Thursday, 31 December 2009

New Bob Dylan Documentaries on the BBC

Excuse the shameless plug for my paymasters but BBC 6 Music have aired a great little series this week called Bob Dylan: Changing Times that I'd heartily recommend listening to online.

Each hour is devoted to Bob's career at the end of the 60s (Nashville Skyline, Isle of Wight Festival), 70s (bible bashing), 80s (Oh, Mercy) and finally a panel discussion about Bob at the end of this decade, Christmas in the Heart and all. Contributors include Sid Griffin, biographer Howard Sounes, Dylan's Isle of Wight housekeeper and former England cricket captain Bob Dylan Willis!

I enjoyed the second and fourth programmes most. The anecdotes about Born Again Bob are priceless. I also learnt that Dylan likes fried bread and Ian Botham saw one of his Australian gigs in the late 70s.

Here the links where you can listen while they shows are available.

Bob Dylan: Changing Times Ep 1

Bob Dylan: Changing Times Ep 2

Bob Dylan: Changing Times Ep 3

Bob Dylan: Changing Times Ep 4

The photo at the top of this post is from the Newport Folk Festival in 2002 by the way; proof that Bob's had his Must Be Santa wig in the cupboard for a while.

Sunday, 6 December 2009

Little Richard's Tutti Frutti

A benefit of being married to someone who works for the publisher Continuum is occasionally getting my hands on books from the firm's excellent music list. While stuck at home a few weeks ago with an irritatingly persistent bout of tonsillitis I quickly got through David Kirby's new book Little Richard: The Birth of Rock 'n' Roll.

It's an enjoyable, discursive book that not only takes in its subject's life and work but inevitably touches on issues of race, sexuality and the American South.

In the book's introduction Kirby bemoans the total lack of Little Richard CDs in the Honolulu and Tallahassee branches of Borders and that there are only five in the Virgin Megastaore in Times Square (where he's appalled to find 29 discs by alphabetical neighbours Little Feat). I decided to repeat the experiment in Central London and am happy to report that Little Richard is well represented in the Oxford Street HMV, though Little Feat still easily outnumber him.

I think rock'n'rollers of a certain vintage do have more fans in the UK than at home (last Saturday Chuck Berry was scheduled to play the same venue that I saw Wilco in May). Still, while it's surprising that Kirby couldn't find any Little Richard in Borders his book inadvertently explains why.

As the book points out, Little Richard's star as a recording artist shone brightest when he was on the Speciality label in the mid-50s. In 1957 he quit show business for bible college and flip-flopped between the two since then. I suspect the reason Kirby's book offers no appendix of records you might purchase (should you find a shop that stocks them) is not an oversight but once you've got the Speciality Sessions box set and Greatest Hits Recorded Live, both of which Kirby mentions more than once, then there's little reason to buy much else. Saying that, Little Richard novices may want to follow my example and get themselves the single-disc Speciality compilation The Georgia Peach.

The book riffs around its main theme that the culture at large and writers such as Peter Guralnick, Nick Cohn and his hero Greil Marcus have unfairly ignored Richard's importance. More specifically that Richard's 1955 hit Tutti Frutti "changed the world" and is a "seminal text in American culture, as much as Uncle Tom's Cabin, Song of Myself and the great documents of the Civil Rights era".

MP3: Little Richard - Tutti Frutti

Buy Little Richard - The Georgia Peach: 7digital | Amazon

Kirby puts forward a convincing, if hyperbolic, case for Tutti Frutti's Rosetta Stone of rock'n'roll status. The book's also great at explaining the song's origins. How's this for lyrics: "Tutti Frutti, good booty/If it don’t fit, don’t force it/You can grease it, make it easy."

I don't know whether Richard's sobriquet as the "architect of rock'n'roll" was self-appointed or conferred on him but it sounds about right. Chuck Berry had more hits, wrote his own songs and developed an influential guitar style; Jerry Lee Lewis laid down the template for rock'n'roll behaviour; Elvis brought it all to the masses. But all three of those individuals cite the gentlemen born Ricard Penniman as a formative influence. Perhaps Little Richard did design the foundations.

Related Links
Buy Little Richard: The Birth of Rock 'n' Roll at Amazon
David Kirby - author's own website
Little Richard - detailed fan site

Sunday, 15 November 2009

Moriarty @ The Union Chapel

Wednesday 10 November 2009

I always do my best to see support acts, even when, in the case of Islington's Union Chapel, there's a great pub nearby for some pre-show pints. This habit was rewarded on Wednesday when I saw Moriarty open for Andrew Bird.

I'd never heard of the Franco-American collective before but apparently they are "big in France" and the Guardian tipped them as their New Band of the Day over a year ago.

Any line-up that features double bass, dobro, glockenspiel and a battery of harmonicas is likely to be fine by me but my impression was that Moriarty's combination of quirky lyrics and dive bar cabaret stage presence won over many other new fans on Wednesday night.

The band has a vintage folk-blues vibe and singer Rosemary Standley, who wouldn't look out of place on the cover of a 40s pulp novel, has a voice that reminds me of Tarnation's Paula Frazer with a touch of the Neko Case.

On Wednesday they mixed originals with covers including Depeche Mode's Enjoy the Silence. Predictably I was taken by their version of Tom Waits' Chocolate Jesus, which if I manage to get a copy, I'll share here in the future.

This track, an unlikely addition to the War on Terror canon, is from the album Gee Whiz But This Is A Lonesome Town.

MP3: Moriarty - Private Lily

Buy: Gee Whiz But This is a Lonesome Town

Buy the album and if they are playing in a town near you get yourself a ticket.

Related Links
Moriarty - MySpace
Moriarty - official site
Photos of Moriarty @ Union Chapel - more great shots by Tim Ferguson

Saturday, 31 October 2009

Passenger Side (The Movie)

Any film that shares its title with a Wilco song is likely to grab my attention so it's unsurprising that my eyes were drawn towards Passenger Side when I saw it the London Film Festival programme. That it also promised a soundtrack featuring the Silver Jews, Smog and Dinosaur Jr only eased my decision to buy tickets.

It's great little low-key movie about two brothers in Los Angeles. You'll get a flavour of the film from the trailer below, and best of all, a glimpse of one of the funniest cameos I've ever seen - Greg Dulli playing a porno director.

Still, I suspect that what Carnival Saloon regulars will like most is the soundtrack. Here are some of my favourite songs from the film.

MP3: Silver Jews - Punks in the Beerlights

Buy: Tanglewood Numbers

MP3: Smog - Hit The Ground Running

Buy: Knock Knock

MP3: Camper Van Beethoven - Good Guys and Bad Guys

Buy: Camper Van Beethoven

MP3: Dinosaur Jr - Freak Scene

Buy: Bug

MP3: Evan Dando - Hard Drive

Buy: Baby I'm Bored

MP3: Wilco - Passenger Side


Related Links
Passenger Side - official site with director interview

Sunday, 25 October 2009

So, farewell then, The Broken Family Band

On Wednesday I saw the Broken Family Band's last ever London gig. One of my favourite bands, they're splitting up after eight years and seven records. According to their website, "We can't pin it on musical differences, we've just decided to quit while we're ahead" but you've got to figure it's frustrating when you think you're one of the best bands in the country and keep putting out records that rarely get airplay.

Joanne introduced to me to the BFB's first full-length album Cold Water Songs before we started going out and they are probably the only band I've followed from near inception to their demise. What initially drew me to them was their combination of twang and funny, very English lyrics and although they became less countryfied in recent years the snarky observational wit remained.

In the pub prior to this week's farewell at the Garage, Highbury Corner I tried to recall where else I'd seen them. The 12 Bar Club (support from Milk Kan), multiple Come Down and Meet The Folks appearances at the Fiddler's Elbow and Golden Lion (once upstaged by a very young Kitty, Daisy & Lewis), LSE student union (attendance apx 20, someone still yelled 'Robots'), the 100 Club, Koko, the Cambridge Folk Festival (hilarious duet with Emily Barker for them, altercation with some crusties for me), The Luminaire, Tricycle Theatre (all acoustic, nothing plugged in), The Water Rats...

They've always been a brilliant live act, enlivened by singer Steven Adams' dry wit and sarcastic/rude audience baiting. Wednesday was no different in this regard; a bloke called out "Devil in Disguise". Adams' retort went something along the lines of, "The song's called Devil in the Details you cunt. You motherfucker. It's because of people like you that we are splitting up." From most people that level of abuse would be unbearable; at a Broken Family Band gig I find it strangely endearing.

To mark them riding out into the sunset here's a track from each of their records plus one from their 2003 session for John Peel. If you are new to these you've really missed a wonderful band. Losers.

MP3: When We're Dry (feat. Mary Epworth) (2002)

Lots of recurring BFB themes here: booze, sadness, minor league self-loathing, awkward relationships.
Buy: The King Will Build a Disco

MP3: (I Don't Have the Time To) Mess Around (2003)

Worth hearing if only for the delightful lines, "There's a dog sleeping in my bed/If I tickle his balls/He Gives me sweet head".
Buy: Cold Water Songs

MP3: You Were A Nightmare (Peel Session)

Peel has a few technical problems before playing the track. Bear with him. The original is also on Cold Water Songs.
Buy: Cold Water Songs

MP3: The King Of Carrot Flowers Parts Two & Three (2004)

A cover of the Neutral Milk Hotel classic. See also my Rock'n'Roll Jesus post for another track from the record.
Buy: Jesus Songs

MP3: John Belushi (2005)

To my mind this one of the band's best songs.As you'll hear, it's not really about John Belushi.
Buy: Welcome Home, Loser

MP3: Alone In The Make-Out Room (feat. Piney Gir) (2006)

More bitterness expertly and humorously deployed.
Buy: Balls

MP3: Dancing On the 4th Floor (2007)

This is definitely not a country song. At Wednesday's gig guitarist Jay Williams asked the assembled who wished the band had stayed country. A lot of hands went up. Then Jay extended his middle finger in their direction.
Buy: Hello Love

MP3: Cinema vs. House (2009)

An eternal dilemma: "We could go to the cinema/But that's two hours without speaking/Or we could go walking the streets/Where there are kids who might try to fuck us up".
Buy: Please and Thank You

Buy Broken Family Band records at Amazon

Thursday, 15 October 2009

Bob Slayers

Amusing Reactions to Dylan's Christmas in the Heart

Having duly bought my copy of Christmas in the Heart on Monday I gave it one spin and now won't be listening to it again until December. I suspect Bob had an enjoyable afternoon recording the album and in a weird way I found it quite charming. Then again Dylan's whims and eccentricities are one of the reasons I love him so.

Here's a taster if you've not yet heard the record critics are calling "a challenging listen".

Rolling Stone's favourable review likened the album to "a Woodstock snowfall with the defiance of 1970's Self Portrait". This is the same magazine in which Greil Marcus began his assessment of Self Portrait with the killer opening, "What is this shit?" Not only have Rolling Stone broken ranks with much of the press by being kind towards Bob's fund-raising Christmas efforts but they are also valiantly trying a rehabilitate a 40-year-old Dylan album that was once deemed the "third worst rock and roll record of all time".*

BBC News go crazy for Dylan whether he's advertising lingerie or visiting the childhood home of an old friend so it's no surprise that the Today Programme got David Hepworth to opine about Christmas in the Heart on Wednesday morning.

The clip is brilliant for combining Bob's renditions of carols with more harmonious versions sung by King's College Choir. This, according to John Humphrys, led his producer to quip that Dylan "sounded like a drunk who had burst into King's College Chapel on Christmas Day".

I read in a Facebook comment that one review claimed Dylan "makes I'll Be Home For Christmas sound like a threat". An equally unimpressed commenter on the Word Magazine website wrote amusingly that "When he sings 'Do you hear what I hear?' I'm assuming he's asking the question in all innocence without having had the benefit at any time of a studio playback during the recording of the song".

But perhaps my favourite dismissal of the record is this one-star review on Amazon. Over to you Mr Bradley C Chambers: "This is horrendous. Bob sounds increasingly effeminate these days. Indeed one can almost imagine him singing these dirges wearing women's clothing and lipstick. I think perhaps he's trying to tell us something..."

Thankfully commuter rag Metro took a different slant with their coverage and printed a list of songs that "didn't make the CD". Some that made me chuckle: Sleigh Lady Sleigh, Stocking On Heaven's Door, I Want Yule, The Lonesome Death of Christmas Carol and Sleigh Train Coming.

If you've heard the album or come across any other good reactions to it please leave a comment below.

Buy Christmas in the Heart at Amazon

*In their book The Worst Rock and Roll Records of All Time Jimmy Guterman and Owen O'Donnell place Metal Machine Music and Having Fun With Elvis On Stage as the only albums worse than Self Portrait. "The breakup of the Beatles shortly before this album's release," they wrote, "signaled the end of the 60s; Self Portrait suggested the end of Bob Dylan."

Related Links
Christmas in the Heart - Bob's official site has more on the money being raised for Crisis and Feeding America
Expecting Rain - the best Dylan news source

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

Tom Waits Film Festival

It's a great week to be a Tom Waits fan. On Monday we got a free preview of the Glitter & Doom live album and this Friday sees the release of The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus which stars Tom as the Devil.

Waits has said he doesn't consider himself an actor, "I like doing it, but there's a difference between being an actor and doing some acting". That said he's appeared in more than two dozen films though it's also fair to say he's never strayed far from the eccentric persona he's created for himself.

One of my favourite Tom Waits cameos is in Robert Frank and Rudy Wurlitzer's Candy Mountain. Sadly no one's put any clips on YouTube but if you want to see our hero dressed in a remarkable pair of check trousers practicing golf shots do track down a copy.

Here are a few choice clips from the Waits 'acting' oeuvre that I did find on a quick trawl. Please post others you know of in the comments.

Down By Law (1986)
Jim Jarmusch is the director most associated with Waits and Down By Law is easily his meatiest role. There are quite a few songs from Rain Dogs on the soundtrack too. Waits can be heard as another DJ in Mystery Train too.

Coffee & Cigarettes (2003)
More Jarmusch. This sequence was filmed in 1993 but I had to wait a decade before I finally saw it. The most remarkable thing about the clip is that Iggy Pop is wearing a shirt.

The Fisher King (1991)
Tom plays to type as a homeless Vietnam veteran in Terry Gilliam's wonderful New York fable.

Short Cuts (1993)
One of my favourite Robert Altman films and probably Tom's best acting performance.

Cold Feet (1989)
An oddball but enjoyable comedy written by Tom McGuane (Rancho Deluxe, The Missouri Breaks). Tom plays a a hit man called Kenny in his most over-the-top acting performance. There's an even better clip of Waits in Cold Feet at iMDB.

Bram Stoker's Dracula (1992)

Did I just write that Cold Feet was Waits' most over-the-top performance? Whoops. It's this one, playing the Bedlam bug eater Renfield for his old pal Francis Ford Coppola.

Mystery Men (1999)
Barney Hoskyns' excellent Waits biog Lowside of the Road claims that Tim Burton actually made this deadbeat superhero comedy and that credited director 'Kinka Usher' is a psuedonym. As far as I know Usher is actually a well-regarded ads director. Anyway, in the film Tom plays Dr Heller, the genius who makes the hapless heroes' non-lethal weapons (the blame thrower is my favourite). This clip is an outtake (you'll have to go to YouTube to watch).

What are your favourite Tom Waits films? Have you seen Doctor Parnassus? Do leave a comment below.

Related Posts
Tom Waits 2.0 - Tom's new website and free MP3s

Buy Tom Waits Movies at Amazon

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

Tom Waits 2.0

Yesterday saw the relaunch of The main draw is the availability of eight tracks from his forthcoming live album Glitter & Doom to download for free. After one listen my favourite is the spoken-word Circus, originally from Real Gone.

MP3: Tom Waits - Circus (live)

Buy Glitter & Doom at Amazon

The rest of the site is well worth exploring too and shows a fairly enlightened view when it comes to sharing copyrighted material. The songs section lists every lyric and you can listen to about 50 tracks in full spanning all of Waits' career.

I was surprised to see the majority of the increasingly rare Big Time concert movie clipped up in the video section but then realised that as well as 'official' videos like the Glitter & Doom trailer (below) the site is also pulling in stuff from YouTube that's clearly been ripped by fans.

The photos section is also generous. A wonderful selection of stills, like the one at the top of this post, by the likes of Anton Corbijn, can all be downloaded as large .jpegs. Of note to MP3 bloggers is the listing of Hype Machine in the site's links section alongside the two preeminent fansites The Eyeball Kid and The Tom Waits Library.

Finally, if you just want to while away your lunch hour the Wit & Wisdom section is an amusing compendium of such Waitsaian bon mots as "a gentleman is someone who can play the accordion, but doesn't".

With any luck I'll have another Tom Waits post here later in the week.

Related Posts
Tom Waits in Paris - my eyewitness account of the Glitter & Doom tour
Bob Dylan 2.0 - I got excited by the relaunch of Bob's site last year too

Related Links
Tom Waits - official site

Buy Tom Waits Goodies at Amazon

Saturday, 10 October 2009

The Strange Sounds of Peter Wyngarde

Peter Wyngarde
is best known as sexy 60s sleuth Jason King but his more intriguing contribution to popular culture is the brilliantly titled 1970 album When Sex Leers Its Inquisitive Head, re-released last month by RPM. My colleague Pete alerted me to this most bizarre record after Marc Riley played a track on his excellent 6 Music show.

The album couldn't be more removed from a typical TV spin-off. RCA gave the actor carte blanche to produce whatever he liked and the results are best described as "extreme lounge". Wyngarde was at the height of his fame and other labels courted him in an attempt to cash-in on Jason King's popularity. As he explains in the re-release's sleevenotes:
"EMI phoned me up and asked if I'd record an LP. I said, 'Of what?' They said. 'We've got a lot of Frank Sinatra songs you could sing'. They were wanting to sell Jason King, not me at all. First and foremost I can't sing... I said I'd like to do my own thing. They said, 'What about some Frankie Laine songs?' 'Are you raving mad?' I replied. 'Why should I be allowed to fuck them up?'"

With hindsight RCA may have regretted their leeway. It's unlikely they expected an LP that's most memorable song is called Rape (sample lyric - "I became very suspicious when I saw he wasn't wearing any underpants"). The label deleted the album within weeks of its initial release.

You can find Rape on YouTube where the comments range from "this is seriously freaky" to "makes Eminem look like James Blunt".

This selection is lyrically tamer if no less odd and sees Wyngarde commenting on the late 20th century culture wars.

MP3: Peter Wyngarde - Hippie and the Skinhead

Buy: When Sex Leers Its Inquisitive Head

Related Links
Peter Wyngarde - BBC artist page

Saturday, 12 September 2009

A Note To Patrons

Thursday, 10 September 2009

Chicken Songs For Colonel Sanders

A few weeks ago a Carnival Saloon reader from Utah called Nora Flood left a lovely comment that pointed out it's been a while since my last poultry post and suggested some chicken songs from her own collection that might be to my taste. I duly bought all eight and have since enjoyed learning more about the artists who performed them.

Since today would be the 119th birthday of Colonel Sanders, the man who did more to popularise fried chicken around the world than any other, it seems fitting to share them with you. These are the first four recommendation from Nora's list; I will post the others at a later date.

MP3: Pink Anderson - Chicken

Despite having a career that spanned five decades bluesman Pink Anderson's place in musical history is likely to be cemented for inspiring Syd Barrett to name his band after him. Syd noticed Pink's name alongside Floyd Council's on the sleeve of a Blind Boy Fuller album and thought the two went rather well together.
Buy: Amazon

MP3: Blind Pete - Banty Rooster

Charley Patton wrote Banty Rooster in 1910 at age 19. 24 years later Leadbelly discovered Arkansas fiddler player Blind Pete while working as chauffeur/talent scout for John Lomax. They recorded this track in Little Rock on 27 September 1934.
Buy: Mississippi Blues & Gospel 1934 - 1942

MP3: Richard Johnston w/ Jessie Mae Hemphill - Chicken and Gravy

This might sound like it was recorded many moons ago but Richard Johnston is a contemporary bluesman who's supported The Killers. I've not seen it but apparently the documentary about Johnston, Hill Country Troubadour, is really great.
Buy: Amazon

MP3: Louisiana Red - Chicken Licken

I can't help but warm to a song that's dedicated to a girl "who liked to eat a lot of chicken". Louisiana Red, aka Iverson Minter, first recorded for Chess Records in the 40s but if you are in Belgium over the weekend you can catch him at Blue Moon Festival of rock 'n' Roll, Blues and Boogie in Visé.
Buy: Amazon

Many thanks to Carnival Saloon correspondent Nora Flood for pointing me in the direction of these great songs. If you like them you should check out her radio show, Shootin' Creek, on Fridays 3-6 pm MST on UtahFM (archives available online). As usual do let me know what you think and suggest others in the comments below.

More Chicken Songs at Carnival Saloon
Chicken Songs For The Soul
Chicken: Anyone For Seconds?
Clucking Brilliant
Thighs, Wings, Legs & Breasts

Tuesday, 1 September 2009

State Songs #21: Maryland

This could easily have been just a tribute to Maryland's 'Charm City', Baltimore, but I've managed to find a few tracks that mention other places in the so-called 'Old Line' state. I hope you enjoy them; let me know what you think and please suggest more in the comments below.

MP3: The Jayhawks - Baltimore Sun

Followers of my State Songs series will know that The Jayhawks can always be relied on for place name songs. This is probably my top tune from their album Blue Earth.
Buy: 7digital | Amazon

MP3: REM - Don't Go Back To Rockville (live)

One of my favourite REM songs. Mike Mills wrote it as a plea to his girlfriend who planned to move back to her home town in Maryland. This version is from a 1981 gig at Tyrone's in Athens, GA - three years before the more countryfied studio version surfaced on Reckoning.
Buy: 7digital | Amazon

MP3: Tompall Glaser & The Glaser Brothers - Streets of Baltimore

You're probably more familiar with Gram Parsons' version from his solo debut GP but this is the original. I first heard it last year thanks to Setting the Woods on Fire's brilliant Gram Parsons Originals collection.
Buy: Amazon

MP3: Gavin Friday - Baltimore Whores

This is from Hal Willner's Rogue's Gallery project. The lyrics are not for those with a sensitive disposition and were apparently edited out of most sea shanty collections.
Buy: 7digital | Amazon

MP3: Erica Wheeler - Maryland County Road

Erica Wheeler is a Maryland native whom I know next to nothing about. This pleasant acoustic live track is a fine addition to the Songs Mourning the Passing of Small Town America canon.
Buy: Amazon

MP3: The Avett Brothers - Girl from Annapolis

WNCW DJ Martin Anderson introduced me to the Avett Brothers when I asked for some local music recommendations during our trip to North Carolina a few years ago. This is from a live set recorded on their home turf at MerleFest in 2006.
Buy: 7digital | Amazon

We stay on the East Coast with our next state - Massachusetts. If you have any favourites you think I should include, do let me know.

Neighbouring States
State Soongs #8: Delaware - Perry Como, Dolly Parton, The Duhks
State Songs #9: District of Columbia - Magnetic Fields, The Staple Singers, Leadbelly, George Clinton & Parliament

The Journey So Far
State Songs - links to every post on this musical road trip

Saturday, 29 August 2009


Pop stars and politicians go together like bacon and eggs but there's never been an encounter between low culture and high office more bizarre than Elvis Aaron Presley's White House rendezvous with Richard Milhous Nixon on 21 December 1970. So as August draws to a close we conclude Carnival Saloon's inaugural Elvis Month with a look at one of my favourite chapters in the Presley saga.

According to the United States National Archives the photo of Elvis shaking hands with Nixon is its most requested item, more so than the Bill of Rights or the Constitution. The National Archives website chronicles this odd meeting brilliantly and I'd encourage you take a look, pore over the photos and read the first-hand accounts and documents. But if that's too much trouble here's the condensed version.

Elvis was a man obsessed with firearms and collecting police insignia. Wherever he went he'd try to get his hands on a local law enforcement badge. As I wrote in my That's The Way It Is post there was nothing counter-cultural about Elvis by 1970. He saw himself apart from the hippies and the peace protesters who epitomised the age. The ultimate symbol of this opposition would be getting himself a badge from the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs. That meant an excursion to the Nation's Capital.

Presley's uninvited trip to Washington was unusual in many ways, not least because he told no one except his Memphis Mafia pals Jerry Schilling and Sonny West. You can watch Jerry's recollection of the escapade here:

On the flight to DC Presley put pen to American Airlines paper and wrote an incredible six-pager in which he expressed admiration for the President and asked to be made a "Federal Agent at Large". As well as claiming to be familiar with "Communist brainwashing" techniques he also writes, presumably without irony, that he had done an "in-depth study of drug abuse".

The minutes of the hastily arranged meeting also make first-rate reading. "Presley immediately began showing the President his law enforcement paraphernalia including badges from police departments in California, Colorado
and Tennessee." The no doubt baffled Nixon "mentioned that he thought Presley could reach young people, and that it was important for Presley to retain his credibility." The highlight of the tête-à-tête for me is Elvis' attack on The Beatles. Although he was happy to sing their songs to the Vegas faithful he told Dick that the Fab Four "had been a real force for anti-American spirit. He said that the Beatles came to this country, made their money, and then returned to England where they promoted an anti-American theme".

Did Elvis get his prized badge? Earlier in the day John Finlator, the Bureau's Deputy Director, had given The King the brush-off telling him that badges only went to "those employees directly connected with the agency". An extremely pissed-off Presley was forced to try his luck in the Oval Office.

In his definitive biog Careless Love Peter Guralnick writes that Elvis brought up the badge subject with Nixon towards the end of the meeting. He quotes Nixon adviser Bud Krogh's account.

"The President looked a little uncertain at this request. He turned to me and said, 'Bud, can we get him a badge?' I couldn't read what the President really wanted me to say. 'Well sir,' I answered him, 'if you want to give him a badge, I think we can get him one.' ... Elvis was smiling triumphantly. 'Thank you very much, sir. This means a lot to me,'... Elvis then moved up close to the President and, in a spontaneous gesture, put his left arm around him and hugged him. President hugging was not, at least in my limited experience, a common occurrence in the Oval Office. It caught the President - and me - off guard. The President recovered from his surprise and patted Elvis on the shoulder. 'Well, I appreciate your willingness to help, Mr Presley.'"

In return for this kindness Presley told Nixon that he'd brought him a chrome-plated World War II Colt .45 that he'd been forced to leave with the President's Secret Service detail. In a letter written on New Year's Eve Nixon thanked Elvis for the pistol, "You were particularly kind to remember me with this impressive gift, as well as your family photographs, and I am delighted to have them for my collection of special momentos".

On returning to Graceland for Christmas Elvis dispensed presidential presents to his family and excitedly retold the tale of Mr Presley Goes To Washington. Peter Guralnick quotes Priscilla Presley, "He was like a kid; it was like nothing had ever happened [to precipitate the trip]. He talked about how he got to meet President Nixon and told him all about how he was getting drugs off the streets."

What a story! David Frost will disagree and there are some, I'm sure, who will rate Nixon's handshake with Mao Zedong as more significant but when it comes to encounters with Tricky Dicky there's no contest as to which is my favourite.

I've thoroughly enjoyed my month with the King. I hope you have too. As ever, do leave a comment below. Thank you very much.

Carnival Saloon's Elvis Month

Elvis: That's The Way It Is - triumphant 197o concert film
Song-Poem Tributes to the King - amateur songwriting oddities
The Burger & the King - interview with director James Marsh

Related Links
When Nixon Met Elvis - brilliant national Archives site with photos and documents
Dear Mr. President: The Day Elvis Met Nixon- Buy Bud Krogh's book at Amazon

Monday, 24 August 2009

Green Man Festival Round-Up

I've just returned from an excellent weekend at the Green Man festival in the Brecon Beacons. There will be plenty of proper reviews elsewhere I'm sure so here's a quick list of things I particularly enjoyed over the last couple of days.

Biggest fail: not seeing Peter Broderick. Admittedly I'd never heard of him until this weekend but loads of people told me he was a highlight.

Related Links
My Green Man Flickr set - I didn't take many photos but I did snap these
Green Man Festival - official site

Saturday, 22 August 2009

The Burger and the King

A conversation with director James Marsh

James Marsh is having quite a year. In March his wonderful film about Twin Towers tightrope walker Philippe Petit, Man on Wire, deservedly won the Oscar for best documentary. A few months later he garnered further acclaim for directing the second part of the Red Riding trilogy, Channel 4's adaptation of David Peace's Yorkshire crime epic.

As part of my Elvis Month series I wanted to talk to James about one of his earlier works, The Burger and the King. The BBC doc was made in 1995 and is a visually imaginative and often very funny adaptation of David Adler's book The Life and Cuisine of Elvis Presley. Sadly it's not available on DVD and contrary to what James told me I can't find it on YouTube either. Still, it's repeated occasionally on TV and I am also going to try to get a clip on the BBC website.

I hope you enjoy reading our conversation about the film as much as I did having it.

How did the film come together?
I was working at the BBC in the Arena office at the time. I had made another Arena film before The Burger and the King about the song Heartbreak Hotel so I’d been to Graceland. There are all these official souvenir gift and book shops and there were two or three Elvis cookbooks even then, that was in 1991. I remember glancing at one that one of his uncles had written. Then David Adler came up with a far more postmodern, far more curious and quite cheeky rendering of the same idea. His book came to Anthony Wall at Arena and he gave it to me and said, “You can’t make a film about this can you?” and I said, “Yes, maybe I can”.

Why did you think you could make a film from what’s essentially an annotated cookbook?
I think it was a neat way of making a film about Elvis, which is a very well-known subject and exposing a different way of understanding him. What I saw in the book was a way of telling Elvis’ life story through these food choices he made throughout his life. Hopefully the insights you get are quite sharp, and quite pointed and quite interesting even though the whole manner of the film is like a black comedy essentially.

What does knowledge of Elvis’ diet add to our understanding of the man?
What it gives you is access to his upbringing and this childhood in a very particular part of America. A psychologist would have a field day with this stuff. He grew up with a very underprivileged background in Tupelo, this small town in Mississippi, during the Depression. If you don’t have very much to eat then it’s a big deal when you grow up and can afford anything you want. With Elvis, he didn’t have a great imagination or a desire to collect Picasso paintings but did have a desire to eat the things he couldn’t when he was younger. He had no means of restraining himself, and no reason to either. In a sense that’s the simple story of his life and it ended up killing him to some extent. It’s like with Michael Jackson; it’s a time honoured story of indulgence and excess.

The food in the film is pretty extreme. Did you eat all the meals?
Everything you see in the film we actually ate. By the end a lot of the crew had put on a lot of weight, including me, and I’m really skinny. You had to really force yourself to eat it. That day we filmed the peanut butter and banana sandwich we must have made about 25 of them. We had to eat them because it would have been incredibly rude not to. I ate squirrel very early on in the shoot. It was kind of alright. They are quite bony so there’s not much meat; you need about three squirrels to have a proper meal. It’s a tangy chicken-like flavour but kind of gristly too. I think if you stew and tenderise it it’s probably better than having it fried up in a pan like we did.

Have you cooked any of the recipes since?
Certainly not. It was the one and only time I was exposed to that cooking. It’s comfort food. It’s food that’s designed to fill you up essentially. It’s true of peasant cooking all over the world in a way. It fills you up and it keeps you going. And Elvis loved it.

You mentioned your film about Heartbreak Hotel and as well as The Burger and the King you made the feature film The King with Gael Garcia Bernal which references Elvis in a different way but it's full of that Southern Gothic. What is about Presley that seems to continually interest you?
That’s a good question and I don’t really ask myself those questions. I read Albert Goldman’s book which is a scurrilous and sensationalist biography of Elvis which isn’t always accurate but is a very gripping story. What you see in Elvis is an archetypal 20th-century story. You have this innocent, pure talent that’s corrupted by the world itself. His story has become a modern myth in the best sense of the word. It just so happens that I made one, then another film, The Burger and the King, about Elvis. Calling the feature The King wasn’t my idea. I resisted it. It was my co-writer’s idea to call our lead character Elvis.
He was called Joe until the final draft of the script. My co-writer said we should call him Elvis. I said I can’t do that because I’d already been part of so much of that mythology. We got into an argument. Literally the following day I saw a piece in the New York Times about a Hispanic soldier who’d been killed in Iraq and he was called Elvis. Perfect! In a sense the use of that title and the name in the film was a little clumsy but it kind of works and I guess it carried on this obsession, if you want to call it that, with Elvis Presley. Our Elvis has been in the army and there are other interesting connotations with the character. Elvis is not a name that the white popluation of America has adopted but you find that Hispanic and black people are called Elvis which is really odd. And we decided to call this Mexican character in the film Elvis and it kind of stuck. And Gael loved it. He loved being called Elvis.

Talking about Elvis and black people reminds me of Bubba Ho-tep.
I haven’t seen it. I should see it right?

You should certainly see it.
I wrote this treatment for a drama before I made The King. It was after I made The Burger and the King. It was called the Shrouds of Elvis. The idea was this. Elvis didn't die. As the conspiracy alleged he actually manufactured his own death so he could go and have a different life somewhere. I converted that into the people around him, those who stood to profit from his death, organised his abduction and he was taken off to Kalamazoo, Michigan and locked up in a mansion. At one point the BBC were going to make this drama. I think Bubba Ho-tep may have something in common with that idea.

Yes. It’s a very bizarre but amusing film. It’s not a black Elvis in Bubba Ho-tep. It’s a black JFK!
That’s even weirder! I must check it out.

Do you have many memories of the people you interviewed for The Burger and the King?
Quite strong ones because it was such an unusual trip we took. The two people I remember vividly are his main cook at Graceland who was this lovely black lady called Mary Jenkins. We went and saw her three or four times and every time we were given all these peanut butter and banana sandwiches. She had this really tender relationship with Elvis, like his mother almost. She was on call at Graceland every day for 12 hours waiting for his orders. It was like a restaurant he had going there. So she invited us to this house that Elvis had bought for her in gratitude for her cooking services. She was great. She did some shopping for us. In the film you see her pushing the cart around the Piggly Wiggly food store.

She was a wonderful character and very honest. She knew that he was getting big and this wasn’t the right thing to do but she wanted to make him happy. It’s the classic thing of the love between them expressed through food. He was very nice to the people around him. He wasn’t one of these awful celebrities who are rude and mean to his staff. He’s very endearing in that respect.

The other person was this guy Dan Warlick who was the medical examiner in Memphis when Elvis died. His job was basically to find out why Elvis died which involved an autopsy essentially. At one point he told me he had Elvis’ voice box in his hand. So he was holding the seed of Elvis’ genius. It was amazing; I shook that hand, warmly and calmly, grasping it in a very loving and intense way. He was the guy who got us Dr Nick. He was no longer the coroner; he had retired and was a lawyer in private practice and Dr Nick was basically one of his clients. Because he liked us and thought we were alright he brokered that meeting, which was very weird and very awkward.

Dr Nick is a very controversial character in Elvis lore of course. A lot of people obviously blame him for Elvis’ death because of the amount of drugs he prescribed. I think he eventually had his medical licence removed some time after you made The Burger and the King.

And rightly so. Dr Nick is an interesting figure. I think he’s dead now. I was led into this sort of antechamber to his office and Dr Nick was on the other side of the room. We had about five minutes to set our gear up and he gave us about 20 minutes of his time. But within that we got a lot out of him. He hadn’t spoken about this for a very long time. He was obviously feeling very guilty. He looks very furtive and very haunted in the interview in the film. But he was really open about the nature of Elvis’ health problems and the prescriptions he was giving him. He wasn’t the only person by the way who was prescribing drugs to Elvis, it’s the whole Michael Jackson story all over again, there were other doctors he had lined up around Memphis who were supplying him with medication but Dr Nick was obviously the main supplier. In a sense his alibi was that he knew someone was going to do it so he’d rather control it. For better or for worse that was his line and that’s what he did. And I think that at a certain point everyone can agree that what he was doing was incredibly irresponsible and presumably contributed to Elvis’ demise, if not his actual death. Clearly his health had suffered enormously.

The problem was this. He was taking sedatives a lot, downers, barbiturates that slowed down his metabolism and also eating an enormous amount of food. He wasn’t digesting the food properly or indeed going through the proper bodily motions you need to keep going. He died in this extraordinary way. He died on the toilet trying to have shit basically. He tried so hard he gave himself a heart attack. It’s a very symbolic end to his eating career. We also met the undertaker who had kept the pillows which he’d laid Elvis on, like relics. There are Elvis relics all over the place.

The film’s look and the association with Memphis make me think of William Eggleston. There’s even an ominous ceiling fan in the final shot. Was that a conscious influence?

I actually didn't know Eggleston’s work at that time. It was only doing Wisconsin Death Trip that really turned me on to American photography so I wasn’t really aware of Eggleston’s work then. I would say that Errol Morris and other documentary filmmakers who were using quite sophisticated stylistic devices to tell stories were probably more important at that time to the way I shot the film. I’d made a film before that called Trouble Man about Marvin Gaye and that has again these image type reconstructions which are a paradigm of what you see in The Burger and the King. What you’re seeing are not dramatic reconstructions per se; you’re getting imagery that comments on the story and visualises certain aspects in some way that we can’t get through archive or interviews or documentary shooting. So this style emerged from Trouble Man and a general awareness that the documentary form could support that visual style. It doesn’t have to be reverential and puritanical; you can actually have fun while making a documentary. Man on Wire is the ultimate expression of that. This idea that you can make a film that is a documentary but doesn’t have to be responsible or observe documentary type restrictions. You can break that open and deal in potent imagery that you feel the audience will respond to.

Finally, since this is primarily a music blog, what's your favourite Elvis song?

That's easy. It's Blue Moon from the Sun sessions. Interestingly, I never used it in any of the films I've made that relate to Elvis - though I tried to use it at the end of The King and we couldn't afford to clear it.

MP3: Elvis Presley - Blue Moon (19/08/54)

Buy: 7digital | Amazon

I find the purity of the voice and the simplicity of the song overwhelming and very moving. At the end of the song there are these angelic moans that always make me shiver - they are the purest expression of longing that I know.

If you are a fan of James Marsh's other films you might want to read the rest of this interview in which I meander on to talk about Wisconsin Death Trip and Man on Wire a little more. I've uploaded it as a PDF.

Carnival Saloon's Elvis Month
Presley/Nixon - Elvis meets the President
Song-Poem Tributes to the King - amateur songwriting oddities
Elvis: That's The Way It Is - triumphant 197o concert film

Related Links
The Burger and the King (BBC)

Buy James Marsh's films at Amazon

Related Posts with Thumbnails



Back to TOP

Glamour Bomb Templates