Tag Archives: David Bowie

The Life of ‘The Master’

In the epicentre of the city, an electrical jungle, it seemed quite fitting that I started to read a biography of Lou Reed in Lime Street station, Liverpool. The speed of life was all around as I leafed through the pages of the book, LOU REED, THE LIFE BY MICK WALL. It was so cold you could smell the frost. Trains sighed, constantly in a mood. A distant whistle, then a robotic articulation read out train departures, all clipped vowels and pronounced words mixed with the click-clack of heels. A bird scream shattered the air.

The noisy chaos of a city, its people and their stories. The very madness of living that Lou Reed quite skilfully captured in his music. The singer lived the majority of his life in the middle of the similar hustle of New York City.

lou reed the life mick wall

This biography focuses on the rise and fall, rise and fall again cycle that the artist had during his lifetime. At times he was arrogant, vengeful and downright nasty.

He can’t leave any situation alone or any scab unpicked.

It was Mr. David Bowie who dubbed Lou Reed the ‘Master’. Yet they fought quite publicly, on many occasions. But we all love a Rock ‘n’ Roll feud, remember Oasis versus Blur?

What I discovered about the idol was not endearing. You don’t always have to like your idols; you can fall out and be frustrated by their actions. After all, it is okay to be contradictory, that is a necessary part of being human.

I continued to read the book at 6am on the day after Boxing Day, with a cup of tea and a bowl rammed with Yule log and extra-thick Jersey cream, which did make me giggle. I was reading about the musicians’ hedonistic exploration, dibble-dabbling in pharmaceuticals and narcotics as I was devouring the bowl of wrongness. How rock n roll, what a game, eh!

Thankfully, this festive over indulgence can be combatted by a couple of extra sets of sit ups. It’s clear from this book that a diet of heroin, LSD and other toxins cannot be so easily sorted. I have seen first-hand friends who danced the tango ballad with drugs in their twenties only to have hangovers either take root immediately or more innocuously in their mid- to late-thirties and forties. They had forgotten to read the small print, that drugs could lead to paranoia, claustrophobia and other anxieties, sometimes heaped together.

Kierkegaard said,

Life can only be understood backwards, but must be lived forwards.

Wall’s no nonsense style of writing highlights the damage that the New York City man’s vices did to his mental well-being but hints at how it also stimulated his finer hours, like the pieces BERLIN and TRANSFORMER.

lou reed Berlin

I walk around Liverpool and hear the fragments of pieces of conversation, banter, arguments and all that I love about the city, the language, the talk, the buzzing. Where else in the world would you find scrawled on a toilet wall,
‘Ye ma’s baldy and collects Panini stickers’?

The type of dry sense of humour that is apparent in Lou Reed’s work. A great lyric in his track LAST GREAT AMERICAN WHALE (on the album NEW YORK) about where this sea creature has been spotted is delivered in that inimitable Yankee drawl,

My mother said she saw him in Chinatown, but you can’t always trust your mother.

I think Lou Reed would have loved Liverpool and its kick-ass attitude, finding the humour in the tragic.  It was his sardonic take on life that attracted me initially to his music. Its tales of picaresque characters from Warhol’s Factory, the broken people, transvestites, street workers and drug fiends who bleed glitter, glamour and damage. A cast of deranged souls.

velvet underground

The unsettling sound of THE VELVET UNDERGROUND with Nico’s droning somnambulist chanteuse next to Reed’s sandpaper-scratched vocal chords. John Cale’s avant-garde experimental score next to Mo Tucker’s anarchic drum beat. I remember buying their first album with Warhol’s Banana on the front from PROBE records, when I was a teenage bag of tie-dyed insecurities with blue hair and eye brow piercings, trying to standout but really unknowingly conforming. It was like something else! I lost track of his career trajectory as I grew up, with his pieces like albums ECSTASY and THE RAVEN.

This entertaining rock biography does exactly what it sets out to do, talk about Lou Reed and his musical legacy. It is also unflinching in describing his personal life, there is no airbrushing of the past. I found I didn’t warm to his attitude, but it has encouraged me to re-visit his back catalogue particularly. Like I said, you don’t have to like your idols, the person who created the music. It is, after all, the work that will always stand out.

Perhaps Bowie was right and he was the ‘master’, but I will let you be the judge of that.

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It’s Warhol actually, as in holes, Andy Warhol.

If you want to get under the silver wig of Andy Warhol this festive break down, you can do so at the exhibition currently on display in Liverpool Tate Gallery. In his twenties in NYC, Andy aspired to be just like Truman Capote and his fixation with celebrity and the fame machine was a theme that permeated his work. He desperately wanted to stand out, at one stage in his early career if he couldn’t make tie ends match up, he’d just cut them off.

In his book ‘The Life and Death of Andy Warhol’, Victor Bockris relates how Muriel Laton, an interior designer who was struggling to support her own gallery, planted the seed that in turn helped Warhol to become an art sensation. He was too late to paint the cartoon style that had made the careers of the likes of Roy Lichtenstein.

Laton asked Warhol, ‘What do you like most in the whole world?’
To which the Pop artist replied, ‘I don’t know, what do I like most in the whole world?’
‘Money!’ she replied. ‘You should paint pictures of money.’
‘Oh gee,’ Andy gasped, ‘that really is a great idea.’
She continued, ‘You should paint something that everybody sees every day, that everybody recognizes….like a can of soup.’

The money, the cans of soup and the Marilyn Monroes, the work that helped to make him and put the popular in Pop art, are all on display in this exhibition.

andy-warhol-9-dollar-black-blue-diptych

The standout image for me was the Silver Elvis, a faded black screen-print of the King, a life-size figure slashed with silver paint, drowning the image, giving it a ghostly appearance, like a giant silver screen that is losing power, fading away but still radiating.

Halcyon Gallery

It is a metaphor for the demise of cinema today. Films now are competing with the need for instant gratification. They can be viewed on iPads, phones or laptops and seen anywhere. The cinema has resorted to gimmickry to try to sell movies; practically everything is being offered in 3D. Thankfully, 2014 has seen films like  ‘Lilting’ and ‘Ida’ prove how powerful a film can be when seen on the big screen, or the ‘forgetting chamber’, as Quentin Crisp called it.

There is a room that replicates a NYC happening and tries to convey what the atmosphere of the Factory must have been like. At first it’s exciting but the repetition of loud and explicit S & M video montages soon becomes mundane, again I guess what the Factory must have been like, a type of candy floss techno hell.

What is striking in this Liverpool show is the vast quantity of commercial output on display. A wall of Interview front covers harks back to a period when celebrity was something to aspire to and not the infectious social disease it has become. Warhol cited, ‘everybody will be famous for fifteen minutes’, but the reality now is ‘everybody will be famous for fifteen seconds on the internet.’

I think my favourite Warhol work is his preliminary sketches for window design, his commercial art-work. A period when works were hand sketched, drawn and painted. A whole school of craftsmanship.

CommercialWarhol1

If you feel like finding out more about the artist, I recommend the film ‘Basquiat’ about the underground graffiti artist which sees the Thin White Duke, Mr David Bowie, stick on a silver mop and camp it up as Andy. The excellent ‘I Shot Andy Warhol’ takes you into the curious mind of Valerie Solanas, who did just that, as well as writing an infamous missive called The SCUM Manifesto – nothing to do with The Sun newspaper – but the Society for Cutting Up Men, her one woman party.

You may wish to see some of the films that Warhol directed himself, like Empire, BlowJob or Chelsea Girls. ‘My Hustler’ is a dirty rude little flick that mixes desperation with sleaze and is quite bitterly funny.

There is also the fabulous track by David Bowie, Andy Warhol, which failed to impress the artist. With lyrics, like

Andy Warhol looks a scream, hang him on my wall,

I wonder why?

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‘Cheeky bum cheeks’

That was the first thing I remember about the John Moores Painting Prize. It was also the first time I saw Hockney’s portrait of a man emerging from a poolside, Peter Getting Out of Nick’s Pool, in the collection of previous winners. The rush of the blue flooded over my retina imprinting its memory on the canvas of my cranium. In my years of teenage wildlife, I’ve been visiting ever since.

David-Hockney-Peter-Getting-Out-of-Nicks-Pool-1966-Acrylic-on-Canvas-84-x-84-c-David-HockneyRecently, an early Sunday morning in October 2014. Town was littered from the previous night’s disorder. A carton of mushy peas and a blonde discarded fascinator lay on the pebbled courtyard, debris from a battle in a nightclub. I thought perhaps Saatchi may purchase it for his next happening.

88 CaloriesI love the Walker Gallery; it is a source of inspiration, William Roscoe’s collection of Medieval Paintings, Stubbs classics and one of my ultimate Pre-Raphaelite favourites, The Metamorphosis of Narcissus. This year’s selection for the John Moores Painting Prize is an impressive batch of real painters. From the meticulously crafted 88 Calories by Conor Nial Rogers – painted on a minute crisp packet – to the texture rich, 18.45 April 7th, 2011 by David Dawson that up close looks like cake, paint is layered on as thick as a Scouse girl’s make up on a Saturday night.

18.45 APRIL 7TH. 2011My favourite piece is The King of Infinite Space/Don’t Let Life Pass You by David O’Malley, I think as I have a passion for the work of David Bowie. I see the displaced astronaut as a Major Tom-like figure. Instead of swimming in a tin can, the space cadet is floating in a most peculiar way in front of garish bad taste wallpaper.

THE KING OF INFINITE SPACEDONÔÇÖT LET LIFE PASS YOUI also love the massive Vinculum by Juliette Losq, which looks like it has come straight out of a Victorian penny dreadful. This piece covers the span of an entire wall and the detail is stunning. I have often believed that an artist needs to refocus the viewer into seeing the beauty in the everyday and that is apparent in this collection of diverse work.

Juliette Losq VinculumThere are a few pieces in here though that I feel suffer from the Emperor’s New Clothes Syndrome, but this is an impressive gathering of creative souls. I’d also advocate for seeing the exhibition with a kid. For a child has that Huckleberry Finn quality of telling it how it is. I took my niece, the ginger minx, for I have always valued her perspective, sometimes over the experts. I took her to see a Sarah Lucas exhibition several years ago at the Tate and one piece was just a massive photograph of a spotty male bottom. Two art groupies stood in front of the piece pontificating with syntax laden with terminology and pomp. Not really sure what they themselves were saying.  The kid was three at the time and she looked up at the piece, looked at me, gazed at the two adults drooling over the masterpiece in front of them, she looked back at me and then pointed at the art and growled, ‘EEEEE!’ In one word she summed up the fact that this naked image was in fact gross.

The exhibition encourages people to vote on their favourite and submit it in a ballot box. She chose Homeland by Covadonga Valdes and on the card when asked why, wrote simply, ‘It is unusual.’

HomelandThe exhibition is on till the end of November, I have made several visits back in my lunch hour, it beats sitting at a desk, with a stale sandwich and internet glaze. Go and vote for your personal favourite and if you can, take your own little mini art critic. Remember those artists need you!

Details of the winners can be found here. The ‘Visitors’ Choice’ award will be presented towards the end of the exhibition. Visitors can vote for their favourite painting when they visit the gallery. The winner will receive a prize of £2014.

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Trashaday

John meets John, as guest writer Mr Maguire meets director Mr Waters in Liverpool…

Let Saturday 9th November be now known as TRASHADAY, for this year, I had the pleasure of spending a wintry Saturday afternoon in the company of a cinematic master, Mr John Waters.

john waters

Waters was in the ‘Pool of Life’ for a series of events (part of the internationally renowned homotopia). The masterclass took place in the Sci-fi-esque environs of LJMU Screen Schools, Redmond Building.

Waters has often past praised fellow creative Mr Tennessee Williams, another champion of the outsider. Quite fittingly, the class began with a screening of BOOM!, (an adaptation of a Williams play, The Milk Float Doesn’t Stop Here) so, so bad it’s good, a visual camp treat, full of lines of genius,

Hot sun, cool breeze, white horse on the sea, and a big shot of vitamin B in me!

BOOM! starred Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, (think Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie and add copious vices and addiction); pictures like Cleopatra, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?  and The Taming of the Shrew, may highlight the majesty of the chemistry between the toxic lovers, BOOM! illustrates how terribly they are also capable of acting.

boom

The kind of movie that simply would not get made today, in a cinematic environment that lives and is terminated by test screenings, there is no way that a studio would ‘get’ this unique B movie-esque work.

Waters revealed how the film was produced in collaboration with the poison that is alcohol and ALL on set were in some stage of inebriation during the working day, if not downright capernoited.

Looking through the telescope now, back at this feature, the film has a postmodern trashy edge that does in fact work. Intentional or fluke, genius or rebuke? We will never know.

After the screening Waters took questions and answers from an enthusiastic audience. He answered with a cool poise and at no time got snarky with the audience interactions.

The Dickens of alternative cinema spoke candidly about his work, portraits of trailer trash outsiders, freaks, individuals with a whole arsenal of eccentricities, characters with a capital ‘C’. There is no such thing as normal only peeps you don’t really know so well and John Waters’ cinematic treats remind us of this completely.

A catalogue of oeuvre packed with witty writing and twisted plots. Taking quirky oddities and making them positive attributes. Waters brought to the world’s attention Divine, another champion of the underdog, transformed from an overweight suburban geek into a creature of glamorous brilliance.

divine

Allegedly the inspiration behind Ursula from Disney’s The Little Mermaid. I am still haunted by the sight of Divine proudly singing You Think You’re A Man But You’re Only A Boy on Top of the Pops.

The afternoon gave an insight into the mind of an individual craftsman of creativity. A man gifted with an inventive imagination that can be expressed as surreal mayhem.

There is a Bowie song called All the Madmen and the lyrics recant how the narrator would rather stay here with all the madmen then perish with the sad men roaming free. When watching a film by this creative force, I would rather be with the circus of Waters’ disciples of trash, be a part of the insanity than not.

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Inspiration is everywhere

If there is one thing I have learnt from the last couple of weeks of reactions to the London Olympics on the social media sites, it is that you can look at event of this nature and see whatever takes your fancy. All manner of commentators from an array of political standpoints have been able to use the Games to support their previously held views. As pal and mortal bath-dweller, Mark Woff so eloquently puts it:

There seem to be thousands of humans spending hundreds of hours commenting on threads with such earnestness, glibness, vitriol, lack of self-awareness… one wonders what drives it. More crassness in people hissing comments over the Twitterfeeds at athletes, people seeing and sustaining the dark side everywhere…

And yes, there was plenty to hate, especially the grasping behaviour of some of the companies involved, the empty seats a slap in the face for everyone who had tried to get tickets in the ballot and failedincluding athletes’ familiesthe Tory MP who deemed the celebration of British accomplishments in the opening ceremony to be ‘leftie multicultural crap’. All buzz-killers.

But also, yes, plenty to celebrate, even for those of us in parts of the world who had to experience serious sleep deprivation to follow our heroes. I don’t know if I have failed or passed the Norman Tebbit ‘cricket test’, but I have been keeping an eye on the Japanese victories as much as the TeamGB ones, if only because national broadcaster NHK seemed to have a policy of only showing events Japan was doing well at.

Japan’s women footballers – nicknamed the ‘Nadeshiko’ after the name of a flower – may have been disappointed not to stun the US again following their victory in last year’s World Cup, but showed a lot of heart to take the silver. The game could have gone their way if they had taken all their chances, but they still surpassed the men’s team and – perhaps – earned a seat in business class on the way home.

Seen from here, where gender equality lags far behind that of comparable countries, the most inspirational outcome has been the pleasure Japan has taken in the success of its female athletes, especially in wrestling, table tennis and judo. It is too soon to tell if that will be enough to overcome the workplace inequalities, lack of affordable childcare and adherence to traditional gender roles common to most of Japan. Hopefully it is a start.

In addition to this celebration of the kids at school who were really good at running and suchlike, there was good news for the ones who prefer to be nose-deep in a book too. NASA managed to land a robot the size of a small car on Mars, following a journey of eight months and a landing by way of a sky crane and parachute. Sending back pictures, communicating via Twitter – both on 100% real and verified, as well as the predictable but still funny spoof feeds – the Curiosity should be enough to get us dreaming of space again.

And so, just as every other commentator has used these events to reinforce whatever it was they already believed about something, so I choose to see them as a light in the dark, proof that so long as there are people prepared to risk it all, work harder than the self-confessed lazies like myself ever could to push their minds and bodies to achieve more than was thought possible, we might not be quite as doomed a species as previously suspected. Who knows what our future could hold?

If we can sparkle he may land tonight

– David Bowie, Starman

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