Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me

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I found myself watching a documentary about entertainer and force of nature Elaine Stritch the other day.  It was called Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me.  If I’m being honest I only watched it because I read a particularly funny passage about her in Morrissey’s Autobiography and I was also aware that she had just passed away.  I was in no way overly familiar with her work before coming across the documentary on Netflix by chance.

The film not only dealt with her career and her one of a kind personality, but also with her unbelievable work ethic at the age of 87 and the struggles that she faced from aging and diabetes.  She was someone that had more than one memorable quote to say the least.  When talking about her diabetes she simply shrugged it off by saying something along the lines of everyone has their sack of rocks that they carry around.  When asked about aging she quoted Bette Davis and said, “Aging is not for sissies.”

One of the most memorable parts of the film was when her musical director talked about their first meeting.  He described how right away she stated that she wanted someone that was not going to bullshit her.  With her truth was essential.  In fact throughout the film she spoke openly about how the entertainment business is full of people that you can’t trust completely, and that it was clear that she valued people who would be straight with her.  She herself was not one to hold her tongue regarding her opinion to say the least.

The movie itself was a very interesting character study.  She was someone that went to a convent before going into acting, yet she swore like a sailor.  She was both extremely vulnerable and yet completely brave in many ways.  She loved attention, but didn’t suffer fake praise.

I was surprised at how moved I was at this documentary featuring an 87 year old woman whose work I had no relationship with.  You see her at times in the movie, especially as she is struggling with her health and talking about her battle with alcoholism, at moments of extreme human weakness.  It’s also clear that she undoubtedly liked being at the center of things.  However, despite whatever flaws she may have had, one can’t help but marvel at the hutzpah that she possessed.

She was dead within a year of this film coming out.  Throughout the movie the end of her career and life hover continuously.  If she didn’t exactly rage against the dying of the light, she definitely faced it with more balls than most.  I was glad that I discovered this tough old broad by chance, on a Saturday afternoon.

Listen, Read, and Watch this Weekend

'Sunday Brunch' TV Programme, London, Britain - 06 Jan 2013

I thought about writing something about ten times today.  But nothing came.  Could it have been the fact that it was as hot as Africa out?  Could it have been the drinks I had last night?  A few recommendations for the weekend is all I have today:

Listen to:  If you love great singing over pop music, and are looking for an album this weekend, check out Frank Sinatra’s Watertown.  It was recorded in 1969 and it is Frank’s one attempt to play the 60’s pop game.  It’s a concept album and a masterpiece and I hope to write more about it at some point. The song I Would Be in Love (Anyway) alone is worth the price.

Listen to:  With Weird Al at number one in the Billboard album charts, and the soundtrack to Frozen still selling units, I think we can safely proclaim that mainstream America has lost their minds.  If you want to support music that is actually intelligent, melodic, extremely musical, and sad and funny as hell in equal measures, check out Morrissey’s new album, World Peace is None of Your Business.  It’s the best thing I’ve heard in years.  Yes, I’m going to keep pushing this album on you.  It’s that good.

Read:  I finished the Brendan Behan play The Quare Fellow.  It takes place in Mountjoy prison.  It’s the first dramatic piece of Behan’s that I’ve read.  It’s subversively hilarious, poetic, and rings true in every word.  I’ve been thinking about the death penalty in Texas lately, and this play will make you dead set against it.  It does so without ever becoming some kind of self righteous morality tale.  In fact it is the fallen nature of everyone involved that makes it’s final sequence seem like some kind of sad cosmic joke.

Watch:  If you want to see things in the world you have never seen before and laugh your arse off while doing so, check out the Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant produced An Idiot Abroad.  The show stars Karl Pilkington, as the little Englander and title idiot.  This is someone that doesn’t like to travel hosting a travel show.  The show could easily descend into reality show brainlessness, but the footage is excellent.  In often trying to torture Karl they send him to places that most travel shows would never go to.  Also, although most of Karl’s commentary duly earns him the title phrase, he occasionally stumbles his way into truth as when he compares Jerusalem to Pac-Man.  There is also something strangely lovable about Karl.  His words and deeds are often at opposites.  He will say something completely offensive and then show kindness towards someone that most people never would.  The full series is available on Netflix.

That’s all for today kids.  I am throwing a party for my brother tonight, so the bottle calls again.  To quote Danny Glover in Lethal Weapon, “I’m too old for this shit!”  (P.S.  Another hilarious watch is the It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia espisode Dee Reynolds: Shaping America’s Youth.  In this episode they spoof the Lethal Weapon series.  You haven’t lived until you have seen Danny DeVito having sex to the cheesy 80’s saxophone music that they play in those movies.)

World Peace is None of Your Business Album Review

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Songs about suicide that you can dance to, songs that are devastating critiques of the male ego, songs where we root for a bull fighter’s death so that the bull can survive, songs where we are told to kick the bride down the aisle, songs of poetry that vividly attack the justice system and bring an old prison alive in our imagination, and songs unafraid to look into the abyss;  These are all songs on one album and that is the new Morrissey album, World Peace is None of Your Business.  This album is subversive, intelligent, heartbreaking, and funny as hell.  This album is not just the work off one man however; This album is also the work of a band at the height of their powers and of a producer that brings the best out of everyone involved.

This is a record that is extremely musical.  The album begins with a didgeridoo and goes on to include trumpets, clarinets, flamenco solos, gorgeous keyboards, savage electric guitars, pure noise, and delicately played acoustics.  It is all anchored with the best rhythm section of the man’s career.  The record not only expands the language of pop music, but also the language of music itself.  Sure, in this place and time almost everything has been done, but this record does stake out it’s own small piece of earth.  Have you ever heard a didgeridoo go into a beautifully gorgeous glam rock ballad that also features moments of take the paint off the wall guitar?  All while lines like, “The police will disable you with tasters,” are delivered in a gentle croon.  That’s just song number one.  Anyone that claims that this album isn’t at least trying to push the envelope is either offended by what it has to say, or is so caught up in the baggage of Morrissey’s long career that they’re not listening with anything resembling human ears.

The album swings between transcendent pop and epic show stopping masterpieces.  Take a song like Staircase at the University.  The song resembles in theme the 1960’s “death discs” where tragedy was masked in effervescent melodies.  In this song a female student under pressure from her family and loved ones throws herself down the title stairs until her head, “splits three ways.”  However, when the song ends in a triumphant flamenco guitar solo and eventually handclaps, you find yourself smiling against all odds.

On the other ends of the spectrum there are songs like I’m Not a Man and Mountjoy.  These are two of the best songs Morrissey has ever recorded.  I’m Not a Man takes all of the ways in which traditional manhood is defined and discards them.  From Cassanova and Don Juan, to the warring caveman and the soldier, he dreams up something kinder and better than man as we know it.  “And I would never destroy this planet that I’m on / Well, what do you think I am, a man?”

Mountjoy, minus a line about a judge, described as a, “three foot half wit in a wig”, is deadly serious.  The song is about the famous prison in Ireland that among regular prisoners also housed famous ones such as Brendan Behan, who is also mentioned in the song.  He uses poetic language to not only create the horrible conditions of the prison itself and the justice system that put it in place, but also to ask big questions about the human condition.

Musically this album’s closest resemblance to Morrissey’s catalog is as an updated version of Viva Hate or Bona Drag.  There are times when Jesse Tobias’s overly distorted electric guitar brings to mind Vini Reilly’s guitar on Alastian Cousin.  There are also the extremely colorful arrangements and strange twists and turns in the production from that period.  However, producer Joe Chiccarelli has updated the sound and brought new colors to it as well.  He is somehow able to bring out both the delicate details of the arrangements without them losing any muscle.  Also new multi-instrumentalist Gustavo Manzur brings in all kinds of wold influences from the aforementioned flamenco guitar to the French sounding accordion breakdown of Earth is the Loneliest Planet.

This is Morrissey’s most outwardly looking album of all time, both musically and lyrically.  A song like Istanbul not only is sung in character as someone from the title city, but features musical nods and sound effects to that city as well till we feel that we are caught down in the human muck with the song’s narrator.  The once most British of pop stars is now casting a wide eye across the globe with equal bits empathy and disgust.

The only song that sounds as it is definitely written in Morrissey’s own voice is the final song Oboe Concerto.  “The older generation has tried, sighed,and died / which pushes me to their place in the queue.”

I can’t recommend this album enough.  It is a record of both despair and defiance that features more wit than most singers could muster in a lifetime.  As much as this album looks at the world at large, as Morrissey is thematically not only expanding what he has attempted before, but again also the language of pop music, he still ends the album with a British stiff upper lip as he accepts the reality of life and repeats over and over:

Round, rhythm goes round
Round, rhythm of life goes round

*Some of you that subscribe to this blog may have originally gotten a different review of this album.  I apologize about sending out two different reviews, but I wrote the first one when I was exhausted and simply wasn’t happy with it.  I make a point of never going back and changing anything I wrote, other than for errors, but every rule needs to be broken sometimes.  

Line of Best Fit Review of World Peace is None of Your Business

http://www.thelineofbestfit.com/reviews/albums/morrissey-world-peace-is-none-of-your-business-harvest?

The above review by Michael James Hall is the best review I have read yet of Morrissey’s new album, World Peace is None of Your Business.  I don’t agree with a few of his small criticisms,  and in the beginning he makes the same mistake of many journalists by saying that basically this is a return to form.  Although it has been five years since Morrissey put out a new album, and I do believe his new album to be the best of his newer releases, all of his last three studio albums have been essential listening for me.  Anyway, these are small complaints because Hall does largely get why this is simply a fantastic release both musically and lyrically.  This record is not only one of the crowning achievments in Mozzer’s career, but is absolutely one of the best albums put out by anyone in recent years.  I have only heard the album three times, as travel has prevented me from streaming it more, but each time my jaw has been on the floor.  If you are looking for intelligent music that is also subversive,  very melodic, and musically inventive,  look no further.  Once I get home, and get my hands on a physical copy, I intend to explain in full detail why I think so highly of this record.  I am clearly a fan, as anyone else reading this blog can tell, but this record belongs in any intelligent music lovers collection.  It is that good.  On first listen some the melodies seem complex and challenging, but by listen three every one  of them is ingrained in your head, never to leave.  Also, even if Morrissey had been taken off the record, his band is reaching new heights, creating music that is stunning in its own right.  I know that I have been writing a lot Morrissey lately, maybe too much to some reader’s consternation,  but I am simply over the moon about this album.  It’s my party, and I’ll cry if I want to…

You can stream the record here in full in the states:
http://www.npr.org/2014/07/06/326925957/first-listen-morrissey-world-peace-is-none-of-your-business

nme.com is streaming it in England. 

Mountjoy

The joy brings many things

It cannot bring you joy
Sons of mothers huddle here
Men and boys

1850 swung the doors
And human sewage swept inside
Where victims speak in whines
And where the hardened cried

I was sent here by a 3 foot half-wit in a wig
I took his insults on the chin, and never did I flinch

A swagger hides the fear in here
By this rule we breathe
And there is no one on this earth
Who I’d feel sad to leave

You see we all lose
We all lose

What those in power do to you
Reminds us at a glance
How humans hate each others guts
And show it given a chance

We never say aloud the things
That we say in our prayers
Cause no one cares

Many executed here
By the awful lawfully good
But the only thing that makes me cry
Is when I see the sky

Brendan Behan’s laughter rings
For what he had or hadn’t done
For he knew then as I know now
That for each and every one of us
We all lose
Rich or poor, we all lose
Rich or poor, they all lose

Mountjoy by Morrissey.  The new album is up and streaming at npr.org.  it is fantastic.  I will review it in full once I get my hands on a copy next week and can spend more time with it.  It is hard streaming it on tour from my phone.  First listen blew me away as I feel like he is really pushing himself to new places on this one. 

Mountjoy is a prison where, among regular inmates, famous prisoners like Brendan Behan spent time.  I am coincidentally reading Behan’s Borstal Boy at the moment. 

These lyrics are stunning, especially when married to the music.  Although they look backwards they could not be more contemporary given the sad state of justice in the world…

Being a Star is Meaningless

Being a star is meaningless.  I say this because it seems like there are so many stars these days and so few of them have anything resembling real talent.  Stars are created and destroyed by the entertainment industry.  If someone puts up the money to film and promote you, and if you are shameless enough to let the worst side of your nature shine on, you too can possibly be famous. 

That is not to say there are not real stars where talent, looks, and charisma come together.  Even detractors of Elvis would probably admit there was something special about him.  I have seen Morrissey several times and it was almost like seeing a living work of art.  I can’t describe it more than that, but his mere presence was captivating.  And I don’t say that because I am a fan of his music.  I have seen plenty of my heroes in the flesh, but this was something different. 

I am talking about this today because I have been listening to the band Helmet lately.  They are an alternative metal band that was most popular in the 90’s.  I like them for their staccato riffs and their take the paint off the walls noise solos.  Being part of a rhythm section, I appreciate their unique and influential approach to rhythm. 

Every time you read about them there is a comment about the fact that they didn’t find more success because they lacked charisma.  They had short haircuts and dressed like clean cut average joes.  I admit if I were to run across one of them in the streets I wouldn’t recognize them.  Also, if we are being honest, lead singer Page Hamilton had a functionary voice, but not a great one.  However they were a decent band that at the time made their own unique stamp on music.  They clearly were influential in the metal genre. 

But every time I read this comment that they didn’t find more success because of lack of charisma I find it to be more urban legend than reality.  There are so many times when writers are lazy and repeat the same fact over and over because they are cribbing off one another.  I am a firm believer that anyone can be famous if they receive the proper corporate media support.  Our TV channels are littered with the untalented, and quite often uninteresting, famous.   

It is unfortunate how too many of us judge something by how successful it is in the moment.  This band created records that I, and I know others, still listen to.  Meanwhile the superstar highway is clogged with the corpses of those who are now mere trivia questions and whose work no one can remember.  What lasts is the only thing that matters.  All else is just noise. 

Q Magazine World Peace is None of Your Business Review

http://www.morrissey-solo.com/content/1894-World-Peace-review-by-Victoria-Segal-in-Q-Magazine-(4-5-stars-Aug-2014)

As anyone that reads this blog will know, I am incredibly excited for the new Morrissey record, especially after hearing the tracks that have been released.  All the reviews I have read for the album have been 4 our of 5 stars and one was 8 out of 10.  For those of you that are fans like me, here is a link to the Q Magazine review.  For those of you that not, you should be!  It’s almost here.  

 

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The Bullfighter Dies Spoken Word

This is a spoken word promo for the new Morrissey single. He has done a spoken word promo for each of the four digital singles that he has released. All of them have dry sense of humor and an old Hollywood feel. I especially like in this one when he is reciting the last chorus with a smile upon his face. He knows what he is doing. Morrissey has long been a champion of animal rights and this song supports that stance through humor.

I’ve been listening to a great deal of 60’s pop lately, of which Morrissey is also a fan. I can’t help but feel that the actual song is in the vein of the 60’s novelty pop song. It’s even just over two minutes in length which was often the single length at that time.

My only criticism of this song is I wish Jesse Tobias’s guitar was slightly louder in the mix as he is playing a beautifully chimey guitar part that is not his typical fair. But another greatly enjoyable pop song by the old Mozzer.

Here is the link to the actual song: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oV_U9qBSj_I#action=share

The Guitar Playing of Alain Whyte

One of my favorite guitar players is Alain Whyte.  He was Morrissey’s guitar player from Your Arsenal through Ringleader of the Tormentors.  He still wrote songs with Morrissey after leaving the touring band, although I do not know yet if he wrote any songs on the new album.  Morrissey pokes some fun at him in his Autobiography, but with Morrissey it is hard to tell if he there is any real animosity or just a sort of backhanded compliments that are the result of his Northern humor. 

Alain Whyte never got the credit that he deserved, largely for the unpardonable sin of not being Johnny, even though he wrote at least 81 songs with Morrissey and contributed to some of his best works. 

I loved the guitar team of Boz Boorer and Alain Whyte, but I prefer Alain’s melodic expressive playing to Boz’s more rhythmic approach out of the two.  They were perfect foils for each other.  Although the guitar playing of the two was rooted in pop and rock classicism I actually felt that especially during the 90’s they were one of the few two guitar teams that were pushing the instrument in new directions. 

They took glam, rock, pop, and rockabilly riffs, and blended them into a unique recognizable style.  Under Steve Lillywhite the pair created what to me are the two high-water marks of Morrissey’s career when it comes to guitar playing.  The albums Vauxhall and I and Southpaw Grammar both feature exceptional guitar playing though they are both very different.  Vauxhall and I is very beautiful and gentle while Southpaw Grammar explodes with volume and energy. 

One of the things that is interesting about their playing is that even when they were playing loud they were often including beautiful melodies under the noise.  Vice versa, even when they were playing beautiful gentle parts there was an emotional quality that created tension. 

Much how Paul Westerberg often updated the guitar playing of the Rolling Stones by making it more melodic, I feel that Whyte, and Boorer with him took preexisting rock n roll templates and added a new melodicism to them.  They might have only been painting new landscapes in the margins, but they were still creating their own language. 

Now that Whyte is no longer in Morrissey’s band he often co-writes pop songs with American pop stars.  However, if you like his work his work with Morrissey I would recommend checking out the album Johnny Panic and the Bible of Dreams.  This album features Whyte’s guitar playing, writing, and singing.  Some of the songs you will recognize as songs that became Morrissey songs. 

If you are unfamiliar with his playing I would recommend checking out both of the above mentioned Morrissey records.  Although I think Vauxhall and I is the pinnacle of Morrissey’s solo career, Southpaw Grammar may interest you more if you are buying a record for purely the guitar playing aspect if you happen to be a rock n roll fan. Both records feature glorious guitar playing that in and of itself has unfortunately been overlooked for too long.   

Earth is the Loneliest Planet Single Review

Earth is the Loneliest Planet is Morrissey’s simplest lyric in some time, maybe since Best Friend on the Payroll or Do Your Best and Don’t Worry from Southpaw Grammar.  I am probably missing something but those two jump out.  (I actually like both those songs and especially love Best Friend on the Payroll.  I’ve always found Southpaw to be his most underrated album.  Boz Boorer and Alain Whyte kill it on guitars on that record.  The whole band is great.) The lyrics are basically the title of the song with a couple key phrases to add some light and shade to it.  And for those of you that think he is not living up to his Smith’s heritage all I have to say is Some Girls Are Bigger than Others or Never Had No One Ever.  Morrissey has been writing lyrics this way since he started.  And if the lyrics are simple in terms of the amount of lines that he has written, trust me, as you play the song numerous times different nuances make themselves known. 

The melody is textbook Morrissey; it’s a unique melody that sticks in your craw once you have heard it several times.  What makes this track so outstanding, where it really raises the bar, is the music.  Flamenco guitar, French café sounding accordion, ghostly female backing vocals, and a take the paint off the barn guitar solo are all there together among other things! 

What is really interesting to me now that we have heard three songs from the album is how adventurous and outward looking the production and music is.  Along with the three sets of lyrics, that all seem to look out at the world, the music really has a worldly quality to it without being what you would call world music.  The writing is still very much in the World of Morrissey, but each song has different flourishes that make you think of different cultures.  When Morrissey does what my brother and I call the “victory lap” in his Autobiography, when he talks about all of the success his music has met in all corners of the globe in the last part of his book, it makes me think that he has folded all of these places back into his music.  The fact that has been able to do this while still retaining a very unique musical and lyrical identity is really exciting.  Please let the next month go quickly, I want this record!