Tag Archives: music

Sepulchral Cover of Joy Division’s Closer (1980)

18 May

Ian Curtis, the singer, songwriter and the front man of British post-punk band Joy Division took his life on the 18th May 1980, two months shy of his twenty-forth birthday. The second and last album of Joy Division, conveniently named “Closer” because it truly brought a sense of closure, an ending, was released on 18 July 1980; three days after Ian Curtis would have usually celebrate his birthday. In a way, for Curtis at least (other band members were still alive), this album was release posthumously. Since today is the 40th anniversary of Curtis’ death, I decided the explore the art behind the album cover of “Closer”.

Joy Division, Closer, 1980, album cover designed by Peter Saville (Factory Records)

Existence well what does it matter?
I exist on the best terms I can
The past is now part of my future,
The present is well out of hand
The present is well out of hand…

(Heart and Soul)

Life goes on, music scene goes on, even the other band members went on with their music and formed a new band, New Order, but for Joy Division the “Closer” marks an ending and the album cover is eerily appropriate. The black and white design of the album features the title “Closer” and under it there’s a sombre and gloomy photograph of a tomb. The photograph of the tomb used for the album cover was taken in 1978 by Bernard Pierre Wolff. The tomb was sculpted by Demetrio Paernio in 1910 for the Appiani family tomb in the Monumental Cemetery of Staglieno in Genoa, Italy. Paernio (1851-1914) was an Italian sculptor who designed and carved a plethora of tombs for the Staglieno cemetery, but the Appiani family tomb seems especially eerie and gloomy, and therefore fitting for the album of “Closer”.

The tomb shows a man lying on a catafalque, surrounded by his grieving family members. The gestures of the figures presented truly bring the mood of melancholy and anguish; one woman has thrown herself on the ground, from agony and pain of the loss, while the other two are kneeling down, the one in the middle covered her face in her hand, unable to face sad reality of the situation. Looking at the actual, less-artistic photograph of the tomb bellow, it seems to me that the person deceased could be Giovanni who died in 1907. The tomb was designed in 1910, but I am sure that the artist’s commission takes time, especially if it’s a sculpture which requires time and effort. Paernio beautifully depicted the tragedy of the grieving family through the gestures and poses, but also through the clothes; the creases and fluid lines of their robes appear so vivid and alive. This is definitely not a stiff looking tomb, it’s full of emotions, tragedy and passion. I can imagine how morbidly beautiful and magical it would look surrounded by candles and flowers, in autumnal dusk when distant sky is a greyish with a tinge of pink.

Appiani family tomb. Picture found here.

This is a crisis I knew had to come,
Destroying the balance I’d kept.
Doubting, unsettling and turning around,
Wondering what will come next.
Is this the role that you wanted to live?
I was foolish to ask for so much.
Without the protection and infancy’s guard,
It all falls apart at first touch.

(Passover)

This is what the designer Peter Saville had to say about the process of choosing a picture for the cover: “(Saville) revealed that the photos came from a very trendy art magazine called Zoom that had been lying around his studio in London. He later told Mojo magazine: “Bernard Pierre Wolff had done a series of photographs in a cemetery in Italy. I don’t know to this day whether they were real or not – some of them you thought, he’s set that up – that’s just models, covered in dust.” Well, the image wasn’t staged, it was in fact a beautifully carved tombstone, situated in the Staglieno cemetery in Genova, Northern Italy. The tomb belongs to the Appiani family and the incredible marble work was created by sculptor Demetrio Paernio in 1910. Saville explained that Joy Division manager Rob Gretton brought the band to see him to discuss the artwork while they were making the LP: “I hadn’t heard anything they’d recorded so I said ‘I’ll show you what I’ve seen recently that has thrilled me’.” He then showed the band the spread of photos by Wolff that covered several pages in the magazine: “I thought the band would laugh, but they were enthralled. They said ‘We’ – that’s ‘we’ – ‘like that one’.” (quote found here)

All in all, I think the choice of the black and white photograph of this beautiful Appiani tomb was perfect for the album cover, sepulchral, melancholy and Gothic it fits the mood of the music, the lyrics and the overall mood surrounding the band, not to mention the coincidence that the front man of the band also committed suicide two months after the album was recorded and two months prior to its release. It’s almost like the veil of death and gloom lay over the making of “Closer”, like the fingers from another world, the ghostly world, participated in its making. Bernard Sumner, the guitarist of Joy Division and later New Order, spoke in October 2007 about the mindset of Ian Curtis during the recording sessions for “Closer”: “While we were working on Closer, Ian said to me that doing this album felt very strange, because he felt that all his words were writing themselves. He also said that he had this terrible claustrophobic feeling that he was in a whirlpool and being pulled down, drowning.

So this is permanent, love’s shattered pride.
What once was innocence, turned on its side.
A cloud hangs over me, marks every move,
Deep in the memory, of what once was love.
Oh how I realized how I wanted time,
Put into perspective, tried so hard to find,
Just for one moment, thought I’d found my way.
Destiny unfolded, I watched it slip away…
(Twenty Four Hours)

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.

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!

Franjo Krežma – Romance in F Major for Violin and Piano

14 Apr

The 19th century audience was fascinated with a virtuoso: a performer who possessed both the meticulous technical skill and inspired interpretation. Around 1830, the biggest stars were the pianist Franz Liszt and the violinist Niccolo Paganini; they travelled Europe, held concerts, had many female admirers, the rich lavished them with jewels…

The biggest Croatian violinist of the 19th century was a very young man called Franjo Krežma (1862-1881), whose career was brilliant yet short. He was immensely popular and immensely talented; he entered the music Conservatory of Vienna at the age of nine – and he was the youngest student ever to enter, and finished his studies at the age of thirteen. He travelled Europe and held concerts along with his sister Ana, a great pianist, in many cities, from Rome, Genoa and Venice to Paris and Prague. In his short life he met Franz Liszt and Verdi, and some even saw him as Paganini’s successor. Still, after holding a concert in Germany, he suddenly experienced a sharp pain in his ear, and died following a surgery. He was only eighteen and a half years old.

Olof Johan Södermark, Maria Mathilda Moll, 1840-48

The more I listen to this, the more I like it, and the daydreams it evokes are of the sweetest nature: I picture myself standing on the balcony, in Livorno or Naples, leaned on the balustrade, dressed in a long white silk gown, cooling my self with a fan and admiring the beauty of the sunset. Sky shines in colours of amethyst and jade, and its warm rich colour could only be compared to the canvases of Venetian masters. My view stretches from tall cypress trees on the left, to a dreamy kaleidoscope of little houses, all the way to the sea which glistens in the distance; its surface is dark and alluring, and I can’t wait to see it bathed in moonlight. The whiteness of my gown takes on golden shades from the last rays of sunshine.

For a moment, just after the sun has set and before the music begins, everything is peaceful. I can almost hear the ruby red roses breathing in the evening air and exhaling the most luxurious fragrance. I can hear the whispers of the lonely cypress trees. I feel a soft, velvety breeze coming from the sea. If I turn around, I’ll see the saloon bathed in lightness and vivacity; candles are flickering, people are chatting and laughing, air is coloured with magical sounds of violin and piano, but to me the solitude of the balcony is sweeter than honey. A heavy scent of orange trees and lavender permeates the cool nocturnal air…

This is my daydream, what is yours? No need to tell me, but please, close your eyes, and I’m sure you’ll see something beautiful.

British versus American Psychedelia

9 Jan

Last Summer I was intrigued to find out the differences between British and American Psychedelia. Whilst on a quest to study all the details, I listened to The Doors and Jim Morrison singing ‘Gloria’ while the last rays of sun peeked through my curtains in sunset, and I felt the gentle summer breeze, and I made these collages. But before I start, I want to say that these are my visions of psychedelia, so, if I failed to mention a particular band that’s because I didn’t listen to it. These are my observations, take it lightly.

***

British Psychedelia – Rose-Tinted Visions of the Past, Myths and Magic

“The underground exhibited a curious nostalgia, unusual in people so young. Living in tattered Victorian flats, smoking dope and rummaging for antiques on the Portobello Road, the underground pillaged their cultural history. Part romantics and part vandals, as they pulled away from their parents’ world, they embraced the shadow of their grandparents’ Victoriana, torn between an idealised future and rose-tinted visions of the past.” (Syd Barrett and Pink Floyd: Dark Globe by Julian Palacios)

British psychedelia is more whimsical and deeply rooted in ‘cheery domesticity and a fascination with childhood as a lost age of innocence'(*). It takes inspiration from Romantics and long-haired Pre-Raphaelite beauties, William Morris prints, tea parties, fairies and magic woodlands, love of nature with mystical overtones and books such as ‘The Golden Bough’ by James George Frazer, magical worlds created by Lewis Carrol, Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, songs about gnomes, fairies. It’s driven by a desire to go back to childhood and the past.

mood-board-british-psychedelia-1-text

Screaming through the starlit sky
Travelling by telephone.
Hey ho, here we go
Ever so high.‘ (Pink Floyd – Flaming)

mood-board-british-psychedelia-2-text

Put on a gown that touches the ground, ah ooh
Float on a river forever and ever, Emily
There is no other day
Let’s try it another way
You’ll lose your mind and play
Free games for may
See Emily play.‘ (Pink Floyd – See Emily Play)

mood-board-british-psychedelia-3-text

I want to tell you a story
About a little man
If I can.
A gnome named Grimble Grumble.
And little gnomes stay in their homes.
Eating, sleeping, drinking their wine.
He wore a scarlet tunic,
A blue green hood,
It looked quite good.
He had a big adventure
Amidst the grass
Fresh air at last.
Wining, dining, biding his time.
And then one day – hooray!‘ (Pink Floyd – The Gnome)

mood-board-british-psychedelia-4-text

The doll’s house, darkness, old perfume
And fairy stories held me high on
Clouds of sunlight floating by.‘ (Pink Floyd – Matilda Mother)

mood-board-british-psychedelia-5-text

All I need is your whispered hello
Smiles melting the snow, nothing heard
Your eyes, they’re deeper than time
Say a love that won’t rhyme without words.‘ (Small Faces – Tin Soldier)

mood-board-british-psychedelia-6-text***

American Psychedelia:

‘Are you a lucky little lady in the City of Light
Or just another lost angel?’ (The Doors – LA Woman)

Unlike British, American Psychedelia was driven by the anti-war protests, and teenagers wanted to have freedom and be adults, some even joined communes. As I see it, American psychedelia is all about sun, beach and rock ‘n’ roll. Colourful houses in San Francisco, whose beauty I’ve first encountered in Jack Kerouac’s writings. For me, American psychedelia is Jim Morrisson’s mystic poetry, mixing Indian shamanism and William Blake, it’s Roky Erickson screaming ‘You’re gonna miss me child yeah’ in the same named song by the 13th Floor Elevators, it’s Janis Joplin in vibrant clothes, singing about love in raw, husky voice, it’s the brightly coloured vans with peace signs, it’s The Byrds with their folk-sounds and cheerful guitars, the imagined sunsets on Ashbury Haigh.

mood-board-american-psychedelia-1-text

I see your hair is burnin’
Hills are filled with fire
If they say I never loved you
You know they are a liar
Drivin’ down your freeway
Midnight alleys roam
Cops in cars,
The topless bars
Never saw a woman…
So alone, so alone…‘ (The Doors – L.A. Woman)

mood-board-american-psychedelia-2-text

Unhappy girl
Tear your web away
Saw thru all your bars
Melt your cell today
You are caught in a prison
Of your own devise.‘ (The Doors – Unhappy Girl)

mood-board-american-psychedelia-3-text

She lives on Love Street
Lingers long on Love Street
She has a house and garden
I would like to see what happens

She has robes and she has monkeys
Lazy diamond studded flunkies
She has wisdom and knows what to do
She has me and she has you.‘ (The Doors – Love Street)

mood-board-american-psychedelia-4-text

Hey what’s your name?
How old are you?
Where’d you go to school?
Aha, yeah
Aha, yeah
Ah, ah yeah, ah yeah
Oh haa, mmm

Well, now that we know each other a little bit better,
Why don’t you come over here
Make me feel all right!

Gloria, gloria
Gloria, gloria
Gloria, gloria
All night, all day
All right, okey, yey!‘ (The Doors – Gloria, originally by Van Morrison)

mood-board-american-psychedelia-5-text

To everything – turn, turn, turn
There is a season – turn, turn, turn
And a time to every purpose under heaven

A time to be born, a time to die
A time to plant, a time to reap
A time to kill, a time to heal
A time to laugh, a time to weep.‘ (The Byrds – Turn, Turn, Turn)

mood-board-american-psychedelia-6-text

I’ve seen your face before,
I’ve known you all my life.
And though it’s new,
your image cuts me like a knife.
And now I’m home.
And now I’m home.
And now I’m home, to stay.
The neon from your eyes is splashing into mine.
It’s so familiar in a way I can’t define.‘ (The 13th Floor Elevators – Splash)

mood-board-american-psychedelia-7-text***

Which one do you prefer, British or American Psychedelia? I’d goes without saying that I’m all about fairies, childhood innocence and tea parties, so it’s British psychedelia for me. Nothing’s gonna stop me this time, I’ll make the Summer of 2017 my Summer of Love! But for now, let these psychedelic tunes warm these short but never-ending winter days.