Amoeblog

No Direction Home: Dylan Was Always Bound for Glory

Posted by Miss Ess, February 11, 2009 07:05pm | Post a Comment
I rewatched Scorsese's No Direction Home, the documentary about Bob Dylan, last night for the first time since it aired on TV a few years back. The DVD is 3 and half hours long! But fabulous, through and through.


The most interesting points in the movie for me were the moments where Dylan's self creation was discussed. He's long been known as something of a shape shifter and it was interesting to think about the concept of home through his eyes -- where it is and how one gets there. I still wouldn't call Dylan a straight shooter or anything after watching the documentary, but my interest was piqued by both his comments and those of his many friends and collegues who were interviewed for the project, among them: Dave Van Ronk, Joan Baez, Mark Spoelstra, Al Kooper, Liam Clancy, Allen Ginsberg, Pete Seeger, Mavis Staples and Suze Rotolo.

Dylan says he was "born a long way from where [he was] supposed to be" and that he's been looking for his home, forging his own version of it ever since -- and he definitely doesn't look back. He's been inventing his own truth, his own identity throughout his career, allowing no one to pin him down at any one moment. Even his last name is an invention, purely his way of creating an identity for himself.  Dylan believes he had no past, and totally seperated himself from his Hibbing, MN upbringing. He only looked to the present moment, and did what pleased him then. This goes a long way toward explaining his career and its diversity as well as the period in the mid-60s where he took a lot of heat for "going electric." The film covers this period with dynamic energy, interviewing those who were on the side of Dylan's "authentic" folk music/protest songs and those whose eyes were fixed on the future of rock in 1965. It's thrilling to watch the portion of the film where the audacious 1965 Newport Folk Festival performance is discussed, but then again, I always seem to find this a thrilling moment in musical history.

In one clip, Dylan states that he only started writing his own songs because he had something to say to Woody Guthrie, and it had to be written in song. Dylan realized early on that you can invent your own identity, you can invent your own home and then find yourself there by your own invention. I believe his work allowed him to create his own world, and his own culture and vision. He instinctively felt what the rest of American culture vastly had still been sleeping on: that the chains of conformity and expectation had to be broken. Through opening himself to his own flow of ideas on the page and then inserting them into musical form, Dylan, at once cheeky and dead serious, and whip smart all the way through, smashed the old ways to pieces and forged a new landscape (and thus, home) for not only American artists but American lives.

No Direction Home may only cover his career up till '66, but it is an extremely invigorating and enlightening ride, all three and a half hours of it. For whatever it's worth, I think it's as close as anyone has ever come to presenting a true portrait of the man's career. Its interviews definitely seem to be the most honest Dylan has ever been on record about his art, his life and his legacy.

In the film, Dylan says, "as an artist, you have to stay in a state of discovery," and I think that pretty well sums it up for him and his career. Has anyone else controlled his own puppet strings so nimbly and with such inspiring and exhilerating results? Dylan has done nothing but defy everyone's expectations ever since he hit the scene in the ea

Otis Redding, The Big O

Posted by Miss Ess, February 1, 2009 06:11am | Post a Comment
Otis Redding has inarguably one of the most evocative voices in all our country's history, and like so many with such enormous talent, he died too young.


I think I first heard Otis in high school when I became obsessed with the Monterey Pop Festival, Otis' first big splash onto the pop scene. I was overwhelmed by his voice and energy during his famous performance there, including and especially a song he cowrote called "I've Been Loving You Too Long." In fact, one of my very first purchases at Amoeba quite a few years ago, and long before I ever worked here was the Reprise release of Redding's Monterey Pop set with Hendrix' on the flip side. I had never been able to find it anywhere else.


Otis came from Georgia, and he wrote and recorded for Stax/Volt, the famous Southern label. Not many people in his day were writing their own songs. Otis would write many with the legendary Steve Cropper, including "(Sittin On) The Dock of the Bay." Additionally, the many songs that he chose to cover were infused with a sprit and fortitude that made them all his own. Otis' career gained momentum throughout the 60s due to his incessant touring and massive talent for entertaining and moving crowds. He released a string of essential albums, including Pain in My Heart, The Great Otis Redding Sings Soul Ballads, Otis Blue, The Soul Album, Complete & Unbelievable: The Otis Redding Dictionary of Soul and King & Queen.

Otis died in a small plane crash that occured just a few months after Monterey Pop, on December 10, 1967.

One of my favorite songs that he sings so memorably on Otis Blue has always been "A Change Is Gonna Come." The song, which has never lost its power over the many years and zillions of cover versions since it was written by Sam Cooke, seems even more timely right now as our 44th president experiences his first months in office. I always hotly argued with my friends over whether the Otis version was better than the original, sung by Cooke. Although it is admittedly a tough call, Otis' was always number one in my heart -- it reverberates with grit and emotion, weariness and hope.

In addition to his great talent, as his official website states, Redding believed "that music could be a universal force, bringing together different races and cultures." Back when it was uncommon, his label, Stax, was famously integrated, his backing band was often the MGs, made up of black and white players, and he brought his music to both the chitlin circuit and pop festivals. He was loved by all. I just don't think there has ever been a better vocalist and some of the songs he wrote are some of the best ever, including "Respect," "Hard to Handle," "These Arms of Mine," and many more.

Here's my favorite Otis track, "Cigarettes and Coffee." One note from Otis and his gorgeous, expressive voice, and I am lost in sentimental memories.


I can't resist adding "You Don't Miss Your Water" as well:

Scott Walker: 30 Century Man Documentary Plays in Bay Area

Posted by Miss Ess, January 21, 2009 02:45pm | Post a Comment

Attention all Bay Area Scott Walker fans! There's a documentary that was executive produced by David Bowie himself and has been floating around for a few years called Scott Walker: 30 Century Man, and now it will finally have its proper debut on the big screen this week here in the Bay Area!


For decades now Scott Walker has continually been hipper than hip and within the past few years his cult status has only ballooned. He also has the best album covers of all time, imho, or at least the most dramatic, both the interior photos and exterior. His music tends to produce immense reactions in listeners -- either enthusiastic or otherwise. It leaves no one unmoved one way or the other. His fans are rampant and rabid and they continue to grow in numbers as the years have passed.


Born in America but living in England since the 60s, Walker has enjoyed an illustrious career as one of the most cultishly admired vocalists both in his early group, The Walker Brothers, and especially throughout his fabled solo career, with his acclaimed solo albums Scott, Scott 2, Scott 3 (sensing a pattern here?) and Scott 4 all being released in the late 60s. Scott 4 is highly influenced by Ingmar Bergman and his films and is truly epic. Walker continues to make music, most recently releasing The Drift in 2006.


The film premieres at Shattuck in Berkeley and at Opera Plaza Cinema in San Francisco Friday, January 23.

There will also be a premiere party celebrating 30 Century Man at the Casanova here in San Francisco's Mission District this Friday, January 23. The DJ will be spinning all Scott all the time and there will be ticket and prize giveaways.

Woodstock by Joni Mitchell

Posted by Miss Ess, January 1, 2009 02:23pm | Post a Comment

Though a heck of a lot of people got to witness the monster festival that was 1969's Woodstock, a notable exception was Joni Mitchell.

Famously, her agent thought it would be a better idea for her to keep her scheduled appearance on the Dick Cavett Show, and so Joni barely missed one of the most celebrated and fabled musical festivals of all time. Upset about not being able to attend, she quickly wrote the eloquent and apt song "Woodstock" based on what others had said about the festival, capturing a moment at least as well as any musician who was actually there.

Growing up in a Crosby Stills Nash Young-heavy household, we never ever listened to Joni Mitchell's version of her own song "Woodstock" at all. I didn't even know she had written it when I was young. Finally, in college I started listening to her music and found her version to be much more haunting and moving than the comparatively light and sunny (and kinda wanky) CSNY version. 

Here she is playing the song at a festival in Big Sur in 1969, just one month after Woodstock. I believe this is the first public performance of "Woodstock" ever. As she says, "Well everybody has heard about Woodstock and maybe a lot of you were there," you can hear the utter regret in her voice. It's a gorgeous performance.


Here's the CSNY version, in case your memory needs recharging:


Mimes in music and film

Posted by Eric Brightwell, November 8, 2008 09:12pm | Post a Comment

Last year for Halloween I was Bip the Clown, a famous creation of the then recently passed master of mime, Marcel Marceau. I thought it would be good to go an entire day without talking, yet it seemed to arouse violent annoyance in as many people as liked it.


 
I think it made me realize that I like mime, especially when it's darker and scarier... as in the mimetic acting of German Expressionist silent film... as well as comedians like Buster Keaton, Harry Langdon, Harold Lloyd and Charlie Chaplin, who were all essentially mimes. And, come to think of it, so was Cesar the somnambulist in Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari... whom I was for Halloween a while ago, come to think of it.


Mime has its roots in ancient Greece but most conventions of modern mime were developed by the Bohemian mime, Jean-Gaspard Deburau, who adapted aspects of the commedia dell'arte for nineteenth century French actors. His most famous character was Pierrot, the moonstruck, dumb romantic in white face and poofy threads. He was portrayed in Marcel Carné's Les Enfants du Paradis.


In the 1920s, Étienne Decroux created a highly original take on mime, focusing on statuary poses, a technique known as corporeal mime.


 
Jacques Tati worked, not surprisingly, as a mime. As a director, he mimed out his actors' movements.




Lindsay Kemp
was raised in Yorkshire, an area whose green moors and dales have earned it the nickname "God's Own Country." At Bradford Arts College he studied with famous Austrian dancer Hilde Holger and even more famous mime, Marcel Marceau. His take on mime was experimental, nightmarishly creepy, psychedelia and Butoh-informed and part of that whole anarchic, vaugely-sinister, druggy whimsy that seems to be evident in so much late '60s/early-'70s British stuff from the final scene of Blow-Up to The Prisoner. He had a small role in the druggily whimsical The Wicker Man as well as Velvet Goldmine and others. His troupe employed David Bowie and Kate Bush.

David Bowie


Peter Gabriel
is an admitted fan of Kemp and Marceau and, especially in Genesis, he was a mimetic performer with a stock of mime-ish characters. 



Steve Harley
, in Cockney Rebel, frequently incorporated aspects of mime into his performances. And he always chewed gum, it seems.


Jobriath
was obviously informed by mime, mentioning Pierrot numerous times and striking mime-like poses in pictures. He seems a bit nervous here, but there isn't that much footage of him performing and he seems to get a little more comfortable and mime like as it goes on.


Renato Zero
, hailing from the home of the commedia dell'arte, has clearly a been inspired by mime.


Klaus Nomi
's look, his movements and performance all have a distinct air of mime about them.


Kate Bush


 

Marillion's Fish seemed fairly mime-informed... and perhaps owed a little to Peter Gabriel.

I think that part of the reason mimes are so broadly detested is that most people who practice it are just sidewalk performers in whiteface trying to get paid for doing charades. Plus it's just sort of a comedy cliché, like midgets biting peoples legs. Shakes the Clown certainly addressed it, as has Reno 911 and millions of struggling comedians and bloggers.


 
More postive portrayals of mimes do exist in film. Consider:

Hildur and the Magician (1969), Le Monde Etait Plein De Couleurs (1973) and Sueño de Noche de Verano (1984)
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