Here is Donovan with an educational history lesson, which, if you don’t live in Texas, you may be needing. Living in Texas for nearly a decade, I really should know more about this Alamo thing that we have. Apparently it was a very epic historical event that Texans really have a hard-on about remembering. Something about taking Mexico away from the Mexicans so Texan-Americans can be free? Honestly, the more I live here the more I don’t give a shit. However, the Battle of the Alamo has retained a strong mystique in the public imagination. It has an undeniable storytelling appeal, and who doesn’t love a tale of desperate courage in the face of inevitable defeat? It’s inspired its better-than-fair share of songs, and books, and movies, and stage names, and dumb-looking hats etc. All of which vary wildly in their degree of truthiness. But history is not about what happened, it’s about teaching a good lesson, and telling a rip-roaring good story. So we keep telling the story about those brave good old boys defending their miserable garrison in the name of Freedom™ as an example of the good old American can-do spirit, even though the broader context may be a little bit hazy. Texas wasn’t even a member of the United States at the time, and lemme tell you, Texans are inordinately proud of their short-live little republic, even though or maybe because half of it was requisitioned from Mexico at the cost of great bloodletting. I’m frankly a little confused as to why Texians defending their right to be a sovereign republic that is not a part of the United States of America is such a beloved example of American patriotism, but the complexities of history bore me, and the concept of patriotism is a very difficult one for me to grasp, and it seems like all it comes down to is that the tale is a fun one to tell.
Let Pink Floyd set you up for an afternoon of childhood nostalgia. If your childhood nostalgia actually involves listening to Pink Floyd, all the better. Even if not, it’s the perfect mood piece for reminiscing, or daydreaming, or just dozing. It’s just great mood music. If you have drugs, good. If you have a mimosa, good. If you have a nice cup of tea, good. If you don’t have any of those things, maybe think about going back to bed.
This is it, this is the trouble with Harry. He was too bloody brilliant for his own good. You can’t immediately see it, but this is a great illustration of the duality between Harry Nilsson the serious artiste and Harry Nilsson the big silly self-sabotaging goofball. First of all, Harry had the voice of an angel and the ability to write songs like this one, which sounds like an old standard that somehow never made it onto the soundtrack of Casablanca. But this song is not from Casablanca; it’s from an album cheekily titled Son of Schmilsson, and later, the soundtrack of a Dracula movie directed by noted Hollywood visionary and film icon Ringo Starr. And therein lies the trouble with Harry: besides his notorious alcoholism, he was undone by his own inability to take himself seriously. If he could just keep writing and singing beauties like this, he would have had a career of solid gold. But he wanted to costar (co-Starr?) in Son of Dracula with Ringo, he wanted to record an old folks’ choir singing a novelty song about bed-wetting, he wanted to have a screaming contest with John Lennon that ruptured his vocal chords, and eventually, he wanted to retire from music entirely. Which, ok, that last part you can’t blame him for: he quit drinking, raised a lovely family, became involved in political activism and seemed pretty happy about it. But so many of his career choices were just so foot-shootingly misguided, you feel aggravated on his behalf, angry at him for being one of those people who sabotage their own best potential.
This should be everyone’s first glimpse of Roxy Music. Being the opening of their first album and of one of their first television performances, for many people, it was. It laid out the Roxy Music mission statement pretty clearly; weirdness as a glamorous pose. Eclecticism and eccentricity weren’t new to rock music, but they certainly needed sexing up. Roxy Music did that. Bryan Ferry in gold brocade, leaving chem-trails of sheer glamour. What a fantasy. That was about the most exciting thing an impressionable child could see, now as in 1972. If you were like me, you knew you had to ditch your life and go live in that world. Or at least invest in some baroque garments. Try queuing up Roxy Music videos when you’re dressing up for the night. You should feel inspired to march out into the underworld armed with nothing but bons mots and glitter.
There needs to be more baroque pop. There need to be more performers with a self-contained aesthetic and sense of drama. There needs to be more Florence Welch. She has no shortage of dramatic aesthetic wonders up her flowing gossamer sleeves. Listening to a Florence + the Machine record is like submerging yourself in a heady vision, a world filled with medieval and Pre-Raphaelite imagery and possible witchery. Those are things that spring to mind, and would do even if Flo didn’t contribute vividly visualized videos to flesh it all out. It doesn’t hurt that she has the kind of face that’s meant to be rendered eternally and larger-than life. In centuries past, she would have sat for painters. In decades past, she would have been a Hollywood icon. In today’s world, she commands the live-streaming video screens that loom over concert stages. It’s the kind of superhuman charisma that stands out, even in a field already dominated by the charismatic – and inspires florid prose from besotted armchair critics.
This is one of the gayest pop hits in all of history. The video, in its time, was immensely controversial for its overt gayness. Frankie Goes to Hollywood would hardly make a bleep on the controversy radar today, because yay progress, but 1983 was not a good time to be gay. The 70’s were an alright time to be gay, because at least there were nightclubs you could go to without fear of getting thrown in jail. There’s some who insist that those were the very, very best times for gay people and it’s all been downhill from there, because assimilation and loss of subculture and group identity, etc. but that’s just old-person nostalgia talking. Gay bars are not the identity-building sanctuaries that they used to be, because young people today don’t need to build their identities around what they do with their genitals, and that’s a good thing. The 70’s were a lot of fun for a lot of people though. There was a lot of partying. Lot of cocaine. Lot of casual sex. Lot of people finally learning to enjoy their sexuality without fear and shame. Then the AIDS virus came along and wiped all of that happy progress right back to the stone age. Suddenly gay people weren’t just seen as disgusting but mostly harmless; they were disease vectors who had to be quarantined. Today, at least in the developed world, AIDS is a manageable chronic disease on par with diabetes. In the 80’s it felt like a biblical plague punishing the wicked for their sins, which is exactly how the right wing spun it. Patients were treated like lepers, abandoned by their loved ones, wasting away in infectious disease wards surrounded by nurses in hazmat suits. In that context, an upbeat pop song celebrating the gayness of gayness was…pretty damn brave. Dance-in-the-face-of-death brave. That it became a huge hit despite being banned by the BBC and MTV for offending the sensitivities of people who didn’t know that a gay subculture even existed, that was a small symbolic victory. Now it’s a little time capsule from a bygone era when wearing a mesh tank top and a leather cap meant something else than a Freddie Mercury Halloween costume.
This is more military terminology all in one place than has ever been written into a pop song. Why has Sparks been the first and only band to discover the tongue-twisting wordplay delights of that particular jargon? Who knows, but it’s right up their alley. All I know is, I wouldn’t want to play scrabble with these guys. They know how to spell potentate and subterfuge, and use them in a sentence.