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In the First Place

2 Dec

Still from Wonderwall (1968)

I can’t say I have a great sense of how many world citizens who aren’t heavily into sixties culture and music, psychedelia, the Beatles and/or Beatles side projects would know about the 1968 Joe Massot-directed film Wonderwall—a technicolor surrealistic daydream featuring astoundingly attractive people (including Jane Birkin as Penny Lane) and moody acid-inspired background music.

The first time I saw it, it was being screened at the then-annual Mods & Rockers Film Festival, which for a couple years descended on Grauman’s Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood around the Fourth of July. I was blown away by the rich jewel tones, the textures, the heavily embellished costumes and perfect sixties maquillage—and the butterflies. I adore those butterflies.


And no, I didn’t bother to make much sense of the freaky goings on. In very short summary, the film is about a peeping Tom who is so bewitched by the model next door that he loses the plot. But really, it’s a 92-minute advertisement for the brilliance that was The Fool design collective. If you like what they did for the sixties, then by default you’ll enjoy this trip down Trippy Lane—even if you’re just tuning out and gazing at it as if peering through a kaleidoscope. (It’s a great one to have playing on a big screen during a party.)

Now Martin Lewis, a specialist in all thing sixties who used to host the Mods & Rockers shindig, offers an excellent rundown of George Harrison’s involvement in Wonderwall here. Merging psychedelic and Indian music—a naturally congruous union as we now know—he created a hypnotic soundscape that is quintessentially George and masterfully suited to these visuals.

The gorgeous masterpiece that was originally left out of the movie but unearthed in time for the film’s reissue is “In the First Place,” composed by Colin Manley and Tony Ashton of Liverpool’s the Remo Four and produced by George Harrison. According to Lewis, Harrison, who also contributed lead vocals, was firm on crediting Manley and Ashton for their work. They’d been through the pop-music ringer and were absolutely deserving of any accolades. Of Harrison’s decision, Lewis wrote:

Close friends say that Harrison’s insistence on sole credit going to a forgotten and long unsung band of pals (and to not take any credit for his performance) is a typically generous gesture by the reclusive ex-Beatle.

For me, “In the First Place” is one of the most intricate and entrancing songs I’ve ever heard in my life. It quite easily makes my Best Songs of All Time list, and I could listen to it over and over again. Luckily a CD and 7″ of two versions of the song were packaged with this amazing collector’s edition DVD box set put out by Rhino several years ago. But you can easily hear the song on YouTube.

In recent past, Sidewalk Society, a band out of Southern California that has done covers for the English psych label Fruits de Mer, did a impressively seamless rendition of the song that is every bit as haunting as the still little-known original. It’s certainly a wonderful thing that Wonderwall lives on.



In Preparation for 35

3 Jul

Something about turning 35 in the fall—and something about having a kid all my own (she’s also my husband’s, I suppose)—has compelled me to put a lot more thought into my well-being, which I’ve managed to neglect pretty much since I could think for myself. I’ve ingested disgusting amounts of fast food, copious amounts of sugar, excess caffeine, over-the-counter medicine, and slathered on toxic makeup since I was about 13 . . . the list of offenses is endless, really.

My dad, bless him, allowed me to repeatedly order and eat 20-piece boxes of Chicken McNuggets in my tween years—and I could inhale a box in about 10 minutes.

As far as wastefulness, well jeez. As a household, we’re working on the waste—but as long as you eat on the go or don’t prepare everything from scratch—and by “scratch,” I mean items that don’t come in any packaging whatsoever—there will be waste. Our main bin and recycling bin aren’t overflowing each week, but it would be wonderful to shop mostly at the farmers market and wean ourselves off of prepackaged food, even if it is Trader Joe’s.

Little by little, I’m trying to turn things around to look my best as I enter my forties and beyond, but more importantly, feel my best. I also yearn to set a good example for my little darling in hopes of making her a conscientious little citizen.

The revelation began with the documentary No Impact Man about New York writer Colin Beavan, his journalist wife Michelle Conlin, and their ridiculously cute daughter, Isabella. Seriously, if you’ve no interest in environmental discourse whatsoever, watch the film for Isabella.

To die for, right?

The documentary came out a couple years ago, but if you aren’t familiar with Colin Beavan’s project, his goal was to essentially reduce his family’s environmental footprint to nil over the course of a year. As the Beavans discuss in the documentary, the public’s reception to the mission was lukewarm. The documentary received loads of press aside equal parts, if not more, criticism. What about the fact that Michelle Conlin writes for Business Week, a periodical whose production kills forests full of trees? It’s unrealistic—who would ever be able to live without so much? It’s a publicity stunt . . . on and on. And you know what? All these people have points. Absolutely. But I understand what Conlin was attempting to do: (a) raise awareness of the things people could do to lessen their impact on the environment if they so desired (as well as raise awareness of himself as a writer, but hey, we all have to make a living—especially writers!) and (b) show the uneducated masses ways that a Fifth Avenue-dwelling family used to all the trappings of New York life managed to do with less. Most importantly, I enjoyed learning the ways that scaling back contributed to more quality time with their daughter, weight loss, overall better health, and greater peace of mind. I related most to Michelle, a self-professed shop- and crap-TV-aholic with a penchant for Starbucks. She survived. I could survive, too.

I’m so into trying to be okay with less right now. Some of it is forced, given the way the economic situation has affected our family, but I want to feel good about it in my heart of hearts.

Another source of inspiration has been Alicia Silverstone’s The Kind Diet. My husband decided about a month-and-a-half ago that he was finished with meat, and hasn’t touched it since. We both were vegetarian years ago, but somehow filet mignon made its way back into our lives. I hadn’t felt swayed any which way as far as meat-eating was concerned, but given the almost-35 thing, I have been cognizant about my sugar, fat, sodium, and caffeine intake, and have been a little worried about it, to be honest. I haven’t had a physical in years, but I’m betting my cholesterol is getting up there, if it isn’t there already. Sensing that I needed to start eating in a more wholesome manner—and learn how to make my daughter enjoy eating things that are good for her—I put The Kind Diet on hold at the library and have been fixated on its content ever since. The idea that whole grains, beans, and vegetables will make me feel full, reverse bad things happening in my body, and perhaps correct my skin (yay!) appeals, obviously. And I don’t want to go on a Meat is Murder rant, but for the first time, I was moved toward vegetarianism for the sake of the animals.

Will it satisfy? I don’t know. While my husband attempts to master the whole vegan shebang, I will embrace the “Flirting” chapter and take baby steps. I hope I like it. I doubt I’ll evolve into a health nut (not that there’s anything wrong with it!), and I don’t need to start wearing hemp shoes or anything, but I’m fairly certain the inner workings of my body have been on a roller coaster ride, and I know my crappy diet is to blame.

Probably more in this vein to come.

Post-first-vegan-dinner edit: Fried udon noodles with cabbage, garlic, paprika, onions and some other stuff. We forgot to purchase broccoli and mushrooms to go in it like we intended! At any rate, it was tasty, with a lingering spiciness. Not exactly In ’n’ Out tasty, but seriously—even though I want tasty, I’m not willing to eat a burger for it at this point. If anyone has delectable veg/vegan dishes, send them on over!

Learn a Language Instead of Reading 140-Character Posts from 150 People You Don’t Know

18 Jun

Not that I don’t read Twitter updates, because I did succumb a couple months back. But I try to keep my viewing to no more than fifty folks; and if it starts becoming a whole lot of drivel, I have absolutely no problem not logging on for a few hours. I jest. I’m honestly not that into the Twitter thing. However, I do wish I could bypass it—and Facebook—and perhaps scale back my blog reading to learn a language with the sliver of time I have left after upholding my daily obligations.

I studied Spanish for years in high school and college, but didn’t continue on; so ninety percent of those verb conjugations I memorized exited my brain ages ago. I took a semester of conversational French once upon a time. My accent was amusing at best; and, needless to say, the end of the semester marked the death of my dream to recite Colette and Baudelaire in French to myself in the mirror every morning. Because that’s romantic . . . I do, however, feel an obligation to my world community to resume or learn anew at least one other language. When I found Livemocha, I thought for the first time that learning a language post-school days actually seemed feasible.

Before I go on, I want to mention how I ended up visiting Livemocha in the first place. A Facebook friend posted a link to—“another excellent time-waster,” she wrote. And it so is, but I also was pointed to some very interesting and useful blogs after I entered my tastes and interests and whatnot into their little blog generator apparatus. I fear this is beginning to sound like an ad for the site, so blah, blah, blah . . . and then I ended up on this post, which lists a bunch of “semi-productive” things to do while avoiding real work. Thanks, Stumbleupon! I never mentioned suffering from terminal procrastination, but you’ve got my number, quite clearly. So that’s how I found the language-learning site.

The sad truth is that I haven’t had time to utilize the site. I’m so very anxious to, though. You simply note your native language; which language you’re eager to learn, and what skill level you’re shooting for; and then you’re hooked up with online tutorials and the opportunity to converse with native speakers of your desired language in real-time. Could be creepy; could be cool. I’m really hoping it’s cool. If anyone gets to this before I do, please let me know how it goes.

In conclusion, I leave you with a thought from the ever-cosmopolitan Eddie Izzard:

Photo © Dennis_Wong on Flickr

When Models Have Pipes

14 Jun

I’m fairly certain my girl crush on Karen Elson—or Mrs. Jack White (although I prefer Karen Elson)—began in the mid-nineties, when her flame red hair sent her catapulting into modeling stardom via the edgy girls circuit. Her skin, perfectly porcelin—the stuff of pre-religion-filled Anne Rice novels; her mouth painted red, red, red to have it out with her hair; her eyes, piercing; and her eyebrows, not present all of the time. She was a quirky, yet undeniable beauty with a certain something; and all these years later, the world finds out that the aforementioned certain something was real talent. (Let’s not get into whether modeling requires talent. I’m sure it does, but I’m talking about an even more spectacular talent.) The girl can sing.

Karen Elson strumming beside Jackson (son of Patti) Smith

I was thrilled to see Karen and Jack White in an editorial together for the first time in the most recent Vogue. There was mention of her recording something, a fact which sort of filtered through my eyes and out my ears as I dwelled on the perfection that is Karen Elson and Jack White’s groovy, dark-country elegance. It’s so subtle and flowing—fetchingly gloomy somehow. It’s as if the world is illuminated by candlelight wherever they go. But that’s probably just me getting lost in Annie Leibovitz’s photos. (Go, Grace Coddington for such exquisite art direction!)

Anyhow, I’d read that article a couple weeks ago, and a few days ago, my dearest sent me a video of Karen singing live at Third Man Records, run by Mr. White himself. Not only did she look hauntingly gorgeous, she sounded surprisingly spectacular—and I only say surprising because models who’ve gone down in history as great vocalists are far and few between, yes? But her vocal stylings are so pure and pleasing. I hear traces of Stevie and Sandy Denny—maybe Nancy and Ann Wilson at times; but, really, I hear her, and I love what I hear. And it must be said that female-fronted acts constitute a sliver in my music collection. No good reason for it—it just is what it is. Music with twangy guitars are virtually non-existent in my iTunes, but, as my husband mentioned, the steel guitar is used interestingly on this record—it isn’t overtly alt-country. It’s dark country, as I say—fit for a stroll through an overgrown cemetery whilst twirling a frilly white parasol—but there’s other stuff, too, so check it out.

Also check out The Citizens Band stuff if you’ve any interest in cabaret.

Thank heavens for new music. It was all getting rather bland. Consider me moved.

Sound of the Crowd

10 Jun

If, in 1981, I were 19 and not 6, NewRo/Blitz Kids so would’ve been my bag. God knows I would’ve been more than eager to pair the silver-blue eyeshadow with deep mauve blush and glossy red lips. Why, I was partial to that in the mid-nineties, save for the cheek stripes. And I’ve always managed to get a bit of fringe in my eyes—and I love frilly black numbers. And it was Nick Rhodes’ photo I hung up in my room at about age 8. “He’s wearing makeup!” my mom said, mouth agape. “I think it’s pretty!” retorted the little girl with the shiny teddy bear on her sweatshirt.

My husband, who actually lived through the movement as a teen, although he was a Mod, asked me last night when I was making him listen to Dare! in what way the music moved me. Born and bred on guitar-driven music, he has difficulty understanding how anything involving a synthesizer could possibly work its way into one’s soul. And I suppose I can see his point. I responded by saying that perhaps Human League, specifically, doesn’t move me emotionally in the way that other synth-based bands—say Depeche Mode—did when I was younger. I mean “Little 15”? C’mon! Tears!

Human League (as well as various other bands of the genre) does send me a bit into fantasist mode. I imagine myself all painted to perfection, wearing a little pillbox hat with a tiny veil, some sort of corset dress and fishnets—and dancing in front of a slip of a young man with asymmetrical hair wearing a pirate shirt and some impossibly narrow trousers tucked into high boots. And I’d twirl the night away, stopping only to wing my eyeliner just a bit more or re-line my pout. It’s all very superficial, I know; but that was the scene, wasn’t it? The last gasp for real glam after punk had made its way into the world.

I recently bothered to read the captions in the great pictorial *Duran Duran Unseen, and I grew more convinced that I would’ve had tons of fun and fit right in with that heavily eyelined set. I wasn’t as drawn to, nor was I willing to immerse myself in similar scenes that were still hanging on throughout the nineties. Goth would’ve been the closest, but they weren’t visually appealing enough. Although I liked some goth music and definitely had my share of goth friends, it always bothered me that it was nearly impossible to find the actual person hidden beneath all that garb and swirly black makeup. With the NewRo thing, you could go way out (Boy George), or, as a girl, especially, you could actually look pretty, but in a Nagel painting kind of way. Unfortunately for me, the most extreme look I embraced in the nineties was grunge: some thermal leggings under my holey jean shorts with my boyfriend’s flannel over a t-shirt. Oh, and some Docs, of course. Just lovely.

Back to explaining why the synth music of that period moves me. I liken it to music for a dark party, so to speak. It’s punk meets disco, and it’s ridiculously fun to dance to without being the stuff of frat parties (although I seem to recall hearing “Don’t You Want Me” following Dave Matthews Band at more than one frat party in college). And who doesn’t like a dark party where everyone’s dressed up and made up to the nines?

For more Blitz Kids/’80s fare, this is the place you really want to go.

*Seriously the best Duran photos I’ve ever seen.

(I have to confess that this entry is lifted from of one of my other blogs. So if you happened to have caught that one [doubt it!], don’t worry—I’m plagiarizing myself.)

Spain . . . on the Road Again

5 Jun

I assure you that I won’t continually choose really very things that are two years old, but sometimes older is good. Just ask the Sex and the City gals about their success—two years ago. (Just kidding. I saw Sex and the City 2, and I thought it was a hoot. No one wants to talk about how a good portion of American women likely have a problem with their favorite ladies whooping it up in the Middle East. Or maybe they have, but I haven’t read it. Anyway, xenophobia, anyone?)

People don’t seem to take issue with their leading ladies going off to Europe for a whirlwind tour of the best eats and spirits a country has to offer, however. Spain . . . on the Road Again, the 2008 television series that aired on public television, finds the charming Gwyneth Paltrow, Spanish actor Claudia Bassols, renowned Chef Mario Batali, and food writer/cookbook author extraordinaire Mark Bittman traveling the roads of Spain in swanky Mercedes, engaging in witty repartee, and getting sloshed in each of the 13 episodes of this series.

When I asked a good friend—a foodie of sorts—if she’d seen any of the episodes, she replied that no, she hadn’t, and that she’d heard that everyone on the show came off as “insufferable.” “EH?” I said. I, for one, had no idea that Gwyneth Paltrow had such a wonderful disposition prior to watching Spain  . . .  on the Road Again. She is seriously hilarious—a guy’s girl, really. She’s down to earth, unpretentious, and seems to enjoy cutting loose when the opportunity strikes. And she’s so naturally stunning. I’m taken aback how she can look so regal without a trace of makeup. (I do realize I’m blathering on, but I never thought one way or the other about Ms. P before watching the show, and I certainly knew a fair share of folks who for somewhat unjustifiable reasons loathed her; so it was very nice to see her in this new light. The light of España!)

Mario Batali’s orange Crocs and fondness for dressing down for all occasions are a bit of a downer, but he has his comedic moments, as well—and he’ll randomly throw out proof that he’s pretty hip. I believe it was in an episode where he and “Gwynnie” are visiting a gallery, where he drops a Gang of Four reference. (If you aren’t into English post-punk, you don’t really care.) Mark Bittman is exactly how you’d imagine him, if you’re familiar with his New York Times column or blog: dry, a little crotchety, but lovable. “Bassols,” as she’s often referred to on the show, is glamorous and intelligent. She’s the least entertaining of the lot, but she’s most fluent in Spanish and serves as the tour guide on the show.

If you don’t think you’d grow bored watching people eat and drink, and discuss in both English and Spanish what they feel about what they’re eating and imbibing, this show is for you. The locally grown food, its preparation, and the enjoyment it brings are so impressive that you can’t really help but at least attempt to eat better after watching a few shows. Vegetables never looked so delectable—I promise you.

PS: Check for air dates on the Spain . . .  on the Road Again web site (above). Alternatively, the series is available on good old Netflix.