"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.

Saturday, October 30, 2004

No blogging at the moment as there's no news, nothing to tell. Just lots of waiting. I'm making use of the time to pursue other areas of my career which would be better unblogged for the time being. Also did a little DJing, and I'm proud that I managed to slip Jim Dickinson's 'Dixie Fried', Charlie Feathers' 'Jungle Fever' and Robbie Fulks' outrageous 'White Man's Bourbon' into the set without anybody noticing that things had gone a little redneck (the other DJs were strictly on the soul/funk tip I should add). Hope to have news soon - off to Dublin for most of next week.

Friday, October 22, 2004

Lovely afternoon spent drinking coffee and eating cake with Sebastian Horsley, who is becoming something of a legend around these parts for his, er, unusual activities – undergoing crucifixion, frequenting prostitutes, and now writing what he calls his ‘unauthorised autobiography’. We’re talking about the possibility of doing a documentary on his life, or maybe a feature film. The problem is, I can’t imagine anybody who could possibly play Sebastian better than he does himself – well, Klaus Kinski maybe, but he’s pretty definitively dead. Tried to screen one of my earlier films for Sebastian but the videotape doesn’t work anymore – possibly due to water damage from the year and a half I spent living on boats. I bet Stanley Kubrick never had these problems. In the end we watched scenes from My Best Fiend, Herzog’s film about Kinski, as we sipped our coffee and nibbled our tart au citron, and Sebastian told me how his book starts with him surviving his mother’s attempt to abort him and ends with his crucifixion. Then I walked him back to the tube and as we passed a posh-ish block of flats he said “I went to an orgy there, organised by these right-wing types...” I enjoy learning these morsels of information about my neighbourhood.
Excellent news! The thing that started this whole project off was my determination to see William Eggleston's film 'Stranded in Canton' - it was while searching for it that I found myself in contact with Robert. Now Robert has spent a good deal of the last two years working on finishing it and it will have a London screening in November. Beautiful poster, too, which I will endeavour to get Bill to sign as he will be in attendance at the show.

Thursday, October 21, 2004

Some thoughts on Charlie Feathers.

I like ‘Kill Bill’ well enough, the second part less so, but better than either is the knowledge that – via the OST CD – millions of unsuspecting normals now have a couple of Charlie Feathers songs in their record collections. Those songs may well sit there unlistened to for years, but someday, some teenager looking for a new kind of kick will slip the dusty old disc into the grime-encrusted and practically unusable CD player, and that high yodelling noise that a friend of mine once characterised as ‘Charlie Feathers’ sex noise’ will come keening out of the speakers. And some rough beast, its hour come round, will slouch towards Bubbadom to be reborn.
There is very little in all of music like the sound that Mr Feathers made, and with good reason – I don’t think there are many actual people like him around. I was introduced to his music, as to so many other things, by the covers performed by the Cramps. Lux Interior’s wild hiccupping vocal on ‘I Can’t Hardly Stand It’ isn’t actually too much of an exaggeration of the original’s weirdness, and in fact by overstating it he slightly muffles the effect. The repertoire of yodels, croaks, baby-talk, whines and downright unnameable, Lovecraftian weirdness that seemed to effortlessly shake from Charlie Feathers’ voicebox has never been explained, let alone equalled.
Don’t believe me? Go and listen. My special favourite starting place for you would be ‘Honky Tonk Man’, which I first heard in Robert Gordon’s company. It’s the 1988 Feathers CD where he tried with tremendous confidence to place himself squarely in the mainstream of popular culture. Scorning ‘cult status’ as the pointless shill it is, he took some of the best-loved songs from country, rock’n’roll and parlour singing, and decided to show that Charlie Feathers could be as big as, say, Anne Murray. Of course, he succeeded in something quite different – he annexed the 20th century and its music as part of his own back yard.
F’rinstance – listen to his version of the old chestnut, beloved of Irish politicians and wedding singers, ‘He’ll Have to Go’ – you know the one, Gentleman Jim Reeves crooning “Put your sweet lips a little closer to the phone”.
This is two minutes and fifty-three minutes of sheer sonic menace. Starting with a crushing but somehow insouciant bass and guitar riff lifted bodily from the Rolling Stones ‘Miss You’, we hear Charlie enter lightly with an ‘Awwwww-right...’ he does the first verse with little indication of what’s to follow. The key thing is this, though – where the original was set up as Jim’s sweet nothings to a woman alone with another suitor, Charlie’s vacillates between this and another reading of the situation where the woman is in a crowd of orgiastic couples and – at Charlie’s bidding – she is to “tell everybody they gotta-gotta go”. And he’s not asking – he’s telling. If ‘King of New York’-era Christopher Walken could ever be embodied in an elderly redneck’s form, this could be the song that he would give voice to. If he could sing like a murderer who enjoys doing ickle baby-voices. Elsewhere he turns ‘Roll Over Beethoven’ into something Lux Interior described as “so full of menacing weirdness, it sounds like a song you never heard before”. The way Charlie pronounces Tchaikovsky alone is enough to put the wind up me.
And don’t even start me on ‘Jungle Fever’; a song so wrong it’s gotta be right.
Robert told me at one point that after years of going to edgy clubs in out-of-the-way places all over the South’s backwoods, the only time he’d felt genuinely at risk was in redneck bars he went to with Charlie and Bubba Feathers. Given that the elder Feathers was worshipped like a deity in those selfsame bars, that will give you an idea of his constituency, the soil he came from. Actually, all you need to do is listen to his voice and you’ll know that.

Monday, October 18, 2004

Good news from Memphis – Robert tells me that the Barbican are very keen to get his book back into print in time to coincide with the festival in April. It’s been shamefully OOP for a few years now here (not in the USA though). It’s great to think that due to a chance encounter, one of my favourite books will be becoming available again. It’s pretty amazing to be working on a day-to-day basis with Robert, although as we have been at this for nearly two years now with little obvious sign of success until very recently, it’s kind of academic really... There really seems to be a groundswell now though, I just bought Testifyin’, the new CD by the Country Got Soul revue – recorded due to the success of the Country Got Soul compilation CDs – a bunch of great and unrecognised singers, players and songwriters, two of whom at least, Dan Penn and Spooner Oldham, play a great part in the Memphis story due to their work with Alex Chilton and Jim Dickinson. The others include Tony Joe White, Donnie Fritts (he wrote ‘Breakfast in Bed’ among other great tunes) and Bonnie Bramlett (from Delaney and Bonnie). They’ll be touring here to support the CD in the new year and will most likely play a part in the Barbican shows, it seems, and probably be touring as well – judging from the CD that will be an unmissable show...

Thursday, October 14, 2004

"Your pedal extremities are colossal."
Louis Jordan, from 'Your Feet's Too Big'

Last night I dreamt that I was directing a scene. Nothing unusual there - when I am in the thick of work I have been known to dream all night long of setting up shots in some endless talky scene around a table, where every time you think that the last angle has been covered, some faceless third A.D. comes to you and whispers in your ear, "What about..." and you realise that it isn't yet wrap time... Anyway, last night I was insomniac and when I finally drifted off it was to find myself directing a Laurel and Hardy movie. I shot the scene, said a courteous goodnight and didn't even pause to wonder why my mother was driving Stan and Ollie to their train. Of course as soon as they'd left I realised that the one essential bit of story that would hold the whole thing together wasn't in the can, and tried to call my mother to get her to turn around - but couldn't remember her mobile number, just her landline number, which rang engaged. I understood that it was engaged because I was calling from home.

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Email from J Michael McCarthy, who has been filming a video for Jim Dickinson - quite possibly his (Jim's) first ever:
"The Dickinson shoot went extremely well this weekend! We have about three hours of tape to whittle down to a six minute video. It rained all weekend - but it didn't stop us. The premier may turn into quite an extravaganza! Olga with Jimbo Mathus opening for Jim Dickinson, Jimmy Croswait and Jimbo doing a puppet show, and more." I don't know if I can afford to miss that... I wonder if we can figure out a way to get me over there to cover the event. Meeting tomorrow with our hotshot new Executive Producer, I may bring it up as a topic for further discussion. It would be a great way of covering the links between Old Memphis (Jim and Jimmy Crosthwaite) and new (JMM).

Monday, October 11, 2004

Odd day, starting with my first complete listen-through in ages to Jim Dickinson’s Dixie Fried – a record I revere in the abstract but rarely play anymore. I’ve fallen prey to the iTunes thing. I load tracks into my laptop then let it play on random, forever. THat way I never have to be bored by the conventional running orders. Now that I’m living away from my usual modes, in somebody else’s flat, where I can’t seem to pipe my computer into their amp (there must be a way! There’s got to be a way! Like the Sweet said), I have had to fall back on old methods, hence the actual physical playing of CDs as opposed to MP3s. Dixie Fried still sounds great, even through a weedy soundsystem like the one I’m stuck with here, so I followed up with a blast of the first Big Star album and then I was ready to face the day. Ended up having a very different evening to what I’d expected, as I ended up going for coffee with an estranged ex, who seems to have forgiven me for my appalling behaviour and forgiven herself for her ferocious reaction to it. We went to the ICA to see art, a madly playful installation piece by some German called Bock, which pleased me as it incorporated Douglas Hickox’s Theatre of Blood and FW Murnau’s Nosferatu in it. It also included music by the Cure, though, so I can’t wholeheartedly recommend it.
We surprised ourselves by actually enjoying each other’s company enough to go for a drink afterwards, and it was then that I remembered that Johnny Dowd was on at the Spitz. I suggested going and she agreed immediately – we always tended to like the same music, and in fact our initial involvement pivoted on a shared love of Warren Zevon. We headed over to the old East End, passing Christ Church Spitalfields en route, which was portentous as she is currently reading Peter Ackroyd’s ‘Hawksmoor’ which centres on that very location. Arriving into the venue, the first person we see is Mr Dowd himself who, I am pleased to say, remembers me from our last brief meeting. The support band have had a meltdown and he’s about to go on. We find drinks and a place to hang and the show begins.
I never know what to expect from this man but it never fails to set the hairs on the back of my neck prickling. Tonight he announces that the theme is ‘It is better to marry than to burn.’ I’m trying to remember whether it was St Paul who said that as he piles into a weird rewrite of Blue Moon, a song concerning a priest who lies in bed alone at night, thinking “behind every wedding march there’s a funeral bell.” That set the tone. Separated by achingly sad home movie footage of the Dowd parent’s marrying, and the family’s Christmasses, we get a song-cycle about how a couple meets, weds, reproduces, fucks their kids up royally before splitting up, and starting the whole cycle again. Now my ex has a history with an abusive husband, who she ran away from finally with her two kids, so this was all too close to the bone. She left after four songs. I understood but had to stick it out to the finish. After a song about Christmas with your family, entitled Death Comes Knocking (the chorus twists the knife; just as you are thinking how glad you are not to be a member of the Dowd family, he sings “You think I’m talking ‘bout him, but I’m talking to you...”), he ended with a psychotically slow-burning Johnny B Goode, which he managed to turn into autobiography – the story of the last remaining Dowd, son of Jack who was the son of Jinx, tough hard Irishmen who escaped the Famine and beat the knowledge of the harshness of life into their respective sons. “Man hands on misery to man/It deepens like a coastal shelf.”
The audience of Hoxton hipsters with ironic tattoos and gimme caps seemed bemused by the intensity and the lack of redneck kitsch. This isn’t Jim White, God help us all. It was a completely theatrical show (there were even credits at the end, telling us which family member shot what bit of home movie) and had more in common with the selflacerating family histories of Patrick McCabe or Harry Crews than it did with rock’n’roll. I hope he goes back to playing rock’n’roll soon, but I wouldn’t have missed this for the world. Even though it took me more than an hour and a half to make my way back to the west side of London and home.

Friday, October 08, 2004

Did a radio interview yesterday where I spoke about the whole Memphis thing, and the upcoming Barbican fest, but the guy was more keen to discuss my drama project as it is sort of newsworthy at the moment. I'm getting excited by the possibility that we might be shooting this thing early next year... There seems to be a possibility of that at the moment anyway. I will attempt not to count too many chickens just yet. We have a new executive producer, a guy I met socially during some pretty interesting times this summer - we had a good time, let's just say - and at the time I had no idea that he worked in film. I knew he liked his music and was very knowledgable about it, so I screened the ten minute pilot film that myself and Robert made, and he loved it. Then a few weeks later he approached me in a very low-key way and said that he thought he might be able to attract some private investors. We've just about agreed on a contract now, and he's about to start work - being American he has an infectiously can-do attitude, which is a refreshing breath of fresh air. I like the way this is turning into a team, two Irish people and two Americans, one black and one Jewish, all working together to make this project into reality... better stop now, I sound like a member of the Chamber of Commerce talking about the new creche facilities.

Thursday, October 07, 2004

Interesting things are starting to happen in the world of ICFM again, but I would rather not jinx anything by announcing prematurely. Instead I will plug two upcoming gigs: the first, in the Spitz in London's seamy East End on Sunday the 10th inst., is by the great Johnny Dowd, whose praises I have sung at length in this blog already. If you haven't seen him live, take my word for it - GO. He is Mister Entertainment.
The other is by a band about whom I know less than nothing. They have been recommended to me very highly by J Michael McCarthy himself and that's good enough for me. They are Viva l'American Death Ray Music and they play the wonderful Dirty Water Club at the Boston Arms, which has played host to the Dirtbombs, Tav Falco and (once upon a time when they used to play in pubs) the White Stripes. This gig is on Nov 5th but you can check if they are coming to a music provider near you by going to http://www.kissnrun.com/ (sorry, in too much of a hurry to do this as a html link, just cut'n'paste it fer Chrissake).

That's all for now!
It’s all been very Memphicentric on here of late so how about a snapshot of the reality – life as a low-budget filmmaker? Well, one of the most important issues for low-budget filmmakers is discovering which supermarkets give the best mark-downs on food that is approaching its sell-by date. Over the past year I have become very familiar with the various procedures in Sainsbury’s (I can’t afford the food even after it’s marked down), Waitrose (pretty good but you have to get there before all the elderly posh people grab every last piece of organic sirloin steak), Somerfields (fine if you like eating reformed pork) and Tesco’s (I can’t figure out when they mark their food down, it must be a nocturnal activity for their insomniac staff).
Having just moved to the posh part of town, by no choice of my own – an ex-GF is letting me stay in her flat while she’s off in Brazil shooting a feature – I expected the worst. Instead, I found that Marks and Spencer’s is an untapped goldmine of fine food at half price. Twice I’ve been there and twice I’ve discovered tasty treats with little red stickers on them that tell me ‘I’m Affordable!’ And as the only people that can afford to live around here aren’t desperately in need of cut-price protein, they turn their noses up at these bargains. I haven’t had to fight a single OAP since I arrived here.
One observation though: liver is continually marked down wherever I go, huge piles of unsold, unwanted calves’ liver swimming in its own blood... so why do they buy so much of the disgusting stuff, if nobody likes it?
Oh yeah, my agent called, I am being put forward for a TV show. Whoop de do. I told him that the last time I worked for this company as director I ended up not on speaking terms with the executive producer. I even took my name off the show (which – of course – ended up being the highest profile thing I’ve done to this day). It would be a miracle on a par with the loaves and the fishes if I end up getting this job. But it would mean I could afford to buy a bit of grub without having to wait for it to go out of date. In fact, as far as I remember from my last experience as a TV director, they actually feed you on the job...

Tuesday, October 05, 2004

Time for a bit of a catch-up.

The documentary has gone a bit on the back burner for most of the last few months while I worked on a drama project. Also, to be honest, it was dispiriting how little progress we seemed to be making. There were one or two little events that bucked the trend, however. One of these happened in early June, when I went along to see the North Mississippi Allstars play with Othar Turner’s Rising Star Fife and Drum Band in a converted Hawksmoor church near Old St in London. The show, to be honest, wasn’t all that – the venue was designed with classical music in mind, and the NMAs were nowhere near loud enough (the acoustics had Cody fooled, he thought he was drumming thunderously when in fact the head on my beer barely wobbled to the beat). It was really affecting to see the late great Othar’s granddaughter take over from him on the fife and vocals, though, and the last few numbers where both bands were on stage together had a taste of the real wild outrageous rhythm that the Memphis sound should be delivering...

Anyway. After the show, I’m outside having a beer with Luther and Cody when this guy – the show’s promoter – comes out all excited and starts talking to Luther about a Memphis music festival he wants to do next year, and asking Luther if he’ll come up with a few suggestions, ideas et al. Luther being the kind of guy who likes his life to be as simple as possible, looks for a polite way out of doing this, and his eyes light on me – and that’s how I end up talking to Bryn from the Barbican about his plans to put Memphis on the London stage. I tell him about the film, about Robert’s book, and so on. He’s enthusiastic and we agree to meet during the week to discuss it. Then Luther and I go for a drink and get really excited about it: “Do you think Jim would travel?” “Oh, yeah, man, definitely, and if Jim came, Sid would come, and if Jim and Sid were coming, there’s no way Jimmy would stay home...” “So we could have most of Mud Boy on stage here in London?” “Wow...”

At this stage it’s all a pipe dream though. I recall the Barbican’s annual Beyond Nashville shows and the scale that they take on (typically spanning several different sized venues suiting different types of artist) and the possibilities are tantalising...

Next step happens later in the summer. I’m totally broke. Lee Hazelwood is playing in the Royal Festival Hall and I know I should go, that I’ll regret it if I don’t. I can’t really afford it but I stop by to check ticket availability. Yeah, tickets still available. Before I know what I’m doing I’ve got two tickets and I’m on the phone to my ex-GF, who I had arranged to go to the movies with later, exactly who Lee is. She sounds dubious about the whole thing. Well, the show was tremendous, huge and by all accounts the best show Lee has done in years. I’m wandering around in a daze after and see Bobby Gillespie, who I’d interviewed last year for the documentary. I stop to say hi, he remembers me, we catch up. I tell him about the planned Memphest and overstep the mark a little by saying that Jim is definitely playing. Bobby’s eyes light up.

“If Jim is playing, mah band would love to play back-up.”

Primal Scream playing behind Jim Dickinson. That could be the greatest rock show in years. Ever. Bobby suddenly looks a bit panicked at the idea.

“Well, we could do three or four songs – I mean, that’s all they’ll want to learn, mah band is lazy...”

I head home on a high and email Bryn the next day. If there was ever any doubt about Jim’s place on the bill, it’s gone. Plans take shape in my head for a Dickinson Revue – solo Jim, Jim with Mud Boy, Jim with the Primals... what a night that would be.

Jumping ahead to events of this week: the impeccably turned out Tav Falco has a screening of his early, shot on video, film/art piece ‘Les Jeunes Filles Eclairs’ at the Cine Lumiere. I go along to meet him afterwards and find him sat at a table in the cafe with Jason Pierce/Spaceman of Spiritualised, discussing the possibility that Jason might produce the next Panther Burns release. By the time I leave, the idea of a Panther Burns/Spiritualised show at the Barbican event is in the air. Jason himself has some amazing plans for his own festival in Newcastle next year, featuring Tav certainly, but possibly also Jim, along with lesser-known bands like the Stooges, the Cramps, Kraftwerk, and good old reliable Brian Wilson. Oh, and Lee Hazelwood. I play Jason back a short snatch of Some Velvet Morning that I’d recorded onto my mobile phone during the RFH concert that summer.

“Is that legal?” he asks.

Monday, October 04, 2004

It's been an extraordinarily long time since there has been anything to post, and suddenly there are some very very interesting developments afoot. Looks like there will be a very major festival of Memphis music in London next year, with some really fantastic artists involved, and many of the less well known bands who will feature in the documentary wil be well represented - with some special guests from the druggy/indie/raw and rockin' end of the British music scene. Can't say anything more for now, anyway there's hardly likely to be anybody paying attention at this point. But I will return!
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