Friday, December 15, 2006

Out To Lunch



I was flabbergasted to see in my local Tesco’s (I know and I’m sorry—the wholefood co-operative was closed) the attached ad for blue cheese in one of their Christmas leaflets. Headlined “The Soft Parade”, I can only imagine it was the work of a bored copywriter with a penchant for The Doors. Unless, of course, The Doors’ canon has now become so subsumed into the mainstream that even housewives doing the weekly shop in Chipping Sodbury and Diss are expected to chuckle knowingly over references to psychedelic rock albums from 1969. I don’t believe this is the case, and I think the reference will go over the heads of 90% of Tesco’s demographic, unless I’m being a total snob (and that’s always a possibility…).

Many schoolboys (and some schoolgirls) have a flirtation with The Doors, often coinciding with a viewing of Apocalypse Now. I know I did. Their first two albums really seemed to speak to me for about two weeks at the age of sixteen. The portentous lyrics that seemed to hint at secret knowledge. The shamanistic, ritualistic figure of Jim Morrison. The interminable keyboard solos of Ray Manzarek. Of course, most of us grow out of this brief infatuation; songs about frogs, Red Indians and the like seem a bit hammy once you hit, say, seventeen. And anybody reading No One Here Gets Out Alive would realise that far from being a sexual revolutionary and visionary, Morrison was a thoroughly mysoginistic and unpleasant individual.

None of which stops him being quoted in popular culture. Or supermarket flyers, as we’ve seen. In fact, that ad for cheese was my second Doors reference of the day. Earlier, I’d been listening to Bug Powder Dust by Bomb The Bass, which is chock-full of metaphor and simile, including two references to The Doors: rapper Justin Warfield compares himself to “Mr Mojo Risin’”, and the song includes the following couplet “Waiting for the sun on a Spanish
Caravan
/Solar eclipse and I'm feeling like starin' man..”

More prominent than these fleeting references to Pere Lachaise’s most infamous resident, though, are the many literary allusions scattered throughout the song; references to Allen Ginsberg’s Howl, Joseph Conrad’s Heart Of Darkness and Wade Davis’ The Serpent and The Rainbow appear alongside more prosaic pop culture yardsticks like Jeff Spicoli, Agent Cooper and Jimmy Page. The most prominent author, though, in this neo-psychedelic stew has to be William S. Burroughs. Indeed, the whole song is an homage to the Naked Lunch (and in particular David Cronenberg’s admirable attempt to adapt the text for the screen in 1991) with its references to mugwumps, the Interzone and so forth. The album from which it’s taken, Clear, is well worth getting hold of, incidentally; one track is written and narrated by TV panellist and occasional author Will Self, while another features legendary stoner Lesley Winer. And BTW, don’t you think Tesco could work the words Naked Lunch into one of their future campaigns?


Burroughs was probably the most influential writer for rock musicians from the mid-60s onwards (though JG Ballard arguably ran him a close second for a while circa 1978 to 1982); as well as Bowie’s penchant for cut-up lyrics, Soft Machine and Steely Dan owe their names to his novels, and his associate Brion Gysin was instrumental in bringing together Brian Jones and the Master Musicians of Jajouka. Hell, even Duran Duran got in on the act with their Wild Boys single…

He didn’t just restrict himself to the written word, however; he would occasionally step out from behind the typewriter and into the recording studio, sometimes to record spoken-word versions of his writings under the watchful eye of John Giorno, and often to collaborate with bona fide musicians, such as Michael Franti, Hal Willner, Tom Waits and Ministry. Some of his most fruitful collaborations, though, were with downtown NY supergroup Material. He contributed to their long player Seven Souls, and then followed this up with a guest spot on their track Words Of Advice from their 1994 CD Hallucination Engine. The track is notable for the interplay between Outlaw Bill’s lugubrious voice and the sax of Wayne Shorter (who, before leading Weather Report was one quarter of Miles Davis’ classic quartet, alongside Ron Carter, Tony Williams and Herbie Hancock). It’s notable, too, for the admonition to “never interfere in a boy/girl fight”. Words of advice, indeed, and ones we’d all do well to remember with the festive season approaching.

Download Bug Powder Dust

Download Words Of Advice (both deleted Feb 2007--sorry!)

12 comments:

jon manyjars said...

D'you know if that record Burroughs did with Kurt Cobain was any good? I saw a copy of it for sale recently. And I remember the KS band Mortal Micronotz had a song cowritten by WSB called "Old Lady Sloan".

A number of bands took their names from Anthony Burgess' novel "A Clockwork Orange". I can't remember all of them, but Ike Yard and Heaven 17 were two of them...

irkthepurists said...

I didn't know about Ike Yard, so thanks for bringing that to my attention! I see they've recently had a rerelease, but haven't heard it...

As for Kurt and WSB, no I haven't heard it, but I'd be surprised if it was less than interesting; anything Burroughs touched is worth a look, even when he simply took a gun to canvas. I've never even heard of Mortal Micronotz, but I presume their collaboration was a result of the Kansas connection; didn't Burroughs live in Lawrence, KS? I'll check out their song. Thanks again.

BTW, folks, this knowledgeable chap (Jon) runs the always-excellent Underneathica. Link to it from the sidebar on my blog. You won't regret it.

jude calvert-toulmin said...

hi irk, i got half way through a long comment on here yesterday, but i was on someone else's computer, got interrupted and had to leave it!

another really interesting piece. ive read a bit about jim morrison too, i read danny sugarman's wonderland avenue, tales of glamour and excess, about danny's time with the doors; it was fascinating (and really well written.) have you read that? get hold of a copy if you haven't, it's worth reading, not only for the depiction of the kind of life jim morrison was leading, but also the brilliantly described "dealing with iggy" sections of the book, LOL! :)

i love the père lachaise site, im still going round the cemetery now and learning new things. its sad that moliere's grave hasn't got any flowers on it :( just because he died hundreds of years ago doesn't mean he doesn't deserve some flowers :(

really thought provoking and inspiring piece, as usual :)

jude calvert-toulmin said...

wow, ive just got to say, irk, that due to your père lachaise link ive just been reading about heloïse and abélard,which has led me to an amazing poem about the pair called
the convent threshold, written by one of my favourite poets, christina rosetti.

im so glad ive found this poem, its a BRILLIANT painting in words :)

Mr Green Genes said...

I dabbled wi' t'Dooers (Pudsey received pronuciation) aged 19/20, and outgrew them, as you say, quite quickly, when I started to see them as a shell of artifice over a hollow core. Bit like Oasis. They took themselves far too seriously, and so did a lot of people, when there was so much infinitely better music being made, even within the rock field.

I will look out for psychedelic song references in Morrisons and Netto next time we're out shopping.
I had a wry smile when i was walking through the John St Shopping Centre in Leeds a while back and the muzak played to calm the living dead was Crosby Stills and Nash's stoner homage to the effects of Morocco's finest herbal produce: "Marrakesh Express". Unfortunately it wasn't followed by VU's "heroin" but it made me laugh out loud all the same.
I wonder how many songs contain references to Kerouac? I'd try and list them but I'm a lazy sod.

Mr Green Genes said...

Just realised. Morrisons. We're there dude.

The Pennine Spitter said...

Are Mortal Micronotz any relation to Micronotz, who were on Homestead records in the 80s, the home of Big Black and the mighty and underrated Volcano Suns? Must be, surely.

Never heard of Volcano Suns? Find 'Bumper Crop' and have a listen.

jude calvert-toulmin said...

> Just realised. Morrisons. We're there dude.

LOL! :)

jon manyjars said...

Yes and yes. The band that started as the Mortal Micronotz were based in Lawrence, KS (Burroughs' home), and they did shorten their name to the Micronotz.

Irk, that Ike Yard compilation is excellent. You can download it from eMusic.

jon manyjars said...

Anything you want to know about the Micronotz can be found here (be sure to read the comments):

http://lastdaysofman.blogspot.com/2006/11/micronotz-smash.html

irkthepurists said...

Mr Green Genes; like you I'm hearing more and more "unusual" music in shopping centres and similar. I never know whether to (a) get excited because subversive tunes are being played to the shoppers or (b) get upset that these formerly subversive tunes are now considered so anodyne that they can be played without upsetting the teeming hordes...

irkthepurists said...

Jon, I hope you noticed my Clockwork Orange reference in the title of the post below (Horror Show)...this stuff isn't just thrown together, you know! ;-)