Posts Tagged Gibberish
Of late I have become pretty much completely obsessed with Roxy Music. In the absence of the will or ability to write anything meaningful about them, and in particular Bryan Ferry, (yet), here’s a superb clip of them performing Virginia Plain on Top of the Pops in 1972.
It’s played at a slightly slower tempo than the studio version, making it a little easier to hear (if not necessarily understand) Ferry’s lyrics (“Havana sound we’re trying / Hard edge the hipster jiving, woah / Last picture shows down the drive-in” anyone? Anyone?).
What’s particularly noticeable is an in-cred-ible visual performance by Ferry. Here’s the video:
Do you ever get that odd sensation when you suddenly become aware that, for a while, you’ve been aware of something without really realising it?
Right, just me then.
Anyway, this happened to me most recently with The Artist and particularly its lead actor, Jean Dujardin. Over the last six months or so I’ve been (mostly subliminally) picking up bits and pieces about the film, and had this nagging feeling that I knew Dujardin (by name at least) from somewhere.
If you rewind about 13 years, you’ll find me in a small flat in a small town in France going through what, in hindsight, was somewhere between acute home-sickness and a mild borderline nervous breakdown, induced by a strange kind of loneliness, shyness, and inertia. I am of course making far more of this than I should, but I was very stranded in a very small town, and, with too much time on my hands, and most of that spent on my own, I turned a little eccentric. But not even in a particularly good way, I just did things like buying a house plant and naming it after France’s most recognised living cultural icon. Despite being a student at the time, there wasn’t even any smugly self-conscious ‘irony’ about this. It was genuine. Fucking hell, I’ve just remembered that before I left France I actually planted ‘Johnny’ somewhere where I thought he/it would get plenty of sunshine and rain (I don’t know whether the correct response to that sudden, unexpected memory is to blush, laugh, cry, or shudder. So I just did a bit of all four).
A couple of years later, my Mum breezily said “we did wonder if you were ok” which is my Mum’s way of saying “we thought you might have been going batshit mental”. Thing is, this was before the internet was anything like embedded in everyday life, so Christ knows what I would have been like with the facility to easily and, essentially, freely document my thoughts and ruminations at the time. Frankly, I’m quite relieved about that. Can you imagine?
So, yes, I spent a lot of time doing not very much, and a good portion of that was spent watching TV. Now, to be fair, I genuinely consider TV to be a cultural boon, and being isolated (etc etc yawn whinge whine) it was a brilliant way of exposing myself to something approaching the French way of life (much better than, say, going to a bar, buying a beer or two and saying a simple bonsoir to the locals).
In all the many, many hours of watching French TV, a favourite of mine was Un gars et une fille (A Guy and a Girl), a series of slices (dare I say vignettes? I do) of domestic life which I saw from its very first episode. Imagine a French version of Men Behaving Badly, with just one couple, without the god-awful laddish elements, and with a surprising amount of slightly-clichéd charm. Anyway, its two stars were future spouses (in hindsight, this seems inevitable) Alexandra Lamy and, yes, Jean Dujardin. And 13 years later, out of nowhere (from this uninformed idiot’s perspective, anyway), Dujardin has won an Oscar. Fair to say I didn’t see that one coming (Johnny the house plant may have done, but I could never tell what he was thinking. Inscrutable, you see).
I find it almost painful to watch these back; it reinforces my habit of allowing myself to act and think as if places and people don’t change when I leave them (for example, ex-colleagues’ children are, in my mind, the exact same age now as when we stopped working together five or more years ago). And so if I’m not careful France, to me, is still a place where they’re about to switch from one currency to another, where male politicians carry on like rutting chimps, and where the party of the extreme right is led by a bigoted fool by the name of Le Pen.
In effect, I’m instantly taken back to the time in question, and want to tell myself to get a grip, and get out of the flat.
And to stop watering that bloody plant.
I’m not sure there’s anything massively original or unique about The Hives, whether it’s their cartoonish character names, their heavily stylised looks, or the lead singer’s Mick Jagger mannerisms.
But instead of being a loose collection of dull clichés, they pitch their monochrome image, their furious, thrashy sound, and their tongue-in.cheek/so-serious-it-hurts anti-establishment lyrics in just the right way to create something loud, funny, and brilliantly, strangely joyful.
The songs are both throwaway and long-lasting, the titles alone – Die, All Right!; A.K.A I-D-I-O-T; The Hives Are Law, You Are Crime; Dead Quote Olympics – demanding attention.
They also have an interestingly contrived back story; namely that a recluse, Randy Fitzsimmons, summoned all five of them individually by letter to form the band, subsequently writing their songs for them and remaining behind the scenes. The inconvenient fact that ‘Randy Fitzsimmons’ is an officially-registered pseudonym of Nicholaus Arson’s is (a) just a means for Arson to collect Fitzsimmons’ royalty cheques on his behalf (of course), and/or (b) ignoring the fact that Arson probably isn’t his family name in the first place, and/or (c) taking all this far too seriously.
And so Howlin’ Pelle Almqvist screams his way through a range of generally disenfranchised, occasionally unintelligible lyrics (mangling their delivery as required: “This time you really got something, it’s such a clever idea / But it doesn’t mean it’s good because you found it at the liba-ra-ria“), almost unfailingly backed by machine gun percussion and jackhammer guitars.
Other songs to lock yourself in a small room with and listen loudly to are Diabolic Scheme (with its jarring, discordant strings), Antidote (“You want antidote / I got the poison” seeming to sum them up pretty well), Tick Tick Boom, and Abra Cadaver: I initially mis-heard the lyrics as “They tried to stick-a Dave Bowie inside-a me”, which I thought was taking the Jagger thing a bit too far.
What I’m trying to do, and I don’t like the jargon, is to ‘square the circle’
Sadly for all concerned, the return date of 1st September has turned out to be more of a fulfilled promise than an empty threat. Still, summer’s officially over, kids’ll be back at school soon, and the winter frost has killed a blackbird in the back garden (maybe), so what else is there?
Are we ready? Let’s do this.
But before we do do this, here’s Tony. This was his unique way of asking me if I’d had a good bank holiday weekend:
So, did you have some good social interaction?
I’m beginning to think he may have killed.
If Air achieved huge success with the ambient, relaxed, soothing Moon Safari (or “Smug Aspirational Property Show Original Soundtrack” as it is surely known within the BBC and Channel 4), they unleashed a rather different vibe on an unsuspecting audience with 2001’s 10,000 Hz Legend.
I can’t claim to love this album, and I can’t claim that it’s an all-time great, but it manages to both possess and obsess me at times. It paints an aural picture of a world which is bleak, alien, robotic, cold, and touched by ghosts, but at the same time unsettlingly familiar and comfortable. This could represent 20th century fin de siècle ennui, it could reflect my latent misanthropy, or it could just be the inevitable consequence of locking a couple of talented, arty Frenchmen away in a recording studio with a frankly obscene amount of electronic equipment.
Basically, the whole thing is weird, but in an electronic, Gallic, slightly bleak, slightly pretentious way. Which I like.
The openers, Electronic Performers and How Does It Make You Feel? set the tone with otherworldly mixes of swiping percussion, piano, keyboards, disembodied lyrics, and chain-smoking computers. Radian continues in a similar vein, ghostly and pulsating, before unexpectedly going all pleasantly flutey, while Don’t Be Light buzzes in a cheery, perky, schizophrenic kind of way.
My personal highlight is People In The City, which I’m certain is a story of daily city life being torn asunder by a nuclear apocalypse. At least, that’s the story it seems to tell me at 3 in the morning.
In France, the comic book – or “la BD”, for ‘bande dessinée’ – is considered a proper art-form in its own right. Think Manga, but without the violence or inherent cultural barriers.
Anyway. I bloody love Asterix. The story of a small village of indomitable Gauls defying the onwards march of Caesar and his men, this series of books is about the only reason I know anything about the Roman Empire, the classification of its army’s ranks, and its numerals. Illustrated by Albert Uderzo and written by René Goscinny (until his death in 1977 when Uderzo took on both roles), it’s funny, cheery, and fundamentally optimistic stuff (they do say opposites attract).
My favourite example of the wit underpinning much of the series is the way that Asterix’s dog, Idéfix (or ‘fixed ideas’) in the original French books, is translated to become Dogmatix in English. I don’t know how much Goscinny or Uderzo were involved in the translations, and I don’t care. In either language, the linguistic brilliance shines through.
It also contains dozens of brilliant, playful stereotypes of different nationalities and we’re going to learn a little more about these stereotypes over what I suspect will evolve into a small handful of theme weeks.
A quick disclaimer – I don’t have one of them new-fangled scanning dohickeys so the following pictures are the result of using a good old-fashioned (ahem, digital…) camera, and as such aren’t always the best quality. The illustration and writing, however, always are.
A small taster. While not particularly addresing any national stereotypes (apart from the fundamental, ongoing ineptitude and cowardice of the Romans), I do like Obelix & Co., where Obelix becomes a business man. His untrustworthy mentor buries him in business jargon. When I first read this, probably around the age of 10, I thought this stuff was gibberish. Nowadays, sadly, I find it easily understandable, and on a very bad day may even slip into it myself.