I had almost reached my limit at the open mic I attended that I last reported about on this blog, in Copenhagen, but the temptation to try another one that was sitting as bait before my eyes was just too great. It was Thursday night, I had a film to attend until around 8 PM or so, and then another film to attend at 10 PM or so (see my previous post about The Inertia Variations), but I had heard some intriguing things about the Café Retro open mic. And I had therefore, a period of an hour, basically, between when I could arrive for the beginning of the open mic, and had to leave for the next film. So I decided to see if that hour could be filled with my fourth presence behind a mic at an open mic in Copenhagen in seven nights in Denmark. Eureka! And boy did I not regret the effort and gamble to go….
My experience at the previous open mic was so bad, waiting three hours to play one song, that I worried that I had already seen the best of the open mics in Copenhagen, and why push my luck. But, in fact, during that previous open mic I had met some Spaniards who had told me that the Café Retro open mic – which I had heard of elsewhere – was really a cool, different, open mic that was worth trying. So I pushed myself, going to the place in the heart of downtown Copenhagen without my guitar even, and hoping for the best. Another Henrik Berg at Café Retro in Copenhagen
I had been told that the Café Retro was a non-profit establishment in which all the people working were volunteers. The money the venue earns goes to various social projects in Africa. That in itself sounded promising – but who knew?
So I found the place with no problem, entered, and discovered a really neat atmosphere of small rooms or cubby holes, coolly decorated, and an upper mezzanine floor where the open mic takes place. It was cozy, cool, and clearly made for both listening, munching, drinking and socializing. I arrived at precisely 8:30, and I was introduced to Henrik Berg, who runs the open mic. I told him that I was really keen to play. He outlined to me the program for the night: He would play a set until 9 p.m. and that would be followed by a feature act – or was it “acts” – until 9:30, at which point the open mic would begin. Henrik Berg at Café Retro in Copenhagen
I told him that I supposed that ruled me out, since I had a film to attend at 10 p.m., and even if he put me up as the first person in the open mic, it was doubtful I could play precisely at 9:30 and still get off to the cinema…. He said of course we could do that. Then he gave it a little thought and said, “Listen, I have an idea: I will play my set until 9 p.m., then I will slot you in at 9 in between me and the feature act. Then you can get out of here after that, easily early enough to get to your film.”
I could not believe my ears! What openness, what consideration. There are so few open mic MCs that know how to be flexible. And so many times when I have been in similar straights, they say: “Come back next week.” And they say this despite me telling them I don’t live in the country, I’m just passing through and may never return. Not Henrik. His way of dealing with me was consistent with what feels like the entire zeitgeist of this volunteer organization and its great staff. Onimo at Café Retro
I then set another hurdle for him, telling him that my guitar was in my hotel. “No problem, use mine.”
So Henrik played his set, and he immediately introduced me, and I got up on stage at 9 p.m. and found myself behind a fabulous, fabulous sound system, with lots of reverb on the mic, and his guitar – a Takamine – sounding great and feeling as good to play. And there I was, up there in that perch above the ground floor looking down, and looking also over at the clients in the various cubbyholes of the mezzanine. A final Henrik Berg at Café Retro in Cph
And so began a close to half an hour set for me as I played song after song of mine with Henrik giving me the thumbs-up from the floor below, indicating I could continue…. I have not felt that good at an open mic for a very, very long time. And I managed to leave just after 9:30 and arrive in plenty of time at the film, which I was therefore feeling completely relaxed and enthusiastic to see.
So I highly, highly recommend the Café Retro in Copenhagen. I also, generally, highly recommend Copenhagen for people looking for one of the best open mic scenes in the world. I could have played just about every night, I think. And I will confirm that soon with a new Thumbnail Guide for Copenhagen’s open mic scene….
Four open mics in seven days, I could not have dreamed of anything better when I set out of the CPH:DOX film festival the week before….
COPENHAGEN – For the 15 years prior to the film “The Inertia Variations,” musician Matt Johnson, the lead guy in the British 1980s-90s band, “The The,” had not performed any music, had not finished writing any songs – although he had started a lot of them – and for many years had even ceased to touch his guitars at all. That sounds like a lot of inertia. His absence from the music scene has resulted in his Wikipedia entry referring to him as “the reclusive” Matt Johnson.† But in this new film, made by his ex-wife, Johanna St. Michaels, – which had its international premiere at the CPH:DOX festival in Copenhagen Thursday night – while we see that he is certainly something of a loner, not only has he been occupied with many other projects – photography, writing those unfinished songs, working on a book – but above all, creating a radio station in his home in London that broadcasts the old-fashioned way – with an antenna – to try to communicate with and inform people about politics in a way that they are not exposed to in the mainstream media. So how reclusive can that be? And for that matter, how much inertia could it all entail?
In fact, questions of inertia are woven throughout the film, with much existential questioning in the many different perceptions of himself both by others and from within himself about who he really is and what he really wants to do in life, and they make up the main, driving thrust behind this film. It remains interesting from beginning to the end through what amounts to raising such universal questions about the creative process and the question of identity that affect us all.
The film centers around a 12-hour nonstop, live radio show from his home station – Radio Cineola – during the British election, and clearly, for Johnson this aspect of his life is the most important thing at the moment. Obviously, for fans of The The, and for his former – and to a degree – his current, wife, there is the lingering question: “When will you make more music?!” Part of Johnson himself clearly wants to create more music too. The film shows that there is even an aching part of him that has been wanting to continue to create and play new songs for a while now. But he can never finish anything, and part of him, he says, is quite lazy. Others say it too. And in some very bizarre ways, we see codes he creates in his life to make it simpler that could also be considered a form of laziness: He shows off, and explains, that he always wears the same type of pants and shirt, a whole series of which he has had tailor-made for him to avoid having to make a choice on what clothes to wear (this reminded me of Steve Jobs, by the way). In fact, this “lazy” part of his personality echoed in my mind the comical Oblomov character from Russian literature.
But what the film ends up making very clear, and what really becomes its focus, is the horrendous battle that Johnson appears to be undergoing with what a fiction writer would call “writer’s block.” And there is a touch of what he himself wonders about in a conversation with his father: A fear of both success and a fear of failure. Given that The The was a successful band with music that has profoundly affected generations of fans – even if it is far from being a household name, and the songs themselves never broke into the popular global consciousness – Johnson has a reputation to live up to if he is to “replicate” the kind of success he had in the first couple of decades of the band, before his split from music.
Part of him is happy living the clearly comfortable life he has. He has all the material needs anyone could want, he has lots of recording and playing equipment in his home; he has the radio station (with the science-fiction-like antenna that he mounted on the roof of his building); he apparently owns the whole building, and he is constantly fighting against developers who want to buy it to put up more high-rises – referring to himself as a conservationist. He is also a bit of a landlord, renting out parts of the building – it seems. He still has projects involved with the rights to The The. This is a full, and to most people in our world, enviable life.
So for me, the film is, above all, the story not only of a man’s creative process, but also of the difference between his own creative needs and expectations of himself, as opposed to the expectations that others have of him. That takes us back to the idea that he is a recluse just because he is no longer making music.
But, I feel, the key to understanding him lies in the book-ends of important deaths in his family: The death of his brother, Eugene at age 24 in 1989 he said changed his view of life, and affected him profoundly. It seems to have affected the momentum of the band, The The. And 10 years later, his mother, heartbroken with Eugene’s death, died. That coincides with the final The The album, NakedSelf, in 2000.
Then, while the film was being made, another of his brothers died – in January 2016 – and this was Andrew, the artist who did some album covers for The The and other bands. Matt was actually working on a book with Andrew, and is clearly shattered. It is this death that drives Matt Johnson to actually, and finally, once again, finish a song. A song for Andrew. The film ends in a deluge of emotion as Johnson finally performs the song, at his home in front of people, in front of the cameras, on his radio, in what was his first public performance in 15 years. And it is shocking just how good the song is, and how his voice, despite years without use, remains fabulous.
It also turns out that the song, called, “You Can’t Stop What’s Coming” – which features the guitar work of Johnny Marr, who played with him often in the past – will be released as a single on April 22. So could it be that Matt Johnson finally managed to write a song simply because the song had to be written? Could it be that the need to write a song for his brother overshadowed any need he had to match his own high achievements of the past that he feared not being able to live up to? That only one thing mattered, and that was to express himself for Andrew, through a song – no matter the quality?
That, in any case, is the way that I read it. Whatever the reason, whatever the story behind the motivations and workings of his mind, this beautiful and intimate film, which uses fictional film techniques, is a tender, thought-provoking tale from the beginning to the end. The Inertia Variations is also beautifully filmed, and has a wonderful soundtrack – by The The – a real treasure, so thank goodness Johanna and Matt have managed to remain friends and he allowed her to make this film that had been on her mind for many years.
Thanks goodness also that Matt – as he said in the talk after the film – just left the concept of the film up to her rather than doing what he would have liked to do, which was to really promote his passion of the moment by putting in more about the political messages he is trying to convey with his radio station….
UPDATE, 26 March 2017: Here is a podcast of the post-premiere Q&A in Copenhagen at CPH:DOX with Matt Johnson and Johanna St. Michaels. I have kept the 15 minutes in the Q&A (which I recorded with my Zoom recorder sitting on my lap), but I have cut out the further 20 minutes of talk where the public asks questions.
UPDATE, 27 March 2017: Here is a second part to the podcast of the post-premiere Q&A in Copenhagen at CPH:DOX with Matt Johnson and Johanna St. Michaels with the questions from the audience. I had decided not to put up this portion of the Q&A – which is just as rich as the first part – but after a request from a reader/listener, I decided to put it up as well:
COPENHAGEN – Just about the only really good thing that comes out of a three-hour wait at an open mic to get behind the microphone and be “allowed” to sing only ONE song because there’s no longer any time left in the evening at just after 11 PM is that you have a very good reason to want to put your whole heart and soul and physically being into the song you sing. And that is what happened to me last night as I sang “Mad World” at the Tjili Pop open mic, called Speake’s Corner, in Copenhagen.
I was the first or second musician to arrive for the open mic at 8:30 p.m., but the open mic takes place after a “concert” of four different bands or musicians from roughly 8:30 to what ended up being after 11:00 p.m., and buy the time I got behind the mic it was 11:20 and I was told that I could only do one song. All the participants of the open mic only did one song. Then, of course, my Seagull guitar failed to work through the sound system – the only place it has worked out of the three open mics I’ve done in Copenhagen so far is at the first, and best of them: CPH Listening Room. I wonder if there is a reason for that! First at Tjili Pop in Copenhagen
Anyway, the Tjili Pop bar is otherwise an absolutely fabulous room, cramped, cool, hippie-like, and broken up into different sectors, so if you want to talk you can go to another room, away from the music room. Not that many people did!
I did managed to fill my time waiting with three beers – I really only wanted one beer and three songs, but … – and a fish and chips meal that was not bad at all. Fourth at Tjili in cph
The place was crammed with people, and by the time I got behind the mic and belted out Mad World – I think I was the only person to sing a cover song all night, but I did that as a rebellious statement (!) – I was really not happy, and really ready to take full advantage of the pulpit and go crazy. All the alcohol helped too….
It had otherwise been a great day at the CPH:DOX film festival. In the morning I had attended a conference about the question of whether or not to serialize a documentary film – i.e., turn it into several films – with the highly experienced and interesting Thom Powers, who selects the films for several important film festivals among many other things. Another at the Tjili open mic
I also did an interview with the man who selects the films and music for the CPH:DOX festival, Adam Thorsmark. I will be posting that interview in the form of a podcast very soon in a separate post….
Anyway, despite my frustration with the crazy Tjili joint, I have now done three open mics in Copenhagen, and there are plenty more available. So ultimately, I am absolutely delighted with what this city has to offer in the way of open mics, and I never expected so much.
COPENHAGEN – It was tight timing, but it was a reflection of just about everything else in this tightly organized festival and my trip to attend CPH:DOX and play at open mics: I had a film at 7 p.m., followed by a film at 9 p.m. followed by an open mic at 11 p.m. And despite the rain, hail, snow, freezing weather and wind, I managed to achieve all three things. (I exaggerate only slightly on the cold, horrible, depressing Copenhagen weather.) The most fun in all that? Maybe all three, the totality. From the “Sour Grapes” documentary about a wine fraud, to the snippets of a cameraperson’s filming life in the film called “Cameraperson” to the open mic at Mojo with more Copenhagen singer songwriters, it was all about as good as it gets….
The wine film was a delight, as I have a very strong interest in wine as well as in wine frauds. This film is a wild story of a young Indonesian who ingratiates himself to the wine world in the U.S. in the 2000s and ends up selling 10s of millions of dollars of fake wine to collectors before being caught and put in prison. A lively story, and one of the most amazing aspects is how his victims fail to believe it is really possible that this guy did this, even once it has been made crystal clear by the discovery by federal agents of all the evidence they needed in the man’s home. Cameraperson trailer
From that film I rushed over to another cinema – both cinemas and the open mic bar were close walking distance to my hotel – and attended the film “Cameraperson,” which is a series of outtakes and other moments from documentary films and reportages that Kirsten Johnson, a filmmaker and cinematographer, put together over her career. It includes some sad, touching moments with her mother during her final period with Alzheimer’s Disease. Johnson asks us to see the film as her version of a memoir. It is full of some very touching and strange moments of film – as for instance when she is filming a woman in the throes of anger against her mother’s suicide, when suddenly a huge mass of snow comes sliding off the room of her home outside the window, as if the mother was trying to communicate from the other side….
“Cameraperson” lasted longer than I had expected, and so I did not get out of the cinema until 22:49, and while I had planned to run back to the hotel, grab my guitar and return to the open mic, I was now faced with the reality that I would arrive at the open mic after 23:00 if I did that, and I had been told that it started at around 23:00. It took place in a blues bar called Mojo, and while it may be famous as a blues bar, the Monday night event is a singer songwriter open mic. So I was really looking forward to doing it, and decided I had better go first, without my guitar.
Besides, it was yet another night of rain in Copenhagen, where it has rained every day I have been here. Moreover, the rain was at its worst – as far as I could see – at that moment. So I walked over to Mojo, walked into this nice, warm, mainly wooden, cowboy-saloon-like joint, with a beautiful little stage across from the front door, and I found that the open mic had not yet begun. Sour Grapes trailer
I eventually met the MC, the organizer of the open mic, Kira Martini, and she told me that it would run from shortly after 23:00 until about 1 a.m. So I had plenty of time to return to my hotel to take my guitar. I could also use hers, she said. But since it was a nylon-string guitar, I chose to return to the hotel. I immediately regretted that decision when I walked into the hail of gale-force winds and finally arrived at my hotel with soaking wet feet and jeans. But somehow I felt great that I would have the security of my own guitar. another at mojo open mic in Copenhagen
The open mic, when I returned, was in full swing. It had a similar vibe to it to the CPH Listening Room open mic of the night before in that the audience, for the most part, was there to listen, and the performers performed only their own songs. And most of the songs were fairly quiet, personal, singer songwriter songs – as opposed to anything rockin’. The only person who decided to do a cover song was Kira, who at the request of a client, sang a famous Brazilian song, as the last one of the night (I think). It was a beautiful moment even so – and I still think there is a place for doing cover songs, even in a singer songwriter night. (Joe Cocker, Nina Simone, Frank Sinatra, and a few others would no doubt have thought so too!) first at mojo open mic in Copenhagen
Anyway, I was, in the end, ecstatic about having achieved all of my goals in that very short period of time available. What an amazing week so far, at the halfway point of this visit to Copenhagen for me. Oh, the only problem was that after all the effort of going back to my hotel to take my guitar, no sooner did I finish doing my presentation of the first song than my guitar – which had worked on the soundcheck – suddenly decided to pull a temper tantrum and not speak through the pickup. We had to mic the guitar separately. But in the end, I think it sounded better that way! Kira at Mojo
COPENHAGEN – Somehow, I ended up in the wrong film at the CPH:DOX festival. I did not choose this film and it was not the film I came to see, it was not the film written on my ticket, although it was the right cinema, and the right auditorium. But then, immediately, as the film began in its strange manner, I decided that it could be a very interesting exercise to watch a documentary that I did not choose to see. And by the time it was over – even before that – I realized that it was a fabulously synchronistic thing to have had happen. The night before, Sunday night, I had seen another film that in fact fit in perfectly with this film. So I realized I had something to write about these two otherwise completely different films: They both deal with some of the biggest problems of our day – but in completely different ways – namely: Ideology, intolerance, hate, lack of love, rejection of people who are different from us, and above all, ignorance.
While I came to Copenhagen mainly to watch the music documentaries in the Sound & Vision festival-within-the-festival I was going to at least see some of the non-music films. Sunday night’s film was the first of those that I attended, the very powerful “I Am Not Your Negro,” directed by Raoul Peck, and based on an incomplete book, “Remember This House,” by James Baldwin about his relationships with his three murdered friends, Martin Luther King Jr., Medgar Evers and Malcolm X. The other film, where I found myself by accident, was “The Devil’s Trap,” about a man who grew up in a Christian cult that rejects anything to do with the world outside the cult. The film is by the Canadian Mitchell Stafiej, and it follows 25-year-old Lane, who found the strength to reject the church of his parents, brother and sisters, only to find that he had been permanently rejected by his family.
In each film, we find these problems of hate for anyone who is different, intolerance over the differences, and above all fear. Fear of the consequences of living with people of different beliefs, races, colors, creeds. Throughout “I Am Not Your Negro,” I was thinking about how the film answered for me my questions about the current situation in the United States. How could there be so much hate in this country now with Donald Trump’s (mostly white) voters asking for an America that closes out the rest of the world, refuses to accept diversity and refuses to acknowledge that human beings, in order to survive, need a moral standard that cannot include lies and hate?
Watching the “Baldwin-narrated” – an actor speaks Baldwin’s text, and the film tells the story through historic footage – of the history of black people in America answers that question of “how” can things be like this now. Because many of the white American people – not all of them – have been this way through most of their history. As is said at one point in the film, the history of America is the history of black people in America, and you can use the way black people are being treated as a barometer for the health of the whole country.
It’s a stunning, powerful film. James Baldwin was more than a front-row observer, more than a witness of that history of the second half of the 20th century. He was friends with these three prime voices in the battle for black peoples’ rights – or as King said, “duties” – and he himself, as the film shows, made some very clear and powerful statements.
I have always felt close to Baldwin as an expat writer who lived in Paris in the 1950s. He returned to the United States in the 1960s because he missed the people, then spent the decade there in the height of the civil rights battle, before moving back to France in 1970, and settling in Saint-Paul-de-Vence until his death in 1987 at age 63 from stomach cancer.
Baldwin had never wanted to be taken as a “black writer” first, which is one of the reasons he moved to France – to write from outside the context of his situation in life in the U.S. During his battles in the civil rights movement, he spoke about how he was raised on the same white culture as his white countrymen and women were raised on, and only once he hit a certain age – still as a child – was he stunned to realize that he was in fact considered by the white people in the same role as the Indians were that John Wayne was killing in the films he grew up watching. He, suddenly realized in his innocence, that he was a target.
The film shows not just the past, but it shows how the problems still exist today, with an appearance or two of Trump’s face and words, and there are references to Black Lives Matter, and other current events and murdered black people.
I left the cinema feeling I understood the current situation with Trump much better – because it has so long been woven into the American psyche.
And then the accidental part of this story with The Devil’s Trap
But the next day, Monday, I ended up by accident in this film about Lane and his family’s devotion to the cult of the Exclusive Brethren. To quote from Wikipedia, this cult is “a subset of the Christian evangelical movement generally described as the Plymouth Brethren. They are distinguished from the Open Brethren from whom they separated in 1848.”
Lane and his family, it turns out, are Canadians. They attended the church in Montreal, where Lane grew up controlled by the doctrines of this church, through his parents’ application of the codes on the family. The film, in fact, takes us across the border to various cities in the U.S. as well, including Washington D.C., where his family now lives.
I am a Canadian, born and raised, and as I heard Lane speak, I felt I heard my friends and family – eh? So my thoughts about “I Am Not Your Negro,” and the U.S.-specific hate and intolerance came into a different perspective.
Lane tells the story of how he grew up indoctrinated by the principles of the cult through his parents in such a strict way that he felt like a complete outsider in Canadian society. (Although he never used such a national distinction.) He could not watch films, had no right to listen to music CDs, if he swore his father would wash his mouth out with laundry detergent. And when he dared decide to leave the church, his family and eventually join the military, his family not only disowned him, but refused to speak to him. No one paid much attention when he told them that he had been raped at age 13 by a church member at the church.
His parents never want to see him again. First, though, so convinced were they that there was something wrong with Lane, that they took him to the Mayo Clinic for several days of physical and mental examinations. The overseeing doctor at this respected clinic told him after all the tests that he was an entirely healthy teenager, both physically and mentally and he should not let anyone tell him otherwise. That helped him realize that despite hearing that he was mentally ill from his family for years, his inclinations that there was a problem rather with his upbringing were right.
He broke away. But the film shows how he makes a final effort to try to see and meet, and share the life he deserves with his family, travelling to Washington to see them. It is only in this culminating scene that I became entirely convinced myself that Lane was not exaggerating, or perhaps even lying, about the extreme nature of the treatment by his family. We learn through a concealed recording he made of his meeting with his brother – whom he had not seen in years – that his parents would not come and meet him, that it would be too difficult for them to take emotionally. These parents were, however, dying, feeling completely destroyed, by the departure and betrayal against the church and its beliefs, their beliefs, of their son.
In short, their cult religion, their beliefs, were more important than their love for their child. Oh, no, sorry, Lane they do love. But they would only welcome him back home and come to see him, make him a member of the family again if he accepted the dictates of the cult. Only if he sacrificed everything to the cult as they did would they accept that he was worth loving and associating with. Otherwise, he was to be shunned, closed out, shut up, disowned, considered dead.
One difference between the treatment of Lane and the treatment of the blacks in racist America is that at least it would appear that the members of the cult do not intend to actually physically kill those who are different from them, as is the case through the history of violence and hate against the blacks in America. There is, of course, the mental torture his family inflict from their intolerance and ignorance and hateful actions – but at least there is no murder, in this case.
But for me, these two films sum up the depths to which humanity appears to be going at the moment with the extremism that Trump represents. One of the most interesting elements for me, also, is that these people in the cult who hate and refuse to live with those who are different than them, including their own family members, they are from an affluent middle class. We are not talking about physical poverty here – only mental poverty. Most of Trump’s voters, while perhaps being from a lower-income part of the population, are not exactly starving and dying from exposure either. We are, in both cases, talking about people whose basic needs have been met, and now they are free to hate through extreme ideologies. Why is it that with the most common challenge facing humanity being the very survival and feeding and housing of the 6 or 7 billion of us all, we have to try to destroy one another based on ideologies and beliefs? Could fear and cowardice be the answer to that?
Anyway, this has to be one of the most run-on posts I’ve ever done, and I’d probably do much better to stick to writing about the music films at CPH:DOX. But I was affected by both of these films.
And then there was Tindersticks vs. the amoeba
To finish on a lighter note, I also attended briefly the multimedia event of the weekend, the concert by the group Tindersticks, playing at the festival headquarters while overhead some strange video showed of sped-up-motion nature shots of plants and amoeba etc., in Minute Bodies. Don’t bother asking me what it all meant. Check out my video of a minute or so of that concert, if you want to understand. Then get back to me on your theories….
COPENHAGEN – I came to Copenhagen for a film festival, because the film festival has a very strong music category to it called Sound & Vision. But I also, naturally, wanted to piss on another territory in my worldwide open mic adventure. But I was very worried I would not find any open mics in Copenhagen, after many internet searches seemed not to entirely guarantee anything. I should have realized that any city that can have as strong and cool of a music side to it film festival is also going to have a strong musical culture, and open mics. Not only did I attend the most amazing open mic Sunday night – between films (!) – but I have now heard that the city is apparently swarming with open mics and jams.
As he said, the open mic is also of a style that follows the name of the venue: People come to listen. You can hear a beer placed on a table during any particular act, so quiet and attentive are the listeners. Also as Martin said, this is a listening room with a bar in it, rather than the usual open mic venue that is a bar with a listening angle to it. Located in a cool, loft-like building in a kind of community center not too far behind the main train station, the ambience of the room itself is fantastic. Bjorn feature act
The stage is beautifully lit, the sound system is excellent, and there are a couple of videographers on either side of the stage there to immortalize every performance.
I was also absolutely delighted to hear several musicians playing songs they had written in Danish. Yes, it may have an Englishman running it, and there may be a lot of musicians singing in English, but this is a Danish open mic all right. And one of the best song writers of the night was the feature act, who is Danish, but whose songs – the three I heard before I had to go to the next film – are written in more than impeccable English. Fifth at CPH Listening Room open mic
That was Bjørn Stig Møller, but there were other interesting writers and as I say, the Danish side made this like a gold mine for me on my international open mic travels. And I am looking forward to finding and playing in other places on this trip. Oh, my only criticism? We only got to play two songs each, and I was just starting to feel better and better up on that stage, and would have loved to stay all night! First at CPH Listening Room
It’s no surprise that there is also a Copenhagen Songwriters’ Festival that takes place in the CPH Listening Room and a neighbouring building. Fourth at CPH Listening Room
Oh, by the way, I decided to try out my Osmo camera again, and did a walk around of the venue so readers can see it all. I also decided to test for the first time my new mic method of the Osmo. After finding that my old Sony voice mic was not very good for recording music with the Osmo, I set out to find a better method before coming to Copenhagen. In the end, I decided to use a Zoom recording device as a mic, and feed it directly into the Osmo. I was too uncomfortable with the idea of recording the acts at the CPH Listening Room with my bulky and impressive looking Osmo, but the small test I did with the Zoom as mic is more than promising. Compare the sound on the brief test to the sound of the Osmo’s built-in mic during my walk around. The difference it mind boggling. Second at CPH Listening Room
COPENHAGEN – My second day at CPH:DOX started off just great: Wet eyes throughout the documentary “Joe Cocker : Mad Dog With Soul” by John Edginton. And did it help that Mr. Edginton was in the audience and spoke to us before and after the film? Well, yes, actually it did: I learned what might seem very obvious, but that is that with a small budget, and huge constraints on the copyrighted clips of other people, without any interviews by the director of his subject, it is still possible with a strong enough story and subject matter to create a film that fills our eyes with tears for 90 minutes.
A few times during the film – this was its international premiere – I made the comparison to “Amy” by Asif Kapadia, since he too used clips made by other people and never interviewed Amy Winehouse. But Amy was done, according to Edginton (who also directed “Pink Floyd: The Story of Wish You Were Here” and “Genesis: Together and Apart”), with a much bigger budget. So it was possible for Kapadia to procure all of the material he needed, or that was available. I assume – he might say differently. Whereas Edginton explained that with Joe Cocker: Mad Dog With Soul there were many interviews he could not do, many clips he could not buy, that he would have liked to have. And one that he DID have – a hugely touching moment between Ray Charles and Cocker – that he said would have cost half the budget of the whole film had he said “yes” to the first asking price!
Anyway, let’s forget those negatives: This film is a fairly traditionally assembled documentary about Cocker, with interviews with his brother, former early band members, managers and his wife Pam. The very few times we actually do see Cocker talking, are enough, though, to understand the many, many times we hear from other people – including Glyn Johns – about what a sweet, kind and gentle man Cocker was. Oh, he also had a very nasty streak, ending friendships or business relationships – out of the blue – and never speaking to the people again. Joe Cocker in Woodstock
But in some ways, I am reminded of Amy Winehouse, another drug addict and doomed personality, who is washed along through life by the forces outside of them – other people – without the strength to stand up for themselves. And you just want to reach out and help them. And in both cases, they nevertheless had their exceptional careers thanks entirely to the ethereal talent they possessed. Cocker, on the other hand, did find a kind of happiness and equilibrium that Amy never did.
And it is precisely that talent, and that personality of Cocker that made this film hold me from the beginning to the end, and kept those tears in my eyes. From a horrendous-looking neighborhood of row houses in Sheffield where he was a plump little gas-fitter – like a plumber but for fitting up gas – to an icon of the 1960s singing “A Little Help From My Friends at Woodstock” and through to his huge hit songs of the 1980s while in his 40s, rising up from addiction and failure and breakdowns time and again, it was just such a touching story. And all the more so, no doubt, in that I could not really see Edginton’s craft at work – he was not, as far as I could tell, employing techniques to grab the viewer’s emotion. He didn’t need to. Cocker did all that.
COPENHAGEN – I arrived yesterday afternoon in Copenhagen for a weeklong experience of attending the Copenhagen International Documentary Film Festival – CPH:DOX – and found myself in a world I was made for. The first good omen was to discover that my hotel is planted right beside the winter circus building near the central station (which my previous post gives some sense to as a statement) as well as being within a few minutes’ walking distance from most of the festival venues. Then, the first two films and events I attended foreshadow a week of fabulous experiences. It’s hard to say which of the two films I liked better: The Mumford & Sonsin South Africa one, or the story of Mick Rock, the rock photographer! But let me backtrack….
I decided to come to the festival partly as an educational experience as I finish up my own documentary – Out of a Jam: the worldwide open mic adventure – since, as it turns out, CPH:DOX has a vast, fabulous section called “Sound & Vision,” which is all about music documentaries.
Aside from that, CPH:DOX is one of the top documentary film festivals in the world. Founded in 2003, it quickly became a major event in the documentary film industry, showing more than 200 films each year. This year, in addition to the Sound & Vision part of the festival, there are some very interesting filmmakers and films that are being presented, showcased and premiered. And it is not just films, of course, but panels, workshops, seminars, and happenings. There are many personalities present from within or outside the documentary film industry world, like even Bernard-Henri Levy, the French writer and philosopher, here to talk about his film The Battle of Mosul, which is making its world premiere at the festival. There is Kirsten Johnson, the camerawoman who is here to talk and present her film, Cameraperson.
Mumford and Sons
And there are bands, bands, bands, and music films, music films, music films. So it was that I saw the fabulously interesting film called, Mumford & Sons: We Wrote This Yesterday, that documents a tour in South Africa by the band Mumford & Sons. But what makes the film most interesting, and gives it its title, is the middle section, where they write and record an album in two days in Johannesburg with some African musicians, in a freaky weird looking, claustrophobic recording and practice studio. It is full of insight into the creative process.
I found it interesting how the film had very few actual musical performance of the band, as it consisted mostly of voiceovers of the musicians seen in action creating their music, or touring or living life on tour. I had expected it to be a concert film. But it is anything but. I suspect that the point of that was that the producers, director – it was directed by Sam Wrench – figure that most of the people who will want to see the film already know Mumford & Sons music, or can play the albums. So the film serves a different purpose. And, by the way, the absolutely breathtaking views of some of the cities – Cape Town comes to mind – also make the film an excellent introduction to a visual idea of what South Africa can be, for people who have no idea….
And then there was…Mick Rock and the evening of rock photos, music legends, another rock photographer and a Danish band
The beauty of this festival is that you can run from one cinema to another within a few minutes – practically. Having said that, my Samsung Galaxy has been on zero battery (thanks to having to use GPS all the time) almost since I arrived in Kierkegaard’s city, and I have been in a state of existential madness trying to find places to charge between my various moments of this gruelling, grinding schedule on Day 1….
But, with the Mumford & Sons film being a theoretical 6-minute walk away from the venue of the next place I had on my schedule, I was nevertheless delighted to be able to race through the brisk air – I went from summer in Paris to winter in Copenhagen – over to the Bremen Teater to have three-part night: A talk by a Danish rock music photographer followed by a film by the No. 1 rock music photographer, followed by a performance by a Danish rock band.
To focus on the film Shot! The Psycho-Spiritual Mantra of Rock: Mick Rock was no doubt rock music’s most famous photographer. If you think of the iconic images of David Bowie, Syd Barrett, Iggy Pop, Lou Reed, Debbie Harry, and many more, then you will have to turn your attention toward Mick Rock to find out how they were made. Rock (whose real name is Rock, and clearly works well in the title of the film) kind of fell into the photography game, after a classic British education that culminated in attending Cambridge University. Then all the rest of his life went entirely haywire.
This film, SHOT! works on so many different levels. It is a joy to watch to see the various rare, intimate moments of many of the subjects – and they go from Bowie and those others mentioned above all the way up to Father John Misty – but also to the engaging contact with the “narrator” who is Rock himself. His narration of his own dissolute life in both the sense of his understanding his life, and the way he looks from the outside, may not be entirely something that the spectator agrees with – although he himself says that at the worst moment of his life he felt a complete failure. It is engaging because we have an educated man observing the world of rock & roll of the last nearly 50 years with that intelligent and cultivated mind. But at the same time, he shows himself to be a “victim” of the period – the excessive drug use, not sleeping for seven days once, excess again….
And the film combines both directorial devices, a kind of fictional story-telling as it tries to recreated and use as the pivotal moment of Rock’s life his three heart attacks and quadruple bypass surgery in 1996 while only in his early 40s along with some exceptional recordings that Rock apparently made on cassette tapes of conversations he had in the 1970s with his friends David Bowie and Lou Reed.
It proved also to be exceptionally interesting and almost troubling, to have had before the film started the talk given by the Danish rock music photographer Søren Solkær – who has photographed people like Damon Albarn, Amy Winehouse, Bjork amongst many others, (i.e., the Arctic Monkeys from their beginnings) – but who seemed to want to kill his predecessor in the classic way of the mentors’ pupil needing to come into his own…. In his talk beforehand, he talks about when he met Mick Rock, in a somewhat disdainful description: He said Rock went about yelling that his subject was about to be photographed by the great, legendary Mick Rock, etc. And he described how comic it appeared to see Rock doing various Yoga exercises before a shoot – a ritual later confirmed in the film itself.
In any case, it was a fine talk – all in English! – and made for a good critical backdrop before the film so that we are not, as an audience, too sucked into the legend that Rock himself wishes to portray in the film. Shiny Darkly at CPH:DOX
After the film I wandered up into the room outside the auditorium, the entrance bar to the cinema – a grand old cinema complex, by the way – to listen to some of the music of the Danish band – a band that Soren has photographed – called Shiny Darkly. I did some videos of that with my Zoom, as my telephone as I previously mentioned, was without battery most of the afternoon and evening, and so I could not record with my new Osmo, which I really wanted to do, since it depends on the use of the Samsung for both the vision and software.
In any case, speaking of “vision,” I think this festival is going to be full of some fabulous days ahead, which I will try to document daily on this blog….
What can I say? The last night in Baku, Azerbaijan I had been invited to play again at Pancho’s Mexican joint by the house band, the previous night. I was feeling wickedly tired – sleeping in the fleabag hotel was a bit of a trial the whole trip – and I thought I would probably just have a quiet meal and go back to the fleabag. But on the way to a meal I passed by Finnegan’s pub, popped my head in to see if the band played on a Sunday night, and who should I see sitting at a table but the whole band…that then greeted me with open arms, a beer and an invitation to play again!
I could not refuse such a warm hearted invitation from a fabulous band. And the crowd was a little thinner on Sunday night than on Saturday night, so I thought, this seems like a great way to pass the evening. and an acoustic one at Finnegan’s in Baku
And boy, was it ever. I played maybe seven or more songs, including a couple entirely “acoustic” with the vintage copy Telecaster. But if you look at the videos, you can see that the band was playing more for itself on Monday night, too, and NOT just to please the crowd. something pink in Baku
A fabulous night at Finnegan’s, and I hope I get back again next year – or even sooner, why not??? cool lead breaks in Baku
Oh, I should mention that my return flight to Paris was at 6:30 AM on Tuesday morning, which entirely preluded sleep on Monday night, which meant that arriving back in Paris on Tuesday morning I had almost zero inclination to go and partake of the annual Fête de la Musique. I say “almost” because I did actually want to go out. But fatigue from deathly efforts to sleep on the flight and my afternoon nap and a few other things made me decide against it…. the lady gets fever in Baku
AUSTIN, Texas – It was a deadly combination of life and death in the streets of Austin last night, that brought the city – particularly 6th Street – back to death with a bursting forth of action in the deadzone that is this Texan city on Halloween night. The Halloween festival is always a big one, but with the added 100,000 or so Formula One fans taking to the street for the F1 Fan Festival for its first night, it was a celebration like none before.
I was half asleep by the time I arrived on 6th Street with a friend, and then I was immediately swept up into the riotous affair of the local population going crazy with Halloween costumes and filling the street from side to side – with only the central part cordoned off from the revellers, where the cops watched over the action.
Austin is particularly respectful of Halloween since there is a large Mexican population as well, with its deadly equivalent of the dastardly festival. The F1 Fan Fest runs Friday, Saturday and Sunday in conjunction with the U.S. Grand Prix that is taking place in Austin this weekend. The festival has four stages for music running throughout the weekend, and there are also little entertainment fairground-type activities for those who attend. The concerts include Joan Jett, and a few other bands better known locally than around the world. But all in all it’s a fabulous line up and an amazing atmosphere.
I had been thinking about trying to find a place to play music, but I had been advised against it. Then I discovered that in fact, on the Austin360 stage there was a daylong live band karaoke yesterday, and it is happening today too. But I am too busy working my job to think about doing that.
In any case, I have never seen such a Halloween occasion, and some of the effort put into the costume defies belief. You’ve got to see them in the little video I assembled of footage I took last night. My favorite wa the man who played the role of a gorilla and of a captive human in a cage carried by the gorilla. Check that one out on the video, I put in a few freeze frames on it, as I had a very small window of opportunity to grab the image….