The further you are from something, the easier it is to analyse; the closer you are to it, the easier it is to feel. Bob Dylan’s latest song (and likely one-off) Murder Most Foul rings out simultaneously close and distant, a hollow elegy for a time which is finally seeing the sunset, usurped by all that has followed in the years since.
I watched Training Day. Here are 5 thoughts about it.
Feelings, eh. Feelings, they’re- they’re good, yes? Feelings are good and it’s good to have them, yes, fellas? Feelings are the co-ordinates we lay atop the empty and imposing landscape of the world we live in, the divining rod of human endeavour, the core of how and what we experience in these short years we’re lucky enough to have in this tiny blue orb spinning atop an endless cosmos, indifferent to our whims and yet endlessly sustaining them.
Feelings, they’re- yes- good, no? Yes?
In 1967, the Velvet Underground built the house.
In 1979, Joy Division furnished the house.
The pop song is the perfect form for those emotions that arrive and pass quickly, intertwined with the fabric of our lives; a good pop song can do in three minutes what we fail to, or don’t think to, articulate in a lifetime. A good pop song has to do three things; it has to be universal, it has to sound good, and it has to have a chorus you can sing along to. The second two are easier than the first.
Every good pop song starts somewhere, and Erasure’s masterful jewel-like acoustic-synthpop track A Little Respect starts with a plea, perhaps one of the most universal; a plea for respect, literally, and understanding, figuratively. It is the sound of one man, at his most vulnerable, opening up to an imagined lover (many pop songs are addressed to imagined lovers). It carries a strain of hope, as he asks ‘would you open your arms out to me’, and it carries a strain of sadness, as he declares ‘you’re making me work so hard‘.
The two main notes of this song are hope, and sadness. It exists at the precise point where vulnerability and fortitude collide; singer Andy Bell is clearly at a place of emotional distress, and yet despite his distress he also has the courage to look the object of his desires in the eye and say; do better, be better, I deserve more.
Thus, this is perhaps one of the most empowering pop songs ever made. It is helped by the fact that Bell is a gay man, and the song was written in the 1980’s, when fear of the HIV virus was at its height, and the virus itself remained uncured. Only 24 when he wrote it, one can assume that Bell was very conscious of the worries of the community at the time, especially as he was later diagnosed with HIV, and released music to raise funds for AIDS research.
As I type this, I’m watching Queer Eye, a hugely popular show created by one of the biggest content producers in the world, in which five gay men are the base, or ‘norm’, and the various (often straight) people they encounter are the ones who need their help, who are in some way missing something that those gay men provide. This is an obviously pointed description of the show, but thought of in those terms, it is all the more stark that we can come from a pop song founded on the premise of basic respect, to a widespread media project in which being gay is normalised.
But this isn’t simply a song about gay experiences (although those experiences perhaps lend it an urgency that might otherwise have been lacking). And it also isn’t a song told simply with words; musically, this song contains a very pleasing staccato synth-riff in an oscillating ABAB structure, underscored by a rich acoustic guitar; both of these instrument chug through the song, adding a marching quality that, musically, resembles someone getting to their feet. The deepness of the Clarke’s guitar playing is matched by the fraught falsetto of Bell’s singing, with the singing bringing the sadness and the instrumentals bringing the determination.
But it is, in the end, a pop song; it can be danced to, it can be sung along to, and if the mood is right it can be cried along to. It can be as deep or as lightweight as you want it to be, and that, for me, is the hallmark of a truly great song. Which this is.
For context; I’ve had a few ideas knocking about for a while, regarding a potential miniseries about a confused young man navigating the fetish community. Here is the pilot for that miniseries. I just wanted documented proof of a thing that I’d written. Publishing it here (I think) immediately disqualifies it from being entered in any competitions and the like, which is probably the only way it would ever get made, but I’ve decided that a few middling comments from a screenplay judge isn’t worth the potential feedback this might get from a wider range of people (he said optimistically).
Unless, of course, someone reading this wants to make it. In which case, please get in touch.
“You have to walk hand in hand with death through life.”
This is the truest line of dialogue spoken in Nobuhiro Suwa’s flawed yet captivating 2017 film The Lion Sleeps Tonight, and it is a barefaced lie. It is spoken by Jean Pierre Léaud, playing a thinly veiled version of himself, called Jean. The words are to his ex-lover, Juliette (Pauline Etienne) who may or may not have committed suicide, but did die mysteriously, at the age of 23. Jean, now 72, has started to see her, her ghost, her essence, as she has been preserved in his memory through Jean’s long years without her.
Girl Band’s new single, Shoulderblades, is one of the best songs of the year so far, a pummelling and ascendant noise-rock dirge with an uncertain structure that draws repeated listens like water from a tap. This piece is not about the song. It is, however, about the music video. Music videos have long been an underrated artform, and whilst some are simply vehicles for the song, some, such as Pulp’s This Is Hardcore (dir. Doug Nichol), and Grace Jone’s Corporate Cannibal (dir. Nick Hooker), operate distinctly as works of significance in her own right.
A conflict has been percolating for some time, between the responsibility of art in a violent world, and the idea that art has no responsibilities. Slightly different from the idea of censorship, manifestations of this conflict have lead left-wing protestors (typically anti-censorship) to do things like boycott an X-Men film (ostensibly a children’s film) because of a poster showing a woman being choked, and right-wing protestors (usually pro-censorhip) to hide their arguments behind the flimsy muslin gauze of ‘free speech’. A very charitable reading of this debate is that people are demanding higher standards from their art. A less charitable one might be that people, as Jarett Kobek has observed, are so saturated in capitalist media that the very act of seeing a superhero film can be considered ‘activism’, and thus people are requesting that the landscape fit their beliefs.
Three Colours Blue was the film that made me a cinephile. It was among the first films I wrote about, after I first watched it at the age of fifteen. It is the film that both shaped, and thus limited, my view of what cinema was capable of, and that first viewing eight years ago was akin to a religious experience. It tells a simple story, of a widower coping with the loss of her husband and daughter in a car accident, through her attempts to ‘free’ herself from her grief (the film is modelled on the French ideal of liberty), and yet seeing it for the first time I felt my soul being lifted up, to places other films were simply incapable of reaching. It was the first film that felt like it was being born inside my eyes, relentlessly alive and almost conscious.