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Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Alfred Wertheimer is dead. He invented rock photography

Alfred Wertheimer has died at the age of 85. If you don't know who he was put his name into Google Images and you'll see a unique series of pictures of the young Elvis Presley.

Wertheimer took them during a train journey with Elvis between New York and Memphis in 1956. The pictures show Elvis canoodling with girlfriends, waiting for his meal at a segregated lunch counter, staring out of a train window and hanging about with his extended family at North Audubon Drive.

They are the best set of pictures ever taken of a rock star. That's not just because Elvis was the best subject or because Wertheimer was the best photographer. They're the best set of pictures ever taken of a rock star because Colonel Tom Parker didn't have the presence of mind to cut off the thing that made them great - access.

All the iconic pictures taken of rock stars - early Presley, Dylan, Beatles, Stones, Sex Pistols, Smiths etc - were taken in the days when they were so keen on publicity that they gave access to just about everybody. As soon as they could pick and choose they sought to control their own images and in the process made themselves profoundly dull. That's why there hasn't been a picture of a rock star taken in the last thirty years that packs a fraction of the power and information contained in the one above.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Honestly, who chooses friends according to their musical tastes?

Dan Brooks in the New York Times argues that since streaming music has made the same music available to everybody it's no longer possible to identify kindred spirits by the fact that they like the same as you do.

He says that in the old days "the bands you listened to conveyed not just the particular elements of culture you liked but also how much you cared about culture itself".

It's very well-argued. It's also wrong.

If there's one thing I've learned in the course of a life spent listening to music it's that liking the same music is no more an indicator of your likelihood of getting on with people than you both happening to have bought the same sweater.

I've met raging bores who like the same things I like. I've got bosom pals whose choice of music I wouldn't be paid to listen to. And I also strongly suspect that anyone who sets that much store on what music you listen to is the kind of person who knows the sub-genre of everything and the value of nothing.

It's not music that bonds people. It's the attitude to music.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Dear public figures, you don't have to apologise to me

It's Friday, as good a day as any to think of the people who will offend us next week. Right now they're not aware that they will be offending us. They're happily thinking about their book tour or the after-dinner speech they're about to give. They're blissfully unaware of the fact that this time next week they'll have to issue a formal apology for something which they've said, something which seemed sensible and moderate at the time but once strained through the medium of Twitter and condensed into another headline to feed the raging appetite of rolling news, which now demands one apology a day, it suddenly reads like a paragraph from Mein Kampf.

Not that I've read Mein Kampf, just as most of the people demanding the apology won't have read the article or speech or exchange from which the offence will have apparently arisen. They will simply be basking in that warm feeling of self-righteousness that comes from assuring everyone that they're on the side of the angels, as if the angels didn't change sides every bit as much as everyone else. The sign of a mature society is it can live with the idea that the public discourse will be full of things that might not get general agreement. It's a sign of the other kind that people feel such a need to shout other people down.

With a full week to go, I'd just like to say that if in a week's time you're called upon to apologise for something you said in the first half of the week, you don't have to apologise to me, nor do I insist that you apologise to anybody else. Hope that helps a bit.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

I heart Rod Stewart 1970-71

Why am I always going on about old records? Somebody asked me that the other day. Don't I like music made today? Don't I check out "nubandz"?

Well,  the reason I go on about 1971 is because I'm writing a book about it. I do like music made today but it tends to be hip hop or pop music. Most of today's rock sounds tired to me. No, I don't check out "nubandz".

Tell you why I go on about the music of 1971. I'd never heard this track until today. It's The Faces recorded at the Fillmore East at the end of 1970. They're doing "Love In Vain", which they've clearly heard for the first time via the Stones. That is one reason to love it. The idea that an up and coming band wasn't embarrassed to borrow an idea from their elders and betters. And though Rod Stewart clearly hasn't learned the words properly he gives a performance which is simultaneously bravura and  nonchalant.

Now you may tell me that there are up and coming rock bands today who have singers who have this kind of presence and power. I reserve the right not to believe you.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

In the music business, "suits" often have ears

People who talk about "the suits" in the music business (or any other business come to that) usually don't know what they're talking about. I met up with Rob Dickins yesterday. I suppose many people would call Rob a suit. He used to be Chairman of Warner Music UK, which is the kind of job people lazily associate with boardroom politics and a complete disengagement from the products which the business deals in.

There's no point trying to rattle your rock and roll medals in Rob's direction because he's got more and bigger ones than you have. He went to see Jimi Hendrix when he was sixteen, was booking the Faces as Social Sec at Loughborough University when he was twenty, and was plugging Neil Young's "Heart Of Gold" to Radio One when he was twenty-two.

We were talking about 1971 and Marvin Gaye's "What's Going On". I pointed out that Gaye took it to the West Coast and secretly remixed it to bring the congas up in the mix and to make it sound more ethereal. Rob pointed out that the really extraordinary thing about "What's Going On" is the sound of the triangle.

I've just been playing it and he's right. Not bad for a suit.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Interviews with the reluctantly retired from Palm Springs

The Download's a good podcast if you're interested in vintage soft rock. 

It comes from a weekly radio show done by  Chris May and Elli Tourj√© in Palm Springs, California and features straight, informative interviews with people such as James Taylor bassist Leland Sklar, Beach Boy Al Jardine, trumpeter turned mogul Herb Alpert, Wrecking Crew bassist Joe Osborn and Richard Carpenter.

I was just listening to the episode with Sklar. He still works, which makes him happy. He'd just been talking to Linda Ronstadt whose health prevents her from doing the same thing.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Force yourself to watch a proper film this weekend

Ever since I was a teenager people have been telling me to see the French gangster film "Rififi", made in 1955. I've been so convinced by their argument that it's a classic I've probably told people that I've seen it when I hadn't. This week I finally got round to actually seeing it on Netflix.

Of course it's brilliant. Now that I'm older I can appreciate things about it that I wouldn't have quite got when I was a kid: the look of post-war Paris, the shiny old cars, the glistening pavements, the cruel glitter in the eyes of the leading man, the extraordinary look of the jazz clubs, the half-hour robbery sequence which is done without words, the difficulty of making a phone call and the way that feeds into the drama.

Amazing how often when you've got a choice between the old thing that you know will be great and the flashy new thing which you know will disappoint you choose the latter and end up wasting your time and money. Henceforth I shall try not to do that.