Yvette Mimieux and Ali Akbar Khan: Flowers of Evil

Yvette Mimieux I really can’t do better than The Encyclopedia of Sixties Cool in summarizing the career of Yvette Mimieux:

The California Girl: Los Angeles-born Yvette Mimieux began her career wearing a toga and fending off blue-skinned Morlocks opposite Rod Taylor in The Time Machine before settling down as the ultimate beach bunny in Where the Boys Are and then on the Dr. Kildare TV series. When hippie chicks replaced surfer girls in the public imagination, Mimieux updated herself accordingly, recording an LP, Baudelaire’s Flowers of Evil, in which she read poetry to a raga accompaniment by Indian master musician Ali Akbar Khan. As an empowered woman in the ’70s, Mimieux wrote a TV movie starring herself, and played a wronged woman in the cult classic Jackson County Jail. She still has a knack for doing the right thing at the right time in the right outfit; note her instructional yoga video. To judge from her appearance in a snug unitard, she still looks great in a bikini too.

So this is Yvette’s equivalent of, say, Shatner’s The Transformed Man LP: a chance to “show another side” of one’s creativity at the height of one’s fame. Unlike The Transformed Man it’s of interest beyond its obvious kitsch value.

Flowers of Evil LPAli Akbar Khan was one of the most respected musicians in the Indian Classical tradition, and if you can track down his Signature Series of CDs (or other recordings) it’s worth it. The label this appears on is Connoisseur, his own label, which released a lot of LPs of his music during the sixties, and the Signature CDs repress those LPs. The Baudelaire LP in question is remarkable in that it actually works, unlike Sidney Poitier’s LPs of Plato. The decadence and sensuality of Baudelaire’s lines is accompanied by a music that to a Westerner is also filled with decadence and sensuality.

  1. To a Passer-By
  2. A Voyage to Cythera
  3. Murdered Woman
  4. The Albatross
  5. Lethe
  6. Episode

Dudley Moore: Bedazzled

[Bedazzled LP cover] Dudley Moore is known as the piano-playing drunk millionaire Arthur on this side of the Atlantic, but in England he’ll always be known as one half of a comedy duo with Peter Cook, who wrote and co-starred in Bedazzled along with Moore, who wrote the music for it in 1967. (It was remade in 2000 with Brendan Fraser and Elizabeth Hurley.) They’d come fresh from success after success in the UK for their radio and TV sketch-comedy shows, in which Cook was often the antagonist to Moore. In Bedazzled Cook is the ultimate antagonist — the Devil — come to Swinging London to claim a sad-sack short-order cook’s soul. Cook saw the film as his chance at transatlantic moviestardom; he took sole charge of the screenplay and made sure Satan got all the best lines (“We’ve been hit very badly by this peace scare”). Ironically, his intentionally subdued performance (the better to contrast himself with Moore’s pathetic, desperate, but sympathetic character) did too good of a job: Bedazzled was the beginning of Moore’s brief reign as American box-office king with films like 10 and Arthur, and the beginning of Cook’s slide into undeserved relative obscurity (American audiences know him from his cameo as the speech-impaired bishop in The Princess Bride).

The disparity between their characters’ natures is used to great effect in the film’s pop-star sequence, in which Moore, having requested that the Devil make him an adored figure, is transported to a Ready Steady Go–like studio set. Moore belts out a Tom Jones–esque song pleading for the audience to “Love Me”, and the audience duly screams for him in a perfect parody of Hard Day’s Night. Cook, again turning up to crush Moore’s fantasies, arrives on set after him as “Drimble Wedge and The Vegetations” and delivers “Bedazzled,” a bizarre tune that features Cook intoning “I’m callous / I’m dull / you bore me” in a monotone while undeterred backup singers sing “you drive me wild!” The challenge of “I’m not available” is too much for the studio audience, who forget all about Moore and swarm Cook.

[image of Japanese Bedazzled poster]The film’s soundtrack, composed by Moore, has some great pieces on it; besides the two songs above, the film’s main title is memorable. There’s some easy-listening filler, but it’s intended as schmaltz to underscore the vapidity of the characters in certain sequences. There’s some good strip-club music to showcase Raquel Welch (Cook wanted to call the film “Raquel Welch” so the posters could read “Peter Cook and Dudley Moore in Raquel Welch”), as the personification of the deadly sin Lust.

  1. Main Title
  2. Moon Time
  3. Strip Club
  4. Italy
  5. The Leaping Nun’s Chorus
  6. GPO Tower
  7. Love Me
  8. Bedazzled — link fixed
  9. The Millionaire
  10. Sweet Mouth
  11. Cornfield
  12. Goodbye George
  13. Lillian Lust

As an extra treat here’s Bongwater’s version of “Bedazzled” from their great 1990 LP Power of Pussy.

Ennio Morricone’s Hole Filled

[Photo of Morricone and Eastwood]

Ennio Morricone, one of the world’s greatest and most prolific film composers, picked up an honorary Oscar at the last Academy Awards. Clint Eastwood’s introduction was doddering, and the montage of “famous Morricone moments” could have been better (they didn’t even use the original music from the films in some cases!), but the gesture was appreciated and long overdue. “I have received so many beautiful, incredible prizes, but there was a little hole – maybe the Oscar fills the hole.”

Here’s 17 tracks from the man they call Il Maestro.

  1. Slalom
  2. Deep Down
  3. L’Ultimo
  4. Giu’ La Testa
  5. Titoli Di Testa
  6. Il Grande Silenzio
  7. Seguita
  8. Cannibal
  9. Indagine Su Un Cittadino Al Di Sopra Di Ogni Sospetto
  10. L’Assoluto Naturale
  11. The Battle of Algiers
  12. Hurry to Me
  13. Dies Irae Psichedelico
  14. La Califfa
  15. L’Estasi Dell’Oro
  16. Un Uomo Da Rispettare
  17. Nadine

Updates: Jodorowsky, Shiina Ringo

[Front cover of Jodorowsky boxed set] I’d written that Alejandro Jodorowsky had settled with Allen Klein, clearing the way for theatrical and DVD releases of his films, and now it’s been announced that May 1 is the release date for a boxed set of Jodorowsky’s El Topo, The Holy Mountain, and Fando y Lis. Prints of El Topo and Holy Mountain are currently touring the country. Not as spectacular as the Japanese box, but fantastic news nonetheless.

Nick Scholl has come through with the missing 17th track for the Holy Mountain soundtrack! Thanks Nick!

Turns out Shiina Ringo’s solo career hasn’t ended after all: February 21 brings us Heisei Fuuzoku, featuring mostly orchestral rearrangements of tunes from Kalk Samen Kuri No Kana as well as other Ringo records. My guess is that this is Ringo’s bid for overseas recognition as the album will be available through iTunes UK, and Ringo sings in English on some tracks.

Haruomi Hosono: Paraiso

Basically, the ideal music for me is early ’80s exotic Japanese synth-pop with fretless bass and steel drums. Patrick South

Haruomi HosonoHaruomi Hosono is best known as the bassist in the Yellow Magic Orchestra, but his solo career is just as interesting. Before joining founding YMO with Ryuichi Sakamoto and Yukihiro Takahashi, he played with psychedelic bands Apryl Fool, the folk-rock outfit Happy End, and the lounge-pop group Tin Pan Alley before starting on what ended up being called his “Exotica Trilogy” in the seventies.

hula.jpg

America dreamt of a magical neverland with cloudless climes and starry skies (not to mention nubile natives) in the fifties — Martin Denny, Esquivel, Arthur Lyman, and Les Baxter made countless LPs with bird calls, marimbas, and steel drums setting the stage for the post-war peace. The beaches weren’t something you had to storm any more, you could just lie there and soak up the sun. Hosono asks that the exotic dream continue, but with himself as both spectator and participant. He sees the exotica phenomenon for what it is — silly and patronizing — but adores it and revels in it, singing a cover of “Fujiyama Mama” knowing full well he sounds ridiculous: “and when you start elupting ain’t nobody gonna make you stop.” In the three Exotica LPs you find pastiches within parodies; “Roochoo Gumbo” is at once Okinawan pop song and New Orleans shuffle. If you think too much about how the parody is eating its own tail, that this is “the Japanese way of exoticising American exoticism,” it’s dizzying.

Haruomi Hosono's ParaisoThe music of Tropical Dandy and Bon Voyage Co. roams over both East and West mashing genres as it goes: Polynesian chants, resort-lounge steel-band music, Buddhist ritual, boogie-woogie and rockabilly, all with a Van Dyke Parks nostalgic sheen. The third record in the series, Paraiso, is different in that it feels less like a series of takeoffs and starts becoming something else. The new element is the synthesizer, the varied texture of which is used extensively throughout the record. Hosono at this point had met Sakamoto and Takahashi, as well as Hideki Matsutake, who would become YMO’s invaluable programmer in the days before MIDI. The combination of exotica and electronics would be the template for YMO’s initial success with their first single in 1978: Martin Denny’s “Firecracker.”

  1. Tokio Rush
  2. Shimendoka
  3. Japanese Rhumba
  4. Asatoya Yunta
  5. Fujiyama Mama
  6. Femme Fatale
  7. Shambhala Signal
  8. Worry Beads
  9. Paraiso

Vladimir Nabokov: Lolita and Poems

In 1955, Vladimir Nabokov‘s novel Lolita was published, in a small edition by an obscure French publisher with a penchant for pornography. Graham Greene pronounced it one of the three best books published that year, and “Hurricane Lolita” (as the Nabokovs referred to the intense publicity) gathered strength and swept over the Nabokov family, living at the time in Ithaca, New York.

The colossal fame and recognition had been a long time coming: the Nabokovs (Vladimir, his wife Véra, and son Dmitri) had spent the last few decades in near-poverty, travelling one step ahead of the Second World War (Véra was proudly and vociferously Jewish) and the Russian Revolution (both the Nabokovs’ aristocratic lives had gone up in smoke). Dmitri, when asked where his home was, answered that he hadn’t one — just “little houses by the side of the road.”

publicity photograph of NabokovLolita was composed between 1949 and 1953 (a novella featuring similar themes was written in 1939, and real-life incidents also contributed, perhaps), and is a road novel both literally and fictionally: the endless trip that Humbert Humbert drags Dolores Haze on to avoid awkward questions is the same trip the Nabokovs themselves took, Vera driving, Nabokov writing, the two of them catching butterflies along the way.

Once the novel hit the bestseller lists in America, the Nabokovs realized that this meant the end of their peripatetic life, and they settled in a hotel in Switzerland for the rest of their lives. Thanks can be — and presumably were — given to the formidable Véra who had twice rescued the manuscript from being tossed into a fire, as Nabokov wrestled with the book and realized that it might make him not so much famous as infamous.

front cover of Spoken Arts Lolita LPDuring the Sixties Nabokov was in high demand as a speaker (his presentation and reading skills honed by years of teaching literature at Wellesley and Cornell), and this LP captures Nabokov luxuriating in the acclaim both Véra and himself thought rightfully his. As with most examples of authors recording their own work, it’s a dramatically flat reading, Nabokov treading sonorously through his own text in his French-inflected English. (You can hear Nabokov reading excerpts from Pale Fire as well as Lolita with sparkling animation as the result of an appreciative audience being present courtesy of the New York Times.)

photograph of Peter Sellers as Clare QuiltyThe portion of Lolita read here consists of Humbert’s final confontation with the mysterious Clare Quilty (memorably brought to the screen in rather inflated fashion by Peter Sellers in Stanley Kubrick’s film), who has managed to wrest Lo away from Humbert’s cloying embrace. Thanks Sluggo for encoding this LP for me.

  1. Lolita: Part Two, Chapter 35
  2. The Ballad of Longwood Glen
  3. Rain
  4. Lines Written in Oregon
  5. On Translating “Eugene Onegin”
  6. An Evening of Russian Poetry
  7. The Swift
  8. The Discovery

Update: I’ve been alerted to a two-part video interview with Nabokov and Lionel Trilling about Lolita.

Update again: Nabokov’s unpublished novel-in-progress The Original of Laura is due to be published by Random House in November! I’m conflicted about this as it’s being done against his wishes, and posthumous novels are rarely satisfying, but second-rate Nabokov is better than most fiction, so …

The Symmetries of Shiina Ringo

[photo of Shiina Ringo]Shiina Ringo was a pop star in Japan. She courted all the right producers, appeared on all the right television shows. Each record was more successful than the last. But Ringo was an odd pop star: her voice could be grating, she was sexually aggressive, she had an edge. Eventually she got a producer and a contract that allowed her full control, and she vanished into the studio in 2003.

Fans lined up for another sunny pop excursion — but what they got was an art-rock concept album in the Björkian mold, with surreal and at times impenetrable lyrics sung in an archaic dialect, featuring a full orchestra and more than 30 instruments played by her hand-picked ensemble, credited on some songs as “Special Forces”. The album is short, but it is crammed to bursting with melodic ideas and meticulous attention to sonic detail — as shown by its mysterious symmetries: the CD is exactly 44 minutes and 44 seconds long, and is constructed in two parts, each song of which has lyrical and stylistic correspondences to the song on the other half. “Doppelgänger”, the second track, is followed by “Poltergeist”, the next-to-last track, for instance. At one point Ringo sings a line from an earlier song backwards phonetically, only possible in Japanese. Even the track titles are symmetrical, presented in formal kanji only used in legal documents. The CD’s spine from which the two leaves branch is a lovely tune without a twin called “Kuki”, or “Stem”.

The CD’s reception was confused: Ringo let her too-nasal voice careen from child to world-weary to vixen and back again, sometimes in the space of one line, like her heroine Fiona Apple (“ringo” is “apple” in Japanese). The packaging was back-to-front, only found on traditional Enka recordings. The gorgeous melodies were undermined by disturbing language, made more so by the fact that the lyrics (even for native speakers) were difficult to decipher. The title of the record is Kalk Samen Kuri No Hana, which could be translated as Chalk, Semen, Chestnut Flowers; on the bridge of “Shuukyou” Ringo sings “I can’t find a cup I like anywhere I go. Why/Even though so many buildings and streets are increasing/Do we stare at the unreasonableness of the bottle we can’t finish drinking?”

[Kalk Samen Kuri No Hana cover]For Ringo making KSK “[had] been the realization of a dream — for a long time I thought J-pop was weird and really artificial sounding. I have always tried to create something more genuine.” Because of its uniqueness Kalk Samen Kuri No Hana sold more than 400,000 copies — but once it was completed Ringo decided that this record was the cap to her career thus far, that there had been a line crossed and retreat was necessary. She formed a band, Tokyo Jihen (Tokyo Incidents), which reduced the focus on herself, toned down the experimentation of the music, released a single formed entirely out of samples from her back catalogue (with a video that matched the concept), and most tellingly, had the mole on her face removed, as if these gestures shut a door on something — or someone — considered done and not to be revisited.

Ringo remains immensely popular in Japan, having released two records under the Tokyo Jihen name. She shows no inclination to make music like Kalk Samen Kuri No Hana again, and there has been speculation that the record is somehow more brilliant than she can be capable of — a masterpiece arrived at by accident. Kalk Samen Kuri No Hana is also thought of as the greatest J-Pop record ever made.