Just got back from a typical Sunday afternoon chez my old friends Petra and Rob’s: Vintage French chanson records (Piaf, Juliette Greco, Gilbert Becaud) playing on the vintage record player. Ice-cold Cava served in vintage glasses (are you catching a theme here?). Three languid cats prowling around or drowsing. Except this time, there was a baby in the room!
Petra gave birth to a strapping, healthy 9 1b baby boy Dorival Lino Swanson on 25 April 2012, and this was my first chance to meet my new “nephew.” Before this, I’d only seen a few photos on Facebook. While I was there, Dorival (the name is Brazilian. Both Petra and Rob are crazy about Brazil, have travelled there pretty extensively and love Samba and bossa nova music) was a bit cranky and clingy (with both Petra and Rob) and also seemed ravenously hungry. I didn’t attempt to hold him on my lap this time, but I did manage to kiss him on his tiny pink sea shell-like ear. I can confirm he is the personification of “adorable” and fascinating to watch (even when he’s sleeping!). He has a thick thatch of jet black hair, dark blue eyes (although they’re liable to change colour in coming months; all babies are born with blue eyes) and a very cherubic face. So far he looks like his dark-eyed, dark-haired German mutti more than his British father, but that also could change as he gets older.
Dorival as a newborn still in the hospital
Dorival as a newborn with Mama Petra
Dorival as a newborn with vati Rob (these three photos swiped from Petra's Facebook profile!)
Rob was saying Dorival seems to find music soothing: when Rob strums bossa nova songs on his acoustic guitar, or spins French chanson on the stereo, Dorival stops fussing (maybe he likes the sound of accordions?). They intend for him to grow up fluent in English, German and Portuguese (and maybe even Spanish; his mother speaks these languages like a native), so Dorival is destined to be a true cosmopolitan, globe-trotting homme du monde at this rate.
With such chic parents, it’s not surprising that Dorival is already a stylish baby. His red and white-striped babygrow references the Breton-striped sailor / nautical look. Rob also suggests it makes him look like a convict in a striped uniform. Maybe we should call it his Jean Genet look?
Petra and Rob seem to be taking to parenthood completely naturally in their own serene and laidback way. Petra in particular is like a beatnik earth mother crossed with Morticia Addams (when I think of Petra and Rob as parents, my reference points are Gomez and Morticia Addams, or Fred and Lily Munster).
Dorival and Rob
Angelic: Dorival sleeping in his Moses basket
Finally! A shot of Dorival sitting up with his eyes open! Dorival and his beautiful mutti. The cloth on Petra's shoulder is because Dorival pukes a lot
Even the cats are coping with the traumatic arrival of a newborn baby surprisingly well. When his crying grows too shrill and annoying, they simply leave the room. Sometimes they have to be shooed out of Dorival’s Moses basket and pram, which they seem to find really inviting to curl up in. The volatile and sensitive Fernando (Petra rescued him as a stray from Spain years ago; he’s like a temperamental Spanish prince) seemed hungrier for affection than usual. He loves male attention, and jumped on Rob’s lap as soon as Dorival was off it. He was even sweet and cuddly with me (he can turn violent when I pet him too much. Last New Year’s Eve he gave me such a savage mauling it looked like I’d been self-mutilating!).
An atypically mellow Fernando snoozing on my leg
Anyway, I look forward to spending more time with my beautiful new nephew.
(Petra and Rob long ago reconciled themselves to the fact that I’m the Diane Arbus / Nan Goldin / Larry Clark figure in their lives, documenting everything with my digital camera. See many years worth of beatnik parties at their various flats over the years here. The fabulous Fernando (aka Fernandito) has his own album here)
A strawberry blonde that's never existed in nature: Sex kitten extraordinaire Ann-Margret
This Saturday afternoon Dr Sketchy at The Old Queen’s Head happened to coincide with my birthday. The reliably loucheDusty Limits was on emcee duties. Our burlesque performer and female model was the diminutive Amelie Soleil, who I’ve never worked with before. She has a circus school background and is a contortionist: she can do the splits as casually as most of cross our legs, and was able to hold the pose for an eye-watering length of time! She also incorporated fire-eating into her burlesque act – wow! You can read about Amelie’s pretty remarkable background in circus, cabaret and burlesque here. Our male model was the aptly-named Luscious Luke, who's recently been featured as a pin-up in Meat magazine (think of it as the UK equivalent of Butt).
Luke and Dusty topping up their fluid intake
The ultra-bendy Amelie Soleil
Amelie and Luke ensemble
Because it was my birthday, I invited along some friends of mine: Angela (the sassy Scottish lassie who put the “ange” in “danger”), Paul (aka Johnny Cashpoint, formerly of art-punk band Matron – who should’ve made it big!), Derek and “Stuckist” artist and musician Ella Guru (formerly of the Voodoo Queens, currently in The Deptford Beach Babes). All of them were Dr Sketchy virgins, and really seemed to dig it.
My official birthday 2012 portrait: no photo of me is complete without my trademark sweat patch
I’m still working in new material from CDs I bought at Amoeba Records in San Francisco in April. From Ain’t Love Grand, the much-maligned 1985 fifth album by the Los Angeles punk band X (a record that rocked my world as a teenager. It merits a whole blog to itself), I played the dramatic and bluesy torch song “My Goodness”, which seemed to make an impression. The punk-y and strange last few songs were just me clowning around because I was drunk by then and it was my birthday.
I’ve also started introducing some tracks from a compilation CD entitled Good Girls Gone Bad I picked up at the wonderful Rooky Ricardo's Records in San Francisco. (God, how much do I love this store? I also bought some Ike and Tina Turner fridge magnets there. Imagine! Ike and Tina fridge magnets! I thought I’d died and gone to heaven). The compilation is a gem: I would call it an early 60s girl group anthology (it does feature some great obscure girl groups with names like The Tiaras, The Fortune Cookies and The Half-Sisters) but it mostly comprises tear-jerking laments by dimly-remembered wholesome white solo “girl singers” from that late 1950s-early 1960s post-army Elvis and pre-Beatles period that conventional baby boomer rock historians routinely condemn as some kind of cultural wasteland.
Rooky Ricardo's Records on Haight Street
Well, received wisdom sucks. Yes, the pop music of this era is often terminally un-hip, tame and neutered: think clean-cut teen idols like Tommy Sands, Connie Francis, Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello, think "Kookie, Kookie Lend Me Your Comb.". Yet because the music is so white bread, wholesome and square, there’s often an intriguing bat squeak of strangeness and kinkiness under its middle of the road veneer. Transgressive filmmakers like Kenneth Anger (think Scorpio Rising (1963); the Paris Sisters cooing “Dream Lover” in Kustom Kar Kommandos (1965) would comfortably fit on Good Girls Gone Bad) and David Lynch recognise this, returning again and again to the music of this period for their soundtracks. Lynch in particular: Bobby Vinton’s “Blue Velvet”, Connie Stevens’s “16 Reasons” and Linda Scott’s “I’ve Told Every Single Star” in Mulholland Drive (2001). The early 1960s is also the period John Waters came of age as a teen and which he lovingly evokes in Hairspray (1988).
"16 Reasons" in Mulholland Drive
The Connie Stevens original
(Better known as an actress, platinum blonde starlet Connie Stevens cut a few records in the early 60s, singing in a breathless little girl voice. Her "Little Miss Understood" is one of my highlights on Good Girls Gone Bad).
Connie Stevens in her beehived glory
When I bought the CD, the man who I assume to be Rooky Ricardo himself exclaimed, “Oh you’ll like this – it’s white girls with problems.” Corny as hell, the songs pack a fluffy kitsch period charm, but also throb with innocence and urgent teen drama. Good Girls Gone Girl Bad sketches out a soap opera realm in which tearful, passive-aggressive and needy girls next door pine for their “good-bad but not evil” leader of the pack-bad boys in heartbreak ballads. “Twenty four hours of loneliness / Twenty four hours of heartbreak / Every minute has been like this / How much more can I take?” Bonnie Lou demands, audibly at the end of her rope, while Joni Lymon’s “Happy Birthday Blue” is a variation on “It’s My Party and I’ll Cry if I Want To.” On “Call Him Back”, Donna Lewis argues with her boyfriend on the phone, hangs up on him and then goes batshit crazy regretting it. Things reach a fever pitch with “It Should Have Been Me”, in which the lead singer of the aforementioned Fortune Cookies turns deranged stalker, watching her ex’s wedding from a phone booth across the street. Her delivery makes you hope the newlyweds have taken out a restraining order. (It’s worth remembering that it was around this time (1960) that Ike Turner first unleashed on the world his tigress of a wife, the volcanic Tina. Consider her frankly sex-wracked scream on “A Fool in Love” and then consider the disparity between black rhythm and blues and white pop records of the time).
The yearning lyrics and keening vocals on Good Girls Gone Bad bristle with the kind of dysfunctional "stand by your man" masochism whose DNA still pulses in the knowingly retro, noir-ish and David Lynch-ian music of ice princess Lana Del Rey today. “He can‘t be all bad / even though he’s got an awful lot of rebel in him ...” long-forgotten ingénue Cobey Carson simpers. “It’s no wonder he’s in trouble every day / No kind word ever comes his way ...And I’m glad he’s mine.” That’s precisely the kind of sentiment Del Rey (the only modern pop star who matters) explores in a more overtly troubled/troubling, potentially self-destructive way in songs like “Blue Jeans” and “Born to Die.” Of course one of the (many) things Del Rey takes so much flack for is being a poor feminist role model for her “irresponsible” lyrics (her intriguing 1950s good girl/bad girl mixed messages are older than Ann-Margret and Nancy Sinatra).
Lana, oh, Lana: I understand you
But masochistic themes of romantic despair are present in all great love songs – they’re the life force of pop itself. Think of the mid-century female masters of the art of heartbreak (Piaf longing for her legionnaire, the entire oeuvre of Billie Holiday, Dusty Springfield wailing “I Just Don’t Know What to Do with Myself”) and all the blues and Country & Western greats of both genders (an utterly defeated Hank Williams crying into his beer on “You Win Again”). Good Girls Gone Bad taps into this, and makes me shudder in ecstasy.
Anyway, later that night I met up with Christopher and Lauren and went to The Hillbilly Hop (London’s best monthly rockabilly club; kudos to its promoter, Greaser Leo). From there, things got messy, but it was fun and worth the next day’s hangover.
I quickly snapped a few drunken (brutally close-up) photos at the Hillbilly Hop. Consider them Nan Goldin-style portraits of my friends
Quiet Village - Martin Denny Run - Jeri Southern Laisse-moi tranquille - Serge Gainsbourg Wimoweh - Yma Sumac Mama Look A Boo Boo - Robert Mitchum Go Calypso - Mamie Van Doren De Castrow - Jaybee Wasden La Bamba - Eartha Kitt Vesuvius - The Revels I Want Your Love - The Cruisers Margaya - The Fender Four Jim Dandy - Sara Lee and The Spades You Can't Stop Her - Bobby Marchan Screwdriver - Luchi Chicken - The Spark Plugs Kruschev Twist - Melvin Gayle Chop Suey Rock - The Instrumentals Love Potion # 9 - Nancy Sit Fujiyama Mama - Annisteen Allen The Bee - The Sentinels Oo-Wee, Mr Jeff - Georgina Lane Tall Cool One - The Wailers Always True to You in My Fashion - Denise Darcel 8 Ball - The Hustlers Fever - Ann-Margret You're My Thrill - Chet Baker (instrumental) Mon coeur n'était pas fait pour ça - Juliette Greco Anasthasia - Bill Smith Combo Strolling After Dark - The Shades Womp Womp - Freddie and The Heartaches Hard Workin' Man - Captain Beefheart A Man What Takes His Time - Marlene Dietrich I Want a Boy - Connie Russell Handclapping Time - The Fabulous Raiders One Mint Julep - Sarah Vaughan Dragon Walk - The Noble Men Hurt Is All You Gave Me - Ike and Tina Turner This Thing Called Love - Esquerita That Makes It - Jayne Mansfield Beat Party - Ritchie and The Squires Boss - The Rumblers How Come You Do Me? Junior Thompson The Beast - Milt Buckner Do It Again - April Stevens Kiss - Marilyn Monroe My Goodness - X Mondo Moodo - Earls of Suave Lazy - The Nuns Crazy Vibrations - The Bikinis You're the Boss - Elvis Presley and Ann-Margret Bonnie and Clyde - Serge Gainsbourg and Brigitte Bardot Love is Strange - Johnny Thunders and Patti Paladin Begin the Beguine - Billy Fury Mack the Knife - Hildegard Knef La Javanise - Juliette Greco The Girl Can't Help It - Little Richard Witchcraft - Elvis Presley Viens danser le twist - Johnny Hallyday Beat Girl - Adam Faith Little Miss Understood - Connie Stevens Big Girls Don't Cry - Edith Massey What's Wrong with Me? X What Do You Think I Am? Ike and Tina Turner
/ Two punk heroines: Nico and Patti Smith in 1977 /
From Nico: The Life and Lies of an Icon, Richard Witts’s authoritative (and sadly long out of print) 1993 biography of the alienated, enigmatic Garbo of punk. In her own words, down on her luck Moon Goddess Nico (mired in heroin addiction and poverty) describes her late 1970s encounter with Patti Smith (then a young punk poetess-turned-rock singer on the ascent):
“I had met Patti in New York, when she was a young poet on the scene. She was a female Leonard Cohen, when she moved from writing to singing, and I liked her because she was thin but strong. John Cale produced her first album, which was about heroin (Horses, 1975). Then I met her in Paris, and got to know her better. I felt like she could be a sister, because anyway she was the double of Philippe Garrel (Nico’s French underground filmmaker/ lover/artistic collaborator of the time. They made several films together: Nico was the Marlene Dietrich to his Josef von Sternberg), and I liked to be together with her. But she has become boring now and married. She should have married John Cale and they could live in a gingerbread house and make gingerbread children.
“Patti was very kind to me. Early in 1978 my harmonium was stolen from me. I was without any money and now I couldn’t even earn a living playing without my organ. A friend of mine saw one with green bellows in an obscure shop, the only one in Paris. Patti bought it for me. I was so happy and ashamed. I said, “I’ll give you back the money when I get it”, but she insisted the organ was a present and I should forget about the money. I cried. I was ashamed she saw me without money.”
As far as I can tell Patti Smith has never spoken on the record about knowing Nico: in Smith's excellent 2010 memoirs Just Kids, for example, she makes no reference to them ever having met. To her credit, perhaps it's modesty, and Smith doesn't want to talk publicly about her generosity in helping a fellow artist in trouble? It would be fascinating to hear her version of this story.
Annabella Lwin of the mighty Bow Wow Wow in London. 30 April 2012
Was there ever a band as underrated or misunderstood as Bow Wow Wow? Suspicion about the anarcho-delinquents's “authenticity” (that tiresome preoccupation of rockist killjoys) dates all the way back to their origins as the band “manufactured” by Malcolm McLaren as his new post-Sex Pistols shock tactic. As their own Wikipedia page baldly states: “Bow Wow Wow are an English 1980s New Wave band created by Malcolm McLaren to promote his and business partner Vivienne Westwood's New Romantic fashion lines.” This is like waving a red rag to the kind of people who fret about “style over substance.” I would argue: to model Vivienne Westwood’s cutting-edge pirate and buccaneer range – what better reason to form a band?! But that’s just me.
Anyway, in 1981 the Situationist punk instigator lured the backing musicians away from Adam Ant’s band (Adam’s Ants, if you prefer) and installed as their front woman a nubile but musically inexperienced half-Burmese 14-year old ingénue discovered working at the local drycleaners. (Legend has it Annabella Lwin – real name: Myant Myant Aye - was overheard singing along to a Stevie Wonder song on the radio. In a fun pop footnote, Bow Wow Wow was initially meant to have two lead singers: punk Lolita Annabella plus a pre-Culture Club Boy George, then billed as Lieutenant Lush. He didn’t make the final cut). Eternal agent provocateur McLaren must have been doing something right if he’s still so reviled and divisive even in death (he died aged 64 in 2010). To me, the man was a truly Warholian figure, a conceptualist, and (like former partner Westwood) a genuine English eccentric. As a person, he was seemingly an amoral and disloyal prat, but he was also a twisted pop visionary. Anyone who dismisses his influence needs to read England’s Dreaming (Jon Savage’s definitive account of UK punk history, which gives a great warts-and- all appraisal of McLaren’s accomplishments).
And if McLaren was “guilty” of cynically contriving a band to score hits, Bow Wow Wow’s rowdy but adventurous left-field mixture of influences (thunderous “tribal" African Burundi drums, lacerating guitar that variously evokes surf, rockabilly, Ennio Morricone Spaghetti Western soundtracks and African/Latin sounds, all overlaid with an unpolished teenage punkette alternately ranting and cooing) was hardly a safe guaranteed commercial bet!
Another reason Bow Wow Wow might not have been taken as seriously as they merit becomes apparent when you compare them against their post-punk peers circa 1981. The stark likes of Siouxsie and The Banshees, Joy Division and Public Image Ltd were self-evidently serious, art-y and gloomy, and therefore instantly credible. With their riotously funny and sexy songs and Day Glo pop choruses, colourful modern-primitive Vivienne Westwood wardrobes, Mohawk haircuts and dodgy genesis, Bow Wow Wow were clearly an entirely different proposition.
Anyway, what does it matter when 1) Bow Wow Wow’s songs still sound strange, fresh, exotic and intoxicating a good thirty years later and 2) they were (and are) an absolutely ferocious live act onstage? I don’t know how many people under forty even know who Bow Wow Wow are, but for the most part they’re remembered with genuine affection, and Bow Wow Wow’s musical DNA is audible in the disparate likes of MIA, The Red Hot Chilli Peppers, No Doubt, the Ting Tings and Vampire Weekend. Even Madonna’s recent (less than rapturously received) single "Give Me All Your Luvin'", with its spelled-out and chanted chorus and minimalist twang-y surf guitar sound, would appear to owe Bow Wow Wow a debt as much as Toni Basil’s “Hey Mickey”.
Bow Wow Wow’s existence was always tumultuous. The original line up formed in 1981 by McLaren split acrimoniously by 1983. Annabella (now residing in Los Angeles) and bassist Leigh Gorman reconciled and revived varying line-ups from 1997 onwards to hit the punk revival circuit, but only performing in the US. I never thought I’d get to see them here in the UK, where they hadn’t toured since their early 1980s heyday. So when this London “comeback” gig was announced, I leapt at the chance to see them – a band that had thrilled my punk heart as a teenager growing up in rural Quebec. For this UK tour, the only original members are Annabella and Gorman: Lanky Mohawked guitar genius Matthew Ashman tragically died of diabetes-related causes aged only 35 in 1995, and drummer David Barbarossa apparently declined to participate.
They opened with the storming “Giant Sized Baby Thing”, which starts with Gorman singing/rapping lead, allowing Annabella a delayed “star entrance” and creating a sense of building anticipation. When she finally shimmies onstage, raving like a female Mark E Smith of The Fall, everyone gasps and starts frantically snapping her picture with their camera phones (me included). To me, she’s always looked like one of the golden-skinned Tahitian girls from a Paul Gauguin painting given a radical punk make-over. At 46, Annabella is still exquisite (and because she started so young is a good decade younger than most of her punk peers). Obviously she grew-out her signature Mohawk long ago (did any woman ever look more beautiful with a Mohawk?). Radiantly smiling, tiny and more voluptuous these days, she’s gone heavy on the silver Cleopatra/Nina Hagen eyeliner winged all the way up her temples. It looked dramatic and punk-y, but her face is so delicately beautiful she could have easily gone without it.
Sorry to keep gushing about one of my teenage crushes, but Annabella is an utterly charismatic front woman and vastly underrated as a singer. Her truly beguiling voice is sometimes bratty, sometimes alluring (within the same song!) and worthy of comparison to Deborah Harry or Poly Styrene. And like Madonna, Annabella’s voice remains girlish and kittenish in middle age. Annabella is also still a whirling dervish onstage, with a different dance for every song (when they lash into “Uomo Sex Al Apache”, for example, she does a sexy Indian squaw rain dance).
The current line-up is killer (special kudos to the drummer for nailing the trademark galvanising Bow Wow Wow drum sound). My friend Lisa and I mosh and pogo by the very front of the stage. (You’d have to be dead not to dance to the likes of “Aphrodisiac” and “Go Wild in the Country”). The music is too vital and frantic for it to feel like a golden oldies nostalgia concert. A true punk gig, Bow Wow Wow plays for a tight hour, no flab, and return for a two song encore. Every song is a catchy bubblegum punk tantrum: Bow Wow Wow may not have scored that many chart hits, but they have more great sly, funny, cheeky and provocative songs than people give them credit for. So many in fact they tore through the old favourites (the only song that felt a bit rote was “I Want Candy”: I bet they secretly hate it but feel obligated to include it!), but still left out “Chihuahua”, for me their most melancholic and haunting moment. Perhaps Annabella is sick of singing the line “I’m a horrid little idiot in a band called Bow Wow Wow ...”
The reviews of Bow Wow Wow's UK tour have been pretty glowing so far: Louder Than War website reviewed their Southampton concert. Couldn't agree more with Simon Price of The Independent's assessment "Lwin delivers one of the most life-affirming, smile-inducing performances I've seen all year." The Guardian's critic was perhaps a bit dismissive, but they also ran a fascinating interview with them.