Archive for June, 2011

We are strictly second class

Speaking of subverting the norms, the Kinks released Dead End Street as a non-album single in 1966 (later included on CD issues of Face To Face), and shot a rather memorable video to accompany it. Another counterpoint to the perception and proclamation of ‘Swinging London’ as being the hip place to be, it paints a picture of a life spent trapped in debt, unemployment and minor squalor. I regularly find myself incapable of the words required to do justice to the phenomenal Ray Davies, so it’s just as well that his inspired works do (most of) the talking for me.

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Everybody felt the rain

By 1966, The Kinks were trying to either recapture the popular success of their earliest singles, or trying to set a new direction for themselves, or, probably ideally, both. Ray in particular was under pressure to recapture his previous glories, yet after three studio albums in barely a year he was beginning to resent the music business and its demands on him as the de facto leader of the group. Add to this a somewhat unexpected marriage and parenthood, and Too Much On My Mind, tucked away as the fourth track on Face To Face, says it all, in both title and lyrics.
 
My thoughts just weigh me down,
And drag me to the ground,
And shake my head till there’s no more life in me
It’s ruining my brain,
I’ll never be the same,
My poor demented mind is slowly going
 
In Face To Face, Davies’ focus falls variously on family loss (Rosie Won’t You Please Come Home, a precursor for Arthur), the material excesses of the 60s (A House In The Country, Most Exclusive Residence For Sale, and Holiday In Waikiki), and the supernatural and mysticism (Rainy Day In June, and Fancy). Throw in some more conventional (for which read ‘staid’) pop songs in You’re Looking Fine and I’ll Remember, and you’re left with something of a hotch-potch of themes, most of which hint at, or scream about, the sadness and frustration beneath the surface.
 
It’s worth lingering on Dandy a little while. In the very middle of the Swinging Sixties, a time of unprecedented sexual freedom, not least for pop stars, Davies castigates a womanising, playboy figure for “pouring out your charm / to meet your own demands”. Predicting a future where the Dandy remembers being told that “two girls are too many, three’s a crowd, and four you’re dead”, Davies is scathing about this selfishness (“And Dandy, you’re alright, you’re alright, you’re alright…”), a fine example of his genius in subverting the norms.
 
Where subsequent albums would rise above their imperfections to become, well, gloriously imperfect, Face To Face doesn’t manage to overcome its limitations. And yet, with Sunny Afternoon the group demonstrated that their move away from rock and roll could be both a commercial and a critical success. As such, Face To Face is best viewed in the context of the Kinks’ career trajectory as a whole. From Ray Davies’ ravages of mental torment came a single which, ultimately, confirmed the Kinks’ growth beyond their contemporaries, and set the foundation for them, in their golden years of 1966 to 1971, to transcend the contemporary full stop.
 

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Asterix and the Native Americans

Wild. Just wild.

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Asterix and the Belgians

The Belgians? Famous for, um, their rampant aggression..

..and equally rampant appetite?

I suspect there’s some kind of inter-Francophonic rivalry thing going on here. The French generally have a pretty low opinion of the Belgiums, and my best guess is that this is the cultural equivalent of an English cartoonist portraying the Scots as teetotal purveyors of fine foods (pot, kettle, black, anyone?).

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Asterix and the Indians

Back to Asterix and his crazy national stereotypes. The Indians: purveyors of magic tricks..

..they bathe in the Ganges..

..and have many gods (I like the cricket reference – the guy flying the magic carpet is called Owzat – but would love to know what the original version was. A complicated pétanque-related play on words, perhaps?).

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Sorry, Alf

Apologies to all readers for the frankly shocking lay-out of the photos below. I’ve tried to fix it, really I have. Watch the film instead. Less white space in that.

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Strangers On A Train (Alfred Hitchcock, 1951)

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I certainly admire people who do things

One thing on my ‘to do’ list that I have done is to watch Strangers On A Train. I expected to watch it and be focused on Farley Granger, recently deceased. Instead I was utterly captivated by Robert Walker, whose performance as a sociopath trying to rid himself of his father is astonishing. One of the many ways you can quickly tell his character, Bruno Anthony, is a lunatic is that he wears a tie pin which spells out his own name. That the tie in question is decorated with lobsters doesn’t help either.

Meeting tennis player Guy Haines on a train by chance, Bruno attempts to enlist him in his homicidal scheme (“You do my murder, I do yours” brilliantly summing up the whole premise of the film), having used his frankly worrying knowledge of Haines’ socialite-in-waiting life to establish that the sportsman wants to be rid of his sluttish wife. Bruno strangles Miriam Haines, and, believing a deal to have been struck on board the train, begins to invade Haines’ life in attempt to cajole or threaten him into killing Anthony senior. Haines attempts to warn the father, only to find Bruno hilariously/terrifyingly waiting for him, in bed, in full evening dress. Having learnt of Haines’ attempted deception, Bruno decides to implicate Guy in Miriam’s murder…

As well as Robert Walker’s incredible performance (creepy, charming, louche, unhinged, funny), the film is notable for its use of light and dark (both literally and as metaphor) and notions of duality. I have no real idea about these things, but those who do assure me the strangulation scene, viewed as a reflection in the victim’s glasses, is pioneering. Best of all, it’s a gripping story, given suitable pace and tension (of course) by Hitchcock. An absolute must-watch.

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Wish I had a more direct connection

Ok, a little breather from the world of Asterix for a week or so (these Gauls are crazy…).

On my ‘to do’ list I have scribbled FACE TO FACE, another Kinks album about which I intend to write. All in good time. For the time being, the opening track off that album, Party Line, simply will not stop playing in my head at the moment.

In many ways going against the theme of the rest of the album, it’s a jaunty, uptempo song, very much of its time. It starts with a ringing phone, a very posh “Hello, who’s that speaking please?” (courtesy of the band’s posh manager Grenville Collins), and a characteristic early Kinks guitar riff.

Written by Ray and sung by Dave, it tells of being torn between wanting privacy while on the party line (a shared telephone line) in question, and wanting to find out the identity of the woman behind the constantly interrupting voice: “Is she big, is she small? / Is she a she at all?”. Kinky.

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Asterix and the Goths

No, not those Goths.

Split into two, Ostrogoths and Visigoths, they are inevitably militaristic..

..and sticklers for doing things properly.

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