"It's easier to bone the President's wife than to get a movie made." Ray Charles.

How a cult music book became a cult music documentary, and it only took ten years.

Thursday, February 12, 2004

Things have been a bit hairy for the past few days, and there has been a very real concern that we may not manage to shoot in April, and it's only been through massive self-control that I've managed to avoid venting about it here (I felt it would be rather unfair to my co-conspirators to do so) but tonight things seem - completely out of the blue - to be back on track. Right now I will say nothing more.
But checking my email I find notice of a gig coming up at the Legendary Dirty Water Club by the Scientists, a great old Aussie band from the same time period that gave us not only the Birthday Party, but also the Moodists, the Triffids and the Go-Betweens.
Which reminded me that somewhere I have an amazing track by ex-Scientist Kim Salmon and his band, the Surrealists, on a free CD from Bucketfull of Brains, and (you knew there was a Memphis link, di'n'tcha?) produced by James Luther Dickinson.
I sought it out, stuck it on and was moved by the spirit of rock and roll to Google it, which is how I found the following quotes from Mr Salmon.

"I sort of paid a studio engineer some money and said, 'put away your ego'. Tell us how to record and then leave us alone. So he came along and basically set it all up. He told us what to hire and set it up like a studio. Because our idea was just to get an ADAT and some mics, beyond that we didn't really know what to do."
But why the kitchen, surely there's more comfortable rooms to spend a week in?
"Well, it's where some of the songs originated, but really that's the room that had the best acoustics. There's a lot of reflections in there. It has a stone fireplace, lino on the floor. All the pots and pans laying around, and there's a bathroom out the back, so my amp was put out facing that."
Put to tape over the space of a week in Kim's Melbourne kitchen, then flown over for a two day mix-down in Memphis by local living legend and rock extremist Jim Dickinson (Alex Chilton, Rolling Stones, The Cramps, Aretha Franklin, need I go on?)
Working indiscriminately with both rock royalty and local reprobates, Jim Dickinson is an enigma.
"Yeah, the record that he produced for Alex Chilton, Like Flies On Sherbet, really informed my musical direction for a good decade. He was very wise, sage-like you could say. Full of sayings that were almost like cliches, that kind of catalogue his vast wealth of experience. He's a bit of an anarchist, as well as a............well he's also a traditionalist. He's kind of a lot of contradictions like that. And it's those contradictions that are intrinsic to rock'n'roll."
Another thing that's intrinsic to Rock'n'roll is Memphis - its birthplace and Jim's hometown.
"Memphis was an intriguing place. Far smaller than I thought with a bloody great pyramid about the size of Cheops in the middle of it that people don't seem to know about. Somebody actually pointed out to me that Memphis is an Egyptian word. But apart from that, there's not a lot going on in it. But if there was, it would be far more dangerous than it already is. It's a bit, you know, black culture/white trash. There's the poor blacks and the very wealthy whites. Looking around, you can sort of see where rock'n'roll came from, there's this clash of cultures where nothing quite fits together, but they do. And that's rock'n'roll. It's not one of the most pleasant places, but it's certainly one of the more inspiring."

Apart from the above - possibly the best description of the downright weirdness of Memphis that I've come across - Mr Salmon also gave me my total favourite Dickinson quote of all time. He said that Jim told him that "misery sticks to the tape."
As a motto, that is good enough for me to live by.
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