Posts Tagged ‘ Debbie Harry ’

JUST AN OBSERVATION

Just An Observation

And on and on it rolls and rolls and…
The election campaign stepped up a notch with Labour’s manifesto pledges leaked a day before they were supposed to be raising the question of how can a party stand any chance of election with such blatant skullduggery within its own ranks? Surely an electorate needs to have some semblance of trust in those they are voting for- total trust is a tall order I am sure you will agree- but if there is obvious dissent and lack of unity within a party then how is anyone else supposed to put their faith in them?
One thing the Tories have always done is stand united- apart from the small matter of Europe obviously and we all know where that led- no matter how despicable their policies or mandate. Even though the party was split over Europe they have somehow managed to form some kind of united front which is pulling the wool over the public’s eyes until they gain total power with a majority then begin their petty squabbles all over again, allowing the rest of us to pay the price. Again!
Hell they even managed to be cleared of any wrongdoing over the election expenses scandal and not content with this their bold leader Theresa May (Tresemme) felt the need to try and accuse others of deploying the same tactics without any evidence or proof. I am thinking here of her assertion that the SNP also had been fined over these malpractices but there is no record whatsoever that there is any truth to this malicious claim.
However having the media on your side is a positive tool and not being answerable to the electorate, opposing parties or anyone at all apart from sycophantic supporters obviously is giving her the smug, arrogant confidence to make such statements. That and reinstating fox-hunting obviously.
It is becoming more and more glaringly apparent that this election is being mainly fought by the media.
One thing that struck me recently is that the SNP who are by far and large the main party in Scotland do not have an ally within the media; at least not one that can make any real difference. In fact if the media were to be believed- which they are not- you would think the Tories had won the council elections here rather than it being a landslide victory for the SNP. The fact that despite all this negativity in the press they have made such a large impression here in Scotland shows that they are appealing to people at a grass-roots level most other parties feel they are actually above, hence the decimation of Labour north of the border.
The media situation is something I witnessed first hand when looking for media jobs and found myself up against young graduates who were prepared to work an internship for free as their parents could afford to support them. This led to the media being saturated by young kids who had merely bought their way into their positions espousing the Tory values they now support in print. I recall bemoaning the fact that every press office I entered during the Edinburgh Fringe as being like an audition casting for Made In Chelsea –vacuous , vapid types who were self-serving, arrogant, entitled and conceited beyond belief- and predicting that this was the future of media in this country. I was right!
On a lighter note it would seem that Joanna Lumley thinks that Idris Elba is ‘not right’ to play the next James Bond. Much as I love Joanna Lumley I must disagree as Idris Elba is very right for just about everything!
Even more ridiculous is the claim that Harry Styles is the new David Bowie-see what I mean about these new media types- which has to be the most absurd thing I have heard in years. Really? Harry Styles? David Bowie? I just don’t see any connection. Whatsoever!
He doesn’t even cut it as an average pop star and surely wearing every haircut rejected by any sensible person in the eighties proves he doesn’t even belong in the same universe as Bowie never mind the same sentence.
If you want to hear some perfect contemporary pop then I suggest you listen to the new Blondie album Pollinator proving that even when approaching her 71st birthday Deborah Harry is still the coolest person in rock and roll. Of the two Harrys it is the blonde one who wins out as the one to watch in 2017!

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JUST AN OBSERVATION

Just an Observation
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The first two weeks of July in Edinburgh- Trades fortnight originally but I am unsure how relevant that term is today- are by tradition quiet times signalling a calm after the end of the Film Festival and before the onslaught of August’s Fringe interlopers. Not that the Film Festival generates that much interest from either the locals or outsiders although this year it was pleasing to see Big Gold Dream: Post Punk and Infiltrating the Mainstream. a film focussing on the much neglected music scene in Edinburgh and documenting its importance in the post punk era, scoop the audience prize award. The film also managed to host the best party of the whole festival.
Elsewhere 45 Years starring Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courtenay won the best film award although I am not quite sure how. Admittedly the competition wasn’t that stiff but there were better films on show such as The Messenger, Narcopolis and the documentary on the doomed singer Amy Winehouse.
The most exciting thing to happen in the city over the last week was not the film festival’s closing party but the most fantastic thunder and lightning storm I have ever witnessed on Wednesday night into early Thursday morning which appeared to rip the sky open with dark rumblings and electric flashes. Thrilling stuff indeed!
As always at this time of year Wimbledon hovered into view this week and as soon as Dustin Brown’s photo started appearing on social media sites on Thursday evening I have a feeling that Emmerdale’s ratings on ITV plummeted as millions switched over to BBC2 to get a further glimpse of German hotness as he thrashed Rafael Nadal on centre court to move onto the next round. A new Wimbledon favourite I believe. And not just to win either!
The legend that is Debbie,or Deborah as she prefers to be addressed, Harry turned 70 this week. It hardly seems like thirty-seven years ago since she awoke a nation of teenage boys-and girls – from somnambulant sexuality with a Top of the Pops performance of ‘Denis’, becoming the first post-modern female in rock music who actually took control of her own sexuality playing on it as well as with it. Not bad for someone ‘advised’ by Patti Smith to ‘get the fuck out of rock and roll’ a couple of years earlier.
I have never understood Patti’s animosity towards a fellow female trying to make her way in the male dominated rock world especially as they gestated in the same scene-CBGB’S- and worked as polar opposites in so many ways. Smith had her Rimbaud and poetry as well as her own brand of sex appeal hinging on her couldn’t give a fuck androgyny. Harry was obviously a great beauty with a rampant universal sex appeal and it would be dull to imagine that this is the crux of Smith’s uncharitable-even to this day forty years later- attitude especially as Debbie has never said an unkind word about her.
Certainly when Patti retired from the music business to settle down and raise a family at the end of the seventies Debbie was probably the biggest star in the world at that point as well as being artistically active in creating some seriously classic avant-garde pop music whilst Smith had reached artistic bankruptcy.
Unlike many others in the fickle world of music I can’t actually recall a time when Debbie Harry was not hip. Even at points in her career when she has been less popular she never faced the inevitable backlash from press and public that so many others have, I think the fact she seems genuine comes across and coming to fame relatively late- she was 33 years old when that TOTP performance was aired- meant she always seemed grounded and this is something I can vouch for having met her and found her to be the most unassuming celebrity I have ever met. She introduced herself and said ‘I’m Deborah by the way’ as if I wouldn’t know who she was. Modern day ‘celebrities’ could do well to learn from her and then perhaps they reach seventy then perhaps they might generate one iota of love, affection and respect as she does.
Even when she does get it slightly wrong-her outfit at Glastonbury a couple of years back- it doesn’t diminish her credibility or damage her reputation one bit because she is Debbie Harry and she has earned the right to do whatever she wants!
Right off into the weekend sound-tracked by my new obsession the collaboration between Sparks and Franz Ferdinand, FFS, which looks like being a major live highlight during the Festival and Blondie

NEW YORK DOLLS

New York Dolls

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Bursting in with a crashing wall of guitars, a cascading piano line, kick ass drums and a blood curdling, howling wolf yelp of ‘Waaaah Oooooh’ before a tantrum induced ‘yeah, yeah yeah’ volleys back with  ‘no, no, no no’  summing up the confusion and hormonal rush of adolescence perfectly, the New York Dolls launch into ‘Personality Crisis’  providing one of the great-if not the greatest- intros in rock and roll. Ever!

 From this enthralling outset it was clear that this was no ordinary band: Marc Bolan may have been responsible for ushering the seventies in whilst David Bowie launched them into orbit but it was the Dolls who took them by the scruff of their neck and throttled the life both into and out of them.

 It is fitting, in many ways, that it took a bunch of dragged up ,drugged up and wised up street kids to finally obliterate the sixties hangover which had permeated the early seventies as  the sexual ambivalence and androgyny hanging in the air crystallised in the Dolls’ ambisexual thrift store meets hooker garb and unrestrained sounds.

 Already a hit in their native New York drawing the attentions of the Andy Warhol Max’s Kansas City set- Debbie Harry, Wayne/Jayne County and The Ramones were early devotees- by the time the Dolls entered the studio they had already lost  original member 20 year old drummer Billy Murcia who, after a mandrax and alcohol fuelled evening, drowned in a bathtub in London only days after the band played their biggest gig to date supporting The Faces at Wembley. Following this ill fated English visit –which also saw a petulantly jealous and paranoid Lou Reed refusing to allow them onstage as his support act- Jerry Nolan was drafted in and provided some much needed musical muscle to the bands sound; demos of the band with Murcia lay testament to this as his drumming lacked both the visceral punch and technique of Nolan’s.

  After this dilemma had been addressed it was time for the Dolls to enter the studio proper with the issue of finding a suitably sympathetic producer next on their agenda. From a wish list which included both David Bowie and Phil Spector eventually a fellow native New Yorker and contemporary wunderkind Todd Rundgren was selected and the Dolls-unwilling and unable to follow the rigours and diligence of recording rules- were ready to move their seven day weekend party from Max’s into the studio in one swift move. Once in the studio the chaos ensued but this is what probably still makes The New York Dolls such a thrilling experience forty years down the line.

 Opening with the aforementioned ‘Personality Crisis’ the album announced its intentions from the get go. Crashing guitars provided a backdrop over which howling vocals snarled out words which simply demanded to be sung adding the icing then demolishing the cherry on the top of the cake. It was a perfect statement of intent and could hardly have failed to captivate anyone who heard it which, unfortunately in 1973, weren’t very many at all or at least nowhere near as many as should have.

The Dolls were off the starting blocks however and next track ‘Looking For A Kiss’ filched the opening line from the Shangri La’s ‘Give him a Great Big Kiss’ –‘When I say I’m in Lurve you best believe I’m In  Lurve .LU.V!’- replacing their sixties innocence with seventies knowing and sleazed up intentions. ‘I need a fixin’ a kiss’ maintained vocalist David Johansen proclaiming  ‘I feels baaaad’ but making it sound so good as he trawls the streets ‘haulin’ booty all night long’. Possibly the quintessential Dolls song it careens along with malicious and devious intent.

 The third track is the politically conscientious ‘Vietnamese Baby’ where the Dolls momentarily put sex and drugs to the side and reconvene as avenging angels with Jerry Nolan’s rapid fire militaristic drumming adding dramatic edge to an already powerful song. ‘Lonely Planet Boy’ slows things down with acoustic guitars and a saxophone solo and is the Dolls’ big ballad number. All wistful yearning and aching melancholy it is the height of youthful romance even if it does seem to allude to heroin, ‘You bring me some from your other boys’, although at this juncture none of the band had the drug habits which later blighted their reputation and ambitions.

‘Frankenstein’ rounds off side one’s proceedings nicely-in the days of vinyl such matters were important- and it is a soaring monolithic powerhouse of a song delivered in cinemascope: hysterical melodrama, duelling guitars, intense claustrophobic heat and frantic crescendos all conspire to hit heights which perfectly depict the Manhattan skyline and the skyscrapers dominating the drama. Add to this an indomitable Spectorish wall of sound and the whole exercise emerges as the Dolls’ very own ‘River Deep Mountain High’.

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The second side kicks off with little fanfare and rushes headlong into the perfection of ‘Trash’ with its aching pleas, plaintive yearning lyrics, reverberating drums, ‘ooh, ooh,’ surfing backing vocals and another girl-band swipe –‘Uh ! How you call your lover boy? – delivered at a crucial moment to maximum effect. This should have been released as a single and stormed to number one all over the universe and forty years later the question ‘why wasn’t it?’ still echoes.

‘Bad Girl’ is a more traditional Stones-like rocker- comparisons to the Stones always plagued the Dolls but at this juncture the Stones were nodding off headfirst into drug somnolence and their ‘Goats Head Soup’ whilst serving up insipidly trite but undeniably catchy numbers such as the whiney ‘Angie’- and trundles along with its own lustful intentions. ‘Subway Train’ introduces sophistication into the Dolls routine, picking up and slowing down as the song demands. Both real and ridiculous-‘Someone’s in the kitchen with Dinah, I just know’- it showed off both musical skill and song writing chops in equal measure and should have silenced any non-believers who still maintained the Dolls were talent-less cross dressing charlatans..

 Famous for choosing and delivering suitable cover versions in their live act the only non-original on the album is ‘Pills’ which, although written by Bo Diddley, the Dolls moulded it to their sound and needs so perfectly it is now considered theirs in all but name. ‘’Private World’ is a rumbling bass driven ‘Louie Louie’ type number and the solitary song writing contribution by giant haystack and the only living statue in rock and roll- a term coined affectionately for him by Johansen- Arthur ‘Killer’ Kane .  ‘

‘Jet Boy’ brings the album to a close in a maelstrom of handclaps, unforgettable hooks and a middle section which sees guitarists Johnny Thunders and Sylvain Sylvain perform aerodynamics against the New York sky with no landing strip in sight. It is a truly cacophonous piece of wonderment and rounds things off perfectly.

 By the time the album was released the Dolls had already received sufficient amounts of good and bad press and although the album received generally favourable reception it was still not enough for the public to buy it in sufficient numbers. A major stumbling block-particularly in America where glam was not such big news- was the cover which saw the band each in varying stages of fucked up drag and androgyny arranged artfully on a couch daring or inviting you to enter their world. It was a cover which promised so much but required a certain amount of bravery to actually get past as even in the year Bowie was at his most outrageous glam peak it was as far from the mainstream as you could get.

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 A visit to London shortly after culminated in two successful shows at Biba’s and a legendary TV appearance on the Old Grey Whistle Test which many of those watching-Joe Strummer , a couple of Sex Pistols and, most notably, future uber fan Morrissey among them- claimed fired the starting pistol for punk.

Malcolm McLaren fell in love with them as soon as they stumbled into his shop on the Kings Road; an infatuation which saw him eventually managing them then misguidedly dress them in red patent leather and adopt Communist manifestos. By this time the band was in disrepair and virtually unmanageable but he already had the blue print for his own ideas which eventually became the Sex Pistols.

Their influence was already being absorbed however and Bowie’s ‘Aladdin Sane’ album of that year was rife with Dolls references: ‘Watch That Man’ is about a night on the tiles with Johansen and girlfriend Cyrinda Foxe-who also served as inspirational muse for ‘The Jean Genie’ and  appeared in the promo video- ‘Time’ mentions recently deceased drummer  Murcia (Billy Dolls) and there is an –almost- name check for Sylvain Sylvain in ‘Drive in Saturday’.

 Despite all this cracks were already beginning to show in the Dolls retinue and were only compounded by divisions between the two self appointed leaders Johansen and Thunders. Matters were further exacerbated by Thunders and Nolan’s descent into heroin addiction whilst Johansen and Sylvain tried to keep things afloat. Poor bassist Arthur Kane was stuck in the middle and seeking solace in the bottle ended up so incapacitated he was sent to rehab several times to dry out although each time met with less success than the time before.

 By the time it came to recording their second album nine months after their debut the juggernaut was already running out of steam. Presciently titled Too Much Too Soon the album was not the unmitigated disaster it was decried as at the time. Still housing a few classic tracks – ‘Babylon’, ‘Chatterbox’ , ‘Puss ‘n’ Boots’ and ‘Human Being’ among them as well as a great cover of the Cadets novelty number ‘Stranded in the Jungle’- it was clear in the playing, shabby production and inclusion of four cover versions that this was a band not progressing but actually falling apart, even if it was beautifully so.

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The record company was also obviously running scared as the debacle surrounding the cover art of the first album had raised such a fuss that the follow up had a relatively tame live shot of the band where most of their faces were obscured from view. It was only a short matter of time before things collapsed completely and by mid 1975 it was all effectively over for the Dolls.

 When punk peaked in 1977 the Dolls and their debut album started to receive the attention and respect they had deserved all along. Unfortunately their image was so stuck in the glam era that this worked against them in the stripped back deconstruction of punk.

 By this time bands such as Aerosmith and Kiss had taken the visual and musical credentials of the Dolls and turned them into something less threatening and more commercially viable. In the case of Kiss any threat of the visual appeal of the Dolls had been transformed into a cartoon with all of the sexual aspect of pushing at gender boundaries removed. They went onto mega stardom and bringing in millions whilst the Dolls languished in obscurity and debt.

 Following the Dolls, Thunders and Nolan formed the Heartbreakers and released the classic ‘L.A.M.F’ but internal drug problems beset them once again and another opportunity was missed. Thunders went onto live out his own personal rock and roll dream/nightmare, eventually succumbing to a mysterious death in 1991 with Nolan not far behind him, checking out a mere eight months later.

 Johansen made a couple of solid albums before re-inventing himself as Buster Poindexter and gaining commercial success in the eighties and later on some artistic rehabilitation with the Harry Smiths at the turn of the century.

 Sylvain and Kane fared less well and did little of any note until Morrissey reconvened the remaining Dolls for his meltdown show of 2004. Unfortunately for Kane this was his swansong and sadly he died only a matter of weeks later. The build up to this show is clearly documented in Greg Whiteley’s film ‘New York Doll’ which shows the former hell raiser as a shuffling middle aged man working in a Mormon facility centre clinging onto his memories of youth and the hope he might relive those times yet again. The fact he did is extremely touching and the film is sad, heart wrenching but still strangely inspiring.

 The main problem which always thwarted and blighted the Dolls however was summed up in the title of their castigated second album Too Much Too Soon as this is what they always promised and in that debut album it was also what they also delivered. However what they did deliver in that classic album clapped like thunder and hit like lightning. Perhaps once was more than enough!