Monday, 30 June 2008

Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds

BBC Four Sessions: Friday 4 July

One of the perks of my job is being able to see the occasional BBC Four Session filmed at LSO St Luke's, a beautiful 18th-century Hawksmoor church on Old Street. Last month I saw Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds turn in a barnstorming performance there which you can see on TV this Friday.

Nick Cave is one of those characters whose music I really like, but have never devoted sufficient time to really get to love. However, his reputation as a live performer is so great that I wasn't going to miss the opportunity to see him play this relatively small gig. Fans will see from the set list I nabbed off the stage after the show that it was a brilliant mixture of "hits" and highlights from the new album Dig!!! Lazarus Dig!!!

At times Cave came across like a revival preacher, stomping his feet and converting any non-believers there might have been in the audience, yet one of my favourite moments was not musical. After being told that the curfew meant there would be no time for an encore, Cave said that BBC Four was a "crappy channel" and he was "more of an ITV man". I love the image of the Cave family sitting down to Coronation Street after their tea.

Not all of the songs performed have made the final programme, but you can watch Into My Arms, Tupelo and Moonland in full on our website. This excellent interview is also well worth watching:

The gig is only one treat BBC Four have for Nick Cave fans on Friday. They're also showing a 1999 episode of Songwriter's Circle featuring Cave with John Cale and Chrissie Hynde and an hour-long compilation of Nick Cave highlights from Later... With Jools Holland. Leave a comment and let me know what you think. And enjoy these two MP3s.

MP3: Nick Cave - Dig!!! Lazarus Dig!!!

MP3: Johnny Cash - The Mercy Seat (Nick Cave cover)

Buy Nick Cave albums

Related links
BBC Four Sessions: Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds - video clips, set list

Sunday, 29 June 2008

Up, Up and Away!

Man of Steel Memories Part 5

A few weeks ago I received a text from my friend Mark telling me to expect a thank you present in the post for helping out on his wedding day. That evening I found a package from had been delivered but was surprised by what was inside: a hardback book called There's an Awful Lot of Bubbly in Brazil: The Life and Times of a Bon Viveur.

I'd never heard of the author, Alan Brazil, but on closer inspection discovered he was a 1980s Scottish footballer turned talkSPORT presenter. After looking at the delivery note I saw that what I should have received was a copy of All-Star Superman Vol 1.

Mark is a bona fide comics expert (he reviews them each week for Comics Nexus and uber geek (his son is named Logan after Wolverine's alter-ego) so when the intended book finally arrived I knew I'd be in for a treat.

Despite my ongoing Man of Steel fixation I've not bought a regular Superman comic since my mid-teens when funds were diverted to buy illicit cans of Websters Yorkshire Bitter each weekend. But I do still buy the occasional graphic novel and I'd actually been eying up All-Star Superman for a while. It's a book that's tailor-made for me; it doesn't re-imagine Superman in an overly serious way, but as a quirky sci-fi adventure that manages to reference even the dafter elements of the Superman story (Jimmy Olsen's signal watch; the Fortress of Solitude's front-door key).

Why do I never tire of these and other Superman stories? Nostalgia for sure, but I also enjoy the fact that he's such a clear-cut 'good guy'. A lot of people think Superman is incredibly boring because he's such a do-gooder. Personally, I love the way he can be saving a cat from a tree one minute and rescuing flood victims the next.

As I said in my last post, the cultural and historical resonance of the character mean there'll always be interesting stories for him to star in. In the last couple of years I've seen Superman brilliantly re-imagined as both a Stalinist and an Ike-era American cold warrior. These are all entertaining tales and I hope the Man of Steel's adventures continue for at least another 70 years.

Thank you for indulging my celebration of Superman's birthday over the past week. Normal service resumes tomorrow.

MP3: John Williams - Superman The Movie Theme

Related Posts

Carnival Saloon: Superman - all of my Man of Steel posts

Related Links

Comic Coverage: Superman @ 70 - blogger who is loving this anniversary

Wednesday, 25 June 2008

Superman's Adventures in Academia

Man of Steel Memories Part 4

As I wrote in my first Superman birthday post, the Man of Steel is largely to blame for my fascination with the United States, a fascination that made choosing a degree quite simple. There really was a course called American Studies? I couldn't believe it! There was also an inevitability about who I'd choose to focus my third-year dissertation on.

The imaginatively titled Superman: An American Icon In Context investigated why the character had endured in continual production for than 60 years in so many mediums. Last night I read the introduction, conclusion and skimmed through the rest of the 25,000 plus words, and was pleased to see that it's a pretty interesting study of how (and why) the Superman character adapted to appeal to the American psyche throughout most of the 20th century.

The character started out as a New Deal saviour of the oppressed. There's not a super-villain in sight in the early comics; most of Superman's foes were exploitative industrialists or corrupt politicians. By World War II he'd quickly become a propaganda tool, punishing Nazis or the Japanese in comics and cartoons like the one below from 1942.

By the time Christoper Reeve started wearing his pants over his tights in the late 70s and 80s, after the turmoil of Vietnam and Nixon, Superman had become the perfect hero for Reagan's America. Those films, like Ronnie, are incredibly nostalgic and patriotic.

I think Superman's longevity and how he's always been so tied up in the way America sees itself is why I remain obsessed with the character. Are there any other fictional characters who've beaten up Hitler, gone into the ring with Muhammed Ali or 'acted' alongside Jerry Seinfeld? Didn't think so.

Related Posts

Carnival Saloon: Superman - all of my Man of Steel posts

Related Links

Comic Coverage: Superman @ 70 - blogger who is loving this anniversary

Next time: A case of mistaken identity

Confiscation Blues

Man of Steel Memories Part 3

My personal tribute to Superman’s 70th birthday continues with an unexpected act of pre-teen rebellion...

Living in Mid-Wales as child meant my access to Superman’s continuing adventures was limited. The local newsagent just didn’t stock American comics.

In 1986 my family moved to a village near Oxford, a city that boasted at least three bona fide comic shops. At last, my thirst for Superman comics could be adequately quenched.

This coincided with a major re-launch of the Superman comics by British writer and artist John Byrne and the growing respectability of the medium in general via graphic novels like Watchmen and Sandman that were aimed at "mature readers". In fact, I often thought I was the only child who shopped at Comics Showcase on the Cowley Road.

Moving house obviously also meant starting at a new school. During my first week I remember spending a break time poring over some choice back issues and being collared by the headmaster in the main hall. At first I recall he showed great interest, correctly identifying Lois Lane as the female on the cover above. This sadly turned out to be a ruse to win over the new boy at school. He then told me that comics were not considered appropriate reading material for his students and promptly confiscated my Superman stash. I was allowed to collect them from his office to take home only if I promised not to bring them back to school.

At the end of that first term I won a book token as some sort of prize. I can’t remember what it was for, but I do know that I spent it on an Asterix book.

Related Posts

Carnival Saloon: Superman - all of my Man of Steel posts

Related Links

Comic Coverage: Superman @ 70 - blogger who is loving this anniversary

Next time: Superman goes to college

Tuesday, 24 June 2008

Kicking The Habit Kryptonian Style

Man of Steel Memories Part 2

Continuing my self-indulgent celebration of Superman's 70th birthday, I cast my mind back to an incident that occurred when I was five or six years old - a period in my life when I regularly dressed as my favourite superhero. It was also around the time that Superman was the face of an incredible anti-smoking campaign aimed at potential school-age tabbers.

Anyone who claims TV has no effect on the young is a liar. These ads were on all the time and I was desperate to don my mini Man of Steel outfit and emulate Superman's cig-crushing technique (one of his few feats a child could safely copy). The only smoker I knew was my grandad so I looked forward to one of his visits to test my powers.

My grandad was blind, which made him an easy target to creep up on. Glimpsing his fag packet on the table next to him I pounced on the gleaming box of Benson & Hedges, smashing them in my small fist, and declaring, like my hero, that "I never say yes to a cigarette!" He was unimpressed and I think I only damaged a couple of cigarettes. Still, I'd added a super-activity to my roster that included leaping off our climbing frame and wearing a Superman t-shirt as a vest when I went swimming just so I could sheepishly reveal the 'S' in the changing room.

Related Posts

Carnival Saloon: Superman - all of my Man of Steel posts

Related Links

Comic Coverage: Superman @ 70 - blogger who is loving this anniversary

Next time: Contraband comics

Monday, 23 June 2008

Happy 70th Birthday Superman

Man of Steel Memories Part 1

The first issue of Action Comics, where Superman made his faster than a speeding bullet debut, was published 70 years ago this month. Any old-timer (or their lucky grandchild) in possession of a 'near mint' copy can expect to sell it for half a million dollars according to Wikipedia.

I've been obsessed with the Man of Steel for as long as I can remember. His adventures almost certainly triggered my fascination with the United States and I'm embarrassed to admit that my reluctance to wear contact lenses might have something to with Superman's speccy alter-ego. So, to mark the Last Son of Krypton's eighth decade, I thought I'd share five of my Superman-related memories over the next week or so.

First up, my first ever trip to the cinema, aged four, on Saturday 9 May 1981 to see Superman II.

I know the date because I'm told it was the same day as the 100th FA Cup Final (Man City v Spurs - a draw), but Dad and our next door neighbour Eddie took me to the cinema in Bournemouth nonetheless. I've seen the film so many times since that I'm not sure what I recall watching it for the first time, but I think I became 'emotional' when our hero loses his powers.

I suppose my earliest encounters with Superman were via the comics but the films left the biggest impression on me. It was all well and good marvelling at drawings of a flying man but seeing it 'for real' was mind-blowing (I was only four remember). It wasn't just Superman's powers that struck me though. At primary school I remember replying to the "What would you like to do when you grow up?" question with "journalist", not because I liked writing but that the Daily Planet looked like a cool place to work.

That trip not only cemented my ongoing geeky relationship with Superman but also to cinema. Remarkably I can even remember what trailer preceded the film. It was Clash of the Titans and I was incredibly impressed by Pegasus the flying horse. Quite often when I'm in the cinema and the lights go down and the curtain pulls back I feel a pang of nostalgia for that first visit to the pictures.

Next time: How pretending to be Superman upset my grandad.

Friday, 20 June 2008

Shakespeare Was A Big George Jones Fan

Cult Film Corner #2: Cowboy Jack Clement's Home Movies

I bought this hugely enjoyable DVD, appropriately enough, in Nashville. Jack Clement is a Music City legend. Not only has he worked with the likes of Johnny Cash, Dolly Parton, Elvis Presley and Jerry Lee Lewis but his Nashville home is essentially a club house for country music outsiders. Townes Van Zandt, John Prine and Del McCoury have all recorded there. He is also obsessed with filmmaking. His only venture into feature films was a dodgy looking 1975 exploitation flick called Dear Dead Delila but he’s also recorded thousands of hours of home movie footage.

The brilliant and inventive Shakespeare Was A Big George Jones mixes excerpts from Clement’s home-made archive with off-beat interviews (including Jack chatting with an animated Bard). Hilarious Super 8 highlights include a stoned Johnny Cash (see video above) and Bono’s first ever welcome appearance in a documentary – drunk and doing an amusing Don Corleone impression.

Obviously the film will appeal most to those not averse to the sound of a steel guitar but it’s also a brilliant portrait of an American original. What comes across most though is what a generous soul Jack Clement is. Everybody loves this man. Watching this film makes it easy to know why.

Buy at Amazon

Shakespeare Was A Big George Fan DVD

Related Posts

Cult Film Corner #1: True Believer

Time Out's 50 Greatest Music Films

Wednesday, 18 June 2008

Stalking Tom Waits

A fan confesses, but it's not just me...

A few days ago vigilant Waits Watcher The Eyeball Kid wrote about a new book by a "Scottish musician and Tom Waits devotee" about his experiences following the Real Gone tour around Europe in 2004. The fan, a fella calling himself 'Raymy', was selling his opus, Stalking Tom Waits, via eBay for £3.50. Predictably, I put in my order and today a 36-page A5 photocopied 'book' arrived in the post.

It's an enjoyable, if slightly self-regarding volume (in the foreword Raymy dismisses the need of someone else having editorial control of his work; to be honest a friendly editor would've been handy). Nevertheless, it's a great yarn and one I could relate to to some extent. I'm like Raymy in thinking that Waits is the only musician I'd cross international borders to watch. I first saw Tom perform in Paris in 2000, flew to Berlin for one of the shows described in this book and have my Eurostar reservation for an encore Waits performance in Paris next month. Unlike Raymy I was lucky enough to buy my tickets to those three gigs at face-value from official outlets. The hook on which Raymy pegs his tale is that he had no tickets to any of the eight European concerts Tom played in 2004 but packed his bags and his guitar in search of entry to all of them.

What struck me about seeing Waits in Paris and Berlin was how many other people had travelled thousands of miles to see their hero. The bar next to the Grand Rex in Paris was like a United Nations of Waits fans after the gig and there were at least six others on the bus I was on from London going to France for the same reason as me. Raymy meets fellow Scots, folks from France, Norway and Spain on his travels. An Englishman gives Raymy his spare ticket for one of the Amsterdam shows for free after seeing him play a busker's set of Waits covers outside the theatre.

I can't think of anyone else who draws such mad devotion and I'm still not sure why it is. Obviously, the fact that Waits performs so rarely makes having the chance to see him play more alluring but ultimately I think it's probably the often oddball nature of Waits' songs that leads sane people to go to equally oddball lengths to glimpse him. Two examples. 1) My best friend James pretended to be a cripple to bag one of the few remaining tickets to see Waits in Los Angeles in 1999. 2) When the two of us saw him in Paris the following year we paid £8 each to stay in an absolute dive next to the concert venue, shared a room with PJ Harvey's roadie, and chalked up the shittiest hotel I've ever stayed at as an appropriately 'Waitsian' experience.

In his book Raymy finds himself sat next to Tom's tour manager, Stuart Ross, on the flight from Berlin to Amsterdam. Ross promises that Raymy might be able to meet his hero if he comes to the stage door after the Dutch concert. The meet'n'greet never happens. Raymy's lucky day finally arrives at Schipol airport when he does talk to Waits at the check-in gate. They have an amiable chat and Raymy suggests that should Tom return to Europe then a Scottish date would save him an awful lot of time and money. He writes, "Waits laughed, but didn't reply". I can only imagine what Raymy thought when he found out that the only UK date on Tom Waits' current tour is in Edinburgh.

Related Links

Stalking Tom Waits - buy Raymy's book on eBay

The Eyeball Kid - essential blog for Waits fans

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Tom Waits Covers #1: Solomon Burke

Tom Waits Announces Tour Guided By Stars

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Wednesday, 11 June 2008

True Believer

Cult Film Corner #1: James Woods Fights the Power

Last month, my good friend Jeff Yungman (the only person I know to have been given the key to a city) passed the bar exam. Marking the occasion on his blog, our pal John Barner recalled that back when the two of them worked together valiantly trying to get inmates’ death sentences commuted they often imagined themselves as the stars of this legal thriller.

Until I’d read John’s post I’d never come across True Believer (1989) but the thought of John as Robert Downey Jr and Jeff as James Woods, coupled with the DVD’s very competitive price, meant it went straight into my Amazon basket.

Woods plays a washed-up 60s civil-rights activist reduced to defending drug dealers in New York. Downey Jr is the idealistic young apprentice who persuades him to take up the lost cause of a wrongly imprisoned Korean-American. I know why it appealed to Jeff and John.

I love a good crime thriller but knew I’d be in for a treat as soon as I glimpsed Luis Gusman in the opening scenes. That man is a mark of quality. True Believer looks great, has plenty of good twists and is blessed with the sort of synthesiser score that is sadly absent from modern cop movies.

There are also the incidental pleasures of James Wood’s ridiculous pony tail and the irony of watching a young Downey Jr moan about defending people caught in possession of drugs.

Tuesday, 10 June 2008

The Wire Prequels

More dedicated Wire viewers may have already seen these three short films. Being a slave to DVD box sets (this Onion story sums me up accurately) I still haven't seen the final series and am not sure when HBO produced these great little videos. If you're a fan of The Wire you are guaranteed to enjoy watching Bunk meet McNulty, and a young Omar and Proposition Joe.

When Bunk Met McNulty (2000)

Young Prop Joe (1962)

Young Omar (1985)

Related links

Stuff White People Like: #85 The Wire - funny, spot-on

Wednesday, 4 June 2008

Kinky Friedman

Jazz Cafe, Camden Town, Tuesday 3 June 2008

I’ve been aware of Kinky Friedman for years. Once you’ve heard his name, it’s not one you’re likely to forget. I’ve read a few of his humorous detective novels, knew of his involvement in Bob Dylan’s mid-70s Rolling Thunder Review tour and enjoyed following his optimistic bid for the Texas Governor’s mansion in 2006. I remember a tutor at Goldsmiths telling me that interviewing the Kinkster for the Jewish Chronicle was a professional high-point. Yet, considering he made his name as a country singer, until last night, I’d barely heard a song he’d written (despite them having such great titles as They Ain't Makin' Jews Like Jesus Anymore).

Kinky took to the Jazz CafĂ© stage with his long-time guitarist Washington Ratso and gurning keyboard player Little Jewford (“he’s Jewish and he drives a Ford”). Their website accurately promised that “this is no ordinary musical tour; it's over-the-top entertainment!”. At one point Jewford, dressed in a jacket Kinky described as looking like “Liberace’s shower curtain”, did a Bill Bailey style turn, interpreting When the Saints Go Marching In, in Eastern European, classical, country and jazz styles, before finishing by playing it with his hands behind his back. We were also treated to Kinky’s recollections and policy ideas from the campaign trail and a reading from his latest book.

Many of his songs were funny (Asshole From El Paso), politically incorrect (Get Your Biscuits In The Oven and Your Buns in The Bed) and in poor, er, taste (Waitret, Please Waitret) but there was plenty in the set list that ‘serious’ singer-songwriters would be proud of. Sold American is a brilliant portrait of a fading country star and a fading nation and despite its tongue-in-cheek title, Ride ‘Em Jewboy is actually a reflection on the Holocaust. The set ended with two classics, Woody Guthrie’s Pretty Boy Floyd and Peter La Farge’s tribute to Kinky’s “favourite American hero” The Ballad of Ira Hayes.

Still, most memorable were Kinky’s numerous witticisms and one-liners – and the cigar-chomper’s defiance of the smoking ban.

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