Jonathan Demme has died.

Jonathan Demme’s life is rightly noted for his versatile and diverse talents and interests, though his love of music seems to be the unifying connection between his genre films, documentaries, blockbusters, and humanitarian work. I liked much of his oeuvre, maybe not as passionately as some, but I admired his restless and generous life. And when I heard the news I thought of this, as I’m sure did many:

World Premier: The Public image is Rotten

My buddy Rael was going to be in town on Friday, and the Tribeca Film Festival was premiering a new movie about PiL and Johnny Rotten. Neither of us were big PiL fans, but this seemed like a fun date. I bought tickets.

Fast forward a few weeks, and Rael is sick. He can’t come into town. So I call my musically adventurous friend Julie. I know she is not a PiL fan, not a Sex Pistols fan, but I’ll have fun with her in any case. Plus, it turns out, there will be a discussion with Lydon/Rotten after the screening. More show biz!

We both order fish and chips at the venerable Tribeca institution, Walkers, and the fish is great, the cole slaw is fine, and the chips are very tasty. That’s a win.

Here’s the deal on the movie, in a few short bites:

If you love PiL you will chew this movie up with delight. It not only fetishises each version of the band, it exalts the Rotten process. Your taste is reified.

If you come from a more historical perspective, the movie does a pretty fine tick tock of the whys wheres and wayfores of the band over a long career.

If you enjoy watching John Lydon sing PiL songs, there’s lots here for you.

If you enjoy watching John Lydon talk about his life, there’s a good amount of that for you.

If you were an observer of PiL, and not a fan of the music, I think you might find a lot of fun in the music. More than you might expect. Less in Lydon’s memorable vocals than Wobble’s bass, Levene’s skronky guitar, and the similarly discordant and yet powerful music all the iterations of this band made.

So, there’s lots to like about the movie, but when you think about it as a movie, it starts to pale. This is a movie that seems to get Johnny Rotten talking emotionally and revealingly about his life. It’s a movie that chronicles many internecine wars among the various configurations of PiL. And it is, most tellingly, a movie that buys John Lydon’s version of the story.

Lydon’s version is a good story, but all the other voices in the film have other stories. And they’re allowed to tell them up to a point. That’s the point where Lydon/Rotten decides to drown them out.

What I’m describing is not an indictment. Rotten/Lydon, in the post-screening chat, talks about how he aspires to be a valued songwriter. He is saying he doesn’t think he’s there yet. He’s right about that, and wonderfully honest to admit it.

But the history of PiL the film describes is the arc of moving from talented and disorganized non-professionals to, over 20 years, the hiring of professional musicians who can actually play. And then marvelling at how everything got better.

And in many ways it did, but what seems to me most revealing is how all the aesthetic challenges disappeared once the band was competent. And this idea of competent musicians versus energetic amateurs is an invigorating discussion for everyone, but the movie glides over the issues.

It’s easy to see why, but without a discussion about talent, expression, experience, professionalism, talent and creativity, plus other stuff, I’m not sure how much what they produced matters.

I love PiL, I went to the screening tonight, because of this appearance I saw one morning in 1980 on American Bandstand:

Nuff said.

 

 

Allman Brothers, One Way Out

Sonny Boy Williamson wrote this song, or maybe he wrote it with Elmore James. Or they wrote it together with another guy, too. Someone knows the story, and he’s probably gone.

This cut is live, comes from the Fillmore East but was from the last show ever at the Fillmore East, in 1971, not at the other shows in which the band made their bones at that place.

It’s a remarkable cut. Berry Oakley is percolating and that great rhythm section is propulsive. The guitars are sweet, and Gregg sings. You taught me good. This band was great at getting jazzy and improving and turning meh lyrics into musical profundity, but given this piece of meat they come back concise, energetic, and unbeatable. In other words, with the best.

Hey Kids, All That is Old is Not Good.

I was casting about in my memory palace today for rock bands that had an impact on me when I was in high school, but didn’t endure. The name Uriah Heep bubbled up to the top. These were, in my memory, Celtic progressive rockers like Jethro Tull, who similarly took the name of a mythological figure (correction: well, a character from David Copperfield), and who rocked.

Or something like that.

I’m sure Jethro Tull has some down moments, but most of them are at least agreeable, and many of them are  pretty damn good.

Uriah Heep? I’m sure I’m missing something good, there was a reason they were on the radio, but this is awful! Or is it just me? You decide.

Bad Songs: Neil Young, Man Needs a Maid

One of the most sacred elpees in rock history is Neil Young’s Harvest. And I love a lot of it, can sing along to a lot it, though I’ve never owned it.

But even when I was a teen in my friend Judy’s bedroom with a whole gang of kids, listening to this elpee for the first time, it was hard to stomach A Man Needs a Maid.

The sentiment fails, and the grandiose arrangement overcompensates for what? This is Neil Young at his absolute worst.

I’m not sure why Neil decided to tart up the song on the elpee, with all those strings. For me it takes a simple confessional statement, a good melody, and makes it a bit ugly and grandiose.

Here’s a live clip where the basic sexist shit comes across as a man looking closely at his life. He could be wrong, but who can fault him for that. I like that a lot better.

 

Ack, Butch Trucks (1947-2017), Too? It’s All Too Much!

Gad ,what a bad run of obits here the past few days. Now, the great time keeper for the Allman Brothers Band has passed on, just shy of 70 years of age

Trucks, who was with the band starting in 1968, had that great swinging percussive style that drove, complemented, and cemented the otherwise fluid playings of the band, just as Bill Kreutzman was at the bottom of the Dead, with Jai-Johanny Johnson playing the rhymthic counterpart to Trucks that Mickey Hart was to Kreutzman.

I guess that is a pretentious sounding sentence of nothing, but what I mean is the band certainly could interplay as on One Way Out , a song that holds arguably the best live trading of licks/solos anywhere ever with a pair of ass-kickers knocked out by Brothers Duane and Betts.  But, beneath the guitars, check out the drumming, which is so there and in time behind some very difficult time and phrasing.

And, well everyone who owns a Bic lighter knows the drive that Whippin’ Post held,

and, the band could also be so melodic and soulful with tunes like In Memory of Miss Elizabeth Reed.

Trucks’ DNA is also linked to nephews Derek Trucks (Tedeschi-Trucks Band guitarist)  and Duane Trucks (drums for Widespread Panic).

Live the eternal long, and prosper Butch…

Mose Allison Has Died

I grew up in the town where the great jazz pianist lived. That would be Smithtown, New York. The reason we knew who Mose Allison was, however, was this blistering recording of his song Young Man Blues.

Allison lived in a development house next to the high school I went to, and we sometimes stood in the schoolyard looking at his house (or what someone said was his house) and imagine the Who stopping by for sandwiches and a jam session.

I later saw him in shows at jazz clubs and the Bottom Line in New York City, and there are special times when his music is awfully good to go to. Casual, bluesy, often funny, it’s cool jazz and warm blues. Maybe you’d call it amiable. Maybe I already did.

 

 

Turnstile, This is Hardcore

If these guys weren’t from Maryland, and this video wasn’t from a show in Philadelphia, I’m not sure I’d be posting it, but some small part of the fun was trying to find our buddy Steve in the crowd at this show.

It’s quite a show. I love the hurtling, twisting, spastic bodies of the stage divers, the oculus of mosh out in the middle of the floor, the way the bass player puts down his guitar and dives into the crowd, then returns to stage and joins back in with the band.

I love the vocalist saying he’s not much with words, and the way he shares the mic at every opportunity.

I love that there are straight edge kids.

I compare this stuff to the Bad Brains clip Steve posted last week and I have to say that it surprises me that this is a style that endures. But the vocalist loves hardcore, it gives him a voice, and you can see it in every angular strut by the stage divers that it means a whole lot to all of them.  That’s a great feeling, one I’m happy to share.

Melodies? Who cares?

Van Morrison and Bob Dylan, One Irish Rover

Van and Bob sitting on a hill with the Parthenon in the background, singing a Van Morrison song (that isn’t One Irish Rover) with acoustic guitar (Van) and harmonica (Bob).

Followed by One Irish Rover, both playing guitars, singing harmonies. Simple, but excellent nonetheless. With Van playing guitar quite nicely and hypnotically, kind of perfect. You probably don’t want less, and you certainly don’t want more.

There’s more after that, excellent Van, but the songs on the hillside are what got me here. Icons, maybe showing off, but simply.