Category: review

A Pat on the Back

My blog is a few months old and I have just received a nomination for The Blogger Recognition Award. I would like to thank T. Wayne of A Joyful Process for this. Click on the blog title in the previous sentence to view his many thoughtful, varied and readable posts.

The rules for this award are very specific:

1. Select 15 other blogs you want to give the award to

2. You cannot nominate yourself or the person who has nominated you.

3. Write a post to show your award.

4. Give a brief story of how your blog started.

5. Give a piece of advice or two to new bloggers.

6. Thank whoever nominated you and provide a link to their blog.

7. Attach the award badge to the post (right click and save, then upload.)

8. Comment on each blog and let them know you have nominated them.

9. Provide a link  to the original post on Edge of Night 

For #9, click the name above. For the rest, here goes …

I started my blog because I was looking for something a little deeper than Facebook. Don’t get me wrong, I love splashing about in the shallow end but I like to get out of my depth sometimes. How else will I know if I can swim?

I try to be adventurous and not worry too much about my image or ‘niche-appeal’. To be fair, a narrow focus may suit some bloggers but I prefer to be unconstrained – at least until I discover an authentic writing voice.

I view blogging as a global writers’ collective, an inspiring stage in humanity’s lurch towards cultural evolution. I often comment on other posts, partly as a way of building my own readership but also because blogging is a two-way thing – a dialogue between like minds.

My own nominations seem to share these ideals and values. I search for satire, reflection, laughter, passion, insight, sharing – here are a few of the blogs where I find them .  I’m following 128 sites and many of them are no less rewarding than these, so please accept my apology if yours isn’t here:

garfieldhug.wordpress.com

problemswithinfinity.com

opherworld.wordpress.com

thetroublesometraveller.com

storytimewithjohn.com

publikworks.wordpress.com

nebusresearch.wordpress.com

eddiestarblog.wordpress.com

stevehigginslive.com

thenicessist.com

bensbitterblog.com

sillyoldsod.com

stephellaneous.wordpress.com

echoesfromthepath.com

entertishworld.com

blogger-recognition-award

Please let me know if I’ve got anything wrong. A post like this stretches the cyberskills of an old codger like me!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Spike in Audience Ratings

It’s official!

The World’s Funniest Joke is – or rather was, in 2002 – this little gem:

Two hunters are out in the woods in New Jersey when one of them collapses. He doesn’t seem to be breathing and his eyes are glazed.

The other guy whips out his phone and calls the emergency services. He gasps, ‘My friend is dead! What can I do?’ The operator says: ‘Calm down, I can help. First, let’s make sure he’s dead.’ There is a silence, then a shot is heard. Back on the phone, the guy says ‘OK, now what?’

Everyone knows that you can’t analyse humour, any more than you can capture music in words. Trying to work out why something is funny is like dissecting a frog to find out what makes it tick. The joke came top in a survey and the organiser has his own ideas about why it was so popular:

Professor Wiseman said the gag almost certainly originated from a 1951 Goons sketch written by Spike Milligan. He thought the joke contained all three elements of what makes a good gag – anxiety, a feeling of superiority, and an element of surprise.

“It plays on the death theme and it makes us feel superior to the complete idiot who does not understand,” he said. “It also has the surprise element as we don’t see the death coming.”

“I think Spike was a genius with that great kind of surreal humour,” he added. “He actually once wrote a sketch about finding the world’s funniest joke so it’s a fantastic quirk.”

2668131_a_92914c

Now all this comes as no surprise to us British post-war baby-boomers. We grew up laughing at Spike’s anarchic comedy and our forced landing in sober-sided adulthood was cushioned by two TV shows that owed a huge debt to his madcap legacy – Monty Python’s Flying Circus and Not Only … But Also.

bloody-greta-garbo

I was too young to hear the Goon Show broadcast live, though I’ve heard most of it since. My first dose of Milligan was Silly Verse For Kids, a Christmas present for 1959. My brother and I would roll around the floor to stuff like this:

Today I saw a little worm / A-wriggling on his belly / Perhaps he’d like to come inside / And see what’s on the telly

There were holes in the sky / Where the rain gets in / But they’re ever so small / That’s why rain is thin

The following year, what reduced us to quivering jelly were the letters to Harry Secombe written on a sea voyage in A Dustbin of Milligan. One joke, reconstructed from memory, is typical Spike – he reminds me of a high-diver, who can only gain the best scores by attempting a greater level of difficulty:

The motto of the Shipping Company was, The More You Eat The Cheaper You Travel. This morning at breakfast I left a Scotsman trying to eat enough to enable him to travel free.

Who else would have dared that one? The intensity of Spike’s clowning, I discovered recently, came from writing these books while he was terrified that his bi-polar breakdowns would destroy his marriage and thus stop his access to the children. He was writing the silly stuff to keep his kids on his side. And to think, we all benefited from that … don’t know about you, but it sends a shiver up and down my spine. Laughter and tears are always closer than you think.

Aged 17 I went to see him in his West-End one-man show Son of Oblomov, the story of a young man who spends all day in bed. As you can imagine, I found that easy to relate to. There had been a full cast but they couldn’t keep up with Spike and dropped out one by one. The show opens with a spotlight on a bed. Somebody is under the covers. There is a loud knocking at the door and Spike’s head emerges from the bedclothes, with a daft nightcap, to furious applause. He establishes instant audience rapport by miming a hilarious range of emotions before going to a door and nervously opening it. Light floods in but nothing else.

Puzzled, he indicates he will go out and investigate. So far he hasn’t uttered a word. He exits. We are then treated to a lengthy symphony of ridiculous noises – screeches, bells, whistles, explosions and more – both live and recorded, before Spike enters from the opposite side of the stage at pace, his nightshirt flapping around his thin legs, slamming that door behind him. Panting, he turns to the audience. “Nobody there!” he announces. Rushing back to bed, he dives under the covers. The spotlight fades to black.

A little while and many laughs later, Spike spots a couple of late-comers pushing past audience knees to their seats. He asks for the house lights to be turned up and sits on the edge of the stage, legs dangling. “The story so far, folks!” he says and proceeds to tell them what has happened, mysteriously adding one element that hasn’t.

The couple sit down and the ‘action’ continues for a bit. Then Spike says something that causes this couple and nobody else to burst out laughing. They falter in confusion as everyone else slowly cottons on to his brilliant ruse and their laughter builds like a series of waves. I’ve never heard anything like it. We are in the hands of a comedy god, a cosmic conjurer, playing with us like toys. The show continued and I actually saw people falling out of their seats with laughter. It is one of my happiest memories.

Spike’s appearances on TV chat-shows were like high-wire acts. Would he make the perilous catwalk or crash to the ground? You never knew. Some – like my grandma who’d tut-tutted at first seeing the Beatles – just found him silly. She was right, of course, but I always thrilled to his wild risk-taking. How could you know what was acceptable unless you found out where the line was?

The putative Pythons had come up with a lot of funny sketches with weak punch-lines. Terry Jones talks of a light-bulb moment when, walking upstairs, he suddenly remembered Spike’s Q5 show. With such a dense flow of jokes, you didn’t need punch-lines. Just bring on a comedy policemen to stop the nonsense. And Terry Gilliam explains how he was given the ending of one sketch and the beginning of another and asked to come up with a cartoon to join them. That’s freedom, he grins.

Monty-Python-cast

Favourite moments in Q5 include the Dalek coming home for his tea and a spoof David Attenborough visiting the East End Cock-a-Knees as if they are some exotic foreign tribe. Spike’s radical comedy kicked a hole in stuffy and genteel post-war ‘humorousness’ and greatly broadened the scope of what could be attempted. As to The Goons, there are so many wonderful moments – who can forget Eccles explaining the advantages of the stopped watch that’s right twice a day? But here is my favourite moment. You need to do the voices to get the full benefit but, hey, I’ll take the risk that it will fall as flat as a pancake. Spike was never afraid to risk that.

Bluebottle                                                                                                                                                                     How dare you call me thick! I’ll have you know, I’m as intelligent as the next man!

              (Pause)

Eccles                                                                                                                                                                              Oi’m da next man!

spike

Captain Beefheart (Slight Return)

Anyone who read my recent post Of Bob & Beefheart & A Big Old Hat may feel a sense of deja vu. I’m repeating the final section on Captain Beefheart (with a few additions to encourage re-reading) because my earlier post broke the 15+ tag prohibition and consequently didn’t show up on the WordPress Reader. Too many tags and too long-winded (just ask my friends, if you can wake them!) so I’ve cut to the chase, trimmed the fat and left you the juicy bits. Let’s see if this shows up on the radar … 

                                 

                                   Key   Brown for sound, big arrow on left to return to text

I like to imagine Bob Dylan tearing pages out of the rule book and feeding them one by one to a roaring fire on the windy beach in Mister Tambourine Man. But perhaps the best candidate for Most Complete Musical Rebel of the 1960s was Captain Beefheart. Don Van Vliet, to use his civilian name, certainly ticks all the boxes … though I can’t imagine he would enjoy filling in the forms.

There’s a filmed interview where Beefheart describes the bom-bom-bom-bom-bom of commercial music as ‘the mama heartbeat’ – a hypnotic that sent people into a trance, he believed, a cataleptic state from which he sought to shake them with his fractured and wildly unpredictable music. And just down the beach from Bob Dylan, here we see The Magic Band pretending to imitate the surf boys but please click on Diddy Wah Diddy to spot early signs of subversion.

Debut album Safe As Milk was conventional by later Beefheart standards with a commercial touch provided by Ry Cooder, whose favourite track was Autumn’s Child. I’ll plump for the even more surreal Abba Zaba, the only song I know that celebrates a private childhood mythology about a chocolate bar. Babbette Baboon was his secret name for the monkey on the wrapper …

The ‘difficult’ second album was Strictly Personal, wrecked or rescued – a matter of personal taste – by its trendy use of phasing effects. In my view, the material was strong enough without fancy production tricks. The controversy doesn’t stop there because John Lennon was reportedly offended by the pastiche of Beatle Bones ‘n’ Smokin Stones which pokes fun at the childlike elements in Strawberry Fields. This is ironic because the waspish Beatle never showed pity towards the objects of his own barbed lampoons. The irony deepens when you consider how childlike Beefheart was, still the young boy who won the sculpture competition but was prevented from taking up a six-year scholarship in France because his parents thought the art world too ‘queer’. You couldn’t make that up, could you? But it goes some way to explain what drove the guy. Yeah, strictly personal …

Widely acknowledged as The Magic Band’s masterpiece, Trout Mask Replica broke new territory in sheer Dadaist daftness. Almost as weird is the story of this monster double-album’s making as told in the excellent 1997 BBC Documentary – public broadcasting, yay! – narrated by John Peel, the DJ who made the band famous in the UK.

Come to think of it, why are you wasting time reading this when you could be watching the documentary?

trout-mask-replica-501d04ad4c085Oh no, you’re still reading … I expect you want to know what I think of the album. The short answer is, I’m trying hard not to. That front cover gives me the heebie-jeebies and this back cover scares me shitless. Who are these crazy people, that they invade my dreams and point their alien death rays in my direction?

06trout1band

I have it on very good authority that anyone who makes the mistake of listening to these hideous jungle rhythms will never be the same again … so don’t say you haven’t been warned. By all accounts, the follow-up album Lick My Decals Off, Baby is even more scary. Let’s keep Halloween a wholesome family festival, I say … and will therefore take absolutely no responsibility for what might happen if you click on Woe-Is-Uh-Me-Bop which sounds to me like a foreigner of terrestrial or even extra-terrestrial origin pretending to speak English …

OK, feeble attempts to be funny aside, time to come clean! My name it is nothing (thanks for that, Bob) and I am a Captain Beefheart junky. I like everything he did, the weirder the better. TMR is a bona fide work of genius which should be heard all the way through at one sitting – hence no tracks here – and LMDOB, though it doesn’t always hang together, isn’t far behind.

But if your own strangeness threshold is set lower than mine you may be on safer ground with the album many folk say is the place to start – Clear Spot. Made with the intention of establishing a more commercial direction, its clean sound and crisp delivery can be heard on tracks such as Big Eyed Beans From Venus … but wait a minute, what’s with the weird song title? … and those people on the album cover with that spooky thing that looks like a spaceship command module … I think one of them might be Chinese …

Clear_Spot

Hang on, unless I’m imagining it, I can hear these like well weird words …

Mister Zoot Horn Rollo / Hit that long lunar note / And let it float …..

The_Spotlight_Kid

By contrast, the cover of Spotlight Kid shows the good Captain as a model of sartorial elegance, albeit a little dandified. But spin the platter and any suspicion he’s become a lounge lizard is dispelled after a few notes. We hear the old brain-mangling rhythms, the wild lyrical pastiche, the whole crazy circus – as here, in a live and dangerous version of the album’s most compelling track, Click Clack.

The mid 1970s were his wilderness years. Soft rock and singer-songwriters held sway and there seemed to be no place for this eccentric genius, never a friend to fashionable formulas. It took the rise of punk to bring him back in favour but Shiny Beast (Bat Chain Puller) was no garage record. Adventurous horn arrangements created a distinctive new soundscape for his usual flights of vocal fancy.The title track was an attempt to replicate the rhythm of windscreen wipers on a car at a level crossing with a train lumbering slowly past … his composing method always more like painting, daubing sound in layers. If all art aspired to the condition of music, as the Victorian critic Walter Pater believed, then you could count on Don Van Vliet to be moving in the opposite direction.

For fans of Beefheart’s weird side, Doc At The Radar Station was even more welcome. Here he returned to late 60s demos and created new songs around them, like Dirty Blue Gene, just as good live in 1980. And as for his last ever record, the third of his acclaimed come-back albums … would his newly-diagnosed illness and his return to painting find him muted and mellowed, taking the company shilling, selling out to the man at last? Anyone would have forgiven him for taking it easy.

The opening shot in the next clip looks promising. There he is, silhouetted against the golden evening sun, standing calm and quiet in a big old hat … tell you what, why don’t we give the old reprobate one more chance to prove he’s a reformed character? Let’s hit the album’s title track, kinda sweet idea ain’t it … Ice Cream For Crow?

maxresdefault

Glimmer Still Twinkling

Keef_mojocover-770

I’m putting my homage to Captain Beefheart on hold – next post, promise! – to record some impressions of Keith Richards on Desert Island Discs this morning while they’re still fresh. I’ve always enjoyed the programme, believing that a person’s choice of music enhances their intimate biography like nothing else … hmm, future post mapped out right there, methinks! The current presenter, Kirsty Young, combines a warm welcome to put castaways at ease with a forensic line in questioning that brings out their special qualities and charmingly eccentric idiosyncrasies. Forget the royals – public broadcasting is the crown of British life and programmes like this are its glimmering jewels.

And talking of glimmer, our Keef was one half of a songwriting partnership (take a bow, Sir Mick Jagger!) which rivalled Lennon & McCartney in both quality and commercial success, surpassing the Beatle pair in longevity. The Glimmer Twins, as they became known, had more hits than hot dinners and KR’s choices on Desert Island Discs reflected the rootsy influences that underpinned all those Stones classics.

His stories – like the one about their first meeting on a train when Keith noticed the rare American pressings of Muddy Waters and Chuck Berry albums tucked under Mick’s arm – were familiar old chestnuts brought back to vibrant life by the wily old raconteur, with his self-deprecating English irony and that glorious wheezy chuckle. The chat was laid-back and laughter-filled, the music choices impeccable – one or two surprises alongside the faultless rhythm’n’blues – and the 45 minutes flew past almost too quickly … a nostalgic delight for one who lived through those exciting times and thoroughly recommended for younger folk hungry for the same musical nourishment that kept Keith Richards alive when the dole money ran out.

Would the British invasion ever have happened without social security, I wonder, and Art Colleges? Blimey, there’s another idea for a post, better get typing! And if you’ve got a spare moment, why not visit the BBC website for your Open Sesame to this radio cave-full of twinkling treasures …