Thursday, September 21, 2006

I’ve been to Saturn / I sat on the rings

Sitting under a Sanur sunset, with the odd smell of a cremation wafting past me as I write, coming from the large ceremony a road away from here, a few thoughts came to mind, a few things that may or may not need to be said but I will anyway.

Firstly, and most importantly, Brigid and I watched the complete sixth season of The Sopranos this week in three rather intense sittings (four actually but one of those was trying to get the Thai DVDs to work). And loved it I did. I’m a fan and thought that the strange mixture of dark humour, and unease for the reality of what they are actually doing, worked better than it has for a long time. My unease was accentuated by the violent homophobia portrayed by many of the characters and by the way the bigotry played out. Whilst the situation is vastly different, the sentiment implied by Ian Wishart in his attacks on Peter Davis, the completely innocent husband of Helen Clark, is not. Whether or not Mr Davis (who I know vaguely but my wife and her family know well) is gay or not is largely beside the point. It is my belief that he is not, but that is completely irrelevant. What is relevant is the fact that Wishart saw fit to use the man’s sexuality as a valid way to attack him, and via him, his wife. And that the media, from this distance at least, seems not to have called into question such a tactic, beyond simple distaste.

Now correct me if I am wrong, but some years back, New Zealand passed a law legalizing homosexual behaviour, and more than that, made it illegal to discriminate against someone on the grounds of their sexuality. To then use this as way to attack a person seems to me not only morally indefensible but technically illegal.

But barely a murmur from the righteous defenders of the nation’s morals and the likes of the NZ Herald and TVNZ, unless I’ve missed it. The RNZ interview I heard skirted around the issue, in the assumption that if Wishart had any proof then he had some right to pursue this story. But regardless of whether he did or did not have any evidence the real issue here is that this is implied queer bashing. Sadly however institutionalised homophobia, as illustrated by the Christchurch Crèche and Phillip Sturm cases is an unquestioned part of the NZ landscape in the 21st Century.

And the line between what Wishart is doing and what happened to Vito in The Sopranos is a very thin one. I for one am ashamed to carry the same passport as the man.

On a completely different tack, in Thailand I bought a bunch of jazz CDs, I’m on a blue key spin right now and decided that I needed some of my old favourites, which I have on vinyl in Auckland, with me now. So I did the correct thing, rather than download or buy the multitude of pirated copies available, I went into one of Bangkok’s quite incredible specialist stores and bought them. Lovely annotated re-issues they are two. All that Coltrane and Getz…..

Amongst the bunch were two on Blue Note (read EMI), Thelonious Monk’s timeless Genius of Modern Music Vol.1, a collection of old 78s released almost sixty years back; and a Sonny Rollins collection of fifties masters. So, innocently, I put the Monk in the laptop, and waited. Nothing, not even the recognition of a piece of laser read plastic. No disc it said. Damn, I thought, faulty disc. So I tossed the Rollins in. And the same thing. I followed it with a Coltrane on Impulse which read and copied to my iTunes without any issue, then two others that had no problem at all either. And it dawned on me…I’d been suckered by EMI, bless them, and their customer friendly copy protection system. I can’t believe I was so stupid. I’d been screwed; I’d been ripped off by this monolith in their efforts to prevent me, or someone else ripping them off. And this on fifty year old recordings which may or may not still be subject to copyright. And they wonder why it is all turning to shit. Since this happened a year or so ago with the live Kraftwerk album, I’d made it a policy not to buy anything on EMI, but in the Thai heat and with the sheer joy and anticipation at hearing these again, I forgot. Fortunately I found both albums on the net and downloaded the things immediately, as I will now do as a matter of policy with anything EMI releases, rather than paying money for something I don’t receive.

So, yes, Thailand, well Bangkok actually…. we went there last week for five days. I don’t know enough about the country to make a fair comment on the coup, except that the King’s blessing on all this seems to be enough to give it some popular legitimacy in the eyes of many of the nation’s people. It’s hard for many of us outside Thailand (or Japan) to understand the authority and place the monarch holds.

But why is it that everyone I mention Bangkok to comes back with a rousing chorus of Murray Head’s awful tune from Chess, or makes sly ping-pong ball references. I didn’t see Murray Head there or spend much time in Patpong (although I did go there but the highlight was finding a 24 hour supermarket to buy some drinks for the hotel…god I’m dull). It was more a routine of the shops, the markets, the shops, food, the shops and more food. I’m a terrible tourist. We went to the royal place but got within a hundred metres of the gate, fighting off relentless touts and con artists with fake IDs and a thousand convincing stories before we decided to go…shopping….

So, all good apart from making one shitty mistake….trusting the Rough Guide to Bangkok. We live in Bali so we should know better. I know that the Rough Guide and Lonely Planet guides to anything to do with food, accommodation, in fact virtually anything beyond which road is which and what area is what, are to be absolutely ignored. That mistake, put us in the worst Dim Sim house in Bangkok, and nothing in the place matched the glowing guide description.

But, yes, more shopping and more markets, and it felt good to be in place where in infrastructure vaguely works, and the rubbish was at controllable levels. Where the traffic lights go as they are meant…and I think if I had to live anywhere else in the future that would perhaps be it.

But not right now…

Anyway my old buddy Norman Jay, MBE, is coming to Bali this weekend, so that's a reason to be excited

Songs for the sunset:

The ClashArmagideon Time…the live version from the wonderful From Here to Eternity that lazily lopes and skanks along with less tension or anger than the studio take, and makes me miss Joe Strummer all over again

Fetus ProductionsWhat’s Going On…I came very close to releasing an earlier version of this some years back, recorded at Harlequin Studios about 1979 with Simon Alexander and Jed Town’s massed overdubbed 12 string guitars under Jed’s wonderfully plaintiff and fragile voice. It was a work of sheer beauty and I don’t know why it didn’t come out. Maybe one day, but in the mean time, this later version will do just fine..

FuckponyFreaky Stories of Earth…band name of the year and a killer few minutes of Lil Louis inspired sensual deep house off their album, easily my most listened to record in the last couple of months. Gorgeous, and, dare I say it, timeless..

Duke Ellington & John Coltrane….In a Sentimental Mood…about as conservative as the ‘trane ever got, his album with Ellington ain’t no blistering Live at The Village Vanguard (the first heavy metal record) but it has it’s moments and is perfect for a languid Balinese afternoon (even if the smoke from the dearly departed is in the air). And the Duke’s solo half way through is quite something in a quiet way…

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Look at the graceful way she dances / one foot speaks / the other one answers

And then just when you wonder how stupid a major record company can possibly be, along comes another to prove that they are not all as boneheaded as Universal. That WMI can work out a deal with YouTube shows that not all the dinosaurs are without a clue. Of course this raises a whole bunch more questions, the most important being: where does the money come from, as YouTube doesn’t, as far as I can see, have any reasonable income stream, and will have a very hard time surviving with a subscription.

Still it’s interesting to see at least two of the majors, Warner Music and EMI, trying to come to grips with the future, whilst Universal and SonyBMG flounder around trying to resurrect the past. It reminds me of a time a few years back when the head of one record company said I wish this dance phase would pass so we could get back to signing proper artists.

Not that I think all this matters one iota in the long run…the two words, writing and wall are still valid. The record industry as we have known it for the past seventy years is over, it’s just a matter of how long the death rattles take to subside.

Talking of Warner Music, I scratch my head with bemusement at the forthcoming 25Th Anniversary of Flying Nun Records. Uh…ok….

The current owner of the name Flying Nun is celebrating the quarter century of the brand. Twenty Five years since my old friend Roger Shepherd rang me and said he was thinking of starting a label in Christchurch. I, in my misguided wisdom, and in the midst of dealing with the inevitable mish mash of artist babysitting and financial stress that is indie labelism, told him not to be so silly.

Roger was at that time, and still is, a good friend, but I am damned pleased he didn’t take my advice. What Roger created, not only in its recorded legacy, but, more so, in its ethos, was without question the singly most important and defining label and community in the short history of New Zealand popular music. Over the next 15 years he, and a handful of crucial allies, the likes of Chris Knox, Gary Cope (his original partner), Doug Hood, Lesley Paris, Paul McKessar, and others, played a massive part in inventing the landscape that is contemporary NZ Music. They released hundreds of records, the bulk of which were screamingly uncommercial, but that is why it was what it was. The one off 7”s, the bands that were fantastic but would never cover costs, the playing cards (they must be worth something now, no?), the totality of it all, was what made Flying Nun, Flying Nun.

But that was then and this is now. Flying Nun…the thing that really was FN that is…ceased to exist in any real terms about 2000. It had long been owned, partially at first, by Rupert Murdoch and / or Michael Gudinski, who were bought into the picture some years earlier by Simon Baeyertz from FMR to provide a much needed financial lifeline. The relationship worked well initially. Mushroom was a silent partner in NZ, but provided funding and international support, and as a result of that the Headless Chooks, Chills and Straightjacket Fits all made headway outside New Zealand. And Mushroom Publishing got their hands on the FN publishing catalogue which was a potential goldmine.

After Roger left the label was helmed successfully by Paul and Lesley from the dusty Queen Street offices with the same ethic, until about the turn of the century, in a corporate (the hand of Murdoch cannot forever stay hidden) cost cutting measure, the whole thing was uncomfortably squeezed into FMR’s tiny offices in Scanlan Street in Grey Lynn.

And that, despite records coming out on the label, and signings to the “Flying Nun” label being announced, was when the label started by Roger out of a notion that these undoable things could be done, back in 1981, effectively ceased to exist. There was a winding down process over the next years but a massive full stop was clearly placed at the FN story when its benevolent parent was closed down last year.

Very good, inventive and smart, people have worked with and on “Flying Nun” acts since 2001 but it’s a brand, a logo, and that’s all it is. And even more so now that it’s a desk in Warner Music International. That’s not Flying Nun, and never could be. I know things change but owning a name doesn’t mean the legacy automatically comes with it, and in this case the thing that was is no longer, and hasn’t been for some years.

That said, the ethic that was Flying Nun lives and breathes in New Zealand. There are a dozen examples I could point to, but Loop fits the bill as well as any. Or check out the list of labels here. If anyone should be celebrating the 25th Anniversary of the founding of FN, its labels like these that couldn’t exist without Roger and his crew.

An after note: the iTunes shuffle bought up Toy Love’s live (at The Cook) version of Positively 4th Street segued into Yummy Yummy Yummy as I finished this post. I guess there is an odd coincidental irony in that…