Word #36

Issue 36

February 2006

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Cover star – Johnny Cash

Word shuffle

1) P115 – Jim White’s review of the film ‘Jarhead’. “It’s an examination of how young men react under duress. Particularly the manner in which these soldiers, absorbing the imagery of movie warfare, see themselves as participating in a remake of their favourite films. The scene in which Gyllenhaal and his buddies relax during training by watching the helicopter scene from ‘Apocalypse Now’ is astonishing. Wound up into a frenzy of machismo by the brutality of their preparation, they are not shocked by Coppola’s anti-war epic, rather they sing along to Wagner and cheer as each Vietnamese village is blasted as if they are watching some grand sporting event.”

2) P63 – final page of a 4 page article on the appeal of Arctic Monkeys by Andrew Collins. “Try this from B-side ‘Bigger Boys And Stolen Sweethearts’: ‘Have you heard what she’s been doing?/Never did it for me/He picks her up at the school gates/At 20 past 3/She’s been with all the boys/But never went very far/She wagged English and Science/Just to go in his car.’

The magic for me, is in the use of the word ‘wagged’ – a colloquialism that takes me right back to a time when The Undertones were my favourite band; another bunch of urchins in affordable jeans who made the heart somersault with songs about chocolate and girls. Alex Turner is a poet. He may not have Morrissey’s jaw, or indeed his wilfully effeminate style, and he hails from the wrong side of the Pennines for George Formby, but he clearly attended the same school as both.”

3) P12 – a 2 page photograph of the Sex Pistols on stage in February 1976. Johnny Rotten crouches down with a tin of Heineken, looking out into the smiling faces of the small crowd.

4) P65 – the 2nd of 4 pages about the longevity of espionage tales by Christopher Bray. “The spy novel faces the same pitfalls as the real-life spy. If language and race prevent the CIA from infiltrating Osama’s crew, how is a novel about such infiltrations going to satisfy our need amid what Ian Fleming once called our ‘fantasies of the bang-bang kiss-kiss variety’, for that ballast of realism all the best spy stories are weighted by?”

5) P104 – album reviews of Beck’s ‘Guerolito’ (“at its best a supremely funky and surreal companion to the original album”), The Blue Aeroplanes’ ‘Swagger’ (“the remaster gives even more sparkle to an already blindingly good album”) and ‘Sound Mirrors’ by Coldcut (“like Gorillaz’ ‘Demon Days’, the mood is broadly dystopian; paranoia stalks the obliquely menacing ‘Boogie Man’ and the clanking camera shutters of ‘Just For A Kick’).”

Interesting – Word writers argue the case for the 30 best and worst cover versions in existence. In the worst category they place Michael Ball’s ‘Life On Mars’ (“There was always a bit of Vegas in Bowie…but never this much”) and Cilla’s ‘Work Is A Four Letter Word’ as covered by The Smiths (“By some miles the worst Smiths recording”) but top – or bottom – spot goes to Rod Stewart’s interpretation of ‘Cigarettes And Alcohol’ (“Rod turns ‘let’s ‘ave it’ into ‘I’ve ‘ad it’ in one fell swoop”).

For the best they offer us ‘Common People’ by William Shatner (“Captain Kirk’s hamtastic spoken version is oddly appropriate for this piece of modern Sondheim”), ‘All Apologies’ by Kathryn Williams (“William’s chamber-folk reading reveals the sweetness in Cobain’s melodies, making the song’s mystery still more mysterious”) and ‘Bizarre Love Triangle’ by Sita (“dancefloor stormer done in delicate acoustic style”). The cream of the crop is Fiona Apple’s ‘Across The Universe’ (“genuinely, no messing, it’s better than the original”).

In the ‘Word Of Mouth’ section, Beck talks about his early experiences in London. “I first came one winter when I’d dropped out of high school with $200 to my name. I was sleeping on a friend’s father’s floor, and I’d wander around the city in the day, but it got too cold, so I just lived in cinemas to keep warm. Early on, I saw a Luis Bunuel triple bill, one of which, ‘The Phantom Of Liberty’ had such an effect on me.”

Joaquin Phoenix loves the Fab Four – “I have to say The Beatles, without a doubt, are the greatest band ever”, whereas Siobhan Fahey prefers “people like Goldfrapp and Peaches – sexy, visual, slightly saucy stuff that’s great to hear and watch”. Chas Smash from Madness speaks up for MC Skinnyman’s ‘Council Estate Of The Mind’ – “It’s street but with real social import, a feeling of what it’s like to live on an estate; the only way out is being a bad boy.”

Trent Reznor discusses Johnny Cash’s cover of ‘Hurt’ and admits that, at first he “…had no use for Cash’s rendition. ‘I listened to it’, he told me shortly after his death, and it just seemed incredibly strange and wrong to me to hear that voice with my song…I thought, “Here’s this thing that I wrote in a moment of frailty, and now Johnny Cash is singing it.” It kind of freaked me out.’ But, as it did for so many other people, Romanek’s video made Cash’s reading of the song more visceral – and undeniable – for Reznor. ‘I felt honoured to be a part of it.”

Julian Cope has learnt not to resist a gimmick. “The gimmick in rock is important. Absolutely! Look at Morrissey with his hearing aid or Jimmy Page with his violin bow. It’s a way to achieve transformation – because if you can allude to something then you can reach that thing. I feel I’ve really nailed the gimmick – I’ve had the telescoping transporter mike stand, the turtleshell and the dog jacket with three paws – to name but three.”

Longer article

John Ingham  looks back at the problems with last year’s Apple/Motorola music handset.

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