Category: music

BIRDMANBIRDMAN (OR ‘THE UNEXPECTED VIRTUE OF IGNORANCE’) directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu (USA, 2014)

From the stylish opening credits and free-jazz drumming of Antonio Sanchez’s unorthodox soundtrack, this is a movie that is keen to make an immediate impression.

It is the kind of derring-do which could so easily have backfired and then been dismissed as nothing more than brash arty-fartiness. Yet Birdman postively revels in its showiness and having a excellent supporting cast, that includes Naomi Watts and Edward Norton in prime form, means that all the risks are calculated ones.

The story revolves around Michael Keaton as Riggan Thomson, one time celluloid superhero who now feels all too human as he approaches the third age. By adapting a Raymond Carver story for a Broadway show he wants revitalise his flagging career and, in the process, demonstrate that 60 is the new 30. Continue reading

HOW MUSIC WORKS by David Byrne (McSweeneys, 2012)

how-music-works-david-byrne“What is we’re talking about here?” David Byrne asks rhetorically on page 220 (out of 358) in a section headed ‘What is music?’

It is as though he is oblivious to the fact that this is what many would expect the whole of this book to be about.

To those expecting to find  straightforward answers to either of these two questions, all I can say is :  you don’t know David Byrne.

It is not that he is deliberately obtuse or willfully obscure, but he has never been an artist who puts much stock in simplifying complex ideas. The subtext is that the creative process itself is a mystery and it doesn’t do to be over analytical about it. Continue reading

Today I spoke at a study group on the topic of A Ballad of a Thin Man by Bob Dylan. Here’s some of what I said:

bob-dylan-ballad-of-a-thin-manThe album Highway 61 Revisited was the first album of Bob Dylan’s that really made me sit up and take notice. The songs here were protest songs but were not overtly about unjust war, human rights or inequality.

This was a singer giving expression to his feelings in a manner I had not heard before. Even though his words are often obtuse, caustic and surreal there is, nevertheless, an unmistakable tone of someone who is not merely adopting a fashionably oppositional standpoint but stating something real, exemplifying an affinity for the power of language; what David Bowie (in Song For Bob Dylan) called “words of truthful vengeance”.

Like all great writers and artists, he urges you to see beyond the narrow confines of your own world. This form of direct communication through art is hard to explain to others. A poem, a painting or a novel can move us in ways that can often only be articulated in a formal, academic manner. Reducing emotional feelings to factual statements is satisfying on an intellectual level but somehow fails to capture the emotional impact.

This can help explain why after all the books and articles that have been written about Bob Dylan, he still remains an enigma. This is all the more remarkable in the age of the Internet where we are overwhelmed by information and analysis.

There is still no simple answer to the question:  ‘Who Is Bob Dylan?’ Continue reading


My song and video of the year is Sia’s Chandelier. A fascination with the video came first. Part dance, part gymnastics, 11-year-old Maddie Zieger’s remarkable performance is more about cathartic emotional expression than classical ballet.

Like Wayne McGregor’s Random Dance, it appears spontaneous even though it was meticulously choreographed by Ryan Heffington.

His own video about how he put these moves together is full of unconventional instructions like ‘wounded dog’ and ‘robot bird’. Zieger got the call after Sia saw her on Dance Moms‘ reality show – a fame academy-style TV show featuring aspiring starlets. stroppy coaches and pushy parents.

The song itself initially sounds like the type of formulaic pop song Rihanna or Beyoncé might perform, not so surprising since Sia Furler has written tunes for both these artists (Diamonds and Pretty Hurts respectively). Continue reading


Franco Battiato at Cesena

Franco Battiato is an elder statesman of Italian popular music with a distinguished career spanning more than four decades. His standing and popularity remain high in spite of, or perhaps because of,  remaining slightly aloof from popular trends.

Many of his songs are commercial enough to appeal readily to mainstream tastes yet he always manages to be one step removed from the brash commercialism of pop or rock marketing.

This was the first time I had seen him in concert and while he has an image of being a serious even remote figure, on stage he exudes a warmth and refreshing lack of pretentiousness.

Battiato has the look of a priest although not one of the hellfire breed as he’s more likely to preach on the healing power of love than to lecture us about the sins of the flesh.

Italians call him ‘il Maestro’ (the teacher) reflecting the strong element of didacticism in songs which are steeped in the kind of mystic imagery of the kind you’d expect to find in spiritual texts. Continue reading


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