A New Yorker retrospective takes me back to one of the best music videos of the 1990s

The New Yorker has a special issue out in which it reprints what it considers to be its most notable interviews and stories. They range from a short 1947 profile of the Edith Piaf, who was once acclaimed as France’s “national chanteuse,” to a 1964 longer profile of Bob Dylan.

What caught my eye was an article from 1964 that profiles writer Kenneth Tynan’s obsession with Louise Brooks, a girl from Kansas who had a white-hot career in 1920s film and dance, and became a Jazz Age icon. (Her bob haircut engendered millions of women around the world to copy it until it became emblematic of the Jazz Age.)

She eventually had a starring role in the German silent film “Pandora’s Box,” considered a masterpiece of the genre. Brooks’ performance in the 1929 film captivated people around the globe and still does today.

The film was shockingly louche for the age, and was eventually banned by the Nazis as “degenerate art.”

Alas, for a woman of that time, Brooks was independent and hedonistic and intelligent in ways that did not endear her to the powerful men who controlled Hollywood. Her career fizzled. She was treated harshly by an industry that Brooks, being far more intelligent than most of the men who pursued her, understood better than any of them.

One wonders how well Brooks would have done today in the age of “Me, Too.” She had the bad luck of being born far too soon.

Writer Tynan of The New Yorker finally catches up with Brooks in Rochester, NY, in her 80s, frail and living by herself. But, as the article makes clear, even in her declining years she remained a sharp observer of the intersection of the arts, Hollywood, and the human condition.

I had a bit of a Brooks obsession myself.

In 1991, British electronic band Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark (OMD) released a song called “Pandora’s Box.” It was lead singer Andy McCluskey’s homage to Brooks, with the subsequent music video consisting mostly of clips from the eponymous 1929 silent film.

When I first played the video off a promotional VHS tape we received at the Boston video bar Luxor, where I was a VJ on weekends, I was captivated by the music, video and especially the lyrics:

Born in Kansas on an ordinary plain
Ran to New York but ran away from fame
Only seventeen when all your dreams come true
But all you wanted was someone to undress you.

And all the stars you kissed could never ease the pain
Still the grace remains and though the face has changed
You’re still the same.

Frame of silence of an innocent divine
Is a dangerous creation when you fall the test of time
And all the photographs of ghosts of long ago
Still they hurt you so, won’t let go
And you still don’t know.

And it’s a long long way from where you want to be
And it’s a long long road, but you’re too blind to see.

When you look around yourself now, do you recognize the girl
The one, who broke a thousand hearts, and terrified the world.

I loved the beauty of those lyrics, especially after I did a little digging and learned more about Brooks.

The song and her story affected me so much that it was known, every Friday and Saturday night for years in that packed video bar, as my closing song.

So the New Yorker reprint in the current issue was a happy reason for me to relive that haunting music video I played hundreds of times at 5 minutes until 2am closing time in Boston.

It was my homage to Brooks, destroyed by men who used her and abused her until they knew they couldn’t control her.

Video below.

Play it through good speakers or ear buds for its best effect. Amazing song. (And OMD was far too under-appreciated as a band.)

Icon of the ’70s and ’80s Olivia Newton-John has died

Such a huge part of my pop music childhood.

From Variety:

Olivia Newton-John, the top female pop vocalist of the 1970s who starred in movies including “Grease” and “Xanadu,” died Monday. She was 73.

Her husband John Easterling posted the news on her official Facebook page, writing:

“Dame Olivia Newton-John (73) passed away peacefully at her Ranch in Southern California this morning, surrounded by family and friends. We ask that everyone please respect the family’s privacy during this very difficult time.”

A cause of death was not given, but Newton-John was diagnosed with breast cancer that surfaced for a third time in 2017.

“Olivia has been a symbol of triumphs and hope for over 30 years sharing her journey with breast cancer. Her healing inspiration and pioneering experience with plant medicine continues with the Olivia Newton-John Foundation Fund, dedicated to researching plant medicine and cancer,” her husband wrote.

Her “Grease” costar and hit duet partner John Travolta was quick to weigh in with a tribute on social media. “My dearest Olivia, you made all of our lives so much better,” he wrote. “Your impact was incredible. I love you so much. We will see you down the road and we will all be together again. Yours from the moment I saw you and forever! Your Danny, your John!”

I used to sing “Have You Never Been Mellow?” into a hairbrush in front of a mirror.

I re-watched her in “Grease” recently and thought, “Man, have my tastes in movies changed.”

But I also realized what a stroke of genius it was to cast her as the female lead. She was the perfect person for that role.

Two videos below. One is her appearance on Bette Midler’s ill-fated sitcom. The other is her singing a duet of one of ONJ’s hits on-stage with Mariah Carey.

Feel-good news courtesy of folk legend Joni Mitchell

I don’t listen to folk music, but even I know what the iconic Joni Mitchell represents to music and music artistry.

So it’s been nice to read about her return to the stage after being sick for so long:

This summer, quite unexpectedly, two of music’s brightest stars haven’t been fresh young upstarts, but a pair of semi-reclusive female elders whose brilliance is being reaffirmed by a new generation of fans.

The 63-year-old pop legend Kate Bush’s 1985 anthem “Running Up That Hill (A Deal With God)” is a legitimate contender for Song of the Summer — it currently sits at No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100, nestled between recent smashes from Harry Styles and Jack Harlow — thanks to its prominent use in the hit Netflix series “Stranger Things.” And on Sunday night, Joni Mitchell, 78, stunned attendees of the Newport Folk Festival (and the countless people who have since watched viral cellphone videos of the event) when she performed in public for the first time since her 2015 brain aneurysm, playing her first full-length live set since 2000.

Acting as an ecstatic master of ceremonies, the 41-year-old musician Brandi Carlile asked the crowd to welcome her friend Mitchell “back to the Newport stage for the first time since 1969” — which was 12 years before Carlile was born.

“Joni hasn’t always felt the appreciation that exists amongst humanity for her,” Carlile said in a CBS News interview, explaining her idea for a performance that would mimic the laid-back “Joni Jams” that Mitchell has for the past few years been hosting with peers and younger musicians in her Los Angeles living room. “But I wanted her to feel that.”

You can read the rest here.

See part of her iconic surprise appearance at the Newport Folk Festival below.

Joni Mitchell

This song popped into my head today for no reason whatsoever

It’s a song called I Hear Talk by Buck’s Fizz, a group that won the 1981 Eurovision Song Contest. The song is from 1984.

I love this video so much. It’s so low tech but still a great representation of what this group was all about at that moment in video production values.

Feathered hair for everyone! A lot of the video seems so random which, given how new music videos were back then, meant just doing something to a music track counted for doing something interesting.