The go-to site for what makes life worth living in and around Petersfield, Hampshire, and some other stuff too. For flaneurs, bon vivants, indeed boulevardiers of every complexion - why go anywhere else?

Tuesday, 29 December 2009

Vital: 'Ramones', by Nicholas Rombes

As Nicholas Rombes says in his concluding remarks "like all great albums, it resists interpretation. It rejects the tyranny of meaning, whether imposed by the fan or the critic". And so it does; without wishing to make my own attempt, it is one of those very few albums - offhand I would think about only Elvis's first RCA album, the Velvet Underground & Nico and - maybe - Sgt Pepper standing alongside it - which is so unlike anything which preceded it and so influential on everything that followed that almost any kind of criticism risks seeming trivial and irrelevant. But saying that, Nicholas Rombes gives it a damn good go, taking the album - as is appropriate - entirely seriously and devoting less time to the songs themselves than to the context into which it emerged, its influences (largely from writing, film, photography and other media) and its phenomenal impact on the world around it. Refreshing that he respects the amount of thought and consideration that the Ramones themselves put into the album, dissipating any notion that this was a flash in the pan, an accidental catalyst for the emergence of punk and New Wave. You put this essay down very aware that the Ramones knew exactly what they were doing, both culturally and musically. These were no dumb punks.

Nicholas Rombes writes about punk with the benefit of hindsight, but that's no crime - it allows him a tremendously sharp and pungently delivered perspective. If you like this, try 'A Cultural Dictionary of Punk: 1974-1982', which provides a similarly acute analysis of the broader canvas of punk and the new wave.

Saturday, 26 December 2009

Before he was fab - 'Nowhere Boy'

What an oddly uncertain and ultimately unsatisfying film 'Nowhere Boy' is. Very good in parts - particularly in the psychological tug-of-war between Julia and Mimi for the soul of the nascent Lennon - but powerfully reminiscent elsewhere of those clunky (if still enjoyable) British pop films of the 70s and 80s (the David Essex vehicle 'That'll Be the Day'which covers almost exactly the same timespan, often came to mind, with certain scenes seemingly almost directly transplanted). It veers rather wildly between somewhat heavy-handed psychodrama (particularly in the less than subtly-suggested incestuous feelings between John and Julia) and stodgily conventional 'biopic' ("John, this is Paul, he sure is square but he knows which way up a tune goes and he can play 20 Flight Rock") but - surely crucially - never really makes one believe that the teenager on the screen is actually a young Lennon as opposed to any other troubled youth in the late 1950s.

Excellent performances from all the leads keep 'Nowhere Boy' afloat (though Kristin Scott-Thomas's cheekbones seemed slightly miscast) but it seemed to need something both a bit more coherent and a bit further off the wall to justify the screen time and I'm surprised that Sam Taylor-Wood didn't deliver it. By no means terrible, and will probably work better on the small screen - just a bit, well... ordinary.

Monday, 7 December 2009

The Brooklyn Boy Done Good: Tony Visconti

Has to be said that Tony Visconti is no great prose stylist, but this is a top life all the same, and more than adequately described. I'd never seen any pictures of Visconti and had always imagined him older - more like the cigar-chompers he regularly disparages - but he's very much Bolan's and Bowie's contemporary and provides a compelling view from the front line of pop life in the late 60s and 70s.

There's plenty of stuff from inside the studio, including quite a bit of technical gen (which worked fine for me), providing a new insider angle on many famous names. Of those, it has to be said (meaning no disrespect), that while Bolan's human qualities come a poor second to his musical ability (not the first time I'd heard that), Bowie comes across as a gent throughout and Iggy, contrary to his public image, as a man posessed of a phenomenal work ethic and professionalism.

Tony Visconti, it's fair to say, changed pop music's soundscape, creating music of a depth and resonance which you simply don't hear any more. This book gives you a good idea of how he did that - it's a significant contribution to the history of those fantastic times and a cracking read to boot.

A gem - Lynn Barber's 'An Education'

Some reviewers have described Lynn Barber's 'An Education' as cool and unrevealing, but I have to say it didn't seem that way to me at all. On the contrary, 'An Education' is refreshingly concise, direct and, yes, cool - but in a good way. A beautifully written, crisp memoir, covering in - oh joy! - fewer than 200 pages the life to date that has made her the great writer and interviewer that she is.

The book offers a number of clues to how she came to lead a crowded Fleet Street field - not only is she completely open and frank, with a directness that unfairly earned her the soubriquet 'Demon Barber' but why anyone should want to be otherwise baffles her (the hilarious encounter with Alan Whicker, who tries, and fails, to shame her with her previous life in pornography being a case in point).

Word of warning, though, to anyone who comes to this expecting the book of the film - that episode, though clearly key in her developing outlook on life, takes up less than a quarter of the book. Don't let it put you off though - her adventures at the nascent Penthouse and Independent (and the breadth of spectrum between those two august organs gives a clue to her non-judgemental openness) are equally engaging, warm, funny and, yes, human.

A terrific read and entirely of a piece with her other writing. If you like Lynn Barber at all, you'll love this.