Archive for April 22, 2010

All My Brain And Body Needs: Movie Night With Ian Dury

Posted in Uncategorized on April 22, 2010 by pulmyears

“There are a couple of ways to avoid death…one is to be magnificent.” – IAN DURY (1942 –2000)

Last night, Liza and I watched the recent Ian Dury biopic, Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll, starring Andy Serkis, who gives his Dury a theatrical cheeky chappy intensity pitched somewhere between Joel Grey in Cabaret in John Cameron Mitchell in Hedwig And The Angry Inch.

First I just wanna say that I’m becoming increasingly dubious about biopics. On the one hand, if you care about the life and music of an artist (Johnny Cash say, or Joy Division) it can be fascinating to watch dramatic recreations of the life of that artist, with contemporary actors bringing those stories to life. On the other hand, if you care about the life and music of the artist (Buddy Holly say, or The Runaways) you may not want to see contemporary actors attempting to impersonate those artists and may do better with a well-made documentary instead. Still, the real power comes from what we’ll call “sympathetic liberties”, meaning that if a team of filmmakers (writer, director, actors and music supervisors) can come up with a depiction that not only tells the straight story (as a documentary already handles quite well, thank you) but goes further and somehow implies more meaning about the story (using  arty cinematic diversion and impressionistic images) maybe these films become a deeper window on which to contextualize the music itself. Which is after all why we show up for these things.

I think this all dates back to Bob Fosse‘s jazz-handed auto-biopic All That Jazz (1979), which appears to have, indirectly or otherwise, established a new template for macabre and impressionistic biopics. That template was reconstructed with Michael Winterbottom’s 2004 feature, 24 Hour Party People, which merely begins as the biography of Factory Records supremo Tony Wilson before taking a comic detour into The Beatles Magical Mystery Tour land, and has forever derailed the strict narrative form of biopics.

“People like me don’t want sympathy, they want respect,” Ian Dury.

Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll, directed by Mat Whitecross from a dark fantasia of a script by Paul Viragh, will first make you grit your teeth before taking you on brutal and fast-paced ride (in a transit van) through the life and career of rock poet, lothario, genius, idiot and polio survivor (the word “victim” could never apply) Ian Dury, who died from complications due to cancer ten years ago. Here’s the trailer for the film:

The first jarring image is that of Andy Serkis, who looks and sounds like Dury, or rather a dramatically enhanced Dury. His gruff tone, his limp, his bawdy music hall banter, it’s all there as the spotlight opens on a smoky burlesque soliloquy and quickly moves to a brilliant, but disorienting, animated title sequence (by Sgt. Pepper cover artist Peter Blake) which rushes us through shrieking saxophones, whizzing smash cuts and various band member sackings, all of this to convey that our protagonistic is “Not A Man To Be Admired”. That’s right, it turns out Ian Dury could be a right selfish bastard. Apparently this is well known, and elaborated on in depth in Will Birch‘s new and critically acclaimed book, Ian Dury: The Definitive Biography. “Love the art,” my songwriter friend Bob Kemmis once sang, “Not the artist. It’s safest, it’s smartest.” And this is true of Whitecross and Viragh’s films, which goes to Felliniesque lengths to demonstrate that Dury was a bad husband, a dictatorial band leader with mood swings as mercurial as his flair for wordplay was brilliant. Apparently, though, besides an on again off again working relationship to his musical foil Chaz Jankel (played amiably if two-dimensionally by Tom Hughes), a few moments of artist peer tenderness with his estranged wife Betty (wonderfully realized by Rushmore’s Olivia Williams) anda combustibly passionate relationship with his mistress Denise (Naomie Harris), his strongest relationship appears to have been with his son, Baxter, played with depth and subtlety by Son Of Rambow star Bill Milner. Baxter, who has endorsed the film, was there for all of it. In fact, we have photographic evidence of this as he was the little boy standing beside Dury on the cover of his iconic New Boots And Panties album, the shoot for which is re-created in the film (See Serkis and Milner, inset).

I have to admit, I hated this film for the first thirty minutes. Then I just hated Ian Dury. Then, because I have the patience of Job, I stuck it out and started to realize that I was learning a lot (through chaotic images) about the life an underappreciated artist (and prick) who’s story was being told in a wild and crazy style befitting a man who not only wrote the song “Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll” but also wrote “Reasons To Be Cheerful, Part 3.”

In Nick Hornby’s excellent book, 31 Songs, released in North America as Songbook, Dury’s  “Reasons To Be Cheerful Part 3” comes in at Number 22, and the author goes as far as suggesting that the song would be an appropriate replacement for the British national anthem: “Dury’s song is a reminder that there is (was?) a different British heritage, something other than Cool Britannia and Merchant Ivory. [The song] mentions Health Service glasses (we still have a Health Service), and the Bolshoi Ballet (we never had a Red Scare) and singing along to Smokey (we love, have always loved, our black American music – indeed, we have turned into its curators – and we never thought that Disco Sucked)… and when Ian Dury gives thanks, in that art-school Cockney voice, for ‘something nice to study’ it almost breaks your heart: self-teaching, too, is part of our twentieth century history…” Summing up, Hornby declares that, “For a piece of funk whimsy,’Reasons To Be Cheerul’ is culturally very precise, if you listen to it closely enough; whether it refers to a vanished golden age, only time will tell.”

Only time will tell if I loved this film or was just stunned into submission (it’s only been 18 hours since I saw it), but I have to admit, Andy Serkis’s performance made a strong impression on me and key plot points (the whole scandal over Dury’s “Spasticus Autisticus” being banned by the BBC) made me hanker to read Birch’s book and re-listen to the original albums. Maybe that’s all you can hope for from a biopic. But of course, now I want to seek out a real life documentary.

What about you? Do biopics work? Do you prefer documentaries? What are your favourite biopics or docs? Who got it wrong? Let me know in the comments section.

And now, here’s the real Ian Dury, for your musical enjoyment:

The Kids Are Alright – Part 2: Hand Me Down Genes

Posted in Uncategorized on April 22, 2010 by pulmyears

Welcome to Part 2 of our look at the musical offspring of well-known musicians, which I call The Kids Are Alright (click here for Part One). Yesterday, I chose to focus on the children of the Beatles most of whom have opted to follow in their father’s Abbey Road troubled footsteps.

Today we broaden the scope to include a few notable non-Beatles kids.

Ziggy Marley, Damian Marley, Rufus Wainwright, Martha Wainwright

It’s almost hardly worth devoting new time to the likes Ziggy and Damian Marley (Bob & Ritas boys) or Rufus and Martha Wainwright (children of Loudon Wainwright III and Kate McGarrigle), all of whom appear to have stepped well outside the shadows of their respective parent. Although it is worth noting that Rufus Wainwright, still reeling over the loss of his mother to cancer (clear cell sarcoma) in January of this year, has just released an album, All Days Are Nights: Songs For Lulu, that was partly dedicated to her. One song, “Zebulon,” written during the time Kate McGarrigle’s decline, contains the matter-of-fact share “My mother’s in the hospital, my sister’s at the opera.” Here he is on my friend Jian Ghomeshi’s CBC show, Q, performing “Zebulon”.

As a big fan of Split Enz and Crowded House, it’s been a treat to get to know the sons of Neil Finn, Liam and Elroy. A few years ago, I had the pleasure of attending a rather low key and intimate gig by Neil Finn at Largo, along with my brother Mike. Me a somewhat familiar face to the Largo management and my brother a somewhat famous person, we found ourselves lingering upstairs in Flanagan’s office and the band dressing room after the show with Neil, his wonderful wife Sharon and the rest of the family, including Liam and Elroy. Conversation ranged from music to politics to travel, but this is where I first learned that the boys were likely to be following their dad into the business.

Liam Finn. I learned that Liam, the older boy, was already in a band called Betchadupa but I had never heard them. Cut to 2001, and Liam was up there with his Betchadupa band members as part of the Neil Finn & Friends line up on 7 Worlds Collide, recorded at St James Theatre in Auckland, New Zealand. Other players included Johnny Marr, Eddie Vedder, Ed O’Brien and Phil Selway of Radiohead, Lisa Germano and Liam’s uncle Tim Finn.  The kid could play. Cut to 2007, and the newly reformed Crowded House are playing in Oakland with support act Liam Finn, showcasing songs from his then new , and impressive, album I’ll Be Lightning, recorded at his dad’s place, Roundhead Studios. He was doing a lot of live looping, similar to what Jon Brion does over at Largo in L.A. most Fridays, building the drum track himself and then walking over the to various instruments before picking up the guitar and singing his songs. The gimmick is countered by the fact that the kid can write songs! Subsequently, Liam has toured in support of Pearl Jam (at Cousin Eddie’s request) backed by his vocalist pal, Eliza-Jane Barnes.  Here’s the Angus Sutherland directed video for “Second Chance” from I’ll Be Lightning:

and here’s one for “Better To Be” also from I’ll Be Lightning.

Neil and Tim Finn, along with Liam and Elroy Finn, joined in on Neil’s Oxfam charity  record, The Sun Came Out, released last year, which is a continuation of the 7 Worlds Collide team – Johnny Marr, Ed O’Brien, Sebastian Steinberg, Phil Selway, Lisa Germano, Tim Finn and Liam Finn; as well as Don McGlashan, Bic Runga, Glenn Richards, KT Tunstall and Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy, John Stirratt, Glenn Kotche and Pat Sansone.

Elroy Finn, a drummer, has been coming along as well, having similarly grown up in the wings of Crowded House, and on some of dad’s and brother Liam’s stages too. His band The Tricks, with his friends Anthony Brownson (Guitar), Barney Chunn (Guitar) and Chris McDonald (Bass and Vocals) appear to be on something of a hiatus now, on their Myspace page they describe themselves as a band and write that that they are a psychobilly band, just “four boys from Auckland, New Zealand who enjoy. They’ve played around Auckland at various parties and other events and had a swell time at all of them. Unfortunately their Bass player and singer has moved to Melbourne so could temporarily halt shows and advancements on behalf of The Tricks.” Keep an eye out for Neil’s boy Elroy, Tricks or not.

Here’s a link to The Tricks Myspace page.

Before we move from the Finn family, I want to share with you this a poor quality home movie of sorts, a live bootleg of brothers Neil & Tim singing their old Split Enz hit “I Got You” backed by a rhythm section comprised of brothers Elroy & Liam on drums and bass respectively.

I am also a longtime superfan of XTC, and so it has been fascinating to watch the development of their offspring.

Lee Moulding. Last year, when I was looking to find XTC bassist/songwriter Colin Moulding, to discuss the making of XTC’s Skylarking for my upcoming book A Wizard A True Star: Todd Rundgren In The Studio (Jawbone Press, Oct 2010), my friend Todd Bernhardt suggested I contact Colin’s son, Lee, in hopes of finding his dad. Well, he did help, but along the way I discovered Lee’s band, The Sunday Dogs, on Myspace. The only YouTube clip I found, for their song “Hicks” starts slow, and doesn’t really kick in until the drums do. Don’t let me put you off, judge for yourself:

Holly Partridge is, like her father Andy, something of an extrovert, which is all the more surprising since most XTC fans still remember her as the Alice in Wonderlandesque little girl described in the charming “Holly Up On Poppy” from XTC’s Nonsuch, or the child singing on “Playground” from XTC’s Wasp Star: Apple Venus Vol. 2. A few years ago, Andy told me about her band The Shebeats, who were just starting out.  They seemed rather good, a sort of post new wave Girls Together Outrageously, as this little promotional clip demonstrates:

Holly appears to have shed the SheBeats, or at least for now, because I just saw this new clip on YouTube credited simply to Holly Partridge. The song is called “In Your Attic” and it really is quite a firecracker. The oranges and lemons haven’t fallen far from the tree, but I hear notes of Sparks and Transvision Vamp in there too. Have a listen to this audio only clip.

Harper Simon, son of Paul Simon and Peggy Harper, is another late-bloomer (see James McCartney from Vol. 1), having only arrived on the scene in the last couple of years. His father’s career and music punctuates his own, and key events in his life are marked by certain albums, he was born the year that Simon & Garfunkel disbanded, 1972, and his parents split up in 1975, just as dad released Still Crazy After All These Years. That’s a big shadow to live under, so forgive him if his own voice bears a mild resemble to dad. Nothing in his life has been ordinary. His childhood friend was Sean Lennon. He had a cameo in a Martin Scorsese film. You know, everyday stuff. After hearing Elliott Smith, Harper Simon, a graduate of Berklee Music School began to seriously look for his own voice. Having collaborated with Edie Brickell and Carrie Fisher, and his dad, it seems that Harper is now fully comfortable with his lineage, enough so that his eponymous album was co-produced by Bob Johnston, who had worked on Simon & Garfunkel’s Parsley, Sage, Rosemary & Thyme (although he did get Elliott Smith’s old cohort Tom Rothrock to mix it).

He recorded basic tracks in Nashville, he also added stuff in Los Angeles and New York with pals like Inara George, Aaron Espinoza of Earlimart, Petra Haden, Sean Lennon, Yuka Honda, Adam Green, Eleni Mandell and Joan Wasser, Steve Nieve, and veteran session drummer Steve Gadd. And his dad.

Here’s a couple of songs from that album, first up “Berkeley Girl” from an episode of Jimmy Kimmel Live.

and here he is doing “Wishes And Stars” on The Late Show with David Letterman.

That’s it for today, in Volume 3 of this special two-parter (I under promised!) we’ll look at Jakob Dylan, Sting’s boy Joe Sumner, Benjamin Taylor and more.

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