The Infinite Jukebox: Carole King’s ‘It Might As Well Rain until September’


What should I write?
What can I say?
How can I tell you how much I miss you?
The perennial subject of song, of at least 90% of all the songs ever written since words were invented, is love. Love in all its ways, shapes, forms and delusions. It is almost impossible to imagine an angle on love that has not been explored, in whatever degree of eloquence the lyricist can muster.
In 1962, Carole King wrote a song that was simplicity itself. She wrote the melody, her then-husband and song-writing partner Gerry Goffin wrote the words, and she took their latest creation into a recording studio to record a demo version, just Carole, her voice, her piano, bass and drums, pretty basic. It had been written for Bobby Vee, to be a single, but his management ruled against that, and his version was nothing more than an album track.
So the studio cleaned up the tape, added some backing vocals and strings, released Carole’s version as a single, and it was a massive smash.
I’ve never heard any other version of the song, especially not Bobby Vee’s, but I can’t imagine this from a male perspective. Whatever the origin of the song, to me it has always felt like a woman’s song, a girl’s song, rather. Her boyfriend’s away on that American ritual of summer camp, he won’t be back until school is in again, she can’t see him, and as the song quickly makes it plain, it’s a glorious summer where she is but so what? It’s wasted on her. It’s meaningless. The time until he’s back is lost time, worthless without the one she loves, and so for her it might as well rain every single day from now until that magical, far-distant day he returns.
It’s a simple idea, but Goffin and King, or whichever of then wrote the lyrics, had a moment of genius when the idea came to them. Love’s like that, especially for the young, when it’s completely immersive. Separation, especially for a whole summer, is a wasteland: what good is any of it? In time, you learn to process absence, to develop a way of keeping your life vital and valid when they’re not there, even for extended periods. Older lovers are more distant by nature, especially in an age that emphasises independence, and not the traditional merging of people into one another.
You’ll have to forgive me my age as well in describing this as a woman’s song, for ‘It might as well rain until September’ is one of my genuine musical memories of the Sixties. My mother would have the Light Programme on, pretty much all day, whilst she did her housework and I would play, and some pop songs would creep in among the housewife’s choices, and Carole King and this song are indelibly linked to those days of traditional households that, as a kid, I took for granted. He went away, she stayed at home: there’s still a tiny part of me that thinks of that as natural.
And the sound of the record, the lack of sophistication it displays, the passive nature of the motions within it, and King’s upfront, strong and determined voice all tie it into that time when it would have been a natural assumption, and the reverse an oddity. Maybe that’s why Bobby Vee’s management didn’t want it for a single, eh?
But paradoxically King’s voice, and the sheer strength of it, the energy of the recording that comes from it being a demo, the attack and the rawness all combine to give the record a steel that redeems it from being purely the little woman sitting at home, waiting for her man to come back and make her life worth living again. King turns the negative space of the scenario into something that brims over with the force of her love: it’s as if she is physically imposing her feelings upon the spaces she inhabits, and the pizzicato strings that echo the patter of raindrops reinforces the sense of an elemental change. It might as well rain until September, it will rain until September.
And that’s what love is, in it’s youthfulness and vitality. It makes the world go around and it brings it to a halt, and that’s the same for man, woman, girl and boy. Carole King’s longing for the boy who holds her heart isn’t just a song, or a fancy symbol for how much she misses him, it is a force of nature, and the song captures that in its bold, brash sound as well as those ingeniously simple lyrics.
What should I write?
What can I say?
How can I tell you how much I miss you?…

Film 2018: Chicken Run


What else needs to be said about Chicken Run?

I was amazed to realise that Aardman’s first full-length production (after the Wallace & Gromitt shorts) was as long ago as 2000: what a different world we lived in then! It’s an astounding technical achievement, considering that it’s made in stop-go animation, and I’d call it flawless but for the fact that nothing is ever absolutely perfect, only in all this time I’m yet to see a flaw.

The concept is simple but one of genius. It’s a World War 2 Concentration Camp movie, complete with escape, only instead of British prisoners, it’s a farm in Yorkshire populated by plastiscene chickens who look nothing on earth like chickens. Put like that, it sounds potentially awful, with a high risk of cheapening the experience of the real-life POWs, yet with Nick Parks as its presiding spirit, the whole thing is carried off with a straightfaced realism that only makes the film even funnier.

Respect for the form enables the parodies to be even stronger, a point I’ve made several times now, but which bears repeating for the hard of thinking. The script, and Nick Parks’ ingenuity in creating visuals, wastes no opportunity to cram in clever gags, riffs and references. There are, of course, some overt parodies: Rocky’s late run riffs off Steve McQueen in The Great Escape when he flies over the fence, pedaling furiously on a kid’s tricycle, and Ginger’s already played the Cooler King part, bouncing a sprout off the wall and floor of the coalbin. But over and again, something smart, funny, absurd will just flash by in the background, or a corner of the screen, and you roar with laughter as you recognise it.

The film pulls off a coop  (heh heh, coup, sorry) in snagging Mel Gibson to play Rocky the Rhode Island Red, though he’s surrounded by a host of British voices, mainly female, that you wouldn’t normally expect to do voiceover work. Everybody does a brilliant job, and the aptness of every voice to the plasticene grotesques they portray is a tribute to the casting office as much as it is to the designers. Julia Sawalha is perfect as Ginger, the late Benjamin Whitrow a hoot as Fowler, the farm cockerel and a stick-in-the-mud old-style RAF officer (mascot brigade), and I love Jane Horrocks in anything, let alone her performance as the permanently muddled Babs.

Aardman are even confident enough to throw in a chicken-and-egg argument for the film’s coda, running on into a post-credit scene, which sums up just why Chicken Run is so bloody funny.

The film was another of those, like The Princes Bride, where we saw a clip from it on Barry Norman’s Film 2000 at John M’s house, after an evening at the Crown & Anchor. The bit where Fowler exclaimed ‘The turnip’s bought it!’ had us in fits and cemented the desire in all of us to see it as soon  it was out.

When that happened, I remember asking my professional partner if he was going to see it. he looked at me almost in amazement, and asked why he’d want to see something made up out of plasticene. There are people who can’t see beyond the surface, and who cannot understand the appeal of something that is so obviously ‘not real’. The best thing about Chicken Run is that for eighty minutes it involves you in a story made up out of artificial material designed in a way that no living or natural thing has ever looked, and whilst the implausibility of the characters is itself an essential part of the fun, it brings you into this life and engages you in a story that is literally life and death for those who go through it. You believe in it.

It’s a perfect illustration of the aphorism I coined thirty-odd years ago: the irreducible requirement of fiction is that it must make you care about something that never happened to someone who never existed.

Shall I watch it again?

 

 

After Low


I am a devotee of Sir David Low, the New Zealand born political cartoonist who, for me, was the greatest political cartoonist of the Twentieth Century, and that even without the creation of Colonel Blimp.

Cartoonists today who are wise and understand their profession’s history, still call upon Low, to often devastating effect.

The latest is Chris Liddell, in tomorrow’s Observer. First, the original:

then Riddell:

Nice one, Chris.

A Lycanthrope in Wolfe’s clothing: The Solar Cycle resumed


Though The Urth of the New Sun had appeared as a single-volume sequel to The Book of the New Sun tetraology, the very completeness of the sweeping story appeared to preclude any further visits to that overwhelmingly distant future of decay and rebirth. So it was both a surprise and a delight too learn that Gene Wolfe was writing ‘another multi-volume series’ set in the same Universe.
As is always the case with Wolfe, beware of assumptions for they will invariably fail to materialise.
The Book of the Long Sun is massively different in all but one aspect, and that is that at its centre it has a Christ-like figure acting, though he doesn’t know it, to save his people and his world. And even then there are very few correspondences between Severian the Lame, and Patera Silk, whether he be what he is at the outset, a young augur at a run-down manteion in a poor part of a dying town or, what he becomes, the Caldé of Viron and the centre of a massive popular revolt. One saves by destroying everything, one saves by expelling his people outwards.
The biggest contrast between the New Sun and the Long Sun, apart from practically everything, is that the first was a first person narrative, by an unreliable narrator, and the second is a third person story, something that is comparatively rare in Wolfe’s work, yet in exactly the same way that Severian’s revelation of his own insight into his true nature at the end of ‘The Citadel of the Autarch’, there is a revelation at the end of ‘Exodus from the Long Sun’ that throws everything the reader has faithfully absorbed into doubt, when the writer of the Long Sun makes himself known.
Don’t mistake an authoritative impersonal narrative voice for authority.
Another major difference is that whereas the entirety of the New Sun is seen through the single, unaware viewpoint of Severian, in the Long Sun Wolfe sustains the viewpoints of dozens of characters, each with their own distinct modes of speech, whether it be a wholly invented and equally convincing Thieves Cant, the drawn out prolocution of a senior religious figure, the repeated emphasis on certain words of another such. Modes of speech, accents, voices, each clear and unmistakable.
It’s difficult, indeed almost impossible, to accept the Long Sun as taking place in the same Universe as the New Sun. There isn’t a moment in which the feel of either series corresponds to the other, in which the sense of what we are reading is in anyway comparable. But there is a link, detectable even in the opening volume, ‘Nightside the Long Sun’, that the perceptive reader can seize upon to draw the two into a single continuity, though I admit I had to have it pointed out to me.
Of the three series that go to make up ‘The Solar Cycle’ – which, let us remember, is a title put forward by Wolfe’s fans, not the lupine master himself – The Book of the Long Sun has always been the least to me. Previously, I promised to summarise as best as I could the four books of the tetraology as with the New Sun. It is trying to hold to that promise that has meant so long a delay in picking up this series of posts. The increasing profusion of characters, the increasing profusion of separate strands, the increasing variation from not only a single, coherent narrative but also a single, coherent narrative plot has not only made that promise untenable for me, but also made the re-reading of each volume a very tedious and unenjoyable process.
I’ve done just as I said, but the result is an unintelligible mess. What will follow will be shorter précis of each volume, and a longer analysis of the series as a whole at the end.
I was introduced to The Book of the Long Sun via a hardback copy of ‘Nightside the Long Sun’, bought in the last phase of my short-lived Book Club commitment. I bought the rest of the story in paperback, lovely themed covers of predominately yellow colouring reflecting the conditions of heat affecting the inhabitants of the Whorl. Completist that I am, I sold my hardback to buy the paperback.
The books came out one a year between 1991 and 1994 and, to the best of my knowledge, were the last of Gene Wolfe’s books to be published in Britain for many years: the only other Wolfe book I am aware of having a UK edition since was the 2009 retrospective, The Best of Gene Wolfe. Thankfully, Waterstones in Manchester had adopted a vigorous policy of importing American SF editions, which kept me going until the era of Amazon and eBay.

On with the show!

A Shawn Colvin Concert


I haven’t been to a gig in years. The last one was The Pierces at Manchester University Union, back in 2014, when they were touring the Creation album, and that was great, though I could have done without the standing bit. Last night, I finally went to my next one, and whilst the venues weren’t a million miles apart, the milieu couldn’t be more different.

Last night I was respectably seated at the Royal Northern College of Music to enjoy an evening of music from Shawn Colvin, for only the second time in the more than quarter-century since I was first introduced to her by a never-really-was girlfriend.

The only other Colvin gig I’d seen was at the Lowry Theatre in Salford, back in 2006 or thereabouts, and that was great. After a couple of songs to introduce her set, Shawn basically threw things open to us: the audience were calling for songs and she was playing them. I requested ‘You and the Mona Lisa’ from the A Few Small Repairs album, and we had a brief exchange at the end: I called ‘Thank you’ from my balcony seat and she replied ‘You’re welcome’ from the stage: Conversations with the Famous no 3.

I wouldn’t have minded the same sort of thing  last night (I would have called for ‘Fall of Rome’ from All Fall Down)

I’d had to get my shift slid forward three hours to attend the concert, so I was a bit worn down when I left at 6.00pm, to catch the 42 bus to the RNCM. The route, through East Didsbury, Didsbury Village, Withington and Wilmslow Road to the University is the great nostalgia bus trip, and on a warm sun teatime, it was a pleasure in itself. I stopped off for a cheap burger meal just south of the University Union and strolled up to the RNCM in good time for the support act, one Robert Vincent.

This was a guy and a guitar, a singer/songwriter and a self-advertised scouser, self-advertising himself as singing miserable songs (he wasn’t wrong: mind you, Colvin is not exactly happy-clappy). He really did nothing for me except make me consult my watch frequently, but he was still no patch on the legendary Josephine, who supported Warren Zevon at the Lowry Theatre back in 2000 and was a source of amusement (afterwards) for my not-yet wife and I: we were practically in the centre of the very front row, almost underneath her nose and thus unable to sneak out, though we nearly fled screaming when she launched into a song entitled ‘Bus of Life’, which she’d written because she just thought the ideas of buses going places and stopping and picking people up and taking them where they want to go was just so incredible, you know?

Next time I go to the RNCM, I think I’ll book myself at least a half day off: eight hours sitting down taking phonecalls was not the best preparation for an evening in those seats and before we were halfway through the set, my backside was nearly radioactive!

This time round, Colvin had decided to be in charge of her own set. As she always does when in Europe, she was touring with just an acoustic guitar and no band, though the guitar was continually going out of tune, requiring extensive re-tuning in between songs and, towards the end of the evening, during songs as well. This was a minor irritant, though with a musical ear like mine, it didn’t matter all that much.

I’m less familiar with the later songs, the post 2000 ones, than I am with those from the Nineties, but I anticipated quite a few even as I couldn’t immediately bring the title to mind. There was quite a mix, with a generous helping of those from the early days: three each from the first two albums, including my favourite, ‘Shotgun down the Avalanche’ from her debut album, Steady On (we got the title track and ‘Diamond in the Rough’ later).

I don’t remember anything from the last two albums, though we did get her version of Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Tougher that the Rest’ which she recorded on Uncovered.

When the set ended, Colvin left the stage but was only gone about twenty seconds before returning for the encores we were demanding, another four songs, one of them the only request of the night. For the first of these, she attempted to drag a stool into place, to sit down for the first time, but some problems with the monitors knocked that on the head. But I was concerned at how awkwardly she was moving onstage, and how physically weak she seemed to be: Colvin is only about two months younger than me.

To be honest, once we reached the encores, I was distracted a little by the time, and having to get home by bus, but I was lucky to more or less hop onto a Piccadilly-bound bus as soon as I came out of the door, though I still had a twenty minute wait for a 203 home, and it was practically midnight before I was in.

Given that the online booking was suggesting that the tickets had almost gone, I was surprised and disappointed to see the hall no more than two-thirds full, if that. We made up for it in enthusiasm, and Colvin appreciated our coming out to see her (I called out ‘Any time!’ and got an appreciative grin in my direction). It would be nice to think I’ll get another chance, but I hope it won’t take twelve years until the next.

I’d decorate this post with ‘Fall of Rome’ but for the fact it’s never been uploaded to YouTube, so let’s close with ‘Shotgun down the Avalanche’. So good to hear this one.

Treme: s02 e06 – Feels like Rain


He’s starting to get annoying again…

This week’s episode of Treme pulled a dirty trick on us right at the start: Toni Bernette’s in her kitchen and a male voice is singing and she follows it to the dining room and it’s Creighton, large as life and twice as cheerful, in Hawaiian shirt and panama hat, with garlands round his neck, and the scene is superlit, and it’s obviously a dream, and Toni is acting like he’s only been in Hawaii all this time, and Sofia’s dressed up for the parade and she’s smiling and talking to her Mom,and we know it’s a dream, and Crei pops a hat on Toni’s head so that though she’s in pyjamas and dressing gown, she’s costumed, and they’re out through the door and dancing and it’s oh so bright outside.

And Toni’s in bed and there’s a smile on her face, until she wakes from her dream and then it changes. And it’s heartbreaking, and my heart breaks again.

And from there on it’s pretty much more of the same as last week which, though I don’t mean to denigrate the series, makes it difficult to talk about. There isn’t the same sense of urgency as in season 1, the sense that everyone in their different stories, are part of the same thing. There doesn’t seem to feel to be the same degree of interplay between characters.

Some of this is the introduction of Nelson Hidalgo, taking us across ‘the line’ and onto the other side, among the forces that everyone was struggling against. Equally, the promotion of Terry Colson to cast is doing a similar job, by placing us amongst the NOPD and giving us a sympathetic character, trying to do a better job.

And Janette’s removal to New York, and the fact that she’s beginning to mingle with Delmond – who manages to get Albert to come to NY for a couple of days – is splitting the focus and furthering the feeling that there is no connection between the characters (even as I just said two of them are now moving into each other’s spheres!), and that only place connects their stories.

But that isn’t borne out by the actuality. Some stories are overlapping. Sonny was doing good with Antoine’s band until his lateness, after a warning, cost him his place. Antoine’s appointing a straw boss, someone to do the admin, and the first fine is his, for missing a gig to sit in with Henry Butler, who’s practically auditioning for a world tour that could see Antoine in Japan. He’s also starting to take over his music class, expanding the curriculum, so to speak. Big Chief Albert’s definitely giving up. Not going to do Mardi Gras this year. Delmond visits him in Houston, tempts him to New York, where he’s been sewing. Albert’s his usual, self-contained, don’t want nuthin’, don’t need nuthin’, certainly ain’t gunna ask for nuthin’ self only worse, though we see he’s touched by Delmond having sewn – and sewn well – something for the Big Chief’s costume.

Sofia finally realises, or learns, from one of her schoolfriends, that Crei’s death was suicide, driving an even deeper wedge between her and Toni. Toni’s having a nice lunch with Terry, and inviting him to the Pigeontown Steppers Parade: smacks of maybe not a romance but something personal there, which maybe isn’t that comfortable for Colson. The Pigeontown Steppers get the money they need to march off Nelson, tipped off by Councilman Oliver Thomas. Nelson’s getting tips from people.

LaDonna’s equilibrium is shattered again when the Police arrest a couple of thugs and she identifies the photos. Janette’s back in New Orleans for the second time this season, flying down to help Jacques who’s been threatened with deportation as an illegal immigrant (a contrast in Chef’s as Picard lets her go graciously – but then this does involve a sous-chef!).

Annie’s spending more time with Harley at the moment than she is with Davis, whose starting to slip back into his really-wish-I-was-a-black-rebel mindset. She’s still trying to learn how to write songs. He takes her to see John Hiatt, and she analyses, quite perceptively, in terms of New Orleans’ current circumstances a song he wrote twenty years earlier; “that’s what makes it a great song,” Harley concludes. The girl might be going to get there.

If she does, it would get her out of there. If Antoine tours, it would get him out of there. LaDonna’s not going to come back from Baton Rouge just yet. Treme‘s toying with an exodus it is deliberately not advertising. Interesting.

We’re halfway through season 2, Treme‘s longest season. Where are we going? With the flow, people, with the flow.

The Infinite Jukebox: Paulina Rubio’s ‘Not That Kind Of Girl’


Twice upon a time…
The first year we holidayed on Mallorca, my wife did all the driving. She was familiar with left-hand drive cars and I had never driven on the right hand side of the road. We had a great holiday.
There was no reason to expect anything different the following year, but when we touched down at Palma airport, she was very headachey and not in a fit state to drive. With her mother and stepfather keeping comfortably ahead to guide me all the way from Palma to Llucmajor, I found myself behind the wheel. The next morning, she was better, but I got given the key for the journey on to Cala Llombards, and the rest of our holidays over there.
The other big difference was that, after a safe daylight journey, I was confident enough with driving to have the radio on. The local station blasted out a nearly fifty/fifty mix of English and Spanish pop, with, despite their heavy presence in certain areas, no German pop (is there any such thing?). The English music was familiar, the Spanish merged into Latin rhythms and horns and incomprehensible lyrics. Some songs, for no discernible reason, were on heavy rotation, The Eagles’ “One of these Nights” (1975), Chicago’s “Saturday in the Park” (1973) were on every day, and I can’t now divorce America’s dry, dusty winter 1971 hit “A Horse with No Name” from hearing whilst whilst driving into Palma, the sparkling blue of the Med and the white sails to our left, the sun-soaked hotels to our right.
Not all the Spanish songs were indistinguishable. One began with clear, bell-like guitar, picking out a slow, yearning phrase, with a female voice singing “oh, oh-oh, oh,” and words in Spanish that rode lightly over the guitar in a long intro that suddenly hit a beat, as bass, drums and organ came in and the song went for it. No horns, nothing latin but the words, a piece of pure pop-rock and a hook that tugged instantly at the soul. It was absolutely brilliant, and it was on as much rotation as Chicago or the Eagles, and every time it hit the air, I was listening intently.
What the hell was it? My wife understood Spanish, but she could never hear an announcement of title or act. We listened for what repeated in the chorus, came up with the guess that it was called “Beneficito”. Once home, she looked up the radio station on line, e-mailed them – in Spanish – with a request for information, but we never got a reply.
On the last day of the holiday, we went to the big department store complex just outside Palma, Carrefour. There was a record section in one part, and we spent half an hour or so checking the CDs in the hope on lucking onto the track, but no joy. Though I did discover a CD with this gorgeous blonde on the front, long straight blonde hair, austere features, short skirt, bare midriff. I waved the CD at my wife, on the other side of the bay, said I had no idea what the music was like but could I but this for the cover? She grinned back at me.
Leap forward a couple of years, maybe three. I hadn’t forgotten my song. I’d searched YouTube for “Beneficito” but nothing came up. We’d not been back to Mallorca the last couple of years. I was off work for a fortnight with stress, in the midst of a bout of deep, slumping depression. Whilst she was out at university, I was alone at home, spending hours in front of the computer. Remembering “Beneficito”, I tried to track it down again. Maybe we’d misheard it, and my wife had wracked her brains over possible alternate Spanish titles. One of these was “Te Necessito” (I Need You). There were “Te Necessito”s on YouTube, and one of them might have been what I was looking for. I’d not heard the song in over two years, and only a handful of times then.
There were other songs I tried. Female singer, female Spanish singers. A couple of tracks that, unusually, I liked listening to. There was a striking looking woman, a Paulina Rubio, singing in English. Songs like “Don’t Say Goodbye”, and “Fire (Sexi Dance)” and “I’ll Be Right Here (Sexual Lover)”
Now that was an intriguing title and the video was intriguing as well, though my appreciation of what I was seeing was rather remote, depression being the very opposite of an aphrodisiac, but the odd thing was that, whilst Ms Rubio was nice to look at, and the video for her ballad “The One You Love” features her wandering around the beach in a very abbreviated yellow bikini for the whole song, it wasn’t just the visuals. I was listening out for something, something that, not too much later, I would recognise in Amaral, but I was listening. Nor were the voices particularly comparable, Rubio’s being throaty, husky, and her music was primarily uptempo, Hi-NRG dance music of a kind that didn’t interest me, but they were coming with strong melodies, good, clear songs, not just rhythms, but genuine songs that I actually liked listening to.
Why her instead of another? I don’t know, but it wasn’t just the legs, or the decidedly wicked grin, or the slim but definitely noticeable figure. Against all reason, I actually liked Paulina Rubio’s music. My wife thought it was all about the short skirts, and she wasn’t wrong, but she was only fifty percent right.
It helped that Rubio’s most recent album, Border Girl, had been her attempt to break into the English-speaking market (she’d actually performed “Don’t Say Goodbye” on CD:UK, but I never watched that), on which the majority of songs were ones she had recorded on her previous CD, Paulina, now translated, and learned phonetically (and very skilfully sung too: you wouldn’t realise she doesn’t know what she’s actually singing because she gets the meaning into her voice).
It led me, eventually, to acquiring all her albums, though there’s a distinct difference in sound between the four recorded prior to Paulina and those recorded once she took control of her own career. Rubio, who is actually Mexican by birth, has only occasionally sung in English since.
So that’s double the reason why those songs from Border Girl are still my favourites and, if you’re in the mood for irony, once I bought it, I couldn’t help but laugh to find that that was, after all, the CD I’d picked up in Carrefour and asked it I could buy it unheard.
I could have chosen “I’ll Be Right Here” or “The One You Love” for the position in The Infinite Jukebox, and perhaps one time I will write about them, as songs and music. But ultimately, “Not That Kind Of Girl” is my favourite. It’s the closest to pure pop rock, without any element of dance, it has an insanely catchy chorus and whereas once the Kind of Girl Rubio is proudly proclaiming she’s not would have been the one who enjoyed carnal relations with men outwith the sanctity of marriage, now and in 2002 she’s making it plain she’s not going to be a doormat and give in to what he wants all the time and I love that.
But it’s the video that tips it for me, this one time. It’s a beautifully conceived, shot and modelled sequence of short trailers for non-existent Sixties B-movies, all glam spies, California chicks, girl racing drivers and beach girls, and Rubio’s every one of them and she’s different in every one of them, and they’re all perfect, and she’s having so much of a whale of a time that you wish all of them were real and you could watch them, and just like that ahead-of-its-time machine in The Flying Dutchman in Milnthorpe in 1964 or thereabouts, The Infinite Jukebox now has a video section, just for this one song.
And if my wife hadn’t developed that headache flying, and she’d have been doing the driving, odds are we’d never have had the radio on that week. Funny, isn’t it?

The video version is of the Spanish original, ‘Yo No Soy Esa Mujer’

Deep Space Nine: s07 e05 – Chrysalis


Singing

I must be feeling less cynical than I normally do for this week we had a love story episode and I found it entirely sweet and ultimately deeply sad.

The theme was quickly established in the open, with Julian Bashir looking for company but finding everyone doing things already. He’s then summoned, in the middle of the night, to the Infirmary, on the orders of ‘Admiral Patrick’. Re-enter the familiar quartet of genetically-enhanced misfits, Jack, Loren, Patrick and Sarina, last seen in Season 6 plotting, in an entirely logical way, to enable the Dominion to win the war and thus save the most amount of lives. That’s Jack, the permanently snappy and edgy, Loren the vamp, Patrick the big baby and Sarina: the catatonic.

Ever since last season, Julian’s been working on an operation to realign the barriers that imprison Sarina in her own mind: the enhanced have turned up to get Julian to carry out the operation. O’Brien can’t break the rules of Physics to enable Julian to carry out laser surgery with the necessary accuracy, but the enhanced can bend them to give him the control he needs.

The operation is a success, physically, but Sarina is unchanged. A despairing Julian is neatly analysed by Ezra over how he wants to punish himself, she being an expert at such things, but their discourse is interrupted by Sarina on the promenade, standing and staring. At “Everything”, she says, speaking for the first time ever.

And Sarina blooms from that point. She’s taking in everything she sees, looking at it with entirely new eyes, absorbed in wonder. And she’s a beautiful woman as well, so we can see what’s coming like a train heading for a demolished bridge. Who wouldn’t fall in love with her? She’s emerged completely free from any of the personality disorders that dog the other three, she has everything in front of her, she can do anything she wants. She’s everything Bashir has dreamed of, the woman who can exist at the mental and physical level he occupies.

There’s a beautiful scene midway that illustrates all of this with economy and rare delight. The speaking Sarina returns to her group to speak with them for the first time. Jack mocks her flat tones, especially when he gets her to do a do-re-mi. He asks her if she’s tone-deaf? Within seconds, the group organise a spontaneous singing round, playing with the scale. Sarina’s voice blossoms at every second until she’s singing amazingly. It’s both beautiful and lump-to-the-throat making.

(Apparently, Faith Salie, who plays Sarina, only discovered she had so lovely a voice when rehearsing this scene, whilst ironically, Tim Ransom, who plays Jack, turned out to be tone deaf himself and was the only one of the four to need overdubbing.)

With an episode like this, the underlying cliche is the suspicion that, in order to insert drama, the recovery will only be temporary and the patient will revert. This was the idea when the first storyline was mooted, of having Jack cured, be diminished as ‘normal’ and return to being a pain in the neck. That idea was rightly nixed, but it’s hinted at when Julian turns up at the enhanced’s quarters to find the other three working on preventing the universe imploding in sixty trillion years and Sarina seeming catatonic again. She explained that it was easier than disturbing their existing dynamic.

But in that tease is the ending. Julian’s in full-blown love mode and he makes the cardinal mistake of assuming that the feeling is mutual. Sarina does like him, is deeply grateful to him, wants to make herself into what he wants for him, because she owes him. But she doesn’t love him. She doesn’t know what love is yet. He has gone at things like a bull at a gate, overruled his obligations as a doctor in eager pursuit of his longstanding wants as a man, as a human being in need of sharing.

It’s painful. It always is, especially when you empathise so much, when stories like this are just a variation on your own stories. Of course, it’s also a necessity of the series. We’re not quite near enough to the end for something that upsets the status quo, so Doctor Bashir must remain Doctor Bashir, and all we can do is hope that, before time is up, Sarina will come back, of her own accord and understanding, and be what he so desperately wanted her to be for him.

And without looking forward to check on spoilers, I know she won’t.

Such a good episode.

The Infinite Jukebox: Amaral’s ‘Te Necessito’


Once upon a time…
The first year we holidayed on Mallorca, my wife did all the driving. She was familiar with left-hand drive cars and I had never driven on the right hand side of the road. We had a great holiday.
There was no reason to expect anything different the following year, but when we touched down at Palma airport, she was very headachey and not in a fit state to drive. With her mother and stepfather keeping comfortably ahead to guide me all the way from Palma to Llucmajor, I found myself behind the wheel. The next morning, she was better, but I got given the key for the journey on to Cala Llombards, and the rest of our holidays over there.
The other big difference was that, after a safe daylight journey, I was confident enough with driving to have the radio on. The local station blasted out a nearly fifty/fifty mix of English and Spanish pop, with, despite their heavy presence in certain areas, no German pop (is there any such thing?). The English music was familiar, the Spanish merged into Latin rhythms and horns and incomprehensible lyrics. Some songs, for no discernible reason, were on heavy rotation, The Eagles’ “One of these Nights” (1975), Chicago’s “Saturday in the Park” (1973) were on every day, and I can’t now divorce America’s dry, dusty winter 1971 hit “A Horse with No Name” from hearing whilst whilst driving into Palma, the sparkling blue of the Med and the white sails to our left, the sun-soaked hotels to our right.
Not all the Spanish songs were indistinguishable. One began with clear, bell-like guitar, picking out a slow, yearning phrase, with a female voice singing “oh, oh-oh, oh,” and words in Spanish that rode lightly over the guitar in a long intro that suddenly hit a beat, as bass, drums and organ came in and the song went for it. No horns, nothing latin but the words, a piece of pure pop-rock and a hook that tugged instantly at the soul. It was absolutely brilliant, and it was on as much rotation as Chicago or the Eagles, and every time it hit the air, I was listening intently.
What the hell was it? My wife understood Spanish, but she could never hear an announcement of title or act. We listened for what repeated in the chorus, came up with the guess that it was called “Beneficito”. Once home, she looked up the radio station on line, e-mailed them – in Spanish – with a request for information, but we never got a reply.
Leap forward a couple of years, maybe three. I hadn’t forgotten my song. I’d searched YouTube for “Beneficito” but nothing came up. We’d not been back to Mallorca the last couple of years. I was off work for a fortnight with stress, in the midst of a bout of deep, slumping depression. Whilst she was out at university, I was alone at home, spending hours in front of the computer. Remembering “Beneficito”, I tried to track it down again. Maybe we’d misheard it, and my wife had wracked her brains over possible alternate Spanish titles. One of these was “Te Necessito” (I Need You). There were “Te Necessito”s on YouTube, and one of them might have been what I was looking for. I’d not heard the song in over two years, and only a handful of times then.
There were other songs I tried. Female singer, female Spanish singers. A couple of tracks that, unusually, I liked listening to.
And then I saw “Te Necessito” by Amaral. It was an actual video, just like we had in Angle pop (fancy that!) I’d like to say that something clicked, that I went for the track with a heightened sense of anticipation, and maybe I did, or maybe that’s just after-the-fact romanticising, but the first note, the first second cut through all my mental fog and I knew in an instant that I’d got it. This was the “Te Necessito” of that Mallorcan summer, all clear, bell-like notes, that crisp, neat beat, that achingly gorgeous chorus, and the Spanish lady singing it wasn’t bad either.#
The video alternated between Eva Amaral, she of the vocals, wandering a mysterious Spanish hillside, turning her back on a mysterious stranger, Juan Aguirre, he of the ringing guitar and woolly hats as a string quartet with strange eyeless white masks augment the rhythm, and a five piece band in an all-white indoor environment cracking out the song. All as incomprehensible as any video gets, especially for a love song (I have run the lyrics through Babelfish.com and that’s what it is, as the plain English title indicates.
The studio part of the video is misleading, as Amaral is only Eva (who doubles on percussion) and Juan, and for the last two decades they’ve been one of Spain’s biggest acts, with “Te Necessito” having been the second in a run of ten consecutive singles of which NINE went to number 1.
It did nothing to shift my gloom at the time, but since then, I’ve gone on to collect their complete run of albums, including special editions in the two most recent cases. Between them, and Shakira, and someone else who I shall be writing about shortly, The Infinite Jukebox now has a Spanish section, and I have a self-burned DVD collecting all the videos associated with that run of hit singles. That I really ought to play more often than I do.
And if my wife hadn’t developed that headache flying, and she’d have been doing the driving, odds are we’d never have had the radio on that week. Funny, isn’t it?

Film 2018: Moulin Rouge!


I’ll be honest about it straight away: I think Nicole Kidman is absolutely gorgeous and in Moulin Rouge! she is stunningly gorgeous. I used to have a stock phrase about someone being a combination of ‘Michelle Pfeiffer, Isabelle Huppert and the redhead from behind the Deli counter in Sainsburys’ (you should have seen her!) but after seeing Moulin Rouge! I reluctantly relegated Ms Pfeiffer in favour of Ms Kidman (although the phrase never scanned quite right after that, even though it syllabic metre didn’t change).

So you know where I’m coming from when I start to talk about Baz Luhrman’s 2002 spectacular, the only musical in my DVD collection, though it’s hard to think of this as a musical, even though there’s practically more singing than there is speaking. Made at the beginning of one century, it’s set at the end of the century-before-last, Paris, 1899, the Bohemian quarter of Montmartre, the infamous French cabaret theatre of the Moulin Rouge (the Red Windmill), birthplace of the Can-Can.

The story is simple. Penniless writer Christian (Ewan McGregor) comes to Montmartre to join the Bohemians and to write. He is absorbed into writing a revue titled ‘Spectacular Spectacular’, to be sold to Harold Zigler (Jim Broadbent), manager of the theatre, which will star his leading performer, the courtesan, Satine (Kidman). By error, Christian gets a private aftershow meeting with Satine, who believes his to be the Duke (Richard Roxburgh) whom she has to seduce into financing the proposed show. The pair promptly fall in love.

To escape the Duke’s suspicions, Christian hastily outlines a spectacular musical set in India where a courtesan promised to a rich but evil Maharajah falls in love with a penniless sitar player (so not at all analogous then) and, in accordance with the dictates of romance, refuses the Maharajah for him. That is, until the jealous Nini drops a poison word in the Duke’s ear, after which he insists on the show ending in a more logical and realistic manner, i.e., she marries the rich guy who can provide her with lifelong luxury, comfort and wealth.

Since the Duke holds the deeds to the Moulin Rouge and can shut the theatre down in a flash, the satanic yet paternal Zigler persuades Satine to go to the Duke. For Christian’s protection, since the Duke will have him killed should she see the writer again, she convinces her love that she never cared for him, that she is, was and only ever will be the courtesan, interested only in the highest bidder.

A despairing Christian breaks into the theatre and disrupts the performance. He coldly castigates Satine on stage as a whore, flings money at her, to ‘pay’ for their time together and is about to leave when she starts singing their ‘secret’ song, a promise to one another of eternal love, which brings him back.

But the joy is momentary. Satine has tuberculosis and expires on stage in Christian’s arms. A year later, the despairing Christian writes the story, which is the framework for the film. The end.

If you were to ask me to come up with one word to succinctly describe Moulin Rouge! it would be overblown. If you were to allow me two, then I would say that it is gloriously overblown, deliberately, determinedly and uproariously so. The basic idea behind the film was to attempt to translate a Bollywood spectacular into Western terms and whilst I’m not familiar with Bollywood films myself (except in as they are the basis for Clive James’ excellent novel, The Silver Castle), Luhrman has made a bloody good job of it.

Everything is done to excess, a great, overtly and overly theatrical excess. There isn’t a moment of naturalism in the film’s near-two hours length and the staging, especially of fin-de-siecle Paris, shows no allegiance to physical reality, especially in its CGI depictions of the city ranging in a single swoop from the (newly-constructed) Eiffel Tower to the hill of Montmartre.

The performances are equally absurd, and all the more effective (as it always is) for the utterly straight manner in which the cast play their roles. There is not the least wink to the audience to say that, yes, we know this is a load of OTT guff, which would spoil things in an instant. This unreal world of fantastically heightened emotions is completely real to the people in it and they inhabit their parts perfectly.

Of course, the true act of genius behind the film is not just the ease and naturalness with which everybody breaks into song without the least warning, continually, continuously and over and over, which is just an exaggeration on the standard Hollywood musical trope, but the selection of the songs themselves. In order to make Christian look as if he was genuinely ahead of his time, all the songs are genuinely anachronistic, coming from the mid to late Twentieth century.

Indeed, apart from the silk stocking and lingerie-clad Kidman herself, that was what first attracted me to the film. We were on honeymoon on Madeira and I was randomly checking out TV channels when I found an extended scene being played in English. It was Christian and Satine’s first meeting, and it was highly-stylised and oddly attractive already even before I burst out laughing as Christian, in a tone of voice that suggested he was making up the words as he was going only, started quoting Elton John’s ‘Your Song’!

The anachronism was hilarious, but that just scratches the surface of Moulin Rouge! It’s stuffed full of things like that and some of the selections are gloriously off the wall. Some are used in big set-pieces, such as the one early on when the theatre opens, and a crowd of choreographed men in tuxedos and top hats advance on a host of the ‘dancers’, in frills, corsets and garters, the men singing ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ (here we are now, entertain us…) and the women ‘Lady Marmalade’ (voulez-vous couchez avec moi, ce soir?).

‘Like a Virgin’ also gets an absurd run-out, complete with dancing waiters, sung improbably by Jim Broadbent, who is awfully good in everything he’s asked to do. And there is an astonishing tango sequence, late in the film, that takes as its cue the Police’s ‘Roxanne’. But most of the others appear in snippets, often hurled around and mixed, fragments that are both decoration and architecture in the film’s pursuit of its ultimately tragic conclusion. And not just sung: the screenplay gleefully chucks in countless song-titles with Love in their title, as ordinary conversation.

The effect is hilarious, as songs that are well-known in one context or style come hurtling at you in a completely different context and an arrangement that rips up the original. And the effect is all the more prominent for having the actors conspicuously do their own singing. Kidman’s the only one with a halfway decent chance of holding her own in a ‘real’ musical, with a sweet, note-carrying voice that is nevertheless too thin, and McGregor’s good enough not to send you screaming out into the night if he ever did karaoke at your local pub, whilst Broadbent never hits bad notes, but these are not professional singers, and it is all part of the film’s atmosphere to allow the songs to be given this slightly raw performance, the only natural element in the entire film.

I love Moulin Rouge! for all these things I’ve said, but I would still hold it in high regard if it were instead a piece of crap that starred Nicole Kidman at this time and in those costumes. The film unashamedly exploits her beauty, with the added bonus of the fact that she really is a damned good actress, and knows exactly how far to go in sending up herself and everything she is doing. You may disagree with me as to how she looks, and I’m not saying that I have to mop up pools of drool after each watching, but I could sit and stare for a long time without noticing there’s a film going on around the lady if that film were rubbish.

A happy, funny, lovingly-created experience. My Sunday morning has been duly enhanced. So will yours be, if you watch this.