Mustard and Catch Up

Yes, it has been a while, hasn’t it? Well, we here in the Grotto are not immune to the vagaries and trip-ups the world places before us.

Thus it is necessary – imperative, really – to eke (eek!) out a little pocket of time, as best we can, by any or most means necessary, for the creative stuff.

As another estimable fantasy scribe, Mister P. Beagle, has said, sometimes the best advice for writers is that they get one’s gluteus on the damned chair and just let it flow, from cerebrum to hand to page/PC screen. Thus emboldened, here we are.

Though really, the excuses, distractions and whatnot do make one wish that the services of, say, a ghost writer were within financial capacity. Like the sweatshop of Factory lackeys who actually wrote the Andy Warhol Philosophy book, which did such a serious number on my teenage imagination (as did eventually discovering the truth of its authorship).

Or at least wishing I was Don Marquis, with a genius cockroach typing up its far more colorful, ingenious opinions and daily doings. My inbred neatnik domestic compulsions, though, sadly render this option non-viable.

Thinking about Warhol and ghostwriters makes me think of Cherry Vanilla. A self-styled poet-slash-actress-slash-groupie, Cherry was part of the whole NYC freakscene of the early 70’s. Later in the decade, she capitalized on London’s fixation with New York’s role in perpetuating Punk, fronting a band and cutting a few discs that are of mild curiosity value now.

Most relevant to this, Cherry was David Bowie’s PR rep during the Ziggy/Mainman era. Bowie seemed to respect her knack for writing and overall hype, which improbably led to Cherry ghosting for him a weekly column in Mirabelle, a British magazine for teenage girls. Even once you know of the girl behind the silver mylar curtain, the “Bowie” columns — which ran from 1973 to 1975 — do make for an amusing bit of time-travel.

It’s just one of a fair few revelations found in a new book by David Thompson, Your Pretty Face Is Going To Hell (Backbeat Books). Thompson has done a thorough, page-turning job of chronicling the careers of Bowie, Iggy Pop and Lou Reed, tracking their individual career arcs and dips but focusing on the fated liaisons of Ig and Lou with Bowie, thus creating the ultimate gutter-glam triumvirate. The spine of Marc Spitz’s new Bowie bio (published by Random House) is also worth cracking, with this longtime SPIN journo offering a surprisingly fresh perspective, as much fan as historian.

The Australian Robert Forster is not only a writer and fan but a musician, the co-leader of renown literary tune-smiths the Go-Betweens. Forster is also responsible for yet another snazz recent read, an anthol of his music journalism titled The Ten Rules of Rock And Roll (Black Inc Books). Forster doesn’t let the cynicism one might feel as a veteran cult artist and working muso bleed into his prose, for the most part; likewise, his enthusiasm as a fan doesn’t override the critical objective mind. He achieves a nice balance, which makes Ten Rules eminently readable for all three groups of them that care. (And definitely start with the title piece.)

So, two sides of the same management coin passed in the interim, Malcolm McLaren and KISS ruler Bill Aucoin. Brilliant as his steering of the Pistols was, I did and do have problems with McLaren’s hindsight view of that whole era: his was as much deliberate manipulation as it was simply right place, right time (and certainly the right crew to pull it off). And as taboo-busting as his SEX/Seditionaries clothing designs were, I’m pretty sure Annabella Lwin still feels pretty hard done by.

I know that acclaimed French performer Juliette Greco does. A hilarious anecdote from the 80’s, when McLaren was assembling his musical tribute to Paris, involves his attempt to get Greco, Jeanne Moreau and other lights of the City Of Light for cameo appearances. The story goes that onetime Miles Davis paramour Greco took one look at the lyrics McLaren penned for her, and effectively tore him a new one, shouting: “I’ve had the greatest poets in France write for me, and you ask me to sing this?!?

As for Aucoin: while having a grudging affection for a handful of their tunes, back in the day I was a proud conscientious objector of the KISS Army. In point of fact, they were The Enemy. I didn’t want horror-comic cartoon cutouts, I wanted real people. Of course, in retrospect, many of those artists I dug, like those previously mentioned, were as calculating as old Bat Lizard and his pals, but still…(And speaking of which, there’s assuredly a circle of Hell all velvet-roped for Ray Kroc-admiring, Terry Gross-ing out, capitalist lecher swine like Mr. Simmons when they eventually hit the carbon cycle.)

An especially unfortunate departure for me, though, was hearing that Supergrass had decided to split. They were always a firm fave of mine among the Britpop pack of the mid-90’s. Gaz Coombes and co. distinguished themselves from fortunate veterans like Blur and Pulp (as great as they were) with the genuine post-teen zip of their music, by which they laid out classic hard-pop nuggets: ‘Caught By The Fuzz’, ‘Going Out’, ‘Pumping On Your Stereo’. The decade-spanning comp from a few years ago, Supergrass Is Ten, is all killer, precious little filler. (Today’s pick: ‘Kiss Of Life’, an infectious distillation of the best bits from Talking Heads’ Remain In Light, Supergrass style.)

A more recent affiliated project is this year’s Turn-Ons (Fat Possum Records). Credited to the Hot Rats but in truth two-thirds of Supergrass (assisted by a gent better known for producing Radiohead), it’s an offhanded but generally fun collection of cover songs. Some work better than others, as is typical of these situations: I quite like their acoustic busking through Gang Of 4 and the Pistols, while the Doors and Elvis Costello picks only induce shoulder shrugs. Choices by Roxy Music, Bowie and Reed are indeed that, though, and a certain Syd’s Floyd-era chestnut is sufficiently, convincingly wacky and warm.

Next time: more, better and most definitely sooner.

(Though in closing, I highly recommend that Fogtowners and peripherals check out Deutsche Welle TV’s Strictly Global music program. Showcasing primarily independent musical artists from around the world, it’s definitely added to my ongoing CD shopping list. Every Friday evening on KCSM, Bay Area Channel 60-2 for you digital broadcast box gogglers.

And have a looksee at my new local music tribute blog, The San Francisco Nobody Sings. Three installments in, we have already covered lounge jazz standards, punk and Tenderloin funk. In other words, the waterfront, and we’re not talking Fisherman’s Wharf either.)


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