Writing stuff down has obviously not been a prime concern of mine for some time now. Living the life is always more important than chronicling it. And of course it´s not like someone has actually been missing something. While going through what I´ve written on these pages before, it seems like all I care about is pop music and American whiskey. While not being true, it´s perhaps not that off the mark. So, let´s get going with another foray into the world of distillation and cooperage.
First Lou Reed died in 2013, followed by David Bowie and Prince in 2016. Cultural giants with unsurpassed careers leaving a legacy previously unheard of. Bowie was an especially hard blow considering the extremely high quality of his latest output, equalling some of the best music from his over 50 year dominance of pop. The world of music will never be the same again.
Here in Sweden 2016 saw the demise of two personal heroes. First Olle Ljungström, who on a number of more or less classical albums presented a series of often depraved slices of life. Witty, quirky, intelligent and always with a wry sense of humour. Although his death had been heralded for some time, after years of hard living and diabetes, it still came as a sad surprise. The smart voices are so few and the white noise so loud.
Despite even worse health problems for many years, the death of Freddie Wadling on the 2nd of June 2016 was even more shocking. While not well-known outside Sweden, Freddie has been around forever and has had a career unlike any other Swedish musician. Beginning his tour de force in punk group “Liket Lever” with enduring classic “Levande begravd”, Freddie entered the Swedish music scene out of left field with a fully formed voice completely his own.
Seminal band Cortex delivered an updated version of Wadling´s musical concerns with the debut album “Spinal Injuries”. While largely ignored at the time of release, it has since become a sleeper classic in the Swedish post-punk annals. Great songs and unique performances. Queasy words and well-chosen options of delivery. Lyrically intense and musically diverse, this is a debut album that has kept remarkably well through the years, as well as premiering what is probably their best known song.
Several incarnations of Cortex followed, as well as stints in other bands, before Freddie took the next step in his career forming the fabulous “Blue for Two”, together with producer and keyboard player Henryk Lipp. Probably the best group of the Swedish mid-80´s with a totally unique sound. An intense, mutated and moody electronic rock firmly anchored in the bluesy voice of Freddie Wadling, carried along by the razor sharp synth arrangements by Lipp. Their first two albums, “Blue for Two” (1986) and “Songs from a pale and bitter moon” (1988), are still amongst my all time favourites. I have strong memories of seeing them live during this period and being absolutely blown away by the force of their performance.
From the 90´s and onward, Freddie´s career took yet a new direction, when he launched himself as a solo artist, releasing several celebrated albums of both Swedish standards and songs specially written for him by an array of contemporary Swedish artist. Coming from the punk underground and known for his lurid interests and hard living, the appeal that his later albums has had to a broader audience must have come as something of a surprise. By then severe health problems (including a liver transplant) had changed Freddie from young energetic rocker to an aged representation of frailty and vulnerability. Typically dragging himself across the stage to the waiting chair, supported by his signature wooden cane. But once seated, with a stack of song lyrics on his lap, he could still unleash that wonderful voice. No one like him will ever be seen or heard again.
Again a long period gone by without any activity. Real life will always trump the virtual one and at least temporary silence the keyboard. However, the urge to express myself in writing has returned and will hopefully prevail against my lazy tendencies. While not ever intended for a large audience, I´m still surprised by visits by people from many corners of the world, in spite of no new posts in such a long time.
I´ve never been a sports fan, and definitely not ever before watched an entire game of football (yes, that´s what it´s called, soccer is something only Americans say). While perhaps the most popular athletic activity in the world, I´ve always found it quite boring and uninteresting. Until now, that is.
Although my Swedish national team made a disastrous performance, being kicked out of the 2016 European Championship after just a few very unconvincing games, it´s been a real treat following the success of my wife´s homeland – Iceland. A team recruited from a population of slightly over 300 000 inhabitants, but still able to keep even score with nations like Portugal and Hungary, as well as winning over Austria and tonight England. However well deserved, it´s still nothing less than a heroic feat by a bunch of young guys showing equal amounts of talent and unique team spirit.
I strongly suspect the English are sleeping badly tonight, plagued by recurrent nightmares of repeatedly being sacked by Vikings. And so they should.
One of the true rock´n´roll heroes, beginning his career in hugely influential band Hüsker Du in the late 70´s. Over just a few years developing from unruly punk/hardcore to melodic, guitar-based alternative rock with songs to die for. Getting such a big sound out of a three-piece band was really impressive, as well as the dual singer and songwriter arrangement. Channeling Beatles-like melodic sensibilities through the brute-force of punk-derived indie-rock gave this band an indelible and enduring legacy that remains to our day. Having released six albums of ever improving quality, this was and still is an important group.
Hüsker Du acrimoniously disbanding in the late 80´s gave way to a first period of solo work from Bob Mould, before forming the band Sugar in 1992. The next three years saw the release of three albums, with debut “Copper Blue” being the most artistically and commercially successful. In many ways a continuation of the ideas of Hüsker Du, while still allowing Mould to develop his songwriting in a slightly lighter and more poppy direction.
After Sugar I sort of lost track of Bob Mould for a couple of years, like you sometimes do when more interesting things are happening. But then this album came along, with not only good reviews but also great songs. Melodic, catchy and personal. Not a sensation in any way, but still distilling what we´ve gotten to know as the Bob Mould sound into a record that feels both new and instantly recognizable.
Deeply disappointed with “Django unchained” , it took me a while before getting around to watching director Quentin Tarantino´s latest oeuvre. The take on a traditional western set in a wintry Wyoming starts off with breathtaking scenery shot in wide-angle Panavision. A wooden Christ on the cross covered by drifting snow. A stagecoach making it´s way through an icy expanse and the visual punch of the beautiful but sparse landscape. Long, lingering takes establishing a feeling of being on your own in a cold and hostile environment. Tarantino has a story to tell, and the surroundings are at the same time bleak and great-looking.
Amoral bounty hunter John Ruth is transporting murderer Daisy Domergue to the city of Red Rock to be hanged, when he is joined by two men with agendas of their own. The haphazard team takes refuge in Minnie´s Haberdashery to avoid an advancing blizzard, and when they find a group of men already in place, the story changes into a tightly directed chamber drama steeped in echoes of the American civil war. In some ways reminiscent of “Reservoir Dogs” and replete with Tarantino stalwarts like Samuel L. Jackson, Tim Roth, Kurt Russell and Michael Madsen, the further 3+ hour story twists and turns around themes of trust and deception.
Violent, but not excessively so in today´s meaning of the word. That said you can philosophize about the development of violence in movies. From the horror of someone being shot and falling down in the classic films of the 50´s, to today´s high-def exploding craniums and shot-off scrotums. As well as the change from yesterday´s moral hero to today´s ambiguous anti-hero, always looking out for number one. For film-makers, here´s a brave new world to deal with.
While forging a career cannibalizing movie history can sometimes make Tarantino look like an intellectual fake, his mastery of the medium lets us forgive everything. Who cares if his later movies are DJ mashups of huge amounts of genre films, as long as he pulls it off this beautifully.
Without a doubt one of the most influential guitarists of our time, Rowland S Howard started his career in Melbourne, Australia as part of the nascent punk scene with his group The Young Charlatans. Writing what some consider his most well-known song “Shivers” as a mere 16-year old, he became one of the formative members of legendary band The Birthday Party, as they morphed from their earlier incarnation as The Boys Next Door. While Howard wanted to do the vocals himself, Nick Cave pulled rank as the singer of the group and did his own version. Originally thought out as a song about the strongly felt but rapidly changing and risible feelings of emotionally instable teenagers, it was initially banned from air-play because of the mention of suicide in the lyrics. Later it became a strange and uncharacteristic hit from a band that went on to alienate everyone looking for easy pop.
Moving from Australia to London, The Birthday Party developed into one of the most important bands of the post-punk movement, with an intensity and aggression still unsurpassed. The extremely original guitar sound that Howard developed during this period, partly based on the MXR Blue Box effects pedal, had never been heard before and was in some ways a perfect foil to Nick Caves powerful vocals. After moving to Berlin, The Birthday Party gradually turned into a vehicle for the ideas of singer Cave, and the group imploded in 1983. The split gave birth to Crime and the City Solution, fronted by Howard, as well as Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. Superb live work from both bands feature in Wim Wenders´ classic movie “Wings of Desire”. Such a perfect rendition of Howard´s stage presence and Nick Cave´s intensity, backed by Blixa Bargeld and genius multi-instrumentalist Mick Harvey.
While The Bad Seeds was and still is extremely successful, Howard´s bands (including These Immortal Souls) largely remained a concern for the initiated. Finally taking the step from groups to a solo career, Howard released his first own record with 1999´s “Teenage Snuff Film”, recorded with old comrade Mick Harvey. An immensely enjoyable album of high-quality songs with the trade-mark Rowland S Howard guitar sound and his droll, intelligent and humorous lyrics.
After a hard life of substance abuse Howard was left suffering from hepatitis C, ultimately developing into liver cancer. The recording of “Pop Crimes” proved to be his last, and Rowland S Howard passed away in December 2009, some two months after the release of the album, still waiting for the liver transplant he so desperately needed.
This is one of those great records that fairly few has heard of. It´s reach goes from the euphoric pop of starter “(I know) A girl called Jonny” to the intensely emotional end-of-relation chronicle “Shut you down”. Title track “Pop crimes” perfectly showcases his guitar technique, expressive but still somehow restrained. All about heart and soul over technique. Closer “The golden age of bloodshed” is just so good and one of my favourite songs of the year.
Although aged beyond his years by hard living and disease, Howard still kept his impeccably elegant airs. Dark suit and white shirt, pale chiselled features, black crop of hair and the obligatory cigarette hanging from his red lips. Staggering across the stage while yanking the whammy bar of his trusted Fender Jaguar, face enveloped by a cloud of cigarette smoke. A rock star look to beat all other rock star looks.
I think it´s absolutely great that he got to end his career with a work like this. The product of a rare and singular mind fully exploring his particular brand of genius. Great songwriting, lyrically vital and with guitar playing out of this world. Please listen to this, and if your appetite is whetted watch the “Autoluminescent” documentary that´s available on DVD. They don´t make them like this anymore. Respect, and thanks for all the music.