Robert Lee: The Ballad of Bruce Lee

[front cover of Robert Lee sings... LP] Robert Lee is the brother of martial artist Bruce Lee. Robert released this album, Robert Lee Sings… The Ballad of Bruce Lee, in 1975 in dedication to his older brother, who had died in 1973. Although he does sing all the songs, Robert has a hand in writing only 3 of them, posted here. The song “Parting”, features lyrics written by Bruce Lee.

  1. JKD – Jeet Kune Do
  2. Parting
  3. The Ballad of Bruce Lee

front cover of Robert Lee sings... LP] In an article from a 1974 issue of Black Belt magazine, Robert describes his relationship with the late master of Jeet Kune Do. It’s hard growing up in the shadow of the world’s greatest martial artist.

Although my last name is also Lee, I am not related. In fact I am Korean, not Chinese. I appreciate Bruce Lee as a martial artist/actor, but I’m no expert or huge fanatic. However, as an Asian-American male, I grew up with little or no role models that “looked like me”, except for Bruce Lee. And, sadly, I can’t think of really any other Asian-American figures in pop culture or politics or literature, etc. that I can really look up to in the way that African-Americans might look to Martin Luther King or Muhammad Ali, Caucasian-Americans to Thomas Jefferson or Mark Twain, Latin-Americans to Cesar Chavez, etc…

Maybe it’s unimportant or superficial. I’ve certainly found my own role models of various ethnic and national origins, but I have to admit that I do have respect and affection towards Bruce Lee for being a strong, heroic, leading man, rather than the nerdy, harmless, un-masculine stereotypes that is more often the images Americans see of Asian-American males, or Asian males for that matter.

El Topo Soundtrack

[front cover of El Topo soundtrack]Following up on the previous Holy Mountain soundtrack post by Colin, I humbly present the entire Douglas 6 reissued vinyl soundtrack to Alexandro Jodorowsky’s motion picture, El Topo (aka The Mole), often referred to as “the first midnight movie”.

Based on brief online searching, it appears neither the original Apple label release nor the Douglas 6 release are on CD yet but supposedly, according to this trailer there will finally be an official (hopefully North American NTSC) release of El Topo on DVD as well as Holy Mountain and Fando and Lis, so it would logically follow that the soundtracks for both could be released on CD. One can hope anyway. Here are the liner notes transcribed:

MUSIC OF EL TOPO
Composed by Alexandro Jodorowsky
SHADES OF JOY
Arranged and conducted by Martin Fierro

[photo of Martin Fierro]

EL TOPO blew my mind like it’s blown everyone else’s. But being Mexican I felt especially close to it, felt a very complete connection with it. So I think there’s a real organic relationship between what we’ve done with the music on our record and what the music is essentially about. The music, like the rest of the film, is very spiritual — Alexandro’s a very far out cat. What we’ve done with the music sort of takes up where Alexandro left off. In terms of styles and forms we take in many things that have been happening in music since the soundtrack was made, and that makes the music on the record more related to what’s happening on the street and in the society now.

The cats in Shades Of Joy, they’re all ”˜bad’ cats, with different backgrounds and experiences. And we can play a lot of different trips, from Rock to Jazz to Latin to Hillbilly to Country and Western. We got everything into the music — all the things we’re able to do. You see, all the tunes in EL TOPO portray a mood and have so many emotions to explore and develop. There is frustration and pain and love in them. There are pensive moments and happy moments. I took the songs and shaped them the way I saw fit. I think we succeeded in complementing Alexandro very well.

Martin Fierro

[photo of Alexandro Jodorowsky]

I believe that the only end of all human activity — whether it be politics, art, science, etc. — is to find enlightenment, to reach enlightenment. I ask of a film what most North Americans as of psychedelic drugs. The difference being that when one creates a psychedelic film, he need not create a film that shows the visions of a person who has taken a pill; rather, he needs to manufacture the pill

I think there are multiple influences in El Topo — I have them all: the influence of all the books I’ve read and all the films I’ve seen, of all the winds that have blown against my skin, of all the stars that have exploded during my lifetime, of each manifestation of the now manifested, of each flea that’s shit on me. Especially a flea I met in 1955. It shit on me in such an incredible way, that it changed my life. I’m sure that flea’s in my film

Alexandro Jodorowsky

[back cover of El Topo soundtrack]

ON LISTENING TO MARTIN FIERRO’S MUSIC FOR EL TOPO

I was a seed
Watching itself grow on a tree
Knowing
I was the tree,
But feeling
Apart from it.

Earth and water
Came together
With my energy
And the fruits and branches
Were larger far beyond
What I had ever thought.

I sat there
Watching myself grow.

I wanted to leap up out of
The depths of the earth
And drop into the heart of the fruit
Be the future seed, one of them,
Not be the origin.

Alexandro Jodorowsky

Side 1

  1. The Desert is a Circle
  2. Man of Seven Years
  3. Flute in a Quarry
  4. Together

Side 2

  1. El Topo’s Dream
  2. Slowest & Saddest Waltz
  3. Freakout #1

Produced by: Alan Douglas — Doris Dynamite

Eddie Adams, Ken Balzell, Hadley Caliman, Jack Dorsey, Martin Fierro, Luis Gasca, Jackie King, Jerry Love, Mel Martin, Frank Morin, Ivory Smylie, Roger ”˜Jellyroll’ Troy, Howard Wales, Peter Walsh, Jymm Young

All selections composed by Alexandro Jodorowsky except Freakout #1, by Martin Fierro, published by Editions Douglas Music / BMI.

Label: Douglas 6

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.

Alejandro Jodorowsky: The Holy Mountain

[photo of Alejandro Jodorowsky]Alejandro Jodorowsky is a fascinating character: he’s a mime who studied under Marcel Marceau, an expert on the Tarot, a writer of comics (the wonderful L’Incal and Metabarons among them), and a psychotherapist/shaman — but he’ll always be known for his films, the most famous of which are El Topo and The Holy Mountain from the early seventies.

[screen capture from “The Holy Mountain”]El Topo is his most highly regarded film, depicting a guru-gunslinger in a highly symbolic spiritual quest. The idea of the quest is repeated in The Holy Mountain, but the scope of the film is much larger, with elaborate sets, a large cast, and jaw-dropping scenes like frogs reenacting the Spanish conquest of Mexico and religious symbols made into weapons. Its filming was no less bizarre: Jodorowsky made the cast train for months under a human-potential guru he’d hired, insisted that the female members of the cast sleep with him (“No men. Only the women,” he laughs), and he was nearly killed in Mexico after being suspected of performing a Black Mass. All very hippy-dippy Carlos Castaneda Sixties, but Jodorowsky’s commitment to change people through art is intense: “Now I think is a fantastic moment for all of us because now we are fighting for our world, our life. Now is the moment to be awake or to die.” For Jodorowsky, Hollywood is “a child’s industry – for me, a good picture changes your life.”

[painting of H.R. Giger's sandworm]After The Holy Mountain Jodorowsky attempted to film Frank Herbert’s Dune, which if completed would have floored cult-cinema junkies worldwide. Artists recruited included H.R. Giger and Moebius, both of whom would go on to work on Alien along with screenwriter Dan O’Bannon. Pink Floyd was to score the film, and the cast was an absurdist parade: David Carradine, Mick Jagger, Alain Delon, Orson Welles, and Salvador Dalí­ (who demanded $100,000 for an hour’s shoot). Nothing this strange — and colossally expensive, and 14 hours long — could live, and the film adaptation of Dune would have to wait for David Lynch to come along a decade later.

After the collapse of the Dune project three more films were made, none of which approached the madness and extravagance of his previous work. Plans were made for a sequel to El Topo starring Marilyn Manson (the two are close friends — Jodorowsky officiated Manson’s wedding), but nothing came of it, partially because the rights to both El Topo and The Holy Mountain were in the hands of Beatles manager Allen Klein who refused to release them. Existing DVDs (there have been legitimate relases in Italy and Japan) were of poor quality due to the lack of access to film elements.

Nothing was heard for decades but the news has arrived that both El Topo and The Holy Mountain are indeed being digitally remastered and released. Happy news, made happier by the thought that one day another Jodorowsky film will be made.

Featured here is the soundtrack to The Holy Mountain, credited to free jazz god Don Cherry and Archies keyboardist Ron Frangipane along with Jodorowsky. The quality could be better (it’s directly from the film so all the dialogue is present), but enjoy.

Update: thanks to Nick Scholl for sending the missing 17th track!

  1. Opening Titles
  2. Great Toad and Chameleon Battle
  3. Symbol of Christ/Two Halves/Love
  4. Ascending the Tower/The Magus
  5. The Tarot
  6. Venus (Vond)
  7. Mars (Esla)
  8. Jupiter (Clen)
  9. Saturn (Sal)
  10. Uranus (Berg)
  11. Neptune (Axon)
  12. Pluto (Lute)
  13. Holy Mountain Within
  14. Acts of Christ
  15. Across the Ocean
  16. Throw that Monster into the Water
  17. Pantheon Bar
  18. Climb to the Summit
  19. Face Your Fears/End Titles

Sammy Davis Jr. Sings for Alka-Seltzer as Hangover Remedy

[photo of Sammy Davis Jr.]It’s 1978 and the Miles Laboratory, creators of Alka-Seltzer, have signed on international superstar Sammy Davis Jr. as the perfect spokesman for their “Party hard? Live fast? Get relief FAST!” promotional campaign aimed at the fast growing demographic of late 70’s swingers and drug addicted socialites. It is a time before AIDS and cocaine will cast their deadly shadows and Sammy Davis Jr. is considered a strong icon not only for this new middle class phenomena but also for the previous generation who had still longed for the Rat Pack days of Sammy, Dean, and Frank.

This campaign produced several television ads featuring Sammy singing new, hip takes on the clasic “Plop Plop Fizz Fizz” jingle (written by Tom Dawes, published by Twin Star Music) and was a success on all counts — hitting their target audience of hungover party-goers. One version which was termed the “Big Band Version” was geared towards the older generations while “Rock Version” was aimed at the excessive lifestyle generation.

[photo of Bernie Kopell]However it all ended for Sammy in 1979 when the Bayer Corporation purchased Miles Laboratories and overhauled the brand and marketing strategy of Alka-Seltzer, signing on actor Bernie Kopell (Doc from ABC series The Love Boat) as their official spokesperson. The new campaign was geared away from the party and hangover crowd and more towards women ages 30–60 with severe digestive problems. Bayer Corp. is currently promoting a hangover remedy called Alka-Seltzer Morning Relief with rock vocalist Courtney Love as official spokesperson who will record the famous jingle yet again in both a Grunge Rock Version and Techno Version.

Dance the Screw

[photo of Phil Spector]Sometimes you do feel like there’s a rough karmic justice in the world, like when you consider the fates of the twin geniuses of 1960’s record production. The good twin, Brian Wilson, seems to have conquered most of his demons, is happily married, has a band that actually respects him, and finally finished Smile, which was far better than anyone dared hope.

And the evil twin, Phil Spector, is finally where he probably deserves, too; like Lex Luthor at the end of a Superman comic, he’s locked up to face justice.

Wilson, touchingly, swears there’s no way Spector is guilty; his logic seems to be how could the creator of the greatest album of all time be guilty of murder? Well, there were always signs.

[image of Dance the Screw record label]My favorite is this one. Spector drove his partner, Lester Sill, out of the label they had formed for a pittance — Sill was entitled to far more money but he took Spector’s lowball offer just so he wouldn’t have to deal with him ever again. But Spector wasn’t satisfied with just victory; he had to twist the knife for that extra thrill. He found a session piano player and dragged the Crystals into the studio on a Saturday to cut this minimalist gem; “Ha ha, fuck you” set to music. Maybe it’s just me, but there’s something rather creepy and haunting about this, even aside from the context; like a nightmare about sounds coming from a cave.

I haven’t been able to find “Part II”, but you probably will get the idea from this.