“While people are very interested in records – the warmest, the hottest, the driest, the wettest – what really matters…
Michael Donohue presents a selection of music based around the ‘fame’ edition of New Philosopher magazine. Artwork: The Flight, by Remedios Varo (from Eric Satie video).
1. Robert Johnson, Cross Road Blues (Crossroads), 1936
Legend has it that Bob paid the ultimate price for his talent and fame. An ill-fated deal at the crossroads cost him the princely sum of his soul. Maybe he should have had an agent, though he probably thought that dealing with one emissary of evil was enough. Later songs such as Me and The Devil Blues and Hellhound on My Trail perpetuated the Faustian myth. It appears the impatient Lucifer came to collect what he was owed just two years later, as Johnson cast off this mortal coil in 1938 at the age of 27.
2. Stone Roses, I Wanna Be Adored, 1989
Fast forward just over half a century to Manchester in the North of England, and we find a devilishly possessed Ian Brown of The Stone Roses craving similar adulation, though it appears no deal was necessary on this occasion.
3. Erik Satie, Gnossienne No.1, c1890
The eccentric, visionary and highly influential Erik Satie rubbed shoulders with such luminaries as Cocteau, Picasso, Debussy, Ravel and Diaghilev. However, keeping such company got him into a bit of strife in 1917. Satie collaborated with Picasso and Cocteau on a ballet entitled Parade. Satie’s score included sounds made by typewriters, a foghorn and glass bottles, which controversially brought street entertainment crashing headlong through the heavy velvet curtains of high theatre. The controversy continued when Satie called theatre critic Jean Poueigh “un cul, mais un cul sans musique” in response to a particularly poor review. Satie was sentenced to eight days imprisonment and at the trial Cocteau was also arrested and beaten for continually yelling obscenities in the courtroom (some people are so touchy!).
4. Philip Glass, Einstein on the Beach, 1976
Based around the life of the iconic theoretical physicist, this five hour opera eschews a traditional linear narrative in favour of a circular process of repeating cycles and allusions to mathematical formulas. Interestingly, other famous historical figures were considered, including Charlie Chaplin and Mahatma Gandhi, who had more than their 15 minutes in the sun.
5. Serge Gainsbourg and Brigitte Bardot, Bonnie And Clyde, 1968
After an awkward first date with Bridget Bardot in which he was shot down in a hail of bullets, Serge Gainsbourg wrote two songs for the celluloid goddess in order to win her affections. The first song was Bonnie and Clyde, and finds these two icons of popular culture, creating a song about two 1930’s outlaws who were no slouches in the fame stakes themselves. The plan must have worked because Gainsbourg and Bardot became the most famous couple in town for a short time afterwards.
The second song he wrote for Bardot was the risqué Je T’aime,…Moi Non Plus, and though Bardot recorded the original version, it was not released. Gainsbourg instead re-recorded it with his new love interest Jane Birkin. After a couple of heavy sessions in the studio, Gainsbourg and Birkin scored a hit record that was banned throughout Europe, and in doing so secured their seats at the table of music infamy.
6. The Jazzual Suspects, This Beat, 2008
The lyrics to This Beat feature Jack Kerouac reading from his text Desolation Angels. The reluctant ‘king of the beats’ detested the intrusion of fame into his life, and in many ways his celebrity contributed to the steady beat of his decline. He wrote Desolation Angels in 1956 prior to the release and subsequent hysteria of On The Road in 1957.
7. Lou Reed and John Cale, Small Town, 1987
The album Songs for Drealla is a heartfelt goodbye to Andy Warhol, whose own relationship to fame was ‘deeply shallow’. Small Town recalls a young and awkward Warhol and his desire to leave Pittsburgh to seek his own 15 minutes in the limelight.
8. Sufjan Stevens, John Wayne Gacy Jr, 2006
Some people become famous through heroic actions or the expression of a profound talent, some achieve celebrity by simply being in the right place at the right time. There are a few who achieve notoriety through the dark deeds that seem to simultaneously repulse and fascinate the public. This Sufjan Stevens track is based on the life of the serial killer of the title.
9. Nick Drake, Fruit Tree, 1969
“Safe in your place deep in the earth
That’s when they’ll know
What you are really worth.”
Hauntingly beautiful and prophetic.
10. Your choice… (tweet your suggestion to @thenewphil)
Resonance: Life amplified through music, by Michael Donohue.