Monday, December 22, 2008

Three stories: 1 Women Are


A light bulb vibrant and glowing yellow, almost purest white. Then a field of trees, burning, flames roaring free and singeing the clouds. A church steeple, the cross, purest white and in the sky, down to a wall, the sodden earth, a marble floor.

A woman with a young girl holding on to her left hand, looking timid. The woman in a loose wrap-around skirt, dirt brown like the soil, a scarf wound turban-like around her head, her face, clean and white, a small baby held in her free arm, clutched tightly against her breast, its face staring blankly out into the world, not knowing why it is hanging there. Not yet self-conscious in any way.

Then another marble floor, the same woman is still barefooted, and we see a bracelet around one ankle and a small tattoo of a bird on the other. She is staring, blankly, tired, frozen and daunted at the bottom of an underground escalator. I am at the top of the escalator, smoking, dust blowing into my eyes in a gust of wind so strong that I cannot suck on my cigarette and taste the tobacco. I step out into the street where there is no movement except for the warm night air.

The cigarette finished and dropped, a shoe treads the stub into the pavement, a black Doctor Martin boot, a scarlet-stockinged leg, a short skirt, crewcut jumper and short jacket, a bright, heated face with blazing red lipstick, wildly gazing about her - alien, scaled, alive and beautiful.A tramp passes by muttering a stream of incomprehensible phrases, ending in a crystal clear "I didne steal it" and takes out the bottle of whisky concealed in his overcoat. The lights are colourful and fuzzy, cars speed by, in the night, unrecognisable in the formless dark. A neon light, flashes 'ComeOn!ComeIn!' A red traffic light turns amber.

Indoors: A short woman with long blonde curly hair is leaning her back against the radiator, standing and staring down at the palms of her hands. A man's shadow is cast over her. She looks towards him and begins to speak: "I was reading a book about palmistry," she says.

I have a clear picture of the wrinkles on the palms of her hands upturned, laid out in front of her accusingly. "My mother must have left it in the flat. I don't know how it got there."

Her right forefinger runs along the major curved line of her left hand down to the wrist. "Look, it is so thin and weak. And there are so many lines crossing it."

The picture is frozen, engraved on my memory. She is frowning, her eyebrows edge closer together. A man, it is I, sips at a white plastic cup half full with a warm brown liquid. The woman continues to speak:

"The lines say I must be weak and indecisive."

I look at her, slowly, thoroughly, without expression. I put the cup down, turn my hands over and open my palms. "Your lines are so strong and certain," she says. Just so, there are no crossing lines, only firm blotchy pink flesh.

"It's true," I say, "I have direction," smiling, only half joking. The woman is still looking down at her hands now, smiling a worried smile.

The same woman is alone, walking up a barren communal stairwell, in a reasonably plush block of flats. She puts a key in a door, opens it, and steps inside a flat which is large and has a decor significant for its security, its apparent wealth, its feel of otherness that is not her own: a clean kitchen, a big double bed, no curtains in the windows, and an array of ornaments. She puts a disc in the hifi, something quietly spacious and ethereal like PaulBley's Open To Love.

The man is in another place. It is clearly shabby and barren. He is huddled over an old wooden table, unvarnished and cracking: he is making a list of his certainties. Writing in a blackbiro:

  • 1. I am permanently homeless. I change my address once every three months, I share essential facilities with people who are not of my choosing.

  • 2. I am badly paid, my work is unregulated and temporary, it holds no future nor any meaning.

  • 3. I am a man. I am alone.

  • A bed of roses in a park. It is a warm sunny day in Spring. A drake is chasing a duck across a patch of grass over hung by an old oak tree, something solid. The female duck runs just enough to separate them, and then she stops, to allow the male to close in, and then she starts again. Infatuated.

    The man is crouching by a pond in the park. More ducks are floating on the water, the sky is clearest blue. There are flowers, and people are walking along the footpath on the other side of the water. Our gaze focuses on a couple, a man and a woman, their arms around eachother, smiling. Patches of cloud emerge in the blue of the sky.

    A woman is sitting with glasses, on a bench, well-dressed like a businesswoman, reading a newspaper. Another, perfectly formed, is lying on the grass in a pair of cream shorts and a white vest, dark glasses, staring at the sky.

    Then a line of people at a bus stop. A large black woman in a large black dress with lace trimming. An over-weight middle-aged white woman with two over flowing bags of shopping either side of her. A man in a suit, holding nothing. An old woman with a handbag big enough to devour the whole world, her face haggard and drawn. Looking up the road, people and shops, a dreary autumn day now, grey in texture as if the city's smog had seeped into the lens of the camera.

    Our lives are not drawn like random lots, they are made. But we all have a hand in their making. Karl Marx. Roll credits and


    author: Jon Simmons, © 1990

    Three stories: 2 Men Are Also


    There was a time once, Miles Davis met a dog in the street and smiled. I wasn't there, but that doesn't matter. Miles was wearing a black roll-neck jumper and jeans. The dog sniffed at his black leather boots. Resisting the temptation to kick the scraggy mutt, Miles pulled out a trumpet and blew a few bars of Walkin' and the dog looked up at him with respect.

    Miles lowered the trumpet to his side and carried on strolling down the street. He stopped at a bar and looked in. It was a dirty old basement bar beneath a cheap chinese restaurant; a fish soup for 25c kind of place.

    Inside the bar Charles Bukowski was talking to a little girl dressed in a tight-fitting school uniform, plying her with drinks and slurred words of lust. Her body seemed strange in the clothes, as if she had just discovered her grandmother's wedding dress and was playing some sort of game. Miles looked again and saw that the schoolgirl was older than she first appeared, older than either he or Charlie he thought, not that either of them was that old.

    This girl-woman was short, with small breasts and delicate thin arms, although her thighs were white and as solid as tree trunks, and her hair looked like it had been permed but permed some place where permanent spelt three days at most. There were little wrinkles around her eyes and at the corner of her mouth. A thin line of down coated her upper lip. Charlie collapsed from stool to floor and laughed his wild boy laugh, and as she stooped to pick him up he fell against her chest, heaving and smiling.

    Miles ordered a whisky with coke and ice and stared into the mirror behind the bar which was hidden between the skittlish rows of bottles and glasses making Miles wonder what it would be like to shoot a bowling ball down the full length of the back counter. However, Miles didn't have his ball. The light was dim but he could just about make out Sonny and Jim jawing in the back room, Sonny lying with his back on the pool table, a cigarette between his slender fingers, the long dark shape of the man stretched out against green felt, looking almost grey in the light and the smoke on the mirror. Miles sat on his stool and did not turn around. The barman asked him about the football and Miles told him he was more of a baseball man himself. The barman shrugged his shoulders, accepting Miles' offer of a cigarette as if he was indulging his own generosity.

    Miles finished his drink and left the bar halfway through his third cigarette. he walked down 115th Street practising dance steps, although he was no dancer, and whistling a tune Joe had played him that morning. It was a cool tune, a sweepy jumping melody that reminded him of nothing else, but in his head it was magnificent, and like a million others.

    He stopped and crouched down to pick up an envelope which lay on the sidewalk. It was dated May 5th and addressed to a P C Brown. Miles opened it out of curiosity without a second thought. It contained a Court Order for the previous day and a small stash of grass. He put the grass in his pocket and threw the letter away, stopping at the next set of lights to catch his breath. It was a warm night but the air still smelled fresh, although even then he could concentrate on the whiff of petrol fumes from the road and the noise from the apartment blocks three streets away.

    It was a melancholy evening and the Blue train cafe was closed for the winter. Miles went next door where he'd arranged to meet with Sal and came down the steps into another dark basement bar, although one with a little more life to it. Herb was strumming a piano in the corner but Sal was nowhere to be seen.

    Sal never showed, ever, but it was always worth making the date because Sal knew all the cool bars in the city. Miles had had his fair share of missed dates with Sal and so, by now, he knew enough of his own, but they were all just pockets of loneliness and tonight Miles wanted company. Not the sort of company you had to be anything with, but just the sort you could be with and feel O.K.

    Miles ordered a whisky and coke and sat at the bar. he smiled at Herb and Herb raised one hand from the keys to wave in return, solemn and intense, maintaining the rhythm with his other hand, but happy, sweat pouring from his brow. Miles was smiling wide and low, impressed by Herb's dexterity.

    Turning back to the bar he hunched up over his glass and took some peanuts. Then Sal walked in...


    author: Jon Simmons, © 1990

    Three stories: 3 Big Life v Spontaneity

    What is it that makes modern life so exciting, so fresh ?!

    The film opens with a blank white wall. Its only scar the graffiti, words which read - What makes modern life so exciting ? - splayed across it in tall scraggy red-painted letters. The camera stares at the wall a moment and then slowly turns to the left to face a long clinically white corridor which resembles a bleached interior of a large piece of sewage piping. There is a dim view of an exit far away in the distance. Perhaps there is no exit, perhaps it is only a sign to an exit, perhaps there are only ever signs. Nothing much is clear.

    A thin young man with black hair and black shoes, black jeans and a black jean jacket, is walking down the corridor towards the camera. His shoes are metal capped and make a loud resonant clicking sound in time with his steps.

    He nears the camera. He passes the camera, which turns to follow his back down an equally endless white corridor. The camera does not tire of repetition but is constantly looking for a new form. It drops its gaze down to the floor where a printed sign reads - wet paint. A tiny grey-brown rat, more shrunken and mouse like through malnourishment, darts into shot, runs along and across the sign and then up the corridor following the man in black.

    Cut to a hamburger bar in the centre of the city. Clean and empty. The man in black walks into the restaurant, its brightly lit and over-mirrored decor, its painted clouds on the ceiling, an orchestra playing tinny muzak versions of On Broadway and Feelings. The man is accompanied by a smart looking woman with short-cropped blonde hair, a tight short green dress, green shoes and green tights. She is also wearing black shades and a wide black belt.

    They go up to a counter and order: a coffee and burger for him, and a chocolate milkshake for her. The camera concentrates on the glazed but smiling expression of the boy behind the counter, his tanned but slightly sickly complexion, his short curly black hair, his red and white uniform, the irregular baseball cap perched on his slightly under-sized head.

    Cut to the couple sitting in a cubicle, the restaurant full of tourists, americans and arab students. A young girl, about fifteen, in tights and a mismatched skirt, heavily made-up, stares into a wall mirror by the couple's side. The girl lifts a finger to her lips and pulls the lower lip down slightly, as if admiring her gums. The camera moves down her face from her lips, down her shoulders, along her arm and onto the couple's table to the cup of coffee. The man pours in his half-cream and the camera focuses only on the emerging bubbles at the rim of the plastic cup.

    He says: I wonder where the toilet is ? (Cut to)

    He says: I would consider fire-bombing all hamburger bars for aesthetic reasons alone. (Cut to)

    He says: Bright lighting must hold some undefined attraction to the mentally and spiritually dead. (Cut to)

    He says: Perhaps the discomfort and ugliness is reflective of a different culture into which I can find no opening ? (Cut to)

    She says: The transience of life, the in-built decay and mass- produced cheapness, the necessity of speed, the desperate desire for movement, are all part of the system which demands that we work to escape and by working forbid ourselves any chance to escape.

    (Cut to)

    An airport lounge, nearly empty. There is little human movement and those people who are there are mainly sat down, reading magazines, asleep or gazing at the ceiling. Through the windows which completely envelope the lounge we see an aeroplane taking off. The woman, previously in green but now similarly dressed in red, shows her passport to a uniformed official and passes into the pre-flight area.

    The man in black is already in the car park. There are about half a dozen big black cars - Daimlers and Mercedes and so forth. The rest of the car park is three quarters full with red and blue cars of varying shades and designs, cheaper models but all very clean and sparkling. The man in black unlocks a purple sports car and climbs into the driver's seat.
    (Cut to)

    The purple car pulls off a motorway into a service station, a small cafe and eight petrol pumps. Behind the car a posse of suburban Hell's Angels follow on large motorbikes, leather jackets with names and bands painted on their rears. (Cut to) The man is sitting at a table in the cafe. Across the other side of the room the Hell's Angels have taken over two tables and are fooling around with bags of sugar and plastic knives. The waitress walks over to the man and asks if he is ready to order. (Cut to) The man is consuming some toast and coffee. In the background the light has changed. The Hell's Angels have a number of cans of coke and some empty plates in front of them. They walk out of the restaurant and the man watches them start up their bikes through the large cafe windows. The waitress passes his table and he asks for a bill. She appears to ignore him. (Cut to)

    The man is driving the purple car at speed down a motorway. A tape of noisy thrashy music is playing on the car stereo. The shot switches from inside the car and the man, to outside the car and the motorway, looking into the car through the windscreen. Then an aerial shot of the motorway and the purple car below. Then following the car as it pulls off onto a slip road and past a large hoarding which bears the neatly printed statement

    - Spontaneity and Chance Account for
    All Births and Most Deaths -

    then (Cut to) an express train shooting directly at and past the camera blowing a very loud and shrieking horn. Then

    The End

    author: Jon Simmons © 1990

    Tuesday, December 09, 2008

    Happy as I am

    A Xmas mixtape for you.

    This one is about the slowest-paced I think I've ever made, but it has its own stories, and is full-to-the-brim with a sense of happiness-inducing melancholia and cold wintery spacyness. There's even a seasonal touch. Your heartbeat might slow a little listening to this, but that could be a good thing.

    It's a full CD's worth so once again comes in two parts - each a 50mb zipfile of mp3s:

    Tracklisting, and a few sample tracks, below:

    1. Elder Lightfoot Solomon Michaux - Happy Am I (thanks to an Adam Gnade mixtape)
    2. Apples in Stereo - (Baby Its) So Cold
    3. Belle & Sebastian - Judy and the Dream of Horses (BBC Session)
    4. Herman Dune - I wish that I could see you soon
    5. C.R. Avery - Moxie (short and sweet)
    6. Frontier Ruckus - Orion Town 2
    7. Marvin Gaye - Baby don't you do it
    8. Jim Boggia - chalk one up for Albert's side
    9. Michael Hurley - Sweedeedee mp3
    10. The Great Park - Fair and Fine
    11. The Accidental - Knock Knock mp3
    12. The Four King Cousins - God only knows (Beach Boys cover)
    13. Tanya Tucker - The Man That Turned My Mama On
    14. Bobby Charles - small town talk (this is so-o-o slow)
    15. The Doors - Peace Frog
    16. Fela Kuti - funky horn
    17. Richard Swift - Lady Luck (100% pure soul)
    18. Ben Folds - Learn to Live with What You Are (too well produced)
    19. Jerry Reed - That Lucky Old Sun (Just Rolled Around Heaven All Day)
    20. The Dragons - Food for my soul
    21. Pacific Ocean Fire - The Sickness of the Season (no-no-Xmas)
    22. The Boggs - Holiday
    23. Dean Martin - Winter wonderland (sorry)
    24. Kathy McCarty - Living Life (Daniel Johnston cover) mp3
    Seasons greetings and all that

    Saturday, December 06, 2008

    2008 Some favourite musics

    A year of many good things, but hard to choose between any.

    The critics promoted their favourites, and the many well-hyped acts like Last Shadow Puppets, Fleet Foxes, and Bon Iver, all of whom will no doubt feature highly in many end-of-year lists, but they didn't resonate with me. I can't select a single album to rank above all others this year, so I'm just selecting ten that all rank highly, in a kind of random order. And then a few more, not least because it's been a long year and I'd forgotten some of the great albums that appeared in the first few months.

    Actually I'm not sure about this list, but I can't be bothered to think about Christmas and end-of-years and doing this properly at all. Guess I should try to listen to some of these some more...

    But they're all gorgeous in their own way, and there have been countless others I simply haven't had the time to listen to.

    The Great Park - The Great Park

    We could have, we should have, we didn't was reviewed here and is probably my favourite album of the year, but it was only available in 100 copies and is near enough sold out, so instead I'll plump for the Great Park timezone CD which pulled together some of the best songs from the first five or so Woodland releases. All the usual themes of persecution, sadness, escape.

    Buy it here

    Okkervil River - the Stand Ins

    A companion piece to last year's The Stage Names, and both were equal partners, full of the beautiful wordy poetic songsmithing we've come to love. Get it here

    Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds - Dig, Lazarus Dig

    Made the Grinderman CD look like a cheap rehearsal; this was the main thing. A brilliant peak in a career of many peaks. Buy Dig!!! Lazarus Dig!!! !!!

    Portishead - III

    Another fine return, from a band we thought might have imploded. Buy Third

    Shearwater - Rook

    A bleak but moving delight of a record, from another side of Okervil River. Buy Rook

    The Miserable Rich - 12 Ways to Count

    A delightful album, mixing cynicism and romance in just the right measure. Buy Twelve Ways to Count because.

    Jenny Lewis - Acid Tongue

    Another lovely does of alt country pop, and better than the Rilo Kiley day job. Get your Acid Tongue

    King Khan and the Shrines - Supreme Genius of...

    The Supreme Genius of King Khan & the Shrines is genius ! Enjoyable garage rock/soul. I see him more as James Brown than Iggy Pop, but regardless.

    Bob Dylan - Tell Tale Signs

    Tell Tale Signs: Rare and Unreleased 1989-2006 gets a mention as it is brilliant, in spite of the outrageous price tag for the 3 disc edition.

    The Accidental - There were Wolves

    Buy There Were Wolves, a wonderful slice of folk-pop.



    Belle and Sebastian - BBC Sessions. Usual stuff, nice stuff. Get it here

    Youth Movies - Good Nature
    . I didn't think I'd like indie-prog, but I do. This was an excellent album. Buy it here

    Mary Hampton - My Mother's Children.
    I have no idea what planet she's on, but I like it. Buy it here

    The Mountain Goats - Heretic Pride. A constantly interesting band, becoming almost Fall-like in their ability to churn out endless quantities of great songs in an inimitable style
    . Find it here

    Laura Marling - Alas I cannot Swim, a lovely collection of folk ballads from a powerful young songsmith. Find it here

    A special mention for the self-produced, self-released in Australia The Middle East - The Recordings of the Middle East. Limited run, now sold out.

    Neil Young - Sugar Mountain: Live at Canterbury House 1968, one of the earliest solo concerts and still sounding fresh after 40 years and shows Fleet Foxes how great crafted sugary-folk should be done

    Blitzen Trapper - Furr, not as surprising as Wild Mountain Nation, but still full of joyful punk-folk anarchy


    Boggs - Forts
    . Mish mash mix of fun. Get it here


    Friday, December 05, 2008

    Music Technology, a brief history lesson

    Every successful new technological innovation in music recording and playback has led to an expansion of the market for recorded music.

    U.S. Music Sales, 1975-2005: Vinyl, cassettes, and CDs

    MP3s are showing the same trend, their curve beginning in the late 1990s with Napster etc. There is a price effect, as new technology reduces the unit cost of a recording. There is also reported to be a replacement effect - people who bought vinyl, downsizing their record shelves to CD-size. And I think also a generational effect, as the children of the 60s and 70s continue to purchase new music in their middle age, where the generation before them did not, thereby expanding the market.