Music And Movies (Punk)

In recent years Michael Winterbottom has made films in Estonia, India & one which took 5 years to shoot as the director waited for his child actors to grow. His last brush with the mainstream was a well-judged adaptation of “The Killer Inside Me” (2010) with 3 proper Hollywood stars. At the first whiff of controversy this enjoyable film was buried. If you are at all serious about apprehending the spirit of Jim Thomson then your film will contain brutish, amoral, psychopathic violence…I mean really ! Winterbottom’s new film is his 3rd (plus a TV series) made with Steve Coogan, a very funny man who’s big screen career does not reflect his talent. A re-make of “Around the World in 80 Days” ?…with Jackie Chan as Passepartout ? Oh yeah, that’ll work. The Alan Partridge movie has been a long time coming. The Winterbottom films & a cameo in “In The Loop” are, up to now, the only work to stand alongside his TV character comedy.

“24 Hour Party People” covers the Manchester music scene from the arrival of the Pistols in 1976, the adventures of Factory records to an inevitable bankruptcy in 1992 as excess, a groundbreaking but loss making club & allowing the drug-fucked Happy Mondays to record in the crack capital of the world converged to cause a crisis too far. Tony Wilson (Coogan) is the bulls-eye of the tale. As a presenter on local TV news he was already a face but if you lived in Manchester & liked music (as I did) then he was bloody ubiquitous. OK, he had the best club, the best bands were on his label but really he was always there. Just as he was at the Lesser Free Trade Hall for that first Manc punk gig. Winterbottom informs us who the players are in his story & how he intends to tell that story in a different way.

This ain’t no rock/mock/doc/biopic “I Walk the Line” nonsense. It is a proper attempt at rock & roll myth making, playing fast & loose with the facts when it suits, being more concerned with the substance, energy & ideas. The Rock Gospels, from Elvis walking into Sun Studios to Woodstock/Altamont are affidavits guarded by a generation who have taken themselves way too seriously. Let the new fables kick against the pricks, show the art & the artifice.The clip of the real Pistols fused into this scene is from an entirely different gig & it really does not matter. In the later “A  Cock & Bull Story” Winterbottom & Coogan mix it up even more exhilaratingly. It is a cliche about Tony Wilson that he got things done but he was a wanker. He really did seem to love any kind of attention. Well he may have been a fool but he was our fool & “24 H.P.P.” is one of the best films about music around because it is about the people, the drugs, the city. To quote Don Logan,” It’s the charge, it’s the bolt, it’s the buzz, it’s the sheer fuck off-ness of it all” .

“Bringing Out The Dead” (1999) is the 4th &, to date, final collaboration between director Martin Scorsese & writer Paul Schrader. So there’s faith, guilt, redemption then, it’s what they do. This character study (there’s little plot) of a paramedic struggling to see anything good in an Infernal New York is more than “Taxi Driver II”. Frank’s (Nicholas Cage) contact with the doomed & the dying give him  nightmares which have infiltrated his days. Cage gives one of those performances which will prevent you from watching any more than 3 minutes of “Ghost Rider:Spirit of Vengeance”. The script, cinematography & direction grab you by the balls & the throat. The reason “Bringing Out..” is not regarded as classic Scorsese is that there are fewer touches for a broader audience this time around. No Joe Pesci swearing & killing motherfluffers imaginatively, this is black & barely comedy. It could be Scorsese/Schrader “fin de siecle” but I prefer, in the spirit of New York punk, End of the Century.

The film has the usual classy & spacious soundtrack from both Bernsteins through Motown & reggae to R.E.M. But this is Scorsese’s punkiest movie & the use of “Janie Jones” is perfect in this scene with Cage & ready-for-rehab Tom Sizemore crunching through the mean streets taking direction from the disembodied voice of the man himself. Hey, I’m so bored with the USA.

Hey ho, let’s go. I have finally managed to get “Repo Man” (1984) on to one of these posts & about time too. It is not good enough to invoke the spirit of the B-movie, the exploitation movie,  then just stand back & expect to be admired. That spirit, one of imagination & audacity wins over any budget restrictions. I am going to give Tim Burton “Ed Wood” but “Mars Attacks !” had a $70 million dollar budget & $5 of that was for ingenuity. “Repo Man” is as ramshackle as “Dark Star” & “Eating Raoul” , like both these films,it nails an attitude so adroitly that it transcends any cult status & is just a great film.Of course it takes a film made away from Hollywood to get punk on to celluloid properly. Stuff happens in my life every week that makes me think “what would Bud (Harry Dean Stanton) do ?” Look at those assholes, ordinary fucking people. I hate ’em.”…Only joking, or am I ?

Emilio Estevez as Otto, “a clean-cut kid in a dirty business” makes his case to be regarded as the likeable Sheen brother. 30 years later there has been no reason for anyone to doubt him. Director Alex Cox, an Englishman abroad, talked a good fight too, looking back to John Ford & Nicholas Ray as touchstones for his punk rock, sci-fi, B-movie comedy…cheeky beggar. He got the “Sid & Nancy” gig because of “Repo Man”. I thought he did a good job. Both films have a fine sense of the ridiculous, playing fast & loose with facts or reality. Subsequent movies were criticised for being too political, too rough, too clever or too stupid, as if any of these was a bad thing. He had to spend too much time scratching around for enough money to just make the films & they are all worth a watch. Any road up, here is the closing scene of “Repo Man”. “What about our relationship ? Fuck that !”, a flying, glowing car & a song that Iggy Pop wrote for the film. Gotta send you out of the cinema with a smile on your face & a safety-pin stuck in your heart.

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People started growing, instead of being crushed and people started slowing down instead of being rushed (Carbon Silicon)

After 2 years away there is a new song & video from Carbon Silicon & that is nothing but good news. CS combines the talents of Mick Jones & Tony James, two guitarists who go way back to the days when all the London punks could fit into the The Roxy on Neal St. In fact Tony’s Generation X played at the club’s first gig while Mick’s Clash headlined the official opening. The video for “Big Surprise” is a modern take on the “Subterranean Homesick Blues” film, a snapshot of the diversity & warmth of the good people in our capital city.

There…that’s better isn’t it. Put some friends on to that. It’s a good way to start the day. Stripped down & simple, people who’s ears I trust (though perhaps not their other body parts) have drawn comparisons with the ballads of Mott the Hoople, Mick’s favourite band when he was a lad. “Big Surprise” sounds like the “Higher Power” LP released as Big Audio in 1994. I think that Mick had been ill & I enjoyed those back to basics songs like ” Light Up My Life” & “Modern Stone Age Blues”. If you were expecting anger & aggression then you can’t have been listening since “London Calling”. One of the many outstanding things about the Clash was that did not just rage at the world but sought answers & alternatives. It may be the case that “he, who fucks nuns, will later join the church” but the journey does not have to be from angry young man to grumpy old sod. Strummer & Jones’ lyrics have always had a positivity & if Mick has something to say about the 21st century then I am listening.

In 2007 Carbon Silicon released the best rock CD of the decade. “The Last Post” referenced guitar rock of the past 40 years, combined righteous punk anger with optimism & became the first music for years that I became a little obsessed by. It started like this…

Good morning here’s the news. All of it is good & the weather’s good. After 9/11 this was not the case. Western governments exaggerated the threat of Islamic terrorism & downright lied about Saddam Hussain’s weaponry so that we allowed both incursions into our civil liberties & the invasion of a couple of far-off countries. Movies & TV were rammed with super-heroes queuing to solve problems beyond us mortals. If it was not some end-times fantasy then it was a post-apocalyptic anarchic wasteland. Now I know, & so do you, that for the development of a meaningful class consciousness there needs to be not only a perceived opposition to Babylon but a meaningful alternative, a sense of how things could be better. In the first decade of this century you did not hear or see a lot about a future based on co-operation & consideration. One place I did hear it was from “Here Is The News” by Mick Jones & Tony James, a couple of concerned artists who knew it too.

The songs on “The Last Post” were , I think, based around the band jamming on their favourites. You can hear the Kinks, the Who, a quote from Fleetwood Mac. There’s an authoritative, anthemic, twin-guitar crunch but no retro-recrudescence of an old sound or of redundant punk poses. “National Anthem” is a considered invocation to parents, a recommendation that teaching children the difference between right & wrong is a good thing. I had an early version of this with James Jamerson’s “Grapevine” bass line (thank you Alan McGhee off of Creation Records) but samples need clearance & involve lawyers. I get the feeling that the two of them have had quite enough music business business thank you. These are modern day protest songs written by people who have knocked about a bit & still have something to say about the way things are. If it gets too much, if the arguments just wheel & come again  then, as the song goes, “What The Fuck”.

“Caesar’s Palace” is a brilliant re-write & update on “Lost In The Supermarket” one of the great Clash songs. It’s a contemplation on consumerism & its victory in our tarnished democracies. “The greatest crime was to fool all of the people to spend all of the time”. Oh yes…it is a wrong em boyo. This is another appeal to what may seem like common sense but it’s just not gonna happen. The closing lines…”Brought up in a world of Caesars Palace & the odds are a trillion to one & still I want some.”…nailed it. We don’t like it, we sneer at the excesses but we live in the material world & we would not say no to some of that stuff. “The Last Post” is full of good mature songs played by good mature people for…well, give it a listen. I was down my local record shop (now sadly closed) on the day this was released. it is still highly recommended. Ah here’s the “National Anthem” a manifesto for those veterans of the Punk Wars who are still trying to do the right thing.

The emphasis here has been on Mick Jones because I am a bit of a fan boy about the man. Tony James has been around a long time & maybe it is time that I got over Sigue Sigue Sputnik. I have a friend who knows that Tony is a legend & has been since Generation X. My friend actually gets paid for the words he writes…imagine that ! If Danny would like to select Mr James’ finest moments & add a few of those words the loosehandlebars budget could stretch to a quarter of Kola Kubes & a carton of Umbongo (Google them). We would be more than happy to include them here because Carbon Silicon has wrecked all that hanging about with the blatherskite Billy Idol & we need to know more.

Joe Strummer (21.9.1952-22.12.2002)

Ten years ago today Joe Strummer of the 101ers, the Clash and the Mescaleros died at the terribly early age of 50. Joe’s political punk poetry helped to make the Clash the most influential and the best British band of their time.

From the lyrics of “White Riot”…“All the power is the hands/ Of people rich enough to buy it/ While we walk the streets/ Too chicken to even try it/ And everybody does what they’re told to/ And everybody eats supermarket soul-food”…to the last great single “This Is England”, Joe communicated his sense of outrage and injustice. He was writing and singing what many people already thought and said but the band’s popularity meant that he reached a much wider audience than anyone. Joe and his band inspired and reflected the attitudes of a generation of British people which goes beyond the punk shibboleths but knows that “no man born with a living soul can be working for the clampdown”. The ironic antipathy of Banksy’s images in this clip serve the song well.

Joe’s work post-Clash is not as well known but is of a fine quality. “Trash City” was recorded with Latin Rockabilly War and still sounds pretty good. In 1999 he released his first record with the Mescaleros. Lyrically and musically the band reflected the multiculturalism of Britain in a way that I recognised the country he sang about. Caribbean, Asian, African, Eastern European and British, there are aspects of all these cultures that are now part of our everyday lives. Joe Strummer and the Mescaleros threw this all together and made a fine World Music noise with it. There are a lot of good songs to pick from, “Coma Girl”, “Johnny Appleseed”, “Bhindi Bhagee” and others. Well, it’s my shout and this is the stunning “Yalla Yalla”.

Joe Strummer could be contradictory, as can we all. He was a musical magpie just like we are. He is remembered for all the great music he produced and for always trying to cut through the bullshit, always trying to remember the morality involved in living your life as well as you can. Joe was no idealist, he was not our conscience. He was, as we all are, trying to live life well, to do the right thing. He is remembered today and he is missed always.