Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Salvation Tambourine

Duke Special knows something most of us don’t know. He knows how to make his audience’s sides ache with laughter one minute and choke them up the next. He knows how to find the balance between the past and the future. He knows what songs are meant to remain album tracks and which ones come to life on stage. He knows how important a sense of humour is, even when you’ve got something very serious to say. He knows that there’s talent right here in good ole Eire and that the right mix of people can make something truly special. He knows how to bring Irish music to world standard, and hot to remind us of all that we have accomplished culturally as a fairly tiny nation. The guy knows how to put on a fantastic show.

The first time I saw the Duke (aka Peter Wilson) live, it was at three o’clock in the afternoon in Cyprus Avenue. It was an all-ages matinee show. One woman waiting outside said she was going to come back for the evening show five hours later. I remember thinking ‘Gawwd he can’t be that good, like’. Wull wull wull. I still maintain that that gig was a turning point in my life, creatively at least. It was the most chilling, beautiful and downright entertaining thing I had seen in all my sixteen years. So yeah, expectations were high for this evening with Duke and the RTE Concert Orchestra two years later. It was a show of two halves; firstly, the music of Ruby Murray, the Belfast balladeer, followed by a set of Duke’s own songs.
Like a lot of people, I’d never heard of Ruby Murray until I saw that Duke Special had made a documentary about her. It turns out that when he was asked to make it, he knew pretty much nothing about her other than she was from Belfast and she did all right for herself with a couple of nice songs and lived happily ever after. None of that is strictly true, though. Ruby moved to England and made a name for herself on the stage. She was in the right place at the right time as television arrived in 1955, and her voice reached a bigger audience than she could have even contemplated before. Her record for the most record sales was unmatched until only two years ago after the death of Michael Jackson rocketed his almost all his albums simultaneously into the charts. Ruby was as famous as you could get in those days, but she didn’t want fame. She just loved to sing. But she also loved to drink. Unfortunately, the year her success reached its height also saw the arrival of Bill Haley and His Comets, and the world of crooners and Silly Love Songs was turned on its head. She died in 1996, an alcoholic, her stardom all but forgotten.

2010: enter Duke Special. With an endearing pride in his Belfast roots and a love of all things beautiful and mysterious, he goes on a journey to champion Ruby’s music and remind people why simple, sweet but good songs will always speak to people.

The show opened with a nice upbeat number. ‘Dancing’ David Brophy conducted the orchestra on stage. It was odd observing him doing what he does from the audience. Weird how I didn’t think anything of his goofiness when I was one of the lucky people being conducted by him. The inimitable Chip Bailey and Classy Clarinet Guy were up there with the fancy pants musicians, adding Duke’s unique twist to the whole affair. The man himself sang the first few songs standing, a little awkward and not as exuberant as I had expected. He soon got into the spirit of things though, and by the time the evening was drawing to a close, he decided to do the opening number again – he wanted to ‘nail it’ this time.

He was joined by guests May Kay of Fight Like Apes and Mary Coughlan. May Kay was not what I had expected, her husky voice bringing a lovely coy, unpolished but sweet quality to Ruby’s songs. In the second half of the show, consisting mainly of Duke’s own songs, Mary Coughlan sang with him for a gorgeous, sweeping rendition of ‘Why Does Anybody Love?’. May Kay was the Dusty Springfield to Duke’s Randy Newman, which he introduced by saying ‘There’s no point in doing any old shit, I suppose’, to which he added a nervous laugh. Throughout the evening he stood at the microphone like an anxious schoolboy, tugging at one side of his top and fiddling with his magnificent dreadlocks. When it came to singing his own material, he was a little more at ease, putting actions to the words and injecting brilliant expression and sarcastic tones into his lyrics. As if an incredible lyrical ability wasn’t enough, Duke Special marries these songs and the mood swings within them to wonderful Elfman-esque, soaring orchestra parts. Most captivating, though, is the way the bridge or the end of a song will break down, leaving our leading man repeating a phrase or a single word, as the piano dwindles along with him. Haunting.

By the end of the show he had already brought the house to its feet three or four times. As I looked around, I saw people starting to dance in their seats, then suddenly remembering they were in the Opera House and stopping. But just like a simple, four-chord love song that moves people to tears even sixty years after its composition, the fact they forgot themselves, even for a second, says a lot.
"People just really love music, don't they?" Guess so.


Thursday, February 10, 2011

Aprés Moi, le deluge.

Waaaaaaay, I did no homework today, spend two hours at creative writing, talked on the phone and had some cake. I also wrote this little epiphany in the last half of Biology. Meh, at least it's not like I have my pre's in three days. Phew.

I have this hang-up. A mental defect. I cannot stick to an argument or let go, especially when it's with people. If someone who was once my friend now isn't or if we just aren't talking, a bowling bowl of sometimes sourceless guilt and regret clogs my stomach until I, often against what I truly feel or believe in, apologize. Or take words back. Or just up-the-forced-ante to resurrect (for no concrete reason) a naturally dying relationship.
Like a kid who's misbehaving on the run up to Christmas, I feel like this weight won't shift, that an odd, sour and pointless regret will continue to hang over me like Santa's imagined glare.
That is, until now. Maybe the crux of it is the question..what could have been?
But..WHAT could have been? It's fair to say that, having learnt the enormously dramatic ripple effect of chance encounters, I've developed this malignant desire to not to miss out on possible experiences open to me, to embrace as much as I can and from that, grow Grow GROW. But even today, I came back to That Question.
It's the same way that the media portrays all teenagers are all brainless Skins renegades because, letsfaceit, that's simply more FUN. We crave sensationalism or being made to feel something. There aren't many Irish people I know who don't love complaining or moaning about something. (hello electionsss)
But when I look into it, I know that What Could Have Been was..not much. That's reality, but the unknown can both question and intrigue, and that dark side of the moon IS something that is endlessly fascinating to me.
I should blog about that bloody deFECKt aswell..
Therefore, it causes pointless regrets that are without any basis. Some people talk and say nothing, do nothing, say a big No to life beyond pretence. The fact that the people in my life I look up to or just plain love genuinely like me is a source of completely contrastingly explosive happiness, and I metaphorically slapped myself in the cerebellum today when TWICE, that goddamn guilt ball approached me, much like with Jésus in The Big Lebowski.
Why the scroobius pip was I worrying when I wasn't happy/was mostly just bored when with them? As if 40,000 acquaintance-relationships would render be a fraction of the happy I am now, even amid all this exam chaos. Settling for the sake of it isn't, or shouldn't be, an option. As isn't being stuck in a pointless job or course, I don't care what they say. Maybe that's naiive, actually I'm sure it is, but there's no money anywhere anyway so you might as well have a bittuv integral direction in your life and live on happiness and a prostituting job on the side. Or should that be on the corner?
Perhaps this is an An Education moment for me, but the idea of wasting your short and valuable time on things or experiences unprovokingly mediocre while beautiful things and people roam your peripheral vision seems offensively futile. It has taken me SO long to learn how to think simply, it's this really unbelievable thing I've learnt about myself.
I'll wrap this up before heading to Chino for a curry chip butty & some of their brain-kissing coffee with an insanely relevant quote about the 60s from an insanely relevant 70s film, Cemetery Junction:
"What if the world is having another party and we're missing it cause we're stuck here?".

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Odette/Odile Syndrome

So I saw Black Swan last week and, like Brazil or a wine so fine it’s worthy of Dylan Moran, its been growing better and better and embedding itself deeper and deeper in my mind over the past eight daze. It’s one of the closest things I’ve seen that encompasses what art is..the whole odd indefinable spectrum of it: the emotion, the psychological commitment to it, how the act of creating something can consume you – on different levels ofc.
I’ve lost all sense of surroundings and time when drawing before but I haven’t quite gone as far as Nina does while becoming the “perfect” artiste in BS. Heh, that looks like bullshit.
But anygay, honestly it was beautiful, and genuinely sickeningly disturbing at the same time, like when you eat too much Turkish delight after thinking about how nice it seemed in Narnia. As a non-believer said, “there is NO light in this film”. And I think that’s true in that every frame is clogged with claustrophobia, every camera angle is truly nausea-inducing and every character, in contrast to Nina is a decidedly black, or at the very least grey, swan.
But after a week of mulling it’s full-bodied undertones around my brain, it seems that the light of this film is the art that is created in it, the bi-product of all the therefore necessary introspective-craziness that occurs around it. And BOI, is ballet beautiful. It’s something that keeps popping up like a facebook chat notification on the monitor of my life, and I’m even more fascinated by it now than when I first saw The Red Shoes.
It seems like the ULTIMATE art form in that it is obligatory to let it uttely consume you, to give yourself over to the process, pouring as much pure emotion into it as possible and conveying all this through the greatest instrument you’ll ever own- your body. Hopefully that doesn’t sound like an American self help book.
I also love the irony of having to look as graceful, elegant, delicate and feminine by beating your body into unnatural acts and achieving an incredible level of fitness..a frankly fucking odd concept that’s explored in all it’s disturbingness in this film. Its unexpectedly and extremely appropriate that the director also did The Wrestler & Requiem For A Dream.
Its fair to say that I’m VERY double rainbow about this.
SO, what really gets me about the intensity of BS (ha), which seriously made me as tremeeendously dizzy and nauseous coming out of the cinema as Parnassus ’09 made me stunned and enlightened. Well actually, there’s the rub: no one really GOT Parnassus, a fucking..work of art in itself that had more of an effect on me..at least not on a large mainstream scale anyway. So how is it the EVERYONE loves BS, something so extreme it’s worthy of a cult status?
Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s fantastic that something like this is getting the attention (and hopefully Oscar) it deserves and I’m not saying a film loses credibility if it’s not so obscure that only indie kids know of it, but the idea that it’ll get any way watered-down is teeerrifying. And also, what about all the other films as bizarre and affecting as this that DON'T get credit? I don’t have faith in the idea that art should be elitist, and yeah, it’s great that such a film will most definitely influence pop culture..(PoTC anyone?) But who really wants to see thirteen year olds donning the hot new ballerina trend, making the monochrome tutu what the poncho of 2005 was, or HELL, whatamisaying: what nu-rave of 2009 has become.
Maybe you just can’t win, maybe it’s inevitable that BS will become a living, changing thing of it’s own and as The Ginsberg said: “Art IS a community effort”. I really hope it doesn’t get filtered to the point that it's cheapened or weakened though.
So come what may, it's worth your while to see this film.