Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band

pepper

Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band
The Album, The Beatles and the World in 1967
By Brian Southall
Carlton Books – £16.00

Now that we only play in the studios, and not anywhere else, we have less of a clue what we’re going to do.

     George Harrison

The year 1967 seems rather golden – it always seemed to be sunny and we wore far-out clothes and far-out sunglasses. Maybe calling it the summer of love was a bit too easy; but it was a golden summer.

     Paul McCartney

I was never overawed by The Beatles, but I was aware that this was a very special moment in time for anyone who was there […]. I have to admit I was pretty moved by the whole thing.

     Eric Clapton

Let it be said that there are literally hundreds, if not thousands of books on The Beatles, but what sets a few of them apart, is – apart from the essential subject matter – the all round approach. And as the title might suggest, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,The Album, The Beatles and the World in 1967, is a most definitely focused book on a most definitely challenging, high-spirited year, in which so many things took place.
Regardless of The Beatles themselves.

Set against the backdrop of the (ever increasing) Vietnam War; among other things, 1967 saw Ronald Reagan sworn in as Republican Governor of California, the arrival of The Doors, The Monkees and Jimi Hendrix, not to mention Pink Floyd’s debut single ‘Arnold Layne.’ Britain also had its first ever victory in the Eurovision Song Contest with Sandie Shaw’s ‘Puppet On A String.’ The film industry saw the release of Michelangelo Antonioni’s controversial Blow-Up, and then there was the marriage of Elvis Presley to 23 year-old Priscilla Beauliu in La Vegas. June saw both the beginning and the end of Israel’s Six Day War, while China became the first Asian nation to develop an atomic weapon (in testing a 3.3 megaton H-Bomb). Messrs’ Jagger and Richards were briefly imprisoned, folk legend Woody Guthrie died in New York, while on August 27th, The Beatles manager, Brian Epstein died.
Perhaps marking the end of an era.

Oh, and then there was also the release of ”the greatest pop single of all time” on February 17: ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’/’Penny Lane.’

With all of the above in mind, the book benefits as a result of being handsomely illustrated in such a way as it’s allowed to breath. Thus enabling the reader to fully appreciate and take in the outstanding collection of colour photographs as well as what’s written: ”Alongside exciting innovations in music and fashion – which introduced the world to a host of new sounds and shapes – 1967 heralded a greater awareness of politics and the power of protest. It all went hand in hand with a youthful enthusiasm for happening, festivals, be-ins and love-ins.”

Indeed, world events and what The Beatles were doing in the studio, was, in 1967, simply breathtaking; as The Who’s Pete Townshend makes clear (in the chapter ‘It Was Fifty Years Ago Today…’): ”For me, Sgt. Pepper and the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds redefined music in the twentieth century: atmosphere, essence, shadow and romance were contained in ways that could be discovered again and again. No one believed the Beatles would ever top it or even bother to try.”

Whether or not the band did top it is wide-open to differing debate. For me personally, I prefer the albums Rubber Soul and Revolver, while others prefer the so-called White Album and Abbey Road.

What isn’t wide-open to debate is the very fine and attractive quality of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band – The Album, The Beatles and the World in 1967. As a tomb of knowledge that homes in on what is clearly one of the most important albums ever recorded, it really is the dog’s under-carriage (in that it’s nigh un-put-down-able): ”In its 50 year history, the album has garnered 17 platinum awards in Britain (each one awarded for 300,000 sales), collected a diamond award in America for sales that exceeded 10 million, as well as an unparalleled number of gold and platinum discs from almost every nation on earth. With music fans reminded in 2017 of the extraordinary music The Beatles created half a century ago, it will be interesting to see how many more sales the album notches up.”

Or any of their albums come to that!

But if it’s Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band you want to delve into and generally find out more about, then this terrific book’s an absolute must!

David Marx

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Traces of Vermeer

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Traces of Vermeer
By Jane Jelley
Oxford University Press – £25.00

There was a bewildering choice of blacks at the time, and they all had different properties and different uses. It is a long list: earth black; sea coal black; lamp black; cherry stone black; vine black; charcoal black, peach, date, or almond stone black; walnut shell black; bone black; ivory black; even ‘burnt toast,’ described as a ‘bread black.’ Some blacks are warmer in colour than others: bones produce a brownish colour, while vine black, often called ‘blue black,’ was recommended for painting ruffs, or the shadows in the face, when mixed with white. There were recipes to suggest how to prepare and use all of these different pigments in painters’ treatises. ‘Cheristone’ black was suggested as being good for draperies; and if a painter wanted ‘a most extremely deep black,’ then lamp black, and ivory black could be used together; by putting one, as a glaze, over the other. Painters could follow a recipe for making ivory black; and put some bits of an ‘old combe, fanne handle or knife in a closed crucible, with a ‘little salt;’and place it in the fire for a quarter of an hour.

My word, the complexity of choice at the disposal of artists during The Netherlands so-called ‘Golden Period’ – or any period come to that – really was both bewildering and overtly comprehensive to say the least. A daunting feature and something which is resoundingly highlighted in this overtly investigative yet very readable book by Jane Jelley.

A painter of still life and landscape herself, who, as authoress, herein bequeaths the reader with an inexorable intrigue that is altogether contagious. Contagious, because in her pursuit of trying to decipher just how Johannes Vermeer’s paintings were ”made,” she takes the reader on something of a tangential journey that is most illustrative, idiosyncratic and interesting at the same time.

This ultimately accounts for Traces of Vermeer being what it is: ”An absolute delight. A rich and highly original exploration of Vermeer’s life and work seen through the eyes of a practising painter” (Professor Sir Barry Cunliffe).

An example of such richness can be found in Vermeer’s View of Delft, on which Jelley conclusively writes in the book’s seventh chapter ‘A Glimpse of Vermeer’: ”Vermeer had to decide where he would stand to observe Delft, in order to establish his composition. Which window he would use? What might he like to include from here, or from any other viewpoint, and what should he ignore? One of his trademarks is the attention he pays to the construction of his picture, and the dynamics of the movements within it. He thought carefully about the weights of shapes, and where he wanted the viewer’s eye to travel; where he wanted it to rest […]. If this picture appears ‘real’ to us, it is not because things are very detailed, but because Vermeer has grasped the essentials of the tone and the shapes, and has left much for us to interpret ourselves. It is not like looking at a high definition image on screen, or even a photograph; but like glimpsing something out of the corner of our eye, something we feel to be familiar.”

It is precisely this familiarity, that to my mind at least, entices us to admire Vermeer’s luminous sunlit spaces, full-blown, mesmerising skies, glimmers of satin and many eloquent strokes of tranquillity (such as Young Woman with a Water Jug, Mistress and Maid and of course, Girl with a Pearl Earring).

To be sure, Traces of Vermeer is an invitation for us to not only embrace Vermeer’s world, but to also ask or decipher to what degree he may, or may not have used some sort of lens through a camera obscura.

Personally, I couldn’t care less. Surely it’s the final product that counts?

Wonderful paintings that have traversed the years.
The centuries. Paintings which continue to touch us.
And resonate.

David Marx

From Small Beginnings

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From Small Beginnings –
A stage in the poet’s progress – from song to stanza
By Sean Notyeats
The Book Guild Ltd – £7.99

We discover so much about the world
And learn so little about ourselves
History only lasts as long as the eldest take to die
Then versions of history proliferate
We use the version that best suits our purpose
Generations repeat mistakes of their fore-fathers
Data mushrooms, more facts bring less clarity
More reason to see things as we want to see them

(‘Mirror Mirror’)

A catharsis, a clarification; to finally stumble upon a poet who’s more politically correct than an entire platoon of annoying hypocrites, who merely purport to know all by simply subscribing to anaesthetized political correctness itself.
You know the sort:
So-called social workers with about as much compassion as Donald Trump.
Wailing tarts with as much singing finesse as a viper with migraine.
Smiling insurance-men with both eyes on nothing other than their end of year bonus.

The risks and rewards were even higher

A one-year contract, bonus high
Your value now could reach the sky
But in a year you could be a pariah

(‘Two Can Play At That Game’)

The list is both relatively and unfortunately endless, which, from a political perspective, From Small Beginnings – A stage in the poet’s progress – from song to stanza, wholeheartedly addresses full-on. Traversing an entire gambit of modern-day topics from around the world – with a particular focus on Europe – the book includes such far reaching themes as politics, death and sex (Nick Cave would have a field day…).

Indeed, this collection of sixty poems by Sean Notyeats, surely a made up name?, is the result of a two-year period of experimental efforts, where song was the initial kernel of endeavour. As the above opening lines substantiate, there’s a huge emphasis throughout these pages that addresses warped and mixed messages. A feature, which is hugely responsible for the current day array of lunatics, who have not only taken over the asylum, but are both running and ruining the world as they see fit:

As data grows we remember less
Attentions span is constant
While media proliferates
Technology breeds celebrity
What was that poem about?

(‘More is Less?’)

Along with just some of the aforementioned, there are such engaging poems as ‘Hiss Tory In The Making,’ The Day Big Ian Died’ and ‘The Mirage of America,’ that in all, assures From Small Beginnings is, if nothing else, an entertaining read.

The only thing I would say, is that one cannot help but veer more to what is actually being said, rather than the actual form of poetry itself.

That said, maybe this was/is the intention?

David Marx

His Excellency

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His Excellency
By Carlos Casares
Small Stations Press –

So far as novels go – which I admittedly don’t read that many of – one has to essentially relate to what’s being said. And of course, how it’s being said, which in far too many instances, is a near miss. The mind invariably wanders, the words don’t add up, and before you know it, there’s no connection.

I unfortunately found this being the case with Carlos Casares’ His Excellency; a book where religiosity and the semi-suppression of ”the new newfangled cinematograph to the city of Ourense” are the prime subjects of a rather dense and occasionally dark story of foreboding.

With the exception of a couple of intrinsically interesting lines:

”Passing in front of a bakery, the smell of octopus pasties reminded him of the tragedy of a faraway appetite which still hadn’t come back […].”
”The editor’s words flew around in front of his eyes like monstrous, headless birds.”

And the altogether delightful, following description:

”His Excellency’s laugh began under his breath as a prayer. Then he remained stuck in breathless respiration for a few moments, and finally exploded like a rowdy line of cannons. He had to hold his stomach with his hands, to throw back his head, and wasn’t at ease until a flood of sobs and tears dragged out a dark and murky river of many days, possibly of many years.”

I have to admit to this short novel having passed me by without having made much of an impression. Upon reflection, (perhaps) not so much the story being told, but rather, the way in which it’s being told.

Can’t win ’em all…

David Marx

The Thinking Eye

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The Thinking Eye
By Jennifer Atkinson
Parlor Press – $14.00

This is Jennifer Atkinson’s fifth collection, and once again, it address some of the inadvertent addressing of life itself. As if we never knew she’d all embrace – but kinda knew all along…

Divided into three sections, these thirty-three poems traverse the everyday syntax of our ever (re)evolving world in such a way that one needs to stand back.
Even if just momentarily.
Even if just to re-read some of the words contained herein.

For instance, some of the intense imagery in the poem ‘Landscape with Goat’s Eye,’ wherein the poetess writes of:

”Past temples and tea stalls, pilgrims and tourists”

ought to surely provide a moment’s solace (regardless of how fleeting)? While the very next poem ‘Drawn from Memory,’ is as potent as it is poetic as it is profoundly honest:

A thousand lit
distinct moments, caught
each one like a raindrop on a thorn,

[…]

A subway car
jammed with bodies, none talking,
all seething with plans and complaints,
after-work weariness, longing,
or sly pleasure in contact?

So many of us, each sealed in a separate skin.

Was it not Lorca who talked of having to harm oneself in order to grasp the truth?

Atkinson may not traverse the same sort of poetic grit as someone like Patti Smith, but The Thinking Eye, along with assorted poems throughout her previous collections (The Dogwood Tree, The Drowned City, Drift Ice and Canticle of the Night Path), does nevertheless warrant acute investigation. Continue reading

The Political Art of Bob Dylan

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The Political Art of Bob Dylan
Edited by David Boucher & Gary Browning
Imprint Academic – £14.95/$29.90

Everything he does is expression, eruption, explosion. This is the hottest crater of a volcanic epoch, spewing out the lava of its visions in unpredictable bursts with irresistible power, in the relentless swell of the inner fire.

His achievement in breathing new life into old art forms by the radical modification of form and content has inspired millions of people throughout the world and reminds us that art can still awaken a sense of resistance to the fatalistic surrender to the idea that there is no alternative to a ‘World Gone Wrong.’

                                                                        (‘Dylan’s Expressionist Period’)

Such is the case that Bob Dylan’s lyrical oeuvre is as equally grounded in ever changing fluidity as it is validity; and reading this most fascinating of books, re-alerts us to said oeuvre’s timely and altogether cohesive consistency. Indeed, The Political Art of Bob Dylan is something of a (political) reminder, as to how impatient and important so much of the songwriter’s work has been over the years and decades.

Not to mention intrinsically raw and close to the bone.

To quote the great Federicio Garcia Lorca, who is himself, quoted in the book’s final chapter ‘Images and Distorted Facts’: ”Poetry surrounds itself with brambles and fragments of broken glass so that the hands that reach out for it are cut and injured with love.”

Self-inflicted, yet cursed injury for thought perhaps, but when one’s work is examined within a complex sphere of the theoretical aesthetic, the sort of which encompasses the likes of Kant and Adorno, Collingwood and Lorca; one must invariably as well instinctively know one has arrived.

And for all intents and appreciative purposes, Dylan has continued to arrive, over and over if not over again.

For instance, one need only reflect upon how very little today’s United States has actually changed since the release of Dylan’s socially groundbreaking album, Highway 61 Revisited. An album, which, as Gary Browning substantiates in the book’s seventh chapter ‘Bob Dylan: (Post) Modern Times,’ more than told it as it needed to be told back then (and clearly still does now): ”It is an album that is a wholesale critique of the USA, its culture and values. The title track is a case in point. Highway 61, a highway running from North to South, is an image for the dead hand of the system, stretching throughout the USA. It is a metaphor for the power of the system; its linking and framing of America in the values sustained by corporate power […]. ‘The symbolic highway offers less potential for escape and more sense of cultural entrapment.’ The opening lines of the song ‘Highway 61 Revisited’ replay Abraham’s readiness to sacrifice his son at God’s command, just as in contemporary America the political fathers were sacrificing their sons in the Vietnam war. This slaughter of America’s sons is linked to an ineffectual welfare system, the straight-jacket of family values, and the commodification of everything, including nuclear war. Dylan recognises the systemic nature of the corruption and desolation in contemporary America. He does not offer an alternative social vision. He satirises mainstream society and in so doing implies an alternative, but individual vision.”

It is this very ”individual vision,” upon which a great seething plethora of Dylan books continue to be written and (quite often) devoured. In fact, another two new Dylan books are about to be published by Simon and Schuster at the end of this month: The Nobel Lecture and The Essential Interviews.

Although it does need to be said that what separates The Political Art of Bob Dylan from that of its competitors, is the degree to which is enriches our understanding of Dylan’s acute and very varied political work(s). A facet of the man which is on-going, never simple, yet fraught with a Burn Baby Burn like thinking. And Amen to that brother.

David Marx

 

Complicated Game

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Complicated Game –
Inside The Songs of XTC
By Andy Partridge & Todd Bernhardt
Jawbone Press – £14.95

     I like accidents. I like to put myself in the way of musical harm. I like being at the wheel of that musical car, and aiming it at the wall. Just to see what shape the car’s going to come out. It might come out an interesting shape that would have taken me forever to decide on otherwise.

                                                                                                            Andy Partridge.

Hmm, had the above been said by someone like Pete Townshend or Kurt Cobain, I’d have felt more inclined to fully embrace it.

This partially explains why great chunks of this book are akin to talking and listening to someone who’s drunk, while you’re not. As such, a lot of what’s being said, or in this case written, is either subject to question or to just not be taken too literally. For sure, all the prescient and sometimes perplexing material on the nitty-gritty aspects of the actual music itself (which perhaps makes up the bulk of these 398 pages, including an Introduction by Todd Bernhardt, a Foreword by Steven Wilson and a chapter entitled ‘Swindon: A Perambulation’ by John Morrish) is as plausible as it is believable.

As it is fundamentally aimed at the uber-prime-initiated, in-house, rather extraordinarily excessive XTC collective; so many of whom, inadvertently yet regularly find themselves kneeling at the alter of the Partridge. And let’s be honest here: wherever there is kneeling involved, there is (excessive) blind faith.

A sparkling pandemonium of high-octane blind faith, which in this particular instance, partially accounts for Complicated Game – Inside The Songs of XTC not entirely coming clean. Nor being on the money. Money of course (or the ardent wish for oodles thereof on behalf of the subject), being the operative/key word here – as the following exchange between interviewee and interviewer (in relation to XTC’s ‘Love On A Farmboy’s Wages’) more than substantiates:

”I’m obviously bitter about not getting the money I thought I ought to deserve or something. I look around, and I see people like Elvis Costello, or other contemporaries, and I think, ‘Jesus, they’re so much richer than I am!’ You know, ‘I wrote songs as good as he did!’ I can say that, not facetiously or boastfully. I think I’ve written songs as good as Elvis.

And from what I’ve read in interviews with him, I think he thinks that, too. He admires your songwriting.

But when I see him on the Sunday Times Rich List…

Oh my. I didn’t realise he was that wealthy.

Oh yeah, I don’t know, I think his last count was something like twenty million. But I never made the money, or a fraction of the money, in this game that I thought I would. And I guess that, even by that age, I was thinking, ‘Grrr, grrr.”’

The fact that Andy Partridge stopped playing music live almost thirty-five years ago, and Elvis Costello continues to tour the world to this very day, might have some bearing on (t)his clearly envious state of affairs – even if only from a promotional perspective. Pristine rocket science it really isn’t, although the trajectory of such self-proclaimed, financial woe, is something of a subliminal undercurrent throughout these thirty chapters in their entirety. It’s always there. Not always in as many words, admittedly, but it’s there nevertheless: ”Oh, we went well over budget on this album. They said, ‘Look, we’re going to pull the plug fellows, we can’t afford for you to finish it off.’ I think we’d run up a bill of a quarter of a million pounds” (‘Chalkhills and Children’).

Moreover, there are assorted, endearing moments of literaral artistry within the book, which, in and of itself, (ought to) say far more about Partridge than even he himself. For instance, when discussing the use of alliteration in (chapter 22), he asserts: […] It just makes it more pungent if you have lots of L’s in a row, or lots of S’s, or sounds that sound similar between one word and the next, and the next, if possible. It becomes it’s own little internal kingdom – it’s lovely to do […]. I love alliteration. It seems to shake hands with itself, and it seems to be like a little infinity loop, perfectly completed. I like that in other people’s work too.”

Suffice to say, this book essentially entails Andy Partridge talking to the American freelance writer and musician, Todd Bernhardt, on the subject of thirty random XTC songs, scattered throughout their entire career in chronological order. Commencing with 1978’s ‘This Is Pop’ and concluding with 2006’s ‘2 Rainbeau Melt,’ the two traverse the relative gambit of ye world according to Mr. Partridge.

An exceedingly safe, charmed, buffered and closeted world, very, very far removed from that of the real world – wherein (it would seem) nothing is ever enough.

Might it be said that Complicated Game – Inside The Songs of XTC, really would have benefited with having had an outside editor come on board – even if only to do the proof-reading. The amount of times I had to re-read certain sentences, simply because key words were missing! Although Bernhardt’s most horribly glaring error appears at the bottom of page 33: ”When The Beatles were appearing at the Kaiserkeller in Berlin […].” Surely almost every music fan on the planet knows that said infamous Kaiserkeller was in Hamburg?

XTC fans will undoubtedly love it; although in essence, it’s nothing other than a highly cryptic read for the idiosyncratically initiated.

David Marx