Tuesday, January 26, 2010

High Noon: Thirty

noun informal
a foolish or contemptible person who lacks social skills or is boringly studious
adjective (french)

Peter Dragovich's blog, The Nerd of Noir, first caught my attention while searching for reviews of a book I'd just read, (Psychosomatic by Anthony Neil Smith). What I read, apart from being insightful and ridiculously well informed, was a profane blast of enthusiasm so infectious that I set up a blogger account just so that I could leave a comment on the piece. A couple of days later I went back to my comment and, like the vain sob I am, clicked on my own name to check my profile. Looked like a handful of other people already had. Turns out people read these things fired off into the void of cyberspace, so I started a little blog called Hardboiled Wonderland to go with my profile. So, in a manner of speaking, if you've enjoyed anything on this blog in the last year + that its been running, well you can thank Pete. I go back to his blog regularly for the most entertaining reviews of books, movies and television shows I've ever read. Unlike me, Pete is completely fearless with his opinions which elevates him to the status of true critic instead merely fan and enthusiast - where I'd fall into the landscape. He's taken to task some of his favorite, (and mine), authors for lazy, predictable work in pretty harsh terms, where as I'd probably just refrain from reviewing a particular work. He's established his voice and presence on the webs and in my humble opinion deserves to be branded and quoted and blurbed on the hardcore shit like that Aint it Cool News guy, dear reader.

Pete is the contributor for this installment of the Narrative Music series.

High Noon: Thirty, or Wake the Hell Up, Martin Scorsese

There’s no denying that I am a lover of the bleak shit when it comes to, well, every type of entertainment, be it books, music, movies, TV - whatever the fuck. I consider any good, brutal song to be somewhat noir, therefore I could have pontificated about any number of sad bastard songs from sad bastard artists I love. Songs: Ohia (and all of Jason Molina’s other projects), Nina Nastasia, The Two Gallants, early Neil Young, Nick Drake, early Wilco, Whiskeytown (and Ryan Adams’ first album Heartbreaker, the only good thing he’s done all decade), Velvet Underground, Townes Van Zant, Johnny Cash, Hank Williams, early Modest Mouse – all have ample amounts of shit in their catalogues that would have been perfect for this piece. But instead of choosing any old heartbreaker, I’ve decided to let you into my sad little headspace for a bit, to fill you in on something I do with many of my favorite songs: make small mental movies out of them.

And before you have a chance to call me out on my bullshit I will just fess the fuck up: Indeed, the preceding paragraph was a shameless attempt to lay out my music nerd cred before you have a chance to tear me apart for my actual song choice. When it comes to music, it never hurts to preemptively strike before the hipsters have a chance to maul you with nasally, whiney put-downs (“Radiohead’s okay, but only on their imports that you can only find on the black market in Mumbai.”)

I like songs that are cinematic, ones that automatically build a movie scene in my head after a listen or two. “Don, Aman” by Slint makes me think of a guy with a gunshot wound stumbling across a barren field toward a distant cottage, blood-soaked pistol dangling from one hand. “Child in Time” by Deep Purple brings up this ten-minute long sequence in a bar that’s all De Palma-y and bloody that I’d share with you if I wasn’t afraid Scorsese would snatch it up whole-cloth (okay, I’d let Scorsese have it, but he’s gotta contact my ass about it first). But if anybody’s looking to do a genuinely solid adaptation of the true crime classic Helter Skelter, I’ve got your opening credits sequence laid out for your ass, no charge.

(Please note that there should be a link inserted here to a video of the Mamas and the Papas song Twelve-thirty - sorry - the link isn't there any more... I don't think... maybe I'm just inept. - JA)

No, there is nothing wrong with your computation machine – the Nerd is indeed gonna talk hippie bullshit music on one of the most badass blogs in internetland. But before you click away in disgust (no doubt to some hardcore porn to cleanse your ocular and audiological palettes), hear the Nerd out. Actually, listen to that creepy-ass song first and then read on. Or, if you’re scared a co-worker might catch you listening to The Mamas and the Papas, here are the lyrics.

I used to live in New York City
Every thing there was dark and dirty
Outside my window was a steeple
With a clock that always said 12:30

Young girls are coming to the canyon
And in the morning I can see them walking
I can no longer keep my blinds drawn
And I can't keep myself from talking.

At first so strange to feel so friendly
To say good morning and really mean it
To feel these changes happening in me
But not to notice till I feel it.

Young girls are coming to the canyon
And in the morning I can see them walking
I can no longer keep my blinds drawn
And I can't keep myself from talking.

Cloudy waters cast no reflection
Images of beauty lie there stagnant
Vibrations bounce in no direction
And lie there shattered into fragments.

Young girls are coming to the canyon
And in the morning I can see them walking
I can no longer keep my blinds drawn
And I can't keep myself from talking

“Twelve-thirty”, as far as I can tell, is a song about how fucking great Los Angeles seems compared to the clichés of New York City – dark and dirty, unfriendly people, all that kind of shit. It’s a Mecca for the flower children, a place where everyone seems genuine and everything is sunny and beautiful and all that kind of happy horseshit. But then, in the very last verse, that abstract-as-fuck last verse, the narrator realizes that L.A. is no better than any other place, it’s just as vapid and empty and soul-crushing as the rest of the world.

Sing those smart, sharply bleak fucking lyrics with the harmonies the Mamas and the Papas are known for and pack them into a rich wall of sound and you’ve got a damn fine song on its own – and I’ll say that shit with only a minimal amount of shame. Every dog has their day, am I right? I mean, it took Joan Baez twenty years of dicking around with hippie bullshit message music before she created her timeless, complex and adult song about Bob Dylan “Diamonds and Rust,” so why can’t The Mamas and the Papas get one right during height of their careers?

But if you’re still anti-“Twelve-Thirty”, allow the Nerd to further persuade you. So the Manson family murders, along with the violent failure that was the Altamont Speedway Free Festival in northern California, is often cited as the end of the sixties ideals, the moment the hippies figured out that like Peter Fonda says in Easy Rider, “We blew it.” A bunch of hippies go nuts and slaughter a bunch of rich folks in the night, the death knell has been fucking rung but fucking loudly.

It’s the moment that everyone realizes what John Phillips (Interesting that there’s not one but two kiddie rapers on the edges of this post, Roman Polanski and incestmeister John Phillips himself) apparently figured out a few years before, that Laurel Canyon (i.e. hippiedom in general) is not some haven, some place where you’re protected from the evil in this world. All the songs and protests and art and free thinking can’t keep out the crazy, that even hippie love-in communes can breed heinous, misguided violence.

So imagine this song, this slyly culturally-resonant tiny masterpiece, opening up a movie version of Helter Skelter, the opening credits popping up over the images. My idea is that there’s just a big long montage of shots of the Manson girls running through the yards of southern California homes in the dark. Just shadows and trees and hills in high contrast then a flash of movement as some hippie chicks come into view then ducks back into the shadows. Such shots would happen in quick succession over and over, each bleeding into the next with seamless fluidity. There’d be location shots of Spahn Ranch and Cielo Drive, naturally, but whether or not any of these images were one night or many nights would be unclear. Then toward the end of the song, “Directed by Pete Dragovich, AKA The Nerd of Noir” would appear and the audience would walk out of the theater in protest.

Maybe the song could even appear toward the end of the trailer for the movie, just this creepy old The Mamas and the Papas song popping up before shit goes to black and it says “Theaters Everywhere Christmas 2020” or some shit like that.

I know, I know, you can hardly stand it, can you, dear reader? I have just pitched you the most awesome idea ever and yet it remains unrealized, only alive in your mind. Or maybe you think it’s lame and too “on-the-nose” for your tastes. Maybe you still can’t get over the fact that this is the fucking Mamas and the fucking Papas, for Christ’s sake. But come on, the line “Young girls are coming to the cannnnnnyoooonnnn” played over shots of the Manson girls running around southern California in the dark, on-the-nose or not, is about as nastily noir as it gets.

The Nerd of Noir, who sometimes goes by Pete Dragovich, is a critic for www.bscreview.com and a blogger for http://nerdofnoir.blogspot.com , which is, obviously, his own personal blog. The Nerd lives in the Twin Cities and is extremely proud of himself for resisting the urge to include a Mama Cass joke in this piece.


Mike Dennis said...

I love cinematic songs, my favorite of which is the 1959 song, EL PASO by Marty Robbins. Listen to it and you can see the movie unfold before your eyes.

Many years back, when I was playing music for a living, I played a show with Robbins and he explained to me that he thought he was the cowboy (in that song) in a former life. He felt that was why he was able to write that song in such vivid detail.

He went through the whole deal of how he knew he killed a man over a girl back in the old west, then was shot and killed himself because he couldn't stay away from her.

Sounds like noir to me.

Paul D Brazill said...

Brilliant piece of writing, Nerd. Don't know the tune but I'll check it out.

Top anecdote, Mr D. top tune, too.