M I K E R U D D B I L L P U T T . C O MM M I K E R U D D B I L L P U T T . C O MM M I K E R U D D B I L L P U T T . C O MM M I K E R U D D
The Bloody Newsletter
Issue #177 November 2018
Dick's Toolbox mmmWazzer's Trans-Tasman Tales mmmMeet the TBN crew
Mike's Pith & Wind - Free Music
‘You've read your last complimentary article this month. To read the full article, subscribe now.’
That’s The New Yorker speaking and this is me being parsimonious in return. The regular reader will know that I usually skim The New Yorker (cartoons mostly) for inspiration before tackling this column and I suppose I’ve had a charmed and free run till now so I shouldn’t feel too miffed, but I’m still annoyed. That’s the Internet for you though. So much stuff for free, the alleged mandate of the World Wide Web in the first place, then Captain Capitalist kicks in when you really want to read something and makes you feel resentful.
Speaking of free, when the Woodstock Festival happened back in 1969 there was that famous moment when Chip Monck announced, ‘It’s a free concert from now on!’ which was not so much a response to the hippie/anarchist-inspired movement that believed that music belonged to the people and therefore should be free, but more a recognition that people were walking in to the festival site without being hampered by security of any sort because the organisers had wildly underestimated just about everything, including how many people would turn up to the event with or without their pre-sold tickets.
As a matter of interest I’ll reprint the whole, entirely reasonable announcement from the unflappable Chip Monck (who was hired as MC when the organisers realised at the last minute they didn’t have one), and you’ll see that it plainly has nothing to do with pressure from the free music movement.
‘I was gonna wait awhile, but, before we talked about it. But, maybe we'll talk about it now so you can think about it. It’s a free concert from now on! That doesn't mean that anything goes. But, what that means is we're gonna put the music up here for free. What is means is the people who are putting, backing this thing, who are putting up the money for it are gonna take a bit of a bath - a big bath. That's no hype, that's truth! They're gonna get hurt. But, what it means is these people have it in their heads, that your welfare is a helluva lot more important and the music is, than a dollar.’
Rikki Farr’s announcement from the stage at the 1970 Isle of Wight Festival is less well-known and in contrast betrays a great deal of resentment for the free-loaders who had no intention of buying tickets and had torn down the fences and crashed the festival. In any case, Rikki Farr shouted, ‘We put this festival on, you bastards, with a lot of love! We worked for one year for you pigs! And you wanna break our walls down and you wanna destroy it? Well, you go to hell!’
This furious tirade from the stage rather soured the festival for a while and led to Joni Mitchell famously misreading the crowd’s mood when she snapped ‘I think you’re acting like fucking tourists, man.’ after a crowd member, who’d tried to engage in some discussion about his mates on the hill, was turfed off the stage.
I can vaguely remember the ‘free music for all’ movement got a run in Australia as well in the early ‘70s and it must’ve been a consideration when the Sunbury Festival was being planned, but the Sunbury organisers weren’t having any of that hippie nonsense here and consequently not a lot of free-loaders made it past the regularly patrolled perimeter.
Then there was the troubled Festival Express tour in Canada in 1970. After numerous false starts the tour eventually began in Toronto. The following extract from the Wikipedia report confirms a confrontational incident that I remembered from the entertaining movie of the same name.
‘The tour ultimately began in Toronto at the CNE Grandstand, which was plagued with about 2500 protestors who objected to what they viewed as exploitation by price-gouging promoters. The opposition was organised by the May 4th Movement (M4M), the left-rebel group that grew out of the May 4, 1970 Kent State shootings. They attempted to crash the gates and scale the barbed wire fence and clashed with police, resulting in several injuries. …Subsequently, Jerry Garcia, in conjunction with Magahay, was instrumental in calming the unruly crowd by arranging a spontaneous free ‘rehearsal’ concert in nearby Coronation Park upon a flatbed truck, while the scheduled show continued at the stadium.’
Woodstock and subsequent festivals hired famous acts who became even more famous as a result. But Woodstock also made some of the lesser known participants into stars too. Try Richie Havens, Ravi Shankar, Arlo Guthrie, Country Joe Mcdonald, Santana, Canned Heat, Joe Cocker, Ten Years After, Johnny Winter – the list goes on.
Joni Mitchell didn’t even go to Woodstock but wrote a song about it that was recorded by her very close friends, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young and she managed to become even famouser as a result.
Despite the early philosophical equivocations by sections of the audience and reservations from even some of the performers, festivals became an accepted way for artists to communicate with a very large number of people at one time (400,000 at Woodstock) in an exotic locale in company with other famous performers - and with the subsequent interest in the Woodstock movie a whole new audience could be reached.
Pop music, or more specifically, ‘alternative contemporary music’ as featured in such festivals created/found its audience and record sales increased exponentially as a result. Once record contracts were renegotiated to take account of the new reality, recording stars started to rival the record companies they were signed to in conspicuous wealth.
The excesses associated with rock musicians flourished in the ‘70s and beyond, but nobody anticipated the technical upheaval that came with the introduction of the World Wide Web, least of all the record companies, a lot of whom still carry on as if the Internet hasn’t rendered impotent the record business as they knew it.
The receipts from record sales in the digital world are a tiny fraction of what they used to be in those halcyon days and even the most famous of the current crop of musical celebrities has to look at supplementing their incomes in a variety of ways.
I think Ariel at Sunbury back in 1975 might’ve anticipated a new way for bands to make money while having too much fun in front of a huge audience of festival-goers. I’m pretty sure this was a last-minute inspiration from one of the cameramen, but Bill was persuaded to pick up and sample a can of Crest beer while we were performing. I didn’t notice anything as I must’ve been transfixed by the girl with her breasts swinging free on the hill.
I’m not sure that Crest beer ever became a ‘thing’ and certainly no money changed hands on the day, but perhaps Bill and Ariel unwittingly became forerunners in the multi-million dollar world of celebrity endorsement.
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Dick's Toolbox - Opera - why?
I don’t know if I mentioned that I went to the opera regularly. Or am I hoping that all our memories are equally as bad and that I may have written this all before? And that you have forgotten as well. Well I don’t actually go to live opera but the filmed versions of performances by the New York Metropolitan Opera Company o n what I suspect are their Saturday matinees. I presume that the audience might get some form of discount for the annoyance of cameras zipping low along the footlights or trying to surreptitiously angle a boom from the side of the stage for a close-up of a hopefully astounding major aria.
There usually are about a dozen operas in the season and we see about half of them. We are not in the habit of seeing the same opera, which I suppose means that we will have a declining number of opportunities as time goes by. There are some which experience has taught us we will not enjoy, most especially Wagner where, after
what seems like four hours, you look at your watch to find that only fifteen minutes have elapsed. There are some beautiful moments but they sink like paper boats in the thunderous barrage that goes on and on, micro moments absorbed into a wall of blancmange and Teutonic porridge. In fact, we walked out of one, which was a turgid East German production which seemed to be taking place in a cutaway tramp steamer with two dim lights artfully placed so that you saw an occasional leg or the glint of an eyeball in the gloom. Out of this stygian gloom guttural sounds would emerge denoting either anguish or poor toilet training. Anyway Wagner was not a nice man, so I will happily walk out of anything he wrote.
Opera is an acquired taste and, even though you can make a case for it being the ultimate artistic vehicle combining drama, music and dance, it probably isn’t. And there is sometimes livestock – for example the last production had a couple of horses who were not in the manure dropping mood. As this was a titanic production of Aida, which as you know is set in the Egypt of the pharaohs, a few droppings on the stage might have been an interesting distraction from at least one hundred people singing away in Italian.
There are many problems that people have with opera; firstly the language, as very few are in English. This is not a problem as most opera house now have sur or sub titles so you know what’s going on, though that does occasionally make you realise that a lot of words and phrases are endlessly repeated or that the sung conversation that you thought was deep and meaningful was really about whether the tenor should pawn his trousers to pay for a plate of spaghetti . When you hear an opera in English you kind of hope that they would translate it into Italian as it almost seems unnatural
Secondly the casts are believed in popular literature to be generously proportioned – this is less true that in the past, but there are a still a few sopranos, tenors, basses and baritones that you would not want to have fall on you from any height. Or even lean on you in an unguarded moment. But this is the exception and there are more than a few who are quite attractive. This doesn’t mean that they are always of an appropriate age for the role, but as long as you can suspend belief to the extent that a fifty year old can be playing the part of somebody of fifteen you can get by.
The third criticism is that the plots are a little anachronistic and no longer relevant to our times. Given that operas were the musicals of their day I would like to say that ‘Les Miserable’s, ‘Sweeney Todd’ and ‘The Phantom of the Opera’ are not exactly current affairs. And ‘West Side Story’ is Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet with great music and great dancing and the lead actors having their voices dubbed. Natalie Wood dubbed by Marni Nixon and by Jimmy Bryant dubbed Richard Beymer whom I always regarded as a bit of a sop and to whom Natalie Wood apparently scarcely spoke during the filming. This may explain the lack of chemistry. George Chakiris, as Bernardo, the leader of the Sharks gang was the star in my teenage eyes and was a deserved Academy Award winner for best supporting actor. All those clicking fingers when the film finished.
Which brings us to the prime differentiator of opera. These people can sing. And sing without microphones so that everybody can hear in a largish theatre. And sing notes of such purity depth and emotions that can just leave you shaking one’s head in admiration and awe. Not only that, they are generally acting pretty well at the same time.
This leads one to the advantage of a filmed performance. You can actually see the performers being acting singers, singing passionately in a voice loud enough to be heard several blocks away only a matter of centimetres from somebody else’s ear. If Isabel Leonard sang loudly in my ear I wouldn’t mind a bit.
There are great tunes – but not as many as you think. Bizet’s Pearl Fishers has the great duet and not that much more which is memorable. But at least in an opera you can applaud in the middle if there is a great performance, rather like a jazz performance. Aida has a couple of stunners, the Triumphal March where the horses contained themselves admirably, being the most famous. More famous than the scenery. With the exception of Mozart there are not that many tunes you can whistle as you leave the theatre.
I have actually been to several live operas, even encountering my brother at one which was the Australian Opera version of Tosca. This was slightly unsettling initially, in that the male lead was shorter than the heroine Tosca and Chinese. I think that my brother and I were there in an attempt to reclaim a childhood moment as our grandparents had taken us to this opera when we were rather young, but the vast expense did not quite compensate for the fact that I had my delightful daughter with me in some strange passing of the musical baton.
The baton seems to have been dropped by the way.
The only other live opera that I can recall was one of those special events which you do when you go overseas. This was a very, very long time ago when Eric Frommer’s ‘Europe on $10 a day’ was almost realistic as a concept if not a reality. Anyway, my treat was to go to Covent Garden and see Mozart’s Magic Flute, which to my delight and surprise had Kiri Te Kanawa singing. We knew nothing about the opera and couldn’t afford a programme and so what was happening on stage was a total mystery as, in those ancient times there were no sur-titles. Even if you read about the opera, which apparently has Masonic subtexts, it is still a perplexing mystery so we had genuinely baffled expressions for nearly all the performance. But the music was magical and Kiri, even though far away from our seats in the gods was astounding. And loud
My only concern is that the audience is of a similar vintage to myself and my friends. A fading sea of silver that will pass away leaving only faint images dancing in an empty theatre echoing with magnificent voices that could break your heart.
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Wazzer's Trans-Tasman Tales - An Overstory about Postcapitalism
My tardiness following our editor’s urgent call for this month’s contribution has allowed me to peruse his missive, so I have the benefit of his opening remarks to springboard into mine…the Capitalist enterprise. C is the enterprise that puts the I in Ideology. When it comes to ‘a system of ideas and ideals, especially one which forms the basis of economic or political theory and policy’ you can’t really go past Capitalism as the enduring archetype. Some might say Democracy has a greater claim, although the USA has been doing a great job of trashing its rep recently. As one who’s never been that great at dealing with money, I’ve always found the idea of Capitalism troublesome, so much so that I’ve had a critical crack at it from time to time (see article). Therefore, I’ve always kept an eye out for fellow travellers with something interesting to add to the critique and a couple of recent works have caught my eye: ‘The Overstory’, a new novel from American Richard Powers and ‘99 Theses on the Revaluation of Value: A Postcapitalist Manifesto’, a more academic text from Canadian Professor Brian Massumi. Powers’ body of fiction is informed by science and his latest work follows the pattern set by previous successes that have tackled topics like AI and genetics. In ‘The Overstory’ the topic is dendrology – trees. Powers argues that the most effective way of convincing someone of the value of an idea is with a story: ‘The best arguments in the world won’t change a person’s mind. The only thing that can do that is a good story’. In this story he advocates for the idea of ‘unsuicide’: his notion that the path ‘humanity’ (and I so abhor how the kindness connotation of that word has been utterly corrupted) is on, needs to be reversed. While there are many aspects of so-called civilisation that are certifiably suicidal tendencies, its contempt for trees is marked. Like so much of human ‘enterprise’ that elides the downside of its ‘progress’, the consumption of trees has not only been masked by the pretence of ‘sustainable’ restoration but that practice has also been exposed as biologically unsustainable. Never mind that trees are the ‘lungs of the planet’ and that they comprise incredibly complex, highly interconnected ecological communities constituting every organism in existence; to humans they’re primarily an exploitable ‘resource’ to be capitalised on.
The extent of this ‘desire’ struck home for me the other day when I went on a cruise on the nearby Kaipara Harbour; covering nearly 1000 square kilometres it is one the world’s largest. Prior to European colonisation the harbour was completely surrounded by lush native bush including many Kauri trees, which quickly became highly valued for the large volume of top quality lumber they could afford – initially masts for sailing ships, the European source of which had been essentially annihilated. This, aided by ease of accessibility to shipping – via the Kaipara harbour – for export made milling the primary target for late 19th century Capitalists. Within a mere 60 years the bulk of the trees had gone. Today the Kaipara surrounds are denuded farmlands, with erosion continuing; only tiny pockets of native bush remain and Aotearoa-New Zealand’s very few Kauri trees are now a rarity so threatened by disease that access is closed to most of the centuries-old giants. Even Kaipara’s farmlands are now under threat with grazing holdings becoming unprofitable as agri-industry conglomerates its corporates – exit farmers, enter recreational communities. Now some of the 3000 odd kilometre coastline harbours expensively elaborate gated lifestyle villages that most of the time stare blindly out across the water while their occupiers are city-bound generating the capital to cover the costs.
If you’re thinking I’m headed down an apocalyptic path, be reassured that Powers’ story takes a concluding redemptory turn that involves the commingling of learning and communication technology.
Prof Massumi’s text, although not the sort of story easily accessed by the non-academic reader (set out as traditional numbered theses each with accompanying lemmas and scholia), never-the-less has a similarly good story: Thesis 1. ‘It is time to take back value…a concept so thoroughly compromised, so soaked in normative strictures and stained with capitalist power, as to be unredeemable…abandoned…to apologists of economic oppression. Value is too valuable to be left in those hands.’ In what follows Massumi advances his argument that the problem with (big C) Capitalism is finance, particularly money. At the root of the problem lies contemporary Capitalism’s equation of value as quantity at the expense of quality with money as the measure of that value quantity. The answer, says Massumi, is to ‘uncouple value from quantification’. Over the ensuing 99 points a lot of complex and technical territory is covered, but two of Massumi’s notions have stood out for me: One is that capitalism is not merely an economic invention, rather it is an ecological form of energy – ‘Humans do not run capitalism; capitalism runs through the human.’ Consequently, the other is that capitalism involves an ‘ecology of powers’ that can be appreciated to afford the prospect of a ‘postcapitalist’ reality where the primacy of economic quantity over life quality will be overturned, ‘life will dictate its qualities to the economy’. A clue as to how this may occur arises in understanding affect, which Massumi illuminates with the example of temperature and the difference between n degrees centigrade in autumn and in spring. Although the number is the same the qualitative affect between the two are vastly different but also resonant. Affect is a concept that homo sapiens in the arrogant pursuit of primacy has largely missed, preferring instead to acclaim effect.
Together, these two critical studies also go resonantly some way toward offering much needed degrees of optimism in what otherwise seem very pre-apocalyptic times. I think only the most foolhardy of humans still hang on to the premise that all’s tickety boo with life on Earth and that as long as we throw money at the problem, we shall overcome. As one of Powers’ protagonists puts it: ‘It’s not the world that needs saving, it’s us.’…from ourselves!

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