Random Notes (November 2017)

Hold The Front Page ! November ended with birthday cake for breakfast, the memory of the Rebel Girls, Marissa (10) & Mika (6), singing “Happy Birthday” still making me smile. As I reflected on the best things about the past 4 weeks the first day of the new month marked the unveiling of a wonderful addition to the Interwebs. It’s been some time since a new website has seemed to be so thorough, comprehensive & genuinely exciting.

 

 

Image result for neil young 1973I’ve been listening to Neil Young’s music for over 50 years now, initially with Buffalo Springfield then as a solo artist & a member of Crosby, Stills, Nash &… Some of his music ranks up there with anything produced in that time period. The albums that are less fully realised, with less appeal to me, still feature tracks that are good & worthy of my time & consideration. There are 39 studio albums, many live sets, compilations, collaborations &  soundtracks. Plenty of them have been on my shelves over the years. The guy who “borrowed” my copies of “Hawks & Doves” & “Journey Through the Past” is welcome round to mine any time for a warm beverage & to discuss why he never brought the flipping things back. Now here comes www.neilyoungarchives.com & what a lovely e-thing it is.

 

Neil has been talking about curating his extensive assortment of unreleased material for almost 30 years. The first “Archive” release came around in 2006 & “Live at the Fillmore East”, recorded in 1970 with Crazy Horse, was hotter than Georgia asphalt, raw, raucous Rock & Roll power. There have been 7 more subsequent releases, some of which I have missed through my own penury or because I’m still listening to those great nights in New York (see above). The website has got it all, official, unreleased, the films. Everything from the last 55 years, Blimey ! It’s a well-designed, attractive place & Shakey himself guides you though the controls. I’m being tempted by the classic records & I’ll be re-visiting neglected ones like “Old Ways” & “Everybody’s Rockin'” for the first time in a while.

 

I’ve been told that this resource will be free for the next 7 months when a “modest” subscription will be introduced in June 2018. I’m getting the feeling that that the current, produced by algorithm, one size fits all, Netflix Original fare (have you seen the “War Machine” movie ? A missed opportunity.), is not giving enough bang for my buck. When asked to commit my hard-earned to an artist whose body of work has given so much pleasure & inspiration & will continue to do so then I’ll be joining that queue.

 

 

Image result for the only onesThis year’s Peter Perrett LP, “How the West Was Won” continues to give up its many charms & November has had me flipping through the back of the stack for the 3 fine records by his old group The Only Ones. A little Y-tube investigation yields 3 radio sessions for John Peel from 1977-80, some of the performances eclipsing the recorded versions. Back then we also had a bootleg of the band playing live in 1979 at the Paradiso in Amsterdam, they really did pump it up onstage.

 

Now Peter & his new band are back on the road & back, 38 years later, at the Paradiso. He’s got some outstanding new material but it would be impossible & unreasonable to neglect his back catalogue. The clip of the month is this capture of the monumental “The Big Sleep” from “Baby’s Got A Gun” (1980). The acerbic Rock & Roll sleaze of his best songs resonated then & it still does. It’s great to see him working again after such long absences & while a prior commitment kept me away from this tour I really do hope that there is more to come.

 

 

So this month I went to the pictures to see “Thor:Ragnarok”, #17 of the billion dollar merchandising tent poles from the Walt Disney conglomerate (© Movie Bob). The first Thor movie reminded me of just how much of the Asgard, Loki, Rainbow Bridge, big hammer stuff I had absorbed as a kid spending too much time with Marvel comics. This one, the third one, is directed by Taika Waititi whose last 2 films “What We Did in the Shadows” & “Hunt for the Wilderpeople” are essential viewing. It was his name rather than the chance to see a shirtless Hemsworth that got me to the multiplex. The film was fun, it was funny & er…that’s it. Candy floss would have been more appropriate than popcorn. Asgardians of the Galaxy. Next up for Waititi is a starring role in “Corpse Tub”, a comedy about the ritualistic suicides of a deranged cult. Count me in.

 

Of much more viewing resonance was the Ken Burns/Lynn Novick documentary “The Vietnam War”, a 12 part epic shown by PBS in the US & the BBC in the UK. This ill-judged & wrong-headed American incursion into South East Asia was a major influence on my own political viewpoint. I knew about the failure of 3 Presidents to bring order to the chaos, about the massacre at My Lai, I read Michael Herr’s “Dispatches”, had seen “Apocalypse Now”. But I was a kid in the UK when this thing started, other things to preoccupy me, no nightly news bulletins, no draft to dodge. Burns’ film covers all the bases, is even-handed, blends current interviews with contemporary footage brilliantly. You know that “the next episode will begin in X seconds” nonsense ? This was too serious, too affecting for that. The thoughts it provoked deserving of consideration rather than a binge watch. The whole series can be found on the Y-tube, it’s an achievement.

On The Road With Me, Pete And Neil Young.

We, Pete the driver & myself, hit the German/Swiss border at Basel on Wednesday lunchtime. Are those customs controls still there ? Switzerland has kept itself out of the great European upheavals & experiments for the past 200 years & more, it is not a member of the European Union so maybe they are. We had a clear run after a delivery in Aachen, an overnight stop by the Rhine in Baden-Baden, so good they named it twice. A couple of drops in Switzerland, a pickup in Brussels then back home in time for Saturday night beers & a sleep in our own beds. It was a good plan but a signature was missing from some paperwork & the Swiss were not about to welcome us as guests in their country until it was sorted. In those olden, pre-electronic times a crappy fax machine (ask your parents) back in the UK meant that it took 5 days before we got the go-ahead. Hey, this was none of my doing (phew !), I was getting paid by the day, the sun had got its hat on & we had gone on holiday by mistake !

 

We were carrying an exhibition by the artist who wraps stuff up…Christo, that’s the fellow. This gear was not cheap & neither was the duty due. The helpful customs staff were not about to front us a big bag of their Swiss francs. OK, we were in a car park, our wagon was too big for any back road exploration but we were in Germany, could see Switzerland just over there &, to the West, France was a 10 minute walk away. There was surely a good & interesting time to be had on these three frontiers. We were sleeping in a truck, probably needed more socks, certainly more hash but we had  plenty of Neil Young tapes with us.

 

 

Oh yes ! How much do I love Neil Young’s music ? Loads…ever since his 5 songs on the debut LP by Buffalo Springfield, never more than when he’s the lead guitarist with Crazy Horse.  “Ragged Glory” (1990) followed “Freedom”, regarded as a comeback though I’d been listening through the 80’s, the Rock & Roll one, the Country one, the ones that caused his label to sue him for not sounding like Neil Young ! Form is temporary, class is permanent & while these records didn’t match his truly great ones (another time) each had its moments. With Crazy Horse he kept it simple, the rhythm section of Billy Talbot (bass) & Ralph Molina (drums) providing a monolithic backbeat for the guitar interplay of Neil & Frank Sampedro. On “Ragged Glory”  the volume is turned up to 11, the tape left running to capture the distortion & feedback. Resistance was futile, it was impressive that a band was still sounding so fresh & powerful 20 years on & were still contenders for the rock and roll championship belt.

 

Meanwhile, down by the river we were exploring our patch of the mightily impressive 750 mile long Rhine. Basel is situated on its “knee”, a 90° turn from West to North. I’ve always been fascinated by Ekistics, the science of human settlement, still am. The security of an outcrop protected by a natural barrier attracted Celts & then the Romans, keen to keep an eye on those wild Germanics at the edge of their empire. The city has been a wealthy trade centre for like always. It’s a beautiful place but it’s a bourgeois town & we could have our fill of cosmopolitan back home in London. We were ready for the country.

 

The bridge had been opened in 1979 but the many shifts of the tectonic plates of European history & the strategic importance of the Rhine had kept these borderlands apart. The Romans left Alsace (that’s where we were) in the 5th century. The Franks showed up from the East, succeeding Germanic empires were around for a 1000 years. The shenanigans involved in the collapse of the Holy Roman Empire, the Revolution & Napoleon, the return of the Prussians, affected the area then, in 1918, it was a French spoil of victory in a world war. That would not stand with the Germans who were back for the sequel in 1940. The market square in Village-Neuf included a plaque commemorating the arrival of Allied Forces in 1945 & liberation. The old boys at the “lac du peche” told their stories after my strangled Franglais prompts. We were out here on the perimeter but surely in France, a country Pete & I had enjoyed on earlier trips. Some good bread, fromage, a little charcuterie & a couple of decent bottles of wine were perfect for sunny days just watching the river flow.

 

 

“Ragged Glory” Neil toured with the Horse  then “Harvest Moon (1992) & “Unplugged” (1993) were LPs  that could be marketed to the audience which bought “After the Goldrush” & “Harvest”. He toured with Booker T & the MGs, a gig I missed & shouldn’t have. 1994’s double LP “Sleeps With Angels” was the most atmospheric collection since “Tonight’s the Night” from almost 20 years before. The title track is a eulogy for Kurt Cobain who had quoted Neil’s “Hey Hey My My” in his suicide note. Neil’s influence on a younger generation of musicians went beyond a shared taste for oversized Pendleton shirts.

 

On the road again by noon on Monday, people were waiting for us. We delivered Christo the wrapper’s doings & headed for Bern with a family of bears (♫it’s a family of bears♫), bright blue life-sized plaster ones for a film producer’s garden…I am not making this up ! Bern was baking hot & we were a little lost. We needed soft drinks & a street map, the Egyptian shop owner insisted on getting in his car & guiding us. Well “As-salamu alaykum, Brother”. The truck was finally emptied, we were days behind schedule & had kilometres to go before bedtime. A plan was made to push it along back into France, we would eat late & eat well. Only that didn’t happen.  This time our border crossing was uneventful , we hung a left at Strasbourg but who knew that May 8th was Victory Day, a French national holiday & that the country would be closed ?

 

 

Now we  were in Lorraine, still a crossroads of French & German geopolitical ambitions, the official language of the area decided by whoever held the upper hand. The autoroute was eerily empty, the idea of going off-road to look for somewhere that was just so but shut didn’t appeal. We kept on moving, for us this was a back-to-work day. Looking at the world through a windshield was getting old after over 350 miles, Pete was way past his allotted driving hours & we were getting white line fever. I, as the truck’s DJ, had the very tune to help us through those final extra miles.

 

“Change Your Mind” is the 15 minute blockbuster from “Sleeps With Angels”. It’s not as anthemic as “Like a Hurricane” or “Rocking in the Free World”, both songs that reached a wider audience than the dedicated Young Ones. Like other classics “Cortez the Killer” & the later “Be the Rain” it takes its time, draws you in, gets a grip & won’t let go. I love this track. As we drove in the dark through the hills & woodlands of the Ardennes, another region marked by the comings & goings of the century, we grooved on an epic tune to end an epic day.

 

From Luxembourg to Brussels went smoothly. The small industrial towns of the Ardennes reminded me of the textile mill towns of the English Pennines except that up in Todmorden there are no stalls selling frites (chips) with mayonnaise. What kind of nut first had that idea ! We reached the White Cliffs of Dover a little later & more tanned than we had planned. Pete & I had spent 10 days in close proximity, we had shared an adventure & no-one was harmed.

 

I have no contact with Pete now. We are both similarly strong-minded individuals and well…it happens. I could make a good case for him being a grumpy control freak &, if he were here, he could tell stories about me that would make it a draw. If he does ever see this then I have other memories of him that are just as good. Me & Neil Young…yeah, we’re still tight.