Saturday, September 16, 2023

Tales from the Rickshaw: of John Cooper Clarke and Clash road manager Johnny Green!!! (and Mike Garry and the Merch Guy)

John Cooper Clarke last night at the Rickshaw, by Allan MacInnis

Johnny, I never knew ye! Mr. Green, I have a link below you'll perhaps want to visit (a piece of historical writing that I did which involves you; my apologies that it wasn't forefront in my mind when I was interacting with you, but I did not know that's what I was doing). First, I hope you don't mind if I give some backstory to my readers about our brief conversation. I will omit potentially compromising details (but I will report, what I believe, was a joke on your part, though it took me awhile to realize it!).  

So... scene: Rickshaw merch table, where I opened one of Dr Clarke's two books (the one I read roughly half of when thinking I might get to interview him). There, against my hopes, I discovered he had signed it. Obviously this needed to be bought -- if not for me, then for someone else -- but it turned out that, inquiring into the price, that, having tipped both servers who had served me that evening (and bought two drinks for myself), I was now $1.75 short in a cash-only context to pay the full (very reasonable) $25. Check the wallet, check the pockets: no more coins. The merch guy -- a Brit on the tour, too, of perhaps a slightly younger vintage than Dr. Clarke (but not much), whose identity I did not establish -- forgave me and expected nothing more, but (slinking away sheepishly), after a moment's contemplation (and imagining scenarios in which I tried, say, to borrow $1.75 off Mo, which prospect I just did not feel comfortable with) and otherwise wrestling with myself, shook my head, raced up the Rickshaw stairs, and took $20 out of the account I'm trying not to touch via the ATM that would charge me three dollars extra, so I could a) buy a Coke - to get change, y'see; -- and race back down the opposite stairs to give the merch guy five dollars -- "because," as I said to him when I did it, "I'd rather pay too much than pay too little." 

He chuckled and seemed to appreciate the gesture. 

Well, I am glad I did this, because a) having bought something, even if for someone other than myself, and b) having in effect tipped this dude, albeit for the equivalent of a small coffee, this then emboldened me, a bit later on, to ask the same merch guy if Dr. Clarke would maybe sign a couple of records after the show was over. The merch guy told me that I should wait by the door, while he was handling merch transactions, then -- when the door opened -- directed the emcee for the evening, who had been introduced by Dr. Clarke as Johnny Green, to take me back to get my records signed. And so I found myself in the Rickshaw green room with Dr. John Cooper Clarke, after the show, as well as said Green (at this point I did not realize who he was or that I had written about him, briefly); and the wife of either one of them (or perhaps Mike Garry, the Manchester poet who opened). 

Johnny Green introducing John Cooper Clarke

Well, what does one say? It ended up that I jabbered a bit about John Otway, URGH! (my introduction to both Dr. Clarke and Mr. Otway) and the Minimalist Jug Band (who I believe has opened for both men in the past and who will be opening for Otway at LanaLou's on November 4th). But by way of breaking the ice, I wanted to be social and offer them something, some welcome-to-Vancouver kind of thing. And there I was, without any Timbits; all I had with me were some cannabis gummies. Perhaps cannabis gummies also say, "Welcome to Vancouver?" Hell, Are they even legal in the UK? These were Pearls, the black container ones, the high-CBN items (also with some CBD and less THC): ideal for relaxing and/or sleeping, but also slightly intoxicating. 

Maybe they had jetlag? A sleep aid would perhaps be helpful? 

Besides, being the kiss and tell type, just as I have let the world know that I gave tentacle porn to Lemmy Kilmister (but can't say if he watched it), I knew I would get to say I offered drugs to a man who bought heroin off Chet Baker (even if he didn't take them). A story is, after all, a story (you've read this far, right?).  

So that seemed like a fun thing to do: "Uh, would anyone like some cannabis gummies?" I explain their aforesaid properties and crack the seal. And while I will not disclose whether anyone actually took them, I hope Johnny Green won't mind my recording that he did NOT take one, saying something like, "Bah, rubbish! You know what I always say" (standing close -- tall and a tad intimidating -- and pointing a finger in my chest), "Soft drugs are for soft people!"

It takes a while to process this, during which time I have to go through a few layers of response, unvoiced and refreshing in my brain every few seconds, replacing the previous reaction:

1. Wait, are you insulting me? What the fuck?

2. Wait, no, it's worse, maybe: are you actually offended that I am offering cannabis? Did I just fuck up? Will I still get my records signed?

3. But, uh, it's true, I am kinda soft. Fat, too! Physically and spiritually soft. Mishima would disapprove. Should I say something in defense of softness? "Soft is love! What's wrong with being soft?"

My mind tries to formulate a soft-positive comeback, but finds itself sliding down a cliff without purchase. None of the alternatives that spin unvoiced through my mind seem fitting. And Johnny is still standing close, watching me think about it. You will here understand that I had already had a gummy myself, a bit earlier; I'm not drooling but I'm sideways enough that I've been contemplating that the shadows over John Cooper Clarke's eyes, seen through his shades, bear an uncanny resemblance to the eye makeup worn by John Travolta in The Devil's Rain, my favourite occult horror film. Is this a design feature or an accident?

4. After a few minutes, it comes clear in my head that the inverse of "Soft drugs are for soft people" is "Hard drugs are for hard people." It takes a few minutes for me to piece this together. Is he stating a preference for hard drugs? How does one respond to THAT -- "I'm sorry, I didn't bring any heroin with me...?"

5. I scan back and do a fast recap of interpretations 1-4 and give a sorta-chuckle-or-something, stammering in confusion: "Wait, what... uh...," I say, and he says, turning to take a seat, "Make of that what you will," or something to that effect. He's apparently enjoyed my befuddlement, which I am now thinking might have been the point: it was some sort of one-on-one impromptu hazing ritual he's pulled on me. I've been, kinda, pranked, or at least subject to some memorable wit, and I'm impressed: this man has a rich and colourful sense of humour, apparently, and a larger-than-usual personality (which also manifested on stage, where he was sort of an interim act during his introductions). Thankfully, our further chatting was a bit easier on my brain, as I babbled about Otway and the Minimalist Jug Band, etc. (with whom I talk about Dr. Clark here). 

There was a bit more to the interaction, tho'. Green (who remained steadfast in his lack of interest in gummies) made sure that Dr. Clarke added (as to per my request) "to Al" on my copy of Zip Style Method, having examined the cover, commenting as he did (while Dr. Clarke signed the back of Snap, Crackle, & Bop) on the decisiveness of ZSM's front cover as a representation of Dr. Clarke, and adding that it was the image of Dr. Clarke with his hands in the pockets that made the back work so well. 

For my part, standing there awkwardly, I explained to the room that both the Minimalist Jug Band and myself were named Al and this way, if I predeceased Al, he could have both the record AND the inscription, if you see what I mean. 

I guess it's a weird thing to have someone want to live for -- "I just hope, whatever happens, that I outlive Al MacInnis, so I get that record" but, y'know, whatever, I'm the architect of this situation, I can't blame him if the thought flickers; maybe it will serve as motivation through a health crisis or something? ("If I die now, I won't get that signed Zip Style Method." We all need SOMETHING to live for, right?) 

And I got to get a good photo of Dr. Clarke's cool (snakeskin?) boots:

Anyhow, to their credit, I guess, everyone in the green room seemed amused by my babbling, affable, relaxed, and accepting of me, "soft person" or not. Plus, as you see, I got me rekkids signed. Only after I left did Erik Iversen (thanks, Erik) fill me in on who I had just interacted with, besides Dr. Clarke; he'd read Green's book, A Riot of Our Own (Erik is actually much better read on music history than I am) and was fully hip to who we had seen (he enthusiastically recommends said book, by the by). From the publisher's page: 

Johnny Green was a footloose slacker who loved punk rock, stumbled into being a roadie for the Sex Pistols, then tripped again into a job pushing sound equipment for the Clash and driving their beat-up van to performances in the mean industrial towns of England. Disaffected youth anointed the Clash as their spokesmen and made the group synonymous with punk itself in the late 1970s. Eventually becoming the band's road manager, Green had a unique vantage point from which to witness the burgeoning punk rock movement while helping the band in their perpetual search for women, booze, and drugs. Green was with the Clash when they conquered America, bringing with them their bad behavior and great music, and burning out after their third, too-long tour. Written in a tell-it-as-it-was style and accompanied by contemporaneous drawings by Ray Lowry, who tagged along with the Clash on their American tour as their official "war artist," A Riot of Our Own pierces the heart of the culture and music of punk rock and the people who lived it.

And indeed, as I say, I HAVE WRITTEN ABOUT JOHNNY GREEN MYSELF, in the Montecristo article entitled (and about) "That Time the Clash Played Soccer with a Bunch of Vancouver Punks." It was only one sentence, and it was based around a quote from the Pointed Sticks' vocalist, who was in the soccer game himself (the Pointed Sticks, note, play the Rickshaw in a couple of weeks, with Night Court before them and the Avengers after them; more on that to come). Quoting myself:

Clash road manager Johnny Green was charming to the girls off the field, but—according to Nick Jones—was “a big monster, playing as though his life depended on it” during the game itself.

Aggressive at football, sharp of wit: honour to meet you, Mr. Green! 

As for the show: John Cooper Clarke was very entertaining. Mike Garry was moving, funny and captivating too, but surprisingly much harder to follow than John Cooper Clarke, considering the general speed of Dr. Clarke's delivery. Both men got ample laughs from us, generally in-between poems, but Dr. Clarke's jests were significantly developed and expansive enough to serve as a sort of secondary act, like he was a poet in between bursts of his own variant of standup comedy, which was just as fun as his poetry, if somewhat more old-fashioned: I would not be surprised to discover that some of his jokes date back to the Manchester equivalents of Henny Youngman or WC Fields. Maybe he lifted one or two off Bernard Manning himself (the man who gave him his first stable gig, pretty much around the time I was being born, I think, whom Garry also namechecked apropos of a mention of his Manchester venue, the Embassy). Manning would have enjoyed some of his one-liners, like the one that framed marriage in terms of playing cards, with the marriage starting on a "a heart and a diamond" and two weeks later had you wishing for "a club and a spade." (This was apropos of a performance of "I've Fallen in Love with my Wife"). 

There was also a routine involving anyone over 60 being a "bed-blocker" in the UK medical system, interfering with younger and more vital people getting care, apropos of "Bed Blocker Blues." Dr. Clarke riffed for a few minutes on this theme, taking in Swiss assisted suicide clinics, which he may not realize had a local resonance here in Vancouver in the death of Elizabeth Fischer, and joking about having Alzheimers, explaining that it had three good points: that you could hide your own Easter eggs; that you met new people every day; and that, third... (he let us wait for it), you could hide your own Easter eggs. 

As Dr. Clarke might say (adopting an unexpected US-gangster-style accent), Geddit? 

Mike Garry

Clarke was very funny, in any case, and did very fun deliveries of several poems I did not know ("She's Got a Metal Plate in Her Head," for instance) and a few most of us likely did. He explained, by way of introducing "Beasley Street," that it was frequently framed as a commentary on Thatcher's Britain, but that in fact he wrote it eighteen months before she took office; he also did an "Evidently Chickentown" with "fucking" instead of "bloody" as the default descriptor (and some humming-through of a line he'd forgotten). He didn't actually manage to get off the stage for the encore ("I was going to milk it, but there were stairs involved," so he just about-faced and came back), but he did give us "I Wanna Be Yours" as a show-closer. I like that well enough, but my favourite of the ones I knew was and remains "Twat," performed earlier. He invited the audience to chime in on the last line, without telling us what it was, then, when it came around, pointed the microphone out towards us and let us do it all ourselves.

I was very pleased that a good number of us called out this word zestily: "Twat!" we shouted, and he deadpanned, "Right on time..."

(Actually, it was a superb audience. I haven't been this impressed with an audience's listening skills as the time that the whole Rickshaw listened attentively to Ford Pier as he opened for Bob Mould. I fancy I had had a hand in that, having written a very well-timed feature about Ford, immediately prior to that show, but tonight I can take no credit. This was, simply, an intelligent, civil, and impressively full house.Which was nice, because I had misgivings that I'd made the right choice -- I could have been watching Iggy Pop in Victoria, after all. "Would a noisy audience ruin the night?" was definitely on the list of things to worry about, along with, "Would the house be inadequately filled?" and "Would I understand Dr. Clarke's Britishisms?").

Happy to report: I made the right choice. By the by, Mike Garry mentioned Iggy by way of introducing a poem during his set written about Tony Wilson (the subject of 24 Hour Party People -- the character played by Steve Coogan -- who also appears in John Cooper Clarke's memoir). This poem, "St. Anthony," managed to speak to me even without my having as deep an investment in Wilson, who I know about as little about as I do, say, Terri Hooley (though more than I do about Johnny Green). It was also the subject of a video which played before Garry took the stage. This video in fact features Iggy Pop; if you are contemplating seeing John Cooper Clarke, I would recommend arriving early, to also see Green and Garry. 

Final note: Clarke coughed a few times tonight. I hope he didn't catch something on the plane over...! (His delivery was very enjoyable and fluid, though). 

Wednesday, September 13, 2023

The Invincible Czars Interview: Nosferatu comes to the Rio (and The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, too!)

Nosferatu turned 100 last year. The silent German classic -- the first ever adaptation of Dracula, made without the authorization or involvement of the estate of the novel's author, Bram Stoker -- has spawned two remakes (Werner Herzog's 1979 adaptation featured Klaus Kinski in the role of the monster; Robert Eggers version of the story is set for release in 2024); it also was the source text for a meta-fictional narrative about the making of the film (2000's Shadow of the Vampire, which posits that the star, Max Schreck, played by Willem Dafoe, really was a vampire) as well as this year's The Last Voyage of the Demeter, which elaborates on one specific chunk of the story, involving the titular vampire's transit from Romania to England. The vampire makeup also inspired Petyr from What We Do In the Shadows and Reggie Nalder's "Mr. Barlow" from the Tobe Hooper version of Salem's Lot (among others, no doubt! ...but see below). Suffice it to say that the 1922 film is incredibly important to horror history. 

Shamefacedly I here confess that I have seen it to completion only a couple of times. Once, I believe, it was accompanied by a live score (possibly by Ear of Newt?); this was some 20 years ago. So this Saturday's screening at the Rio Theatre has a remedial quality to it for me, made even more exciting by the band that are accompanying it, Austin, Texas' The Invincible Czars, whose bandname itself sounds like it could be the title of a horror movie (perhaps, ala Andy Warhol's Dracula, with vampiric aristocrats being hunted by Bolshevik peasants? Maybe with a side-serving of Rasputin?). 

So who are these Czars? What can you learn from an interview with them that could not be better served by exploring their Nosferatu score (or their Cabinet of Dr. Caligari one) on bandcamp? I don't really know, but it didn't stop me from trying. 

Invincible Czars in their current manifestation (as will be seen at the Rio), L-to-R: Hampton Rattan - woodwinds, keyboards; Phil Davidson - violin, glockenspiel, keyboards; Louis Landry - drums, sound effects; Josh Robins - guitar, bass guitar, sound effects; Skunk Manhattan - keyboards, bass guitar

Czar Josh Robins indulged a few of my questions via email. I am in italics, he is not. 

Allan: So if I've got this right, you did your first live score, for Nosferatu, in Austin at the Alamo Drafthouse around 2003...? Tell me how that came together? (Does it correspond in any way with Kier-la Janisse's involvement there? She has a long history with Vancouver cinema, and some slight history with me - - I'm on the folk horror box set in the extras for Clearcut...). 

Josh: I do remember Kier-la from our early days at the original Drafthouse! Those details aren't quite right --- we were playing rock clubs and opening for weird music acts in Austin starting in 2003 but our first silent film soundtrack show for the Alamo wasn't until summer of 2006 for the film Aelita, Queen of Mars. The Alamo had been doing this for years with other bands and the trend had waned. We were part of a second wave of bands doing it and we seem to have been the only ones to keep doing it and certainly the only ones touring nationally.

We did several other titles over the years and specifically avoided Nosferatu for a long time because virtually every arthouse cinema in the country has had a local band, DJ or orchestra perform with it for Halloween. We're not even the only ones in Austin. We didn't want to compete with that. But after years of touring with lesser-known silent films, we'd gotten so many requests to do Nosferatu (and Metropolis) that we finally did it in 2015. It was the 7th silent film in our list of 9 that we've done over the years. In order they are:

Aelita, Queen of Mars
Der Mude Tod (Destiny)
The Unknown
Martyrs of the Alamo
The Wind
Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde
Phantom of the Opera
The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari

Thanks for setting me straight. So 2022 was a big year for
Nosferatu. Any thoughts on the film or its influences? Were you keen to see The Last Voyage of the Demeter? Happy that Eggers is remaking Nosferatu (with Willem!!). Did you dig Shadow of the Vampire? If you have any thoughts on the film, its progeny, or its importance, do share... take this question where you will!

You got it - 2022 was a huge year for us and the film since it was the centennial. We're glad to see Robert Eggers re-remaking it after Werner Herzog did the same thing in the 70s and I suspect we'll wind up doing several tie-in shows when his version is released.

I'm not a film scholar so I can only speak to the picture's importance as a fan of silent and classic cinema. It certainly stands out as the first adaption of Dracula. I've heard that the filmmakers took some liberties than resulted in now-common aspects of vampire lore (perhaps the sun killing the vampire?).  I've watched a lot of silent films and Nosferatu has better pacing and acting than many from this early era of film - especially considering that much of it was lost and has been restored over the last 100 years. If nothing else, it's a great document of what filmmaking was like in the 1920s. So much of it seems very basic or even trite to us now, but people in 1922 didn't have the 101 years of cinema to inform their tastes that we do now. To them, this movie was probably terrifying!

The character Hutter doesn't get much love when I ask audiences which characters they like best. But the actor who played him did a fantastic job. He's great at looking scared, happy and he plays the doofus quite well. Max Schreck's make-up, costume and presence helped kicked off 100 years of seemingly unwavering interest in vampire mythology worldwide.

I did like Shadow of the Vampire! Been a long time!

What do you think of the Herzog version, and do you pay homage to the Popul Vuh for that score at any point? (I haven't noticed it yet but I'm only just listening to the score for the first time...).

I've never actually watched the entire Herzog version so I can't really speak to this other than to say that it had no influence on us. None of us even knew about it until after we'd created our first draft of our soundtrack.

On your website, you mention Secret Chiefs 3, Sleepytime Gorilla Museum, Zappa, Primus, Devo, and so forth as musical touchstones, but listening to the score for Nosferatu I also hear European/ Romanian folk, and maybe some of the "folkier" John Zorn projects - Bar Kokhba...? Was there a specific ethnic music you drew on for the score? Is this an aspect of what you do - the influence or traditional European musics - or was it score-specific...?

Here's the 2022 version of the music we released last year:

We do love those bands and hope to one day say we've played with them all! We used Bela Bartok's versions of several Romanian folk dances in our first draft of Nosferatu but apparently Boosey and Hawkes claims to now own those melodies so we wrote similar-sounding original tunes for our 2022 version to avoid legal issues.

We do like Eastern Euro music but we're not scholars or even pseudo-experts in that regard either. We do seem to be good at creating our own brand of spooky textures. Fantomas' Delirum Cordia was a big influence on this score. I love Trevor Dunn's long bass notes on that album. Scary! The score for Children of the Corn was a big influence, too.

I would be remiss if I did not ask which period of Zappa you are drawn to.

My favorite era of Zappa is still The Mothers mid 60s period. Louis and Phil, though, like the Hot Rats era!

Ooh, Hot Rats, duly noted. So... Will what we hear at the Rio be exactly what we hear on the bandcamp? Have the players changed at all? Has the score been tweaked in any way? (Is there any room for improvisation in what you do?).

I don't think our 2022 version is available on Bandcamp. The version on our 2022 DVD and other streaming services would require a much bigger touring ensemble to pull off note-for-note. The 2022 version is on Spotify:

We've been operating more like a collective for the last seven years and the line-up that was in place when we created the score isn't the same. That said, most of our initial draft that we performed from 2015 - 2019 was written by me and our violinist Phil Davidson. In 2021, we seriously re-vamped it with help from the membership at the time including keyboardist Skunk Manhattan, bassist Henry Vines, flutist Katie O'Neil and drummer Eoghan McCloskey.

(The 2021 revamp lineup)

Many of the sound effects came about accidentally but the sound we use for Count Orlok's powers of possession and the whispering were all in the original draft. The score is ever-evolving and lately we've taken to adding audience participation and even playing up the humor by making comments throughout the show.

We pretty much play our scores the same way each night. Timing is crucial for the show. There's a little wiggle room to improvise but most of our improvisation isn't planned -- it happens if we're a little slow or a little fast or someone makes a mistake and has to roll with it. We've gotten pretty good at making the unintentional sound intentional.

Is physical media available of the
Nosferatu score available? God help me... is there VINYL? A t-shirt? WILL THERE BE MERCH?

Yes, but we have trouble getting across the border with merchandise like DVDs and CDs because they require up-front taxes regardless of whether we sell anything. This year, we finally got smart and had t-shirts and posters printed in Canada.

You can download both our Nosferatu and Dr. Caligari videos with our soundtracks from our web site for whatever price you want!

Tell me about the
Caligari kickstarter?

Well - it raised $4500 more than we thought it would and allowed us to make DVDs and give our backers some special stuff - colored hoodies, metal pins, etc. etc. We are super grateful and couldn't have afforded to tour like we are without it. We need to figure out how to make this more Canada-friendly because we love playing there.

Caligari and Nosferatu are VERY different film experiences. Do you have a preference between them? How many times have you performed live to each film? Do you draw on different influences for each film? (Which was harder to score?).

Right now I like playing Caligari more because it's new!

Phil (violin) and I have performed Nosferatu well over 150 times over the years and though the music has evolved, it hasn't changed drastically in tone or style much.

We did an early draft of Caligari in 2019 in preparation for the centennial in 2020 but the shutdown foiled our plans. But, we did perform that version about 25 times in the writing process. And if course we watched it even more in the re-writes this year.

Our Caligari soundtrack is also the most collaborative thing we've ever done. Nosferatu began with me improvising ideas and sharing with others. Caligari began with group improvising and writing sessions between me, Henry Vines and Aaryn Russell. All our ideas got mixed together and it's hard to say who wrote what in many cases!

Yes, we do specifically use different influences for each film. For Caligari, we listened to Angelo Badalamenti, Bear McCreary and my favorite -- Bernard Herrmann.

We also used a tune I wrote called "Return of the Pink Elephants" for Dr Caligari's theme. Here's the original:

Any history with Vancouver we should note? (Have you played here before?).

This'll be our third time ever.

The first was in 2017 on what has come to be known as the Tour of Tumult on which Phil broke a vertebra and I endured a month of sitting in the van and performing with my ex-wife who was in the process of leaving me for our new bass player while we were on the tour. Haha! I can laugh about it now but it was awful at the time. Rachel at the Rio was very helpful, cool and professional at a time when I was struggling to keep it together. For that and other reasons the Rio is among our very favorite places we've ever played.

I didn't let that difficult initial visit ruin the experience. I'd always wanted to see Vancouver because I've loved so many bands from the region - particularly NoMeansNo and The Showbusiness Giants and that entire early 90s scene. (I know NMN were from Victoria but Vancouver seems to be the nearest big city, right? They stayed at my houses in Austin a few times in the 2000s.)

Actually Nomeansno [I capitalize it differently, but I do not know if there is a "right" way] kind of got claimed by Vancouver, at some point. So you're right, kinda! But coming back to
Nosferatu... who designed the poster that I see in the Rio lobby (and on your home page?) - is that a vintage design? Will you have prints of it for sale?

Our silent film art is all made by Leah Lovise, an artist in Austin! Nosferatu was the first one she did. That was in 2015. Then she did Jekyll & Hyde when we brought it back. That might be my favorite. I loved how she wrote our name on it and it became our logo. 

And yes, we'll have black and white screen prints for sale for Caligari and Nosferatu. We'll also have them in Toronto and Ottawa in October. Tour itinerary:

We couldn't get it together for the color prints this year --- for some reason, we just had a difficult time preparing to launch this year and had to drop some balls just to get the van moving.

What was the origin of the name "the Invincible Czars." (Have you ever scored silent Russian cinema? Why Czars?).

When the original lineup formed in late 2002, we intended to get more into the eastern Euro thing. Our bass player at the time, Tom Kimzey, suggested we be called The Czars but the name was taken. So we thought we could just add a descriptor to the front. We debated hundreds of words. Eventually we booked a first show and when the venue pressed me for a final band name I picked "Invincible " because it sounded ridiculous and tough. I figured we could change it later if we wanted but we never did.

Anything I've missed that you want to add...?

People ask us often if we've considered getting into modern-day film scoring. We absolutely have and would love to do it more often. In fact, until our tours started getting so big, I thought the silent films were just a step in the direction of contemporary film music. We love performing live but it'd be fun to score more new films or even games.

Thanks, Josh! To buy tickets (cheaper online than at the door!) or to get more information, see the Rio Theatre's website... And thanks to the Rio's Rachel Fox for setting this up!

Wednesday, September 06, 2023

John Cooper Clarke VS. Iggy Pop: a choice for September 15th

1. On Iggy Pop

I love me some Iggy. 

Baby duck favourite: an unpopular but very creative 1983 slab called Zombie Birdhouse. This was the first Iggy Pop album I ever read about or owned, and it started with Creem Magazine, believe it or not.

No, folks, I was not cool enough in 1983 to know what Creem was. But I was 15, and buying a few rock mags, sampling whatever made it out to the magazine stands of Maple Ridge, where I found a few issues of Creem, in there with the Hit Paraders and such (I read that, too). I was also buying a few porno mags, when I got up the nerve, and there was an issue of Creem that had what, to a 15 year old boy with a lust for rock, had some pretty sexy pictures in it (sorry, Ms. Jett); that may have incentivized my purchase of the mag further (so it was because of masturbation I first read about Sonic Youth and the Minutemen!).

Weirdly, the Iggy Pop interview I remember reading, dealing with Zombie Birdhouse, appears to have been in a different issue, one I don't remember owning, but which article I remember details from to this day, not having read it since that time, like that Iggy wrote the lyrics for Zombie Birdhouse on a typewriter -- his first time ever doing that. They're really weird lyrics, really artful, just the kind of thing a 15 year old obsessed with decoding song lyrics would get excited about, and I remember thinking about Iggy typing them out, how the technology might have informed the rhymes and such. Check out "Run Like a Villain":

Big dick is a thumbs-up guy
He shot a missile in the sky
It functioned just as advertised
Until the fire made him cry

Look into it later when the dust is clearing off the crater

Run like a villain, let the good times roll
Run like a villain to the sugar bowl
Run like a villain, 'cause you can't adjust
To a saccharine suburb in the mush

I've got some loving arms around me
Darker than the tombs of Egypt
Dumber than the crudest fiction
Buried in a melting coffin
Nights like this appeal to me!

Tracy got an Afghan, pedigreed
Prescription shades and designer jeans
A Sony Walkman on her head
All she wants is to be fed

Run, run, run, 'cause you're soft
Run, run, but don't get lost

The shining moon, the dead oak tree
Nights like this appeal to me
I've got some loving arms around me

Trying to steal a moment of pleasantry
In this zombie birdhouse

Run, run, run
Run like a villain, let the good times roll
Run like a villain to save your soul
It can't be done, I already know
So I run like a villain to the sugar bowl

'Cause who you are, nobody knows
Who you are, nobody knows
Rings on your fingers and bells on your toes

That's the opening song, and to a kid stuck in Maple Ridge (a "saccharine suburb in the mush" if there ever was one), it impressed the hell out of me, not that I understood half of it. And the album gets a fair bit weirder -- especially "Street Crazies," which is a somewhat unheralded masterpiece, artful and tribal and singular in his catalogue, if perhaps lacking on the level of basic human compassion (but he's celebrating the craziness, right? He's identifying with it!). I know people who hate that song, and I dunno, maybe they have a point -- it's certainly not the same raw, street-level Iggy that sticks it deep inside 'cause he's loose... tho' tangentally, I don't think Iggy will ever be able to top Colleen Rennison's delivery of that with GRRL Circus at the Rickshaw a couple years back. I've seen Iggy do it live with the Stooges, at that Seattle show with Watt on bass and both Ashetons, and I highly doubt that at any point he made anyone in the audience want to stick anything anywhere; that song DESERVES to be sung by a singer with a fair bit of libidinous impact, and as such, Rennison -- sweaty cleavage dripping -- took it to the next level, broke open the horny heart of the song in a way that Iggy simply cannot do (or maybe he's just not my type?). 

Anyhow, Zombie Birdhouse was the first Iggy solo album I ever owned and fell in love with, and became the de facto measuring stick by which all other Iggy albums I acquired, back then, were measured (Party is fun but it's not as strange or poetic as Zombie Birdhouse... Soldier has some powerful songs but it's much more vulgar and direct than Zombie Birdhouse... and so on, at least for awhile).   

Three other things happened around this time. I saw a clip, thanks to Much Music and City TV, of a show (I think) called Stereovision, with Iggy on tour in Toronto circa 1981, doing a magnificently weird, and again, highly lyrically ambitious tune called "Winter of My Discontent." It never appeared on album but I loved it from the opening of the performance, with Iggy quipping with an ironically hubristic sneer, "This is a song I co-wrote with William Shakespeare." Ha! It's an extremely nihilistic Iggy, a dark, menacing Iggy. The same show -- which I taped off TV onto VHS and watched many times -- had a stellar "Dum Dum Boys" and a clip of Iggy getting into a  verbal altercation with a chubby, curly-haired audience member, who was angrily telling Iggy to "fuck Bowie," which you can tell Iggy was kind of impressed by ("Fuck Bowie? You'd like to, wouldn't you?" he shoots back, but he's kind of chuckling to himself; the exchange is here, and ends with Iggy gobbing prodigiously on the fella). I was as unsettled -- on some level repelled, really -- by the footage as I was impressed (Iggy is wearing a black sweater at some points and you can see giant wads of audience gob hanging off it), but there was no doubt that when the band launched into "Rock 'n Roll Party," coming out of this exchange, that there was an elevated level of energy. I still didn't really understand what punk rock was, but this, surely, was a prime example. (The audio for what appears to be the whole concert is here). 

Then Grant Shankaruk of Collector's RPM gave me a cassette of an Iggy album I could not find anywhere (New Values, also a favourite, best known for "Five Foot One," but also notable for "Billy is a Runaway," one of his most entertaining deep cuts). And somewhere in there, Henry Rollins wrote a piece for Spin that proclaimed Fun House (and the Velvets' White Light/ White Heat) as his two favourite albums of all time (the whole thing is readable here, midway down the page).

Back then -- with the cool record shops an hour away by bus and most of the best records out of print -- I had heard no Stooges; not Fun House, not Raw Power, not the debut. Hadn't heard any Velvets, either. Rollins directly informed my seeking out the entire catalogue of both these bands, and man, was I grateful. I am still not a huge fan of Raw Power (and had an entertaining exchange on Facebook last week where none other than Art Bergmann and Billy Hopeless chastised me for voicing that opinion) but Fun House has gotta be the unchallenged contender for the greatest rock record of all time, no? Can we all agree on that? If I ever get to personally thank Henry Rollins for the impact he had on my life, it won't be for "My War" or "Hard" or "Liar" or his kickass cover of the Pink Fairies "Do It," though I love all of these things; it's gonna have to be for his Spin article, maybe the single most important thing I ever read in a rock magazine. Thanks, Henry! (BTW, if you haven't heard Henry Rollins talk about sharing a stage with Iggy, it's probably my single favourite spoken piece of his). 

Anyhow, I've been perusing Iggy Pop's setlists, mulling over whether to go see him at Rifflandia on the island on September 15th, and noting the songs I am excited about. There's plenty of stuff I saw him do with the Stooges in Seattle a few years ago (and a few I also saw when he opened for the Pretenders at the Coliseum on the Blah Blah Blah tour, a show that David M. was also at, as he talks about in Absolute Underground 113, by way of reviewing, from memory, a legendary Iggy show in Vancouver in the 1970s; it's a great read). 

But much as I love some of Iggy's standbys -- who doesn't get a thrill from "TV Eye?" -- the exciting songs are the ones that I have never seen live before, that I wouldn't EXPECT to see live, and probably will never get a chance to see live again, like "The Endless Sea," "I'm Sick of You," and "Mass Production." There's no saying for sure whether he'll still be performing these songs once he comes to Victoria for Rifflandia, but they're not songs he did at either show I saw before, tho' they've been standbys on the European leg of this tour. Truth is, I'd much prefer material off Zombie Birdhouse or a live "Rock 'n Roll Party," but jeez, the opportunity to see "I'm Sick of You," in particular, is pretty damn compelling.  

So after some waffling, I had finally decided, just this last week, that I was INDEED going to see Iggy Pop at Rifflandia, probably committing in the process to milling around Victoria overnight until I could catch the first ferry back to the mainland. I did similar things a couple of times in Tokyo, after a show by Joe Strummer, for example, walking around the streets, huddling with a notebook in a doorway, counting the cabs that passed, or looking for an all night cafe to slump in for a few hours (hard to find in Tokyo, so good luck on the island). I imagine Victoria would be much grottier, with Tokyo's passed-out drunk salarymen and dyed-hair teenagers replaced by addicts and aggressive panhandlers. It quite possibly could get ugly, and even in the best-case scenario, would be expensive, exhausting, labour-intensive, and a hell of a lot of work, if you don't drive and live three hours (and three modes of public transportation) away. Oh, and with the one day ticket ($155), ferry fare there and back, dinner and breakfast and whatever other incidental expenses I got dinged for, it would prolly cost me close to $300. But how many more chances am I going to get to see Iggy Pop, for godsake? The man's a living legend. 

That was when I realized that John Cooper Clarke is playing the Rickshaw that day. Oops! Sorry, Mr. Osterberg, it's Dr. Clarke for the win! I get to stay in Vancouver, save $250 dollars, go to my favourite venue, and sleep in my own bed! I've seen Iggy twice, but I've never seen John Cooper Clarke, and I just read 300 pages of his autobiography, so...


2. On John Cooper Clarke

Understand: up until yesterday, I thought I was going to be interviewing Dr. John Cooper Clarke -- and not merely for my blog; I have a magazine that is interested, but the original plan was to first do something here that might meaningfully plug his Vancouver show, with the magazine (which would putatively pay me) being a sort of cherry-on-top to reward my efforts, to further incentivize his doing it (two articles out of one interview!).  But despite the best efforts of the promoters and publicists, that interview didn't end up happening, and doesn't look like it's going to. But if prepping for an interview that doesn't happen doesn't do my readers any good -- since they don't get to reap the fruits of my labours -- it actually can benefit me a great deal, especially if I'm already a fan of someone's, because it is impossible to do the work without coming to a deeper, richer appreciation of the artist in question. 

Take Ferron, for instance: knowing I planned to request an interview with her, this past folk fest -- but not knowing whether that would come to pass -- I sat down to the lyrics to "It Won't Take Long," one of her greatest songs, and really thought about them. They're a bit more writerly than your average song lyric, with the song considering a few different angles on the theme of compromise versus revolution, and it took sitting down with them as printed text to really appreciate how rich the words were. There are still plenty of things I could have asked her about -- like who the men in the desert wandering are; one thinks of the Magi, but the story she tells doesn't exactly seem scriptural, so what's going on there? But my sense of the song was greatly enriched by actually reading the words and thinking about them as poetry. It's not always easy to fully appreciate the meaning of lyrics when they're being sung to you, and (compared to my boyhood) I resort to lyric sheets a far bit less than I used to, but really sitting down and focusing on the words -- taking the time, treating them as poetry -- was highly rewarding. In the end, I didn't get to interview her, but I can live with that; I did get to see her live (and got her to sign my record!), and even if I didn't get her to answer the questions I had about her songs, I came, by virtue of doing my homework, to have a far deeper understanding of them, so it's still a win.  

Now, John Cooper Clarke defines himself as a poet, and the language he uses is very important --  potent, punchy, richly detailed, and very funny -- but he is associated mostly with music, especially the early Manchester scene (ie., the one depicted in 24 Hour Party People). Joy Division, the Buzzcocks, the Fall, and Tony Wilson -- the man played by Steve Coogan in that movie -- all appear in his memoir, and there are, in particular, some fun Mark E. Smith stories for Fall fans to chuckle at: he was "about eight years my junior," Clarke writes of Smith, "so I first new him as a schoolboy. His mother worked at the post office in Sedgley Park where all my artist mates cashed their giros," and Clarke dropped in "at least once a week to look through the music papers in case I'd been mentioned in dispatches." At that post office, "[e]very so often, Smithy would make an appearance in his school gaberdine, hitting his mum up for chip money" (from pp. 278-279 of the hardcover). This is fairly funny to imagine! Besides being associated with, opening for, and touring with these bands, Clarke appeared on The Old Grey Whistle Test, reading his grim, superb "Beasley Street," to backing accompaniment, which was a feature of his recorded output, as well -- Disguise in Love, Snap Crackle & Bop, and Zip Style Method, his three most famous albums, all have a backing band on most tracks. 

But here's a heads up: this is simply not what he does, live. There will be no band, no backing track. He doesn't even care for the experience of working with musicians in the studio much. From page 290-291 of his COVID-penned memoir, "I Wanna Be Yours": 

I discovered that the studio is an unnatural environment for a control freak like me. I don't like it. I like to be able to claim full responsibility and blame for anything you think about what I do. I don't want to have to credit some cunt on a guitar as having anything to do with it. It's borderline hostility: I like guitar players, but not in my studio. 

My poetry has its own kind of organic momentum: it speeds up, then slows down, then speeds up double, then slows down again, etc., etc,, etc.... What I do depends a lot on varied speed; I leave people with the impression that it's really fast, but it isn't always. That's the knack. Put me working with expert musicians and it's like nailing my foot to the floor. I listen to my stuff with music and it's like I've been grounded. There are moments when I come on like a broken arm, an injured gazelle, a bird in a gilded cage: and who breaks a butterfly on a wheel?

A bit later, he talks about the problems his having recorded with backing music caused for him, after his first album came out in 1978 (pp. 310-311): 

I got a lot of gigs on the strength of Disguise in Love. This created difficulties at first, because now I was now known through the medium of the album, on which I'd been accompanied by all these top of the range session guys from the Dougie James Soul Train plus various celebrity cameos. I was perceived to be the front man for this 'supergroup', and my appearance on The Old Grey Whistle Test only confirmed that belief...

For almost a year after the album came out, I was really swimming against the tide in that respect. I'd turn up at the venue without a band, and you can imagine they'd be both puzzled and annoyed, especially abroad. Every time I'd have to reveal that there was no band, there never was a band, I couldn't afford a band, I didn't need a band, and anyway, The Invisible Girls were purely a studio phenomenon. What I do is poetry. Just me, the PA, and the public. 

...not that his recorded output leaves you completely unprepared. Consider "Twat," which appears as a bonus cut on CD versions of Snap, Crackle & Bop. The words are offered on his website; I recommend reading along as you listen to it, but will reprint them here for your ease:   


Like a Night Club in the morning, you’re the bitter end
Like a recently disinfected shit-house, you’re clean round the bend
You give me the horrors
Too bad to be true
All of my tomorrow’s
Are lousy coz of you
You put the Shat in Shatter
Put the Pain in Spain
Your germs are splattered about
Your face is just a stain

You’re certainly no raver, commonly known as a drag
Do us all a favour, here… wear this polythene bag

You’re like a dose of scabies
I’ve got you under my skin
You make life a fairy tale… Grimm!

People mention murder, the moment you arrive
I’d consider killing you if I thought you were alive
You’ve got this slippery quality
It makes me think of phlegm
And a dual personality
I hate both of them

Your bad breath, vamps disease, destruction, and decay
Please, please, please, please, take yourself away
Like a death a birthday party
You ruin all the fun
Like a sucked and spat our Smartie
you’re no use to anyone
Like the shadow of the guillotine
On a dead consumptive’s face
Speaking as an outsider
What do you think of the human race

You went to a progressive psychiatrist
He recommended suicide…
Before scratching your bad name off his list
And pointing the way outside

You hear laughter breaking through, it makes you want to fart
You’re heading for a breakdown
Better pull yourself apart

Your dirty name gets passed about when something goes amiss
Your attitudes are platitudes
Just make me wanna piss

What kind of creature bore you
Was is some kind of bat
They can’t find a good word for you
But I can…


So that's the first point, for those going, or considering it: this is an evening of seated poetry you are going to see, not a "concert," per se. Another important thing to realize, which I didn't clue into before sitting down to his book, is that he's been doing this at least as long as Iggy Pop, and perhaps longer; at 74, he is only two years' Iggy's junior, and the first public performance of "[I Married a] Monster from Outer Space" took place circa 1966, if I recall correctly, at a Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament rally/ happening, and his first regular gigs -- at Bradley Manning's Embassy Club, a kind of cabaret -- correspond roughly with the year of my birth, 1968 (he talks in his book about auditioning for Manning, who was skeptical about the idea of hiring a poet, until Clarke likened his act to Stanley Holloway and "The Lion and Albert," part of the UK music hall monologist tradition; it's quite eye-opening to realize the connection). 

There is a bit more about John Cooper Clarke in my interview with the Minimalist Jug Band, immediately prior. And for those who want still more, there's a ton of other interesting stuff in Clarke's bio, including his years as a heroin addict (which he figures made him more productive, at least for a time, because he needed to be able to pay for drugs!), his relationship with Nico (which I haven't gotten to yet), and stories about growing up in Britain in the 1950s and 60s. There's also the story about he and Nico buying heroin off Chet Baker (!), though that doesn't come up when he talks about Chet in his Amoeba Records "What's in My Bag" clip.  

The book, I Wanna Be Yours, is a surprisingly sweet read, actually -- he remembers brand names and jingles and favourite products of childhood, talks about seeing Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard, and others, and paints quite an engaging portrait of himself as a young man. You'd think, hearing "Beasley Street," that he'd be full of complaint and derision, but he really isn't. Plus he makes a point of explaining that his fondness for drugs was informed by the cultural norms of his youth (where popping "pep pills" was commonplace) and by being treated for boyhood TB with opiates, long before any moral hysteria about drugs got underway. One wonders if the lack of shame and disapproval around these things helped him be so functional through his years as an addict -- if the scorn heaped upon drug users actually damages them more than the drug use? 

That was one of the questions I was thinking I might ask him, but -- ah well! 

Oh, by the way, he deals with his poem "I Wanna Be Yours" being covered (execrably, I think, but what do I know?) by the Arctic Monkeys here

Gig info here... See you there (unless you're actually going to Iggy; more power to you, if so!).