Archive for March, 2011

ALBRECHT DURER

29 March 2011

[Picture of St Christopher]Albrecht Dürer blew me away when I was studying art history. OK, you look through his works (and there are a lot out there), and you see great skill, and possibly natural artistic talent — all the usual. What knocked me out about his was that he was born in 1471 and died in 1528.  That’s a long time ago, yet his style is far more modern to my mind.

I’d say he was ahead of his times.  He lived a long time for those days, although young by our standards, so I reckon he lived well. At least he managed to miss getting the plague.

[Durer's mary Praying oil painting]I laughed when I saw his St Christopher from 1521. It was the one in the flyleaf to my Missal as a boy. It was the medal on my mother’s car key ring.  This was a universally known image.  I wondered how many people knew the image, but not the artist.

I saw the St. Jerome in London, but missed out on “The Adoration of The Magi” when I was last at the Uffizi.

What was superb about Durer, from an art history standpoint was that he brings everything together — the trips to Italy that brought together southern and northern styles, the Roman Catholic and the Reformation, the developments in printing and reproduction methods and science and crafts behind making art, the architecture, and the change in patronage from the Church to secular and state.

I loved his books on proportion (something I hold very dear) and on measurement. He was a clever guy.

I also like the fact that his self-publicity was admired by aspiring young chaps like Titian and even Raphael.  He was a real celebrity. Look at his self-portraits, he was a good-looking man. 

Durer was the Johnny Depp of his day.

He was a good and astute businessman, keeping excellent accounts, which has proved to have been of tremendous value to the historian.  If you are looking to study the Renaissance or art, Durer is a fabulous starting point. I really do not “get” why he is not better known today — he’d make an excellent subject for a movie.

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MY AIM IS TRUE

22 March 2011

[Cover of My Aim is True]There was only one Elvis until Elvis Costello came along, after that people had to add “Presley” to make the distinction.

The name caused a stir at the time, it was seen as a punk rock thing, disrespect, an attack on America, God, Music, and whatever else the loonies could come up with.

I’d heard the name, but it put me off a bit.  I wasn’t exactly intrigued enough to beat a path to Elvis Costello’s work.

It was 1977.  I was supposed to be at woodwork or something at high school, but instead a crowd of us congregated in Floyd’s house.  We smoked and chilled in the living room watching cartoons and idiotic children’s television, like “Rainbow” and “Trumpton”. On the turntable was ELP or Yes, I cannot recall exactly…

I’m not sure if it was Barbara Thomson or Moray Robertson, but one of them changed the LP to  “My Aim is True“, and I sat up as my world changed. What a half hour that was!

Yes, this really is that good. It is one of the few times in my life that I had to scribble down the name of a record and immediately go out to buy it, to have to own it.  It was raining, but I caught a bus on Ayr Rd for Glasgow. I bought it in the “Listen” Record Shop on Renfield St.  I have owned it ever since, in many formats.

Sometimes, when nothing else will do, it hits the spot exactly.  It has very short songs, the songs have intros, verses, bridges and choruses.  There are guitar solos, so it is not punk. The melodies are catchy, and every part is completely necessary — full of hooks and colour.

There is a great variety in the rhythms, and his voice is perfectly matched to everything else.  The songwriting is superb — music and lyrics, the musicianship is flawless, but the secret ingredient is Nick Lowe’s production.  That makes this as perfect a work of art as it could ever be.

It has an energy, a purity of tone and of purpose.  It is as clean as a new whistle, fresh and dewy new. It sounded like nothing of its time, and it still is of itself, a standalone classic.

Costello was poor, so he had to record this album in just four short burst sessions after work, hence his demos would have had to have been crafted to a pretty high degree. I read in Sounds, NME or Melody Maker, that his demos were superb, but it was only recently that I found some MP3 versions, and they are amazing as “unplugged” versions — different in key, but complete and polished beyond what I recognise as “demo”.

I have always liked that approach myself, I love the energy of live takes, that is what comes across in old Motown records, or the Pixies, or even the Jazz stuff I like best.  Through Elvis’s “My Aim is True”, I discovered things about myself, about my base tastes.

[Press release picture of Elvis Costello from 77]For example, I like variety, especially in rhythm, I like dynamics and interest, I like the raw energy of single takes and a well-rehearsed live band putting the song first.  I was shocked to realise the importance of backing vocals; the Attractions were a tight band. I realised that a band has to be slick and sharp, but the whole thing lives or dies with the singer at the end of the day. There has to be something to love or hate about the lead frontman.

“My Aim is True” is a perfect record, the order of the songs, the dancability, the singalongability, the image, the fun, the tears (Alison), the words that resonate with real people with real feelings in a real world.

  1. Welcome to the Working Week [E maj] 1:22;
  2. Miracle Man [E maj] 3:31;
  3. No Dancing [D maj] 2:39;
  4. Blame it on Cain [G maj] 2:49;
  5. Alison [E maj] 3:21;
  6. Sneaky Feelings [G maj] 2:09.
  1. (The Angels Wanna Wear My) Red Shoes [E maj] 2:47;
  2. Less Than Zero [F maj] 3:15;
  3. Mystery Dance [G maj] 1:38;
  4. Pay it Back [G maj] 2:33;
  5. I’m Not Angry [Db maj] 2:57;
  6. Waiting of the End of The World [G maj]3:22.

Only recently did I find out that the Attractions were actually more-or-less a band called Clover that I had seen supporting Huey Lewis or Thin Lizzy. There y’go, who knew? I would recommend this album to anyone who plays in a band — listen and learn!

This is one of the few albums I have always had to have around, that has lasted through everything, I thank Elvis Costello for that, from the bottom of my heart.

[Embedded video of Elvis Costello & The Attractions doing “Red Shoes”  on Top Of The Pops September 1977, YouTube.com]

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JACQUES LOUSSIER

15 March 2011

I have always loved Jacques Loussier’s piano playing, his interpretation, his sheer talent and inquisitiveness. Now my wife has found him, he’s back in my life in a bigger way.

I guess it started for me when I was listening to “Weather Report” back in the day, and the rival fusion super group was “Return To Forever”.  This led me to Chic Corea, and through a few superb players, like Joe Sample or Oscar Petersen, to the great Keith Jarrett at Kóln 1975. My wife got turned on to Jarrett through this work, and it became a real staple in our musical diets.

It wasn’t much of a leap from Jarrett to the great Jacques Loussier.

I used to have his famous Bach stuff, but now I only have his Beethoven variations, the Allegretto From Symphony 7, and now that she loves it, we share the appreciation.  He is all over YouTube and Wikipedia. He was born in 1934, so he’s nearly 80 at the time of writing this, but he’s still cool. Very Cool.

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TCB – TAKING CARE OF BUSINESS

7 March 2011

Taking care of business was the late Elvis Presley’s key phrase.  He had jewellery made out of the letters TCB. It meant a great deal to him that he ought to be taking care of his business.

I must admit to discovering this fact years ago and thinking no more about it than it was unusual.

As I grew older, I realised that it was pretty powerful.  I came across it in gangster/ mafia movies, where it meant to settle a score, even things up.  Italians tend to say they will take care of things, as opposed to doing things.  For example, someone will ask:

“Hey — have you parked the car?”

“Yeah, I am taking care of it”

That struck me as an odd use of the language.  Did Elvis mean he wanted to take care of business in that way? Was he threatening people? Is his phrase a warning that he will settle things?

Another way to look at this, is that Elvis was a singer — so maybe taking care of business was about singing.  The phrase reminding him of sticking to what he does/ knows: his core business.

I tended to think of it as meaning taking care of your own affairs — being on the ball, not being lazy, staying on top.  Taking care — actual care of everything you do.

On the other hand, in a pub some years ago, I had a discussion with a stranger who thought Elvis was reminding himself to provide for his family — she would stay indoors and take care of the house and family, so he would be left to take care of business — the big stuff, buying cars, holidays, houses, work and so forth.  This was a very old-fashioned misogynistic view, but all the same…

Lately I was thinking that he might have meant getting the job done — a psych routine before going into the recording studio or going on stage live.  He was pumping himself up to deliver the goods — to take care fo the business at hand, to do it, and get it done.

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