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Happy (belated) birthday, Joe Orton

Posted by Eric Brightwell, January 2, 2013 05:14pm | Post a Comment

Yesterday, had he not died in 1967, would've been the 79th birthday of my favorite, English, comic playwright, Joe Orton (provided he didn't pass away for some other reason in the intermediate years).


Saffron Lane council estate being built in 1927

John Kingsley "Joe" Orton was born 1 January in Leicester to William A Orton and Elsie M Orton (nėe Bentley). Joe's father worked as a gardener for the Leicester County Borough Council whilst his mom was in footwear until tuberculosis (and the subsequent removal of a lung) led to an early retirement. When Joe was two his family moved from Clarendon Park to the Saffron Lane council estate where the family was soon rounded out by the addition of Douglas, Marilyn, and Leonie.

After several serious bouts of asthma, Orton left school and took a position as a junior clerk making £3 a week in 1947. Over the next couple of years he developed an interest in improving his physical state and in theater. In pursuit of the former he took up body building, in pursuit of the former he joined several dramatic societies and local, amateur productions. He also wished to continue his education and began attending Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London on scholarship in 1951.

At school Orton met a well-off aspiring writer, Kenneth Halliwell. The two fell in love and moved in together, sharing a flat in West Hampstead flat with two other students. After graduation, Orton worked for a stint as an assistant stage manager in Ipswich whilst Halliwell's work to him to Llandudno, Wales. When they both returned to London, they collaborated on several novels in imitation of Ronald Firbank. In 1957, when their last collaboration, The last days of Sodom was just as unpublished as their previous works, they decided to work solo. Orton wrote his first play, He wrote his first play, Fred and Madge, and his last novel, The vision of Gombold Proval, in 1959.



The couple lived off Halliwell's shrinking inheritance, unemployment and occasionally worked proper jobs to afford a small flat in Islington (N1, Noel Road, 25). During this period they also borrowed books from the local library and altered the dust jacket art and blurbs on more than 70. They were caught in 1962 and the incident was reported in the Daily Mirror in an article titled, hilariously, "Gorilla in the roses." Their sentence was a fine of £262 and a six month stint in prison. Ironically, today some of the book covers (some of which are very much in the vein of subversive surrealist collage) are exhibited in the Islington Museum



Orton's was wit was darkened and honed by his harsh treatment for his and Halliwell's prank and when he was released his writing had an increased sense of urgency. In 1963, the BBC paid him for The ruffian on the stair, which was broadcast the following August. By then, Entertaining Mr. Sloane had premiered to a mixture of rave reviews and moral outrage -- some of which was fanned by Orton, who would sometimes write letters to publications under the guise of the easily-scandalized alter egos, including Edna Welthorpe.

His next play, Loot, was rushed into production to capitalize on Orton's growing fame and received mixed reviews (and re-workings). What the butler saw followed, along with other plays, and even a screenplay for a Beatles film, titled Up against it. Some works, such as The good and faithful servant and Funeral games aired as teleplays on ITV.

As Orton was celebrated for and propelled by his success, Halliwell plunged into deep depression, which was likely exacerbated by his glaring and total lack thereof. There was also word that Orton had found a new boyfriend and was planning on leaving Halliwell. On August 1967, Kenneth Halliwell beat Orton to death with nine hammer blows to the head before fatally overdosing on 22 pentobarbital tablets washed down with the syrupy juice of canned grapefruit. Halliwell left a note that his actions would be explained by reading Orton's diary. Their bodies were discovered by a chauffeur, who'd come around to take Orton to a meeting with Richard Lester, director of The Beatles' films. Orton was cremated and at the service, the great Harold Pinter read the eulogy and a recording of "A day in the life" played.




In 1978, John Lahr wrote a biography of Joe Orton titled Prick up your ears. In 1987 it was adapted into a great Stephen Frears-directed film starring Gary Oldman as Orton and Alfred Molina as Halliwell. The phrase, "prick up your ears," had originally been conceived by Orton as "prick up your erse" as an unpublishable title. In the Adam & the Ants song, "The Magnificent Five," Ant sang "Long ago in London town/A man called Ant sat deeply sighing/He was wondering/Which side of the fence he was on/Prick up your ears." In the 1990s, someone once remarked that Pulp's Jarvis Cocker was a mix of Joe Orton and Alan Bennett.



Great film, mildly unpleasant trailer for the US release on VHS

Although Orton's humor is sometimes compared to that of Irish playwright, Oscar Wilde, the two authors' tones are recognizably different enough to warrant the existence of both "Wildean" and "Ortonesque" as non-interchangeable terms.  


Orton Square, Leicester with the Curve Theatre and Athena (source: Steve Cadman)

In Leicester, a former industrial area has been redeveloped as a cultural quarter. The pedestrian concourse in front of the Curve Theatre opened as "Orton Square" in 2008.


Orton and Halliwell's former residence, marked by a circular plaque between the windows


*****

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Remastered Beatles Catalog Releasing on Vinyl Nov. 13

Posted by Billy Gil, November 7, 2012 04:40pm | Post a Comment

The BeatlesAll 14 albums by The Beatles will be released in remastered stereo on vinyl Tuesday, November 13, following their previous release on CD (remember Beatles Day 9/9/09?) and digitally.

The 12 original UK albums, plus Magical Mystery Tour and B-sides collection Past Masters Volumes One & Two, will be released on vinyl and will include such goodies as a reproduction of the White Album poster. Additionally, a limited-edition box set includes every album and a hardbound book by radio producer Kevin Howlett, with a chapter on each album’s creation and remastering, as well as photographs from across the band’s career.

These vinyl releases mark the first time that The Beatles’ first four albums will be available in stereo on vinyl in North America. Watch for the mono vinyl releases coming in 2013. Each record is available for $22.98, except for Past Masters, The White Album and the box set. Links to preorder each of the releases are below:

 

Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band

Beatles for Sale

With the Beatles

Abbey Road

Let it Be

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Redd Kross' Steve McDonald Talks to Amoeba About "Researching the Blues"

Posted by Billy Gil, August 16, 2012 04:02pm | Post a Comment

Redd Kross have been the quintessential underground band for the past three decades. The band has nearly always eschewed both pop and indie convention by staying true to its sound, likely angering as many pop fans with its snottiness and random references to Tatum O’Neil and Shonen Knife as they would indie purirsts with its insistence on lacing its acidic songs with undeniable pop hooks.
 
From Hawthorne, Calif. and based around the duo of brothers Jeff and Steve McDonald, Redd Kross first released music in 1980 with a self-titled EP, after opening for Black Flag as teenagers for its first gig. Other musicians came and went as the band released records throughout the ’80s and ’90s, hitting their stride with 1987’s Neurotica and 1990's Third Eye. Following 1997’s Show World, the band all but disappeared, with its members occasionally surfacing for other projects — Steve McDonald famously added bass parts to The White StripesWhite Blood Cells, redubbing it Redd Blood Cells, which saw thousands of downloads and press hubbub. The brothers McDonald separately produced albums by other artists as well.
 
The elusive band returned in 2006 to play a set at REDCAT in Los Angeles covering the band’s entire catalog, featuring the Neurotica-era lineup of the McDonalds, Robert Hecker and Roy McDonald. They toured and played a killer set of the entire Born Innocent album opening for Sonic Youth, who played all of Daydream Nation (I was there! Yessss.), at the Greek Theater in L.A. In 2008 they played Coachella, among numerous other festivals and appearances over the past few years. Now, finally, Redd Kross have released an album of new material, entitled Researching the Blues. The album has seen some of the band’s best reviews, garnering an 81% on reviews aggregator Metacritic, and it’s not hard to see why, hearing the enlivened swagger the band displays on songs like the title track (download free here), while maintaining the dynamism that has always set the band apart, also including shimmering power-pop ballads like “Dracula’s Daughter” and “Winter Blues.”

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100 Famous Rock Guitar Riffs Offers Concise History of Rock N' Roll

Posted by Billyjam, July 17, 2012 10:00am | Post a Comment
      

Rock music has way too many incredibly memorable guitar riffs to limit a best of list to just one hundred, but the 100 riffs that guitarist Alex Chadwick of The Chicago Music Exchange came up with for the above video performance ain't half bad, and it is a nice informal overview of the history of rock n' roll. Sure it's a subjective selection that includes a lot of mega hits of the genre, and no doubt every rock fan could come up with their own unique list of a hundred best guitar riffs. But I like what Alex has done: from his playing to his choices of riffs, and from how he segues from song to song, to how he plays it on his 1958 Fender Strat all in chronological order. Below is that list of songs and artists in order with the artist names that are blue highlighted linking back to the Amoeba Online Store. where you can find their respective music (CDs, LPs, DVDs) including (in near all cases) the song played by Alex.

SONG/ARTIST PLAYLIST & AMOEBA SHOP LINK OF ALEX'S 100 GUITAR RIFFS (IN ORDER):


1 "Mr. Sandman"  Chet Atkins
2 "Folsom Prison Blues" Johnny Cash
3 "Words of Love"  Buddy Holly
4 "Johnny B Goode"  Chuck Berry
5 "Rumble"  Link Wray

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Happy Birthday Alan Aldridge -- The Man with the Kaleidoscope Eyes

Posted by Eric Brightwell, June 1, 2012 04:00pm | Post a Comment

Today is the 69th birthday of English artist, graphic designer and illustrator, Alan Aldridge (click here to visit his site). His distinct airbrush work adorned numerous books and albums in the 1960s and '70s and helped define the aesthetic of the era -- equal parts whimsy and menace.

Aldridge appeals to me, in part, due to the way he draws upon older artists from very different traditions. The grotesque, fantastical characters echo the febrile visions of Dutch Renaissance painter Hieronymus Bosch. The invasive, sometimes threatening vegetation reminds me of the vegetable portraits of Italian Mannerist Giuseppe Arcimboldo. The soft, velvety folds and textures of clothing remind me of French Neoclassicist Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres's almost single-minded focus on mastering the technique of depicting textiles.
 
As a young child, when I was first exposed to Aldridge, I hadn't yet heard of any of those artists. I don't remember ever even asking who Alan Aldridge was, but it was clear even that his particular synthesis of influences and ability to simultaneously captivate and repulse was immediately recognizable as the work of one artist, whatever work it adorned.

     

Aldridge was born in East London in 1943. One of his first jobs as an illustrator was for The Sunday Times. He was hired in 1965 by Penguin Books' chief editor, Tony Godwin, to serve as art director after impressing them with his freelance covers. Examples of his work can be seen on numerous science-fiction revised editions c. 1967 and The Penguin Book of Comics (1967), and The Beatles Illustrated Lyrics (1969).

  

In 1968 he started his own graphic design firm, INK, who ended up designing a number of iconic album covers through the 1970s, as well as the graphics for Jane Arden's play, Vagina Rex and the Gas Oven in 1969.

 
My sister owned a copy of the picture book The Butterfly Ball and the Grasshopper's Feast (1973), an amazing children's book illustrated by Aldridge full of beauty and a creepiness that eludes description. My mother owned a copy of Elton John's concept album, Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy (1975). I gave it a few curious spins but his music never did much for me. The artwork, however, again the work of Aldridge, held me spellbound. Although I didn't realize it, when a couple third grade classmates and I attempted to provide a literal illustration of The Beatles' "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds," we were probably unknowingly influenced by Aldridge (and probably a bit of Heinz Edelmann and Milton Glaser) although it goes without saying that our results were slightly less accomplished.

The Who's A Quick One (1966), Andy Warhol   George Harrison's Wonderwall Music (1968) 

A few of the iconic designs Aldridge was behind include the cover for The Who's A Quick One (1966), Andy Warhol and Paul Morrissey's Chelsea Girls (1966), George Harrison's Wonderwall Music (1968), and later albums like Tears for Fears' Everybody Loves a Happy Ending (2004) and Incubus's Light Grenades (2006). 

    

He also illustrated The Ship's Cat (1977) and two sequels to The Butterfly Ball and the Grasshopper's FeastThe Peacock Party (1979) and The Lion's Cavalcade (1980).
*****

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