The Culture Vulture
In the week that the Cleggster chose a track from Ziggy Stardust to take to his desert island, Sky Arts for some reason put out an old documetary about Bowie - An Earthling At 50.
This film was made to promote the 'Earthling' album, which was released in 1997. Bowie hasn't put out an album since 2003. I hadn't realised he had major heart surgery back then.
Interviewed in a New York recording studio he came across as urbane, amused, amusing, intelligent and cultured. As for being interesting - has Bowie ever really stood up for a cause, or said anything really interesting?
Unfortunately the new album consisted in large parts of 'jungle' and 'drum n bass' styles, together with 'techno' and 'industrial' styles, whatever they might be. Bowie claimed this so-called 'hardcore' stuff has "as much resonance as soul, reggae and rhythm and blues". Crazy.
Bowie said he's 'a real culture vulture', intensely interested in 'the way we put our societies together'. He's also interested in 'outsiders and looneys' who have a passion for life. He himself is 'full of curiosity and a love of life'. Or at least he was those things, back in the day. It's not clear whether he still is.
He was surprisingly honest - admitting that in the beginning he was 'playful and camp and over the top', but then came the the drugs that messed him up creatively and also as a human being. "By the mid 70's I was out of my gourd and finding it nigh on impossible to function. I found it hard to think at all. I really lost my way in the 80's. I had no belief in my material and no artistic passion." All of which goes a long way towards explaining the loss of creativity and loss of the sort of musical originality he'd shown on Hunky Dory and Ziggy.
He also said he was always looking for 'a religious or spiritual connection'. "Spiritual life has always been a problem for me. I'm normally callous and calculating." Capricorn to the core, perhaps.
A long, long journey from Major Tom and "Changes" to 'hardcore' and 'techno'. Not a happy ending.
The BBC screened a Culture Show documentary this evening on another epic rock journey, publicising Keith Richards' new autobiography - "Life".
Bobby Keys, ace US sax player, said in the film, "The man's got something inside him that's really special and unique - as a musician you just want to get up and jam with him."
To which Keith modestly said, "Yes, but it's the interaction with other people that matters - the guys you play with and give you the feedback through their responses."
Keith pays tribute to his mum for his early musical education. His dad was "A distant figure who spoke very little." Whereas his mum would play jazz and blues records and draw his attention to great artists like Louis Armstrong and Sarah Vaughan.
The real starting point for Keith's adult life and his career as a musician/songwriter was hearing Elvis doing 'Heartbreak Hotel'. "It was like going from black and white into technicolour, and also bringing everything into focus." Such is the power of music.
Keith moved from Dartford in '63, into a 'slumlike' and freezing cold flat in London that he shared with Mick and Brian. Together they literally and obsessively studied R & B and the blues and learned how to play their guitars. Chuck Berry, Muddy Waters and BB King, and their like, were the people they loved and took their inspiration from.
Keith said, "Our desire was to turn people on to the blues - and we didn't want nothing for it!"
Suddenly, in February '64, they released their version of Buddy Holly's "Not Fade Away", with its Bo Diddley beat, and it all went crazy. Thankfully, the Stones, in spite of it all, and in spite of the amount of drugs they ended up doing, stayed sane, and creative, and rocking & rolling. Keith is 'fiercely proud' of the Stones and their musical output.
Keith confirmed that his improvisational style of playing is based on self-expression, and not just imitation or plain copying. He says, "It's intuitive - you do it by feel and instinct." His instinct for the blues is amazing. His improvisations with Ronnie and the band are based on Zen-like spontaneity.
The Stones may have had reasonably comfortable upbringings in Dartford, but they lived in genuine poverty whilst they were developing themselves as young musicians. They were broke, and sometimes couldn't even afford to eat. That type of background can make someone pretty fearless, relaxed about stardom and its durability, and give duration to their professionalism when they do become stars. Keith made it clear he really dislikes the adulation and stardom bit. He's really only in it for the music. Arguably the Stones are even now at their peak, which can also be said of people like David Gilmour.
Keith loved touring America, which he found "endlessly fascinating - after Dartford." Ultimately, though, those experiences took in Altamont, and the true madness of America.
A character in 'No Country For Old Men' says, "This country's hard on people. And you can't stop what's coming."
This is actually a film I wish I hadn't seen. The unrelenting nastiness and sheer evil of its psychopathic characters is hard to stomach - all the more so when the decent people in the film are invariably slaughtered for no reason whatever.
It's well made, and very believable, based on a book by Cormac McCarthy, who also wrote "The Road". America is full of fucked up psychos and semi-psychos, who are inclined towards extreme violence. (As Eddie Izzard once said to a New York audience - "You have all the guns!")
Whether it's drug runners shooting one another with Uzis and shotguns in Texas, or Hell's Angels stabbing and beating innocent concert-goers in far-off Altamont, it's pretty horrific.
Is this the inevitable outcome of any society that refuses to create a welfare state, that glorifies gun culture, that advocates extreme individualism, that pursues extreme materialism, where the gap between rich and poor is stratospheric, and where a decent and intelligent man like Obama is continuously attacked, slandered and vilified in the media?
The Daily Show
An amazing coup for Jon Stewart this week - Obama agreed to appear live on the show for the entire 30 minutes. America is fortunate indeed to have incredible human beings like Obama and Stewart. Such a shame they're in such a tiny minority.
Stewart has taken it upon himself to organise a major rally in Washington this coming weekend - "The Rally To Restore Sanity".
Michael Tomasky wrote about it today:
Ali On Obama
Tariq Ali also wrote about Obama in his column today: