Tag: Frank Zappa

My tribute to Mark E Smith

By Daniel Margrain

  • CAKE POLICE: WHY <b>MARK</b> <b>E</b>. <b>SMITH</b> IS COOLER THAN KURT COBAIN

Yesterday (January 24, 2018) the music world lost one of it’s most prolific, inimitable, distinctive and impenetrable characters. I first saw The Fall at Totnes Civic Hall in 1981. It was one of the greatest gigs I have ever seen – the best stay with you. Uncompromising to the last, the bands front man, Mark E Smith, was a much maligned and misunderstood artist and poet who maintained an aura that exuded menace combined with a characteristic dry and dark acerbic wit.

The Fall created a musical language that echoed the anti-conformism of the punks but was far more radical and authentic rooted in England’s northern suburban streets and smoke-filled pubs. The bands raw sound, and Smiths maniacal, unorthodox delivery and scowling on-stage presence, was indicative of the alienation felt by suburban youth of the period.

The Fall re-invented the anti-establishment language of Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band for a post-industrial generation of music fans who had grown up with the likes of Roxy Music, Lou Reed and the Stooges. Unlike many of their respective contemporaries, both Beefheart and Smith were genuine outsiders.

Whereas the musical aesthetic of the former closely resembled the marginal aspects of Freak Culture, The Fall faithfully expressed the anxieties of the punks. Both had a desecrating vision of the world, and both were not averse to intellectualism. Smith’s adoption of the famous Albert Camus novel, for example, was a deliberate invocation to something more profound than just music intended for estranged kids.

Smith emphasized that the underlying philosophy of the groups music was far closer to the aesthetic of the garage bands of the 1960s than it was to the simplistic profanity of the ’70s punks. Mark E Smith’s art can essentially be construed as a cryptic game imbued with pathos and humour but at the same time, darkly sinister.

Audience and band members alike were rarely able to relax during a Fall performance. As with Zappa and Beefheart – his key mentors – Smith had a clear artistic vision that required a musical discipline and devotion to the craft necessary to pull off the level of sustained musical repetition often associated with The Fall.

A self-confessed non-musician, Smith would sometimes berate his band when he felt the vision slipping. He knew what he wanted musically, and artistically, and pushed the band hard because he felt he had a certain responsibility to the public. He almost certainly wasn’t the kind of pathological dictator many have claimed.

Luke Turner on Twitter put it well when he said, “Smith didn’t rule The Fall, he wasn’t the dictator of cliché. He saw it as an entity outside of himself, of which he was the curator, the caretaker, the hip priest.”

Smith’s ability to play tricks on the public and his band is what kept both on their toes. His playful characteristic cackle and biting wit often underpinned a more serious side. He seemed to have an incredible ability to be able to tap into the psyche of people and displayed an innate sense of when he felt they were going too far, reining them in with apparent consummate ease. He appeared to understand what passes for human nature more than most people. If he hadn’t succeeded as a “musician”, Smith could of been a professional street hustler.

Indeed, the sound of the early Fall has more in common with the rambling street lo-fi music of David Peel than it does with any of the music trends of the period. Smith’s often deadpan and ironic lyrics were delivered in a manner that merged Iggy Pop with William Burroughs. The result was often primitive and tribal, but also Swiftian in terms of its intellectual endeavor.

The real critical successes of this early period, were the albums ‘Live at the Witch Trials’ (1979), the humorous singles, ‘Totally Wired’ (1980), ‘Elastic Man’ (1981) and the EP ‘Slates’ (1981). It was slightly later when the band first grabbed my attention.

The groups third session for the John Peel show – recorded on September 16, 1980 (first broadcast on the 24 September 1980) – was when the band really began to leave their mark. With the classic line up of Smith on vocals, Marc Riley (guitar), Craig Scanlon (guitar), Steve Hanley (bass) and Paul Hanley (drums), the band excelled with rockabilly infused tracks like ‘New Puritan’ and ‘New Face in Hell’.

But it wasn’t until March 21, 1983 that Smith and the group would produce their tour de force session for Peel – a cacophonous tribal rock masterpiece. The seminal ‘Smile’ from the session, later to appear on ‘Perverted By Language’ (1983), was performed live on Channel 4s ‘Tube’ show and to this day remains one of the greatest  performances by any British group seen on TV.

Other outstanding works include ‘Hex Enduction Hour’ (1982) and ‘This Nations Saving Grace’ (1985). The latter contains the muscular ‘Gut of the Quantifier’, the voodoobilly infused ‘Cruisers Creek’ and ‘Spoilt Victorian Child’. Of the bands later works, ‘The Real New Fall LP’ (2003) and ‘Your Future, Our Clutter’ (2010) stand out. The latter contains three Fall classics – ‘OFYC Showcase’, ‘Cowboy George’ and ‘YFOC Slippy Floor’.

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Correcting Tyranny

By Daniel Margrain

Recently, the Independent reported on the curious story of a group of Satanic worshippers who unveiled a statue of the Knights Templar goat-man called Baphomet in Arkansas. It was not so much the face value story that caught my attention but the statement made by Satanic Arkansas co-founder, Ivy Forrester: “If you’re going to have one religious monument up then it should be open to others. If you don’t agree with that then let’s just not have any at all,” said Forrester.

Equal religious status

On the surface, the demand by Satanists that they have equal religious status with Christians, appears absurd. But is it?  Under the 1st and 14th amendments to the United States Constitution it is possible, using freedom of religion provisions, to obtain equal recognition for any proposed “religion” upon the payment of a nominal fee. A few US states have offered ordination by mail or on-line of The Church of the Latter-Day Dude and the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster as a result of their adherents’ willingness to stump up the requisite cash.

These, and other parody religions have also sought the same reasonable accommodation legally afforded to mainstream established religions that Forrester argues is equally applicable to Satanism. The 1st and 14th amendments to the US constitution ensure that legally no distinction can be made between the rights of citizens to have their faith in belief systems recognized (or ridiculed) under the right to freedom of expression, irrespective of the form the said ‘religion’ takes.

The critical demands placed upon belief systems and critiques of their evidence-based deficiencies apply equally to the Church of the Latter-Day Dude. Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster and mainstream established religions. All are afforded equal status under US law and all are open to scrutiny, ridicule and parody on an equal basis.

The problem is that established organised religions consider themselves to be absolved from ridicule in the way that the likes of the Church of the Latter-Day Dude and the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster do not. The implication is that established religious belief systems are more credible than non-established ‘joke’ religions. But neither are fact based.

So why should a distinction be made between them in terms of one group being immune from criticism, ridicule and parody and the other open to these kinds of critiques? Why does one group make demands in law to be taken seriously despite the unsubstantiated claims that are made and the other remain open to be parodied and ridiculed on the basis of these unsubstantiated claims? Surely, the notion that all belief systems should be open to criticism and/or parody and ridicule whether established or not, should be regarded as a welcome development in free and democratic societies?

Those who formed the Church of the Latter-Day Dude and the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster are using the right to freedom of expression under the US Constitution to augment their right to parody other belief systems in the same way that they would expect others, including those who adhere to more established irrational beliefs, to ridicule them. Satirists and others who form spoof religious groups as vehicles for exercising their right to freedom of speech, actively embrace their right to be both offended and to offend the belief systems of others unhindered.

The United States is leading the way in inadvertently exposing the absurdity of organised religious dogma in all it’s forms. The freedom of satirists to be able to self-reflect on the ‘faiths’ they have themselves created in order to expose the absurdity of long established religious dogmas is central to healthy democracies. Nevertheless, it still remains the case that there are limits set by many European state legislatures as to how far down the road its citizens are allowed to go in lampooning organised religion.

Life of Brian & the Satanic Verses

One of my earliest memories of having my right to be offended and to offend curtailed was when, in their infinite wisdom, Torbay Borough Council and thirty-eight others throughout the UK decided to ban the Monty Python religious comedy satire, The Life of Brian, from cinema’s on the basis that it was deemed by a small minority to have been “blasphemous”.

Incredibly, the ban in Torbay remained in place until 2008 lasting 29 years. More significantly, the film was shunned by the BBC and ITV, who declined to broadcast it for fear of offending Christians in the UK. Blasphemy was restrained – or its circulation effectively curtailed – not by the force of law “but by the internalization of this law.

Almost a decade after the The Life of Brian controversy, orthodox religion was again the catalyst behind the attempt to censor art. The Satanic Verses, Salman Rushdie’s fourth novel, first published in 1988, was inspired in part by the life of Muhammad. As with his previous books, Rushdie used magical realism and relied on contemporary events and people to create his characters.  

Many Muslims accused Rushdie of blasphemy and subsequently engaged in a number of book burning exercises throughout the UK. In mid-February 1989, following a violent riot against the book in Pakistan, the Ayatollah Khomeini, then Supreme Leader of Iran and a Shi’a Muslim scholar, issued a fatwa against Rushdie and his publishers.

Disgraced British parliamentarian, Keith Vaz, who led a march through Leicester shortly after he was elected in 1989, rallied behind India’s decision to ban the book by calling for the same in the UK. To date, with police protection, Rushdie has escaped direct physical harm. However, forty-one others associated with his book have either been murdered or have suffered violent attacks leading to serious, and in some cases, life threatening injuries.

Hebdo, Diedonne & Corbyn

Islamic fundamentalism was again to play a part in regards to its opposition to the French satirical magazine, Charlie Hebdo. The publication, which featured cartoons, reports, polemics, and irreverent jokes, was the target of two terrorist attacks, in 2011 and 2015 in response to a number of controversial cartoons it published of the prophet. In the second of these attacks, 12 people were killed, including the magazines publishing director and several other prominent cartoonists.

Meanwhile, in France, public officials, Jewish groups and others have attempted to censor the satirist, political activist and comedian Diedonne M’bala M’bala, for his outspoken criticisms of the Israeli state. More recently the pro-Israel Lobby in the UK have attempted to gag pro-Palestinian activists that include Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn. In both cases, the aim of the Lobby is to curtail the freedom of speech of all voices critical of the ethnic cleansing policies of an apartheid state using contrived anti-Semitism allegations as their justification.

The great musician and satirist, Frank Zappa, believed rightly, that no barrier, however “offensive”, should be placed in the way of freedom of expression. Zappa’s targets were everything and everybody from religion, politicians and corporations through to “Catholic girls”, “Jewish princesses”, “valley girls”, black people, white people and ideologies of all kinds. He showed no mercy for the human condition and regularly exposed hypocrisy at every turn. This is the spirit of freedom and openness that we should all aspire to but which religious dogmas and political ideologies often try to suppress.

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50 classic albums to listen to before you die (1/5)

By Daniel Margrain

TNT (1998)  Tortoise
Musically and technically as clinically executed as anything produced by the German masters, Can, Tortoise add a modern twist to the classical minimalist/jazz & prog-Canterbury genres. Despite the albums fusing of a multitude of influences – Miles Davis, Soft Machine, Steve Reich, Ennio Morricone – there is enough rhythmic experimentation by way of funk, dub and even Caribbean timbres that give the music on this record a wonderfully flowing and distinct richness.

 

We’re Only In It For The Money (1968) The Mother’s Of Invention
This visionary work (alongside Captain Beefheart and the Velvet Underground), virtually invented what was to become the punk aesthetic. Frank Zappa’s cynicism and cutting wit is evident throughout the album. This, the third masterpiece of his psychedelic trilogy, is similar in structure to his first two, but this is possibly his most accomplished. Here he uses the collage of parody with added brilliant technical expertise. The album is the musical equivalent of a Burroughs novel – each cut-and paste piece while seemingly fragmented, are in fact welded into a seamless narrative continuity.

 

Have A Marijuana (1969) David Peel
David Peel’s contribution to the counter-culture of the 1960s is a significant but under-recognized one. The punk aesthetics of the late 1970s can probably be traced back to the ramshackle street busking-style approach of Peel and his fellow travelling minstrels who utilize folk agit-prop and Fugs-style satire to comment on the social issues of their day. There is a wonderful organic sense of authenticity, albeit simplicity, in Peel’s art. His lyrics are deceptively clever, the spartan hillbilly hoedown nature of the music, story-telling and comedy skits fresh, and his the use of the streets of New York’s Lower East Side, an innovation. Politically and socially, the contemporary occupy movement can arguably be traced back to Peel’s street “happenings”.

 

Incunabula (1993) Autechre
With Incunabula, the Manchester duo Autechre created a distinctive form of postmodern electronic music that was a far more organically sophisticated and carefully calibrated version of the standard techno/chill-out music of the period. The duos rhythms are akin to an intricate and meticulous ‘design in sound’ that skilfully bridge a number of related genres. These include synth-pop, Indian classical music, minimalism, ambient music, the electronic pop sensibilities of Kraftwerk and the transcendental psychedelic explorations of Tangerine Dream.

 

Pink Moon (1972) Nick Drake
Unlike Drake’s previous two releases, the style of Pink Moon is stark, minimal and radical. The album appears to be the result of an increased existential anguish. Drake’s stories are desolate and anchored in refrains of solitude and obsession. The album – a sleight collection of deeply personal songs – consists of a chilling but deeply moving combination of surreal rhymes and apocalyptic ballads. Drake’s songwriting is highly influential and his supreme soft and melancholic style of delivery has a universal and timeless quality to it. Pink Moon is Drake’s masterpiece.

 

The Marble Index (1968)  Nico
This masterpiece was the album that introduced Nico’s unique art to the world. There is no precedent for the chanteuse’s icy gothic, medieval and neo-classical aesthetics – eerie and doom-laden but no less beautiful for that. This is a stunningly original, timeless and erudite work of art that surpasses commercial considerations. As John Cale put it in the liner notes to the record: “The Marble Index is an artefact, not a commodity.”

 

Bufo Alvarius, Amen (1995) Bardo Pond
One of the most musically accomplished bands of their time (and of any time), Bardo Pond produced this brilliant album that comprises a maelstrom of guitar distortions and manic drumming underscored by repetitively brutal, cosmic and supersonic drones. The overall soundscape is one that merges the experimental post-rock of say, Sonic Youth, the acid jam of Grateful Dead, the electrifying powerhouse blues of the Stooges and the serene shoegazing of My Bloody Valentine. This is one of the key albums of the 1990s – it’s reputation grows with the passage of time.

 

Mirror Man (1971) Captain Beefheart And His Magic Band
Mirror Man showcases The Magic Band at it’s most deliberately shambolic and free. Long ‘live’ primordial rambling jams extend the notion of the Blues standard to its limits. Structurally, Beefheart (Don Van Vliet) and his band game-play in the Delta-Blues tradition adding satirical and infantile elements over a creative carpet of complex rhythms and free Blues arrangements. The result is an extraordinary work of pyrotechnical brilliance. With its combination of a bedlam of guitars and tribal percussion, Mirror Man was the first rock album to shape an aesthetic of ‘anti-music’. Beefheart’s revolutionary artistic vision transcends the superficiality of the acid trip by servicing it to the musical theatre of the absurd. As one critic put it:“This music is the most faithful expression of the Freak culture, of its marginalization more than its rebellion, of its inexhaustible creativity, of its academic disgust, of its infantile ferocity of its desecrating vision of the world”

 

Tonight’s The Night (1975) Neil Young
Tonight’s The Night is a solemn meditation on the pessimism of the 1970s that emerged from the idealism of the 1960s. This is a record of immense, but at the same time, subtle beauty borne out of loss and redemption. The warmth, humour and overriding sense of raw humanity and vulnerability depicted by Young’s rich lyricism, quirky vocals and the all-round brilliant but understated musicianship, touches the deep recesses of the psyche in a very profound way. This is arguably Neil Young’s most solidly consistent work from his most creatively fertile ‘Ditch trilogy’ period. This is a recording that will refuse to date because both the themes, raw poetic beauty of the lyrics and the quality of the musicianship are timeless.

 

Astral Weeks (1968) Van Morrison
Recorded over the space of 12 hours, Astral Weeks is a beautifully unifying and ultimately brave work of art that merges jazz-rock elements, poetry and Morrison’s unique stream of consciousness vocal delivery. This, more than any other, is the album that I have been most drawn to over the last 37 years, having first listened to it as a 15 year old in 1977 when most of my friends were obsessing over the contemporary bands of the new wave. The sheer beauty of the music, and the timeless vivid imagery conjured up by the lyrics, are unmatched in the history of rock music. This album, probably more than any other, has been the soundtrack to my life.