Filthy Christmas

As usual, there’s a bit of press here and there in the build-up to John Waters visit to London to do his Christmas show at Royal Festival Hall next week. (I’ve had the tickets for months already.) This article in the Financial Times, of all places, is one of the better I’ve read lately — some new tidbits, some insight, and apparently written by someone who knows Waters work well enough (or has bothered to look into it well enough) to go a little deeper than the usual recycled PR.

‘He has swiveled again from the salacious to the jokey, and it occurs to me that this is what Waters does: confront the audience with something transgressive and render it unthreatening and comical. He relishes words like “creepy”, “hideous” and “filthy”, but makes them sound like good, clean fun.’

John Waters lounging at home

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The key to happiness

Lunch with John Waters

I write about John Waters so often that I should probably just give him a subcategory of his own. He’s my hero, my inspiration, my favourite entertainer. How can I not file away the best bits from him that I come across? How can I not document our occasional interactions?

This interview from The Guardian is short, but an entertaining read as always. It has the ring of Waters starting the press junket for his Christmas tour (which I’ll see when it comes here), but it has a few details I haven’t known about before, and that’s a rare pleasure. The most charming one is that he’s a big fan of wine gums, since they are a favourite of mine. Kismet! Once again, I followed in his footsteps without knowing it.

Modern Prometheus

For lack of a paperback to read during a long bus ride, I turned to Project Gutenberg on my phone and started re-reading Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley’s Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus. I had forgotten the set-up of the story, in which a third-party narrator — Robert Walton — encounters the doctor while on a polar expedition. But before that happens, Walton is yearning for companionship and writes this tender passage in a letter to his sister:

I desire the company of a man who could sympathize with me, whose eyes would reply to mine. You may deem me romantic, my dear sister, but I bitterly feel the want of a friend. I have no one near me, gentle yet courageous, possessed of a cultivated as well as of a capacious mind, whose tastes are like my own, to approve or amend my plans. How would such a friend repair the faults of your poor brother! I am too ardent in execution and too impatient of difficulties.

Shelley had her own intentions for that sentiment that had nothing to do with why those words are such a kick in the gut to me, but still: sigh.

All lifestyles

I don’t know how I managed to miss this bit of type nerdery for so long, but I just noticed these lyrics in “All Lifestyles”, from the Beastie Boys‘ 2004 album To the 5 Boroughs:

So what’cha want? So what’cha need?
I’ve got the fonts you want to read
Get in the game you gotta scheme

One of these days, I’m going to have to properly build my list of songs that intersect with typography. I know there’s more than just this and “German Bold Italic” out there.

The Dap-Tone Super Soul Review!

Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings at Pori JazzTake a minute and picture that woman working as a corrections officer at Rikers. The fact that an incredible singer like Sharon Jones languished in obscurity for years doing jobs like that is part of the tragedy of her background and the triumph of her finding success now. It’s terrible to think of that voice being wasted for so long, but I guess it took the right combination of people and opportunities — and perhaps enough time for a renewed interest in soul music to swing around — for Sharon to finally connext with Daptone Records and bust out once and for all.

Daptone’s whole commitment to an authentic late-60s/early-70s soul sound would be a grating gimmick if they weren’t in earnest and didn’t get it all so right. They have such a good touch for showcasing incredible talent that perfectly channels the spirit of the original experience.

I’v been listening to Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings for a few years, but had never had a chance to catch them live until last night, when they played with a few other artists from the Daptone stable — Charles Bradley and the Menahan Street Band — at the Barbican Centre. As much as I was looking forward to the show, it turned out to be so much better than I expected. There was so much energy on stage, and such a rich, tight sound. Sharon is much, much funnier than you’d guess from the soulful intensity of her singing voice, and she commands the stage with personality and dance moves that would put a woman half her age to shame. I just wish I had nearly as much energy as she’s got.

A Barbara Pym moment

“To say that a moment is ‘very Barbara Pym‘ is to say that it is a moment of self-observed, poignant acceptance of the modesty of one’s circumstances, of one’s peripheral position. A Barbara Pym moment also occurs when one realises that for those whom one is observing, one will never be an object of love. Tolerant affection, perhaps, but never deep, passionate love. Indeed, one is not really entitled to expect such an emotion, although it is ennobling, some say, to observe it in others.”

Alexander McCall Smith, about Excellent Women

Ziggy played guitar here

After living out of suitcases for the past few months, I finally get to settle down again month. I was spared the horrors and aggravation of gambling on strangers when some friends of mine in Greenwich let me know that one of them was moving out and freeing up a room, a much better situation — in terms of rent, location, and housemates — than I was facing otherwise. So I’ll be south of the river again, happily reunited with my books and the rest of my clothes. I’ll also be living in a neighborhood where I’ll be within walking distance of decent food and places to hang out, a welcome relief from the general lack of amenities in Leyton. (It was a nice enough two years in a super flat with a super housemate, but sorry, Leyton, as a neighborhood you kinda suck.)

Ziggy Stardust

On the whole, Greenwich looks like a great area. There’s the nice bit nearby, with the shops and observatory and the river taxi and the park. In the other direction are trains which will get me up to my studio or down to the office with minimal fuss. Lots of charm and amenities, to say the least. However, the gentleman whose room I’m taking points out an exciting piece of trivia that dwarfs all of that, at least this morning. It seems as if the pharmacy on the corner down from the new place is actually the site of Underhill Studio, where David Bowie developed Ziggy Stardust.

Early in 1971 Bowie was regarded as washed-up, a one-hit wonder. That summer he worked up Hunky Dory, which was a critics’ fave but initially made no impact on the charts. Then around September 1971 he started work on the album that would make his name: The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars. And Ziggy, the ultimate rock-’n’roll creation, was hatched at Underhill.

Hunky Dory had been put together in the recording studio, without any preparation. Ziggy was the one time when Bowie worked as a proper band, with guitarist Mick Ronson, bassist Trevor Bolder and drummer Woody Woodmansey, taking time to work out the songs beforehand. “It was a bit more rock and roll and we were a rock band,” says Bolder. “So doing that album was more like Oh yeah, we know what to do with this. We rehearsed it, we went in and we played. At Underhill Studios in Greenwich.

— Paul Trynka, Starman: David Bowie – The Definitive Biography

There’s a bit more detail at The Greenwich Phantom, but essentially, yeah — I’ll be buying aspirin at the conceptual birthplace of Ziggy Stardust come next month.

Birthplace of Ziggy

Street Life: India

Well, street traffic, at least. You could spend a lifetime trying to show all that happens as part of the rich, bustling, messy, magnificent life on the average city street in India, but here are a couple of quick videos from my trip this past March.

The first is in Kolkata/Calcutta, and the second is Mumbai/Bombay.

Opulence! You own everything!

For a while now, I’ve been joining some pals for a monthly movie night and last night we had a selection of mine, the 1990 documentary Paris Is Burning. Every time I come back to this film, I love it just as much as the first time, and it strikes me as more and more poignant as time goes on. It captures a moment, but the further we get from that moment it’s easy to see how much of an impact the whole ball culture has had as it leaked out into pop culture at large. As well-received as this was at the time, its success was a bit of a bitter pill for the subjects of the story, who weren’t able to share in as much of that success as they thought they would. Time has secured a legend for them outside the world of the balls, but the outcome only reinforces what many of them say in the film about their lot in life.

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It’s Madison time. Hit it!

Although it’s not the most thrilling clip, it’s cool to see this version of the Madison Time from Baltimore’s Buddy Deane Show, the inspiration for Hairspray‘s Corny Collins Show. (And it’s worth looking for other Buddy Deane clips to get a better idea of where the Hairspray aesthetic came from. The hair looks a little flat in this one.) The dance is done with a little more pep in the film:

The Madison sequence has always been a favorite moment in the film. It’s not the funniest or the craziest, but it’s warm and sweet, and a pivotal moment in the story. Really, it’s the part that exposes the sentimental streak that underlies the film. It always catches me off-guard to get a reminder that it was a huge smash with a life of its own outside the John Waters bubble.

The quality of this clip is awful, but here’s the second version of the Madison I ever saw, when it was played on a reel of old music clips between shows at the Somerville Theater some time in the early 90s. I never figured out the context at the time. Most of the other clips turned out to be Scopitone films, and perhaps this was as well, even though it’s not specifically French. It’s the Ray Bryant Combo doing their version, set in a bowling alley: