Watch Monty Python’s Farewell

brightmonty

“Monty Python” Stars Bid an Emotional Farewell in…: http://youtu.be/KaDGc2LWzGo

I grew up on Monty Python with my Dad showing us The Meaning of Life and Monty Python and the Holy Grail as kids.  I didn’t realize how unique this was, as my Dad would have us laughing at religion, business, and every other sacred cow of society.  Monty Python will remain a source of joy for me as long as I live.  They were truth tellers, bullshit detectors, and often very, very silly.  The above video is a clip of their final performance as they sing Always Look on the Bright Side of Life.  Their final run of performances, as Graham Chapman is deceased,  were subtitled One Down, Five to Go. 

The Comedy of Religion

When I opened the New York Times this morning I saw the completely insane picture of Shiite men marching in Iraq wearing matching camo pants, black t-shirts, ski masks, all with bombs strapped to their chest which at least resembles bundles of TNT.  I’m sure if you were to stumble upon this on the street it would be completely horrifying.  Viewed from the safety of the morning paper there was something strangely comical about it.  I always think the Greeks got an aspect of the gods right.  I imagine superior beings atop Mount Olympus laughing at the folly of man.  These men are coordinating, even down to the color, outfits of death all in the name of an invisible figure that they cannot see.  Life when viewed up close is often a tragedy.  When it is viewed with a certain degree of remove it is almost always a comedy. 

One of my recent entertainment pleasures has been the discovery of Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant produced TV series An Idiot Abroad.  In this show the two creators of The Office send their friend, and idiot of the title, Karl Pilkington to various foreign countries.  Pilkington is the friend that we all have that never wishes to leave their hometown and can’t help but literally say what is on his\her mind because there simply doesn’t exist the guile to do otherwise.  The comedy from the show often comes from someone being confronted with the wonder of the world at large and simply being indifferent to it, or quite often being annoyed by it.  They do sometimes send him to certain places to purposely torture him, however even in places like The Great Wall of China Pilkington seems unimpressed to comical effect. 

However, sometimes Pilkington stumbles onto strange truths without even realizing it.  When he is in Jerusalem he finds it extremely bizarre that around every corner some different religion is approaching with a different bizarre outfit on.  He compares Jerusalem to Pac-Man as to him it reminds him of a place where, much like the ghosts in Pac-Man, something is popping out at you from around every corner.  Somehow this “idiot” has stumbled upon the absurdity of religious believers in this area.  They are all from the same region, they all wear ridiculous clothing, the all believe they have a lock on the truth, and all while having absolutely no proof to support their claims.  It is like a Monty Python skit come to life. 

This Sunday morning I will leave you with quotes from the great George Carlin:

What is this religious fascination with head gear?  Every religion’s got a different fucking hat.  Did you ever notice that?  The Hindus have a turban, the sheiks have a tall white turban, the Jews have a yarmulke, Muslims have the keffiyah, the Bishop has a pointy hat one day and a round hat on another day, Cardinal has a red hate, Pope has a white hat, everybody’s got a fucking hat!  One group takes them off, another group puts them on.  Personally I would not want to be a member of any group where you either have to wear a hat or you can’t wear a hat.  I think all religions should have one rule, and one rule only: hat’s optional!

You ever notice that?  Any time you see two groups of people who really hate each other chances are good they’re wearing different kinds of hats.  Keep an eye on that, it might be important. 

Bronson (Who’s Mad Now?)

You can keep
Your peasant wages
Your false idols
Your dogs on the bridges

 I’ve already been to jail
And I’m not afraid of hell
Money don’t mean nothing to me
I sleep without it quite well

 Who’s mad now?

I don’t need your morals
And I don’t need you laws now
They’re just another way
To keep the poor down

 I’ve already been to jail
And I’m not afraid of hell
Money don’t mean nothing to me
I sleep without it quite well

 Who’s mad now?

Gonna carve myself in marble
Describe myself in verse
I’ll be here long after
You have done your worst

Who’s mad now?

When we were kids and first discovering the wonders of booze, we used to talk about how something was a good pool shooting song.  I don’t know exactly what we were on about.  We never shot that much pool.  Nor did this description necessarily mean that something was a good song in the sense that a critic would say something is good.  I think that we meant it had a certain swagger and  a good Friday night attitude to it.  It meant something was a good song for drinking beer, smoking cigarettes, and possibly getting into a scuffle.

On our new album, A Manual for Defeat, Bronson (Who’s Mad Now?) is our pool shooting song.  I wouldn’t probably even put it in the top five songs on the record, but every time that I hear it I find myself with a prideful smile.  And yes, I know pride cometh before the fall.  It’s got a Thin Lizzy shuffle which never hurts anything.  However, the real musical magic in the song is my Brother Ben’s exuberant guitar playing, which I can champion till the cows come home as I did not play it.

The lyrics are in part a tribute to Nicholas Winding Refn’s film Bronson, hence the title.  Refn is one of our favorite directors.  If you are a film fan and can stomach the violent and the strange, then you will certainly enjoy his films.  He is one of those rare directors that have an eye for visual poetry.

In the movie, which is loosely based on a real person by the same name, the title character gets a short prison sentence only to become Britain’s most feared prisoner because of his violent behavior during his time in the clink.  Even though he was only supposed to serve several months, other than a brief release, he ends up spending his life there.  Without hopefully spoiling the ending, at some point he begins to view his life as a living work of art. Nicholas Winding Refn paints his own portrait of the real Bronson, and we are taking it a step further drawing up our own version of the character.

The lyrics are simple and are some of the least poetic on the record.  Much like Morrissey’s You are the Quarry album, where the Mozzer ditches his typically poetic approach for something more direct, for a moment I wanted to dispense with any wordplay and say something in plain language.  I also always liked that Monty Python tackled the big three cornerstones of Western culture; as they addressed bureaucracy (jail), religion (hell), and economic issues (money), through comedy.  I suppose they were on the mind as well.

Anyway, as a writer I would be lying if I said that this song is at the top of my list for exemplary writing.  But hopefully some Friday night I can convince you to drink a beer to it.  It will all come together then.

Jesus Christ: Lust for Glory

I apologize about being off the grid yesterday.  When you do this thing yourself you are going to miss days, even if you dread it.  Yesterday passed like one of those time lapse shots before I realized I hadn’t gotten any posts up. 

Anyway, I am back to reading Monty Python Speaks after finishing Morrissey’s Autobiography.  For those of you that might be interested in Autobiography, I will have further comments on it, but I need a few days to think about it.  Anyway, I was reading section of the Python book that dealt with Life of Brian this morning.  Apparently the title that they originally came up with was Jesus Christ: Lust for Glory!  I about spit out my coffee.  I have watched Brian several times and all the special features that come with the DVD, so I had probably heard this fact before, but I didn’t remember it upon reading it today. 

Eric Idle came up with the title while drinking.  He and Terry Gilliam, while continuing to drink heavily, started to think of ways you could make the story of Christ funny.  What if the maker of Christ’s cross was a carpenter of poor craftsmanship?  Once bringing the story to all of the Pythons they all reread the Bible.  They decided what Christ actually said was good, so they didn’t want to belittle him.  However, they felt that there was tons of room to make fun of the people around him. 

They spoke of how anyone that would interpret Christ’s words and tell you how to believe it was performing a political act.  Interpretation is a political act.  They thought the people that did such a thing were worthy of making fun of.  Fair targets.  So anytime someone gets in a furor over something they say is blasphemous, ask yourself what it is degrading.  Does it lessen the meaning of something, or does it lessen the power of someone who wants to control the way others see the world?

Anyway I love the Pythons and thought Jesus Christ: Lust for Glory was a great title.  A good laugh to start Friday morning, at least I hope so.  

Lou Reed Lyrics: Pumping Blood

For the next seven days I have decided that, among other posts, I will post one set of Lou Reed lyrics every day, along with a short piece on them.  I’m probably not going to choose the most popular ones, which have already been dissected to death, and instead will choose roads less traveled.  These will be personal reflections, as opposed to seeking the definitive meaning of a song, but I will be looking outward and not inward, trying to show how Lou’s art gave you armor to take on an ever increasing plastic world.  So let’s begin today with:

Pumping Blood

If I pump out blood in the sunshine
Oil on the wheel
That is blasted and busted away

A nail or a little piece of glass
A little piece of glass
A little piece of glass
Swarming like bees over the air
Off the pump off the thing
The blood that I’m pumping away

Like bees over the air
Off the pump
Off the thing
The blood that I’m pumping away

Off the pump
Off the thing
The blood that I’m pumping away

If I pump blood in the sunshine
And you wear a leather box with azaleas
And I pump more blood
And it seeps through my skin
Will you adore the river
The stream, the trickle
The tributary of my heart

As I pump more blood
And it seeps through my skin

Will you adore the river
The stream, the trickle
The tributary of my heart

If I’m pumping blood
Like a common state worker
If I waggle my ass like a dark prostitute
Would you think less of me

And my coagulating heart

Waggle my ass like a dark prostitute
Coagulating heart
Pumping blood

Would you top me off
Would you top me off as I deepen a curtsy
While you yell out, “mercy”
We grow apart
Would you rip and cut me

Use a knife on me

Be shocked at the boldness
The coldness of this little heart
Tied up in leather
Would you take the measure
Of the blood that I pump
In the manic confusion of love

Supreme violation
Supreme violation
“Oh, ah, ah, ah Jack I beseech you”

“Oh Jack I beseech you”
Supreme violation

Blood in the foyer
The bathroom
The tea room
The kitchen, with her knives splayed

I will swallow your sharpest cutter
Like a colored man’s dick

Blood spurting from me
“Oh Jack, Jack I beseech:”
“Jack, I beseech you, I beseech:”
In the end it was an ordinary heart

“Oh Jack I beseech you”
As I scream out my pain
In the end it was an ordinary heart

In the end, in the end, in the end
It was an ordinary heart

“Jack, Jack, Jack, Jack, Jack I beseech you”
Supreme violation . . . Oh

“Jack, Jack, Jack I beseech you”
I call out your name

Blood in the foyer, the bathroom,
The tea room, the kitchen
And knives splayed
I swallow your sharpest cutter
Like a colored man’s dick
Blood spurting from me
Blood spurting from me

“Oh Jack”

“Oh Jack, I beseech ya”
In the end it was an ordinary heart

In the end it was an ordinary heart
Pumping blood

 

Before I write anything I want to include this quote from Eric Idle of Monty Python, speaking of people’s reaction to Monty Python:
Once when we were filming, a British middle-class lady came up and said, ‘Oh, Monty Python, I absolutely hate you lot.’  And we felt quite proud and happy.  Nowadays I miss people who hate us; we have sadly become nice, safe and acceptable now, which shows how clever an Establishment really is, opening up to make room inside itself. 

The song Pumping Blood is from Lou Reed and Metallica’s Lulu album.  I’m not picking these lyrics today because they are some of my favorites, although I do like them, but I am picking them to make a larger point.  I grew up loving Johnny Cash.  I owned many of his albums and read his autobiography.  However, when he died, suddenly the man that was eating amphetamines in the desert was whitewashed.  They made that horrible movie about him.  All of the rebelliousness that was part, and only part, of Johnny Cash’s life seemed to vanish.  All of a sudden this was a man whose complicated life, who sang for the poor and downtrodden, became simple.  It was a simple tale, not just in that fucking movie, of a man who rebelled, realized the error of his ways, and was redeemed through love.  Yeah, he still was a badass in some ways, but not in any real way that challenged the establishment.

Now Johnny Cash never actually changed.  He simply was viewed differently and canonized by the mainstream media.  The one that sang in The Man in Black, “I wear it for the poor and the prisoner who has long paid for his crime, but is there because he’s a victim of his times”, was still alive on vinyl.  In the overall culture he became too many times a place for fake rebellion.  A place by where you could be a rebel by wearing a Johnny Cash shirt, without having to actually do anything to rebel.  This is not his fault at all.  His work is great and stands the test of time.  It has just been misrepresented.
They will try to canonize Lou Reed as well.  They will try to make him safe.  However, it won’t be so easy with a man that sang at the tender age of 69, “I will swallow your sharpest cutter, like a colored man’s dick.”

I personally am not a fan of things that shock just with the sole purpose of making people feel uncomfortable.  I am fine with, and love and cherish art that makes people feel uncomfortable, but there must be some reason behind it.  It should be done to make people think in some fashion.  Shocking people, and making them uncomfortable without reason, is cruelty.  Shocking people to make people think, feel, and experience, to make them see the world in a different way, is beautiful.

In Lou Reed’s Lulu this is a scene that includes Jack the Ripper.  The Lulu plays inspired this album pushed the boundaries of theater in their time.  However, if you read them now, compared to what exists in our society in movies one can see on TV everyday, they are somewhat tame.  What I believe Lou was doing with the language of this song, and others, was to try to give people the experience that theater goers had going to these plays when they first came out.  (I do want to add that I hate it when other people try to guess what someone else was thinking.  This idea is just conjecture on my part.  I do not know exactly what Lou Reed was thinking and I am merely trying to provide a moment of critical insight.)  One could view the language used in this song as being used for dramatic effect.  The murders that Jack the Ripper committed were horrific horrible things.  We have had so many movies and TV shows about Jack the Ripper that we often are desensitized to that fact.  Lou Reed has found language that is shocking and cannot be ignored.  It will make you feel something one way or the other.  Remember though that he is using language to get your attention that something horrible is going on.
The character of Lulu is also a masochist.  She was particularly offensive to audiences of her time because she was a female that did not fit into the typical female roles of the day.  Again, I believe Lou Reed is using shocking language to grab your attention, to update the piece and the feelings that the piece would have created in people for the modern world.  He is using low debased language, for high art.

It is also good to know, that although they will try and in part succeed, that because of pieces like this, Lou Reed will not be so easy to whitewash and make an establishment figure.  He will forever be ours, dancing on the edges and inspiring thought.  While Lou Reed, like always, was probably just following his muse, he left us with a work that was every bit as challenging as the early Velvet’s stuff was for its time.  Read the reviews of Lulu and see how angry many of the reviewers are.  This work divided people incredibly.  If he was going to go, he at least went out like he started, completely uncompromising.

We need people like Lou Reed in the world to stay one step ahead of the established norms.  As soon as something becomes the norm we become desensitized by it, and it is harder to get an emotional reaction from it.  Again, if the reaction is the only thing you are going for, you are using the gift to shock people poorly.  But if you use it properly, like Lou Reed did, it can be Prometheus’s fire; creating emotion and lighting the dark tunnels of humanity, whether we want them to be there or not.

Monty Python and Black Sabbath

Between our sound check and our show last night, in Denton, we had a couple hours to kill.  We stopped at the amazing Recycled Books there in the town square.  First of all it was bad judgment on my part to even enter the store.  There is no place that will siphon money off of me faster than a book store that also sells records.  While we were in the store I thought about asking Shinyribs if we could put a tip jar out later that night just to even out the damage that I knew I was about to do to my wallet.  For you see there is nothing I love more than books and records.  If someone pulled up in a Lamborghini and someone pulled up in a Pinto, albeit with a copy of The Queen is Dead and A Good Man is Hard to Find in the passenger seat, I know who I would be riding with; it wouldn’t be in the Lamborghini. 

Anyway, I was able to summon up some monumental restrain out of my soul, for maybe the first and last time, and keep it down to two purchases.  I got a book of interviews with Monty Python and the first Black Sabbath album.  Other than the fact that both are from England and that both were ground breaking in their respective fields, there isn’t really a straight line that you can draw from one to the other.  But I believe it is that exact kind of blending of arts and ideas that is important to staying creative and inspired. 

One should be able to enjoy listening to synth pop, heavy metal, and folk music in the same day.  One should be able to watch David Lynch’s Blue Velvet and a children’s movie and be able to pull something meaningful from both.  Especially in this day and age of technology, when so much has already been done, the only chance in hell that you have is of possibly putting two things together that have never be paired off before.  And the truth is I can find nothing more boring that being part of a subculture and living by a set of finite rules. 

When pop music, or any art form, was new, it was probably Ok to sequester yourself in a certain genre as that genre was coming into formation.  The first punk albums were revolutionary, but very quickly became formulaic.  You might need someone with strong beliefs and rules to start a movement, but very quickly those rules become a prison. 

It still blows my mind today when someone is in a country band, or a rockabilly band, or whatever.  That would bore me to tears.  You are basically just recreating a lesser version of something that has probably reached it’s high water mark in years past.  Even the bands that are best at these kind of genre tributes seem to me to be more actors playing roles, than living breathing artists. 

That’s not saying that whatever art form you choose, painting, music, film, doesn’t need some kind of guiding principle.  I am in a rock n roll band and a country\soul band, but even those are starting points and marketing descriptions.  In my rock band we might throw in an African gumboots riff, and in my country\soul band a stray Led Zeppelin riff might suddenly appear.  If you really listen to the great bands, other than the ones that were the initial formers of a certain genre, they are usually way more weird and eclectic than they first appear.  Johnny Marr was throwing in Chic riffs into the Smiths.  The Rolling Stones, what many people see as the quintessential rock band, have done country, reggae, disco, and soul music.  I think it is very important to have a definitive outlook and operating principle, otherwise your art can become bland and have no point of view, but don’t allow that to become so static that nothing new can ever enter the fold. 

The great directors have almost always challenged themselves.  Werner Herzog has done documentaries and feature films.  David Lynch has directed Eraserhead and the Straight Story.  Even though one of those is a horrific nightmare of a film and the other is a G rated Disney movie, you could easily say that both of them had moments that were Lynchian.  Both of those directors have very clearly established identities and personalities, but within that frame they have a lot of room to move. 

There are always those that are the exception to the rule.  AC\DC is a prime example in music.  Larry David’s brilliant comedies always have a certain thread and personality tying them together.  However, even in what they are both doing they are originals.  They are not simply recreating something from the past. 

If I go out to a bar and I see a country band, unless it is the greatest country band in the world, if their fourth song sounds like their first, I usually am heading home for the night.  I understand that having your thing makes it easier to market, and occasionally having your thing means you have done something original, but usually it means that you are unimaginative and boring. 

There is usually always someone that is smart enough to pitch even the weirdest, most surreal, and most complex art to others.  It can often be hard to find that person if you are an artist.  But they are out there and those people are essential.  Artists need people that can translate what they do to get others to seek it out for the first time, as very few artists are good at that sort of thing.  However, usually this pitch is just a starting point, a way to simplify the complex thing that you have made, so that others can find an entry way.  Anyone that has art that really CAN be described in a 30 second sales pitch is probably boring.  A one note song in a symphonic world, full of mystery and wonder.  

Quote

Life is too Important

Life is too important to be taken seriously

By Oscar Wilde.

Last night my brother and I were watching an episode of Tales from the Crypt.  We have both been watching horror movie and TV shows to get in the Halloween spirit.  This particular episode was called Yellow.  The story took place on a World War I battlefield.  Basically a soldier, who is the son of a general played by Kirk Douglas, is to be executed for being a coward on the battlefield.  Whether by accident or design, we were laughing at the Monty Pythonesque combination of religion and murder that was prominent in the direction.  Make sure you bless someone, in Latin, before you shoot them.  I’m sure that does a lot of good.

The Worst Writer in the World

If I had a candidate for worst writer in the world I would pick Joel Stein from Time Magazine.  I call his kind of writing comedy without the humor.  His style of writing is a style that is so ubiquitous in this age.  It is full of snarky sentences and simple minded witticisms and lacks any meaning or value.  It is part of the culture that holds nothing sacred and therefore puts everything on the same level.  Every time I see his column I think to myself, how does this guy still have a job?!!!

We live in an age where many times the comedians are the only truth tellers.  Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, and Bill Maher use comedy to speak truth to power.  George Carlin and Monty Python did the same thing along with many others.  I am again going to use the Oscar Wilde quote that I love so dearly:  “If you want to tell people the truth, make them laugh, otherwise they’ll kill you.”

This is not to say that comedy has to have a serious edge to it.  Comedy is also a great creator of joy.  A movie like Something About Mary or some of the sillier Python sketches just make you laugh because they are goofy.

However there is a brand of comedy that belittles things just to prove how witty the comedians are, and serves no greater function than the comedians own ego.  I saw this kind of comedy arise on shows like VH1’s I Love the 80’s.  On these shows a cast of mostly second rate comedians were hired to go through pop culture memories and literally make fun of everything that could possibly be remembered.  That’s not to say that a show like this lacked any entertainment factor.  In fact it could be kind of addictive.  However, if you stop to think at all about what they are doing it becomes much less likable.

When everything is made fun of, without any kind of purpose behind it, everything becomes the same and nothing has any value.  Most of this comedy is mean spirited, while lacking any kind of point of view, and therefore meaning.  This kind of comedy not only doesn’t shed light on anything, it actually makes it harder to separate the good from the bad.

George Carlin once said that anything could be funny.  He used rape as an example.  “I can prove to you that rape is funny.  Picture Porky Pig raping Elmer Fudd.”

What I think Carlin is doing here, beyond trying to get a laugh, is give people the freedom from fear to talk about a taboo subject.  If you can lighten a dark issue you can bring it out into the open for discussion.

Someone like Joel Stein has no point to get across in his comedy.  Neither is he just having silly fun.  He is only tryin to show how much wittier he is than everyone else, when the truth is he isn’t very witty at all.