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In the First Place

2 Dec
Wonderwall

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.

WonderwallButterflies.jpg

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.

 

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Chuck Cecil’s “Swingin’ Years”

21 Jun

I’ve taken to sweetening each Saturday morning with big band happiness and Chuck Cecil’s warm voice. (Not that I trust Wikipedia to give me all the facts, but there’s mention of Mr. Cecil having attended the wedding of Marilyn Monroe and her first husband, Jim, in his entry. Interesting.) The two were meant for each other, I’m telling you. Big band and Chuck Cecil, that is. Clearly Marilyn and Jim were not.

If you have something like this to play big band out of, all the better:

1960s Magnavox radio/turntable/record holder

Our radio is actually a bit dinged up, obviously needs a dusting, and isn’t the prettiest of its kind—but it was $25 at the Salvation Army, and it sure makes listening to records in the jazz, singers/standards, and Christmas genres enjoyable. Sometimes clear as a bell just doesn’t cut it. Who wants to  listen to Bing and Frank without some crackling in the background?

But back to Chuck Cecil and his syndicated “Swingin’ Years” program. I’m not sure what it is about listening to big band and swing that results in some sort of fabricated sense memory, as if I’d actually danced to these tunes with my honey in our living room before he was shipped off to Europe. It’s such a bizarre sensation—to feel as though you’re being transported back to a place you never were. My head dizzies in the same fashion when I listen to choral music on Classical KUSC. I’d like to think it’s a past lives thing, but I’d never have the guts—nor would I be capable of maintaining any level of seriousness for any length of time—to be hypnotized to find out. I enjoy it, though—whatever it is. It keeps me going back for more.

And, honestly, in this era when soul-touching music is scarce—at least in my opinion (of course, I am losing my sense of cool and not caring too much about it), having things like Chet Baker or Glenn Miller or Ravel to turn to is a welcome alternative. My only hope is that the public continues to generously contribute to the few remaining jazz and classical stations throughout the country. It’s tiresome to listen to one pledge drive after another, but I’d rather bear with it than face an absence of nearly uninterrupted quality music—especially over my morning coffee.

Edit, April 21, 2014:

The L.A. Times reported on January 27 that Chuck Cecil had made the tough decision to part ways with KJazz due to technical difficulties producing “Swingin’ Years,” his show that has delighted listeners since 1956. The weekend program aired on KJazz for 12 years. According to the article, “The show will continue to be available online, streaming via WPPB.” Read the article here.

A wonderfully heartwarming L.A. Times profile on Chuck from December 19, 2013.

Someone from Chuck’s camp (“Chuck” even—could it be?) commented with a link to his Facebook page, which I recommend readers check out and like—because surely you appreciate his longtime contribution to your weekends as much as I do.

Also, someone called Whit directed me to Chuck Cecil content over at shermanoaks.wordpress.com, which includes, among other tidbits, an interesting L.A. Times article from 2000, as well as some clips.

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.)