With a picture of Berlin dadaist John Heartfield shouting on the cover, you might think the Leeds righteousness brigade would be back with another set of finger-wagging dark prophecies: Even their 1997 get-drunk, get-really-drunk hit “Tubthumping” was about how getting drunk only postpones a confrontation with hegemony. That’s certainly what the sleeve notes offer, carefully explaining which particular social injustice each song addresses. The performances, on the other hand, are rich, layered, musically finished, emotionally unresolved. Often built around tiny vocal samples from U.K. folk musicians—the repetitions are like bird calls, or sounds in a dream that you can recognize but not name—the best numbers seem to float back to a time when their promises were made, to escape our time, where everyone knows the promises were never meant to be kept. That sense of regret, or damnation, is never erased; it’s suspended. The longing from the late Lal Waterson in “Salt Fare, North Sea” is about betrayal, but also about a refusal to give up; “All in Vain” is about defeat, but too beautiful to be final. All across this record, the band sets snares for itself, but the musicians, whom they have appropriated to valorize their quest for what Berlin dadaist George Grosz called “the big no,” refuse to let them step in their own traps.
2. Cherish, directed by Finn Taylor (Fine Line)
Or, Last Night a DJ Took My Life. With Robin Tunney as the life, Brad Hunt as the DJ and Liz Phair as the meanie you always knew she was.
3. Randy Newman, Good Old Boys (Reprise/Rhino reissue, 1974)
Newman’s elegant album about the white South in a time of confusion: Martin Luther King was dead and Richard Nixon was president; people could still convince themselves nothing would ever change, even though they understood nothing would ever change back. Newman’s original idea was an entire album in the voice of one white Birmingham steelworker. That is here as a second disc, a solo demo session called Johnny Cutler’s Birthday, recorded in early 1973. It is rough and blasted. “Louisiana 1927″ is like a comic strip by Vermeer on Good Old Boys and like an editorial from the New Orleans Times-Picayune as part of Johnny Cutler—and more convincing. Newman sits at his piano, talking to his producer; what comes across is an artist in a bad mood, his misanthropy and self-loathing undisguised, his sense of humor something to use and throw away, like a cigarette butt.
4. Peter Bradley, MP (Labour, The Wrenkin), Early Day Motion, House of Commons (May 22)
Motion: “That this House pays tribute to the legendary Arthur Lee, also known as Arthurly, frontman and inspiration of Love, the world’s greatest rock band and creators of Forever Changes, the greatest album of all time; notes that following his release from gaol he is currently touring Europe; and urges the honourable and especially Right honourable Members to consider the potential benefit to their constituents if they were, with the indulgence of their whips, to lighten up and tune in to one of his forthcoming British gigs.”
5. The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928), directed by Carl Theodor Dreyer, original score played by the Buenos Aires Symphonic Orchestra with the National Polyphonic Chorus of the Blind, conducted by Santiago Chotsourian, Teatro Colsn, Buenos Aires (June 2)
Southern Tip writes: “For the second time this fall, the grand Buenos Aires opera house turns into the best movie theater imaginable—velvet box seats, a quiet audience and a chance to see restored prints of G. W. Pabst’s Pandora’s Box and Dreyer’s The Passion of Joan of Arc with live orchestral accompaniment. The conductor must have a little screen in the pit with him because every time someone opens a door or strikes a bell, the sound from below is right on the mark. In Joan of Arc it’s Renée Falconetti’s gorgeous face that is so astonishing. Even before they cut all her hair off—an act that in this film is as shocking and violent as burning her alive—you wonder how Falconetti (who died in Buenos Aires in 1945) survived her own performance. It makes complete sense that she never made another movie again. How could she when I can barely imagine seeing another movie?”
6/7. Bartleby, directed by Jonathan Parker (Outrider) and Ralph Rumney, The Consul: Contributions to the History of the Situationist International and Its Time—Conversations with Girard Berriby, translated from the French by Malcolm Imrie (City Lights)
Yes, Crispin Glover is believable as the clerk whose purposeful withdrawal from work, passive resistance to termination and finally refusal to vacate his office even after the concern that hired him has vacated the premises slowly drives his boss David Paymer mad—as he is as Adolf Hitler, as Bartleby appears in one of Paymer’s nightmares. Not that the tale, which in its present-day setting owes as much to Mike Judge’s 1999 film Office Space as to Herman Melville’s 1856 short story, can’t play differently in real life. “One evening, during our time at Canterbury when I taught art, I was a bit worried because one of my students had barricaded himself inside a kind of shelter he’d made out of his canvases,” the late painter Ralph Rumney (1934-2002) recalls in ruminations over his travels with the European avant-garde. “He refused to come out or to communicate. Despite my superiors’ wanting to call the police and the student psychiatric services, I got an agreement that we would do nothing until the next morning on the grounds that he might see things differently after a night’s sleep. Michhle [Bernstein, with Rumney and others a founder of the revolutionary artists’ group the Situationist International in 1957, and Rumney’s second wife], had told me the solution was simple: I had only to give him Melville’s Bartleby to read and everything would sort itself out during the day. Which is exactly what happened.” Bernstein knew how terrifying the story really is.
8. Charley Patton (1891?-1934), Screamin’ and Hollerin’ the Blues: The Worlds of Charley Patton (Revenant), con’t.
Sausalito Slim writes: “I’m avoiding trying to totally rewrite yet another piece for the Great Metropolitan Newspaper (they now want only ‘interview-based’ record reviews, whatever that’s supposed to mean. Me: ‘So, Neil Young, how come your new album sucks?’ NY:click). They held on to my Charley Patton piece for six months, then rejected it after the box set didn’t win a Handy Award, because it wasn’t ‘newsworthy.’ And Revenant said they couldn’t set up a phoner with Patton because he’s been hanging with Mingus lately, and he’s convinced him that letting the white man call him ‘Charley’ is demeaning.”
9. Hobart Smith, “The Coo Coo Bird,” from Songcatcher II: The Traditions That Inspired the Movie (Vanguard)
These selections from 1960s Newport Folk Festival performances make it plain that Doc Watson was one of the dullest traditional singers ever to record and that Hobart Smith, a Saltville, Va., banjo player who died in 1965, was one of the most fierce. Surrounded here by Dock Boggs, Clarence Ashley, Fiddlin’ Arthur Smith and Roscoe Holcolmb, he sounds as if someone or something has set him on fire, as if his only chance to escape is to run right out of his own skin.
10. “R. Kelly, R&B Star, Is Indicted on Child Sex Charges” (New York Times, June 6)
“Chicago, June 5 — R. Kelly, the Grammy-winning R&B singer, was indicted today on 21 counts of child pornography after the authorities said he made a sexually explicit videotape with an underage girl that has been selling in bootleg versions on street corners across the country… In a statement released this afternoon by his Los Angeles lawyer, Mr. Kelly said, ‘Even though I don’t believe any of these charges are warranted, I’m grateful that I will have a chance to establish the truth about me in a court of law.’” “Smacks of a desperation ploy,” writes one correspondent: “his one and only chance to be mentioned in the same breath with Chuck Berry.”
Thanks to Perfect Sound Forever
Salon, June 24, 2002