-local, so people with a cultural or personal tendency to lynch others can easily 'meet' like people and form the mob. The critical mass needed to find and hang someone in the past may have been difficult to drum up, but is easily gathered in cyberspace. And once riled, there may be no easy way to calm that mob down.

It makes me feel like dancin'

Bob Lefsetz talks about the Sasquatch guy who got everyone dancing, in this video.

Guy Starts Dance Party:
He’s dancing alone. For almost twenty seconds. And rather than being right down front, where everybody can see him, he’s in Siberia, on the side of the lawn, way in the back.

Those two geeks dance together for fully thirty seconds, not needing more people to continue. Then, a guy looking like Dan Schneider, the fat kid on "Head Of The Class", comes down and joins them. THIS is not a party you want to attend by mainstream parameters. These are geeks, they’re to be ignored!

But twenty five seconds later, new dancers join in. They were not recruited, were not sent text messages, were not victims of promotional e-mails they didn’t sign up to get, rather they joined purely on the desire to be a part of the fun!

Suddenly, a handful of seconds later, it’s a party. Then people are RUNNING to join in. By the two minute mark, it’s a CONFLAGRATION! It’s the highlight of the gig! People don’t want to be left out, they’re trampling others to join in!

This is the arc of an act’s career today.

You’re doing your own thing, seemingly in the wilderness, with the goal that a spark ignites others to join in. Your main sales point is the fact that you’re doing it. It’s not about marketing, new media just allows the word to spread faster if you catch fire.
Bob Lefsetz' unique insights into quality, apprenticeship and the way to spread the word about yourself in the modern world have taught me a lot. He's convinced that you have to put in 10,000 hours of whatever it is you do before you're an expert and can do that thing naturally, spontaneously and well. I'm sure it's not what most people want to hear these days...but on the other hand, many of the same people who want instant success seem to be able to manage thousands of hours of Guitar Hero or World of Warcraft without feeling the time was wasted.

Not Just Whistling Dixie

There are a few beliefs which can reliably cause arguments on teh internets. Writing about the plural of 'octopus' for instance, will get any party started. Creationism and evolution do very well. Calling your opponent a Nazi is so common and so well known that there's a law about it - Godwin's Law, which states that as any thread lengthens, the probability of someone comparing someone else to Hitler approaches one.

A lesser known but very amusing argument is the one comparing Joan Baez' version of The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down with The Band's version.

The Band, writing about the Civil War, sing:
Back with my wife in Tennessee, when one day she called to me,
Virgil, quick, come see, there goes Robert E. Lee!

Joan Baez, for unknown reasons sings:
Back with my wife in Tennessee, when one day she said to me,
Virgil, quick, come see, there goes the Robert E. Lee!

The use of the definite article is, how shall I put this, incorrect. One does not use 'the' with a proper name in that kind of sentence. The usage gives the impression she's singing about the Robert E. Lee, a steamboat, star of the song Waiting for the Robert E. Lee.

Recently, this surfaced on rec.arts.sf.written. People staked out most of the usual positions.

1. Joan Baez heard it incorrectly and sang it in good faith
2. Joan Baez couldn't speak English properly
3. Joan Baez thought it was a song about a steamboat
4. It's perfectly correct to use "the" with Robert E. Lee! You can say, "Are you the Lyle Hopwood?" And people nowadays call Donald Trump "The Donald"! Duh!

The last two are the most amusing, really, aren't they?

Always good for a debate, that song.

The indefinite article has caused problems too. Look at the retconning of "One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind". Apparently, when asked in 1971 whether the tape was voice-activated and had simply choked off the "a" before "man", Armstrong replied, 'We'll never know."

I'm sure if he doesn't, no one does.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Word Usage Quiz

Guess what the word means! A quiz to test your knowledge of neologisms.

I got 14/15 which apparently makes me "smarter" than average. Not sure that's quite the right word, but then I would say that, wouldn't I?

More Dead Weather News

There is an outstanding article in Black Book Mag on The Dead Weather. Nice picture. So nice in fact I'll reproduce it here.

photo from black book mag
The mystery of the blonde hair on Jack's arm is not revealed but I assume it's a fur stole that Alison's wearing. I note Jack White is fondling Little Jack's boots. Good move. I'd do the same if I were in his position.
In the article JW comes across as rather more introspective than previously. So does Alison Mosshart, I believe. A couple of interesting word choices too. "Sexual liberation" seems to be the extremely negative phrase Christians and conservatives use where I'd use "sexual revolution". I see the first page of the Google search has quite a lot of stuff on the Illuminati's effect on the purity of our precious bodily fluids, how commies are ruining our women etc. Sexual revolution has few such connotations.
Set your clocks: The Dead Weather will be shown live on From the Basement on June 22nd.

Here is a source of White Stripes boots[1]: I downloaded the live covers. That should keep me going for a few days.
[1] Boots, or bootlegs, being recordings of independent origin, not officially-released material which has been pirated.

A picture worth a hundred lives

Here's an excuse for a picture of a robust young Robert Plant and also to advertise a Brazilian charity.
Not only does Jimmy Page support poor children in Brazil via his ex-wife Jimena's ABC charity, but the photographer of the first Led Zeppelin gig in Australia, Ted Harvey, does also.

The Northern Rivers Echo has the photo in an article about his charitable efforts, which are supported by income from his Led Zeppelin photographs.

It seems almost too bizarre to be true, but a performance by Led Zeppelin at the Sydney Showgrounds in 1972 is now responsible for feeding and educating children in the slums of South America.

Ted Harvey was a freelance photographer who managed to score himself a press pass to the legendary gig and he now sells prints, posters and T-shirts of his images to support the work of a child development centre called Clubinho Viva Vida in Farol, northern Brazil.

“I heard about a baby boy abandoned in the Farol area,” Ted said. “He’d been dumped on a rubbish tip and rats had started to eat his toes and his back… He was found and taken to hospital and was in intensive care for three months.”
Unfortunately there's no contact address for Clubinho Viva Vido. However it's an interesting article, mostly about early Zeppelin rather than rats, and there's a great photo to go with it, at the link.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

T Bone's Paralysis

The wonderful PowerPop blog tells me something I didn't know. In Genius is Pain, or something, I learn that the Legendary Stardust Cowboy's phenomenal psychobilly ditty Paralyzed features T Bone Burnett on drums.

I'm very familiar with Paralyzed. (If you're not, there's a link at PowerPop to stream it for your edumacative needs. Be careful before partaking of the mp3, as it's quite likely to be a shock.) I first heard it on Kenny Everett's World's Worst Wireless Show, a 1977 confection in which Kenny played hour-long slabs of really, really, terrible, misguided, misfiring music. I listened to all the shows all the way through with my then boyfriend, and it being 1977 and all, and us being young and not exactly in an unaltered state of mind, it was quite amusing.

In those days (you youngsters) we'd tape the radio with a microphone, and so our tapes included the odd bout of strangled laughter. For Paralyzed, however, there was nothing but mystified, respectful silence. In the end, it came only third in Kenny's league table, being outvoted by Zarah Leander's Wunderbar (which I can barely remember) and Jimmy Cross' I Want My Baby Back, a teen-angst-death-car tune that was truly sick-making and probably deserved to win if only for trying to be funny in a staggeringly unfunny genre.

Paralyzed, on the other hand, was a work of mad genius, in the vein of Wild Man Fischer (except moar in every dimension). I couldn't tell you why T Bone Burnett, now the highly respected producer, the man who made Robert Plant famous (with Alison Krauss) and the man who made Jack White famous (with Cold Mountain), decided to produce and play drums on three of The Legendary Stardust Cowboy's fifteen minutes of fame, but I can tell you it sounds more like a drumkit being thrown down a stone staircase than someone actually trying to perform music. In that respect, it matches the other instrumentation.

Once I came to the States, I learned that the vanishingly few clever things that British DJ's did were ripped off American DJs (as always, the exception being John Peel), including playing terrible songs. Despite that, I really miss Kenny Everett, who had a joyous relationship with sound, sampling and radio fun. Listening to Paralyzed brings a little of it back.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

It Might Get Loud sooner rather than later

I gots my ticket to the LA Film Festival showing of It Might Get Loud in a couple of weeks. Ask me if I'm looking forward to it.

Here's a new still from the film, taken from Monsters and Critics (link broken). I've ensmallened it to avoid appearing as though all I do is rip off photos. There are many more at M&C, and all are very large bitmaps. Yes, pics of both Jimmy Page and Jack White, both looking great.

Jack's apparently showing us how to build a guitar-type thing out of nails and bottles and a fencepost. I once built one out of mahogany, rosewood, maple and fretwire, but I probably didn't make as good use of it as Mr. White.

You can watch the new trailer here.

Can't wait!

Contact the Festival Ticketing Center for passes, tickets and event information by calling 866.FILM.FEST (866.345-6337) or visit Festival Passes and tickets can also be purchased in person beginning on Friday, June 12 at the Festival Ticketing Center located at 1038 Westwood Blvd.


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