After four or five years of pissing about with Myspace, I've come home to the ol' website and blogger and stuff. Thanks Rupert, but we'll take it from here...
As you can see, it's a while since I posted on here. I'll look into transferring the Myspace posts over to the site at some stage, but in the meantime, if you're interested in what floated my boat this last half decade, it's all still up at www.myspace.com/subterraneanswasere
Meanwhile, see if you can spot the deliberate mistake in the updated discography
When I began my musical "career", in the late nineteenth century or whenever it was, I was surrounded by a peer group, people craving the same, an escape, a different kind of life. Most of them just gave up, some of them died, a lot of them went insane, others turned to drink and drugs and never turned back, one or two joined strange religious cults, and a few just plain disappeared. I myself have done all of these things to a greater or lesser degree, apart from the strange religious cult thing, which I haven't, yet. But I never found any of them particularly satisfying. Superficially, they may seem like an easy option compared to the artist's life, but in fact they are mind numbingly difficult for a truly creative person. When there's a song or a poem to write, or whatever, there is simply no way not to write it without gambling with one's eternal soul (or agnostic equivalent), or so it feels to me. The search for the words that just might make sense of one's emotional machinations is more than merely important, it is a matter of life and death for those inside the creative whirlpool. Life without art and/or love (they are practically the same thing after all) is, to me, a black hole, an escalator to nowhere. If nowhere is where you want to go, stand still and you will surely arrive. But remember that the attainable is a dangerous thing. What does one do when one completes the journey? Perhaps one sits down and reads one's bank statements, the story of a life told in absolute chronological tedium, one's very own Doomsday Book, ghost-written by an electronic abacus, each closing balance a cliff-hanger that anticipates the next month's financial adventures.
Live fish always swim against the current. That is how they feed. Only dead ones go with the flow. There is a beast at the core of our nature. The need to create is primal. Love, art, procreation, the dynamic is one and the same. Obey your inner beast or he'll eat you.
"They" may inflict death and injury on London, but London is bigger than "they". We are unimpressed. They bombed us a little bit today, but it wasn't enough to cancel reruns of "The Simpsons" on Channel 4. There was a degree of shock (after all, it is nine whole years since terrorists last blew up a bus in London), but no real surprise.
For two thousand years history has thrown it all at London; Black Death, Tyburn, the Great Fire, the Siege of Newgate, the Blitz, The IRA, we've seen it all before. We mourn and we are angry, but we do not burn Mosques, we do not blame. We are calm, informed, experienced, and we do not need to despise. London is a behemoth, in the words of Peter Ackroyd, a massive and unimprovable monster, the greatest city in the history of the world; we love it, we love its filth, its fury, its chaos. Today's terrible events will take their place as another mere footnote in the vast, complex and ancient history of London.
I know that my own thoughts and feelings today will reflect that of many Londoners; a feeling of great love for this city, there is nowhere on earth like it. And to the perpetrators, read your history books, do you not know that bombs bounce off us like rubber balls? The sun hasn't even set on this day, and already we have bounced back. We, the people of London, do not fear fascists; we laugh in their funny screwed-up little faces. We will drink tea, and make jokes about their hairiness and their lack of success with the opposite sex.
But some people have died, others have been badly injured. Today's events may be a piss in the ocean in London terms, but tonight hearts are broken and for that we must embrace our best humanity, and give our thoughts over to their suffering. For me, there is only one man whose words can say what really needs to be said.
THE DIVINE IMAGE
To Mercy, Pity, Peace, and Love
All pray in their distress;
And to these virtues of delight
Return their thankfulness.
For Mercy, Pity, Peace, and Love
Is God, our father dear,
And Mercy, Pity, Peace, and Love
Is man, his child and care.
For Mercy has a human heart,
Pity a human face,
And Love the human form divine,
And Peace, the human dress.
Then every man, of every clime,
That prays in his distress,
Prays to the human form divine,
Love, Mercy, Pity, Peace.
And all must love the human form,
In heathen, Turk, or Jew;
Where Mercy, Love, and Pity dwell
There God is dwelling too.
- William Blake, London, 1789
I perused this year's line-up; impressive, but the artist on the bill who most holds both my attention and respect is Patti Smith herself. So, in support of her and in protest against the South Bank's somewhat contemptible behaviour, I have instead elected to go not to Meltdown, but to Patti's Brighton gig in August. I don't need to see Horses performed in its entirety. I love it, I've known it like the back of my hand for years, but it isn't even my favourite Patti album. In fact I much prefer her most recent album, Trampin'. When I pay twenty quid to see her, at least let there be an outside chance that she'll play "Dancing Barefoot", "Pissing in a River", "Grateful", "Beneath the Southern Cross", "Because the Night", "25th Floor", "Rock'n'Roll Nigger", and all the others that I love as much as I love "Gloria". I am sure the Horses gig will be fantastic, because Patti Smith doesn't know how to be anything else. But I'll live. And, come to think of it, I've already seen her do everything off Horses at least once during the many occasions I've been to her gigs (Even "Land", which she hardly ever plays, but with which she opened her Shepherd's Bush Empire gig a couple of years ago). I've even seen her play covers of "The Streets of London", "Heart Shaped Box" and "When Doves Cry"...
There is film, there is experimental film; there is surrealist film, avant-garde film. And then there is Maya Deren. I first saw "Meshes of the Afternoon" in the mid-1980s, as I was discovering Cocteau and Dali and Bunuel. These films opened me to everyone from Derek Jarman to David Lynch. More recently I saw the film again, along with "At Land", and "Ritual in Transfigured Time". There is no stuff like this, to my knowledge, anywhere else. Although much has been written in praise of "Meshes of the Afternoon" (although little of it's true motivation and sociological importance), it was "At Land" that really brought me into submission to Deren's ideology. Firstly, it is the most erotic film I have ever seen; yet in no way is it sexual, nor even primal. It is deeply sophisticated and intellectual, and therein lies its rampant, surging appeal; it's ideas are naturalistic and beautiful; it is the beauty of the sea, the sky, the land, not that of a tepid set-piece. It is a female film, and by that I do not mean feminist, nor do I mean that it was made by a woman, but more that this film itself has a gender, that of a female. Deren herself, like all great artists, is genderless, but her art has gender. "At Land" burns with desire, not a specific notion of physicality, but an elemental beauty. It makes love to the eyes. One doesn't so much view it as participate in it; without audience it is incomplete, and that is the essence of pure art, pure film, pure inspiration. Maya Deren is marginal now, almost lost to the world, an oversight that must be rectified. It is not enough to detect her influence in the work of others. We must experience and applaud the original work. Like Van Gogh's Sunflowers, no reproduction can do justice to the virtuosity of the original piece. It is my intention to climb inside this vehicle, to discover for the sake of the art how it sounds. Let us peel away the silence that surrounds Maya Deren, bring volume to her quiet visions. It takes just fifteen minutes to see "At Land". With such a small investment, how can you lose?
In the ocean. In the motion of our love.
She was with me there - inside my armour
when the storm hit,
where the sea was vast like guilt,
where the wind spilt blood in buckets
and I tried so hard to suck it white.
I held so tight to love that it was not
love, and it fell away in pieces in my hand,
and my wings were filled with sand and water,
taut against the horrid air.
I flared and flailed and failed and lost my grip
and tripped and fell
beneath the waves, beneath the swell,
and I woke up frail and frayed and craving shelter
and was brought abreast the gale away from you
screaming, kicking, chewing on my lips and
spitting bits back down towards you.
The world is ending now -
the spell is broken.
The woken Jesus walks and weeps and sleeps no more
For man has murdered sleep for all mankind.
Do you understand this?
Do you find it bland, this blind conviction?
I remember so clearly these things that never happened.
I happen upon them again.
- Anno Birkin, aged 20, Spring 2001
Come live with me and be my love,
And we will all the pleasures prove,
That valleys, groves, hills and fields,
Woods, or steepy mountain yields.
And we will sit upon the rocks,
Seeing the shepherds feed their flocks,
By shallow rivers, to whose falls
Melodious birds sing Madrigals.
And I will make thee beds of roses,
And a thousand fragrant posies,
A cap of flowers, and a kirtle,
Embroidered all with leaves of myrtle.
A gown made of the finest wool,
Which from our pretty lambs we pull,
Fair lined slippers for the cold,
With buckles of the purest gold.
A belt of straw and ivy buds,
With coral clasps and amber studs,
And if these pleasures may thee move,
Come live with me and be my love.
The Shepherd swains shall dance and sing
For thy delight each May morning.
If these delights thy mind may move,
Then live with me, and be my love.
- Christopher Marlowe, aged 20, Spring 1584
Arthur Miller, one of the greatest dissident American voices of all time, is dead.
At the height of his powers in the 1940s and '50s, Arthur Miller's masterworks - "Death of a Salesman", "All My Sons", "The Crucible" and "A View from the Bridge" - fused psychological realism and a probing seriousness in a way that found a wide response and made him a voice of conscience in post-war America. His gifts amply suited the times and tapped into the prevailing mood of malaise that lay beneath the surface of the booming prosperity after World War II.
During the McCarthy period, Miller was called before the House Un-American Activities Committee and was indicted for contempt of Congress for refusing to co-operate. It transpired he had been named as a communist by director Elia Kazan (who had directed "Death of a Salesman"), a move which would forever blight Kazan's career. Miller was unfazed by his experience, and wrote his own thinly-veiled indictment of McCarthy, "The Crucible", in which he drew damning parallels between McCarthy's anti-Communist hysteria and the Salem Witch Trials; indeed it was this that has prompted many over the years to refer to the Un-American Activities episode as the "McCarthy Witch Hunts".
Arthur Miller married Marilyn Monroe in 1956, and wrote the screenplay for John Huston's film "The Misfits" as a vehicle for Monroe. Although arguably her greatest screen performance, the project was tinged with tragedy; Monroe died shortly after the film's completion, as did her co-stars Clark Gable and Montgomery Clift. Indeed to many, Arthur Miller is probably still best known as Monroe's husband; understandable, but unfair given his own massive contribution to theatre and film.
In his later years, although acknowledged as America's greatest living playwright, he found more acceptance with European audiences, particularly in London; director Robert Brustein once wryly observed that "England and America are two countries divided by a common playwright".
Last year the BBC's Alan Yentob, who first interviewed Miller in 1984, made a new documentary about Arthur Miller, that included what would turn out to be his final television interview. Aged 89, Arthur Miller had lost none of his vision, edge, and determination. It has taken death to silence Arthur Miller, but his legacy will be revered for as long as people can hear and see. We salute him.
Toni Halliday has been a seminal figure in my life. It was she who first talked to me about understanding the craft, from the business to the studio. Curve led by example, making their own music, in their own environment, in their own sweet time. They demonstrated that you don't need to tolerate witless studio engineers and bad smelling studios, all you need is your own set-up and the will to use it; the will to learn. Toni was and is living proof that knowledge is freedom. Her success gave her the authority to expound real principles, and I paid strict attention, and I learned more from Curve than any other band. Toni was the first person I ever met who defined success on her own terms; to Toni, it was enough to get this wild thing out on to a record for people to take or leave, if anyone bought it that was a mere bonus. But buy it they did, proving that Toni and Dean were not only inordinately talented and actually had something to say, but also that they were RIGHT. So we did as they did; we equipped ourselves, taught ourselves how to record ourselves, and never looked back. The result is that, all these years later, I can live with my work, even the bad stuff, because it's mine and I meant it. Without that personal momentum, the understanding that all you ever really need is an idea, I very much doubt I would still be here; certainly I wouldn't be making music, certainly I wouldn't be happy, perhaps I wouldn't have even lived through the worst times. At rock bottom, between Angelhead's split and recording "April May June", things were dangerous, very dangerous. When Angelhead split in 1991, I was pretty lost. I needed a confidence boost. The person I got it from was Toni Halliday, who called me, and offered her total support. Curve were riding high in the charts at the time, and it always moved me deeply that she took time out from all of that to be a friend to me. She believed I was on the right track artistically, and that belief echoed around inside me somewhere. When the shit really hit the fan, I still had a seed of hope, in no small part due to Toni's words. And here I am still, for better or worse.
When I heard this week that Curve had called it a day, my first thought was to pick up the phone and call Toni. She told me about her plans, and her new interests, and I offered her my support and best wishes. I will miss Curve immensely, as a fan, but also for more personal reasons. There may be thousands of bands who try to sound just like them, but there will never be another Curve, you need Toni and Dean for that. But their time to move on has come, as it always must eventually. Now I need to go and play "Pink Girl with the Blues" until my speakers explode...
I keep a certain respectful distance from Astrid Williamson. Although whenever our paths cross I find her to be warm, friendly, good-natured and disarmingly self-effacing, such is my respect for her creative path that one doesn't like to ask too much of her. Because Astrid gives it all through her music. Her voice is holy; to me there has always been something uniquely ethereal about Astrid. I wonder if she knows this, that she is an artist of incarnations, as she has indeed called her new label Incarnation Records. I don't believe anything is lost on her. She has astonishing artistic depth, true vision, and she glows with it; since her early incarnation as lead singer and principle songwriter of the amazing Goya Dress, through her sublime and astonishing solo work, to her breathtaking recent collaborations with Oskar, she has followed her own path with unparalleled determination and an explosive inspiration. I don't know of any other singer who can zigzag from breezy but super-intelligent pop to the dark demands of avant-garde rock music with such unflinching ease; she is wild yet controlled, dangerous yet vulnerable. She treads so many fine creative lines that it is hard to keep up with them all, which is probably why she isn't a major star; I've had this conversation with many people, and none of us can think of another reason. I say she isn't a major star, in the traditional definition, but she is a star nonetheless, dazzling and streets ahead. Listening to the only Goya Dress album, "Rooms", almost a decade after its release, it still sounds like the future to me. In the ensuing years Astrid has certainly not had it easy, yet her optimism is as potent as her melancholy, perhaps even moreso. I can identify strongly with her words and music; for my own benefit I think of her as one of my contemporaries, but in truth she is far too unique to have any. Her talent is epic, her music is exquisite, and the rest of us can only look, listen and learn something about ourselves from her. As such she fulfils the criteria of a great and important artist, but then again, somewhat more importantly, she simply is one.
Here's a curious orange. There's a band called Mummysmack based in the West Country. They're essentially a rock band. They like rock music of the other type, founded more on the essence of metal than the values of indie/punk. As such, they appeal to the far-right, meathead metal press, the kind of press that still doesn't realise that Alice Cooper was being ironic, and that Motorhead were as much punk band as a heavy metal band. Normally this would mean that, as the self-righteous art rock indie kid that I supposedly am, the likes of Mummysmack would pass me by purely because, due to the taste effect, our paths wouldn't ever cross.
However, this time I'm in the know, entirely because Mummysmack's lead singer, lyricist, art director, visionary, mystic, and spacegirl, who goes by the nom de plume of Mana, is in fact Amanda Moseley. I met Amanda some eleven years ago, at a May Day party in Exeter, during a day off from the April May June tour; we were then and have remained kindred spirits. For a long time we were inseparable, we were even roomies in London at one stage. I can count the people that know me better than I know myself on the fingers of one hand (thumb included, there are exactly five of 'em), and of those people, Amanda "Mana" Moseley is the longest serving; we have joyfully put up with each other's extremes for all these years, supported each other no matter what, and laughed long and hard together at pretty much everybody else. She is like Lisa to my Bart, the smarter, younger sister that I never had. Subterraneans even recorded the lion's share of Soul Mass Transit in her house, while she fed and watered us with the imagination and artistry that she brings to all her endeavours. So I'm writing here to redress the balance. You may well read about Mummysmack on the same pages as the knuckle brained nu-metal bands, but don't fall into the trap of thinking that this is what they are - they most certainly are not, and never will be with Mana at the helm. She's always been a star, and any fuss that is made about Mummysmack over the coming months is simply the world catching up with something I've known all along, so nothing new there (ahem...). Mummysmack have the soul, the mass, and the transit that makes artists out of mere musicians; they have it all to say, they say it bloody loud, and through Amanda Moseley they say it with a flair and integrity that no metal band could ever have done. And so it is that I am writing about them, to confuse you as much as possible, so that you'll throw out any indie prejudices and lend them your ears. Don't be put off by ice-cream cone shaped guitars or massive trousers; think music, think depth, keep it real, loosen up, and just listen. Cross over, tear down your genre ethics, and turn the volume back up to 11. You'll get it, because they are not the same, they are not what rock genre politics would have you expect, and they do it better than the rest. Trust me, I'm a punk.
You're the king of rock'n'roll
You're the wild and lonely
You're the singer, song, and soul
You're the one and only...
And now it's 2005. Thirty years since the release of Horses, the greatest debut album ever made (or yer munny back). It introduced the world to Patti Smith. There has never been any debate about its greatness, it was always obvious. So, why is it so great? Well, for starters, the opening song is "Gloria", which begins with the spoken line "Jesus died for somebody's sins, but not mine"; simply the most potent and powerful opening lines ever committed to vinyl. Even the creators of the world's greatest literature would die for an opening line like that. It was as statement of intent to which Patti Smith has remained completely true for three decades, never once bowing to the pressures of commerce. She is benediction. She is all artist. That's how good she is, still. She has made nine albums, for me numbering eight total masterpieces and one near masterpiece; Dream of Life, the only record she released in the Eighties (and the only one not to feature Lenny Kaye), was never quite in the same league as her earlier work, but her return to the studio in 1996 for Gone Again marked a complete return to form on which she has consistently continued to improve ever since. Her most recent album, last year's Trampin', was simultaneously the most challenging and most beautiful record of 2004, I think even beating Morrissey into second place.
You get the picture. I love Patti Smith. She amazes me even more now than she did before. Her records are an education. For the post-punk generation, she is a prophet and a shaman. For me, her music, live and on record, is THE religious experience. And "Gloria" remains at the eye of her hurricane. You don't even know what live music is until you've been in the audience when she sings that one. It'll shoot you clean over the edge of any reality into a place you didn't even know about, that you never even dreamed of. It will sweep you over the horizon at breakneck speed, and no drug will ever take you higher than this woman's music. Your feet won't touch the ground, but you'll kiss the sky at last.
She's still at it, in fact she's better than ever, and what's more she is still flanked by original band members Lenny Kaye on guitar and Jay Dee Daugherty on drums, who have shared her journey since the early Seventies, since I was born. And not for her the cabaret of past glories; she is still creating the most fierce, important and cutting edge music of any American artist. She has become mythic and mystic, but without an iota of compromise. She is unique. She is glorious.
Listen to Horses sometime soon, and live in hope, because this is happening now and it's all ours. Then listen to Radio Ethiopia, Easter, Wave, Dream of Life, Gone Again, Peace and Noise, Gung Ho, and Trampin'. Just because you can. And because it's still the best, loudest, most beautiful and most dangerous art in the whole wide world.
It was 24 years ago today, in front of an apartment block opposite Central Park.
I still can't get my head around it.
I get asked a lot which contemporary poets I like. I confess, very few. There seems to be an inclination towards turgid performance art these days, the words themselves are no longer enough. We have such things as "poetry slams", which, for want of a more literate comparison, are to poetry what wet tee shirt contests are to Venus de Milo. Ego has found its way back into the written word, but it is the ego of Eurovision pop singers, rather than budding Napoleons. To these eyes and ears exceptions are woefully rare. But one such exception was Anno Birkin.
Anno Birkin was the son of the artist Andrew Birkin, and the nephew of Jane. He was born in 1980, and died in a road accident in 2001. He liked Baudelaire and Kenneth Patchen, and can be likened to Arthur Rimbaud. His flair seemed destined to blossom into genius, and the tragedy of it's truncation is epic when one considers the sheer volume and movement of his ideas. Like Jeff Buckley, we shall never know, but can only speculate with futile rage on what a body of work was torn from us when he was lost. Anno Birkin may have been a young man, not yet wise in the exploration of ideas, but therein lies his continuing charm as an artist; he never lived long enough to become cynical, thus his words, although disaffected and disenfranchised in the natural tenacity of tender age, land squarely in that beautiful somewhere between truth and reality. He was a visionary whose visions were not yet completely realised, but were that were visionary all the same. His writing is by turns naïve (in the best, most romantic sense), skilled (but not weary with formulaic technique), and punk rock angry (always the best starting point for an English white boy). He writes with the confidence of inspiration, like he knows he could move mountains with his words, but likes the mountains fine where they stand. Birkin was exactly the right mix of light and dark to have expelled important work, indeed this he already achieved, only there was so much more where that came from. It's hard to read him without feeling great sadness at the thought that there shall be no more. Here was an artist who had found his true voice and was figuring out how to use it; within that process he produced some great work. You'll cry, you'll empathise, and you'll laugh out loud.
His book, posthumously compiled by his family, is called "Who Said The Race Is Over?". Anno's poems and song lyrics (which are graceful, glorious, and put me in mind of Astrid Williamson's warmth, sincerity and depth) are the draw, but the addition of his decorative doodles is worth the modest cover price alone. One in particular, evidently from a school exercise book, had me howling with glee and an instant delicious affinity for Anno; the word "Art" is emblazoned on a page, surrounded by multiple "Fucks" - the page is annotated by teacher's scrawl: "What is the meaning of this? See me at 3.20". Fantastic... But, moreover, I feel great affection towards any artist who writes a line that I myself would love to have written. The one that jumped right off the page and lit my fire was "Truth is bold, but bolder still is love that needs no truth or untruth". It's the kind of line that speaks volumes of its creator. Through such words we can still know Anno Birkin. It's an acquaintance that I am the better for having made.
In lieu of a new Blake essay that I was planning to give you, but which has opened up possibilities to be developed beyond my original intention, I feel it is appropriate to draw notice to an oft-overlooked player of the late Romantic era, which is less a digression from Blake so much as a mere side-step.
Algernon Charles Swinburne was born in London in 1836, nine years after the death of William Blake. He was born in Grosvenor Place, just a short distance from Blake's former home in South Molton Street, but in stark contrast to Blake, he was of privileged stock. A child prodigy, he was sponsored by Wordsworth and educated at Eton, where he wrote his first published work, "The Unhappy Revenge", at the age of twelve. At fifteen he won the coveted Prince Consort Prize for Modern Languages. He continued his education at Oxford, where he met the artist and poet Dante Gabriel Rossetti. Rossetti had come into the possession of several unpublished notebooks belonging to Blake (later published as "The Rossetti Manuscript"), and idolised Blake the painter/poet. Swinburne subsequently fell under Blake's spell. In Blake's poems he found the passion that was lacking in the works of the major contemporary poets like Wordsworth, Tennyson and Elizabeth Barrett Browning. In agreeing with Blake's observations (those "dark satanic mills"), he began to view the privileges of social class and educational institutions as the cause of this stagnation, and quickly lost interest in his previously promising academic career. He supported himself writing reviews for The Spectator, wherein he also began to publish his poems and essays. However, following the death of his sister Edith, the only person to whom he had confessed his emerging homosexuality, he began his descent into alcoholism. At 31 he published "William Blake: A Critical Essay", a seminal appreciation of his hero which would become a touchstone work for the generation of writers and artists that followed, from Oscar Wilde and T.S. Eliot, to D.H. Lawrence and Virginia Woolf. Three years later Swinburne published what would prove to be his best volume of poetry; "Songs Before Sunrise" was again clearly influenced by Blake's work, notably "Songs of Innocence and Experience" and "Jerusalem". Swinburne would continue to write, but would publish more infrequently, as he became increasingly a victim of his addiction. Unable to earn money due to his frequent ill health, he moved out of central London to Putney, south west of Chelsea, which was then a somewhat impoverished neighbourhood. There he would remain for the rest of his life. Despite his poor health and diminished circumstances, he lived to the age of 72, eventually succumbing to pneumonia in 1909, just three years before the publication of Woolf's first novel "The Voyage Out", and six years after Wilde's death in exile in Paris. It is Swinburne who bridges the gap between Blake and Bloomsbury; it was he who brought Blake out of the shadows and elevated him to iconic status. Yet Swinburne himself is now little read. His poetry seems to belong to an earlier age to that in which it was created, and this apparent lack of contemporary zeitgeist could be largely to blame for his relative obscurity. That, and his alcoholism. But read today, and compared to the likes of Browning and Tennyson, his words seem alive with the spirit of the Romantic ideologies, brimming with an invention that deserves renewed appreciation.
"Now assuredly I see
My lady is perfect, and transfigureth
All sin and sorrow and death,
Making them fair as her own eyelids be,
Or lips wherein my whole soul's life abides;
Or as her sweet white sides
And bosom carved to kiss.
Now therefore, if her pity further me,
Doubtless for her sake all my days shall be
As righteous as she is.
Forth, ballad, and take roses in both arms,
Even till the top rose touch thee in the throat
Where the least thornprick harms;
And girdled in thy golden singing-coat,
Come thou before my lady and say this;
Borgia, thy gold hair's colour burns in me,
Thy mouth makes beat my blood in feverish rhymes;
Therefore so many as these roses be,
Kiss me so many times.
Then it may be, seeing how sweet she
That she will stoop herself none otherwise
Than a blown vine-branch doth,
And kiss thee with soft laughter on thine eyes,
Ballad, and on thy mouth.
Kneel down, fair Love, and fill thyself with tears,
Girdle thyself with sighing for a girth
Upon the sides of mirth,
Cover thy lips and eyelids, let thine ears
Be filled with rumour of people sorrowing;
Make thee soft raiment out of woven sighs
Upon the flesh to cleave,
Set pains therein and many a grievous thing,
And many sorrows after each his wise
For armlet and for gorget and for sleeve.
O Love's lute heard about the lands of death,
Left hanged upon the trees that were therein;
O Love and Time and Sin,
Three singing mouths that mourn now underbreath,
Three lovers, each one evil spoken of;
O smitten lips wherethrough this voice of mine
Came softer with her praise;
Abide a little for our lady's love.
The kisses of her mouth were more than wine,
And more than peace the passage of her days.
O Love, thou knowest if she were good to see.
O Time, thou shalt not find in any land
Till, cast out of thine hand,
The sunlight and the moonlight fail from thee,
Another woman fashioned like as this.
O Sin, thou knowest that all thy shame in her
Was made a goodly thing;
Yea, she caught Shame and shamed him with her kiss,
With her fair kiss, and lips much lovelier
Than lips of amorous roses in late spring.
The tears that through her eyelids fell on me
Made mine own bitter where they ran between
As blood had fallen therein,
She saying; Arise, lift up thine eyes and see
If any glad thing be or any good
Now the best thing is taken forth of us;
Even she to whom all praise
Was as one flower in a great multitude,
One glorious flower of many and glorious,
One day found gracious among many days."
- Swinburne, 1866
I was saddened today to learn of the death of Coil's John Balance. Although our paths crossed on only a few of brief occasions, the last time being at the Barbican a couple of years ago, John Balance was one of the rare few; he understood that music is art, he appreciated it as such, and he brought flair and integrity to his work, not only with coil, but also with Psychic TV, wherein he first worked with Coil cohort Peter Christopherson. I first met John Balance in 1989, at a launch for the A.C. Marias album "One of Our Girls Has Gone Missing". I was 17, and I think I rather pissed him off with dull questions like "So, do you keep in touch with Genesis P. Orridge?". We met again about five years later at Compendium in Camden, when I rescued him from an apparently rather lame conversation with Sean Hughes. As I recall, we discussed what an appalling job Brian Eno had done on the soundtrack for Derek Jarman's "Glitterbug". We took the piss out of Suede, and he expressed his admiration for the Associates and asked me to pass on his greetings to Billy. We had fun deliberately ignoring Nick Kent. I remember he mentioned that he was from Nottingham, like Robin Hood, and, as I pointed out to him, like D.H. Lawrence and Boot's Chemists...
Back in the summer a friend asked me to go with him to see Coil at the Hackney Ocean. I remember it distinctly, because I hadn't heard much about Coil for a while, and because the Ocean is my favourite venue on the planet, any excuse to go there. But I couldn't attend, as coincidence would have it I was heading to Charleston for a private viewing of the Derek Jarman "Black" exhibition. I couldn't have known I wouldn't get another chance.
One of the best things about this calling is learning that you are not alone. It can be cold out there, trying to bring meaning to the agonising indifference of the contemporary music industry. The margins, however, are populated by the best people, the most creative people, the strangest, coolest, most selfless people; those who give because they need to give. I believe that John Balance was one of them, one of us. He has my enduring respect. My thoughts are with those who were close to him.
It is with deep sadness that I must report the death of Deborah Weil.
Deborah Weil was a patron of the arts, a tireless human rights supporter, and a superb and challenging artist in her own right. She was born and raised in Mexico, and although she lived in London for most of her adult life, she remained always true to her Mexican roots. Indeed I think we first bonded over our mutual love for spicy foods. No, I tell a lie, I remember exactly; it was over the poor quality of the coffee in the now defunct Cosmo cafe in Swiss Cottage...
I have known Debs for a decade. She has been a good friend to me, and, by extension, a great supporter of Subterraneans. Although her reputation may sometimes have been as something of a recluse, she had a large inner circle of people in her life, and chose her friends carefully. I am honoured to have been part of that circle.
Her passion for art was ferocious, and her respect for artists, be they international superstars or starving on the streets, was more than merely heartfelt. She poured virtually all her time and money into supporting them. When she founded the Mexico Gallery in Hampstead, she launched it not with the kudos of big-name artists, but with maverick exhibitions of traditional Mexican street art, often paying top dollar for unknown works by struggling artists. She helped launch the career of Michael Wille Vargas, and attracted so much attention that the major London art galleries soon followed suit with exhibitions of Mexican art (though they would never give her the credit for having the idea first). Within the artistic community she was, apparently, known as something of a troublemaker, because while they sat around debating artistic values, she was out there working her socks off to bring the work to the people. And she succeeded in doing so, more than anyone else I know.
The world cannot afford to lose people like Deborah Weil. She was beautifully chaotic, brilliant and deeply sensitive towards others, all of which is reflected in her own work. Whether she was creating her series of collages, or decorating toilet seats, she brought an energy and vitality to the work she was doing, and never ever compromised for anything. She is irreplaceable.
The Mexico Gallery will be hosting a retrospective exhibition of Debs' work from now until the end of the year, when it will close it's doors for the last time. Please come by and help celebrate the life and work of this remarkable woman. Information is available on the gallery's website at www.mexicogallery.co.uk
'Tis strange the miser should his cares employ
To gain those riches he can n'er enjoy.
Not for himself he sees or hears or eats;
Artists must choose his pictures, music, meats.
'Tis they consult the genius of the place in all;
That tells the waters to rise or fall,
Or helps the ambitious hill the heavens to scale
Or scoops in circling, or theatres the vale;
Calls in the country, catches opening glades,
Joins willing woods, and varies shades from shades;
Now breaks, or now directs the intending lines,
Paints as you plant and, as you work, designs.
Still follow sense, of every art the soul,
Parts answering parts shall slide into a whole;
Nature shall join you, time shall make it grow.
A work to wonder at.
- Alexander Pope, 1731
Can there be anyone in this country who loves music that wasn't deeply shocked and saddened to hear of the death of John Peel?
Let's face it, John Peel was probably THE most influential voice in British music for nigh on to forty years, even though he himself was no musician. He was a DJ, but more importantly he was a music lover, absolutely passionate about music, a bounding ball of energy that touched us all.
When I was starting out in the Eighties, John Peel's late night radio show was essential listening. I never gave a thought to wanting to appear on Top of the Pops, but the opportunity to do a session for John Peel was a burning ambition. He was the first DJ ever to play my stuff on national radio, primarily because he was the first person anybody ever thought about sending their music to. And you knew that if you got played on his show, millions of like-minded people would be listening in and hearing you. It was Peel who practically invented the idea of giving session time to new artists, opening the door for the likes of Janice Long, Andy Kershaw and others to do the same. Without Peel I'd probably now be sitting in a lunatic asylum somewhere in the West Midlands. And I am just one of thousands who owe him so much.
In addition to being the spokesman for all serious music lovers, John Peel was also one of the nicest people you could ever meet. Who would not take a shine to a man who gave so much of his time, and who was so full of love for music and people and the things he believed in? He was a deeply emotional man who loved his wife Sheila above anything else, so much so that he could hardly utter her name without shedding tears of happiness, even after decades of marriage. He even built a studio in his home so that he could broadcast his show to the nation without having to be parted from her. To her and his children we send our warmest regards and deepest sympathies.
John Peel is completely irreplaceable, and the debt that we who love music owe him can never be paid. The best tribute we can give him is to continue to nurture new artists, continue to make new exciting and heartfelt music, continue to be true to ourselves. He was an absolute example to us all, both in who he was and how he lived, and he will be sorely missed for many years to come.
And I for one know whose statue we should place on the empty plinth in Trafalgar Square. If you own a copy of The Undertones' "Teenage Kicks", open the windows and play it as loud as you can.
View the public tributes to John Peel
Heavy High was a big deal, released on Blur's label Food Records through EMI. But for Roaming Liz went indie with her own Red Club label, stamping her authority on the album in the process. Both albums are records that I will listen to for as long as I live.
Very often when I discover some music I really love I am able to make contact with the artist, for me it's the greatest perk of the job. But occasionally people prove elusive, none moreso than Liz Horsman. Liz, if you're reading this somewhere, give us a break. You're too good, we need you, not people like you, but you personally...
For the third time we have lost a Ramone. Johnny Ramone, the centre of the Earth's gravity, has passed away in LA. It is difficult to express enough sadness at such a loss, because Johnny Ramone was the music itself. It was he who founded the Ramones, the most seminal proto-punk rock'n'roll band of them all. It was his 3 minute songwriting genius and buzzsaw guitar playing that has most defined our generation. Johnny Ramone is as important in history as Beethoven; as Beethoven destroyed the waltz and gave us instead the Scherzo, a classical revolution whose influence is felt down the ages, so Johnny Ramone reinvented the entire rock'n'roll ethos. Never had a Fender Mustang been such a weapon for good as in the hands of this man. For as long as there is mankind there will be rock'n'roll, and yet in 1974 it was all but a dinosaur. Then along came Johnny Ramone, reinvigorating the genre far beyond it's original shelf life, for all time. The Ramones were not, as some might have thought, the four horsemen of the apocalypse. They were saviours of the first order. Joey Ramone gave it teeth and a stance, Dee Dee and Tommy gave it a backbone that could support any weight of expectation. And Johnny gave it the rest; the volume, the sonics, the artistry, the attack, the violence and the grace. He was the guitarist in the ultimate guitar band. From the first "Hey Ho Lets Go" to the very last "Gabba Gabba Hey", there was simply no stopping him. And lets not forget the man's sheer speed. The "It's Alive" album, recorded live at the Rainbow in London on New Year's Eve 1978, contains twenty six tracks, and is a mere 55 minutes in length. Presumably they knew life was going to be all too short.
In 1990 I was standing at the bar in Edward's Number Eight in Birmingham, as I did on numerous occasions. Everyone there knew me as the singer in a happening-ish band from down the road, and I got a lot of freebies, so my presence there was not unusual. I would frequently meet people I admired there, indeed it was there that I met Will Sergeant for the first time. On this occasion there were a couple of new US bands due on stage, neither of whom I'd ever heard of. At the bar I was complimented on my Ramones tee shirt by a scruffy blond guy wearing a bad reproduction of a "Vive Le Rock" shirt. He asked me what my favourite Ramones album was, I told him "Rocket to Russia", he concurred, and we got talking. I bought him several beers on my slate (which I never ever had to pay for), we got slightly sozzled together, talking about Johnny Ramone, and other great US punk bands like X and Dead Kennedys. Then someone told him to get on with it, and he climbed onstage. Having assumed he was a roadie or something, I was completely shocked when I realised he was the singer/guitarist in the band. I stayed for their set, one of about fifteen people in attendance. They were pretty awful. I think the singer was slightly pissed. Anyway, I left soon after their set, having lied to him about much potential I thought they showed. Of course, the joke was on me, because the band was Nirvana and he was Kurt Cobain. To this day whenever I hear "All Apologies" I can't help thinking of that scene in Bill and Ted when Rufus tells us that one day the Wild Stallyns will save mankind; in the background they are making the most dreadful din, and he qualifies his claim by simply saying "they do get better". So thanks to the Ramones I crossed paths with Kurt Cobain. Which was nice.
The other great privilege was to have been in the audience for the Ramones' final ever UK show at the Brixton Academy in 1996. That was also the night I met Billy Ficca from Television. The Ramones have always been good to me.
Fay Wray, the last great icon of the early cinema, has passed quietly away at the age of 97. She made her film debut in 1923 in "Gasoline Love", and went on to appear in over sixty movies before retiring in 1958. She came out of retirement briefly in 1980 for the cult movie "Gideon's Trumpet", but never made another film despite persistent rumours that she would one day return. Wray starred in some of early films most controversial classics, including "Street of Sin", "The First Kiss", "The Unholy Garden" and the legendary fable "The Four Feathers". Her success continued with the advent of sound, and her early talkies included "The Bowery", Pancho Villa biopic "Viva Villa" and, of course, "King Kong". The famous poster of the giant ape clasping Wray in it's hand became one of the most enduring images of the silver screen. But for my munny, her finest performance was in the 1932 horror classic "The Mystery of the Wax Museum", directed by Michael "Casablanca" Curtiz. The film was remade in the 1950s as "House of Wax" starring Vincent Price (which happened to give it's name to the first ever Angelhead EP in 1987). But Curtiz's original is by far the superior version.. The released cut of the movie was a mere 77 minutes long, but in the early Eighties, the director's original cut, running at almost two and a half hours, was discovered. I remember watching it on TV late one night with my Dad, and both of us being truly astonished with the scope and depth of the movie. It was classic Curtiz, and Fay Wray's performance has lived in my memory ever since. If you ever have the opportunity to see it, please do.
Of course, any Michael Curtiz film is worth seeing. I recently read that he was voted America's greatest director by the Motion Picture Academy. Ironic, seeing as he was born in Budapest, and made all his early films in Germany, learning his craft from such maverick German directors as G.W. Pabst, F.W. Murnau, and Fritz Lang. Indeed it was Curtiz who first brought the edginess of European cinema to Hollywood. The reason "Casablanca" is regarded by virtually everybody as the greatest movie ever made is precisely because it is imbued with an atmosphere of cool reality that makes everything from the smallest detail to the most outlandish behaviour utterly believable and acceptable. So brilliantly are the characters drawn into the setting that there is no escape for the audience, you are drawn right in with them, their desires become your desires, their anguishes your anguishes. Before Curtiz, no other Hollywood director had accomplished this so completely, yet there are many films from the golden age of German cinema, the 1920s, that have this ability, even today. The most obvious examples are, of course, "Pandora's Box" and "Metropolis"; but so believable is Murnau's "Nosferatu" that someone actually based a movie ("Shadow of the Vampire") on the idea that Max Schrek was a real vampire. Two great films for the price of one.
Curtiz's filmography is more than just "Casablanca" however. True, that film will always remain his masterpiece, but one should not overlook such other great works as "Mandalay", "Angels with Dirty Faces", "The Charge of the Light Brigade", "The Adventures of Robin Hood", "Kid Galahad", "The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex" (based on Maxwell Anderson's play of the Lytton Strachey book), "Mildred Pierce", "White Christmas", "Flamingo Road", "The Scarlet Hour" and "King Creole". Even lesser known films, such as the aforemention Fay Wray vehicle, as well as the likes of "The Third Degree", "Doctor X" (also starring Wray), and "Night and Day" (if you can believe Cary Grant as Cole Porter), are worthy of your full attention. And let's not forget, it was Curtiz who first brought his old pal Bela Lugosi to Hollywood.
Forty nine years ago today the Japanese city of Nagasaki was devastated by an American atomic bomb. 150,000 people, mostly women, children, and old folk, were incinerated in the blast. Nothing grew there for nearly thirty years, and babies are still born deformed because the land beneath their mothers' feet is eradiated with nuclear fall out that has a half life of ninety years. One in ten children still succumbs to leukaemia before they reach their teens. The Nagasaki death toll is incalculable and still rising. The attack ended World War Two, but ushered in a new world order of fear and mistrust. And still the question goes unanswered; why? Why did US president Harry S. Truman give the order to attack Hiroshima and Nagasaki - civilian targets - with the most horrific weapon the world has ever known? The justification is that it saved American lives. But by August 1945 the war against Germany was over, and in the Pacific the Japanese had been beaten back to their own waters by the American Navy, while the British Army had finally driven them out of Burma. Japan was beaten. The European Allies had drawn up a plan of economic sanctions and the blockading of the Far East trade routes. Japan could realistically have been forced into submission without any Allied invasion, indeed without so much as another shot being fired. But Truman gave the order, and the land was scorched and the water was poisoned for a thousand years. And so it is that only God and an otherwise forgettable US president have accomplished such a thing.
They did it to save American lives. Sound familiar?
Today is 11th July 2004.
Exactly one hundred years ago today a small social gathering took place at 46 Gordon Square, London. The explosion of creativity that arose from that meeting sent shockwaves through English art that are today as loud and as relevant as art has ever been.
It was such a small thing, a mere reunion of a handful of friends formally of Cambridge University at the London home of Thoby Stephen, one of their number. Thoby had simply invited his friends Lytton Strachey, Duncan Grant, Clive Bell, Roger Fry, E.M. Forster, John Maynard Keynes, Saxon Sydney Turner, Leonard Woolf and David Garnett to tea, because they all happened to be in town at the same time. It was the first time any of the Cambridge friends had met Thoby's two sisters, Vanessa and Virginia. They sat and had tea and talked. And talked, and talked. The two women enchanted the entire room, Vanessa with her ferocious opinions on art and her boundless energy and rule-breaking enthusiasm for life, Virginia with her searing intellect and lightning wit.
Such meetings soon became a regular Thursday evening event at 46 Gordon Square. The Bloomsbury Group had been born. Soon they would be joined by Dora Carrington, T.S. Eliot, Katharine Mansfield, Ottoline Morrell, and Vita Sackville-West. For more than two generations they would dominate English art and literature. Alas, Thoby would never see it, succumbing to Tuberculosis in 1907, the year after Vanessa and Clive were married, and two years before the marriage of Virginia and Leonard.
In 1910, Vanessa, Clive, Roger Fry and Duncan Grant, under the patronage of Ottoline Morrell, set up their own art gallery in London, the Omega Rooms. They travelled to Europe to find exciting new art for their first exhibition, bringing back works by little known artists whom the Omega Rooms would make household names; among them Van Gogh, Cezanne, Monet, Matisse, and Rodin.
By 1912 John Maynard Keynes had become the foremost economist of his day, and Lytton Strachey had begun to push back the boundaries of what could be done in literature, becoming the pre-eminent figure in a new movement of writers.
In 1913 Virginia and Leonard founded their own publishing house, the Hogarth Press. They were the first to publish works by Eliot, Mansfield and Forster, as well as the first English language translations of the maverick German poet Rainer Maria Rilke. Their book covers were adorned by decorative designs from the hands of Vanessa, Duncan Grant and Dora Carrington, which also broke new ground and began what became known as the Bloomsbury style.
Following the outbreak of war in 1914, Vanessa and Clive, who now had two young children Julian and Quentin, elected to move out of London to the Sussex countryside. They took over Charleston, an Elizabethan farmhouse east of the small town of Lewes. Charleston quickly became the Bloomsbury Group's new base, as John Maynard Keynes and Duncan Grant also moved in.
By 1916 it was evident that Hogarth's greatest asset, and Bloomsbury's most uncompromising voice, was Virginia herself, who had turned her attention from being a publisher to being a writer.
The rest, as they say, is history.
From Van Gogh's "Sunflowers" to the novels of Woolf, Eliot and Forster, from Vanessa and Duncan's designs that became the very definition of 1920's English art, to Ottoline Morrell's patronage and protection of everyone from Henry Moore to D.H. Lawrence, a world without the influence of Bloomsbury is completely unthinkable. To say nothing of the sexual and intellectual revolutions that they initiated.
Of all artistic movements in the last two centuries, Bloomsbury came closest to realising the visionary utopia of Blake's Jerusalem. They set the world alight with new ideas, and they did it selflessly and with love and passion.
And it all started 100 years ago today, over tea and, probably, cakes.
"When the new age is at leisure to pronounce, all will be set right... Inspired Men will hold their proper rank, and the Daughters of Memory shall become the Daughters of Inspiration. Rouse up, O Young Men of the New Age! Set your foreheads against the ignorant hirelings! Painters! On you I call. Sculptors! Architects! Suffer not the fashionable fools to depress your powers by the prices they pretend to give for contemptible works, or the expensive advertising boasts that they make of such works. They are a class of men whose whole delight is in destroying...if we are but just and true to our own Imaginations we shall live forever in Worlds of Eternity...
And did those feet in ancient time
Walk upon England's mountains green?
And was the holy Lamb of God
On England's pleasant pastures seen?
And did the Countenance Divine
Shine forth upon our clouded hills?
And was Jerusalem builded here
Among these dark Satanic Mills?
Bring me my bow of burning gold!
Bring me my arrows of desire!
Bring me my spear! O clouds, unfold!
Bring me my chariot of fire!
I will not cease from mental fight,
Nor shall my sword sleep in my hand,
Till we have built Jerusalem
In England's green and pleasant land."
- William Blake, 1809
I saw Times Square for the first time on TV in 1984, and it completely changed my life. The next day I formed my first band, with a friend, who had also caught the film the previous night. I saw Times Square for the second time yesterday, twenty years later. It's never been repeated on TV in the UK, at least if it has then I managed to completely miss it. This is a difficult film to see. Since the advent of the internet I have periodically hunted for it, but the only video release was in the US, and it was deleted in 1992, a year before I even heard of the internet. Then, a few weeks ago, it came up in conversation with an American friend, who told me that they had actually seen it on DVD three or four years ago. You might say I was alerted to it's presence. You might even say I felt its presence, a presence I had not felt since… Anyway, I renewed my search, to discover that indeed it had indeed been issued briefly on DVD in the US in 2000. So I began to scour the net for a shop that might have a dusty copy on a shelf or in a backroom. And I came up trumps. Twenty dollars. That's all it cost. Plus I had to sacrifice my PC DVD drive to Region One so that I could actually watch it. But that is quite alright. After all, this is the film that changed my life.
I was actually afraid to watch it, afraid that it wouldn't be as great as I remembered it. I was worried that it may prove to be nothing more than an early teen-flick. I was almost prepared to be disappointed. But I was not. Times Square is every single bit as great as I remembered.
I have read much about the movie over the years. At one point I even tried to contact one of its stars, Robin Johnson, to no avail. I'd heard the many myths about it. Like how director Alan Moyle had based the story on the diary of an unknown teenage girl with mental health issues. He found the book hidden in an old sofa that he'd bought. I'd heard about how producer Robert Stigwood had recut the film against Moyle's wishes in an attempt to blunt the lesbian subtext and tame the character of the rebel rousing DJ (played by Tim Curry in far and away his finest ever performance). Yet, despite Stigwood's best efforts to sanitise and commercialise the film, it remains all powerful. One can only guess at what might have been if the director's cut had seen the light of day.
As the title suggests, Times Square is set in New York. While every bit the urban punk rock movie, there are elements which identify with any city. It is not laden with landmarks, but is a film of the streets. Pammy (played by Trini Alvarado) is the disturbed thirteen year old daughter of a rich politician (played by the late Richard Coffield). She loves poetry and movies, and just wants to write and be heard. Nicky (Robin Johnson) is a fifteen year old street kid, who lives for punk rock music. The two meet when both are institutionalised for their apparently anti-social behaviour. Together they escape into the city, where they reinvent themselves as "The Sleez Sisters" when DJ Johnny Laguadia (Tim Curry) takes an interest in their case and gives them a platform on his radio show. The girls become punk rock folk-heroes, pursued relentlessly by the establishment. There are great one liners, such as the attempted stick up ("Freeze motherfucker, or I'll brain your blows out"), and the live radio broadcast ("The Sleez Sister dedicate this to Brian Jones, and all the other dinosaurs that got kicked out of the band"). And there are some incredible punk lyrics, such as Pammy's autobiographical rant to her father the politician ("Spick, nigger, faggot, bum/Your daughter is one"). The punk soundtrack provides many cherished moments; as Nicky is being chased around the asylum she, her cassette player is blasting out the Ramones’ "I Wanna Be Sedated", the hilarious and ultimate "fuck you" to her captors; and in their darkest moment, a deeply moving sequence is played out to Patti Smith's "Pissing in a River". When she breaks down in the studio, Nicky quotes the lyrics from Smith's "Pumping (My Heart)". Other classic musical moments include The Pretenders, Talking Heads, Lou Reed, XTC, New York Doll David Johanson, Gary Numan, and a stirring theme tune from Roxy Music.
At it's heart, Times Square is a movie about self-expression. Poetry, performance, music and the punk ethic are central to it's message. It is a story of rebellion and friendship, and of two teenagers finding themselves and their strengths through making their voices heard. It is extraordinary, in that whatever you need to find in it, you probably will. Gay audiences love it, because of what they see as a homosexual subtext, which I think is probably true, but of which I was completely unaware when I first saw the film. Feminists love it, because the protagonists are female, and boys don't enter into it. Which is also true. But what affected me most when I saw it was not any of these things, but it's remarkably liberating position on artistic freedom. This is a film that genuinely inspired people to be themselves. It is the embodiment of the punk ethic, that you can be anything you want, you do not need permission, all you need to do is be yourself.
Of course, entering my teens, I was completely ripe for this message when I first saw Times Square. I had already began to discover the music, and the film helped me place the punk ethic in the context of my own life. While to some extent it masquerades as a teen-flick, it is actually far, far more than this. You will not see performances of such depth and darkness in any teen movie. Times Square was made in 1979, before the teen movie formula was established, and right in the middle of the US punk rock explosion. Although very much a film of it's time, it is nevertheless timeless. It is wilder and infinitely more intelligent than any of the teen movies that followed in the Eighties and Nineties. It is also beautifully shot, Moyle's direction transcending that which one might expect of the later genre. Indeed Moyle always had more edge, and his later, perhaps more pedestrian movies (Pump Up The Volume, Empire Records) still owe much to Times Square. But for me what really elevates Times Square above any other film of its kind (not that I can really think of any that come close, not even the rather brilliant The Legend of Billie Jean, perhaps the closest comparison) are the performances. Although we are told that Stigwood truncated some of Tim Curry's key scenes, his character's struggle with his own inner demons is intact, thanks to the brilliance of his acting in the scenes which survive. Trini Alvarado is a revelation as the deeply unhappy young girl on the cusp of true self-discovery. Her performance gives the film a danger and an edge, because while self-righteously you think her character should be out of her depth, Pammy is in fact the one with nothing to lose and everything to gain from an urban street life. But the real energy of the film comes from Robin Johnson's performance as Nicky, the streetwise young punk with a hell for leather wild streak. Johnson is superb, and makes her character's rise to notoriety utterly believable, without ever playing down her vulnerabilities. It is a tightrope performance at the centre of a film which works completely because of it. And she has real stage presence. Alas, Times Square was never a big movie and it never made anyone a star. But its importance to those who saw it at a certain point in their own development can hardly be overstated. When I say it changed my life I mean it. And seeing it now, after all these years, I am not remotely surprised that it did. It helped set me on a path that I am still on, two decades later, a path that I am happy and proud to have taken. And seeing it again makes me want to take on the world once more. The influence it had on me was completely positive, and I am not the only one. Few, if any other films can alter the course of a life in such a wonderful way.
- 04/01/2004 - 05/01/2004
- 05/01/2004 - 06/01/2004
- 06/01/2004 - 07/01/2004
- 07/01/2004 - 08/01/2004
- 08/01/2004 - 09/01/2004
- 09/01/2004 - 10/01/2004
- 10/01/2004 - 11/01/2004
- 11/01/2004 - 12/01/2004
- 12/01/2004 - 01/01/2005
- 01/01/2005 - 02/01/2005
- 02/01/2005 - 03/01/2005
- 06/01/2005 - 07/01/2005
- 07/01/2005 - 08/01/2005
- 08/01/2005 - 09/01/2005
- 02/01/2011 - 03/01/2011