Thursday, 9 September 2010

Gnome Thoughts ... 6 (music hall to rock)



This series of vaguely Bowied-related musings may be coming to a natural end. Or not. But this entry has the feeling of tying  up loose ends.

One question I've been wondering was whatever has Alan Klein being doing since 1970, as wikipedia isn't any use in this respect. And why didn't he write more musicals - assuming he didn't? And why did that whole vigorous genre of Theatre Workshop musicals die out?



A possible answer is provided in Sheridan Morley's survey of the British musical, Spread a Little Happiness. He quotes Lindsay Anderson's opinion that the form contained contradictory elements:
while much of what was produced at Stratford was subversive, because of the knees-up quality of the style it could just be seen as a nostalgiac variety show.

Although Fings Ain't What They Used T'Be (which I'm not familiar with, but you can find a synopsis here) was, I presume, the major success, transferring to the West End for two years, Anderson's remark also has a bearing on What a Crazy World. It would certainly seem to address the presentation of Herbie and his mates in Klein's musical. As discussed earlier the music is beguiling but what exactly are we meant to make of them?

To which could be added: does it matter? And I don't really know. I remember going to a media workshop about the characters in Viz and people expressing unease about The F*t Sl*gs. Yet often in the strips what seems to be celebrated above all is the sheer vitality of the pair: the women are being mocked and lauded simultaneously, and maybe that's what's happening with the rogues in waiting of What a Crazy World.

Still not quite sure what I feel, though. What a Crazy World does seem something vital when you watch it, albeit more fun than threat. And, as said earlier, sort of celebrating or accepting the mess rather than offering solutions.

Not having seen the original stage production I can't be sure what compromises might have been made for the film, but was it the case that music hall, a genre associated with subversiveness in its earliest days, had simple become incapable of revival or reinvention by the late fifties, early sixties, with all its nostalgiac accretions? Was there something limiting in the form itself, or simply the associations built up around it? Was there no real way of marrying it to the incoming American forms without coziness creeping in?


 Is it something within UK culture? Jake Thackray, who had a fair amount of fame in the seventies, drew on music hall and avoided America in favour of France - he resented the former's musical dominance - but as discussed more fully here, at least one commentator thought that he'd painted himself into a corner - in Britain, anyway:
a lot of what he wanted to say was very serious and deeply poetic. [but] the UK does not have the sort of music-halls that you find in Paris, dedicated to a long tradition of popular, serious song.
Why there should be this difference, I don't know, but. I also have to say that much as I revere Thackray, I can't imagine his songs ever attracted a huge teenage audience. Maybe when my Town Hall Humiliation brother complained to my mother about my listening to Jake's tales of lonely spinsters he had a sort of point (again, that earlier entry here): as a rallying cry for adolescent rebellion it inevitably fell a little short. Jake might make you smile wryly at life but he wouldn't make you want to change yours in some radical way. And similarly Bowie's early songs, those little tales of losers and outcasts wrapped in nostalgiac music (and not so far from Jake's subject matter in some cases), could never have commanded mass adulation (except, perhaps, in Zurich) or changed lives, as his later work did.

So - and this is, I admit, a transparent attempt to tie this whole thing together - could it have been Bowie's meeting with Visconti, or Bowie and Pitt's imaginary-but-not-altogether-impossible back stalls gawping at Violent Playground, the two men absorbing quite different messages from McCallum's luxurious swaying, which finally revealed a musical way forward for the superstar in waiting?

One couldn't, after all, imagine the self-effacing Jake - who has always seemed an adult - ripping off his polo neck jumper and joining the throng described in the newspaper article cited in the previous entry, let alone leading it:
At the boy's home, his gang is having a rock'n roll party. The radiogram is going full blast, the room is full of frenzied boys.

McCallum's face grows strained. He leaves Baker in the doorway and joins the gang, who make way for him in the centre of the floor.

Nothing stands in his way.

Alright, I added that last sentence.

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