Monthly Archives: April 2011

Cross My Heart & Kiss My Elbow

I’ve done a bit of soul searching recently, a bit of contemplating on the deeper things in life, and it’s made me face up to some cold hard facts. Of course, as a shameless blogger, I feel compelled to share these thoughts with you, dear reader. Namely:

1. The no-panty-line panty is pure myth.
2. I curse Man United but I have impure thoughts about Dimitar Berbatov.
3. Elbow’s latest album is nowhere near as good as their last one.

There, I’ve said it.

Back in 2009, Elbow released a piece of pop perfection called The Seldom Seen Kid. And for the last two years it has easily been at the top of my most played list. Even now I reckon I listen to the gorgeous, evocative “Bones of You” at least three times a week. Prior to Seldom Seen…, I’d never heard of Elbow, even though they’d been kicking around the UK music scene for several years. Seldom Seen… changed all that, and deservedly so.

We come in peace to make it safe for fans of The Moody Blues everywhere.

They won awards and ended up on lots of year-end Best Of lists. “One Day Like This” was the big single, while the bite of “Grounds for Divorce” got lots of play on TV shows. I preferred the beauty and romance of “Mirrorball”. With lyrics like “We kissed like we invented it”, how could you go wrong? Elbow’s Brit pop was smart but fearlessly emotional. I loved these guys and was so pleased to see them enjoying success. So how excited was I when I heard they had a new album out as well as a slot opening for U2 this summer. I picked up the latest release, Build A Rocket Boys!, enthusiastically slipped it in to the car stereo, and readied for greatness to blast out of the speakers.

Then how totally disappointed I was to hear they’d made a noodle-y, meandering, experimental record. Ugh! Is it too much to ask to write a song I can sing to? I’m not talking “The Bones of You: The Sequel” (even though I’d love that), but come on! Yes, you can hear a lush, not-quite orchestral sound on the last album, but Jeez-Louise, with Build a Rocket… you’ve now got a full orchestra, a spoken word reprise and a youth choir! A youth choir?!? Did all that success go to your head? Too much pot in the studio? I’m wondering what happened to your straight-ahead cords and pop sensibilities, now given over for a go at out-radioheading Radiohead. Or maybe they were trying for a Tears for Fears-inspired sort of choral-group does melancholic introspection set to a grand synthesized heaviness. I’m drowning under the weight of their ambitions while they seem to be mocking me, “Radio-schmadio rockmom, we’re more interested in how this will sound in the Royal Albert Hall with a 60–piece orchestra.”

When the first cut, “The Birds”, clocks in at 8:04 you know you’re in for some serious musical ramblings. Time it’s time! It’s the second coming of Talk Talk! (whom I love by the way, but I’m not the moody teen I once was).

Having said that, there are a few gems to be found amidst the burdens these boys are carrying around, and yes I will listen to it, though not nearly as much as Seldom Seen…. I’m finding that most of the tracks, such as “Lippy Kids”, “The River” and the aforementioned “The Birds”, take time to reveal themselves, while a couple – “Dear Friends” in particular – are pleasures straight out of the box. Guy Garvey’s lyrics continue to unspool like poetry from a hopeless romantic. Past love(s) figure heavily again making me wonder who is Guy’s ‘freshly painted angel walking on walls, stealing booze and hour long hungry kisses’. She has been immortalized. If only!

I shall sing you Bulgarian songs of love - high five!

As I listen to Elbow’s modern soundtrack for the moody teen, I’m thinking: either Elbow’s latest is an ambitious shot in to the pop darkness or a self-indulgent piece of rock star dress-up. You know, how many auteurs does it take to screw up a good thing? On the other hand, as I listen to Guy’s husky voice and lovelorn fearlessness, it does make me wonder: does Dimitar ever write poetry?

Discovering Patti

I’ve never been a big fan of Patti Smith. I can admire what she’s done as a female rock pioneer, but that doesn’t mean I like her music. My earliest memory of her is actually Gilda Radner parodying her as ‘Candy Slice’ in an old Saturday Night Live sketch, where Gilda comes out in a thin white camisole and makes a big show of her armpit hair. It was funny.

But I’m starting to take a new interest in Patti after reading her stunning memoir, Just Kids, which is about her years with Robert Mapplethorpe.

This is my favorite pic of the two of them. Taken by Gerard Malanga, his copyright.

They struggled, starved, loved, lived and created together in New York City from 1967 to 1979, until Patti moved to Detroit with her husband, Fred Sonic Smith. After Mapplethorpe was diagnosed with AIDS in 1986, Patti would return to NYC often to be with him, until his death in 1989. I’ve just finished reading the book but want to go back and re-read it immediately. It’s not just the great anecdotes about Warhol, Max’s Kansas City, CBGBs and all the other colorful NYC figures of the 1970s. It’s also about – primarily you could say – what it means to be an artist. Patti writes in great detail about the different work she and Robert created and the different avenues they traveled down before they found the truest, most meaningful ways to express themselves – she in rock-n-roll and he with photography. She drew, wrote poetry (still does), acted, worked in bookstores, co-wrote a play (with her then lover, Sam Shepard) while Robert dabbled in fashion, made jewelry and created intricate collages. Reading about their fits and starts and inspirations makes me feel more courageous about my own writing, that yeah! I can have a go at this. And running all through Patti’s recollection of their collective emergence as artists is a tender, heartbreaking story of two misfits who remained loyal and loving to one another until Robert’s death.

I really have to stop reading books that make me cry. Reading Patti’s words about Robert’s last days and nights… I can’t imagine the loss.

She is articulate, moving, funny, fearless and inspiring. I wish I could write as well as she does. I’m going to buy ‘Horses’ right now. Then I’m going to try harder, dig deeper for the right word. Not typing, but writing, Truman. Thank you original rockmom. Thank you Patti.

The iconic album cover, taken by Robert, copyright Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation, Inc.