PARIS – You can’t run with the hares and hunt with the hounds, said Ernest Hemingway, referring to what he thought of book reviewers who were also fiction writers. That is why on this blog a few years ago I came up with my concept of the Not Review, which I have done periodically in the form of Not Reviews of music in my “Morning Exercise Music” listenings, in Not Reviews of films, and Not Reviews of books. The idea is I’m not criticizing, or placing myself in a high position of cultural authority, but simply reflecting on books, music or films that I have seen recently, and what they made me think, what they say, how I feel, and what you might want to know about them to see if you want to listen, read or see them. Today, I have put up my latest Not Book Review, this time of the autobiography of Mike Nesmith, the former Monkee, which is called, “Infinite Tuesday.” He also refers to it as an “autobiographical riff.” Check it out on the link above! His is a fascinating story that goes way beyond The Monkees – like, how about to creating one of the first music videos, helping to create MTV, and then there is his mother the inventor of Liquid Paper….
PARIS – Just a quick note to note the notes noted at The Harp on Saturday night in honor of the return after a year to Paris of Romain Bretoneiche, also known as “All the Roads,” also known as the longtime MC of the open mic at the Galway Pub open mic in Paris. Romain and his girlfriend took a year out of the daily slog to live a little by travelling all the roads of the world in an around-the-world voyage. Romain and his sister at the harp
On Saturday, at The Harp pub which is located halfway between the Place Clichy and the Place Blanche, Romain and his friends and family organized a party celebrating his return. This is kind of a personal sort of blog item, but I feel that since I must have reported at least 50 times on my visits over the years to the Galway Pub open mic (which is happening tonight, by the way), it was appropriate to report Romain’s return…. Ludow at the Harp
Brad Spurgeon at The Harp (Photo by: Ludow Forget)
Why it was not celebrated at the Galway, I have no idea. But the evening of music and imbibing at The Harp was perfect. I had never been in this pub, and it lives up to its name. jamming at the harp
A great night, and lots of fun playing on the small stage at the back of the room, despite the general atmosphere of talk, welcoming Romain back in town. Let us see what this fine musician does next…. jake at the harp
PARIS – No I am not in retirement!!! In recent weeks I have bumped into friends and acquaintances who have wondered about my working status as they have been slightly confused by some of my recent blog posts that make them think that I have, or am about to, “slow down” and “retire.” After another such moment at a bar in the Latin Quarter last night, I decided it was time to make clear to readers of this blog one of the biggest changes in my life “situation,” that came about in phases over the end of last year and the beginning of this year. This blog was always linked to a degree to my world travel to F1 races, so while this is a long, drawn-out and personal post that may not even interest many of my friends let alone a casual reader of the site, it seems to make sense to lay down some markers for the future of the blog as well….
While there was a lot of focus from the media – and rightly so – on the death of this long tradition of an American newspaper in Paris, I want to also note that there still remains a staff of some nearly 50 people in the advertising department and other areas of the New York Times International Edition based in Paris, with many of these people having started out decades ago at the IHT. But as far as producing a newspaper in Paris, with its own editorial and production staff, as had been done since 1887, that came to an end last fall, and 69 people were fired. I was one of these 69 people. But my last, long-standing gig at the paper, which was a full-time job reporting on Formula One car racing, was not one of the aspects of the newspaper that they actually wanted to get rid of. But apparently it made sense to management to fire me along with everyone else, and then offer to me that I continue covering Formula One as a freelance.
This, in any case, is what happened. I at first said yes to the proposal to freelance (I had no choice on the firing business!). It seemed fabulous that I could have my cake and eat it too – i.e., I would receive my indemnities, and my unemployment insurance, and the help from various French organizations designed to aid us in our transition back to employment or, as I chose, to start a new company, and I would continue to work as a freelance. (It’s not quite that straightforward a situation, but that’s what it amounts to.)
But then, in early 2017, I learned that the newspaper would massively reduce the number of special reports about Formula One – the backbone in recent years of my work at the newspaper – to the point that the job I had been doing really and truly no longer did exist! Yes, I would have a handful of articles to write, but not enough to make a living or support a career.
To remain a Formula One expert to write those few articles would nevertheless mean being “on” all of the time regarding the series. Being an expert on F1 is a full-time job, a full-time passion and a full-time preoccupation. All of this would in turn mean that I would not be able to focus enough on my more important job of starting the company – my new legal entity – to build a future life and career. I decided to forgo the bits and pieces of freelance. So it was that the day before I received my 2017 full-season accreditation acceptance for Formula One, my F1 reporting career had officially ended.
Henceforth, I would devote myself to the founding of my new company, which I am calling “Unfinished Business,” and which will be launched officially in November. This will be the legal entity for all of the projects that I am passionate about and was never able to focus on seriously enough while working full-time covering Formula One racing. Before that all-consuming job covering F1 – a gig that lasted me nearly 25 years! – I had many other goals, ambitions and passions in life. This included lots of different and disparate writing projects that had nothing to do with racing. (When I decided to become a writer at age 20, it was never in order to specialize on a single subject, but to explore the world.)
Clown Brad and Ornella Share a Secret
I also have many other areas of my life that are important to me, that need either finishing or further expansion: Making music, finishing my documentary film about open mics around the world, doing future such documentaries, finishing and selling my memoir book about open mics around the world, selling the saleable novels in my drawers, making music videos, writing new songs and making another CD, selling my skills in making and editing videos, and yes, finally, continuing to write for newspapers and magazines around the world, but on all of the many subjects that full-time F1 writing overshadowed. I also want to expand and develop my reach into magazine and web markets that I still have an ambition to write for, but never made it into before. I intend to continue a few sideline activities as well, like clowning around riding my unicycle and juggling!
So while I am in a phase of starting up my company and putting together decades’ worth of paperwork for the transition to this new life, the concept of “retirement” – i.e., losing my ambition to create and execute personal artistic and journalistic and musical projects and earning money – that some people thought might be my current situation is something I can never imagine happening to me either now or in the future.
Ultimately, my life has little changed since I was fired from the NYT last December: I have always worked on personal creative projects outside of the jobs I have done to earn a living to pay for my – and my family’s – livelihood as I dreamed of the creative projects leading to my future livelihood. In that I have been more successful in some areas than others, but that is the way my career grew. Now, I am continuing exactly the same approach to life, but my financial earnings are simply no longer coming from the payslips of the two newspapers where I worked for more than 36 years. (I began at The Globe and Mail in Toronto in July 1980 to September 1983, when I moved to Paris and joined the IHT in December of that year.)
So, for anyone who might have thought that I am about to shrivel up and the sizzle has gone from my life – and therefore from this blog – I just wanted to let you know that the exact opposite is happening. I’m more creatively active and working harder than ever before on the projects that count most to me. And strangely, after working for 36 years in the precarious business of newspapers – I seem to remember a big wave of layoffs at the Globe in around 1982, and the trend never stopped – I have never been, or felt, so financially secure and been able to look so far ahead in terms of where my livelihood might come from as I can since last December when I was fired. That, of course, is thanks to the French social system that was such a big part of my decision to stay in this country during the several occasions when I thought I might leave – the same social system that is apparently part of the reason some international companies want to leave France…. Merci la France!
PARIS – I have been spending recent weeks tearing apart all the boxes and other crap in my garage and storage room, digging through a lifetime of papers and crud, trying to find anything at all that can prove to the French retirement agencies that I was employed at The Globe and Mail newspaper from the summer of 1980 to the fall of 1983. A series of emails to the human resources department of the Globe resulted in my discover that they have no record of my existence! (It led me to wonder if they even have any record of the 19 years that my father, David Spurgeon, spent reporting for the Globe from the 1950s to the 1980s! (and also made me wonder once again what human resource departments do other than fire people!!)) While I did manage to find at least one record of one period of my existence there – the last year and a half – I have still to find any official records of my own. On the other hand, I have been absolutely amazed to discover that as far as just about every receipt, metro ticket and French payslip or household bill for my subsequent 34 years in France, I have apparently been a packrat. But one of the most amazing artefacts I found was the sudden appearance last night of the actual receipt for the best meal I ever ate in a restaurant: My 1991 meal at Joel Robuchon’s great restaurant, Jamin. So I have decided to add that receipt (its nearly 3600 francs equal around 557 euros in today’s money, not counting the difference in cost-of-living fluctuations, etc.) to my very popular article about that evening, which I wrote about immediately afterwards and subsequently had rejected from many major publications many times. It has proven to be one of the most popular items on this blog, with almost daily readers from around the world ,which vindicates me a little about having been crazy enough to write it. You can see the receipt on this post, and also now accompanying the story itself in my rejection writings section under the title: A Dinner at Robuchon’s Jamin.
PARIS – What better environment to try out a new guitar than Brislee’s open mic at La Fabrique just off the Place Blanche in Paris? I bought the new Martin D-42 yesterday afternoon so late that I only had time to return home and prepare dinner and eat, giving up all idea of attending his popular open mic, as I knew there would be no room on the list. Last week he had 21 musicians playing from that usual time of just after 9 pm until midnight. Then came a message on Facebook that he still had room – so I finished off the dinner quickly and took the metro and my new Martin Dreadnought over to the Place Blanche, to find, as I expected, the perfect environment to test my new guitar….
As it turned out, as there were a few fewer musicians signed up last night than usual, Brislee ended up giving me the time to play five songs behind the mic. Fortunately, I got to listen to the other musicians first before my turn came, and so I wasn’t just thinking about my new guitar all night. There was the regular Ash Orphan, with his distinctive Lowden guitar, and there was another guitarist doing tapping and slapping with another great guitar, and Triinu doing her melodic stuff. So all together, a nice night – in addition to other musicians and Brislee’s final closing number. Ash Orphan at Brislee’s open mic in Paris
My Martin D42 does not have a mic inside it, of course, because this is all about one of the greatest acoustic guitars in the world with the fabulous wood it comprises. And I have strong doubts that I will set up any kind of mic system in it. I did buy an L.R. Baggs M1 Active Body-sensitive Active Magnetic pickup that you can strap into the hole, though, since it can also be removed whenever you want. But although I had it with me last night, I decided not to fool around with trying to put it in the guitar in the dark while listening to other performers.
So I asked Brislee if we could just use a mic for my new guitar, and he agreed. In a way, in fact, it seemed to me the most appropriate way to christen the Martin on its first public performance. Suffice it to say that I felt immediately, immediately at home and at one with the Martin in this live performance. I started with a Bob Dylan (“You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go”), then did my “Borderline,” then did my “When You’re Gone Away,” then Soul Asylum’s “Runaway Train.” I decided to end with a Dylan too, with the simple, “You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere.” When I hit the end of that song, the Martin told me to do some flat picking instead of the strumming I usually do. And that was pure joy. Triinu at Brislee’s open mic in Paris
This is not a review of the D-42. There are hundreds of those online. Let me just say that everything I have read in the reviews is true: It feels like the perfect guitar. I still love my Gibson J-200, but it has a very limited use for me, where as the vast range of this D-42 is a great all round guitar for my music. And I was really pleased to hear exactly the same comment from Ash Orphan at the open mic, as I did from my son earlier in the day when I was buying the guitar at Woodbrass: “This guitar really suits your style.”
Amen. It feels great too, to know that my D-42 has a note inside it stating that it is one of the Centennial edition guitars of the Martin Dreadnought. Martin’s first Dreadnought was made in 1916, mine – although it came straight to France from Nazareth, PA, was made in 2016.
COPENHAGEN – Rather than trying to look hip, cool and with it, I will admit here that before I stepped into the world premiere of Christine Franz’s film at the Empire Bio at the CPH:DOX festival last night I had no idea who the Sleaford Mods were. Then, as the film began, I quickly concluded that they were just a couple of kunst. As the film rolled on, the couple of kunst reminded me less of Derek and Clive, and more and more of the reason Britain voted for Brexit. And more and more, I grew to feel sympathetic and warm to the two stars of Bunch of Kunst, coming out feeling finally that I may not – as Iggy Pop says toward the end of the film – understand much of what they are saying (thanks to that strong British accent) but I can understand the reason they exist. And though I always thought the Brexit vote was an illness, I can now understand a little better through this film the nature of that illness.
Having said that, I don’t think the word Brexit was mentioned a single time in the film. And in a talk in the cinema at CPH:DOX after the film, Franz said she specifically did not want to make an overt political statement in the film. It turns out there has already been another documentary about the Sleaford Mods, called Sleaford Mods: Invisible Britain, and that one was very political. So no doubt Franz wanted to avoid what had already been done.
So who the fowk are the Sleaford Mods anyway??? Well, a couple of guys who had musical ambitions, one of whom played in several bands without success, the other of whom was a DJ doing his own thing. They met one night at a show, and the guy who speaks the rap and writes the lyrics, Jason Williamson, got together with the man who does the DJ thing, Andrew Fearn, and they began to do some shows in bars, raging against the machine that is working class life in middle England. At their home in Nottingham, they decided to set up a little studio and record some albums. Bunch of Kunst Sleaford Mods trailer
This was in the late 2000s, and they stuck things out in bars for years, through failed album after failed album. Eventually, the chicken-factory worker – Williamson – (well, seems that job lasted six weeks) and the unemployed man, Fearn, met up with a guy who had a solid job, driving a bus for 14 years, and he became a fan and had a vision. These two modern day punk rappers, he thought, could get their act together and do something relevant and cool.
To draw the story short, they ended up doing bigger and bigger venues, finally playing in Glastonbury, and then, as the film shows, ultimately signed a record deal with the legendary Rough Trade label. (There is a shot at one moment that shows the first Rough Trade album, Métal Urbain, a French punk band of perhaps equally unlikely people in the 1970s, famous for a song called “Creve Salope,” (“Die Bitch” among others.) And, as I mentioned, the Sleaford Mods also ended up garnering the attention of Iggy Pop and many others. Sleaford Mods video
The film was shot over two crucial years, from 2014 to 2016, and takes us from their lives in the pub performances to Glastonbury to the signing at Rough Trade.
What made these performers a success is clear: The nasty, angry, bad, expletive-full lyrics that speak the anger of the English working class in a language and emotion that they understand. “They speak for me,” says one of the gig-goers, a man who also appears to be in his 40s, like the two members of the “band.” But the language is so strongly couched in English argot that it is, as I said, nearly incomprehensible to an outsider – and that is also one of the main factors that makes it popular to its tribe.
And yet this deep-rooted cultural whatever did not stop the duo from gaining at first a slightly greater following in Germany before they developed one in England! (Which partly answers for the German director – although Franz also pointed out that she had attended Birmingham University, and so was steeped in a little bit of this culture herself.) We are also taken on a trip to see the German fans celebrate and react to the Sleaford Mods, and to sing along with their lyrics – which was as surprising to the Sleaford Mods as it was to anyone.
They are now about to embark on a visit to perform in the United States, and it will be interesting to see how they are received. While my first impressions were entirely softened by my “getting to know” these guys through the film, I still have to add that had I seen them in an open mic somewhere, anywhere, around the world, even in middle England, I am sure that I would have still had the impression that they were just a couple of kunst. Had I seen them in front of one of their raging audiences in England, on the other hand, I might have wondered what world I had stepped into … just the way I did when I saw my first ever performance by a punk band, the Viletones, in Toronto in early 1977. In fact, the ambience was very, very similar…and as I write these words, I realize it was exactly 40 years ago that I had that strange experience of seeing the Viletones in the Colonial Underground, and wrote about it the moment I returned home, as I did last night this post….
So if you want an experience like seeing the first punk bands in the 1970s, take a look at this film.
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….