Friday, April 3, 2009

Who Scored YOUR Life and Dreams?

This blog is all about the books, images, and movies that carry us through our lives.

But what about the music?

This is the music that rocked (and still rocks) my life; it's what scored the ups, downs, and horizontal shuffles of my youth, and shot me like heroin into the veins of adulthood.

What about you guys? What music rocked your world?

'Ballroom Blitz' was my first encounter with The Sweet, the UK "glam rock" band that changed my world. The energy of the song spoke to me, and kick-started my passion for music.

But it was Sweet Fanny Adams ('74), their second album, that blew me away completely, and still does.

Amazingly, the album had none of the band's successful singles of the period. Instead, it focused on hard, driving, soaring rock compositions that revealed a side of the band usually reserved for the "B" sides of their hit singles. This music, which was their personal preference, came to be known as "glam metal".

I was verbally stoned for promoting the band at school when I was twelve years old. They were perceived as only a 'bubblegum rock' band, not the innovative metal pioneers they actually were.

Brian Connolly (vocals) and Mick Tucker (drums) are dead. Andy Scott and Steve Priest survive.

I catch up with good friend and fellow filmmaker Jim Van Bebber on a fairly regular basis. During my last visit, during which Jim showed me his cut of a great new music doc, I introduced him to this album, and felt sure that he would respond to it.

I blasted "Set Me Free" and "Sweet FA" from his speakers, and he totally got it.

He, too, was blown away by what he heard.

Unfortunately, fuck-ups in release patterns, timing, and an insane decision to blend two albums into one, robbed the band of deserved notoriety in the US, but respect for the band amongst profession musicians was high.

Recommended listens: Set Me Free, Miss Demeanor, No You Don't, Burn on the Flame, Sweet FA, Action, Turn It Down, The Man With The Golden Arm (which features an incredible drum solo from mick Tucker), Restless and My Generation (superb cover of The Who's classic)

I accidentally discovered Melbourne's Pipe Records in '77. It was located in a shadowy corner of an arcade off the intersection of Flinders Lane and Swanston St.

I was hunting for a Sparks album and a rumored Bryan Ferry bootleg. The proprietor, a passionate, difficult German, glared at me as I entered his tall-ceilinged world. "Do you have any Sparks albums?" I asked. His glare remained and intensified and he sized me up. Then he reached for a set of headphones and plonked them on my head:

"Fuck der fuckin Sparks!" he said. "Forget them. THIS is what you need."

Slightly shaken by his surly demeanor, I waited in silence for what I (apparently) needed.

What began to fill my senses was the musical equivalent of an orgasm.

Daniel was right. I DID need this. I needed it bad.

He played the mesmerizing "Stardancer II" from Klaus Schulze's Body Love 2, still my favorite album of many amazing Schulze works.

An original member of Tangerine Dream, he quit and went his own way early on. He defined, and continues to define, electronica.

Body Love 1 was the soundtrack to Lasse Braun's '77 Body Love, a slow moving but beautifully shot (in French) porn movie. The soundtrack sold so well that Schulze released a follow-up volume along similar lines; it's better than the original.

The use of Schulze's music in Body Love disappointed me greatly. Having been dropped into hypnotic states by both albums for years, I was sure that the movie would be an erotic revelation. How could it not be with this music? Well, the cues are poorly integrated with the images, and the mixing is surprisingly low. Schulze's music often plays like muzak in the background of dialog scenes. What the hell was Braun thinking? Was he on drugs?!

Any way you look at it, Body Love 2 is an exceptional, groundbreaking work of electronica. As I have never been a drug user, what it does to me is what I imagine good drugs do to those who choose them as the vehicle for their astral travels.

Recommended albums: Body Love 2, Body Love 1, Timewind, Moondown, Dune, Le Vie Electronique I & II, X and Mirage.

The son of the late Maurice Jarre, from whom he was estranged, Jean Michel Jarre has produced mind-altering works of avante-garde electronica for three decades.

Oxygene ('76) marked my first encounter with his stunning work, and this was followed by the amazing Equinoxe ('78) and Magnetic Fields ('81); that album's introductory cue is revelatory.

My favorite Jarre albums, though, are Rendez-Vous ('86), Revolution ('88) and Chronologie ('93).

I can't quite describe what Jarre's music does to me.

It inspires me, expands my periphery, and throws me into a void from which I emerge refreshed and revitalized.

Apparently, several Jarre cues can be heard on Grand Theft Auto 4. Who could have predicted that?

I saw Godfrey Reggio's Koyaanisqatsi ('82) when it first played at the Forum Theatre in Melbourne. I'd seen and heard nothing quite like it before. I knew nothing about Phillip Glass at the time.

I rectified that quickly by purchasing every LP I could and attending a live concert.

The Photographer ('83) is forceful, unrelenting, hysterical and cathartic.

It defines the great composer for me, and is my favorite of his many brilliant works, which include the score for Scorsese's stunning Kundun ('93).

It is the composer's music (from Koyaanisqatsi) that can be heard on the current Watchmen trailer. There are several Glass cues in the film, too.

I can't add anything that hasn't already been written about Glass, one of the greatest living composers.

I can only envy someone who is about to discover him for the first time. I remember my first time, and it was so sweet.


  1. Fangs for the memories, Phantom.

    For me, Sweet's 'Desolation Boulevard' (containing the alternative version of 'Fox on the Run'- to my mind a superior version) and Skyhooks 'Livin in the Seventies were seldom off the turntable until Punk broke, and washed clean all that went before it.

    I remember the incredible 'Miss Demeanour' was, I think, the B-Side of either 'Action', or 'Ballroom Blitz' in this country. I also adore 'Lies in your Eyes'- which would just about sum up the glam period for me in one perfect pop song.

    I also remember playing over and over again my 45 of Heart's 'Barracuda'. I cannot for the moment think of a nastier, sexier, dare I say it 'dirtier' guitar intro to match it, but then it is Sunday afternoon and I am not trying very hard.

    Rock and roll is a leviathan, complex and eclectic beast.

    The electronic music choices are good ones. Of course Jarre was important, but I also got right into Emerson Lake and Palmer. Vangelis was a process of being romanced by 'Blade Runner' then working my way back, through his work with John Anderson et al. I would also add the incredible Mike Oldfield to this list, particularly his heartbreaking 'Etude' as highlighted at the end credits of 'Killing Fields' (as you well know) and his extraordinary rendering of 'Wonderful Land'.

    Tangerine Dream, naturally go without saying; for me, they peaked with the movie 'Thief', although I do recall the outfit were so strong, they tended to detract from the movie with their powerful prescence, rather than enhance it if they were not used very, very carefully. Remembering the music over the movie is the result of not finding the right balance between sound and image, although I seem to recall the Eighties was a period where the music dominated to such a degree, that it was very hard to ignore.

    Composers like Jack Nietzche and James Horner, to name but a few, helped restore the balance, and return music to it's rightful place- supporting and enriching the music with subtlety, rather than elbowing it's way to the front of the stage and hitting the audience over the head with a Moog synth.

    N.B. I refer also to the ball-tearing soundtrack of 'Manhunter'; Shriekback, and the apocalyptic love song 'Heartbeat' is just about the most spine chilling, goosebump raising, adrenalin pumping love song ever written. I would love to play it at my wedding, although I suspect it might frighten most of the elderly guests and force the priest to perform some kind of exorcism.

    Phillip Glass...yes. For me, he busted my cherry with the majestic, triumphant theme song to 'Mishima'. I had a fascination with Mishima from my early teens. I found his prose to be beautifully written, but for me it was like wading through porridge in gum boots. And yet one could not ignore his political, psychosexual, homoerotic extra curricular interests, which seemed a collage of most of what makes Japan unique. The Blossom and Blood thing.

    Not only does the music perfectly complement the chaos and complexity that was Mishima's life and unique persona, but if I was to ever consider ending my life by way of Seppuku, then I am quite sure the moment I plunged the blade into my stomach, that theme by Glass is the one I would most probably hear ringing in my head.

    Well done, Phantom. Great Stuff.

  2. Great stuff indeed! Love the Sweet albums that've been mentioned... but Sparks???? "Dick Around" Sparks?

    Just to share, one of the most mindblowing albums that ever graced my turntable is The Dwarves' Horror Stories LP. It's an over-amplified psych/garage rock monster that sounds like it was recorded inside either a haunted cage or a tin spaceship in the mid 60s. Filled with creepy organ segues, reverb drenched guitars, fuzzed out bass, perverted themes, and insanely cryptic vocals this chunk of wax introduced me to what was truly underground--like covers of songs by obscure bands who may have only released one or two highly collectible singles. Their version of Calico Wall's "I'm a Living Sickness" is definitive and is the kind of thing that would give a kid nightmares just as bad as his first monster movie. What can I say, I like my music like I like my films: marginalized and without all that overdone professional polish.

  3. mandingo -- "Desolation Boulevard" is a great album. I didn't feature it because I limited the images to one album per artist. The harder "Fox on the Run" is certainly superior.

    "Miss Demeanor" was the flip side of "Action", the flip of "Ballroom Blitz" was "Roll and Roll Disgrace".

    All great choices, sir, from Oldield to Emerson and Tangerine, Anderson, et al.

    "Manhunter" is a great soundtrack. Interestingly, there is a Klaus Schulze cue on that soundtyrack, too. It is the music that plays when William Peterson and his wife are making love in the blue bedroom with the sea (day for night) behind them. It's not on the album, though.

    "Mishima" is an amazing piece of work.


    d -- I was very fond of Sparks' "This Town Ain't Big Enough for the Both of Us" and "My Other Voice" from "Number One Song in Heaven" album.

    I think I need to hear The Dwarves "Horror Stories" LP. Sounds like a must.

    The gold is always in the margins.

  4. Yes, I have to agree with you on "Sparks", my friend; 'Lost and Found' blows my boat out of the water.

    The band were just so...I have to say they appealed because they were not obvious. When I first heard them- and saw the 'Hitler' keyboard player in the video, along with the exhuberant singer positively bleeding for your attention- there was something initially very annoying about them; and yet I was fascinated. There were times in their songs- which sounded for the most part, for want of a better word pop carnivalesque- when passages (usually in the chorus) would really grab you. They persuaded you on their own terms, and once in, you were hooked. A true pop original, with their own unique voice.

    For my own listening experience, it was not unlike my gradual 'coming to terms' with Zappa. For me, unlike others, it was not his 'funny lyrics' that hooked me, but his utter refusal to surrender to the conventions of rock, and yet still be a part of the scene. Some of his better 'songs' are often so long mainly because I see them as epic battles to wrestle with, strain and rail against, and ultimately break free from what is 'expected' from a 'rock performer', while still belonging to the genre, of which I know from his interviews, he very much saw himself as a part of.

    He, like 'Sparks', was one of those true rebels who would not do it any one elses way but his own, therein re-defining the perameters of what we now consider rock music. Bravo. Author.

    For moi, Zappa is in my list of apostles.

    And I too love the sound of the 'Dwarves'. Sounds like Roky Erikson, Tom Waits in 'Earth Died Screaming', Tod Browning, Ed Wood and Leatherface all formed a band, destroyed their instruments, fucked David Carradine in 'Sonny Boy', then killed each other in ghastly ways; and the 'Dwarves' is their twisted, deformed, glorious bastard sprog.

    Which in my world, IS entirely possible.

  5. PS...

    Thanks for the heads up re the Klaus Schulze cue; I will look out for it next time I watch. I have been tempted to check him out, but when I looked at his site a few months ago, I was gobsmacked by the grotesque number of albums he has released.

    I would need another lifetime just to dip my toe in their teeming waters. (Note; I still like to get my music the old way, by paying the artist)

    Another possible blog topic? More on Copyright from Phantom's POV?

    Also regarding 'Day For Night'; what about a salute to Truffaut's film,(actually in my opinion overrated but you know the way some people crack a fat over the Nouvelle Vague and any film made of 'making a film'- give me 'Living in Oblivion' over it's predecessor any day) by doing a blog on 'Great Moments in Day For Night Shooting'??

    And maybe some 'not so great day for night moments'? Lay an image or two on your site, if you can, with some comments on your estimation of the high points, and the low? Of course 'Manhunter' is a high point, taking the technique which I think was chosen for style rather than necessity. That IS Mann, to some extent, but it is not ALL he is.

    For me, 'Castaway' has always been, somewhat dichotomously, a great example of both limitations and triumphs of the self same technique in the self same film!!

    What about it, Phantom?

    C'mon...we know you want to...

  6. Damn, mandingo, your praise of Sparks makes me want to reevaluate them but I know I can only handle the band in small doses and couldn't sit through an entire album other than as an academic pursuit.

    Phantom--you may very well dig Horror Stories, it's a very authentic sounding retro psychedelic record. Just steer clear of most of the rest of the Dwarves discography--lowbrow shock rock I doubt you'd like very much.

  7. mandingo -- thanks for the topic suggestions. All good. I currently have around 400 scribbled down.

    I agree that the MANHUNTER DFN footagfe is stylistic. The advantage is you great amazing depth of field without spending a million dollars on lighting rigs. In the MANHUNTER scene, the sun on the sea reads as brilliant moonlight. Very good use of it in BATTLE ROYALE also.

    CASTAWAY is an interesting case study.


    d -- I'm certainly not all over Sparks. I'm picky, as I am with all these folks. I haven't liked Jarre for a decade. His new stuff leaves me cold (mostly).

    "Number One Song in Heaven" from Sparks -- I like the lead-up more than the rocking part. Same with "Bohemian Rhapsody"

    I like Sparks' "My Other Voice" is bizarre. Try to listen to the lyrics. Surreal and anarchic.

    I will try zeroing in on The Dwarves as per your warning.