The Rear-View Mirror: Nina Simone (1933)

Each Friday we travel back in time, one year at a time, for a look at some of the cultural goodies that may appear closer than they really are in The Rear-View Mirror. Join us on our weekly journey into the past!

I was in Berlin last summer, getting my bearings back, and I walked past a bar where someone played a live version of Nina Simone’s take on Sinnerman. Honestly, my friends, there cannot be many more songs such as this one getting under my skin like that. She wants to make light because the rhythm of the song wants to sound so jolly, and it does, but then that voice comes in and puts a damper on the cheer, warning about what is going to happen, turning the rhythm from jolly to urgent. And yet there is hope somewhere, not much, but just enough. Continue reading

The Rear-View Mirror: With a Little Help from My Friends (1967)

Each Friday we travel back in time, one year at a time, for a look at some of the cultural goodies that may appear closer than they really are in The Rear-View Mirror. Join us on our weekly journey into the past!

The year 1967 stands out for a number of reasons.

It was a powerful year for movies: the world got the likes of Bonnie & Clyde, In The Heat of the Night and Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner blowing open the doors on what was previously considered taboo in the US.

It was a powerful year for history: it was the year James Bedford died. It was also the year James Bedford became the first man in history to be cryonically preserved. It was the year the United States stepped up the war in Vietnam. It was also the year that, in the middle of race riots and violence, the world seemed to unite for a single moment in opposition to Vietnam, and the Summer of Love was born.

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The Rear-View Mirror: Bruce Springsteen and The E-Street Band, Live/1975-85 (1986)

Each Friday we travel back in time, one year at a time, for a look at some of the cultural goodies that may appear closer than they really are in The Rear-View Mirror. Join us on our weekly journey into the past!

Bruce Springsteen seems to be a part the bedrock of the music business, but he is the first to admit that he is a fraud. He has never held down a working-class job in his life, he has never seen a factory from the inside. (If you don’t believe me, then go watch Springsteen on Broadway, currently on Netflix.) He is one of the greatest posers ever. And yet nobody sees him that way because he has unearthed something, a kind of poetic common denominator, an idealised, romanticised version of the USA, or of working class life, or of being young – maybe a bit of everything. There is a sense of wanting to get out of this town that he caters to with his music. Or why do you think his biggest hit is called Born To Run?

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The Rear-View Mirror: The Fabulous Baker Boys (1989)

Each Friday we travel back in time, one year at a time, for a look at some of the cultural goodies that may appear closer than they really are in The Rear-View Mirror. Join us on our weekly journey into the past!

Love is a free agent. We may say that opposites attract, or that birds of a feather flock together or whatever; we have our kinks and fetishes and predilections and our angsts when it come to relationships and love and sex; we describe ourselves as homo- or heterosexual or polyamorous or bi or as of many colors of the rainbow, but we really don’t know why we fall for this person or that person. It’s a mistery, at its core, that crazy little thing called love.

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Four days of fun, then un-saved by the bell

imagesI am trying to come up with a more versatile director than Richard Linklater, but I am drawing a blank. Linklater might be best known for Boyhood, or for his Sunrise trilogy, featuring Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy. All four movies follow a handful of characters, visiting and re-visiting them at certain points their lives. Then there’s the Linklater who made a well-mannered con-man drama called Bernie, slightly overlooked, featuring a surprisingly smarmy Jack Black who is after Shirley McLaine’s wealth. Then School of Rock, a comedy again featuring Jack Black, and almost too formulaic for a Linklater movie. A Scanner Darkly, based on a Philip K. Dick short story, shot with a real-life cast and then re-designed afterwards to make it look animated. And finally there is the Linklater of such philosophical essays as Waking Life that seem to work best if you are drunk and stoned and sitting around a campfire on a summer night with friends or strangers or both and discuss really deep concepts like art, or life, or beer. Continue reading

Down in the Ocean of Sound

Here’s the thing: on Monday, Elvis Costello and the Imposters were four musicians, while Death Cab for Cutie last night at the Kmplex 457 in Zurich were a band. It’s a surprise to me that the newcomers were the better act than one of my favourite musical artists.

I’ve learned from the net that people tend to avoid the Komplex for its bad acoustics, and I see their point, but Death Cab were so good that this didn’t bother me at all.

They were there for the music. Ben Gibbard barely uttered a dozen words between songs other than his almost shy thank yous. They played almost flawlessly. Some very few effects that give some of their songs their distinctive flavor came from a sampler (like the percussion bits from “Transatlanticism” or the nervous drum from “St Peter’s Cathedral”), but the rest was live craftsmanship, and very atmospheric. It helped that there were no seats, and maybe that’s what stopped Costello from performing better.


They knew what they were doing. The intro to “I Will Possess Your Heart” had the right mixture of sneak and speed; there was “Doors Unlocked and Open” letting you dangle, but pushing your forward at the same time; and I’ll be damned if “Soul Meets Body” wasn’t a perfect piece of pop – maybe it’s the rhythm, not too fast, not too slow, but just right. The song sounds careless, but it has such a warm tone that I can’t name one other song with that same warmth.

It looked like they didn’t really feel comfortable being on stage, and especially Gibbard keeps slinking around with his back to the audience, but they were there to play their stuff, so they threw everything they had into the sound. It worked really well. No extravagant show necessary.

Somewhat spellbound by the spectacular spinning songbook

Elvis Costello isn’t the easiest of persons – I kept that in mind last night while entering the Kongresshaus in Zurich. He’s just weird and nasty in some interviews and downright odd in others, and then he comes out and surprises you by being really tame and gentle. So if he announces his tour with the return of the Spectacular Spinning Songbook, I knew that it would take some getting used to. The stage was dominated by that gigantic colored wheel full of songtitles and little in-jokes such as “imperial chocolate.” There was also the Hammer of Songs and the Hostage of Fortune Go-Go Cage. At home, you get Mr McManus the musician; in here, you get Mr Napoleon Dynamite the entertainer.

When he came on stage, I realized the place was only two thirds full, and the applause was sort of lukewarm. No matter – Mr D started with “I hope you’re happy now,” and the go-go girl in the cage made it clear that the maestro was here to have fun. To me, the setting was a slight distraction from the music, and the music… I had a hard time to warm up to it in the first half-hour. I found “Turpentine” flat and uninspired. It was only when someone spun the wheel for “Tokyo Storm Warning” that I knew I had come to the right place. “She” was proof that there was a cupboard crooner in the house.

Besides Costello, there were Steve Nieve at the keys and Pete Thomas on drums, both longtime companions of the Attractions as well as of the Impostors. They did what they could, but there was no way for them to play some of the songs in a way that would have made them more distinct from one another. I had hoped for a rhythm section and some horns that would have played a gloriously loud “Bedlam” or “Needle Time”, but no. “Tramp the Dirt Down” didn’t stand out at all.


So I went along with what was there: a couple from the audience who didn’t know or didn’t want to tell if they were married, and to each other. (Mr MacManus: “Is there something you want to tell us?”) A good rendition of “Condemned Man.” And there was that folksy woman during some sort of “break,” yodelling and playing a small accordion. Was she local? No idea.

Then after that break, something happened. Elvis Costello came back alone and played an acoustic bit with “Jimmie Standing in the Rain”. That stuff worked beautifully, because here, the musician took over from the entertainer. I didn’t mind that he invited some more audience members and the go-go girls back on stage. And, of course, there had to be “I Want You,” which sounded not nearly as fucked up as it should have. I really would like to hear one live version of that song where it almost falls apart and breaks down. It works best when it barely works at all. It’s a song of its own kind.

Then he started to cheat. He wouldn’t accept requests for “Oliver’s Army,” even when it came up on the songbook, and played something else. It pissed off some people in the audience, but I had to smile to myself. That’s just typical, but what did you expect?

It was a good concert once it clicked. There were the typical imported bits, this time the Rolling Stones’ “Baby You’re Out of Time” and the Beatles’ “Please Please Me”. Last night Mr D the entertainer was in a good mood, and I wish the musician Mr C would have tried to have as much fun as him.