Wednesday, 24 August 2016

The Struggle

Creative people have to struggle. Academics have to struggle. Performers have to struggle. If you've done those things without struggling, then you're probably on the wrong side of history.

Tuesday, 23 August 2016

LOST: Black and white photo of Thurgood Marshall smoking, from 1967

Please help me find this photo of Thurgood Marshall at his Supreme Court confirmation hearings in July 1967. The photo was taken by Wally McNamee and originally published in The Washington Post, and it seems to have disappeared because no-one knows where it is.

(Wally McNamee/Washington Post)

You're probably wondering why I am looking for something that is right here on this blog post. The reason is that, although I do have the photograph in digital form, I cannot reproduce it in my book on South Carolina's Senators and the Supreme Court nomination process, which is being published next year, because no-one seems to be able to grant permission for it. No-one at The Washington Post has it, no-one at Getty Images has it, and no-one who administers Wally McNamee's online archive has it. 

Yet it was used in Juan Williams's biography of Thurgood Marshall, published in 2007, and more recently, in a review article, written by Professor Annette Gordon-Reed of Harvard University, and published in, er ... The Washington Post in September 2015. And, er, again last week in another Washington Post article authored by DeNeen Brown.

On both occasions, it was credited to Wally McNamee/Washington Post, but I am in the unusual position of not being able to reproduce it because no-one appears to be able to grant permission. It seems strange that these three writers were able to obtain permission to use it when no-one, apparently, can grant that permission. It is equally strange that anyone can claim ownership over a photo when no-one appears to know where it is.

So, if anyone out there can assist by helping me find the photo, or even enlighten me as to who I may approach for clarification on permission and usage, then please do not hesitate to let me know. God knows, I've tried everything else.

Many thanks
Dr James O.

Thursday, 11 August 2016

The Mars Drink

The poster in the surgery said, drink a pint a day
The man on the TV said, order an extra one
But the woman from the government took it away
And people hated her
Then she took away everything else
People hated her even more
But we still got the Mars drink.

My father-in-law milked cows when he was a boy
He used to point an udder at the local tom cat
And squirt a long jet into his open mouth
He thought it was for the cat
The cat thought it was for him
And I thought it was for me

And never again will I drink the Mars drink.

Saturday, 30 July 2016

Welcome home, Honeysuckle

This week, I read in the newspapers that the actress Honeysuckle Weeks went missing. Naturally, her friends and family were concerned, as 'it just isn't like her' to disappear. Fortunately, Honeysuckle was found safe and well at a 'relative's home' in London very shortly afterwards. Her sister Perdita has announced on Twitter that Honeysuckle is now safe and well.

Honeysuckle the actress. Perdita the sister. Chichester in West Sussex. I do not belong in this world. In fact, I feel that I shouldn't even be reading about it, let alone commenting on it. Nonetheless, I applaud the news media for keeping us informed of what's happening in other worlds.

The last thing Honeysuckle needs right now is a bloke with a name like James, from somewhere like Devon, toasting her recovery with a cheap glass that he will probably forget to hold by the stem. Nonetheless, I wish her well.

James O.

Saturday, 23 July 2016

A Musical Interlude

The folks at the BBC love putting on these 'theme' shows of bands playing. Tonight it's 'psychedelia.' Most of these clips have been shown again and again and you can sometimes even spot the bits where Jimmy Savile has been removed, but they're still fun to watch. I have been told that I know a lot about music, and while there my be some truth in that, I have never really found an outlet for this alleged wisdom, other than some chats in the pub or a few off-the-cuff remarks at home, in my inimitable style.

I've come in ten minutes late and it's Procal Harum doing 'A Whiter Shade of Pale.' I seem to recall some court case over the songwriting royalties. Surely Bach deserved the biggest cut out of this one?

The Who doing 'I Can See For Miles.' This bizarre late 1960s trend of the fast editing with the zoom effect is intriguing ... Were they doing this to enhance the effect of the music as it was being heard by people they assumed to be on acid? Funnily enough, I've been listening to The Who a bit recently. They're one of those bands that have many 'best ofs' and greatest hits compilations but none of them seem to do justice to what the group was really about. I've always admired the way that John Entwistle really used to hammer those strings. And although I like Keith Moon's drumming, I know nothing whatsoever about how he learned to play, and from whom.

Donovan doing 'Hurdy Gurdy Man.' Yes. Donovan. Even his name sounds like doom. For me, it is hard to hear this guy without thinking of him turning up in Frank Zappa's lyrics. Although it's very famous, I don't think I've actually heard this song before. There's something quite sinister and appealing about it. The only Donovan moment I've heard previously and liked is Martin Scorsese's use of 'Atlantis' in Goodfellas.

Oh my God. The Nice doing Leonard Bernstein's 'America.' RIP Keith Emerson - another terrible loss from 2016. Brian Davsion on drums - I think he's a music teacher now. I think that Bernstein tried to ban this version of his tune because he saw it as an anti-American statement. Which is fair enough, given that they burned the American flag at one of their gigs (or a paper painting of the flag, anyway).

Julie Driscoll. I remember my Mum saying she wanted that look back then. Brian Auger always reminded me of a psychedelic Terry Jones of Monty Python fame. Here is another example of someone covering a Bob Dylan song and coming up with something that I find more pleasant to listen to than the man himself. Funnily enough, my Wal fretless bass was made in 1985 for a guy who played bass with Brian Auger, and it got stolen. Don't tell anyone I've got it, will you.

Which reminds me ... I did have the pleasure of meeting the legendary Pete 'The Fish' Stevens, one of the two guys behind the Wal business. It was late 2006 and Pete was running the business himself from his workshop in High Wycombe (Ian Waller died in 1988). I needed to get the wiring in my bass fixed so I took the train from Marylebone and he picked me up in his car to take me down to the workshop. At one point, he gave me some cash and sent me down to a shop to get batteries. He charged me a ridiculously cheap price for the repairs and even put on a new set of strings before dropping me off at the station. It turns out that it was his sixtieth birthday that day - I told him that I wished I'd known as I could have got him a card or bought him a drink but he said not to worry - he'd have a few drinks later. He had a loud smoker's laugh, which I heard when I told him the story of Alan Spenner arriving in Switzerland to play on one of Bryan Ferry's albums and being so drunk that he needed to be taken through the airport in a wheelchair. Anyway, Pete is dead now, and I was incredibly fortunate to have met one of the guys who built my bass guitar. And I think the same set of strings is still on it ...

Status Quo. With keyboard player. Apparently, he left the band by just getting off a train and not telling the others. They looked around and he was gone. Then they went on to have colossal success.

The Crazy World of Arthur Brown. I'm told that he lives in Lewes in Sussex. And there's Carl Palmer - later of Emerson, Lake and Palmer - on drums, his face concealed by that mask. Arthur should have been as big as Iggy Pop. He still plays, apparently.

Joe Cocker. It's difficult not to be reminded of Charlie Chuck, the eccentric Northern comedian, but that's probably just me. John Belushi was funny doing impressions of this guy, but Michael Chiklis was not funny when playing John Belushi doing impressions of this guy. This is basically a soul version of one of the less interesting Beatles numbers, with lots of shouting. Apparently, he's from Sheffield. And here we have the fast editing with zoom again. I suppose the 1960s was a very experimental decade, and there's always something to be said for that.

And now The Small Faces doing 'Song of a Baker.' It's from Ogden's Nut Gone Flake, one of the few important sixties albums I haven't heard. Having said that, I've never heard The Village Green Preservation Society by The Kinks, and I've only got round to hearing The Who Sell Out recently. This is a good tune but I prefer Steve Marriott's voice to Ronnie Lane's, although I'm sure that both were nice blokes. Kenney Jones miming drums - that never looks right. There's a clip of Charlie Watts doing it it, and - as with Jones here - he's forgotten the specific fills on the record.

The Moody Blues doing 'Ride My See Saw.' Ah yes, a bit of Birmingham. These guys used to meet at Alex's pie stand, which used to be just down the road from this flat. They're still going, I think, and they tour the world. I've tried hard to get into them but I don't know, it just doesn't hold my attention. Having said that, Days of Future Past is a brilliant album, and the mixture of pop and classical music works amazingly well. Justin Hayward is playing a sunburst and white Fender Telecaster, and John Lodge is playing a Fender Precision with what looks like a tortoiseshell scratch plate. Geezers, the pair of them.

The Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band. There was something here I just didn't get. Frank and the Mothers yes, but not this. I'm trying to spot Neil Innes - is that him on guitar? And The Incredible String Band. Never been down this road before but then I've never been into this spliff and bongo stuff. It's like Leonard Cohen but without the added attraction of it being Leonard Cohen. Still, any band that makes Leonard Cohen seem attractive is achieving something.

More Birmingham now with The Move doing 'I Can Hear the Grass Grow.' My God. Any song with a line like 'my head's attracted to a magnetic wave of sound' is worth a listen. Good harmonies. Trevor Burton handling bass duties following the departure of Ace Kefford. My uncle knows Burton, and I've seen him play a couple of times. Bev Bevan on live drums. I haven't seen this clip before - unlike so many of these others, which I've seen hundreds of times - but I've seen them doing 'Blackberry Way,' from the same performance.

The Jimi Hendrix Experience. Stone dead, the lot of them. I think that Noel Redding is a very underrated bass player. And here we have Mitch Mitchell, who, like John Densmore of The Doors, is a good example of a jazz drummer who made the transition to rock - I think he continued playing traditional grip on some numbers. And this is 'Hey Joe,' which had already been done by Tim Rose, who was crackers but 'Morning Dew' is a classic.

And this is Cream, and it looks like their farewell gig at the Albert Hall. Eric Clapton is the only one who looks sober. I have always liked 'White Room' but I've never bothered to figure out what it's about.

And The Moody Blues again, with Justin Hayward playing a sitar. As with the earlier clip, this is from Late Night Line-Up. God, how bizarre.

It just goes to show, doesn't it, that there's always something to talk about. I like to.


James O.

Thursday, 21 July 2016

Alan Vega's Dead

I must pay tribute to Alan Vega, the legendary singer of Suicide. I've been listening to his music since I was about eighteen, and I remember fondly my high five with him when I was in the audience at their show at The Garage in London back in 2000. Vega was punk before punk, and punk during punk but he was so punk that he didn't even like the term 'punk' - for him, being called a punk was hardly a compliment. For him, the punk was the guy who runs away from a fight. Perhaps this reflected the thoughts of an older generation, but then that was the most punk thing about him - he was 39 in 1977 and he'd been doing his thing for years. As with Can, Wire, Robert Quine and others, Vega is a man before, during and after his time.

Punk did that. It discovered and scooped up many people who had been on the fringes of the creative world for some time. In the creative world, as in any other world, there is a tendency toward tribalism, and some people don't belong in tribes, nor do they thrive in them. Vega knew this. I remember an interview with him, where he and Martin Rev (the other half of Suicide) were talking about their free jazz influences, and Vega said something of the order of 'who the f*** listens to Cecil Taylor now?' That interview is the reason I found out who Cecil Taylor is, and why his albums are in my collection. One might ask, 'who the f*** listens to Alan Vega now?' I remember how underwhelmed I was by ARE Weapons, as their sound was so obviously modeled on that of Suicide, and they didn't care. Vega didn't care, but he was original with it.

I suppose the man himself would probably sum up all this up by saying:

Alan Vega's dead
Vega Vega Vega Vega Vega baby
Alan Vega's dead
Vega Vega Vega Vega Vega baby yeah
He's up in the sky
Ah why why why
He's up in the sky - ugh!
Awww because he's a dead guy
Alan Vega's dead
Vega Vega baby
Aw listen ... listen ... listen
Vega Vega Vega Vega Vega baby

And so on. Rest in peace.

Bestest wishes
James O.

Saturday, 16 July 2016

My Father-in-Law, the Marxist

 When I was a boy, my father had told me:
‘Take a woman by the waist and a bottle by the neck’
He knew about this because he was a builder
And furthermore … a builder from Penge

My first Sunday lunch with my future in-laws
They lifted their glasses so I did the same
The booming Shostakovich (or someone) surrounded the five of us
Then my father-in-law told me to hold my glass by the stem
Otherwise only four of the five glasses would clink
I was the only one who couldn’t sing in Russian
I was the only one not holding the stem

Standing outside in the semi-detached air
The swelling in my gut subsided and I rolled a cigarette
After a meal … the best time to have one
I think it was Marx who said ‘you don’t strike a match on butter’
I inhaled smoke and stared at the house across the road
And then it hit me …
Take a woman to the opera and a glass by the stem
My father-in-law knew about this because he was a Marxist
Albeit a Marxist from Penge