Sunday, November 04, 2012

Dada poetry

George Melly (for it is he) the rambunctious jazz man and the author of seminal Pop Culture book Revolt Into Style, was a fan of Surrealism as well as The Joint Is Jumping.

This saved his life one time, when faced with a gang of Manchester youths ready to give him a kicking, he realized that he could neither fight them successfully nor outrun them, and instead went Full Dada, and recited the poem by Kurt Schwitters called Ur-Sonate. Now "recite" is a rather bland word for performing a Dadaist poem. Here's Schwitters' own version:


The gang slunk away, unwilling to take on a madman. That performance is of course unavailable on record, but George Melly recorded it for Morgan Fisher's Miniatures, and here is Melly's version.

Dadaism seems to have played a large part in British pop music - Bernie Rhodes, the Clash's manager, was a fan, and famously so was Malcolm McLaren, the instigator of the Sex Pistols. Of course, I think that has something to do with English music generally being developed at art school, rather than, say, while picking cotton on the Mississippi Delta.

I'm currently reading the very entertaining (and more in-depth than you might think) Led Zeppelin: The Oral History of the World's Greatest Rock Band by Barney Hoskyns, and early on in it, Chris Dreja (of the Yardbirds) points out that the British blues boom began in Surbiton (and Epsom and Ripley, which is the same thing) which is the most middle class of all middle class areas (English middle class being the US upper middle class - it is distinct from working class), and not only that but the famous names were associated with Kingston art school, where Jimmy Page went.  Jeff Beck mustn't have gone himself - it was his sister who attended and mentioned Jimmy to him. Chris Dreja goes on to say:
One of the great things the British government did was start this arts stream for selective children - and it wasn't hard to get in. Kingston was terribly relaxed, run by a guy called Dyson and a younger arts master whom we completely wrapped around our finger. It all came out of that art school semi-intelligentsia - that's where the southern blues thing kicked off. I mean, we weren't that intelligent, but we were given a chance in that system. 
Melly and Led Zeppelin's paths eventually crossed when Melly performed De Joint is Jumping (or something similar) for Led Zeppelin during the launch of their label Swan Song in 1974. The band held what was by all accounts a debauched romp on Halloween at Chislehurst Caves[1], with Melly dressed as a nun and a slew of naked girls. This has nothing to do with Dada, but I thought I'd mention it.

[1] Chislehurst and Epsom being exactly the same thing to this Northerner. FWIW, two of Led Zeppelin, Bonham and Plant, came from the Midlands, which is definitely not Middle Class. Later in the book someone mentions that the joke about the area was that everyone worked in the Iron and Steel Industry - the wife irons and the husband steals. 

No comments:


Blog Widget by LinkWithin
I sometimes mention a product on this blog, and I give a URL to Amazon or similar sites. Just to reassure you, I don't get paid to advertise anything here and I don't get any money from your clicks. Everything I say here is because I feel like saying it.