Author Archives: mrjohnnyandrews

Rocks In The Attic #703: Split Enz – ‘True Colours’ (1980)

RITA#703Every country has their local heroes, the ones who are winners back home but never even compete overseas. A third of the WTF With Marc Maron podcast is frequented by American comedians nobody has heard of outside the United States. There are bands in London that don’t translate well outside the capital, let alone across its country’s borders.

It’s the Wakanda Curse. Some artists just struggle to get noticed through the cultural cloaking device that prevents other countries from taking them seriously. Black Panther could have been kicking arse for decades, but nobody noticed. His solo material just wasn’t up to snuff.

New Zealand has its fair share of parochial examples. There are comedians, such as the 7 Days crew, who don’t dare gig internationally. Better to roll out the same tired jokes on TV, week in, week out, than be faced with the fact that, compared to international comics, they’re just not very good. They must really shit themselves when the International Comedy Festival hits the country. But hang on, half of the ‘international’ comedians that come over here are just as unwanted in their native countries, like a really shit student-exchange programme where your homestay parents don’t understand any of your cultural references.

And New Zealand music? The most successful band on a global stage seems to be Crowded House, and even they seem to have been appropriated by the Australians. First pavlova, then our middle-of-the-road rock bands!

The problem is that most Kiwis don’t ever leave our shores, so they don’t know any different. They probably think Dave Dobbyn is a mainstay of British and American singles charts. The Nature’s Best collection is a great retrospective of New Zealand anthems, but nobody’s singing these songs past our passport control point.

And shame on you if you do succeed internationally. Lorde? Aldous Harding? How dare you play overseas festivals! How dare you play Later With Jools Holland. This isn’t good old fashioned Kiwi music. It doesn’t sound anything like that one song by Dragon, or Hello Sailor’s horrific cod-reggae song.

Split Enz are a great band though, and deserve way more worldwide recognition than they got. This, their fifth studio album, is widely regarded as their first commercial success. File next to the Police, Blondie and Talking Heads.

Hit: I Got You

Hidden Gem: The Choral Sea

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Rocks In The Attic #702: Alexandre Desplat – ‘Isle Of Dogs (O.S.T.)’ (2018)

RITA#702Okay, I’m calling it: Wes Anderson has run out of ideas.

There was a time when I’d be over the moon about a new Wes Anderson film. For a long time, he was my favourite director. David Fincher films would show me the scary side of humanity, but Wes Anderson films would hold my hand and reassure me that it’s going to be alright.

But then the first damp squib emerged with 2007’s The Darjeeling Limited, a film lacking originality beyond its armchair tourism setting. Back in 1974, John Cleese opted out of the fourth and final series of Monty Python’s Flying Circus out of a fear of repeating himself. In the same stale frame of mind, Anderson turned to a new medium to spark his creativity.

2009’s Fantastic Mr. Fox is the last great Wes Anderson film, and strangely so. It might be the first time he’s adapted the work of others – in this case, Roald Dahl’s children’s book – but the challenge of filming it with stop-motion puppets reinvigorated Anderson. After two decades of computer animation ruling children’s cinema, it was great to see something so home-made, yet so quintessentially from the whimsical mind of Anderson.

What followed were two live-action films that played like parodies of Wes Anderson films: 2012’s Moonrise Kingdom and 2014’s The Grand Budapest Hotel. They looked great, they were complimented by wonderful ensemble casts, but the spark just wasn’t there. It was a long, long way from something like Rushmore, The Royal Tennenbaums or The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou.

So it was with great trepidation that I approached Isle Of Dogs. As with all of his films, it looks nice, but it’s nothing more than a rehash of everything we’ve seen before.

The music, as always, is wonderful, and while I prefer the more idiosyncratic soundtrack collaborations with Devo’s Mark Mothersbaugh earlier in Anderson’s career, these later ones scored by Aexandre Desplat come a close second. This particular soundtrack is worthwhile if only for introducing me to I Won’t Hurt You by The West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band, a beautiful latter day Kinks song in everything but name.

I don’t look forward to Wes Anderson films anymore. In fact, I dread to think what Steely Dan think of his films now?

Hit: Midnight Sleighride  – The Sauter-Finegan Orchestra

Hidden Gem: I Won’t Hurt You – The West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band

Rocks In The Attic #701: Genesis – ‘Selling England By The Pound’ (1973)

RITA#701After a World Cup break with far too many early mornings and far too much bacon and eggs, it’s time to get back to my record collection. Four years after the disappointment of Brazil, where England failed to win a game in the group stages, surely we were to expect more of the same in Russia. Right?

Things started off strangely with an opening game seeing Russia wallop an unsuspecting Saudi Arabia 5-0. Was this the home advantage coming into play, or just a simple case of the Saudis being served radioactive falafel in their hotel the night before? The scoreline betrayed the alarming levels of mediocrity on display, but at least President Putin looked satisfied. I watched through tired eyes; the game having kicked off at 3am NZ-time.

RITA#701cThe opening weekend saw the first big game of the tournament – Portugal versus Spain – at a slightly more acceptable 6am. As much as I love to hate Ronaldo and his supersized ego, his hat-trick, and Spain’s answers from Costa and Nacho, made for a bloody entertaining 3-3 draw.

On the Monday morning, I called into the Fox Sports Bar on my way into work. A new job in the city has put me much closer to options like this, and so the idea of watching Brazil play Switzerland, over a cooked breakfast just sounded great. A 6am kick-off meant catching the first train into the city – filled with construction workers in hard-hats and hi-viz – but it was worth the early start.

I ended up sat in an empty bar, watching that Brazil game, but the coffee and bacon and eggs made it worthwhile. I expected a similar turnout the following morning for the England vs. Tunisia game, but when I arrived ten minutes before kick-off, it was already packed out. Harry Kane’s injury time header gave us the first World Cup Finals win in eight years – talk about scraping through.

Tunisia v England: Group G - 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia
As soon as the referee blew his whistle, the bar played Three Lions at maximum volume to a pub full of relieved England fans. A bit early, I thought, to be playing that. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves…

Over the next couple of weeks, my body clock took a hammering as I woke at 4:30am to get into the city to watch the 6am game each morning at the Fox. I slowly made my way through their breakfast menu, and made new friends. I sniggered with a Brazil fan as we watched Argentina get murdered 3-0 by Croatia. Schadenfreude should have been invented to describe the pleasure of watching Argentinians, with tears in their eyes, sat at the next table. They still qualified out of the group stage though, the bastards.

RITA#701eA gave up on the Fox when they got a liquor license to serve alcohol at the 6am games. Watching Uruguay eliminate Portugal in the round of 16 was slightly dampened by a trio of morons who were only there to continue their Saturday night drinking.

Quarter-final weekend clashed with my 40th birthday, and I spent the Friday night consuming pitchers of cider with friends from work. I then stayed up all night watching the first two quarter-finals. It was hard work but I pushed through the hangover, feeling like a pig had shat in my brain.

As a result, the next night I ended up sleeping through three alarms to wake me up for the England vs. Sweden quarter-final. Back home, the English celebrated by showering themselves with beer at outdoor screenings, and in a new form of middle-aged vandalism, threw some cushions around in a branch of Ikea.

The semi-final performance against Croatia showed an England team for what they were – bloody lucky to have progressed so far in the first place.

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The final between France and Croatia – another great game, albeit slightly hampered by a debatable VAR decision – was notable for something that happened after the final whistle. As the French team queued to receive their winner’s medals from Putin, the French President Emmanuel Macron and the Croatian President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović, a heavy rainstorm came down. With an alarming lack of hospitability, Putin took the first umbrella for himself, leaving Macron and Grabar-Kitarović – a lady! – to get drenched.

RITA#701aI include a photo of Grabar-Kitarović purely for reference. I’ve never been so interested in Croatian politics as I am right now.

What has all of this got to do with Genesis’ Selling England By The Pound, you might ask? Is it a half-hearted reference to Brexit? Your guess is as good as mine, but looking at the Croatian President, I’m pretty sure you don’t get many of those for a pound.

Still, Harry Kane’s six goals won him the Golden Boot (yes, they were all tap-ins, and yes, they were mostly against Tunisia and Panama – but four of Eusebio’s 1966 Golden Boot goals were against bloody North Korea!).

Football’s still coming home. It might just take another four years. Or eight. Or twelve. Or sixteen. Or twenty…

Hit: I Know What I Like (In Your Wardrobe)

Hidden Gem: Firth Of Fifth

Rocks In The Attic #700: ZZ Top – ‘Tres Homres’ (1973)

RITA#700Post number 700. I hope my daughters will read this blog in the future to research my taste in music after I’m dead, but they’re more likely to use it to figure out how much my record collection is worth.

If you’re reading this, girls, here’s a history lesson. The year is 2018, and the world is changing. A businessman, rather than a politician, is in the White House, the new Doctor Who is a lady, and there’s talk of the next James Bond not being a privileged white dude.

RITA#700aAnd most surprising of all, one of the late twentieth century’s most popular pub-facts is no more: drummer Frank Beard is no longer the only member of ZZ Top without a beard.

Studio album number three finds the Texan trio hitting their stride and crossing over into the mainstream. After a low-key, blues-driven debut and a rockier, more commercial follow-up, they really find the perfect mix of grit and soul on Tres Hombres. Its Top Ten success would start to turn to the band into a stadium act in their native country, effectively laying the foundation for their seven-year Worldwide Texas Tour in support of Fandango! and Tejas.

Why do I love this record so much? Because after your Sgt. Peppers, and your Dark Side Of The Moons, and all of the other rock albums that everybody and their cat has heard – Nevermind, Hotel California, Led Zeppelin IV, Back In Black, etc – you’re left with a bunch of great records that are invisible to the casual listener, and this is the jewel of that crown. A truly hidden gem (outside of the United States). Just listen to the stuttering opening groove of Master Of Sparks and try and forget it; that particular earworm has been in my brain for the past twenty years.

Hit: La Grange

Hidden Gem: Master Of Sparks

Rocks In The Attic #699: Thomas Newman – ‘The Shawshank Redemption (O.S.T.)’ (1994)

RITA#699“You looking for something, mate?”

“Er, yeah, can you sort me out with season 5 of House Of Cards?”

“Sure, boss, you want some season 9 of Curb Your Enthusiasm, with that? I’ve just got it from my man at the docks – it’s pretty good. Pretty, pretty, good.”

*

This is a fairly accurate representation of what I’ve had to do to watch quality television whilst living in the cultural backwater of New Zealand in the last ten years. Not only is the country infatuated with one of the dullest sports ever invented, the populace also seems to be content with some of the most mediocre television created. I expect Kazakhstani TV to be more exciting than it is here.

From the endless reality shows and soap operas, to the fact that TVNZ once unwittingly transmitted Thunderball at prime-time on a Saturday night just seven days after it transmitted its 1983 remake, Never Say Never Again­, I imagine the programming schedules are drawn up by work-experience kids, or –worse still – programmers who have never left these shores and aren’t aware of how good other countries can be.

We joined the rest of the planet a few weeks ago, and finally got Netflix. After ten years in the wilderness, I’ve finally returned to the act of channel-surfing (although in a slightly different way to broadcast television).

RITA#699bI’ve been waiting months to see the new Psycho documentary 78/52 – the title referring to the number of camera set-ups and edits in Hitchcock’s infamous shower scene. As I’m pretty sure the documentary is still doing the rounds on the festival circuit, I thought I’d have to contact my dealer hanging out behind the local library. Forget it, it’s on Netflix!

Looking to score the stand-up special, Steve Martin and Martin Short: An Evening You Will Forget for the Rest of Your Life? Forget it, it’s on Netflix!

Looking forward to the second season of GLOW? Forget it, it’s on Netflix!

My dealer’s going to go out of business, and might have to resort to supplying the local kindergarten kids with pirated episodes of Peppa Pig.

One of the unexpected advantages of Netflix has been the joy of stumbling upon something unexpected. I got such a great grounding in film from watching films and documentaries in the middle of the night on the BBC or Channel 4, from curated retrospectives of particular directors, to seminal cult films and forgotten classics. I let the programmers shape my tastes.

A recent Netflix find was one of my favourites to watch in the early hours as a teenager – Don Siegel’s Escape From Alcatraz, his fifth and final collaboration with Clint Eastwood, from 1979.

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It’s still a great film, from Eastwood’s underplayed, optimistic hero, to Patrick MacGoohan’s calculating prison warden, and having not seen it for around twenty-five years, I really enjoyed it.

It is, however, not a patch on The Shawshank Redemption. Before the genre-bending, narrative revolution of 1990’s cinema, prison films were almost a lost art, a masculine relic of bygone times. Escape From Alcatraz, Papillon, and Midnight Express were the genre’s three high watermarks. What could a prison film do that we haven’t seen before?

Enter Frank Darabont. Originally a horror screenwriter (The Fly II, The Blob, A Nightmare On Elm Street III: Dream Warriors), his 1983 short film adaptation of Stephen King’s The Woman In The Room, led to an ongoing and successful collaboration with the writer. After giving us the greatest prison film of the decade, he followed it up with The Green Mile, the second-best of the genre.

Originally a short story titled Rita Hayworth & Shawshank Redemption from King’s 1982 Different Seasons collection – which also spawned 1986’s Stand By Me and 1998’s Apt Pupil – the premise is simple: an innocent man gets imprisoned for his wife’s murder, and escapes from the prison against all odds.

In fact, it’s a little too simple, isn’t it? But when you consider that this was made in a post Die Hard world, the film’s lack of action is its greatest gamble. If 1996’s The Rock was the prison film made for hopped-up ’90s teen audiences; Shawshank was directed at their nostalgia-hungry parents.

From Morgan Freeman’s career-defining voice-over, to Tim Robbins’ downbeat protagonist, and an ensemble cast of future Darabont regulars, it’s a joy to watch, easily earning its seven Oscar nominations. Ultimately the film went home from the Academy Awards empty-handed, losing against Forrest Gump for its three big nominations – Best Picture, Best Actor and Best Adapted Screenplay.

The glue that holds Shawshank together is its ethereal score by Thomas Newman, who by this time was well on his way to his 1999 career peak with Sam Mendes’ American Beauty. Newman’s score fits the 1940s/1950s setting effortlessly, and is enhanced by period songs from the (always fantastic) Ink Spots and Hank Williams.

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A hidden (behind a poster) gem of my collection, this double LP set is on ‘suds on the roof’ yellow vinyl, and includes a replica of Andy’s ‘blank’ postcard to Red.

Hit: Shawshank Prison (Stoic Theme)

Hidden Gem: Elmo Blatch

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Rocks In The Attic #698: Simon & Garfunkel – ‘Simon & Garfunkel’s Greatest Hits’ (1972)

RITA#698Put something happy on next, my kids said. I can’t blame them. Making them listen to Jerry Goldmsith’s Alien score first thing on a sunny Saturday morning doesn’t exactly scream golden childhood memory.

Who doesn’t like Simon & Garfunkel? Surely it’s impossible to like their brand of impossibly cheerful folk-pop. They should pipe this album into the waiting rooms of psychiatrists and mental institutions. I predict the world suicide rate would drop off a cliff overnight.

RITA#698aSpeaking of Simon & Garfunkel, I’ve finally got around to finishing the excellent BBC comedy Detectorists, written and directed by Mackenzie Crook. Two of my favourite characters are the antagonists played by the always excellent Simon Farnaby and the wonderfully underplayed Paul Casar. The recurring joke that the pair look like a poor man’s Simon & Garfunkel is one of my favourite things in the show, and it’s a shame – although completely understandable – that Crook won’t be bringing it back for a fourth series.

Hit: Mrs. Robinson

Hidden Gem: America

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Rocks In The Attic #697: Jerry Goldsmith – ‘Alien (O.S.T.)’ (1979)

RITA#697Is there a more immersive experience than a video game? Over the last couple of weekends I’ve been playing Alien: Isolation on the PS4, and generally shitting myself with fear as a result.

Set fifteen years after the events in the 1979 film – itself based in 2122 – Alien: Isolation follows Ellen Ripley’s daughter as she visits a spaceship to find out what happened to her mother. The game is designed to look like the 1979 film, with the events unfolding on the same class of mining ship as the Nostromo.

I started off playing the game in the middle of the night, wearing my gaming headphones, but this proved too scary – wandering around a dark spaceship full of blinking lights and music akin to Jerry Goldmsith’s original score. Subsequent plays have been made without headphones, and with my trusty Great Dane, Abbey, by my side.

If there’s one thing I love the most about the 1979 film, it’s the production design by concept artists Ron Cobb and Chris Foss. The spaceship looks so grungy and atmospheric, and so far removed from the clean aesthetic of the Star Trek universe. H.R. Giger’s design of the alien itself is one thing, but the ship almost feels like another living and breathing character.

Duncan Jones’ Moon got close to a similar look, and other sci-fi films have tread a similar path since, but Alien feels like the first mainstream film to do this. Comparisons can be drawn with the production design of John Carpenter’s 1974 Dark Star – itself starring future Alien creator/writer Dan O’Bannon.

RITA#697aJerry Goldsmith’s score, presented here on acid-blood green vinyl, courtesy of Mondo Records, is a wonderfully creepy soundtrack. Although the score ends up sounding more like a traditional horror soundtrack towards the end – tense strings and booming brass, complimented by high-register plucked violins – it starts off a different beast altogether. Main Title, Hyper Sleep and the rest of the music throughout the first act just sounds otherworldly. Not particularly scary, just lonely and isolated; grim and despondent.

I have a very clear memory of being faced with my first images from the Alien film. I couldn’t have been older than a toddler, and I remember bring walked into a living room to say goodnight to people, and the film was playing on the television. For whatever reason, the film wasn’t turned off, probably because it looked like quite a benign, harmless scene – and I was probably only in the room for less than a minute. But I distinctly remember looking at the screen as the face-hugger emerged from the egg and launched itself at John Hurt’s face. Obviously at that age – three or four – I didn’t know what it was. For some reason I thought it was rope – perhaps the uncoiling of the face-hugger looked like a length of rope – and I presume the film was swiftly turned off and I was rushed to bed.

Hit: Main Title

Hidden Gem: Hyper Sleep