Friday, 15 May 2009

We got totally lied to by our album covers, man.

This weekend promises to be spectacular. The reason? Well Saturday brings with it one of the most hotly anticipated television events of the calendar. It's bigger than the Super Bowl. It's even bigger than the Oscars. Ladies and Gentleman strap yourselves in, the Eurovision Song Contest is upon us.

Man I love Eurovision. I love the terrible songs. I love the amazingly camp performances. I even love the fact that the rest of Europe hates Britain so much that we never get any votes. Because in reality the Eurovision Song Contest isn't about finding the best song in Europe. Instead Eurovision is about sitting around the television with a group of loved ones while getting steadily wasted and laughing at what ever the hell that Spanish guy is doing.

For our overseas readers who have absolutely no idea what I'm talking about, allow me to explain. Every year a song contest is hosted in which every country in Europe is invited to take part. A new song is written by each of those countries and then they are performed live in front of a viewing audience of millions. At the end of the contest the viewers are able to vote on their favourite song, not including the one from their own country.

The song that receives the most votes from one particular country gets 12 points, the song with the second highest number of votes gets 10 points, and so on. The song with the most points at the end of the show wins. It's kind of like a continental version of American Idol.

Except where Idol takes itself very seriously (Gee Note: To the point where this years most entertaining competitor Norman Gentle didn't even make it to the final stages. Seriously he was money. I'd rather watch that lunatic charge all over the stage than Adam Lambert screech his way through another "instant classic". But then, you know, I guess America doesn't agree with me. That's fine. I don't agree with their policy of allowing their citizens to legally own deadly weapons. Which I think makes me the bigger person in all of this) Eurovision, er, doesn't. Oh sure, every year a handful of countries try and bring some sanity to the proceedings with a motley collection syrupy pop songs. But with every heartfelt and earnest attempt to get the contest back on track something like this is bound to follow it.

Yeah! Sadly despite the swagger and pomp they brought to the show LT United only managed to finish sixth behind, erm, well this.

Now bare in mind that a traditional Eurovision song should be something like this and you'll discover why 2006 was very special year indeed.

It's not just the crazy songs that make Eurovision great however. When rounding up the results the hosts of the show throw to a live video feed of someone representing their specific country who'll deliver the news of which points go where. And it always leads to an awkward exchange as people try to converse in broken English. Something along the lines of.

"Hello Russia. This is Belarus calling."

"Hello Belarus. Please can you give us the results for your country."

"Yes. Thank you for presenting us with an excellent show this year."

"Thank you. Please can you give us the results for your country."

"I know all of Europe is happy watching this evening."

"Yes. Please can you give us the results for your country."

"And now the results for Belarus…"

See? There really is a lot to love about Eurovision. This year my money is on The Toppers, who will be representing the Netherlands. I haven't heard their song yet, so this may be a foolish bet but honestly their promotional picture is worth a shed load of votes alone. I mean any band that looks exactly like General Zod and his crew is going to be tough to beat in my opinion.

Sadly not everyone shares my love for Eurovision. A common criticism is that if it's supposed to be a search for Europe's best song, why are no serious artists associated with it? To which my answer is that if the songs on Eurovision were any good then it wouldn't as much fun. And it really is as simple as that. I mean say for example every performer on the Eurovision Song Contest suddenly became brilliant over night. Where would the laughter come from? The bad dancing? The insane nonsensical lyrics? Seriously a good Eurovision Song Contest would be rubbish. In all honesty magical music turn arounds are best left to folks like Robert Johnson.

Robert Johnson is commonly referred to as the grandfather of rock 'n' roll. Born in Mississippi in either 1911 or 1912, much of Johnson's life is poorly documented. What is known is that his first wife died during childbirth, and that he had married a second time and was living in Robinsonville in 1930 when legendary blues musician Son House moved in to area. House claims that Johnson was desperate to learn all he could about the blues and would follow House around trying to pick up little bits here and there. House tolerated this odd fellow, but in truth he didn't believe Johnson had the talent required to make it in the music business. “Such another racket you never heard!" said House when discussing Johnson's attempts to strum out a tune "It’d make people mad, you know. They’d come out and say ‘Why don’t y’all go in there and get that guitar from that boy!"

(Gee Note: Wow, people would ask him to stop playing? That's a confidence booster right there. Reminds me of the time I went to see a local band named Limeslade play at the Uplands Tavern. Limeslade are what could be charitably described as a "fusion" band, using electric guitars, flutes, a didgeridoo and bongos. They are of course completely hopeless, but are also blissfully unaware of that fact. Anyway one night they were happily banging out the tunes, including a quite frankly epic version of I Am The Walrus that still makes me laugh when I think back, when a middle aged woman approached the stage and demanded they cease. "You've RUINED our evening. You're RUINING everyone else's evening" she wailed. "Stop. Please. Just stop". Thankfully they carried on, eventually leading to the flute player knocking over a mic stand that in turn knocked over an amp which produced feedback of such volume that most of that evening's patrons promptly left the bar never to return. Really the sight of a bunch of slightly inhiberiated South Walians fleeing a pub with their hands covering their ears is one that will stay with me for a very long time. God bless you Limeslade.)

At some point Johnson left town for a couple of months and upon his return House was amazed to find that Johnson had become a frickin' guitar playing genius. No really, the dude literally came back like he was Slash or something. Even more impressive was that Johnson could now learn how to play a tune simply by listening to it, and had mastered techniques that House himself had spent years trying to get to grips with.

House wasn't the only one to notice a change in Johnson. Willie Brown, another noted blues musician, claimed that Johnson's whole demeanour had changed. When playing with other musicians Johnson would turn away from them as if he had something to hide, and would tune his guitar in unusual ways.

This sudden transformation in Johnson raised eyebrows. How had he become so good so quickly people asked? The answer was simple. Johnson had apparently (Gee Note: Used a telephone booth to travel back in time and take an intensive guitar course so that Wyld Stallyns could win The Battle of the Bands) sold his soul to the Devil.

The story differs depending on who you believe, but the basic premise is this. Johnson was somewhere near Clarkesdale, Mississippi when one night he was driven by a sudden urge to visit a nearby Crossroads. Arriving there at midnight Johnson was met by a man dressed all in black (Gee Note: What was Johnny Cash doing hanging out at a roadside in the middle of the night? ). The man, accompanied by a large dog, told Johnson that he was the Devil and then took Johnson’s guitar. A quick tuning of the instrument later and Johnson had all kinds of woovy bezerk guitar powers.

Johnson's story doesn't end there however. For the next 8 years Johnson toured around the South, wowing crowds wherever he went. A young Muddy Waters, one of the most influential blues artists of all time, recalls Johnson playing in the Clarkesdale area and sights him as a major inspiration. In 1936 Johnson was invited by Ernie Oertle to record some tunes in a makeshift studio at the Gunter Hotel in San Antonio, Texas. This recording session and one a year later in Dallas makes up what remains today of Johnson's career, a total of only 29 individual songs.

Then on August 16 1938 Robert Johnson died, aged 27. Numerous accounts of what actually occurred in the events leading to his death have been put forward. The most common is that Johnson was flirting with the wife of a juke joint owner which, you know, kinda narked off her husband a bit. And so the husband mixed some strychnine in to an open of bottle of whiskey and gave it to Johnson to drink. Three days later Johnson passed away having spent most of that time in sever pain.

This has been hotly debated however. Many toxicologists maintain that strychnine poisoning would have resulted in death after a period of hours and not days, and that strychnine itself tastes so bitter that it would have been undrinkable even if dissolved in a harsh alcohol like whiskey. Adding further confusion to all this is that Johnson is buried in, er, three different places. No really there's three separate locations claiming to be the final resting place of Robert Johnson (Gee Note: And amazingly he may not be buried in any of those as research suggests he was actually laid to rest in an unmarked grave near Morgan City, Mississippi. Or, if you believe a bunch of hardy gravediggers, possibly in Greenwood. Seriously is there nothing about this guy that's just straight forward and simple? I swear Mandrake the Magician was less mysterious than this).

Johnson left behind a legacy that inspired not only blues musicians but artists as diverse as Led Zeppelin, The Rolling Stones, and Eric Clapton. In fact it’s hard to find any serious rock ‘n’ roll outfit that doesn’t list Johnson as an influence.

So I guess that means rock ‘n’ roll is actually the Devil’s music. Which in turn means that the opposite of that must be God’s music.

I knew there was a reason I loved Eurovision.


Naveed said...

So what you're saying is that anything derived from rock n' roll, including rock, alternative, and metal, is technically the Devil's music? Well if Johnson really did sell his soul...which would therefore mean all them fundamentalist Christians that kept telling me my music was evil are correct...awesome! The Darkside really does have cookies! And better music...


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