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In 1973, The Old Grey Whistle Test presented a special showcase of Reggae music to a rather restrained audience of twenty-somethings at the Edinburgh Festival. It was an audacious move at a time of long hair, flared trousers, Heavy Metal and Prog Rock, and though the presentation looks uncannily like a Butlin’s stage show, this is an important and historic concert, as it brought together some of the original Trojan artists who helped reggae crossover from Jamaican dance halls to UK chart success. These are The Cimarons, Winston Groovy, Dennis Alcapone, The Marvels, Nicky Thomas and The Pioneers.
After a brief introduction from the infamous Ska and Reggae performer Judge Dread, the concert opens with The Cimarons, who formed from Harlsden via Jamaica in 1967. The Cimarons were mainly a covers band, who later released versions of “Kung Fu Fighting”‘ “You Can Get It If You Really Want”, “Over the Rainbow”, “Rock Your Baby“, and a major hit cover of “Snoopy vs. The Red Baron” under the guise of The Hot Shots, with producer Clive Crawley on vocals. Here The Cimarons perform “Ain’t No Sunshine”.
Next up is Winston Groovy who gives his version of “I’m a Believer”. Groovy moved to England in the late 1960s, where he had a hit with Lee Scratch-Perry produced track “I Want to be Loved”. In the 1970s, Groovy covered Dr Hook’s “Sylvia’s Mother” and a version of “Don’t Slow Down“, which he later re-recorded with UB40.
Dennis Alcapone is on next with his hits “Cassius Clay” and “Wake Up Jamaica”. Alcapone is a legendary figure in Reggae, who released 130 singles between 1970 and 1973.
The Marvels who had a doo-wop approach to Reggae, perform “Jimmy Browne”, “One Monkey”. The Marvels had a variety of incarnations from their early hit “Rock Steady“, through sessions as backing vocalists – appearing on Top of the Pops with Dandy on “Suzanne Beware of the Devil”, to having hit covers with “Then He Kissed Me” and “He’s Got The Whole World in His Hands”.
Then comes the highlight of the seeing the late, great Nicky Thomas who fires in with his hit singles “Is It Because I’m Black”, and “Love of the Common People”. Thomas had a song called “BBC“, which was a condemnation of the Beeb’s lack of radio play for Reggae artists. Sadly, Thomas committed suicide in 1990.
The Pioneers were the first reggae band to tour Japan. Here they give their version of Jackie Wilson’s “Higher and Higher” and The Temptations’ hit “Papa Was A Rolling Stone”. The Pioneers went through a variety of line-ups, musical styles and suits in their long career, and are still performing. Best known for their classic tracks “Long Shot Kick de Bucket“, which proved such a hit that the band relocated to England after their first UK tour. They went on to have hits with Jimmy Cliff’s “Let Your Yeah Be Yeah” and “Give and Take”.
The host is Judge Dread, a former “debt collector” for Trojan Records, who had a long and celebrated career as a white Ska and Reggae artist, who released a series of infamous obscene songs, starting with “Big Six”, nearly all of which charted though he never received any radio air play. Dread had more Reggae hits in the UK Charts during the 1970s than any other Reggae artist (and that includes Bob Marley), and is in the Guinness Book of Records for having the most number of banned songs – 11.
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A must-have for fans of J G Ballard, and it’s reasonably priced too.

The late, great author’s 3-bedroom residence, on Old Charlton Road, Shepperton is up for sale at £319,950.

The prospectus at haart.co.uk reads:

For Sale
Semi-Detached House, 3 bedrooms, Freehold
Spacious three bedroom semi detached house situated just moments from Shepperton High Street and train station. This property is in need of refurbishment however it offers great potential to be transformed into the perfect family home.

If I had the money, I’d certainly buy, though I do think Mr. Ballard’s former house should be bought by the nation as a permanent museum to his life and work.

If you’re interested, check here for details.

Videocracy

In Italy, for thirty odd years, the image has been controlled by one man. TV-magnate and Presidente Silvio Berlusconi has influenced the content of commercial television in a way never before done in Italy. His TV-channels, with their young skimpy-clad girls, are seen by many to mirror his own taste and personality.

In Videocracy, Italian-born director Erik Gandini portrays the consequences of a TV-experiment that Italians have been subjected to for 30 years. Gaining unique access to the most powerful media spheres, he unveils a remarkable story, born out of the scary reality of ”TV-Republic” Italy.

 

 
With thanks to Jai Bia


A taste of some rare Chinese pop, lounge, go-go, psych and jazz grooves from the 1960s and 1970s.
 

 

 


 
Montgomery Clift was one of the leading actors of his generation, and was described as “the most beautiful man in movies.” This fascinating short documentary by Nicola Black, examines how the various illnesses, ailments, addictions and the after-effects of a near fatal car-crash shaped Clift’s life and career. With interviews from Kenneth Anger, Barney Hoskyns, Patricia Bosworth and Kevin McCarthy.

View Post Mortem – Beautiful Loser here.
 

A neat short film that uses Lego to animate an extract from Philip Glass‘ brilliant opera ‘Einstein on the Beach‘.


With thanks to Astrid Noël

Norman Mailer claimed he was “imprisoned with a vision” which would “settle for nothing less than making a revolution in the consciousness of our time.”  Unfortunately for Mailer, he was far too good a writer to ever do that.

The writers who have achieved  such a “revolution” have always produced poorly written and unrelentingly dull books.  Marx and Hitler may have changed history, but ‘Das Kapital’ and ‘Mein Kampf’ will never be page turners, let alone literature.

As for Mailer, he wrote over 40 books, a dozen of which are important works of literature.  No small feat when considering how often Mailer was reckless with his talents. Now Joseph Mantegna has directed a documentary film, called ‘Norman Mailer: The American‘, which examines the life of the great novelist, journalist, film director, and actor and promises to reveal the man behind these multiple lives, with unseen footage, and interviews from his wives, his children, his lovers, his enemies.

When Martin Amis unflatteringly compared Mailer and his legacy to the ruins of Ozymandias‘ two vast and trunkless legs of stone, languishing in the desert, Amis failed to appreciate how Percy Bysshe Shelley‘s poem had made the great King immortal.  Mailer’s life and books don’t need a Shelley, but it’s certainly about time someone assessed the great man’s life and work, and thankfully it looks like Joseph Mantegna has stepped up to the plate.

After ‘Monty Pyhon’s Flying Circus‘, Eric Idle went on to write and star in one of TV’s lost comedy classics, ‘Rutland Weekend Television‘.  The series co-starred Neil Innes, Henry Woolf, Gwen Taylor and David Battley, and ran for two series over 1975 and 1976.  ‘RWT’ was required viewing for a generation of impressionable youngsters, myself included, who had arrived late to ‘Python’ and were just at the right age to enjoy the brilliance of Idle, Innes et al.

For me, ‘Rutland Weekend Television‘ was better than ‘Python‘, as it was edgier, closer to Spike Milligan‘s ‘Q‘ series and all the better for being mainly one man’s vision.  Now ‘RWT‘ is best known for unleashing The Rutles: Ron, Dirk, Stig and Barry, the original Prefab Four, who first appeared in a comic musical homage to The Beatles’ ‘Hard Day’s Night’ and then later in 1977, through Idle’s and Innes’ genius collaboration with ‘Saturday Night Live’ producer, Lorne Michaels, in the brilliant mockumentary ‘All You Need Is Cash‘.

Now, over 30 years later, The Rutles return with ‘Lunch‘, one fan’s brilliant musical celebration of Idle’s and Innes’ original concept.  ‘Lunch‘ owes much to the Cirque du Soleil’s show ‘Love‘, which was based on a cycle of Beatle songs, and even claims to be a collaboration bewteen Rutle Stig O’Hara and Circle of Hay’s founder, Captain Liberty.

Have a listen and hear how Rutlemania brought joy and laughter to the world, and made The Prefab Four wider than Elvis and taller than The Beatles.  Enjoy.

Listen here: The Rutles – Lunch

The Rutles – ‘With A Girl Like You’ (from ‘All You Need is Cash’)  This was released as The Rutles first single

The Rutles – ‘Piggy in the ~Middle’ (from ‘All You Need is Cash’)

The Rutles – ‘Cheese and Onion’ (from ‘All You Need is Cash’)

Lena Gieseke‘s 3-D animation examines the details of Pablo Picasso‘s giant black and white painting ‘Guernica’.

Picasso painted ‘Guernica‘ in response to the German Luftwaffe’s and the Italian Fascist Aviazione Legionaria’s aerial bombing of the Basque town, Guernica, during the Spanish Civil War in April 1937.  Between 200 and 400 innocent civillians were slaughtered in the attack, which led to the Fascists, under Genral Franco, to defeat the Republicans, and seize control of Spain.

Originally commissioned by the Spanish Republican government for the ‘Exposition Internationale des Arts et Techniques la Vie Moderne‘ in Paris, ‘Guernica’ became a symbol of the harrowing tragedies and suffering the Civil War inflicted on the innocent.  As he worked on the mural, Picasso was quoted as saying:

“The Spanish struggle is the fight of reaction against the people, against freedom. My whole life as an artist has been nothing more than a continuous struggle against reaction and the death of art. How could anybody think for a moment that I could be in agreement with reaction and death? … In the panel on which I am working, which I shall callGuernica, and in all my recent works of art, I clearly express my abhorrence of the military caste which has sunk Spain in an ocean of pain and death.”

After the ‘Exposition’, Picasso refused to allow the painting to return to Spain, until the country was  a Republic once again.  Between 1939 and the late 1950s ‘Guernica’ toured the world as a symbol against war.  At Picasso’s request the painting was then exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art, in New York, where it remained until Franco’s death in 1975, and negotiations began to have ‘Guernica’ returned to home, which eventually happened in 1981.

There is a story that while Picasso was in Nazi-occupied Paris, during World War II, he was asked by a member of the Gestapo, upon seeing a postcard of ‘Guernica’ in the artist’s studio, ‘”Did you do that?” To which Picasso responded, “No, you did.”

If investigative journalist Mark Ebner had three wishes, his first would be for a paid-off beach shack in his home-state of Rhode Island.

For the record, Ebner is the best investigative journalist since Hunter S Thompson. If you visit his web page, ‘Hollywood Interrupted‘ you’ll see the long list of his accomplishments.  An award winning investigative journalist, Mark Ebner has covered all aspects of celebrity and crime culture for ‘Spy’, ‘Rolling Stone’, ‘Maxim’, ‘Details’, ‘Los Angeles’, ‘Premiere’, ‘Salon’, ‘Spin’, ‘Radar’ and ‘New Times’.

If that isn’t enough, then please note that for his journalism Ebner has put himself at some considerable risk, when investigating subjects as diverse as Scientology, Pit Bull fighting, the Ku Klux Klan, celebrity stalkers, drug dealers, missing porn stars, sports groupies, college suicides and Hepatitis C in Hollywood.

Now add to that his best-selling books – the now classic ‘Hollywood Interrupted’ (co-written with Andrew Breitbart) and ‘Six Degrees of Paris Hilton’.

Okay, if you’re still not impressed, let’s briefly mention his TV work as host and writer on the ‘Tru TV’ show and working with Trey Parker and Matt Stone on the Emmy nominated episode of ‘South Park’, ‘Trapped in the Closet’.

With such blue chip credentials, you begin to appreciate the talent that is Mark Ebner.

Born in Rhode Island in 1959, Mark’s earliest memories are of his mother, Eleanor, bathing him in a stainless steel sink.  She died at the age of 28.

One of Ebner’s literary favourites is the Demon Dog of American crime fiction, James Ellroy.  There is a connection here between these two distinctive and talented writers.  Firstly, both lost their mothers at impressionable ages: Ellroy’s mother was murdered when he was 11, and her slaying has been an obsession and a focus for his writing since.

Unlike Ellroy, Ebner has kept quiet on his loss, and one can only wonder at the effect it has had on him.

Secondly, both had ambitions kicked started by television series. Ellroy was given a book ‘The Badge’, a compendium of true-life crime tales, which included the murder of Elizabeth Short, aka the Black Dahlia, written by ‘Dragnet’ star Jack Webb.

While Ebner’s ambitions to become a newsman were rooted in his childhood liking for the old b&w ‘Superman’ TV series. But unlike most kids of that age, Mark was more impressed by geeky newshound Clark Kent than his alter ego, the man in tights.

Ebner went on to attend the liberal-arts Bard College, whose notable alumni include the director Todd Haynes, actor Larry Hagman and Hollywood screenwriter Howard Koch, winner of the Academy Award for ‘Casablanca’, and lofty ambitions are reflected its motto ‘Dabo tibi coronam vitae’ (‘I shall give you the crown of life’).  It was here that Mark first fulfilled his Clark Kent ambitions, as editor of the ‘Bard Times’.

After Bard, Ebner spent: “everything possible to avoid my calling until I got my first paid magazine gig at 25, for 25 cents-a-word.  I could only fool myself into thinking I could write marketable screenplays for so long.”

He came up old school in his bid to start his career as an investigative reporter.  The long hours putting together a “clip file” of published work, which he often did for free, then sending it on to editors with original story ideas.  Okay, he received a lot of knock-backs and rejection letters, but ultimately, his nose for a good story won out.

And it was his dogged determination for a good story that paid off in 1996, when his now legendary undercover story on Scientology appeared in ‘Spy’ magazine. From its opening lines to its obvious that a maverick talent had arrived.

“I am an ex-drug addict who has solicited prostitutes in my day. I’ve also masturbated and inhaled at the same time, and I have been arrested more than once in my life. I dropped out of high school, and I’ve been under psychiatric care. Oh yeah, and I owe the IRS roughly six thousand dollars that they are well aware of.”

To steal a line from what a critic once wrote about John Lennon‘s first post-Beatles’ album, ‘The Plastic Ono Band’, Ebner had put his balls on the railway track and the train had stopped out of respect.

But there was method in his words, as he explained:

“In the language of Scientologists, the above information reflects what they include in their “Dead Agent Packs”-dossiers of all the dirt they dig up on people critical of their “religion.” Often they disseminate damaging information like this to the friends, family, landlords, and employers of anyone who dares speak of–or worse, publish anything derogatory about the “church.” So what I’m doing here is Dead Agenting myself before we begin, beating them to the punch.”

When he wrote this article most people didn’t know much about Scientology or that they were an organisation you didn’t f–k with. I asked Mark was he concerned about the consequences of investigating such a cult?

“When my first-person Scientology expose dropped in Spy magazine in 1996, I wasn’t worried about the cult as much as I was concerned about my ability to navigate Hollywood circles.  You see, in this town of hypocrites and back-stabbers, most of the powerful bunch were still blindly siding with cash cows like Travolta and Cruise.  These people would pat me on the back for a job well down on the side, and then run from me at dinner parties.  F–k them.  I told them so, didn’t I? Scientology did threaten to sue me on publication, and Spy magazine wound up paying a good deal on 1st Amendment lawyers, but my attitude was, “You’re going to sue me?  Bring it on, because I have a subpoena in my back pocket for all of your celebrity adherents, and I’ll serve them myself.”  In the States you have to prove damages to succeed in such a lawsuit. I made it clear that I would open the books on everyone in that cult if I had to, and they knew to back off when they realized I was serious.”

Undercover work is a tough and lonely business, and Ebner has kept only a few close friends who know the man behind the hard-nosed journalist.  It is to these friends that Mark gives his second wish of “Health, wealth, prosperity and joy for my handful of true friends.”

One friend is former film actor and now writer Douglas Steindorff, who describes Ebner as “incorruptible,” and “The unwitting voice of reason and truth. Despite himself he champions the weak and disenfranchised. He is what good cop wishes to be and a bad cop lives his life in fear of.  A journalist, the kind of writer Mencken would like.”

Ebner lives in Los Angeles, a city that seems to be always reinventing itself, yet generally remains the same.  A city of transience, whose oldest buildings are hotels, and a cultural inheritance inspired by Hollywood and its palaces of dreams.

H. L.  Mencken was the ‘Sage of Baltimore’, who exposed frauds, ignorance and intolerance.  In 2004, Ebner co-wrote a book with Andrew Breitbart, that did something similar with a now classic study of Tinsel Town.

Hollywood, Interrupted: Insanity Chic in Babylon – the case against celebrity’ is possibly the best analysis of the crass stupidity of modern Hollywood written, examining the excess and folly of Robert Downey jnr, Courtney Love, Michael Ovitz, Robert Evans, John Travolta, Angelina Jolie, Winona Ryder, Barbara Streisand and Heidi Fleiss amongst other.    Of course, some of these tales are now infamous, but it was Ebner and Bretbart who put them in print first.  The books beginnings came from an online correspondence between the two writers.

Hollywood, Interrupted started writing itself via AOL Instant Messenger.  Breitbart and I were so awestruck by Barbara Walters allowing Ann Heche to literally break down, jabbering in an alien language on national television, that we decided to define ‘celebrity’ as a disease and prescribe the antidote for it.

“Breitbart handled the moral outrage end of the book, and I shoveled in some investigative chestnuts.  We kept filing chapters until our editor told us to stop. There is, was and always will be a grudging respect between me and Breitbart.  He is one of the funniest, generous men I know.”

The book launched Ebner and Breitbart into their own celebrity, with appearances on network television and a nationwide book tour. While Bretbert went onto forge his own ambitious and controversial career with Breitbart.com, Ebner returned to his first loves – writing and reporting.

After the success of ‘Hollywood Interrupted’ some may have been tempted to opt for the easy option as guest pundit on the ubiquitous day-time chat shows.   Not Mark, he stuck to his own rules, his own personal code that makes him exceptional, and brings together the style and nature of his life and work

“My life experience is my style, and my vision.  I sacrificed every alternate ideal (white-picket and otherwise) to do what I do as a way of life.”

Returning to investigative reporting Ebner turned up another trump card with his next book ‘Six Degrees of Paris Hilton‘.

“I had written a story for ‘Radar’ magazine about a break-in at Girls Gone Wild goon Joe Francis’ home in Bel Air.  Once the dildo-wielding perpetrator Darnell Riley had settled into prison life alongside Charlie Manson and Sirhan Sirhan, I started writing him letters – knowing there was more to the story.  Darnell agreed to tell me everything, “and then some.”  The “then some” became ‘Six Degrees of Paris Hilton’.”

The book reads like a factual account of James Ellroy’s fiction, exposing the connection between low-life criminals and high-end celebrities.

A typical work day for Ebner involves endless phone calls, a lot of door-knocking, and waiting. And waiting…  He still keeps a reporter pad to hand, and has only recently upgraded to a digital tape recorder.  His life is his work  – period.  Something that becomes obvious when you realise over 85% of his most successful story ideas have been self-generated.

“My research is old school, gumshoe-style reporting.  I hit the ground running, and immerse myself in the scenarios of my subject matter.  Crime writing has its hazards, but I have good survival instincts, and I treat all my interview subjects with respect and transparency – unless of course I’m undercover.”

And as for the future?

“I am currently finishing up a non-fiction book for Berkley Books/Penguin on a high-profile kidnapping, developing a documentary television series called ‘Kill File’, and working on an unusually sexy drug trafficking story emanating out of Buenos Aires, Argentina.”

It’s seems a hard and often thankless occupation, but one that delivers books, articles and stories of such quality and insight, that we should all be thankful for Mark Ebner.

The dedication that he has to his talent and craft, is perhaps captured in a small life changing moment form his childhood, when he watched his father bring a dead tropical fish back to life with a heart massage.  It  was a great, if not perplexing moment for him, one that made him realise the fragility of life and that every moment is a life-changer.

Mark’s third and final wish is a wish for all of us: that we may have freedom from debt and financial insecurity.  It says something of the man that he thinks of others before he thinks of himself.