Sunday, November 06, 2005

WHAT THE POP PAPERS SAY: Kids, Kabbalah and Kate Bush

There comes a point where you have to ask if a magazine is in the publishing business, or if it's in the record industry. Q isn't the first magazine to pull a two different CDs with the same issue stunt, and the two 'best of 2005' CDs are pretty fine items - well worth buying two copies of Q for. But you do find yourself wondering how this sort of circulation boosting idea is viewed at the ABC - surely a large number of Qs will be discarded unopened once the second CD has been pulled from its gummy sticker?

Meanwhile, there are five variants of FHM this month, all substantially the same inside, but each with a different Girls Aloud lady on the cover. The most ardent GA-fan FHM reader will thus be forced to buy ten copies of the magazine this month - one of each to keep clean, and one of each to enjoy without worrying about the risk of spillage.

Kate Bush wanted to make it clear she wasn't some strange reclusive hermit, locking herself away from public view. She chose to do this by granting a solitary interview to Mojo, which is hardly disproving the allegations. Indeed, it seems that everything we've come to believe about Kate is apocyphal: 'There was a story that some EMI execs had come down to see you and you'd said something like: "Here's what I've been working on," and then produced some cakes from your oven. True? "No! I don't know where that came from. I thought that was quite funny actually. It presents me as this homely creature, which is all right, isn't it?"' Next week, we'll discover Kevin Sheilds has actually got a job working at a B&Q and does, actually, cut his fingernails.

What is interesting, though, is Kate's viewpoint of what the real world is like: "Friends of mine in the [music] business don't know how dishwashers work." Everyone's baseline, we guess, is slightly different.

The Times took a trip to Liverpool to see how preparations for the Capital of Culture are going, and met up with Jayne Casey. We've a lot of respect for Jayne, and are impressed with the work she's done to try and recreate a kind of music zone for the artists who've been forced out of the area they used to be found in. But it's ultimately depressing - the actual, real vibrant musical culture which used to thrive in the city centre, the sort of thing that was supposedly at the heart of the COC bid has been effectively run out of its own neighbourhoods to form a ghetto while their old haunts are turned into the "Rope Walks Partnership Area", and converted into poncey flats, overpriced and overdesigned bars and boutique hotels to cater for the people attracted by the artistic bohemian buzz that's just been relocated. Reading the interview we Casey, in which she enthuses over the idea of a former industrial area some distance from the city centre being converted into a safe area where unconventional businesses are allowed to thrive in order to service the entertainment needs of the tourists we kept thinking "where have we heard this before?"

Then it came to us: it's exactly the same plan as Liverpool City Council came up with for hookers - their prostitution zone of tolerance.

The Guardian meets up with Will Young, and decides that he's actually "credible" enough to be thought of as the new Robbie Williams. And no, we don't think they were being sarcastic, either.

Madonna has a new record out, and that means two things - first, the Kabbalah Centre management will be putting in a call to get some brochures from luxury car dealers in expectation of a nice little payday, and second, Maddy has been hitting the interview round. USA Today chose to sum up her current position as "Madonna at a crossroads" - what, there's a possibility she might find a new direction, then?

But a more accurate headline "Madonna fudges about on Kabbalah" would probably have been less tempting. It was this interview where she claimed that she'd spent eight years studying a faith and had never come across anything about the man whose teaching the faith was based on; she then started to fume about "religious thinking":

"But I've never heard that it's blasphemous for anyone to mention the names of catalysts. That's just a religious organization claiming ownership of something. 'This is our information; you're not Jewish and you can't know about it,' or, 'You're female and you can't know about it.' That's religious thinking ."I like to draw a line between religion and spirituality. For me, the idea of God, or the idea of spirit, has nothing to do with religion. Religion is about separating people, and I don't think that was ever the Creator's intention. That's just people's need to belong to a group and feel good about themselves."

So... what is the Kabbalah Centre, then? With its flogging of little pieces of string that (apparently falsely) are supposed to have been wrapped around the tomb of the Matriarch; pieces of string you're supposed to tie around someone else's wrists. Isn't that a little bit like a thing you're joining? And if there's a power structure of command there - and there is - then it's a religion, too, Madonna. Otherwise there wouldn't be a pricelist for its wares.

Madonna continues: "Just about every war that's ever been started has been started in the name of God. It's, 'I belong to this group; my group's better than your group, so if you're not in this group, we're going to kill you.' For me, religious thinking is synonymous with tribalism. You're not thinking for yourself; you're doing things because that's what somebody else did, orit's how your family taught you to behave and think."

Just about every war has been started in the name of God - really? The Crusades you can have; but other than that virtually every war has either been fought in order to extend territory and gain access to what that territory had to offer, or to further a political ideology, or both. Even supposed religious conflicts only ever used the faith angle as a way of selling the war to the public - most European conflict in the last millennium used religion as a fashionista would. Or do you really think Ian Paisley would really go "oh, that's alright then" to a united Ireland if Eire suddenly became Protestant?

But poor Madonna suffers for her cult... sorry, religion, sorry, pay-per-pray spirituality. She wailed just how much she suffers to the New York Daily News (you'll notice she's sticking to the softer end of the interview circuit, of course): "It would be less controversial if I joined the Nazi Party."

Um... no, no it wouldn't, you silly, silly woman. We can see what you're trying to say - "ooh, all I'm doing is trying to do is bring a little spiritual joy into people's lives and I'm treated like a pariah" - but that's rubbish. You might want to try joining the nazi party and see how villified you become if you don't believe us. But apparently, our constant calling of Madonna for promoting a religion which attempts to part believers from their cash for magical items and pointless expensive conventions isn't because we think its despicable for a public figure to promote a dubious cult. Oh, no, it's because we're afraid:

"'What do you mean you pray to God and wear sexy clothes? We don't understand this.' It frightens people. So they try to denigrate it or trivialize it so that it makes more sense. "I find it very strange that it's so disturbing to people," she continues. "It's not hurting anybody."

The people who are sold bottle of water, being told it's a cure for illness, at four quid a pop might disagree. The people who are told that charitable giving outside the cult "doesn't count" might disagree. The people who slave for the Kabbalah centre and get paid just $35 a month for their work might disagree. The woman who told her Kabbalah teacher that she'd dreamed about her dead grandfather, only to be told this was a sign to give twenty grand to the Kabbalah Centre might disagree. The parents separated from the kids, they might disagree.

It's not like joining the Nazis, Madonna - it's like becoming a spokesperson for racketeers.

Probably doesn't really help that Madonna reaches for Tom Cruise in her plea to be cut some breaks: 'On that level, she relates to Tom Cruise, who has taken endless flak for being a Scientologist. "If it makes Tom Cruise happy, I don't care if he prays to turtles," Madonna says. "And I don't think anybody else should.' Indeed, nobody should care about who Tom Cruise prays to - but if his "church" decides to underwrite its activites by parading him, and Travolta, and that woman who used to be in a sitcom, and the other woman who was in a sitcom before to promote their activities, then it becomes fair game. Basically, Madonna, if you wrote your cheques and wore your strings and didn't talk approvingly about Kabbalah in public, then it would be your right to continue to practice in complete anonymity. But you promote this bunch constantly, you publish books under your name based on their "teachings" - damn right people are going to call you on your associations with such dubious people. You become a cheerleader, you have to stay on the pitch whatever happens to your team.

'The accusation that her participation in kabbala makes her part of a cult irks her even more. "We're all in a cult," Madonna says. "In this cult we're not encouraged to ask questions. And if we do ask questions, we aren't going to get a straight answer. The world's in the cult of celebrity. That's the irony of it."'

Aah... clever... do you see what she did there? Except, of course, the world isn't in a cult of celebrity at all - if you decide you're not going to watch any more programmes with Jordan in, you don't get dragged into a backroom and asked questions about 'why' for ten hours. Nobody makes you break contact with your family if you want to watch a programme where Ewan McGregor goes off on a motorbike. Robbie Williams, for all his faults, doesn't expect you to give him all your money. Not all of it. And if Madonna thinks we're not prepared to ask questions of our celebrities, who is it who's giving her all this grief and treating her like she's joined the Nazi party?

Talking of signing up to a money-making machine, Jack White is in NME admitting he's going to take cash from the Coca-Cola company - but, hey, it's not a bad thing because he's written a special song for them and wrote it really quickly, and the commercial is "interesting" and 'I'm getting a message across in a way that I'd never normally have the means to accomplish". The message being, of course, that he doesn't really mind about Coke's grubby fingers being found over the deaths of trades unionists in Colombia, contaminating the water supply in Kerala, or taking 75,000 litres of water every day from the people of Tamil Nadu, or the pressure put on schools in Colorado Springs to increase sales of Coke beverages to kids and trying to force headteachers to allow the stuff to be guzzled during lessons. Because he's getting a big cheque. White tries to draw a parallel between his paid work for the Coca-Cola Organisation, and the Beatles' playing All You Need Is Love on the first worldwide satelitte broadcast. We were going to run a 'can you spot the difference' competition on this one, but it's so simple even the cat got the answer.

In a for-and-against, Daniel Martin suggests that White's increasingly desperate attempts to try and make this sound not like someone bending their arse to corporate greed shows that even White knows this one stinks; Eddie Smack, however, thinks that it's a great idea because it does allow White to get to an audience who otherwise woudn't hear his music. Smack doesn't explain, though, who this audience would be, and why Coke would pay top money to secure an artist only to use the advert in front of an audience who doesn't know who he is. Does Smack watch Beyonce doing her stuff in a Pepsi advert and really think that she's there for her singing rather than her profile?

This week, the NME has got Elton John and Pete Doherty on the cover. Or, actually, it's Matt Lucas and David Walliams, you see. A while back, Vic Reeves got his first NME cover before any of his TV programmes had ever aired, which made the paper feel quite rushing edge; putting commedians on after they've already been on the front of Radio Times feels slightly less ahead of the curve. In interview, Davod describes Sharon as like "a sexy older auntie", which might be funnier if it wasn't in the context of rubbing her feet during one of Elton John's white tie charity balls. Even David Badiel never sunk that low.

The Strokes are coming! The Strokes are coming! Apparently, there's a secret Euro tour in the offing. Of course, playing live one of the few things a band can do these days without it being available online before they're ready.

Peter Robinson takes on Sarah Dallin out of Bananarama - play nice, now. She says she'd be terribly worried if she was Pete Doherty's mum, and reveals she once ended up sharing a hotel room with Dave Lee Roth - "he kept going to the bathroom every fifteen minutes and talked for hours."

Radar trumpets with delight at the Spinto Band - they claim to have a pet dragon: so they might sound like Pavement, but they think like the Zutons.

Lightning Bolt, we're told, are the last great Underground Band (although an underground band these days just implies they don't have a MySpace page.)

"I have the musical tastes of a thirteen year old girl from San Diego" says Dev from test Icicles. Ah, but if only you had her wardrobe too...

The archive moment is May 22nd, 1995 - "Pulp gatecrash the charts".

A glossy poster pull-out section commemorates the NME Rock n Roll Riot tour - most of the posters show the Kaiser Chiefs, oddly enough.

reviews
live
comanechi - camden barfly - "leading the raging pack of gutter-rock twosomes"
white stripes - paris zenith - "every song is greeted like an encore"

albums
the paddingtons - first comes first - "even within its 33 minutes there's a certain amount of predictable punk retreads", 7
mars volta - scab dates - "Buck Rogers guitars", 7
nirvana - silver - "seek out the Greatest Hits instead", 3

tracks
totw - the automatic - recover - "a deceptively funky, fat low-end"
the rakes - 22 grand job - "jerky re-release"
regina spektor - carbon monoxide - "would be fatal in large doses"

and finally, we're indebted to Zeinab M for pointing out the description of Pete Doherty's bedroom from what the Guardian described as a "rare" interview:

"After 40 minutes or so, we are told that Doherty has tidied up and is ready to receive us. God knows what his room looked like before, because it's in a pretty shocking state now. Drug paraphernalia and CDs are scattered across the bed, and there are rows of blackened, broken miniature bottles of alcohol from which he has been smoking, a trunk full of junk, a motorcycle by the bed, and the words "ROUGH TRADE" daubed on the wall in fresh, dripping blood."

"Imagine," writes Zeinab, "that on Through The Keyhole."

The other interesting thing about the interview was the sudden discovery that there's more than one mini-Pete running about:

"Is it true that he and Moss are hoping to have children together? "I've got two," he says. Two, I say, baffled - I knew that he had one. He repeats that he has two children, and that he sees one of them. "Poor little fucker. My sister sees him all the time, so there's affection as a family for him. I don't really want to go into that because it's not fair on the kids or the mother. It's enough for me to say I love them and would do anything for them."

"would do anything for them" seems to be ensuring that their aunt pops round to see one of them from time to time, although even "ensuring" might be overstating it. Apparently even his press handler was surprised by the second kid, which makes you wonder quite how a kid who he'd do anything for could be such a well-kept secret. The more you hear about Doherty, the less he seems like indie music's great skinny hope; more like British pop's Jackson family all rolled into one.


3 comments:

karl said...

Just as you know that you're getting old when the cops start looking young, and you listen to radio 2 willingly, do you think that losing faith in the weekly music press is a sign? I recently started buying NME again after a break of several years and was astonished at the drop in the quality of the journalism- does Voctoria Newton write the whole thing under a variety of pseudonyms now?

simon h b said...

Karl, being able to remember when it was "the weekly music press" rather than just the NME marks you out as old, you know...

Anonymous said...

Thank you for the column and the HMHB references!

Any chance of starting a "Get HMHB to play south of the Watford Gap" petition?

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