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David Bowie’s Moss Garden and Ukiyo-e Ladies Playing Koto

15 Mar

Chikanobu Toyohara (1838-1912), Koto Player – Azuma

David Bowie’s instrumental piece “Moss Garden”, the second of the three instrumentals on side two of album “Heroes” released in 1977, is a serene, tranquil oasis of light in the desert of darkness which makes the majority of the album’s sound. Situated between the fellow two instrumentals, dark and foreboding “Sense of Doubt” and equally grim “Neuköln”, the “Moss Garden”, strange and serene, is like a ray of sun on a moody, cloudy spring day that appears for a moment and disappears quickly behind the clouds. Bowie plays the traditional Japanese string instrument koto on the track and Brian Eno plays the synthesizer. “Moss Garden” is a delightful five minutes and three seconds of lightness and meditative, ambient ethereal sounds. So, one cannot refer to “Heroes” as to a dark album, why, one eighth of the album is uplifting. And then there’s the song “Heroes” as well.

It’s been quite some time since I discovered Bowie’s Berlin era songs, but this song lingered in my memory, and I think the reason for that is the eastern sound of the koto. I mean, how many rock songs are coloured by far-east sounds like that? Listening to this instrumental piece made me think of all the Ukiyo-e prints where beautiful Japanese ladies dressed in vibrant clothes are playing koto and I found a few lovely examples which I am sharing in this post. A lot of these Japanese woodcut prints (or Ukiyo-e prints) were made by Chikanobu, an artist who worked mostly in the 1880s and 1890s, the last fruitful decades for the art of woodcuts and in his work he mostly focused on beautiful women doing everyday things. I really enjoy the elegant simplicity of the woodcut above; how the background is clear but the lady’s purple kimono stands out and the focus is solely on her and her koto; back to bare essentials. I also really love Hasegawa Settei’s portrayal of lady playing kimono.

Toyohara Chikanobu, Preparing to Play the Koto, from the series Ladies of the Tokugawa Period, 1895

Toshikata Mizuno (1866-1914), Thirty-six Selected Beauties – Playing Koto

Hasegawa Settei, A Japanese woman playing the koto, December 1878

Toyohara Chikanobu (1838-1912), Playing Koto, c 1890s

Toyohara Chikanobu (1838-1912), Koto Player at 11 a.m. – Scenes of the Twenty-four Hours, c 1890s

Moss gardens are a special variety of Japanese gardens, the continuous flow of unending moss coated ground lets the person slowly fall into the dreamy and meditative state, and allows the eye to wander from one variety of moss to the other, the nostrils to inhale the rich, green, primeval scent of this old and grateful plant. I imagine it rich with water after a rainy summer afternoon. “A moss garden presents the opportunity to observe differentiations of colour that have never been seen before. The tactile and optical characteristics of the moss gardens are softness, sponginess, submarine wateriness and unfathomability. They are the exact opposite of the pebble gardens with their appointed paths, boundaries and stone islands.” (Siegfried Wichmann; Japonism)

When life gets overwhelming, one can sit for hours in such a garden and easily sink into a meditative state, thoughts drifting and problems fading. In a similar way, Bowie’s move to Berlin with Iggy Pop in 1976 was his way of finding clarity, anonymity and inspiration: “I had approached the brink of drug induced calamity one too many times and it was essential to take some kind of positive action. For many years Berlin had appealed to me as a sort of sanctuary like situation. It was one of the few cities where I could move around in virtual anonymity.“(Bowie with Rob Hughes and Stephen Dalton for Uncut Magazine) After the very depressing album “Low” released earlier the same year, 1977, album “Heroes” is the first step in the path of Bowie’s search for clarity and perhaps the song “Moss Garden” is the best expression of this new found quite, introspective feeling of serenity.

Keiko Yurimoto (1906-2000), Koto Player, c 1950

Berlin in the seventies was a grey, isolated and divided city with a world-weary self-regard. The youth suffered and junkies filled the subway stations, but a lot of bohemians, artists and musicians were drawn to that bleak, alienated and experimental atmosphere and relished in what the city had to offer. As Bowie said himself: “For many years Berlin had appealed to me as a sort of sanctuary-like situation. It was one of the few cities where I could move around in virtual anonymity. I was going broke; it was cheap to live. For some reason, Berliners just didn’t care. Well, not about an English rock singer, anyway.” He was just another weirdo in the city and everyone left him alone. The product of his fascination with the city were three albums; Low, Heroes and Lodger – today known as Bowie’s “Berlin Trilogy”, by far my favourite era of Bowie’s music. Bowie said himself about the Berlin Trilogy: “My complete being is within those three albums.” (Uncut magazine) Enough said. I don’t really understand or share the wild enthusiasm for Bowie’s glam rock Ziggy Stardust era, I mean those are some great songs, but the Berlin era is the real thing, it sounds as if the mood of the times and the city with its bleakness and political division is woven into the music, to me it sounds like Berlin breathing and living.

Serge Gainsbourg’s L’Hôtel Particulier and Art of Paul Delvaux

24 Feb

“All my life I’ve tried to transcribe reality to make it into a kind of dream.”

(Paul Delvaux)

Paul Delvaux, Sleeping Venus (La Venus Endormie), 1944

Serge Gainsbourg’s acclaimed concept album “Historie de Melody Nelson” released on 24 March 1971 has a Lolitaesque theme and in seven unique yet connected songs tells a tale of an older gentleman (Serge) who, by accident, collides his car into the red bicycle of a sweet and pretty schoolgirl called Melody Nelson (Jane Birkin). This chance seemingly unhappy encounter blossoms into a flower of seduction and romance as the gentleman takes Melody to a hotel. This part of the musical story is told in the fifth song “L’hôtel particulier“. Needless to say, I very much enjoy the variety of different musical styles on the album’s songs, and I love the innocently-sexy Jane Birkin in the videos, but it is the video for this song “L’hôtel particulier” that fascinates me in particular because it features the wondrous paintings of the Belgian Surrealist painter Paul Delvaux (1897-1994) who was actually still alive during the time the album was made. Not only alive, but also very prolific. Even though he was the last surviving Surrealist during his life, he was a wanderer and an individualist in the Surrealist crowd who created a unique dream-like world on his canvases which feature repetitive motifs; Classical architecture, nocturnal setting, nude women whose bodies are white as snow and appear smooth as marble, skeletons, crescent moon, trains, boudoirs.

The shaping of Delvaux’s art career was a slow and steady process because at first his parents pressured him into studying architecture, it was something he didn’t enjoy but it did serve him greatly later in creating the strange, accurately depicted yet eerie spaces in his paintings. In 1934 Delvaux saw the Surrealist exhibition “Minotaure” and this inspired him to start working in the direction of Surrealism because it led him back to the imaginative state of childhood. Delvaux’s art also shows the influence of Giorgio de Chirico’s cold and enigmatic worlds where architecture is drawn with precision yet the overall effect is unsettling. In 1937 and 1939 he visited Italy and the architecture inspired him to serve as a setting for the world of his languid dead-eyed hypnotised nudes. Delvaux painted some wonderful eerie paintings even in the late 1960s and 1970s, but the paintings chosen for Gainsbourg’s video were mostly painted in the 1940s. The World War II period was a harsh one for Delvaux as it was for everyone, but it only inspired him to paint more and to retreat into the world of his imagination. The artist stated “I would like to create a fabulous painting in which I would live, in which I could live.”

As a child he was afraid of skeletons but later in life he found a way to incorporate them into his nocturnal worlds, bones glistening in moonlight, death opposing the sensuality of the women’s nude flesh. One such skeleton pops up in the painting “Sleeping Venus” painted in 1944, and unlike skeletons in James Ensor’s art (a fellow Belgian painter), Delvaux’s skeleton is unashamed of himself, he doesn’t put on a mask or hide under some garish carnival clothes. Nude Venus is sweetly asleep on a divan in front of the temple-like building while the skeleton is having a fascinating conversation with a Belle Epoque woman with a large brimmed hat and a dark red dress. The conversation is so fascinating that not even the passing couple, Serge and Jane, can interrupt it. Even though Delvaux’s paintings aren’t directly connected to the music and the song, I think they create a striking background visually which really leaves the viewer interested.

Bellow I’ve compared Delvaux’s paintings to stills from the video:

Paul Delvaux, The Echo, 1943

Paul Delvaux, Night Train, 1947

Paul Delvaux, The Great Sirens, 1947

Paul Delvaux, Le nu et le mannequin (Le nu au mannequin), signed and dated ‘P.Delvaux 12-47’, December 1947

Syd Barrett and The Madcap Laughs: Madness, Solitude and Striped Floors

3 Jan

Syd Barrett’s debut album as a solo artist, “The Madcap Laughs” was released on the 3rd January 1970. The music has a bittersweet feel to it; the melodies are childlike and innocent while others take on darker sounds. The album is in many ways a musical portrayal of Syd’s state of mind at the time.

“We are all mad here.”

(Lewis Caroll, Alice in Wonderland)

It was love at first sound with me and Pink Floyd’s early hits such as Arnold Layne, See Emily Play and Scarecrow; I intuitively felt that something very imaginative and strange was hiding underneath the exterior of your average great pop-song. Those were more than just pop songs that will be forgotten in a few years. They had the magic, the wittiness, the dreaminess that made them linger on in my mind. “Who writes stuff like this?”, I thought to myself. The genius behind the lyrics was Syd Barrett; at the time a drop-out art student from Cambridge who overnight found himself in the centre of the psychedelic underground culture. Music and art were fun for Syd, and coming up with witty lyrics and simple catchy tunes was easy for him because he seemed to have approached things in a childlike way, full of curiosity and wonder at the world around him, but the stress of the band’s success, the interviews, the popularity proved to be too much for him. The increasing consummation of the drug of the moment, LSD, did not help matters. His creative period with the Pink Floyd was short but strong, like an explosion, or a shooting star. Let me provide you with a few dates to show you just how fast it all happened; their first single “Arnold Layne” was released on 10th March 1967. And already, on 15th January 1968 Syd played his last gig with Pink Floyd.

Gustave Caillebotte, Wood Floor Planers, 1875

A new chapter in Syd’s life and musical career began. Alone in the loneliness of his Victorian pad in Wetherby Mansion in Earl’s Court Square, the Psychedelic Mad Hatter was slowly descending into a haunting state of introspection, melancholy and illusions. Into his new bohemian abode, he brought the stuff that remained after many moves around London; a small table, a mattress and a striped blanket, some scratched LPs, Penguin edition books by Shakespeare and Chaucer, barely touched canvases stacked against the wall. His room was his little imaginary world. The outside world did not matter anymore. The cheerful, fun-loving, chatty and friendly Syd was gone. The handsome young Englishman with messy black hair and velvet trousers was slowly going mad…. One morning, after having spent some time meditatively staring at his blanket, a painting by Gustave Caillebotte called “The Wood Floor Planners” suddenly came to his mind and he decided to paint the bare wooden floors of his room in stripes of orange and blue. The album cover shows Syd crouching in his room, a vase of daffodils next to him. He is sad and alone, yet his darkness intimidates me. Angry outbursts and fragmented conversation. Loneliness is seeping through the cracks on the striped floor.

Syd Barrett first entered the studio as a solo artist on 30th January 1968; just ten days after his last show with Pink Floyd, for what would be an unfruitful session. Sessions resumed in June and July produced songs Late Night, Octopus and Golden Hair; all featured on The Madcap Laughs. Peter Jenner, who had worked on these sessions claimed that they had not gone smoothly although he got on well with the singer. Shortly after July sessions Syd suddenly stopped recording, breaking up with his then girlfriend Lindsey Corner and then going off a drive around Britain in his Mini only to end up in psychiatric care in Cambridge. By the start of 1969 Barrett, somewhat recovered, resumed his music career and started working with another engineer Malcolm Jones, after both Jenner and Norman Smith (Pink Floyd’s producer at the time) had declined his request to work on the album. Over four sessions beginning on April 10th 1969. Syd had recorded songs Opel (a beautiful misty ballad that would not see the light of day until 1988), No good trying, No man’s land, Here I go and Love you. The sessions all together were not very productive because in those days recording four or five songs on just guitar in four or five hours wasn’t considered very productive. It was something the engineers tried to avoid.

“You feel me
Away far too empty, oh so alone
I want to go home
Oh find me inside of a nocturne, the blonde
How I love you to be by my side”

(Syd Barrett – Feel)

During the recording of the album Syd was also on Mandrax and he’d sit on a stool and then fall off it. Barrett and his friends were taking the infamous LSD-25, a powerful psychiatric drug still legal in UK those days. It was almost a religious-like experience for Syd, and many others who indulged. Syd really did believe the psychedelic revolution was flowing through him. The world was changing and he thought we should all be perfect beings, cool and groovy. Syd began taking acid regularly with enthusiasm many found alarming. It was in May 1967. that his eyes crazed.  At the time of The Madcap Laughs Syd had already completely surrendered.

The Madcap Laughs is an album filled with long forgotten symbolism. The songs are a mirror of Syd’s mental state of the time and in them he expressed, perhaps deliberately perhaps not, his loneliness and growing alienation. Though some of them have a cheerful rhythm like Love you, one can feel a spark of melancholy. In song Terrapin for example Syd shows his love of the blues while some of the songs sound more like a concept rather than a finished and polished song. This album features some almost child-like songs with optimistic melodies and ostensibly cute themes (Love you and Here I go) through darker and deeper subjects (Dark globe, Golden Hair and No man’s land) to melancholic cries for rescue from his loneliness and ever increasing alienation. Song Golden Hair is actually based on a poem by James Joyce.

This album and the following Barrett reflect not just his state of mind but also the atmosphere at the time, sorrowful end of the sixties whose optimism, innocence and mind-expanding ideas had faded away. By that time the hedonistic atmosphere of the Swinging London was long lost. Perhaps albums The Madcap Laughs and Barrett are a remembrance of the sixties for they were created at the dusk of this beautiful era; era which Syd belonged to and sadly died with.

The striped floors are aesthetically such a fun and exciting things. Syd chose to paint his floors in vibrant contrasting colours which gives the entire room a psychedelic touch, but I noticed the motif of wooden floor in many canvases painted by nineteenth century artists. Seeing the striped wooden floor stretching vertically or horizontally on the canvas is so exciting to me. Here are a few examples by Vincent van Gogh and Degas:

Vincent van Gogh, Bedroom in Arles, 1888

Edgar Degas, Deux Danseuses, 1879

Edgar Degas, The Dance Lesson, 1879

Edgar Degas, Dancers Practicing at the Barre, 1877

William Ratcliffe, Attic Room, 1918

The photo session for the album cover took place in the spring 1969. Most likely in March when daffodils were blooming and Syd had just finished painting his floor in orange and purple stripes. Proud of what he had done, Syd invited his friend Mick Rock to come over and take some photos. At that time Syd was living with Iggy The Eskimo who was a friend of Syd’s ex-girlfriend Jenny Spires. Iggy and Syd weren’t lovers but she was a good company. She answered the doors that day and welcomed Mick completely naked (not an unusual thing for hippies and free-spirited creatures of the time). When Mick arrived he found Syd in bed, still in his underpants; a moment he captured with his new camera Pentax he had just recently bought. After he’d got up, Syd donned a pair of trousers with colour stains on them; from the floor paint. Iggy, the groovy companion to this Mad Hatter of Psychedelia, added some kohl to his eyes to achieve that elegantly wasted look of a Poete Maudite.

The photos were created naturally, with no staging and posing. Mick worked with elements he had: a painted floor, a vase of daffodils, nude Iggy in the background and a huge Canadian car parked just in front of Wetherby Mansion for some outside shots. None of it was planned. Later that day, Storm Thorgerson arrived and his solo focus was the wonderful striped floor. He shoot photos in fading light placing a wide angled lens millimeters of the ground to achieve an Alice in Wonderland effect, giving the floor elastic quality. Syd just crouched by the fireplace and he looked natural; he spontaneously adapted to the background. His pose suggests defiant exhaustion and a dark edge of ‘knowing’. There was only one corner of the room that Syd hadn’t painted and that was the only clean angle if you didn’t want to expose this ‘set’ for what it was; a drab living room with a nasty electric fireplace. As long as he occupied his island-mattress surrounded by striped painted floor, reality and a world of possibilities remained outside his door. The photo that would eventually be the cover photo was also taken by Thorgerson.

I cannot put it in words how much I adore this album and the album cover and the striped floor. All of it has inspired me beyond words. I listen to “The Madcap Laughs” every time I paint my watercolours; it is such a pleasant, soothing, melancholy and dreamy music to provide background for dipping my brush in water, then in the paint… Syd’s fragile voice, his strange and witty lyrics, his yearnings for help and cries of loneliness that come out in some songs, all of it draws me into this strange ethereal world which I always occupy with one part of my mind. When I listen to this album, and also his follow-up “Barrett”, I truly feel like Alice when she found herself in the Wonderland; Syd is the psychedelic Mad Hatter and I follow him blindly, over the striped floor, crossing the yellow glow of the waning sun, to the spaces where only music remains, and I am free, free, free…

Also, grainy quality of the photo brings nostalgia and serves as a barrier between psychedelic vivid colours of the ’60s to more drab and sad reality that came with the seventies. Long gone is the multicoloured glamour of the ’60s Swinging London psychedelia and instead the cover of The Madcap Laughs suggests the ’60s decadence exposed and photos have that sad “party’s over” feel.

I have to take a moment in the end to give praise where praise is due and recommend you all the wonderful, amazing, fun and detailed book about Syd Barret called “Syd Barrett and Pink Floyd: Dark Globe” by Julius Palacios.

Francoise Hardy – Waiting for the Muse

16 May

I recently stumbled upon these photographs of Francoise Hardy taken by Jean-Marie Périer in 1964 and I wanted to share them because they are interesting. I love the sixties, I love some of her music that I’ve listened to, but also these five pictures on their own are fascinating because they show a creative process that an artist goes through; from feeling bored and uninspired, to writing and trying and being disappointed and giving up, and trying again, until that something you are working on feels right. I am sure anyone reading this and seeing these pics who is also an artist in one way or another can relate.

Egon Schiele’s Heroin Chic Look – Lipgloss and Cigarettes

17 Mar

The distinctive trashy glamour of Egon Schiele’s nudes is unsettling and alluring at the same time, provocative and eye-catching. His drawings and watercolours of skinny, fragile, starved nymphets who look like they live on lipgloss and cigarettes, made from 1910 to about 1914/15, before the war and before his marriage, encapsulate the heroin chic aesthetic decades before was defined and popularised by models such as Kate Moss. Things that connect these drawings and watercolours are the same mood and aesthetic and the same reaction from the public. Schiele’s portrayal of female form was shocking to the early twentieth century Vienna, and photographs of Kate Moss’s skinny body received the same reaction.

Kate Moss by Corinne Day

In the beginning of this year I watched a new documentary about Egon Schiele called “Egon Schiele: Dangerous Desires (2018)” made to commemorate the 100th anniversary of his death. It which was super cool and I loved it to death, it was hard not to like it: the soundtrack was rock music and the first lines were spoken by Iggy Pop, who clearly appreciates Egon Schiele’s art. One woman says something really interesting in the first two minutes: “If someone were to show you a Schiele watercolour and ask you: ‘when do you think this was done’, I think the answer would be: yesterday.” I partly agree; as a nostalgic person who romanticises the past, I would never believe that something as great could have been painted yesterday, but I agree in that his drawings, great majority of his art, appears not modern but timeless.

I can’t really say “modern” because Schiele wouldn’t agree. In one of his watercolours from prison he wrote: “Kunst kann nicht modern sein; Kunst ist urewig.” or “Art can not be modern, art is primordially eternal.” I don’t think this can be said about all art, but Schiele truly succeeded in creating art that is eternal. When you look at it now, it doesn’t seem out of place, kitschy, or strange, on the contrary, those colours and lines on papers that he held in his hand sometime in 1912 still have so much to say – or scream. And Schiele’s art goes so well with modern music as well, rock music particularly; in his self-portraits of the tormented artist staring right at us from the canvas, you can imagine a streetwise yet vulnerable heroin addict from the song “I’m waiting for the man” by The Velvet Underground, or the raw and trashy sound of The Stooges’s “Raw Power” or the sleek sound of urban alienation from David Bowie’s Berlin-era albums.

Egon Schiele, Nude against coloured background, 1911

I like Schiele’s paintings, and I also enjoy looking at pictures of Kate Moss, particularly those from the 1990s, it’s just an aesthetic thing, I don’t care for her personality or her life choices, although her love life is interesting. I look at a picture only to get a shot of beauty in my veins and possibly a seed to inspire my future reveries. I am certain that Kate Moss would be a perfect model for Schiele. His ideal was a thin, fragile, bony body with that elegantly wasted look; protruding spine and collar bones, under eye circles, ribs peeking under thin layer of skin, strange complexion with patches of unnatural colour…. The heroin chic look that Schiele clearly painted decades before, has become synonymous with Kate Moss whose appearance at the beginning of her career was in stark difference to the perfect and unattainable looks of the supermodels of the previous decade. Calvin Klein spoke in her defense back in the day: “For them, what is real is beautiful—looking plain is beautiful. What is less than perfect is sexy.” Schiele liked strangeness and imperfections and never resorted to idealization.

Kate Moss by Bettina Rheims, 1989

Egon Schiele, Girl with black hair, 1910

Schiele’s models were often girls from the streets, pretty prepubescent street urchins hungry for attention and amusement. He was young and poor and probably couldn’t even afford a proper model, and why would he when these little things were around, looked and behaved unpretentiously and were a good thing to draw. In his book about Egon Schiele, F. Whitford wrote: “Physically immature, thin, wide-eyed, full-mouthed, innocent and lascivious at the same time, these Lolitas from the proletarian districts of Vienna arouse the kind of thoughts best not admitted before a judge and jury.” The same words could be used to described the teenage Kate Moss; thin, wide-eyed, with full lips and gorgeous high cheek bones, on the pictures taken by Corinne Day for The Face magazine in 1990 she looks innocent and vulnerable, a bit shy, hiding herself behind a straw hat. In 1990 this working class nymphet from Croydon, a drab suburb of London, had already left school, and despite being a rich and famous model today, back then the prospects were bleak and she was in a similar position as the street urchins who posed for Schiele. Her beauty wasn’t yet recognised, but she did attract the attention of some designers very early on such as John Galliano who chose her for his spring/summer collection 1990 and saw her as his “Lolita”; the half-child and half-woman appeal made her stand out.

Kate Moss for Calvin Klein

Kate Moss by Corinne Day, 1993

Egon Schiele, Sitting girl with ponytail (Sitzendes Mädchen mit Pferdeschwanz), 1910

Schiele’s drawings were outrageous and provocative in his day and age just as they are now still. Viennese public had perhaps grown accustomed to Klimt’s nudes, but the vision of the female form that Schiele had presented was a tad too much. Likewise, pictures of Kate shot in the early nineties by a young and ambitious autodidact photographer Corinne Day were considered equally outrageous and accused of perplexing ideas that neither Kate nor Corinne had dreamt of; in the pictures she looked skinny and childlike, but her clothes and poses weren’t childlike at all, mingling sexuality with innocence. Kate Moss’s appearance represented the nihilistic spirit of the decade and a culture that believe in nothing. Hippies had hope, acid and belief in a better world, punks had their anger and outrageous clothes, and nineties seemingly had nothing, to quote Manic Street Preachers: “I know I believe in nothing, but it’s my nothing”.

Pictures above by Corinne Day for The Face magazine, July 1990

Over the ocean, grunge bands expressed their dissatisfaction and in Manchester the youth tuned out in the reviving sounds of psychedelia of bands such as The Stone Roses, The Charlatans and The Happy Mondays. Kate’s “elegantly waisted” look was perfect for Corinne Day’s aims in photography, for her love of realism. A new philosophy required a new look, and strong, over the top and glamorous models of the 1980s were passé. Just like Egon Schiele in his nudes and self-portraits, Corinne Day’s photographs penetrate to the bare essence and expose the truth, and what lies within. Schiele freed the women from Klimt’s suffocating gold and poisonous flowers, and focused on the psychology of their faces. In a similar way, Day freed the model from the excessiveness of shoulder pads and too much blush. Calvin Klein said “For me, Kate’s body represented closing the door on the excessiveness of the ’80s”.

Here is an expert from Maureen Callahan’s book “Champagne Supernovas“: “The culture at large didn’t see Kate that way. Up against the skyscraper supermodels of the ’80s, their very perfection a comment on American supremacy, a small-boned, flat-chested model like Kate Moss was heresy. Someone her size hadn’t been seen since Twiggy in the ’60s; suddenly, Kate and Calvin Klein were accused of promoting anorexia, heroin use, child pornography, and the downfall of Western civilization. She was on the sides of buses, kiosks, and pay phones, naked and draped across a velvet sofa in a ramshackle room, “FEED ME” often scrawled across the ad by protesters.

Under Exposure, Kate Moss by Corinne Day for Vogue UK, June 1993

Here is another interesting passage from Callahan’s book “Champagne Supernovas” about Corinne Day’s photo shoot with Kate Moss: “When British Vogue commissioned Corinne for a lingerie shoot with Kate, Corinne insisted on creative control. She shot in Kate’s London apartment and staged it to look like her own flat: modest and cold, with white walls and gray carpet, exposed wiring, a mattress on the floor. Kate had been crying after a fight with her boyfriend, and Corinne exploited the juxtaposition of distress and seduction, putting Kate in tiny cotton tanks and silk underwear, some of it from a sex shop on Brewer Street. In the finished editorial, Kate, silhouetted by a string of multicolored Christmas lights, looked frail and lost.

Egon Schiele, Nude With Blue Stockings Bending Forward, 1912

To end, here are some lyrics from the song which inspired me to write this post in the first place: “Lipgloss” by Pulp:

No wonder you’re looking thin,
When all that you live on is lipgloss and cigarettes.
And scraps at the end of the day when he’s given the rest,
To someone with long black hair.
All those nights up making such a mess of the bed.
Oh you never ever want to go home.

Egon Schiele, Sitting Female Nude with Yellow Blanket, 1910

Egon Schiele, Lovemaking, 1915

 

Kate Moss and Johnny Depp by Annie Leibovitz, 1994

Egon Schiele, Lovers – Self-Portrait With Wally, c. 1914-1915, gouache and pencil on paper

Ode to Manic Street Preachers: 21 Years of Living and Nothing Means Anything To Me

22 Feb

Today is a very important day for me, almost like a second birthday to me. On this day, 22nd February, five years ago I discovered my favourite band: Manic Street Preachers. It was a life changing moment for me. I remember it well, and I don’t remember the moment I discovered every single band; on that grey late winter morning I first listened to their song Little Baby Nothing. I found it catchy but nothing more. The video featured only the singer, and the mystery of the band was yet to unravel. I ended up listening to it many times that morning and that same afternoon I was already listening to their first album obsessively over and over again, and then the second and the third….

Manic Street Preachers are a Welsh band formed in 1986, and originally consisted of four guys, James Dean Bradfield, Richey Edwards, Nicky Wire and Sean Moore who were mates since they were kids. The band is still active, although without Richey Edwards who disappeared in February 1995. The band truly sprang from their lovely friendships and a shared feeling of angst, frustration of living in a small town and love for rock ‘n’ roll and literature. I love the fact that they had and have such nice, warm and lasting friendships, and I dreamed of having that myself. They released their first single “Suicide Alley” in 1988, and both the song and the cover photo were an unmistakable homage to one band they loved and looked up to: The Clash. In January 1991 they released a significant single that musically and lyrically served as a prelude for things which were to come: “Motown Junk” which shows both the band’s disdain for old music (the title is a reference to Motown classics) and their love for the American hip-hop group Public Enemy whose sampling serves as the intro for “Motown Junk”. The lyrics show the typical teenage boredom and saturation with culture and everything else:

Never ever wanted to be with you,
The only thing you gave me was the boredom I suffocated in,
Adrift in cheap dreams don’t stop the rain,
Numbed out in piss towns,
Just want to dig their graves

Motown, Motown junk
I laughed when Lennon got shot,
Twenty one years of living and nothing means anything to me.

The same year they started releasing singles such as “Love’s Sweet Exile”, “You Love Us” and “Stay Beautiful” to name a few, that were to become songs on their infamous debut album “Generation Terrorists” released in February the following year.

Bored, alienated, angry, smart and glamorous, a self-proclaimed “mess of eyeliner and spraypaint”, in the early 1990s the Manics were a band that everyone loved to hate, and they, by no surprise, hated everyone in return. They despised their surroundings and deemed everything worthless and even slagged off the bands whose records they owned, such as The Stone Roses. Even the negativity of the song “Motown Junk” is just a performance because Richey later admitted to liking the Supremes and Otis Redding, saying that “everyone has a softer side”. Manics’ original plan was to make a double album which would sell 16 million copies and reach Number 1 worldwide. After they achieved their grand plan, they’d split up, declaring “The most important thing we can do is get massive and then throw it all away.” The album failed miserably in America where grunge bands like Pearl Jam and Nirvana were all the rage. Their debut album was an eclectic collage of everything they loved and everything that inspired them. A true musical diary of miserable teenage years; sadness and boredom coated in glamour.

Nicky with their first album, photo by Tom Sheehan, found here.

It brought everything I needed and wanted into my life; the combination of angry guitars and intellectual lyrics, provocative videos and interviews, stylish “glam-twins” as Richey and Nicky were called, wearing black eyeliner and tight white jeans. And the album had a slight over the top-DIY feel to it; as the British magazine The Quietus said later on: “It had to sound passé, it had to be overdone; if you’re trying to bulldoze the shiny edifice of western pop culture, you can’t do it tastefully or with subtlety, can you?” That’s exactly what instantly appealed to me about the Manics; their mix of trashiness with an intellectual knowledgeable basis. They could be giving slightly arrogant provocative statements in press or be deliberately shocking in videos, blending genders and adding a hint of eroticism, but in reality they were well-read and thoughtful individuals, and this combination together gives a whole different appeal than the bigmouth Liam Gallagher in his interviews where every other sentence is “d’ya know what I mean?” The theme of the lyrics switches back and forth from the criticism of capitalism and materialism to more introspective topics which were to prevail in albums to come.

A still from the video “Love’s Sweet Exile”

I was a shy, bookish and slightly clueless individual, and discovering Manics was like getting a direction in life, or more like a guidance on how to be a teenager from someone who knows it all too well. At first I was so captivated by the music alone that I stopped doing everything else, suddenly nothing mattered and I lived through their music, voraciously watched their interviews, read articles about them, searched their photographs, and even ceased writing posts for a while. I spent the next few months in a trance, living in the melodies and lyrics. As time passed, this mad blind passion did not subside but rather branched into more interests; I began to take some of my classes in grammar school seriously, I rediscovered my love for writing essays, I relished in studying sociology and politics because it all led me to the Manics again.

With all the cultural references included in their songs, listening to Manic Street Preachers takes you on an exciting trip; poems by Rimbaud and Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road”; both awoke in me a wanderlust that I tried to tame with endless long walks on the meadows, woods and by the river. Walking around my boring humdrum small town and enjoying the rare delights of nature in it seemed to be the only thing that eased my restlessness and a sudden overflowing enthusiasm for life.

“I wanna sing about a culture that says nothing. I wanna say the fact that basically all your life you’re treated like a nobody.” (Richey)

I craved excitement, and every new day brought the possibility of it. Rimbaud made me daydream of freedom and an idyll of the countryside with its barley fields and murmuring brooks, and Kerouac on the other hand, with his sad and romantic tales of trips around America and wild adventures with his eccentric friends, left me with a glamorous vision of the world which still hasn’t left me. The melodies of Manics’ songs followed me on every step. At home I would sit on my windowsill and write poetry, getting lost in the beauty of pink sunsets and spring rains, the smell of the lilac tree in my garden would make me delirious. I listened to the Manics every single day, and they took me on a glorious ‘book adventure’; I wanted to read everything that inspired Richey, and I did. I wanted to read everything Richey read and enjoyed, and thanks to him I have discovered some wonderful books which have become my personal favourites: “No Longer Human” by Osamu Dazai, “Thirst for love” by Yukio Mishima, “Naomi” by Junichiro Tanizaki, Vladimir Nabokov’s “Lolita”, plays by Tennessee Williams, “1984” by George Orwell, “The Rules of Attraction” by Breat Eason Ellis etc.

Manics sparked in me a desire for self-expression, thirst for knowledge and taught me critical thinking. In my school essays I saw a unique opportunity to express my thoughts, and so I wrote them with passion. It’s a bit ironic, because the Manics were so miserable and depressed in their early years, but they gave me a lust for life, a passion, a purpose, and during that short period in time, I really saw life through rose-tinted glasses, and I was unbelievably self-confident and carefree. Their music filled me with passion that inspired me to write this blog, and even gave me a direction; I had found my mission at last. Everything had a strong impact on me; a song, a colour, a sunset, a line in a poem. I felt like I was on an acid trip every day. The awakening of nature in spring coincided with the awakening of my soul: I felt as if I had lifted the misty veil of childhood and entered the teenage years.

I have a very childlike rage, and a very childlike loneliness. (Richey)

Richey became my teacher and I was a diligent pupil, learning not only the books and politics, but also the art of being melancholy and glamorous. My lessons on Orwell and Dazai would be incomplete had I not mastered the art of putting on a black eyeliner around my eyes and donned something appropriate on. It’s clear by now from the pictures that Manics loved looking cool and expressing themselves through clothes too. They changed fashion styles from album to album, and I love their first glam phase the most when they wore white jeans, leopard print coats, shirts with floral prints or hand written slogans such as “Death Sentence Heritage”, “I hate American rock”, “Rock ‘n’ Roll suicide”, “Sensitivity”, “Spectators of suicide” and “Culture of destruction”, bracelets, messy hair, and occasionally red lipstick too.

Richey and Nicky were a perfect pair of faces to have on the wall of my bedroom where I simply sat and read and did things that are generally in life considered to be rather negative, just as Morrissey said in one interview. I like pretty things, and Richey was unbelievably gorgeous in all the pictures I’ve seen. His face, with dark doe eyes and a sad gaze appeared as melancholy as Modigliani’s portraits of Jeanne Hebuterne, and with his killer cheekbones he looked as heroin chic as Kate Moss, whose picture he liked to gaze at. This is what Richey had to say about fashion: “If you’re hopelessly depressed like I was, then dressing up is just the ultimate escape. When I was young I just wanted to be noticed. Nothing could excite me except attention so I’d dress up as much as I could. Outrage and boredom just go hand in hand.”

Manics sounded great, looked great, and had plenty to say in interviews, and it was all too easy to fall in love with them.

I found this somewhere on tumblr years ago, and it couldn’t be more true for me, hell I didn’t even wear eyeliner before them!

As I already said, the first song I heard by the Manics was Little Baby Nothing. It’s a really catchy tune with a colourful video full of slogans and it’s a duet with ex-porn star Traci Lords which is really appropriate because the idea that influenced that song was cheap sex, that is, the sexual exploitation of women: “Your beauty and virginity used like toys (…) little baby nothing/ loveless slavery, lips kissing empty/ dress your life in loathing…” Manics needed a symbol, somebody that could sing the lyrics and represent them simultaneously. In an interview from 1992, Nicky said the song was about “a woman who had power and intelligence and was used by men”. I love the part sang by Traci Lords:

My mind is dead, everybody loves me
Wants a slice of me
Hopelessly passive and compatible
Need to belong, oh the roads are scary
So hold me in your arms
I want to be your only possession

No god reached me, faded films and loving books
Black and white TV
All the world does not exist for me
And if I’m starving, you can feed me lollipops
Your diet will crush me
My life just an old man’s memory

And the line “Moths broken up, quenched at last” is an interesting one and a direct reference to Tennessee Williams’s poem “Lament for Months” which meant a lot to the Manics, especially to Richey Edwards, about the moths who are drawn to light which ultimately kills them, there’s that delicacy in moths. I know I’ve focused on their first album a lot in this ode, but it’s just because it was the first album I have listened to and the aim of this post was to share my memories of discovering Manics. I really love their second and third album as well, as well as many songs from all the following albums, but I am a fan of their early years when Richey was still in the band and his influence was evident, both lyrically and stylistically; he was the most glamorous of them four.

Now let me share some of my favourite lyrics, first from the song “Stay Beautiful”:

Find your faith in your security
All broken up at seventeen
Jam your brain with broken heroes
Love your masks and adore your failure

(…)

Your school your dole and your chequebook dreams
Your clothes your suits and your pension schemes
Now you say you know how we feel
But don’t fall in love cos we hate you still

From the song 4st. 7lbs:

I wanna be so skinny that I rot from view

I want to walk in the snow
And not leave a footprint
I want to walk in the snow
And not soil its purity…..

I choose my choice, I starve to frenzy
Hunger soon passes and sickness soon tires
Legs bend, stockinged I am Twiggy
And I don’t mind the horror that surrounds me

Self-worth scatters, self-esteem’s a bore
I long since moved to a higher plateau
This discipline’s so rare so please applaud…

Yeah 4st. 7, an epilogue of youth
Such beautiful dignity in self-abuse
I’ve finally come to understand life
Through staring blankly at my navel

Nicky Wire in 1994

Wreckage inside all that’s real
Another bought product, no reality
Passive consumers with patrolled desires
Mindless countdown to retirement
(Methadone Pretty)

Richey with Nicky Wire, photographed for Select magazine in London, United Kingdom, 30 April 1993

My favourite from the second album is “From Despair to Where” which is also a single. It’s a song that, according to Richey, refers to the western concept of despair which isn’t realistic because everybody has a good living conditions compared to the third world countries, but most of the people feel disappointed with their lives for they didn’t reach any kind of fulfillment what so ever, they just feel let down; by life, universe, society, by the impossible dreams they had built themselves. As Richey said in an interview: “Everyone feels that melancholia regularly.”

I write this alone on my bed
I’ve poisoned every room in my house
The place is quiet and so alone
Pretend there’s something worth waiting for.
There’s nothing nice in my head
The adult world took it all away
Wake up with the same spit in my mouth
Cannot tell if it’s real or not.

Richey and Nicky looking elegantly wasted, by Kevin Cummins for NME cover 1991

Song “She bathed herself in a bath of bleach” is from the album “Journal for Plague Lovers” released on 18 May 2009 (the anniversary of Ian Curtis’ suicide), and all the songs on the album were written by Richey Edwards, the lyrics he left behind before he disappeared.

She’d walk on broken glass for love
She thought burnt skin would please her lover
To keep love alive and lust beside
Kind people should never be treated like
Empty arms and naked heart
The love she sought through faltering thought
Table for two, such a sweet delight
Whispers “I love you my darling” tonight

Song “Hibernation” is a B-side to “From Despair to Where” and it shows Richey’s vision of adulthood; its chase for money, pointlessness and marriage without love, life with no flair and lived like a repetitive routine of boredom:

This stage of our career
Things get tight
A ring helps get a mortgage

To move out of daddy’s home
Get a bigger car
Easy access to the city

I can read the papers in peace
And laugh at the homeless
I know my friends criticize

But we get by OK
So what if there’s no emotion
We can wake up anywhere

There’s never a row
No time for a kiss
When you’ve got schedules to meet
Trivialities seem so cheap

This is above love
This is more than real
This is all there is
This is as good as it gets-
Intense morality parades

 

Listening to the Manics now, after five years, is a nostalgic experience, and to end this ode I chose a song called “This is the day” which deals with a similar theme. It was originally written by the band The The in 1983, not the Manics, but if you watch the video, you’ll see how much it means to them because they’re remembering Richey and their early days. And this line is specially meaningful for me: “And all the money in the world couldn’t bring back those days”. Sometimes I wish my mind was a tabula rasa again and I could have the pleasure of discovering the Manics, Kerouac and Rimbaud for the first time, and to feel that rapture again!!! I am the kind of person who has been in search of lost times since she was five so even if I am very happy now I tend to be especially nostalgic for everything that passes.  So, to me, this video represents not only the history of the band, but also the history of my love for the bend:

You didn’t wake up this morning cause you didn’t go to bed.
You were watching the whites of your eyes turn red.
The calendar on your wall is ticking the days off.
You’ve been reading some old letters,
You smile and you think how much you’ve changed,
And all the money in the world couldn’t bring back those days.

You pull back the curtains, and the sun burns into your eyes,
You watch a plane flying, across a clear blue sky.
This is the day your life will surely change.
This is the day when things fall into place.

You could’ve done anything, if you’d wanted
And all your friends and family think that you’re lucky,
But the side of you they’ll never see
Is when you’re left alone with the memories
That hold your life together, together like glue.

I believe I would have been a different person today had I not discovered Manic Street Preachers. They appealed to me so much because of things that were inherently in me, but they also shaped the way I see life and world, and art to an enormous extend and I am endlessly grateful for that!

Manic Street Preachers – Little Baby Nothing

10 Feb

I often share poems on my blog, but why not share the lyrics of a rock song? As far as I’m concerned, their artistic value is the same, and often the lyrics of The Smiths, Manics, Syd Barrett etc. hold more meaning to me and I can relate to them more than I can to ‘classic’ poetry. Little Baby Nothing is THE first song by the Manic Street Preachers that I’ve listened to, and what can I say – it was love at first sight (or first hearing). Today marks the 27th anniversary of their debut album Generation Terrorists. This is not my favourite song by the Manics, nor my favourite video, but objectively looking I think the lyrics are amazing and every line is perfect. Some of their lyrics, specially from The Holy Bible, can be a bit confusing, although they sound great accompanied by the music, but ‘Little Baby Nothing’ can be read on its own, like poetry and it would still be as meaningful. In their interview from 1992, Nicky Wire said that ‘men are the most horrible creatures because they use women’ and that the song is about a woman who had power and intelligence and was used by men. Therefore, having Traci Lords to sing some lines was more symbolic than anything, and they felt she could identify with the lyrics. One of their later songs, Yes, also deals with the exploitation of women, but it also says that every time you say ‘yes’ to something you don’t want to do, it’s also a form of prostituting yourself. And of course, the glorious line ‘Culture, Alienation, Boredom, and Despair‘ which perfectly sums everything that their early songs were about.

Here’s what Traci Lords said about Richey and the song: “He reminded me of a young David Bowie: very avant-garde, and there was something quite feminine about him. He was very soft-spoken, and struck me as being vulnerable, almost birdlike. He definitely came across as someone who was living in a glass-house, in some sort of fragile state. I thought he was lovely. He never spoke to me about why he wanted me to sing on ‘Little Baby Nothing’ – it wasn’t until later that I read his reasons for it. It’s funny because I saw Richey as someone who was very vulnerable, and that’s how he saw me“. (NME, 14 February 2015)

I’m glad they chose Traci Lords, not only because she totally fits with the lyrics, but also because I’ve liked her ever since I watched ‘Cry-Baby’ (1990), I thought she was the coolest character in the film! And judging her character and morality based on her ex-porn-star career would be hypocritical and immature. Even the Manics said in the same interview that she was the most intelligent American they’ve ever met in their lives!

Egon Schiele, Woman in Black Stockings, 1913

“No one likes looking at you
Your lack of ego offends male mentality
They need your innocence
To steal vacant love and to destroy
Your beauty and virginity used like toys

My mind is dead, everybody love’s me
Wants a slice of me
Hopelessly passive and compatible
Need to belong, oh the roads are scarey
So hold me in your arms
I wanna be your only possession

Used, used, used by men
Used, used, used by men

All they leave behind is money
Paper made out of broken twisted trees
Your pretty face offends
Because it’s something real that I can’t touch
Eyes, skin, bone, contour, language as a flower

No god reached me, faded films and loving books
Black and white TV
All the world does not exist for me
And if I’m starving, you can feed me lollipops
Your diet will crush me
My life just an old man’s memory

Little baby nothing
Loveless slavery, lips kissing empty
Dress your life in loathing
Breaking your mind with Barbie Doll futility

Little baby nothing
Sexually free, made-up to breakup
Assassinated beauty
Moths broken up, quenched at last
The vermin allowed a thought to pass them by

You are pure, you are snow
We are the useless sluts that they mould
Rock ‘n’ roll is our epiphany
Culture, alienation, boredom and despair

You are pure, you are snow
We are the useless sluts that they mould
Rock ‘n’ roll is our epiphany
Culture, alienation, boredom and despair

Egon Schiele, Blonde Girl in Underwear (Blondes Mädchen im Unterhemd), 1913

Now, who’s to say something can’t be aesthetically pleasing and have a strong social message at the same time?

Did I also mention that the video is cool? Well, check it out and decide for yourself.