Category: music


THE MOTEL LIFE (2006) + NORTHLINE (2008) by Willy Vlautin.

Motel NorthlineWilly Vlautin
I got interested in the novels of Willy Vlautin after seeing a tower of his latest novel,The Free, piled up in an ace bookshop called No Alibis in Belfast this summer. That a cool store would order so many copies made me think this was worth checking out.

I soon realised that I know Vlautin already, not as a novelist but as the lead singer and driving force behind a fine Alt.Country band called Richmond Fontaine whose songs are like miniature stories. A track and album of their has one of my all time favourite titles; it’s called We Used To Thing The Freeway Sounded Like A River.

After writing great tunes like this, there are probably lots of listeners who told him “Gee, I bet you could write a great novel”. I’m sure many said this to Bob Dylan too and then he came up with Tarantula which is kind of cool if you don’t mind stories that are cut and pasted in a random sequence. This demonstrated Dylan’s debt to the Beat poets and also gave an insight into how much acid he was on. In comparison, Vlautin’s writing is more conventional. His novels have a beginning, middle and end; more or less in that order.

Critics have generously compared Vlautin to John Steinbeck which tends to happen a lot when the characters are those that have slipped through the safety net of life. Typically they come from dysfunctional families, have dead-end jobs, drink a lot of beer, smoke like chimneys and eat shit food. They live from pillar to post, eking out a living and trying their best to stay on the straight and narrow. They spend a lot of time in bars, diners and cheap motels. They are exasperating but real.

William Bell wrote a Blues song for Albert King in 1967 called Born Under A Bad Sign and the lyrics sum up the plight of these lost souls. The chorus goes: “if it wasn’t for bad luck, I wouldn’t have no luck at all”.

Willy Vlautin was born in Reno, Nevada and that’s the main setting for both his first two novels which I decided to read before tackling his latest.

I only know Reno from Johnny Cash’s Folsom Prison Blues (“I shot a man from Reno just to watch him die”) and my mental image of it as a tough, uncompromising city is largely borne out by Vlautin’s fiction. Continue reading

UNDER THE SKIN directed by Jonathan Glazer (UK,USA, 2013)

ScarlettThe greatest movies are those that discretely change your perception of the world. Inspiring auteurs like Alfred Hitchcock and David Lynch play upon the voyeuristic nature of cinema and their strength of their vision lies in drawing the viewer into the kind of dark and sinister worlds ‘normal’ citizens would go out of our way to avoid. Jonathan Glazer can safely be added to this exclusive director’s club.

Under The Skin is loosely based on Michel Faber’s brilliant and disturbing debut novel. The operative word here is ‘loosely’ because so much of the plot has been changed it almost amounts to a different story entirely. The Scottish setting is the same but otherwise the divergences far outweigh the similarities. Even so, the movie captures the essence of the novel by being faithful to the atmosphere if not the details.

In the novel the alienated alien, Isserley, is described as “half Baywatch babe, half little old lady” which is hardly a description that applies to Scarlett Johansson who still manages to look sexy despite wearing a scraggy black wig and manky fur jacket. In fact Glazer makes sex the chief way in which the solitary males are lured to their fate; they don’t have to be drugged.

The movie is seriously creepy although not as explicitly horrific as the book. The victims disappear into a strange liquid, a symbolic and seemingly painless death which is a happy death compared to the nightmarish process of being turned into braised meat that Faber describes. Continue reading

ONLY LOVERS LEFT ALIVE directed by Jim Jarmusch (UK / Germany, 2013)

The future's so dark you have to wear shades.

The future’s so dark you have to wear shades.

Adam and Eve (Tom Hiddleson & Tilda Swinton) must be the coolest vampires ever to haunt the big screen.

They look so perfect together – an Emo Goth and an ice maiden, black on white.

A still of them lying naked together is so faultless it looks suspiciously like it’s been photo-shopped but who cares?

As an ageless undead couple they are  resigned to living by night; wearing shades to protect their eyes from the glare of moonlight. Continue reading

CHRIS ECKMAN – Piazza Saffi, Forlì 9th May 2014

Chris Eckman (left) onstage in Forlì with Paul Austin.

One of the best things about living in Italy is that outdoor concerts and other open air events rarely need to be cancelled due to bad weather.

In the UK, washouts are frequent and music festivals often turn into mud baths.

This free show by Chris Eckman took place in the main square of Forlì in Emilia-Romagna on a pleasantly cool, clear evening. It marked the start of a new season of concerts organised by Strade Blu who in recent years have brought quality artists like Devendra Banhart, Steve Earle, Lambchop and Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy to the region. The focus is mainly on folk or alt.country.

When he’s not playing solo, Eckman is part of The Walkabouts from Seattle and he was joined on stage by Paul Austin of that band. Austin played electric guitar backing to the Eckman’s earthy vocals and crisp acoustic guitar. Continue reading

SEXY BEAST directed by Jonathan Glazer (UK, 2000)

While waiting impatiently to see Under The Skin, I decided to take a look at director Jonathan Glazer’s earlier films.

I was familiar with his inventive work in advertising, notably the Guinness ads as well as his innovative videos with Radiohead and others but hadn’t seen either of his previous movies, Sexy Beast or Birth .

The boldness of Glazer’s debut on the former demonstrates the enormity of his talent. Not only does he assemble some fine actors but he also has the courage to cast against type.

Before seeing this movie, I wouldn’t have put Ben Kingsley down as an obvious choice to play an evil, villain. On paper, Ray Winstone would be more convincing as a violent sociopath. You only have to see Winstone’s charged performances in Scum or Nil By Mouth to know that such a role would have come easily to him.

Instead Winstone plays Gary ‘Gal’ Dove, a washed out hard man who has decided to take early retirement from his ‘career’ as a safe-breaker. Gal has moved to a Spanish villa to escape the “grey, grimy shithole” of England.

In the opening scene he suns himself beside a swimming pool to the sound of The Stranglers ‘Peaches’. A sign that this Mediterranean idyll is about to be cut short occurs when a huge boulder rolls down the hillside and narrowly misses flattening him. The rock splashes into the pool.  Don Logan (Ben Kingsley) as the human boulder is equally disruptive. Continue reading

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