28 July 2010

The Making of "Exile on Main St.": "Stones in Exile" (2010)

My ex-wife is a very opinionated lady. Back when we were together, she was never afraid to take a stand on some issue that was her view and often hers alone. And so it was when we got down to discussing Rolling Stones albums. Her view was that everything after Let it Bleed was a formula album. I never agreed. Exile on Main St. is by far my favorite Stones album, but until the release earlier this year of Stephen Kijak's documentary Stones in Exile, I had no retort other than "I don't agree!" Now, with this documentary, I do.

Stones in Exile, filled with recent interviews, rare photographs and excerpts from the notorious, unreleased documentary of the Stones' 1972 tour, lays to rest any notion that there was anything formulaic about the recording of Exile on Main St. The controlled chaos of the core recording sessions at Keith's villa NellcĂ´te in the the south of France is well documented here. Marathon 12 hour jam sessions extending over months with songs evolving as the sessions progressed is no recipe for "formula album". Quoted in the October 1997 issue of Guitar magazine, Jagger put it this way:
Just winging it. Staying up all night ... It was this communal thing where you don't know whether you're recording or living or having dinner; you don't when you're going to play, when you're gonna sing -- very difficult. Too many hangers-on. I went with the flow and the album got made. These things have a certain energy, and there's a certain flow to it, and it got impossible. Everyone was so out of it.
Jagger may not have been having much fun, but the result is an unparalleled rock/blues/country/soul document. So check out Stones in Exile and get a taste of how Exile on Main St. got made. It might even convince my ex-wife that this was no formula album.

21 July 2010

A Landmark in TV Crime Drama: HBO's "The Wire" (Season One)

I've discussed music, film and books here, but never television. Though I watch my share, this blog is simply not about TV. But HBO's The Wire is not television as we know it. Just Season One alone, of the 5 season series, with it's long story arcs and "visual novel" style creates a 13 hour film that reinvents the television crime series.

Former Baltimore crime reporter David Simon created, produced, and wrote much of the series. It vividly portrays the Baltimore City police department and the drug gangsters ruling the city's high and low rise housing projects in the 1980s. We also see the people in the middle, the pawns caught in "the game" as these rival institutions work to control the ghetto streets of a decayed urban world.

Though I lived in Baltimore in the 80s, The Wire showed me worlds the outsider never sees: the inner workings of both the police and the gangs. One of the many great aspects of the show is its portrayal of the dysfunctional nature of these institutions. The institution I worked in, the state attorney general's office, was dysfunctional in many of the same ways. The show is giving me a chance to work through many of the frustrations I had trying to make my little piece of the system work better. It's good to know I wasn't the only one dealing with this frustration.

The Wire demands of the viewer a commitment of time, concentration and emotional involvement, but that commitment is well rewarded. Season 1 is 13 hours of riveting television that, at the end of episode 10 yesterday, had me crying.

This is not feel good drama, but rather a hard look at real life in a modern American city. There's a lot to learn here, not the least of which is just how good television can be. In terms of realistic crime drama and innovative television, The Wire ranks with the best there is.

14 July 2010

"Memo from Turner"

This clip from the 1970 film Performance foreshadows the music video format to come years later. And the music here is raw rock 'n' roll at its finest.

In the clip Mick Jagger acts out the second of the two dramatic personae of his film character Turner. Earlier in the film he establishes Turner as a petulant, reclusive but seemingly harmless rock star. Here we see Turner shifting identities, now a rock-star-as-psychedelic-gangster personifying corruption and decadence.

The song would have disappeared into the void of Stones-related cult material but for Martin Scorsese placing a slice of Memo from Turner right in the heart of a cocaine binge sequence in his acclaimed film Goodfellas (1990). While very few people will ever see Performance, Scorsese brings Ry Cooder's searing slide guitar work on Memo to a wider audience. My hat's off to Mick, Ry, and Marty.

(A version of Memo from Turner with better audio quality is near the top of the red jukebox at left.)

07 July 2010

Pretenders Back on Track, "Night in My Veins"

In 1994, with drummer Martin Chambers back in the fold, The Pretenders' Last of the Independents album really takes me back to what made the band great in the first place -- Chrissie Hynde all guts and glory rockin' right up in your face. Here's a taste, my favorite single from the album, Night in My Veins.