05 February 2013

Victors and history

Reg Presley1. You make my heart sing

Farewell, then, Reg Presley, lead singer of the Troggs, a group memorable for ‘Wild Thing’ one of the great dumb songs in rock’n’roll history – a well-stocked subset – and also participant in the scatological bootleg classic, The Troggs Tapes. In this, the eloquent, lubricated group take time out in the studio to discuss how to make a hit record: “Just add some f***in’ fairy dust.”

We can also thank the Troggs for Chris Knox’s mid-80s stint as a music critic. In Rip It Up he covered a late Troggs gig at the Gluepot, circa 1984-85, and described seeing Presley, his hard-working hero – aged a shocking 43, and still rocking – aprés gig in the backstage room, “fat and sweaty in his Scants”. That unforgettable image led to further work.

Update: In the comments, below, Joe W has written with what I’m sure is a more accurate memory of that Knox line. And I’ve changed the first link to go to the Independent’s obit of Presley, which shows how much more there was to him than ‘Wild Thing’. That song was written, of course, by Chip Taylor – Angelina Jolie’s uncle. Another song provided a late-career payday for Presley. I love it when that happens to songwriters.

2. Ascension Day

Angel Eve “guiding Holmes through”

He’ll be with Eve now” opens an especially memorable story in the vast coverage of the recent death of broadcaster Paul Holmes. And in this morning’s Herald, headlined “Holmes gets haka as body heads to Auckland”, we are told that the funeral is a moveable feast:

The body of Sir Paul Holmes left his Hawkes Bay home this morning in a moving ceremony that included an emotional haka. A convoy of about seven cars is taking his body to Auckland for his funeral.

3. Academic rigour

NixonIn the February 4 New Yorker, Thomas Mallon writes an essay on Richard Nixon, and his relationship with his colleagues, competitors and the media. It concentrates especially on the 1952 “Checkers” speech, in which Nixon denied inappropriate funding or gifts – apart from a coat for his wife, and the family dog, neither of which he was giving up. Mallon reviews a recent book about the speech, by Kevin Mattson: Just Plain Dick: Richard Nixon’s Checkers Speech and the ‘Rocking, Socking’ Election of 1952 (Bloomsbury).

In this new work, Professor Mattson seems to believe that he’s again playing fair, summarizing Nixon’s response to the charges as a “bizarre mix of authenticity and performance art,” but the author’s thumb is never long off the side of the scale on which he piles up evidence of Nixon’s political and personal awfulness.

… Mattson makes clear from the first page of Just Plain Dick that he would really rather be writing a novel. “If the brain waves of Richard Nixon,” he begins, “had been read between September 18 and 22, 1952, they might have gone like this.” What follows is a four-page italicized and wholly implausible internal monologue in which Nixon sounds like a cross between Andy Hardy and Bela Lugosi. … When Mattson does consent to work within the normal confines of nonfiction, he operates like an academic with dreams of a mass audience, or, at least, the hope of receiving teaching evaluations that will commend him as an especially with-it prof.

4. Tone Deaf

In Thesis Eleven, May 2007, Australian music writer Clinton Walker – who wrote Buried Country, an excellent history of Aboriginal country music – expressed his problem with academics writing about popular music.

When the academy finally discovered that popular music and culture might be a useful measure of history and society, it was like a dam wall breaking. The problem was that fashionable obscurantist deconstruction became the orthodoxy. That’s why Australian music studies has given us too much information on current local hip-hop, say, because it ticks the correct boxes – post-modernism, globalism, multi-culturalism – at the expense of fast disappearing histories.

As a music professor friend of mine said of this species, “I looked in at one of their conferences, and it was like they weren’t talking about – or had even listened to – music at all.”


Joe W said...

My best recollection of Chris Knox on Presley - "terrible scants, lashings of Brut, but you wouldn't want to know about that."

Chris Bourke said...

Thanks Joe, that sounds a lot more accurate. Especially the mention of Brut. My Rip It Up archive is inaccessible at the moment.