Saturday, May 26, 2007


Mr P, the guitar geek, has promised to grumble in a separate post about Part one of Seven Ages of rock: apparently they didn't mention that Jimi was practised loads before he was hailed as The God of All Guitarists and...well, I stopped listening...

Anyway, I'm doing Art Rock because I was there. Kind of. My dad went to Floyd gigs and even worked for Nick Mason for a while (Mr Mason is known in our family as That Bastard Mason and loyalty compelled me to shout "Git!" every time he appeared on the screen. He didn't give me a summer job processing his royalty payments either. Git.). We had all the original Velvets' and a few Bowie albums, and my mum officially fancied Bryan Ferry. I also was at the iconic Wall gig at Earl's Court in 1981, so there.

Seven Ages of Rock is also great for playing our favourite TV game, called "'E's Dead". The concept is simple. You need at least two players. The first person to shout "'E's Dead" when a now-dead actor/musician appears on the screen scores a point. If challenged you must name the dead person before you can get your point. Tonight's scores were Sarah: 4, Mr P: 1.

We started with the Floyd in their drippy trippy phase of singing about bicycles and wet posh girls. The rather fine archive footage - seriously, old farts like me only watch these things for the archive footage - was spoiled by arty editing (how can you possibly out-farty the Floyd? Fools!) and updated inserts with clever clever effects. They actually managed to wheel all four surviving members of Pink Floyd, though not in the same room - that would have been fun - and the po-faced narrator managed to slot in a drummer joke ("four musicians and a drummer..."). They all said that yes, they were interested in pushing the boundaries of music, blah blah, and there were shots of them discussing chord changes in a studio, and Syd looking slightly embarrased on a stool while a 1960s BBC chap asked them why they had to play so loudly. More clever effects meant to illustrate the effect of LSD on an archive shot of Syd playing guitar, and a film of one of his lamer pre-breakdown songs that everybody apart from three emo teenagers in Wantage would prefer to forget.

"Meanwhile..." intones the narrator. "Syd's every move was being watched by a young singer from Bromley with funny eyes..." Cue the first bit of archive Bowie footage. According to this lot, Bowie had a novelty hit with Space Oddity, and then was cut adrift in the music scene..hang on, is The Laughing Gnome to be airbrushed from history altogether?

Over in New York, a young and pretty Lou Reed was thrown together with a not as young but very beautiful Nico, a grumpy John Cale and silent, long-suffering Sterling Morrison and Mo Tucker. They tie Mo up in the name art. Nico sings flat. Andy Warhol looks a scream. John Cale appears to remember everything, while Lou purses his cat's arse mouth and claims not to recall if they actually play a psychiatrist's convention (cue shot of Edie Sedgewick - damn...missed that one - et al dancing with the Velvets in front of a group of very nervous psychiatrists). A clever bit of editing makes it look as if David Bowie is taking notes or something.

David returns to the UK, apparently, and comes up with Ziggy Stardust - a fictional amalgam of Syd, Jimi, and assorted other doomed heroes. A horribly overrated album follows, and lots of music journalists make lots of money from analysing the true meaning of Ziggy/Dark Side/Roxy Music.

The problem with this pseudo academic approach is that it forgets the most important aspect of these chosen groups. Do they rock, or do they not? Aged seven, I couldn't give a monkeys about pushing the barriers of performance. The big question was: could you dance to it? Did it groove? Floyd grooved (especially post-Syd, when they basically let Richard Wright build a groove, and sat on it for 20 minutes); Bowie grooved; Roxy grooved (before they went all lounge).

Genesis didn't. Peter Gabriel popped up with a neat goatee to explain that he felt impelled to take the Floyd levels of performance into a complete new universe of wankery, resulting in an experience that looked like a failed audition for Playaway. The rest of Genesis had enough self-knowledge to look slightly embarrassed.

We return to the Floyd, who are irritated that selling gazillions of albums not only means more Ferraris to buy, but more people to play to. Apparently The Wall was the concept album gig to end all concept album gigs. I just remember lots of inflatables, a dirty great wall being built, and Dave Gilmour doing the solo for Comfortably Numb on top of it, and not being able to speak for 24 hours afterwards.

Thank heavens for Punk. We recovered by playing our favourite DVD of Spinal Tap...that's a proper rock documentary.

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