1. Writing lengthy e-mails defending the manifold virtues of Lionel Richie’s All Night Long (All Night), (my second favourite single of all time), with particular reference to West Berlin in late 1983. I am enjoying this more than blogging, becuase I can be as detailed and rambling as I damn well please, without worrying whether my words are “good enough”, or of sufficiently general interest, for Troubled Diva.
Here’s the bulk of it, slightly re-jigged. Engage at your peril.
…when it came out, I was living outside the UK for the first time, and was immediately struck by the sheer internationalism of West Berlin, with its three occupying armies (UK, US, France), its foreign students (at the Freie Universität where I was “studying”, yeah right), and its sense that just about everyone was a temporarily nesting visitor from somewhere else.
My radio dial constantly flicked between the German language Berlin stations, AFN, BFBS and the BBC World Service, all broadcasting on FM. I was following the UK Top 40 (Paul Burnett on the World Service, who was to sniffily say when excluding Relax: “We really don’t think it’s suitable” – exact quote!), the US Top 40 (Casey Kasem in full stats-geek flow on Sunday afternoons), the German Top 75 (Laidback, Trans-X, Boytronic, Nena, a bunch of cod-sci-fi jokers called Deutsch-Österreiche Feingefühl (!) at #1, the final sputterings of Neue Deutsche Welle), the Billboard soul chart (which had its own show on AFN), the Billboard dance chart (detailed rundowns on an incredible Berlin dance show on Saturday nights called Studio 89 – there’s a tribute website to this day – electro megamixes direct from NYC radio, Double Dee & Steinski’s Payoff Mix, the works)… and then there was Pop Over Europe on BFBS, which tracked the Top 10s in half a dozen other European countries, most of whom seemed to be buying Gazebo’s I Like Chopin in vast quantities…
…and, for a couple of months that Autumn, All Night Long (All Night) was everywhere, riding high on all of the above charts and radio shows, blaring out of every shop and café down the Ku-Damm, shunned only by the regulation-black hipster bars in Kreuzberg. You got the clear sense that this was a truly international hit – that moment of total shared access, as someone once put it – and as a piece of musical internationalism, it worked superbly well.
I don’t hear a “watered down” version of anybody – I hear a blended fusion of varying styles, all mushed together into a beige (pace Julie Burchill) soul-pop stew, served with the kind of lavish mega-production that had worked so well on Thriller. I love the teasing dynamic, building up and exploding into joy with those glorious, exultant brass runs and stabs towards the end. It feels like a travelogue. It feels like the whole planet is either partaking in its construction, or getting on down to it, from America to Africa to Asia, one nation under a groove, a glimpse of Utopia.
But, yeah, naff old Lionel Richie with his jacket sleeves rolled up, darling of the suburban barbecue set… If I’d been elsewhere, then maybe I’d have responded differently, but you can’t divorce pop from its subjective associations, and mine were wonderful ones.
2. Getting back in the gig-reviewing saddle. I am enjoying this more than blogging because the sheer urgency of the task precludes any dithering, and because the exercise forces me to be economic with language, and because I am forced to abandon the first person… because, hey, it’s not all about ME for once.
Since it hasn’t gone up on their website, and because I like to park these things for posterity, here’s the review which ended up in yesterday’s Nottingham Evening Post. (And yes, now I know that “Love Hurts” didn’t originate with Gram Parsons, but I didn’t know it then.)
Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy – Rock City, Tuesday January 23.
Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy, aka Will Oldham, is an infrequent visitor to these shores. Indeed, this is only his third UK tour in eleven years. Although some later dates will be performed solo, we were treated to a full backing band, who fleshed out Oldham’s sparse and mournful alt-country stylings with a surprisingly muscular, rock-based sound.
Oldham cut an arrestingly singular figure, with a demeanour that combined the whiskered wooliness of Bob Harris, the brooding solemnity of Clement Freud, and the gangling eccentricity of a Victorian gentleman explorer – all topped by an immense, protruding forehead that looked ready to explode from the rest of him.
Opening with a sprightly cover of Willie Nelson’s On The Road Again, Oldham turned in an epic two-hour set, peaking at around the 40 minute mark with a spellbinding rendition of John Martyn’s John The Baptist. At this point, it seemed he could do no wrong. Unfortunately, the momentum proved impossible to sustain – particularly when support singer Dawn McCarthy joined him to perform some awkward, ragged duets from his most recent album.
For the encore, the rapidly tiring audience were rewarded with a stunningly intense New Partner and a good-natured lurch though Gram Parsons’ Love Hurts.
3. Interviewing THE STARS!!! for the self-same organ; an experience which might well have peaked yesterday with the double whammy of Shayne Ward and Joan Baez. God, but the temptation to swap their questions was almost irresistable.
“So, Shayne Ward: is there room in 2007 for a civil rights movement?”
“So, Joan Baez: can we expect to hear more of a Justin Timberlake influence in your new material?”
As a comparative study between Ancien Régime and Tin Pan Alley Nouveau, you couldn’t have hoped for two more starkly contrasting examples. While Shayne Ward – affable if a tad over-defensive, and clearly media-trained to within an inch of his life – parrotted the sort of stock answers which I could have written myself, Joan Baez – bright, articulate, thoughtful, committed, occasionally funny and entirely her own woman – gave a dream of an interview, which left me in a state of dazed euphoria for most of the rest of the evening. I’d say “living goddess” – but you know how we queens can over-pedestalise our divas.
I am enjoying this more than blogging because it’s a new challenge, forcing me to acquire new skills and learn on the job – and because, at heart, I’m such an easily impressed little star-f**ker. Hey, know thyself.
(And speaking of self-knowledge: I’ve never heard myself “in conversation” before, and it’s proving painful to listen. Christ, do I always sound like Marvin the Paranoid Android?)
4. Keeping a close paternal eye on Post of the Week. I am enjoying this more than blogging because, once again, it’s not all about me me me. And because I find that I have enjoyed the experience of micro-managing a new creative project. And because it’s fun to collaborate; something which I don’t often get the chance to do, in either my professional or in my blogging lives. And because I’m delighted that the sometimes complex design concepts behind POTW have been represented in such a deceptively simple way. And because I genuinely think this has the potential to contribute something useful and worthwhile.
5. Keeping a close paternal eye on my referral stats, as Troubled Diva rapidly approaches its one millionth page view, probably at some time over the weekend. I am enjoying this more than blogging because, somehow, stats speak to me in a way that words never can (and let’s face it: compared with the arid deserts that many of my comments boxes have become, stats are sometimes all I have). One million! What a beautiful number that is!