Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Back when it all meant something...

Here's the Sex Pistols in their full entropic glory from their 1976 television debut on the short-lived British music show So It Goes. All the spark and spunk and Filth and Fury that would be their legend is probably most accurately captured here. (Their promotional film for God Save the Queen, despite its much elevated Westwood fashion, doesn't even begin to record what goes on here.) According to Wiki, this essence was, as one critic descirbed, "the last and greatest outbreak of pop-based moral pandemonium." This is the essence of raw performance in blood red: The E. coli practically airborne. The attitude is not just edgy, it's serrated. You'll never hear pitchy vocals used to such excellent affect. It's nearly inconceivable that an act could come along and rage such happy destruction today; That culture is long dead.

Not long after Sid joined, the band's quality would precipitously wane. (Original bassist Glen Matlock would be asked back to play on the album, a point Herr Rotten abuses him for in The Filth and the Fury.) The album later to come, as we all know, would be amazing. (A point lavished with effusive praise by the critics of the time.) But as a political and cultural moment, there would be none to equal to the early singles, most particularly God Save the Queen. The Pistols were a blinding supernova with a very limited shelf life. That character gave them more in common with The New York Dolls (an acknowledged influence) than contemporaries like The Clash. Often, though, it's the thumbnail that renders far more magic than the final drawing ever does. Here, definitely, was such the case.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Good Charlotte

 I'll admit, I've long had a crush on Charlotte Gainsbourg. It may've started when I saw The Little Thief. (Isn't that the one where she hums Mozart and we first realize she's getting it on with the rake?)

(IMHO, the video above—a scene from the French film Happily Ever After—works much better with the acoustic version from Pablo Honey. You can see it for yourself here. The embedding has been disabled.)

At 40 she still holds to a preternatural lankiness in body and reediness in voice, none the worse for wear after squeezing out three kids. Though her beauty may be about half of Square-jawed Johnny's, Charlotte's less refined and slightly feral appearance works to much better effect. Her air-filled voice is like a whisperier, French-ified version of Nico (sort of). It's the kind of voice you'd love to hear coming from the next pillow. For me, it's just another layer of crush honey.

Not a lot happens in the scene above. Two people make a micro-connection while listening to the same band on headphones and share a few swollen looks. Despite her wedding-ringed finger, in her eyes we see her fall into the same collective Johnny Depp longing shared by another million less pedigreed girls. Girls who might cut themselves over the possibility of tonguing Mr. Depp's poorly-shaved visage. (What spikes my longing is the idea of a music store I wouldn't have to drive across town to get to.) The only vestiges of drama here come from the stalking camera angles up from the floor and from behind displays. All the while Thom Yorke croons. Fittingly, Creep is also a song about longing for the unattainable. I suppose a music store is a good locale for that: What lonelier big city feeling is there than seeing the empty bins of your favorite bands while everything plus remixes from, say, Miley Cyrus, is available in overabundance.

Charlotte from her new album Stage Whisper, her feral looks in full flower:

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Hardcore for 8 year olds and everyone else

This may be making the rounds as I post this (also seen on Gawker and more recently Slate) but it's too precious to ignore. Her final out "oh!" is what seals the deal for me. 

Monday, January 9, 2012

A Nirvana for dystopians

I knew little about Nirvana's live history, in person, on TV, or otherwise. Much of what I knew of the band I gathered from the tabloid-ized media mythology, where artistry was overshadowed by emotional handicaps. So, seeing this video for the first time recently I wasn't expecting a band that was, well, so tight.

Kobain's head might merit a pedestal for the achievement of selling 50 million records alone. But for the art of popular culture, he did something far more impressive than entering the Michael Jackson sales stratosphere: He took the abstract, inchoate doodles of a teenager's journals and infused them with a poetry of near uncomfortable honesty and produced something close to profound. 

During Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit" ascendancy, Billboard made this unctuous proclamation:
"Nirvana is that rare band that has everything: critical acclaim, industry respect, pop radio appeal, and a rock-solid college/alternative base."
They had the elusive brass ring trifecta in their teeth: Cred, respect, and Benjamins. Rock-and-Roll may be overrepresented in the Untrained-Savant-Turned-Unlikely-Hero category, though, for folk art, which much of pop music surely is, Kobain may've been the category's ne plus ultra. Even among his historical peers like the Ramones, Sex Pistols, and even The 13th Floor Elevators, Nirvana's song-craft is crude. But Cobain's songs reveled in their technophobia and rudimentariness, inelegant even by the standards of the likes of Green Day. But in that unrefined crude, magic was often revealed. He accomplished what only few artists can do, he infused the simple with an unpretentious profundity.

Ultimately, Nirvana was more mainstream than innovative. Cobain's
ear for raw magic was as undeniable as it was unsustainable. While the band wasn't quite as transcendent as we might've hoped, they did do the sound justice: Dave Grohl was one of the stand out drummers of his era, Novoselic's bass was skeletally simple and nearly invisible, and although Cobain's skill as a guitarist was probably limited to his inherent slackerness, he did have prodigious instincts at his disposal. With this sound he was the twisted dark pixie whose music could reach the antennae of millions. It was his gift and his incurable affliction. 

Through the character of its figurehead, this band contained all of the components to make for a good legend; and for better and worse, they delivered.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Great Literal Balls of Fire

This is rock and roll, maybe not in execution but surely in its intent. You'll never experience a piano player as, um, incendiary as this. Seriously.

(The actual playing doesn't begin until about 3:15.)