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 #178 January 2019
Dick's Toolbox mmmWazzer's Trans-Tasman Tales mmmMeet the TBN crew
Mike's Pith & Wind - Falling over and forgetfulness etc.
I felt as though I’d officially graduated into the wobbly ranks of the infirm and senile when I took a tumble in Canberra the other day and ended up face-down on the pathway being lightly sprayed by the hissing lawn-sprinklers.
I didn’t do myself too much damage thankfully - just a graze on my left elbow and a bruised left hip - but I know how these misadventures can impact on the elderly’s quality of life and, as I said, I guess I have to consider myself well and truly one of them now.
The signs of mortality are making themselves known in so many subtle ways and on a daily basis - failing sight and hearing of course, slowing reflexes and memory lapses. And I’m sure there was something else.
My father David, (whom I think of as Dad and Dave Rudd) continues to live home alone at the age of ninety-four with only the most basic one-day-a-week assistance - and has just been granted an optimistic further two years on his drivers’ license. He is understandably very relieved and I’m sure his fellow road users in Rotorua, scarcely a bustling metropolis, will have no trouble accommodating his occasional lapses of judgement.
David worked as a stock and station agent for most of his working life (much to the disappointment of ‘the colonel’, his father, who fervently wished he would show the slightest inclination to follow in his legal-type footsteps). In this capacity he utterly relied on his continued ability to drive himself around – and around. He drove great distances, servicing the entire North Island of New Zealand, based in unlikely sounding towns like Eketahuna and Waikikamukau, and his numerous scrapes in his enormous Chevrolet and Ford company cars were legendary - at least in his own mind. My brother Richard and I used to love being driven to all points of the North Island by our father in the August holidays, although these days I suspect it was the easiest way for him to keep us entertained. Anyway, to lose his (tiny) car at the end of his life would be like losing a limb - or perhaps two limbs - even if these days he only uses it to go to the library and back.
All the colourful characters that populate his rip-roaring road adventures have long since passed away of course – much to David’s sorrow - and Richard and I now regret not taking the time to notate at least some of his many tales of long-distance love, hair-raising car accidents and occasional acts of treachery.
As I keep saying, the project of writing the tale of my own life and times is never far from my mind these days and coincidentally yet another reminder of my very early days arrived in my inbox just after Christmas. It was from Peter Dodwell, a fellow chorister at the Christchurch Cathedral and it was a scan of the cover of an EP of Christmas carols that the choir released in 1958 (!) plus an mp3 of one of the tracks thereon.
Crikey! In 1958 I was an unworldly thirteen-year-old and the possibility of a career in rock music would have never entered my innocent little head - in fact I was barely aware that such a world existed. As I’ve mentioned previously, the outside world was channelled into Christchurch on the airwaves through the agency of two government-owned radio stations and while the commercial station’s playlist did include popular music it was necessarily broad and pretty unadventurous - it was a big step when they presented a syndicated half-hour ‘pop’ hit parade on just the one night of the week.
The actual big event of the week were the request sessions on Sunday – the children’s in the morning and the grown-ups’ in the early afternoon. It’s quite possible that every person in Christchurch had their name read out at some stage as requesting this or that song or comedy skit. Oh, My Papa (Eddy Fisher) was a big favourite and will give you an idea of the tenor of the requests.
It was onto this apparently infertile ground that Rock Around the Clock exploded in the mid-fifties and the 3ZB request programmes were never the same again.
You can get an impression of the effect that the release of such a record had in those days from a movie that’s getting a lot of promotion right now – which means to me at least, that it’s probably a ‘worthy’ movie that not an awful lot of people are going to see. The movie in question is Cold War about which I had absolutely no expectations when Maria and I saw it recently at our almost-local Cameo Cinemas in Belgrave, having neither read the reviews nor heard about it from anybody who’d seen it. (Having now seen it we both thoroughly recommend it, BTW).
Anyway, the movie is a love story (somebody described it to me the other day as having a similar trajectory to Casablanca) but set in post-war Poland with a location change to Paris at one stage.
I was overjoyed to find that while there is abundant incidental music, much of it live, beautifully arranged, performed and recorded, there was no film score as such – background musical enhancement is one of my pet hates. However, it’s that moment in the film that Bill Haley’s Rock Around the Clock crashes the party that took me back to when I first heard the song as a very young feller. Hearing it in the context of this essentially European movie also recalibrates the importance of the song in the history of popular music.
I never saw Blackboard Jungle, but I saw the trailer in 1955, or given that Christchurch is at the end of the civilised world more likely 1956, which was when the Bill Haley’s track came up – it featured under the opening credits for the actual movie. (Or rather, a version of the song featured under the credits – apparently it was an alternative mix that had the sequence of sax and guitar solos reversed from the standard version we knew then). It probably wasn’t the first time I’d heard it, but being presented in the context of a sensationalist teen movie played a big part in my appreciation of the song. Or lack thereof.
Because I have to confess that I was a little bit nervous about rock’n’roll music at that age. Rockabilly and rock’n’roll music were often identified with what were known in New Zealand at the time as milk-bar cowboys, sometimes also mistakenly called (at least by my grandmother) Teddy Boys (after the fashion-conscious English model who were indeed responsible for the trashing the hall at a Comets’ London performance) and then later as bodgies and even later again in the mid-sixties as rockers – the local and UK nemesis of the mods. These Kiwi cowboys wore jeans and black leather jackets and had brush-back greasy hair and often rode big motor-bikes. In the press they were often rather hysterically characterised as ‘juvenile delinquents’, a tag I suspect they rather liked.
Anyway, I was terrified of them and their reputation. I regularly encountered a mob of them in the Cathedral Square after choir practise. They used to hang around the Plaza theatre (and the next-door milk bar of course) on the other side of the Square but not far enough away for me from my bus stop for sedate Cashmere Hills.
The Plaza showed a lot of B grade horror and SF movies that the cowboys favoured and they also enjoyed revving-up their bikes and generally putting the frighteners on the general populace – and peripheral choir boys.
So, Bill Haley’s song playing in a movie called Blackboard Jungle just seemed too anti-social by half for timid Michael and I just didn’t get the fun aspect at the time.
Meanwhile in the movie Cold War we’d been listening to Polish folk songs interspersed with self-serving political songs sung by choirs and accompanied by folk and classical instruments - and some very cool jazz - when the Comets dropped their driving rockabilly bombshell.
It was an electrifying moment. I have to say the record still sounds bloody marvellous and it sounds even more marvellous on a theatre sound system cranked up to pain-threshold level. It’s exciting even now and for me the guitar solo remains a seminal statement.
Incidentally, there’s a bit of a Beatles’ Love Me Do story attached to the recording, (which was originally released as a B side), because the Comets’ drummer at the time was, like Ringo, overlooked for the session in favour of Billy Gussak, a session drummer. There was also a session guitarist (Danny Cedrone) added to the line-up for the recording who played the riveting solo I mentioned.
These two players were inspired choices for the track – I imagine the drum track would be more muscular as a result for example - and were probably responsible for helping make it the exciting track it still sounds.
There are many other stories about the recording of Rock Around the Clock record, some clearly apocryphal, that tell you that its popularity - like popularity in general - was the end result of a whole lot of coincidences, misadventures and just dumb luck. If it hadn’t been picked up for Blackboard Jungle for example it may have remained as an unheard B-side to a poor-selling single.
One of the superficial reasons that I never took to Bill Haley and His Comets was that Bill Haley in particular, despite or even because of his manicured kiss curl, looked like such a dag. I’m still that superficial guy in some respects, but while issues of appearance will remain of critical importance to teenagers I’m thankful I’ve lasted to a sufficient age to finally appreciate that Rock Around the Clock was not just one of the first rock’n’roll records to achieve wide acceptance around the world, but that it arguably remains one of the best.
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Dick's Toolbox - Cars as Sculpture
Well it is the silly season and so let me be just a little silly and ask the question: ‘Can some cars be considered art?’ What could be sillier? It is obvious that a Toyota is a Camry and a Da Vince is a Mona Lisa. We are inundated by cars mostly of an indeterminate form designed to move humanity and protect its occupants from reality, others cars and common-sense. They are things; commodities like washing machines with wheels and added lethality. Do I contemplate their beauty – well only to comment that they are mostly ugly at worst and, at best, boring? But sometimes a ray of sunshine bursts through the clouds of mediocrity and one says to oneself – I wish there were more of like that. There are not many truly outstanding works of art but there are many mediocre ones perhaps in some arcane relationship to the number of indifferently shaped cars. Just because a painting is in a gallery doesn’t mean it is any good as a wander through the Louvre will indicate. It may just have survived several hundred years of conflict and rising damp.
So where to start? By being serious? I’ll try for a paragraph or two.
The word beauty is an aesthetic term. The word aesthetic, as an adjective, means giving or designed to give pleasure through beauty; as a noun it means a set of principles underlying the work of a particular artist or artistic movement. This means that the Jaguar E Type Series 1 is a work of art, perhaps by definition but also according to the magazine Autocar which created a list of the twenty most beautiful cars of all time. They believe that the 1955 Citroen DS19 and the 1957 Ferrari TR250 are beautiful as they give pleasure through their appearance. But they might just be wrong - except for the Ferrari TR250, number nineteen on their list which, compared to the svelte Aston Martin DB9 looks like a bag of bolts. The problem is that none of the cars chosen were designed to be merely beautiful even though there was a variant of the Citroen named ‘Goddess’.
I’m going to hold off on why the Ferrari TR250 is more beautiful except to say there is a primacy of engineering in the aesthetics of the automobile.
I have been involved in a discussion whether cars, some cars, or even any car, can be considered to be sculpture, and therefore art. A work of art comparable in category to ‘stuff’ that you see in galleries. And a work of art doesn’t have to be beautiful, by the way, but it does have to be a created as an object worthy of contemplation. Which at first glance would say cars are in with an internally combusted start.
This debate was triggered by a visit to Motorclassica, a gathering of vintage, classic and exotic cars and the motoring enthusiasts that flock around them like bees to honey, held at the Royal Exhibition Building. Colour, light, glitter, buffed alloy and chrome, engine castings of magnificent craftsmanship, and cars that were worth very little when new that are worth hundreds of thousands of dollars now.
It was the second time I have been to this automotive event, both times accompanied by a friend possessed of a very logical, analytic and questioning mind; blessed or biased with an engineering perspective but also possessed of an aesthetic sensibility. This he denies but this may be because he is taller than me and an ex-racing car driver.
And it was an event where people were definitely contemplating cars with awe, tenderness and traces of envy. They moved slowly with glazed expressions and tremulous lips perhaps through the thrill of being in the ultimate sweetshop where the money had already been spent and you weren’t able to buy anything.
Without any scientific backing I am inclined to think that there is a gene that affects a significant majority of the male population which causes an infatuation with the automobile. My two year old grandson had a limited vocabulary but already it includes the words ‘Aston Martin’.
The show had automobiles of all ages ranging from the latest supercars to vehicles which could claim to be vintage. Or if not vintage, or classic, and if not that at least interesting because apart from Ferraris galore there were several Morris J-Type vans of a distinctly utilitarian nature that were apparently a commonplace sight in the 1950s. One was decked out in the green livery of Pipe Perfection Plumbers so there is an attempt at a certain classlessness. Mind you they were outside, baking in the sun and away from the aristocracy.
The particular car which sparked the debate was a six-cylinder Delage D6/70S. In 1936, a D6 was prepared for the 24 Hours of Le Mans with a lightweight Figoni et Falaschi body, but a general strike caused the event to be cancelled. The car was lost during WW2, and the car displayed was built by Artisan Coachworks of Melbourne using photographs of the original car, and built on a rolling chassis purchased in Europe. All very surprising and a fantastic bit of craftsmanship but of course this compounds the problem by adding the ‘concept of originality’. This then is not the real car but an excellent ‘forgery’. If a painting had been destroyed in WWII but recreated from photographs would we hold it in the same sort of veneration as the lost original? I think not. I can build a replica of a Shelby Cobra which is probably better than the original but it isn’t going to fetch a tenth as much money as the original dangerous compound of excessive power and a delicate chassis.
It was without doubt beautifully designed and to my, and my friend’s mind, the most bewitching car in the show.
Anyway I wondered if there was a simple test to make the distinction between art and the automobile. So I now propose the following : if I were to remove a recognised piece of sculpture from a gallery and put it into a motor show would it be immediately categorised as art? I am pretty sure that everyone would say, “That is a bit of sculpture, and what’s it doing here?” They are not going to say that the wheels have fallen off Barbara Hepworth.
Now for the standard issue of sculpture, the sort of thing you trip over when you step back to admire a painting, I think this is true. Michael Angelo’s ‘David’ would stand out as art in even a Trabant showroom, because we are accustomed to it and its classification. A modern abstract work such as a Clement Meadmore’s ‘Dervish’ a large twisted Cor-ten steel work at the Melbourne Art Centre would also be non-controversial as sculpture. As we advance into minimalist and conceptual art, twigs, words and other ephemera, we would have less agreement that it was art - though not that it wasn’t a car.
Is the converse true? Was there any automobile that I could put into a gallery and have it be regarded as an art work? My first reaction, which I still think is true, is that there isn’t one. And that is that no matter how well designed, a car is not primarily an object for contemplation. Yes you may contemplate it if you so choose but that is an optional extra like metallic paint. It is, no matter what else, a functional object.
Is it possible to divorce oneself from the fact that it has a use? Can we just contemplate the shape of a car for its own sake divorced from its practicality? From experience we know we can contemplate a two thousand year old Grecian Urn for just its beauty and ignore the fact it’s just a decorated olive oil container – though this way of looking is aided by the fact that it is now only to be found in a museum and not the larder. Certainly one could contemplate a car for just its looks but it that would be like looking at George Clooney only as a man who advertises coffee. Keat’s Ode on a Grecian Urn which starts, ‘Thou still unravish'd bride of quietness ….. and ends "Beauty is truth, truth beauty,—that is all / Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know" doesn’t contemplate the quality of the olive oil that was once inside
Let me deal with the idea of car and the phrase ‘object of contemplation’. There are many definitions of sculpture. For the moment we will go with the Oxford’s: “The art of forming solid objects that represent a thing, person, idea, etc. out of a material such as wood, clay, metal, or stone, or an object made in this way.” Of course as soon as this is put forward the immediate reaction is “But ……” and Duchamp’s ‘Fountain’ springs to mind. Springs to mind is the operative words as it is a men’s urinal reoriented it to a position 90 degrees from its normal position of use. This was exhibited (though behind screens) in the 1917 Society of Independent Artists in New York. History is a little vague but it is believed that Duchamp purchased a standard Bedfordshire model urinal from the J. L. Mott Iron Works, 118 Fifth Avenue and wrote on it, "R. Mutt 1917. Of course the original has been lost so when you see one of these works it’s not the original just one indistinguishable from the original.
But is it art? If you judged by Art History books where it features you might think so, even though it was intended by Duchamp, that sly under-miner of societal and artistic pretension and any form of seriousness apart from his own, as an ironic commentary about art works. Is an object a work of art simply by being situated in a gallery? By placing any object in a gallery to be looked at, to be contemplated, is it axiomatically art?
If we accept a urinal what’s the problem with a car? Well let’s start with the fact that I would say that ‘Fountain’ isn’t a work of art but an object that asks a question about art. But that doesn’t make it art in its own right even though it’s in a gallery and very famous. The question having been asked the specific object is almost immaterial; it is the physical manifestation of a philosophical question. Having accepted the question I would not be moved to have the urinal in the living room.
But to bring this to a brief conclusion:
Cars are not art but they are more interesting and better constructed than much of what passes as art. The engineering that makes up a car is often beautiful in its own right.
I might not think that an Aston Martin DB4 Zagato is art but I think that I might prefer one to a Picasso.
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Wazzer's Trans-Tasman Tales - ?
Wazzer's Trans-Tasman Tales are on holiday while the author undertakes pressing renovations in Paradise.
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