This week is all about repetit… oh wait, that was last week on /333/Repetition, sorry. In a change from the originally planned programming (I will post the Tuesday Ten about Spies and Surveillance – that I’ve now pushed back four times – in the coming weeks, I promise), to link in with other posts and media that will appear from me this week, this week is about the camera.
Despite what Bucks Fizz told us, a camera bloody well can lie, as can the artist behind the camera. They can tell you a story that you want to see, or one you don’t. It can make someone look like something they are not, or it can make them look incredible. It can reveal parts of your life you otherwise want hidden. Or, you could just hate the camera and hate any picture of yourself.
Among the early submissions for this week, one female friend noted that much of this week’s songs would be “from the point of view of the male gaze”, and I’ll be honest – she’s not wrong. Indeed the more I think about it, the number of female voices – or indeed artists – in the long-list could be counted on one hand.
What’s odd is that I know I good number of female photographers, and a good number of female musicians, too. But, they choose not to sing about it, and instead have chosen other angles on the subject (and with good reason, as you’ll see below).
There were, by the way, 90 different songs suggested this week, with just three previously used. A number of songs that had a number of people all backing them were omitted this week, too, mainly because I found more appropriate songs for what I wanted to talk about, but also because a) I’ve featured The Cure a lot of late (in fact, on /325/40 Years of The Cure – Their Influence in Covers just three months ago, an entire post about them) and b) I really, really can’t stand Baby Bird. Sorry!
I’ve spent many years taking photographs (most of which are over on Flickr, and those shown here are from that collection), and a great deal longer listening and writing about music. Here’s where some of it crosses over, away from my periodic gig reviews.
A quick explanation for new readers (hi there!): my Tuesday Ten series has been running since March 2007, and each month features at least ten new songs you should hear – and in between those monthly posts, I feature songs on a variety of subjects, with some of the songs featured coming from suggestion threads on Facebook.
Feel free to get involved with these – the more the merrier, and the breadth of suggestions that I get continues to astound. Otherwise, as usual, if you’ve got something you want me to hear, something I should be writing about, or even a gig I should be attending, e-mail me, or drop me a line on Facebook (details below).
/Gentlemen Take Polaroids
/Gentlemen Take Polaroids
The other interesting thing about this week is the sheer number of songs that were suggested from the early-to-mid eighties. But then, I guess, it was the period when consumer cameras really took off, when the technology truly became affordable and accessible to all – although it was long popular before that, as any family photo album will tell you. One particular seventies/eighties icon has never really gone away, either, indeed becoming the shorthand name for instant cameras – Polaroid.
It’s even had a renaissance since among a new generation – shake it like a Polaroid picture has different connotations now, that’s for sure. Oddly, though, I don’t recall ever using one – or indeed having any photos of me taken in that format. To be fair, Japan put the name against their icy-cool, funk-bass heavy synth-pop (and it still sounds amazing, now, that’s for sure), but I’m not really sure that other than the titular assertion, that this song really has anything to do with Polaroids.
/There Goes Rhymin’ Simon
Japan weren’t the only act of the time to not far off advertise a particular brand of camera, mind, and Paul Simon went way further. Here he not only mentions the legendary camera film brand (which only, finally, ceased production in the last decade), but also Nikon cameras too! In fact the chorus pretty much comes across as an advert for how great the colour quality of the film was, and I’m sure Kodak were thrilled with the free advertising! Personally, mind, I’m a long-time (fifteen years, now) Canon user and have no plans to change from my current, trusty 7D.
/Local Boy In The Photograph
/Word Gets Around
I’ve mentioned before the elegance of the details within the stories told on the Stereophonics’ debut album, where, like a great many bands before and since, they stuck to what they knew, and that was life in the small towns where they came from. This song, in fact, was the very first single by the band, and tells the matter-of-fact tale of the suicide of a young boy Kelly Jones once knew, the photograph here being the powerful, last reminder of a life lost as the teenage boy they knew looked out at them from the front of a local newspaper. There are no answers, only questions, as they are sadly always are when dealing with suicide. Could we have been better friends? Could we have done more? In all cases – and sadly I’ve lost a few friends that way over the years – I’ve never been able to reconcile my thoughts on those fronts, and I guess I never will.
Frank Spinath’s journey through the human mind and psyche in song has been unafraid of going into some extraordinarily dark corners over the years, but he perhaps never again went as dark and as unsettling as in this track. As the friend who submitted this noted, “the ‘male gaze’ [here] is motivation for much worse things, albeit more implied than directly described“, and that’s not the half of it. This is the murky world of men doing unspeakable things and putting them on camera, and the impassive view of the narrator is perhaps made all the more pathetic by the small, childlike details that are included. Spinath is of course in the field of psychology himself, and I can’t imagine that he has avoided coming across some disturbing things in his time, some of which – like this – filter into his songs.
/20 Jazz Funk Greats
Amid a murky, ugly catalogue of songs, this track stands head and shoulders above the filth as one of the industrial pioneers’ greatest and most uncomfortable songs and rather makes Digital sound like the imagined situation that it is. Amid the simple synth squelches, there are samples of deeply uncomfortable female voices, that are in anything but ecstasy, and I have to wonder whether they were taken from elsewhere or recorded in-house (having read Art. Sex. Music, it is perhaps better we don’t know), but the main, er, thrust of the song is a pornographer – sorry, photographer – trying to coerce his model into doing “a little more”.
In that exceptional recent memoir, Cosey is candid about her sex work, both as a way to pay the bills and also as a way to see into another world, one where she undoubtedly emerged a stronger person from it, and I can’t help that the core of the song comes directly from her experiences, as the underground sex industry of the time, at least from her descriptions, seems to have been a deeply distressing place for many.
/Smile (Pictures or It Didn’t Happen)
/Theatre Is Evil
Hardly the first – or indeed the last – song to address the concerns over social media and oversharing, it is also interesting that the first three songs that come to mind on this subject were all written by women (EMA’s Neuromancer and St. Vincent’s equally glorious Digital Witness are the other two, fact fans), as people begin to address the pressure and difficulty women in particular face on these mediums. “Pictures or it didn’t happen” is something I see too often from men to women online, even when it is an outrageously inappropriate thing to say (and yes, I’ve called people out for it). Men: listen hard. You can’t just shrug off comments like this as “I was just joking”. Don’t fucking say it in the first place, and think about it.
/This Is Not A Photograph
/Signals, Calls and Marches
The louder I listen to MoB, the more their chaotic sound – and sonic reputation – makes sense. The tape loops trace like lasers through the mix, and everything feels so damned forceful, particularly in their staggering earlier material where they nailed their style entirely (and indeed it has been argued that this one six song collection paved the way for alternative rock as a distinct genre). This song is one of those, with a simple, scorching refrain and a distinct whiff of The Treachery of Images as they question your perception. Perhaps, indeed, they were questioning the listener’s own perception of Mission of Burma, as if you couldn’t just listen for a moment and turn off. You had to stick with it, endure it as they did (and at the reputed volumes they played at, you really did endure it).
/The Man Machine
A song so perfect in every conceivable way that even the endlessly-tinkering, perfectionist Kraftwerk have left it alone, while the songs around it have over the years got rearranged, reworked and upgraded. Which is rather amusing when you consider the subject of the song, the unattainable, breathtaking beauty of the model he sees at an event of some sort, posing gladly for the camera that makes her famous. And the more I think about it, perhaps the most obvious confirmation that Kraftwerk were human after all – in that they had desires and feelings, and could write a song so achingly alive – fits thematically and perfectly on The Man Machine. After all, humans are organic machines of one sort, and what more an impressive example of the (hu)man machine than that of the supermodel?
/The Fame Monster
Fellini’s legendary, joyous film La Dolce Vita was the origin for the term paparazzi, an ironic twist I guess when you think of the gutter-reputation that most of the photographers that get the term now have. The independent gossip-hunter who will provide any old snap of someone remotely famous, generally invading their privacy while doing so, and their need is only fed all the more by those who buy the “gossip” mags or the tabloid press. I genuinely don’t understand why we need to know the minutae of the lives of those in the public eye. Sometimes – on rather rare occasions – there is a need to know. But in most cases, as Lady Gaga notes on her early single, this is a worthless, needless endeavour.
/Take A Picture
/Title of Record
I’m going to be honest – this is far from my favourite Filter song, but what it made me think here made it immediately relevant. Apparently about Richard Patrick thinking back to a drunken flight where he can’t remember the details (hence the chorus refrain of “Could you take my picture/’Cuz I won’t remember“), to my own mind it makes me think about the fleeting nature of memories. There are no pictures of me, to my knowledge, between the age of about sixteen and twenty-one. That’s my sixth-form and university life entirely absent from computer- or internet-assisted memories, and as I approach my fortieth birthday in (as I write this) just less than two months time, most of the detailed memories of that time have, or are beginning to fade from view.
I got into photography around 2003, and immediately took to it. I rather fell into being one of the Wendyhouse semi-official photographers – and made a whole lot of friends by doing so – for about half a decade, and I photographed at other like-minded clubs in the north until I moved away, otherwise documenting parties, gigs and various other events, and it has provided tangible memories that my friends and I will likely struggle to forget (even if, in some cases, we’d rather we did!).
I maybe don’t take as many photos as I used to, but perhaps I’m a little keener on capturing specific moments, not just wanting to catch every single moment anymore. And I now have multiple ways of doing so, now my phone camera is more than capable of everyday work, and I save my DSLR for when it is really needed.
That said, don’t expect me to hang up my camera anytime soon.