Monday, 3 October 2022

Celebrity Jukebox #39: Henry Miller

As an English teacher, I'm often called upon to pretend I know more about famous writers than I actual do. So what do I know about Henry Miller? Erm... he wrote some mucky books? Oh, wait, no, the U.S. Supreme Court cleared him of obscenity and declared his novels "literature" in 1964, so he wasn't just another sex-obsessed scribe. He did get through five wives though, and spent most of his 80s writing pen pal letters to a Playboy model called Brenda Venus. Make of that what you will. On his death in 1980, the Grauniad declared, "As chief literary anarchist of his day, Miller was a kind of low priest celebrating the last rites of what he regarded as a doomed civilisation"... which might almost persuade me to give his books a go, if someone would be willing to cover my eyes when I got to the mucky bits.

In truth, most of what I know about Henry Miller has been garnered from these songs. Then again, most rock 'n' rolls stars are a bunch of sex-obsessed narcissists too, so no wonder they dig this "low priest of a doomed civilisation".

I'd love it if Doris Day was singing about our Henry Miller in The Deadwood Stage, but as that's set some time before the author was born, it's unlikely. Still, the Henry Miller in question is the owner of The Golden Garter saloon, so he was probably a bit of a perv too...

Introducing Henry Miller
Just as busy as a fizzy Sarsparilla
Ain't a showman any smarter 
Operates the Golden Garter

Jewel is undoubtably referring to the correct Henry though...

My, you remind me of a man I used to sleep with
That's a face I'd never forget
And you can be Henry Miller and I'll be Anaïs Nin
Except this time it'll be even better
We'll stay together in the end
Come on darlin', let's go back to bed

Anaïs Nin and Henry Miller were, of course, lovers. Nin financed the publication of Miller's first book, Tropic of Cancer, in 1934. You might be surprised to learn that I have read some Anaïs Nin. There was a copy on a bookshelf I used to frequent as a boy. E knows what I'm talking about...

She hides in the library reading Henry Miller books
'Til they flash the lights, it's time to go
When she was a little kid she said
"Dad, I don't know why I feel so penniless inside"

Still in the library (or not), here's a surprising dose of social commentary from The Turtles...

Nobody is ever un-American in Suburbia, ha!
Nobody is ever un-American in Suburbia
Everybody has a list
Of Negroes, Jews and communists
And checks it off before their daughter marries
Ginsberg is a socialist
He can't write poems like Edgar Guest
And Henry Miller's not in their library (too bad)

Followed by a little literary criticism from Of Montreal, who are not from Canada, but Athens, Georgia.

I have the sense you wanna be the female Henry Miller
Cynically referring to your lovers as your pricks
And exploiting other people's madness

For an actual Canadian band, look no further than The Lowest of the Low. This is from an album called Shakespeare My Butt, which apparently is one of "the ten greatest albums in Canadian music history". I'm not sure what Neil Young and Joni Mitchell have to say about that.

I want to take a streetcar downtown
Read Henry Miller and wander around
And drink some Guinness from a tin

Still in Canada, this is Raine Maida, lead singer of the band Our Lady Peace.

Her bedroom is her temple
The books and the stereo her muse
She feels humbled by this equation
And sets fire to all her shoes
Not because of Henry Miller
She's just not leaving anytime soon
And as the smoke pours out her window
An image forms behind the moon
And it looks like the face of Jesus
But if it's Jesus she needs proof
At the heart of the matter, and a matter of fact
The science of matter
She hopes that it's true

Back to the literary criticism with Jason Gots, who I know nothing about. I mean, he might be Canadian, but the internet has let me down on that. I like his song though... 

The city's sleeping, I can't sleep, it feels like I won't ever sleep again
A sense of urgency so keen, unknown to science and to medicine
I thought that this was settled, that I'd settled into some kind of routine
That I gave up all that Henry Miller bullshit for Joseph Goldstein

But now something's happening to me
Oh, something new is happening

I guess I'm not a novelist I never could sit still for very long
And I guess there's supposed to be a verse, a chorus and a bridge in every song
And I only ever had one thing to say but you get bored so easily F
I said it fifteen hundred ways in hopes that one would make it through eventually

Meanwhile, here's another artist I'm hearing for the first time, even though he's made a shedload of records and has at one time or another collaborated with Bruce Springsteen, Billy Joel, David Johansen and the Violent Femmes.

I was in Sicily reading Henry Miller
You were in New York City you were getting thinner
I was in discos I was listening to Madonna
You were in sweat clothes looking like Jane Fonda

If you're wondering why I do such long posts for this feature (and you're really not, because nobody reads this far), it's because I get to unearth gems like these...

Some say my songs are long and over complicated
But they're very personal I say they're underrated
This is the last thing I expected to be
A broken-hearted troubadour in sunny Sicily 

Oh look, here's an artist I have heard of. David Lee Roth. Fancy seeing you here, David!

How 'bout a little Henry Miller
With your Huckleberry Finn
Assume the position, honey
Let's begin

And in the "even less surprising" category, here's Jane Birkin...

Amour pervers
Me susurre Henry Miller
Dans son Tropique du Cancer
Du Cancer

In case you're wondering, "Amour pervers" means exactly what you think. That clip's worth watching just to hear the way Jane pronounces "'Enri Millay" though.

From France to Mexico, and a song that actually mentions Henry Miller in its title. A very cool slice of Guadalajaran garage punk...

Your gums
On wind of
Dirty feathers
My death
Asphyxiates your
Golden matter
Henry Miller
Goes in deeper
Deep like a scab

And here's another titular win... although as with Doris Day, this might well be a different Henry Miller...

And I know that he feels bad
’Cause he is my best friend
And I know that in the end
Henry Miller is dead

And I hope he’s not
And I prey he’s not my best friend

As might this... although 1891 is the year our Henry was born.

Phew. This could go on all night.

Let's take a 13 minute break for this week's token Mark Kozelek stream-of-consciousness ramble...

I don't know what to read now. 
I'm going to open Henry Miller's Moloch, see how it makes me feel. 
But nothing makes me laugh like John Fante 
I don't have any of his other books here with me right now
I just watched a little news. 
There were fires today. 
One in Gilroy. One in Fairfield. 
And one right under the George Miller bridge at 2 pm.

If you're interested, Henry Miller gets name-dropped in a bunch of other Kozelek rambles. Email me and I'll send a list.

Speaking of lists, I'm going to have to stop there... but the list of songs that name-check Mr. Miller certainly doesn't stop there. I just picked out a bunch of the ones I liked. 

To be honest, when I chose him for the 39th edition of this feature, there was only one song I had in mind, so here it is. 

Dan Bern has a fantasy that if Marilyn Monroe had married Henry Miller rather than Arthur Miller, she'd have lived a happier life. I'll let him explain in detail why he believe this to be the case. He is, however, at pains to point out that...

This is not a knock against Arthur Miller
Death of a Salesman is my favorite play
But Marilyn Monroe
Should have married Henry Miller
And if she did
She might be alive

This is taken from Dan Bern's 1997 debut album, which I'd really recommend checking out, especially for the song Jerusalem in which he proclaims himself the second coming of Jesus Christ. (He's right about Death of a Salesman too.)

Sunday, 2 October 2022

Snapshots #260: A Top Ten Shame Songs

This is Michael Fassbender, who once appeared in the movie Shame, in which he was addicted to sex. How preposterous is that? Now if he was addicted to Saturday Snapshots, that I could understand...

10. Obsessive-compulsive detectives.

I used to love Monk, the TV show starring Tony Shalhoub as an OCD detective.

The Monks - Nice Legs, Shame About The Face

Probably won't hear that on the radio these days.

9. Billie Jean is not a bubbly Brideshead Revisitor.

Evelyn Waugh wrote Brideshead Revisited.

Bubbly is Champagne.

Billie Jean King.

Evelyn "Champagne" King - Shame

8. Not fit for the major leagues.

"The Mendoza Line is baseball jargon for a sub-.200 batting average, the supposed minimum threshold for competence at the Major League level." As I'm sure all you baseball fans will know.

The Mendoza Line - The Triple Bill Of Shame

7. Roland takes more tea.

Roland Rat takes another T.

Ratt - Shame, Shame, Shame

6. Spencer, Geller, tastes like chicken.

Lady Diana Spencer gets with Ross Geller (from Friends, duh) and some Chicken Supreme.

Diana Ross & The Supremes - I'm Livin' In Shame

That is so good, it sends a shiver down my spine.

5. Derbyshire cigarettes.

4. Like O, in a forest.

Like The Big O, this is another Roy... Wood.

Roy Wood - Oh What A Shame

As I type out these answers on Thursday evening, I'm predicting John will get that one about 3 seconds after 8.30 on Saturday morning.

3. Yarn twisters, not Liverpudlian. 

Not The Spinners from Liverpool, but their namesakes...

The Detroit Spinners - It's A Shame

(I still have nightmares about the awful Monie Love version of that.)

2. Some like it hot above their shoulders.

Jack Lemmon was in Some Like It Hot, keeping his head held high.

The Lemonheads - It's A Shame About Ray

Always reminds me of good times, that one...

1. Otis fandom.


Fats Domino - Ain't That A Shame

It'll be a shame if you can't come back for more Snapshots next Saturday...

Saturday, 1 October 2022

Saturday Snapshots #260

Saturday morning is the time to get Far From The Madding Crowd and enjoy a little Me Time with some Snapshots. Stamp your name in history by working out who are the ten artists below and what connect their songs. I promise it's a lot easier than last week's...

10. Obsessive-compulsive detectives.

9. Billie Jean is not a bubbly Brideshead Revisitor.

8. Not fit for the major leagues.

7. Roland takes more tea.

6. Spencer, Geller, tastes like chicken.

5. Derbyshire cigarettes.

4. Like O, in a forest.

3. Yarn twisters, not Liverpudlian. 

2. Some like it hot above their shoulders.

1. Otis fandom.

"Kneel Before Zod!"

Or just wait till tomorrow morning for the answers...

Friday, 30 September 2022

Positive Songs For Negative Times #79: Summer's Over

Summer at Fountain's Abbey, near Ripon. 
Photo taken on the 1st of September, 2022.

The Winds of Autumn Teach Us That Decay is the Fate of All Mankind

(from The Guardian, 11th November, 1840)

There is an "even-tide" in the year - a season when the sun withdraws his propitious light - when the winds arise, and the leaves fall, and nature around us seems to sink into decay. It is said to be the season of melancholy; and if by this word be meant that it is the time of solemn and serious thought, it is undoubtedly the season of melancholy; yet it is a melancholy so soothing, so gentle in its approach, and so prophetic in its influence, that they who have known it feel, as if instinctively, that it is the doing of God.

I like Autumn. I love to watch the leaves turn colour and feel the bite of the colder air, dig out the winter coat (which has far more pockets than the summer jacket: I adore pockets) and the heavier duvet. I can’t deny that the season brings melancholy… then again, I’m a big fan of melancholy. It’s almost as good as pockets. Melancholy is probably my favourite emotion. I mean, Happiness Is Overrated, right? Not to mention, so bloody hard to come by…

Autumn officially began last Friday, according to the Calendar people. For teachers, it probably begins a couple of weeks earlier when the summer holidays end and it’s back to school. I don’t normally start wearing my winter jumpers until October Half Term, clinging onto the short-sleeved summer shirts as long as I can… although this year, with Louise turning the thermostat down to minimise our exposure to the energy bill apocalypse, I’ve already taken to wearing socks in bed.

It’s around this time of year, regular as clockwork, that a particular song starts playing in my mind. A number #60 smash in 1998 (almost a quarter of a decade ago, for those of you not bummed out enough by the Grauniad’s suggestion that “Decay is the Fate of All Mankind”), but in my mind it was a Number One. As for melancholy classics, this one’s right up there…

Kamikaze seagull planes
Fighting over chip shop take-away remains
When you're walking on the cliffs
You can't help thinking of how far down the sea is
And what if it should give

Empty pubs echo with sounds
Jukebox selections that keep going round and round
And maybe rain is all we need
To come and wash the summer rubbish off the beach
Oh, let's just go to sleep
I didn't mean to bring you down
Summer's over, seaside town
She says we shouldn't have come so far
This seaside town

Thursday, 29 September 2022

Neverending Top Ten #5.5: Your Alibi

"Daddy, what's an alibi?"

"Well, buddy... say the police thought you'd done something bad. Like, say they thought you'd broken into Sid's house and stolen all his chocolate, and they knew the break-in was a 7 o'clock last night. So imagine you'd been at a party at that time with 30 of your friends who could all prove you were there... well, that'd be your alibi. Proof that you didn't steal Sid's chocolate."

"Oh. OK. So... why's this guy waiting for one? What's he done?"


I have no idea. 


Wednesday, 28 September 2022

Celebrity Jukebox #38: Raquel Welch

I think it's fair to say that Raquel Welch must be the oldest actress I've ever featured here. After all, she has been acting since One Million Years BC. 

When Stephen King wrote the novella that The Shawshank Redemption was based on, the poster on Andy DuFrense's cell wall was Rita Hayworth. In the movie, to better show the passage of time, he has three posters: Hayworth, Marilyn... and the iconic image above of Raquel Welch in One Million Years BC, surely one of the most famous posters ever printed... after that one of the tennis player scratching her arse. Iffypedia tells us "Welch helped transform America's feminine ideal into its current state", a statement which is as questionable as it is disputable. To her credit, Welch herself once said, "I was not brought up to be a sex symbol, nor is it in my nature to be one. The fact that I became one is probably the loveliest, most glamorous and fortunate misunderstanding". 

Whatever you think of Raquel Welch, it's fair to say that poster may well have decorated the bedroom walls of many of the songwriters below...

Not actually about Raquel Welch, just a girl with the same first name as her. However, Ms. Welch does get a mention... and extra points for rhyming her surname with "squelch".

I am not well.

What is this feeling that 
I'm not trying to squelch?
I don't know your last name,
I just know it's not Welch.

No question about this one though, from the man who wrote The Ballad Of Lucy Jordan...

I been collectin' matches for 20 years or more
I got about a hundred thousand books of 'em,
Sittin' in my end table draw
So that if Raquel Welch comes knockin' at my door
And asks me for a match, for her cigarette...
I'll be ready

And there can be little doubt that Gruff Rhys had Ms. Welch in mind when he wrote this for his Super Furries side project...

Oh Raquel
You've really got the power over me
Oh Raquel
Your silhouette's an hourglass indeed

I saw you as a movie star
And now you're riding in my car
Oh Raquel
You fill me with inertia, yes you do
Oh Raquel
I know this when I touch you, on a balloon

Your daddy came from Bolivia
Your Irish mother gave you star
Shine on

(In case you're wondering, Gruff did his research. Raquel's parents are Bolivian daddy Armando Carlos Tejada Urquizo and Irish mummy Josephine Sarah Hall.)

OK, so those are the only songs I found with Raquel in the title. What about lyrical nods? 

Deep breath...


Oh, sorry... I mean...

There may not be much difference
Between Chairman Mao and Richard Nixon
If we strip them naked

There may not be much difference
Between Marilyn Monroe and Lenny Bruce
If we check their coffins

There may not be much difference
Between Raquel Welch and Jerry Rubin
If we hear their heartbeat 


Slightly less deep, yet somehow far less annoying, is the fact that Raquel Welch shares a birthday with Freddie Mercury, Werner Herzog and...

I am the birthday boy
Today's my day, mine to enjoy
I am the birthday king
Today of me I sing

Fred Mercury is dead and gone
Raquel Welch continues on
Werner Herzog's doing fine
It's their birthdays and mine

Then comes the "I'll have what she's been smoking" category...

I had the Story of O in my bucket seat
Of my wannabe Mustang
Auditioning for reptiles in their
Raquel Welch campaign

Glories of the 80s, you said
"I'm not afraid to die" I said,
"I don't find that remotely funny, even
On this space cake high"

Yeah, I'm not going to try to explain that.

Oh, look, here's a song with Two Parts! You have to scroll through to the beginning of Part 2, around the 4 minute mark, to hear a brief reference to Raquel... but I think it's just a playful nickname for Freddie's co-singer.

How about a word from Mr. Moonlighting himself?

You think that love's
What's on that silver screen
Raquel and Redford are the tops
You've been misled
By all those movies you've seen

Or perhaps you'd prefer something from the first Finnish band to ever chart in the UK?

My little lover's gonna be another copy of Raquel Welch, 
I'll build her a house and a maid named Jill
And spend the rest of my life down in Beverly Hills

Or a Christian Rock Supergroup? (Aren't they all?)

Remember Raquel Welch in that fur bikini
The dinosaur bird swooping down
Loana, the fair one, flailing and screaming
Soon as her feet left the ground
Sometimes there’s nowhere to hide
Just as well to surrender and go for the ride

Loana was the name of the character Raquel played in One Million Years BC. Clearly they're not Christian fundamentalists, otherwise they'd be rubbishing the film's depiction of dinosaurs which, clearly, never existed.

Oh, and here's our token Mark Kozelek track for this week...

The reason I love you number eight
Is because we rarely rarely fight and we get along great
And you're prettier than me, than Raquel Welsh or Sharon Tate
And that's the reason I love you number eight

All of which leads us to two very clear winners for today's Raquel-love-in. 

The first... is only... one of the greatest TV theme tunes ever written...

I've never spent much time in school
But I taught ladies plenty
It's true, I hire my body out for pay, hey hey
I've gotten burnt over Sheryl Tiegs, blown up for Raquel Welch
But when I end up in the hay, it's only hay, hey hey

And the second... is Loretta. 'Nuff said.

I'm glad that Raquel Welch just signed a million dollar pact
And Debbie's out in Vegas workin' up a brand new act
While the TV's showin' newlyweds, a real fun game to play

But here in Topeka, the screen door's a bangin'
The coffee's boilin' over and the wash needs a hangin'
One wants a cookie and one wants a changin'
And one's on the way

Tuesday, 27 September 2022

Namesakes #5: Mr. Big

Last week's Namesakes vote was the first unanimous result of the series, with The Charlatans soundly thrashing The Charlatans, even though the winners were actually Charlatans. I think I've run that joke into the ground now.

This week's choice will be much harder. I mean, how can you choose between two of the BIGgest one hit wonders in rock? 

MR. BIG #1

Our first Mr. Big formed in the late 60s, when they stumbled along using the name Burnt Oak to not much acclaim. Attempting to big them up, their manager changed their name (without telling them) to Mr. Big just before a 1972 gig at the Marquee Club in London, and the rest is a very small piece of history.

This Mr. Big went onto support Queen, The Sweet, Tom Petty, Journey, Kansas and The Runaways before scoring their one Top Ten hit despite (or perhaps because of) a BBC radio ban because of it's "saucy" lyrics.

Those "saucy" lyrics? I know you're dying to know. OK. Well. Cover your eyes if you're easily shocked...

I am the morning, you are the light
You make the morning such a beautiful thing
I am the green grass, you are the rain
Fall on me, make me grow
No-one will ever know
Fall on me make me grow again

Step back in time dear Romeo she said
Step back in time please take me to your bed
Step back in time dear Romeo
My Juliet and take me home

If you ask me, far more shocking is the fact that most of them couldn't afford buttons for their shirts...

Also: someone's been watching the Bohemian Rhapsody video on repeat. Which wasn't that easy to do in the days before video recorders.

MR. BIG #2

Our second Mr. Big turned up about ten years after the original bunch called it quits, way over on the other side of the Atlantic, as part of the burgeoning L.A. rock scene spearheaded by Guns 'n' Roses. Unable to score any big hits with rockier tunes such as Blame It On My Youth and Addicted To That Rush, they unveiled their more commercial sensitive side with To Be With You, a global number one hit (although it stuck at #3 in the UK) that promised big things... 

After that, Iffypedia tells us they were mostly just Big In Japan. 

You may well find this video unintentionally hilarious... consider that a warning.

Which Mr. Big is Biggest? Only you can decide...

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