Monday, September 19, 2011

Music Parable # 7: Joe Strummer 'Runs Out' on The Clash


It is April and The Clash have just finished recording what was to become their biggest selling album “Combat Rock.” The band are gearing up for a tour in support of the album, but are mired by internal strife. Drummer Topper Headon has a crippling addiction to heroin and is being told to either clean up or leave by the rest of the group. Meanwhile guitarist Mick Jones and front man Joe Strummer are locked in a battle for power for the ideological and existential future of the band. Manager Bernard Rhodes decides that what is needed is a publicity stunt to help sell the new album, and hopes the success of the new album may help bring internal cohesion to the band. It is decided that Joe Strummer would “disappear” for a few days, while checking in with Bernie throughout this period.

Strummer took this to heart, and really did disappear. He went to Paris for three weeks, without once contacting the rest of the band or Rhodes. When asked what he had been doing upon his return Strummer notes, “I grew a beard and ran the Paris marathon.” It was not Strummer’s first marathon - he had run the London marathon in 1981 and would run it again in 1983. His training regimen apparently consisted of simply drinking 10 pints of beer the night before the race.

The Clash would eventually collapse after the firing of Mick Jones by Strummer and bassist Paul Simonon. Headon had already been given the sack and the band had toured with their original drummer Terry Chimes throughout 1983. Strummer and Simonon tried to resuscitate the Clash with two replacement guitarists and a back to basics approach, but this failed miserably. Strummer would spend years in the Wilderness, doing soundtrack work here and there, before reemerging in the late 90s to some success with his new group, the Mescaleros. Jones would front Big Audio Dynamite. Strummer would die of an undiagnosed congenital heart defect at the age of 50 in December of 2002. It could have killed him at any point during his life. Strummer and Jones reunited at an impromptu gig only a week before Strummer’s death in support of higher wages for British firefighters. Both said that the old magic was still there.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

The Final Frontier of Absurdity

For those that believed Dubai to be the final frontier in human hubris, The Guardian has put together a handy profile of holiday the ultra wealthy, the flagship projects being the 'space hotel' and new 'artificial countries'. The latte of these described as: "billionaires may soon be able to buy their own artificial countries – built in international waters on oil rig-type platforms – where they can indulge in their dictatorial fantasies."  These artificial countries in particular seem to have taken a page (a-la the failed, 'World Project') from Dubai's already particularily bulbous book of projects that only those with far too much money and far too little sense might initiate.

The Guardian article continues:
Peter Thiel – who co-founded PayPal and who was one of Facebook's earliest backers – has revealed that he wants to create communities that would be run according to extreme laissez-faireideals. According to Details magazine, he wants to build artificial islands – based on oil-rig designs – that would be a "kind of floating Petri dish for implementing policies that libertarians, stymied by indifference at the voting booths, have been unable to advance: no welfare, looser building codes, no minimum wage and few restrictions on weapons." A billionaire's dream venture, in other words.

Indeed, the desire to build ones own floating oil-rig country strikes one as equal parts Machiavelli,  PT Barnum and Ayn Rand at her most adolescent.  The opulence and sheer wrong headedness of these endeavors has now left Dubai looking sheepish by comparison. Alas, with Dubai financially on the brink, how can they ever fight back against the opulence on offer.  Is a solid gold pyramid suspended above the desert via maglev too much to ask?  Come on Dubai: the world needs you to rise to the challenge.

Music Parable # 6: Elvis Costello's Unfortunate Outburst


Elvis Costello is completely drunk at the bar at the Columbus, Ohio, Holiday Inn. He is sitting with Stephen Stills and journalist Bonnie Bromlett. Stills is deeply annoying Costello who in turn is going out of his way to be obnoxious in order to offend Stills. Stills keeps banging on about old soul musicians. In order to get Stills’ goat, Costello refers to Costello to James Brown as a "jive-ass nigger", then upped the ante by pronouncing Ray Charles a "blind, ignorant nigger". Bromlett is appalled by Costello's language and writes up the exchange in her column igniting a tinder box of media accusations directed at Costello.

Costello almost immediately apologized for the incident in the cold light of morning, indicating that he had only said what he had in order to annoy Stills and because he had been drunk. Costello pointed to his work with Rock Against Racism, and swiftly recorded 'Get Happy!!!': an album of largely obscure soul covers that went far to demonstrate Costello’s long-standing love of soul music – but controversy over the incident continued to follow Costello. In a Rolling Stone interview with Greil Marcus, Costello recounts an incident when Bruce Thomas was introduced to Michael Jackson as Costello's bass player and Jackson said, "I don't dig that guy..."

Costello remained mortified by the incident and declined an offer to meet Charles as a result of long standing guilt and embarrassment - though Charles himself had apparently long-since forgiven Costello ("Drunken talk isn't meant to be printed in the paper"). Costello’s ongoing championing of black music, from soul to jazz to blues would eventually see the incident put behind him.

One of the songs on Costello's 'Get Happy!!!' album, entitled ‘Riot Act’, deals with the incident.