Six Damn Fine Degrees #97: The Divine Comedy, Liberation and Promenade

Welcome to Six Damn Fine Degrees. These instalments will be inspired by the idea of six degrees of separation in the loosest sense. The only rule: it connects – in some way – to the previous instalment. So come join us on our weekly foray into interconnectedness!

In 1993, The Divine Comedy released their album Liberation. While, technically speaking, not the first Divine Comedy album, it marked the first release where musician Neil Hannon effectively operated as the band. He wrote, arranged and performed all the songs, with the help of a handful of musicians providing percussion and strings, and William Wordsworth providing a lyrical assist on the album’s final track “Lucy”.

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Six Damn Fine Degrees #96: Biffy Clyro

Welcome to Six Damn Fine Degrees. These instalments will be inspired by the idea of six degrees of separation in the loosest sense. The only rule: it connects – in some way – to the previous instalment. So come join us on our weekly foray into interconnectedness!

So there are these three Scotsmen who formed a band back in 1995, starting out with unruly punk rock under the equally unruly name of Biffy Clyro, the meaning of which now even escapes the musicians themselves. That doesn’t prevent them from making up stuff – they once claimed that Biffy Clyro was the name of the first Scotsman in space. So anyway – they have become one of the most versatile bands around. They still make a hell of a lot of noise, but they also have one soundtrack (Balance, Not Symmetry), several beautiful ballads (Machines, Opposite, God & Satan) and at least one disco hit (All Singing and All Dancing) under their belt. But their mastery lies in guitar-loaded pop rock with an edge. Listen to the slick mainstream radio tune “Black Chandelier”, or try to heat your flat with “A Hunger In Your Haunt” all turned up. They are highly precise musicians, but they refuse to slow down. If you need a challenge for your ears, listen to the headfuck called “Slurpy Slurpy Sleep Sleep”.

It’s the black oil zombie apocalypse, held in check by three fit young blokes with tats.

And so this guy here bought tickets for their March show a year ago, which got postponed because of some virus, and so finally, finally, they came round here in September. It was in a medium-sized concert hall, and that was part of the problem. The Biff played so loud that it was probably illegal for an indoors concert. My girlfriend, who is not one for earplugs, put them in after the first song (“DumDum”) made the hairs on her arm stand up. What helped her get through the gig was that, very early on, the three guys kept on rumbling half-naked. Not as tall as me, she tried to get glimpses of the trio who behaved like indefatigable Energizer bunnies on stage. She seemed cheerful. I love that woman to bits.

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Six Damn Fine Degrees #92: Hurdy Gurdy Man

Donovan’s Hurdy Gurdy Man (1968) is one creepy trip of a song. Judging only from the lyrics, the hurdy gurdy man should bring solace and tranquility to the suffering of all mankind by simply playing his instrument and softly singing his monotonous, hypnotising hurdy gurdy lyrics. Of course, on some level, it is a drug-addled tune, but the words point to an agreeable nirvana of semi-consciousness. The hurdy gurdy player seems to be some godlike being whose superpower is to reign benign over all of us.

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Six Damn Fine Degrees #86: Grace Jones, I’ve Seen That Face Before

Welcome to Six Damn Fine Degrees. These instalments will be inspired by the idea of six degrees of separation in the loosest sense. The only rule: it connects – in some way – to the previous instalment. So come join us on our weekly foray into interconnectedness!

I was in Florence some years ago, it was a one-week holiday, and it should have gone on longer, because I grew to like the city a whole lot. For instance, in the Nelson bookstore, you could take any book you wanted from their shelves and into their coffee shop and read it or leaf through it. The downside was that some of their books no longer looked pristine. The downside includes that the shop does not seem to exist any longer – at least I was unable to find it, and I seem to remember that it was at one side of a huge square.

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Six Damn Fine Degrees #85: Give My Regards To Broad Street

Welcome to Six Damn Fine Degrees. These instalments will be inspired by the idea of six degrees of separation in the loosest sense. The only rule: it connects – in some way – to the previous instalment. So come join us on our weekly foray into interconnectedness!

When I was young I bought my pop music on Cassette. If you made a bit of money on your birthday you could head to the shops and buy yourself an album. (If you’d really cleaned up with the relatives you could get two.) The only vinyl player we had in the house was very much off-limits to the children, mainly the domain of curious spoken word affairs that the grown-ups found funny. Although they had covers that tended to give me nightmares.

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A Damn Fine Espresso: June 2022

We’ve talked about movies and music before, and for our June Espresso episode, Sam and Matt pick up the tune again, talking about two films they’ve recently seen that are all about the music. Sam watched Ennio, the 2021 documentary about iconic composer Ennio Morricone, directed by Giuseppe Tornatore (of Cinema Paradiso fame), while Matt caught Academy Award winner Summer of Soul (2021) at the cinema, which combines the genres of documentary and concert film to celebrate artists from Mahalia Jackson and B.B. King to Stevie Wonder, Sly and the Family Stone and Nina Simone – and talk about the relevance of the 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival to African American culture and politics. Sam and Matt also discuss what, for them, makes a good film about music and musicians, and what is necessary for a musical performance to come to life on film.

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Rubberband… love? Licorice Pizza (2021)

Acolytes of PTA beware: there be spoilers.

There is a barely hidden secret at the heart of Paul Thomas Anderson’s Licorice Pizza, and it’s just behind the fig-leaf of that tender coming-of-age love story, as whacky as it may be, that we are supposed to take as the main story. It’s that both Alana Kane (Alana Haim) and Gary Valentine (Cooper Hoffmann) know pretty well what they want to do with their lives. That might come to us as a surprise, and to them as well, and their next few months are not without pitfalls and mayor changes, but for all their uncertainty, they have their plans and ideas. And if that includes their gravitating towards each other, then yay, all the better.

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Six Damn Fine Degrees #51: Elvis Costello’s I Want You (1986)

Welcome to Six Damn Fine Degrees. These instalments will be inspired by the idea of six degrees of separation in the loosest sense. The only rule: it connects – in some way – to the previous instalment. So come join us on our weekly foray into interconnectedness!

I want to say that Elvis Costello’s 1986 song “I Want You” is a love song, but it’s like saying a volcanic eruption is about elevated temperatures. It’s so much a misnomer it is almost a lie. Let’s say that the first few seconds, oh my baby, baby, are some sort of spectacularly failed attempt at a love song, and then the egg shell breaks from the inside, and all the pathos, all the jealousy and obsession of a relationship gone south, burst out, red-hot and seething. Please excuse my French, but that song is a fucking hand-grenade of self-pity.

It’s taken from Blood & Chocolate, one of Costello’s best albums if you ask me, but it’s telling that his band, the Attractions, would not make another album with Costello for the next eight years. It’s not just because of this song, but relationships in the band had soured before that. I don’t know how much of those internal problems have found their way into recording I Want You, but creative adversity might have added to the atmosphere of something having come to a painful close. If you listen to the song on your stereo, Costello’s voice, sometimes jarring, sometimes painfully intimate, sounds like it will spill out of the loudspeakers and make small puddles of poisoned honey on your living-room floor.

Since “I Want You” is not a duet, we only have the male I’s point of view, and none of the woman’s. According to him, she has betrayed him, which, in a heterosexual context, means that she has slept with another man. Is he just jealous that she has found another guy after their breakup, or has she cheated on him? To some men (lesser men at that), this is the same thing, oh no, my darling, not with that clown, because the other guy, in some men’s self-estimation, is always the worse choice, no-one who wants you could want you more. Yeah, I’m the guy for you, can’t you see? But if the song would not be from the I’s point of view, it would not be nearly as good, or as revealing. It’s a six and a half minute whopper of a song; no wonder Michael Winterbottom could make a whole movie out of it.

Costello does not mince words here, but if you have ever read or watched any of his interviews, it cannot come as a surprise to you that Mr McManus does say exactly what he means – even if he means it only in the moment he is saying it. But it is exactly that quality that the song needs: It’s the thought of you undressing him, or you undressing. Apart from the fact that we can only guess what happened between the two, he must lie awake, gnashing his teeth, or smoking and drinking, trying in vain to delete the images of what he thinks has happened – and what he thinks has happened is always stronger of what has really happened. His guesses are probably all wrong (it’s knowing that he knows you now after only guessing), but how would that help? The images cannot be unseen, or uncreated. Oh boy, oh boy, us males are so good at feeding our inferiority complexes while maintaining that we are actually caring, considerate and tender when we are not.

I’ll say this for the song: it does not spare the male I any more than it does spare the departed female lover, but since the self-revelation on the side of the male I is so much more telling, it says much more about him than it says about the woman he is addressing, since his view of her is skewered and biased and uttered with the pain of departure at best and vitriolic hatred at worst. Talk about toxic masculinity. Musically, the song stays with you, because it is so slow and contains an absolute joke of a guitar solo while putting all its sensuality in its melody. The music already knows that all is over, while the lyrics still cling to the last vestiges of a relationship that is so over.

Six Damn Fine Degrees #49 – Three generations of songs in A Star is Born

Welcome to Six Damn Fine Degrees. These instalments will be inspired by the idea of six degrees of separation in the loosest sense. The only rule: it connects – in some way – to the previous instalment. So come join us on our weekly foray into interconnectedness!

To me, Julie’s fascinating comparison of the earlier variations of what came to be A Star is Born triggered many a musical memory and it made me wonder how besides plot, characters and settings the musical flavours of this often-remade screenplay had changed over time. Specifically, what would the three Oscar-recognised songs from the Judy Garland version (“The Man that Got Away”, 1955), the Streisand remake (“Evergreen”, 1976) and the recent Lady Gaga iteration (“In the Shallows”, 2018) tell us about each moment this star-making (or -breaking) story hit the big screen?

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Footnotes: The Music Makers

We thought long and hard about whether we wanted to put musical excerpts in our podcast episode on movie soundtracks, but in the end we decided against it – not least because these pieces should be heard in their entirety, and they tend to work best when you listen to them along to the respective scenes from the films they’re from. So, below you’ll find our picks and some more of our thoughts about these wonderful tunes and composers.

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