Tag Archives: Manic Street Preachers

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!

Advertisements

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.

Henry Wallis – The Death of Chatterton

23 Sep

Today we’ll take a look at a painting which I loved recently; “The Death of Chatterton” painted in 1856 by a Pre-Raphaelite painter Henry Wallis. The painting’s romantic, melancholy mood and vibrant colours are perfect to celebrate the first day of autumn; the most romantical of all the seasons.

Henry Wallis, The Death of Chatterton, 1856, Tate Britain version

Pale rays of the morning sun are coming in through the window of this shabby little garret. A young man is lying on the bed, but he isn’t in the world of dreams, in the usual slumber we mortals are well acquainted with. His pale grayish skin and hand hanging limply and touching the floor tell us that his soul is now wandering the dark avenues of the world of the death; no bird song, no caress or soft whisper of a loved one’s voice shall ever awaken those eyes to see and mouth to speak again. Through the window stretches a view of London; a city of possibilities, a city of despair, a city which brought nothing but disappointment and misery to this poor red-haired sleeping angel. Not many possessions he had in his poorly furnished attic room; a box lies next to his bed full of papers, some torn to pieces and some survived with words full of secrets. A chair with a red coat on it. Dark dirty wall full of cracks and a round little table. One can imagine the eerie silence hanging in that room like a cloud.

The dead young man here is the eighteenth century poet Thomas Chatterton who died in London in 1770 at the age of seventeen by poisoning himself with arsenic in the fit of despair. Although poor, he was very clever and not only ambitious, but, unfortunately for him, quite romantic too; when his idealism was shattered, the pink clouds of his dreams tainted by reality’s grey long-fingered nails, he saw death as the only escape. He is now considered an early romantic, and with his interest in Medieval literature and his short life laced with mysteries, Chatterton was admired by Romantic poets such as William Wordsworth, Percy Bysshe Shelley, and John Keats. And yet, no one glamourised his life with such intensity as Wallis here in this painting. Victorian group of painters, the Pre-Raphaelites were visual continuators of the idealism and dreaminess of the Romantic poetry; not in the form of beautiful and sensuous language but in vibrant colours and intricate detailing. Not only the subject alone, that of a Romantic martyr for art, but the method and style of the painting with its emphasis on details and usage of vibrant colours connect Wallis to the Pre-Raphaelites.

Can we take a moment to appreciate just how gorgeous and vivid these colours are, and how beautiful his corpse looks dressed in those lapis lazuli coloured trousers and masses of auburn hair. How serene he looks after a life of suffering in this cruel world. His shirt is unbuttoned, one shoe fell on the floor, and there is a bottle, presumably of arsenic that rolled out of his hand. In the Birmingham version of the painting, his trousers appear more violet in colour, which makes a tremendous difference 😉 .

Henry Wallis, The Death of Chatterton, 1856, Birmingham version

The dazzling chiaroscuro, a method which Wallis loved, with the lightness falling on the body while the rest of the garret is in half-darkness only intensifies the emotional dimension of the painting. It is impossible not to feel gentleness, empathy, and also a sense of sacredness. The model for Chatterton was George Meredith, a poet and a novelist whose wife had an affair with Wallis just two years after this was painted, ouch, I wouldn’t want to be in his shoes. The Christ-like pose of the cadaver has since brought comparisons to religious art, such as Michelangelo’s “Pietà”. For Romanticists and Pre-Raphaelites, the artist was a secularised Christ-like figure, a dreamer, an idealist and a lover of beauty tortured by the unkind world. Therefore, Henry Wallis’s painting of Chatterton holds a deeper significance and meaning than a usual historical painting would; it isn’t just a portrait of a poet who had died the century before, it is an icon for all who believe in the religion of Art and Beauty.

There is an interesting anecdote from Chatterton’s life which occurred three days before he died; he was walking with his friend along the St Pancras Churchyard (the same one where Percy Shelley had nocturnal love meetings with Mary), lost in his thoughts the young poet fell into an open grave. His friend joked about it by saying he’d be delighted to help resurrect a genius from the grave, to which Chatterton replied: “My dear friend, I have been at war with the grave for some time now.” Just three days later, on 24th August 1770, he was dead.

This painting with the theme of suicide reminded me of the Manic Street Preachers’s song “Suicide is Painless”:

Through early morning fog I see
Visions of the things to be
The pains that are withheld for me
I realize and I can see
That suicide is painless
It brings on many changes
I can take or leave it if I please
That game of life is hard to play
I’m gonna lose it anyway
The losing card of some delay
So this is all I have to say
That suicide is painless
….
That suicide is painless
It brings on many changes
And you can do the same thing if you please…

Jean-Louis Forain – Elegant Woman at the Beach

22 Feb

‘Adrift in cheap dreams don’t stop the rain.’ (Manic Street Preachers – Motown Junk)

1885-jean-louis-forain-elegant-woman-at-the-beach-1885Jean-Louis Forain, Elegant Woman at the Beach, 1885

The colours and the mood of this painting instantly attracted me. An elegant lady is trying to leave the beach as quick as possible, to avoid the upcoming storm, but the wind is not making it easy for her. Exuding sophistication and class, she must be a Parisian lady who came to the seaside on holiday, hoping to find some peace from the stresses of modern life. Instead of enjoying a picturesque sunny day at the beach, with smiling white clouds and a clear blue sky, she’s welcomed by a turbulent sea and an overcast day, oh how aggravating!

Let’s imagine her name is Celestine, and that this is a one of those sudden storms at the height of Summer, let’s imagine it’s one Thursday afternoon in July. So, Celestine is in a hurry, because she knows that even cheap dreams don’t stop the rain. It seems that just a second ago she lifted her arms and dropped her umbrella, quick not to allow the wind to take over her lovely bonnet. We can see the direction the wind is blowing because the ends of her coat are turned upwards and her red scarf, painted in just few dabs of rich cherry colour, is dancing on the wind. Her vibrant garnet red dress and a navy blue coat stand out amidst all that greyness, which irresistibly reminds me of Anna Karina’s blue and red outfits against the backdrop of grey Parisian streets in Godard’s film ‘Une Femme est Une Femme’. Swift, thick and short brushstrokes are present everywhere, but most notably on her skirt, where the black and red seem to be battling for dominance over the fabric.

I’m sure Celestine would like me to talk more about that lovely outfit that she put together for a walk at the beach, but I think the sea and the beach itself deserve a moment of attention and appreciation. As Forain was an Impressionist, and a friend of Manet and Degas who even invited him to exhibit on the Impressionist exhibitions, he wanted to capture the mood, the magic effects of light and air, rather than perfect details and realistic portrayal of landscape. His careless brushwork and the illusion that everything was painted hastily, as a sketch, all bring to life the atmosphere of that gloomy afternoon: we witness the white clouds being devoured by the dark-grey ones, with almost a purplish undertone to them, we see the wind as it tries to blow Celestine’s bonnet, and probably carries the tiny particles of sand in her eyes, and the sea – we can hear the clasps of waves, and see their strength, beauty and naughty playfulness. This is a moment captured in time, like a photograph. And do I sense a spirit of Turner or Whistler in that portrayal of sea?

It’s hard to notice the line which separates the sandy beach and the sea, but this vagueness delights me. There’s a chair next to the lady, also painted in quick brushstrokes, and two small figures in the background. Sea is painted in beautiful sea foam colour. All in all, the beauty of this painting, for me, lies in its quick, exciting, playful brushstrokes and a gorgeous colour palette in which harmony of greys meets the vibrancy of reds and blues.

Rain, storm, and a desolate beach – my idea of heaven, or at least a perfect afternoon.

Manic Street Preachers – Little Baby Nothing

8 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 ha ha). This Friday, 10th February, will mark the 25th 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!

1913-woman-in-black-stockings-egon-schieleEgon 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

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.

Egon Schiele – Melancholic Sunflowers

19 Mar

Egon Schiele was just one of many painters who gave identity to sunflowers; he painted them laden with a heavy burden of melancholy and alienation. Gazing at Schiele’s sunflowers, for me, raises an awareness of the haunting fragility of life. I hope you’re intrigued by the oxymoron in the title.

1911. Sunflowers, by Egon SchieleEgon Schiele, Sunflowers, 1911

Artist most widely associated with the sunflower motif is Vincent van Gogh, who painted the flowers using quick, ecstatic brushstrokes, in thick coat of intense, almost fire-like, burning yellow-orange colour, their petals almost dissolving on canvas, and saw them as symbols of blinding sun which, in the end, causes madness, or even death. While his vision of sunflowers may have something to do with his over indulgence in absinthe and the fervent sun of Arles, Egon Schiele’s sunflowers are pure sceneries of the soul.

Schiele’s sunflower scenes are gentle portraits of human alienation. He was twenty-one years old when he painted this painting, titled simply ‘Sunflowers’ (1911), but he already showed a profound interest and understanding of the world and society around him. At the age of fifteen Schiele lost his father to syphilis, and he quickly took off the rose-tinted glasses of childhood and became an adult, or at least he tried. My point is that his work is very mature and thoughtful. His self-portraits from the same year show his pondering on the question of identity, and his place in the society. In the same way, these sunflowers here represent the state of his soul, not the scenery he saw before him.

1911. Sunflowers - Egon Schiele Egon Schiele, Sunflowers, 1911

In 1913, Schiele wrote to an art collector Franz Hauer: ‘I also do studies, but I find, and know, that copying from nature is meaningless to me, because I paint better pictures from memory, as a vision of the landscape – now, I mainly observe the physical movements of mountains, water, tress and flowers. Everywhere one is reminded of similar movements made by human bodies, similar stirrings of pleasure and pain in plants. Painting is not enough for me; I am aware that one can use colours to establish qualities. – When one sees a tree autumnal in summer, it is an intense experience that involves one’s whole heart and being; and I should like to paint that melancholy.*

The melancholy that Schiele so eloquently described in the letter (he was a poet as well), is exactly the feeling which overwhelms me when I look at this painting. In stingy colours, using light brushstrokes Schiele created a true psychological study. His sunflowers appear tired and weary at first sight, and believe me, the second sight only intensifies the first one. Murky yellows, muddy browns, shades of green – neither of which is fresh or relaxing, all indicate a certain fatigue of the soul, decay of traditional values. Notice the sparse petals: some are missing while others are wildly protruding. Their stems are weak, dry, directionless, about to break – ‘heads’ of sunflowers resemble a tired head of a disappointed, forlorn man carried on fragile shoulders. The scene inevitably reminds me of these verses ‘Broken thoughts run through your empty mind‘ and ‘Endless hours in bed, no peace, in this mind/ No one knows the hell where innocence dies‘, again by Manic Street Preachers (Sleepflower). I may be aggravating with these verses, but I think similar themes often occur in many artworks, regardless of the time-period and style, don’t you?

1908. Sunflower - Egon SchieleEgon Schiele, Sunflower, 1908

A poem that would go well with Schiele’s vision of sunflowers:

Georg Trakl: The Sunflowers

You golden sunflowers,
Feelingly bowed to die,
You humble sisters
In such silence
Ends Helian’s year
Of mountainous cool.
And the kisses
Make pale his drunken brow
Amidst those golden
Flowers of melancholy
The spirit is ruled
By silent darkness.

1906. Gustav Klimt - The Sunflower, 1906, Oil on Canvas. 110 x 110 cmGustav Klimt, The Sunflower, 1906, Oil on Canvas. 110 x 110 cm

Unlike Schiele’s isolated sunflowers, imbued with sadness, Klimt’s sunflowers have a mystical aura about them. He painted these sunny flowers incorporated in garden scenes. Whereas Schiele isolated his sunflowers, exposed their anguished heads and tired stems, Klimt’s fear of ‘horror vacui’, ‘fear of empty space’, drove his to fill the entire surface of his garden scenes with flowers, whether in form of tiny red dots and green dashes, or in a form of true flowers such as sunflowers. Klimt painted them with their heads looking in different directions, their green leafs dancing in the wind like tulle skirts. Jewish Hungarian journalist and author, Lajos Hevesi (1843-1910), noticed the contrast between bright yellow petals and ‘dark and mysterious’ inner space. Their appearance resembles the solar eclipse. Sunflowers did have a cosmic meaning to Klimt after all.

1913. Farm Garden with Sunflowers, 1913 by Gustav KlimtGustav Klimt, Farm Garden with Sunflowers, 1913

Vincent van Gogh – Almond Blossoms or ‘Fragile Beauty’

12 Mar

A few days ago I nicked a branch of an apple tree from someone’s garden. It looked lovely in my vase, but the whiteness and delicacy of the blossoms didn’t last very long, and my ‘stolen good’ quickly withered. First sight of this apple blossoms reminded me of Vincent van Gogh’s painting ‘Almond Blossom’.

1890. Branches with Almond Blossom by Vincent van GoghVincent van Gogh, Almond Blossom, 1890

Vincent van Gogh painted his painting ‘Almond Blossom’ in February 1890, during his stay in Saint Remy hospital. He obviously had an urge to capture the nature’s awakening because he painted the almond blossoms on many occasions. Vincent painted this particular blue version, this artistic ‘vignette’ to commemorate the birth of his nephew; son of his brother Theo and his wife Johanna. Lush white blossoms are sprouting from what were, not that long ago, just a few frozen branches, and, like heralds of spring, they announce the beginning of new life. These almond blossoms are symbols of fertility, new life and new beginnings – both in nature and referring to his little nephew. This is what Vincent wrote to his mother, on 20 February 1890;

Dear Mother,

I intended to answer your letter many days ago, but I could not bring myself to write, as I sat painting from morning to evening, and thus the time passed. I imagine that, like me, your thoughts are much with Jo and Theo (…) I started right away to make a picture for him (the nephew), to hang in their bedroom, big branches of white almond blossom against a blue sky.*

Alongside almond blossoms and their symbolism, there are other interesting elements of this painting. Firstly, the gorgeous cerulean or sky blue (as you wish) that graces the background. Secondly, calm and confident brushstrokes which, knowing van Gogh’s passionate nature, most have required some restraining and admirable patience.  Painting ‘Almond Blossoms’ always reminds me of these verses:

One day I realise oil on canvas
Can never paint a petal so so delicate‘ (Manic Street Preachers – Life Becoming a Landslide)

I agree with this thesis; tree in bloom is surely a lovelier scene in nature than on canvas. But if there’s one painter capable of beautifully capturing the delicacy of the almond blossoms, it’s Vincent van Gogh.

When I gazed at my apple blossoms in the vase, I was saddened by their decay. And then a though occurred – I realised what the Japanese were on about with their cherry blossom viewing. The beauty of flowers lies in their transience. Every spring flowers adorn the tree branches, but for Vincent the spring of 1890 was the last one of his life (he died in July 1890). Next year almond trees blossomed again, in the radiant sun of Provence, but Vincent wasn’t there to witness and admire their fragile beauty.