The Beatles – how they ended up on the rooftop

1968. The White Album: the album design became important – the music was all over the map – would it cohere as an album? At the very least, The Beatles needed to create a visual theme where a musical one may or may not exist.

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Paul McCartney spent a week going to the artist Richard Hamilton’s home every day to put this non-theme album art concept together.

A white album with no title other than The Beatles, a poster of collected photos, and four iconic portrait sized photos of their faces.

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It was the antithesis of the splendor of the previous album Sgt. Pepper.

The White Album is indeed a place you initially go to on your own. I remember receiving this album (and Sgt Pepper too) at my grandparents house on a farm in rural Minnesota. The Beatles’ London could not have been more remote. But somehow it was an internal, strange, magical island visually and aurally calling to curious 10-year-old.

Two months after The White Album was released in November 1968…

It was a cold January 1969 winter day in London when the Beatles took to the roof of their headquarters in London’s street of tailors, Saville Row, to play their latest unreleased (at that time) songs. Down below in the street, the bankers and their secretaries could not see who was playing on the roof (the fab four were filming for a movie) but they knew it sounded like the Beatles.

The temperature was in the 30s Fahrenheit – cloudy, blustery winter in London – you can see John blowing on his fingers in the footage from the Let It Be film. Each of the Beatles (except Paul), borrowed their wives’ coats, but the Beatles could pull this off. John is rocking a fur coat and somehow it works – some insulation as he stares out across the universe.

Just before they went up to play, the boys were huddling behind the roof access door. “Should we really do this?” they asked each other. It had been almost three years since they had played in public. “Let’s go” they said and we are glad they did…. Those tens of thousands of hours playing together across Britain and Hamburg could not be denied as the magic poured out through their nerves and the cold.

They were not showbiz. They could have never emerged from American Idol or The Voice. They had no stage patter or dance routine. The act was a non act. It was about the music. They tossed their greatest source of income, touring, out the window, to follow the Muse. A muse to music that never wavered from genius level in the nine-hour legacy of officially released music.

They grew up in a non rock-and-roll era. Until they were 15, rock and roll did not even exist. They were not blues purists like the Yardbirds or the Stones. They grew up in an era when the weekend entertainment was the family sing-along. And everyone, even the kids, had to sing a tune.

There will never be another Beatles.

The rooftop concert reminds us how great they were. Within a year, the Beatles would be no more.

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French Power Pop – What is the magic?

The first French band that grabbed my attention was Les Rita Mitsouko in the ’80s.

Upon listening to my random YouTube mix today, a French band that I had never heard before called Manceau popped up in the mix and I was instantly transported away:

This reminded me and sounded like another unheralded and brilliant French pop band a have always loved: Tahiti 80:

Both bands share a love of highly-compressed, radio-friendly tunes driven by jangly guitars, punchy bass, dance grooves and tuneful hooks.

I think these French bands love disco as much as they love British guitar bands of the 60s. You get the tunes, and you get the beat. You can sing along, and you can dance.

The apotheosis of this type of music outside of France has been the music of Phoenix.

Why did Phoenix make it when Tahiti 80 or Manceau are relatively unknown?

Better marketing or management? More extensive touring? All I know is all of these bands are unmistakably French and they all sound great.

Some other French bands to explore:

http://www.frenchmusicblog.com/french-bands

 

 

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Lawrence of Belgravia – 2016 (DVD)

Question:

How can a musician so disciplined that he releases 10 classic albums in 10 years in the 1980s (with the band Felt) produce minimal output in the years that followed?

Short answer:

By being true to himself.

Long answer:

See below.

Lawrence get things done, but in his own way and on his own terms.

In the documentary Lawrence OF Belgravia, filmmaker Paul Kelly followed the little-known musical legend Lawrence around for five years. The film came out in British theaters in 2011, but is just being released on DVD this week (five years later). The film is worth the wait because the music is brilliant, and just like Brian Wilson, you want to get inside the mind of the musical creator.

Take an authentic eccentric (in the tradition of Sherlock Holmes) as only the British can produce, a dose a megalomania, and ear for a tune, a dash of sartorial excellence, and you have an indie hipster, but not a star. The Beatles were cool too, and they appealed to the masses. Where did Lawrence go wrong?

In Lawrence’s mind, he should be a superstar. That is why he only has one name. Like Sting or Madonna.

But unlike Sting or Madonna, Lawrence takes the Tube (underground) and has difficulty paying the rent.

Lawrence does not collaborate on outside projects. If you want Lawrence to sing on your album, even if you are famous, forget it.

After Lawrence achieved his goal with Felt of recording 10 albums in 10 years, he moved on to form Denim. Unlike Felt, which had and indie music vibe, Denim took its inspiration from ‘70s bubblegum pop and glam rock. Denim released three albums in the ‘90s, but to Lawrence’s dismay, he did not conquer the charts.

His next (and current) band, Go Kart Mozart, is more of a B-sides band. His idea to was to capture the magic of the B-sides of great 45 singles – where the forgotten B-side was uninhibited, more experimental and often more musically adventurous than the radio hit. Again, though received well by critics, Go Kart Mozart did not tear up the charts.

The music business is both music and business. Perhaps all Lawrence needed was a great manager to handle the business side of things. Maybe one day he will get one.

Most of Lawrence’s music is great, and worth a listen. It will challenge your mind, and maybe even get you onto the dance floor.

Russian Ark – a film review

Russian Ark is a stunning film released in 2002 and directed by Alexander Sokurov.

The film was shot is one continuous 96-minute Steadicam camera shot in the Winter Palace of the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg.

Russian Ark is meticulous in its details, taking us on a two-kilometer trek over three centuries of Russian history.

The film is narrated by two narrators – one visible and one invisible. The invisible narrator implies he may have died and been transported here (via a time machine?) for reasons unknown to him.

The interactions between the two and their insights and observations drive the story – for example they both agree that Russians are lacking in originality but great at copying Italian style – they agree this palace is a better St. Peter’s than St. Peter’s in Rome.

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The visible narrator (I will call him “the Guide”) who the camera follows, is a real eccentric and aesthete – he appears to be a 19-century French traveler who also arrived here for reasons unknown even to himself and is suddenly fluent in Russian.

This guy is funny, cultured, artistic and charming. He acknowledges a comment about his great hair but telling us that, of course – artists always have fantastic hair.

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The visible narrator

The Guide has been here before, so he recognizes some of the works of art from his era, but he also needs to make sense of all the changes in the rooms and what he has been told happened up to the present time, e.g. all the Russians who died in WW II, which he finds inconceivable.
So we discover each new person and work of art through his eyes.

The Guide is sometimes, and sometimes not, seen by people pursuing various activities in the museum (setting up a banquet, viewing art, etc.)

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Throughout Russian Ark, the camera and narrators guide us through the various rooms of the museum – each room contains various characters from different periods of Russian history – from Tsar Nicholas to Catherine the Great to modern-day tourists appreciating the paintings.

The cinematography and the story-boarding has been meticulously planned, each room has a distinct lens filter/hue which captures its mood.

This must have taken ages to coordinate and navigate all the aspects of making this epic: the government approvals/bureaucracy, the actors, costumes – and again this is all one one take – no edits.

The film concludes in grand Tolstoy-esque style with a luxurious and prolonged ball with lots of dancing, drink and food.

Russian Ark is much more than one continuous camera shot – perceptive commentary on the Russian soul, hundreds of actors who never strike a false note, stunning art, and thousands of period-authentic costumes.

And a compelling reason to visit The Hermitage in St. Petersburg for yourself.

Berlin – The Wings of Desire Effect

I recently visited the Victory Column in Berlin’s Tiergarten.

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The column inspired Wim Wenders to make Wings of Desire, a film about angels who listen in on the thoughts of humans.

Wim Wenders was a fan and friend of U2, and U2 was inspired by Wings of Desire and the city of Berlin, which extended to recording Achtung Baby at Hansa Studios. Hansa is also where David Bowie recorded his best work in the late 1970s, including the song Heroes.

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Hansa Studios, 2016

To complete the circle, U2 play the angels who watch over, beneficently and enviously, the thoughts of Berliners in a song from Achtung Baby: Far Away So Close.

Experiencing the Cure – 30 years later

The last time I saw The Cure at Northrup Auditorium at the University of Minnesota in 1986, Robert Smith had just cut his hair short, confounding all the spiky long-haired goths who showed up to pay homage.

30 years later….


The Cure, June 7, 2016, St. Paul, MN

More than three hours of Cure, four encores, many hits, many deep cuts…. Way too many mid-tempo, newer songs at the expense of older brilliant tunes … No close-ups of Robert’s face on the big screen… But just when you thought the show was dragging, Robert Smith and Co. would shift into high gear.

The precise guitar lines are underpinned by a thunderous rhythm section.

So many classic tunes and Robert’s voice still sounds as clear and eccentric as the day he wrote Boys Don’t Cry…

the big short

 

 

Maybe like you, I always thought finance was boring.

After seeing this film, I see it differently. It’s like a enigmatic zen riddle wrapped in a shifting sand oracle of inscrutable change – or is it?

Ultimately its answers reveal themselves  – to those who want to Really See – the markets reveal their secrets to those who will take the time to look – and most do not – even those who live and breathe it.

This film breaks down how it (the financial crisis) was seen and who saw it.

But not only did some see it (a very few) – they took action.

All the while the true casualties of this crisis – the American taxpayer and homeowner- has no say in the matter. The big banks know the taxpayer will bail them out and no one goes to jail.

Some observations on the film:

  1. No one sees the answer, which is obvious
  2. In order to answer the question, the answer needs to be invented – aka mortgage-backed securities had to be created out of thin air to buy them
  3. The editing keeps the viewer off kilter – occasional blurry images and weird cuts. Art house film editing applied to a potentially conventional subject matter keeps the viewer engaged.
  4. Ryan Gosling is hilarious and also brakes through The Fourth Wall, breaking out of character to directly acknowledge the audience, talking to the camera a la Ferris Bueller
  5. Christian Bale puts in his first great performance since Rescue Dawn
  6. Christian Bale’s and Steve  Carell’s characters have Persistence – they don’t freak out and sell – they stay the course but see what no one else could see – they bet against the banks
  7. Steve Carell’s character’s minions went out into the field and actually talked to mortgage brokers and real estate agents. They found out the banks were not verifying income.
  8. You will know what a tranche is.

In 2016 we harvest massive amounts of data and call this chaos Big Data. This seeming chaos is not totally random to those who want to take the time to study the past and extract is lessons and patterns that emerge to teach.