Liner Notes: Idols

Buster Keaton (Ragtime Willy)
I’ve loved Keaton since I saw his films as a kid—we lived near the Academy Cinema on Oxford Street, where they would have silent film festivals accompanied by real live piano players, of whom my favourite was Florence De Jong. Keaton’s inventiveness is still stunning, and inspires people to this day (witness artist Steve McQueen’s restaging in Deadpan of the extraordinary Steamboat Bill Jr ‘falling building’ stunt). Here, ‘Baby’ Dodds plays a drum solo, and I’ve looped three instruments over each section (ranging from pedal steels through fiddles and pianos), broken up by a bluesy harmonica. At the end, all the loops are played over the top of one another in an unholy mess. I was thinking of the storm in Steamboat Bill Jr. The track’s name is from The Band’s When You Awake. Which was sung by…

Richard Manuel (At The Edge Of Town)
Richard was one of my favourite singers and songwriters (and, not to forget, drummers). When Sam and Ann Charters came through London on their way to live in Sweden in 1971, Sam had brought me five of his favourite albums as a gift. One of them was Music From Big Pink. He sat me down (I was 15 at the time) and played me his favourite song, Richard’s In A Station. It sounded like nothing else I’d ever heard. It still sounds like nothing else I’ve ever heard. There’s a lot of great writing about Richard’s extraordinary qualities, and a quick web search turns most of them up, or go to Jan Hoiberg’s excellent site on The Band. This song is a meditation on Richard’s death. On March 4, 1986, after a gig at the Cheek to Cheek Lounge outside Orlando, in Winter Park, Florida, Manuel seemed to be in relatively good “spirits” but ominously thanked Hudson for “twenty-five years of incredible music”. The Band returned to the Quality Inn, down the block from the Cheek to Cheek Lounge, and Manuel talked with Levon Helm about music, film, etc., in Helm’s room. According to Helm, at around 2:30 Manuel said he needed to get something from his room. Upon returning to his motel room it is believed that he finished one last bottle of Grand Marnier before hanging himself. [from Wikipedia]. When I came to the point in the song where there is usually some kind of solo I remembered a version of Georgia that Mark had worked on as he figured out how to record in Garageband. I dropped the mp3 in the track… oh, and thanks to John Scheele for his lovely correspondence.

Tony Blair (The Rules)
I didn’t say they were all my idols… I was on a Greek Island and visited a small chapel in the bay where St Paul landed in a storm and brought Christianity to Greece. I was thinking about the people who make treks to holy sites and whether any of their feelings from those encounters are brought back into their everyday lives. I also felt that as I was on a Greek island it would be fitting to use some of Leonard Cohen’s favourite chords (he lived in the islands, on Hydra, for a long time). Then suddenly, without thinking, I ended up with a song about the Iraq War… I recorded it with lots of guitars and synths and then Mark added a bass, and a piano part that he disparagingly refers to as ‘a seventies singer-songwriter’ part (I think he’s referring to John David Souther or Jackson Browne). Whatever, I liked it so much I dumped all the other instruments off the track.

Britney Spears (Bless Her Broken Heart)
I find the whole idea of Britney fascinating, and thought Piece of Me was utterly brilliant. Again, not one of my idols, but you can’t deny that she is an idol, and her story is a compelling summation of modern-day stardom. The string intro was written and played by Mark, who I forgot to credit on the site. The lyric is essentially a boiled-down version of her career. 5150 is a section of the California Welfare and Institutions Code and allows a qualified officer or clinician to confine a person deemed to have a mental disorder that makes them a danger to him or her self, The outro is meant to conjure up a ‘fleeing back to Louisiana’ groove. This had so many tracks on it by the end that the file was 2.5Gb and the computer could barely play it.

swr-i-kennedy

JFK (Stemmons Freeway Northbound)
I was obsessed with the assassination as a teenager. Stemmons Freeway leads out of Dealey Plaza on the way to Parkland Memorial Hospital. The picture shows a little display at home, the centrepiece of which is a scale model made from the actual plans of the Presidential Lincoln Continental. My friend Marcel managed to get hold of one and gave it to me, for which I am eternally grateful. I am also the proud owner of the Jackdaw special, published by Penguin in the 60s, put together by Len Deighton and Michael Rand, which has a cardboard model of Dealey Plaza (cotton thread denotes the bullet paths), a life-size fold-out drawing of Oswald’s (supposed) rifle, some glossy 8x10s of the motorcade and the doctor’s autopy report. Nothing if not thorough. And tasteless.

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