My Pop Life #168 : Pleasant Valley Sunday – The Monkees

Pleasant Valley Sunday   –   The Monkees

The local rock group down the street is trying hard to play their song…. 

to serenade the weekend squire who’s just come out to mow his lawn

We are into the territory of pure joy here.  Memories of watching The Monkees TV show which was on ITV (?) between 1966 and 1968 – clearly a manufactured band, created to match or at least run in the slipstream of The Beatles, who were dominating culture all over the world at this point.

I was nine years old when I heard Theme To (Hey Hey We’re) The Monkees, Last Train To Clarksville and Daydream Believer.  We loved the show.  Speeded up film, wacky sight gags, slapstick, pulling faces, always a song, four charming, mop-topped cheeky chappies.  Strangely familiar but American.  Davy Jones was the charming Macca-esque Manc Brit, Peter Tork the lugubrious butt-of-jokes Ringo, Mike Nesmith the quiet musical one while Mickey Dolenz was the unpredictable sarcastic Lennon figure.  He was my favourite, (you had to have a favourite!) he played the drums and he sings Pleasant Valley Sunday (1967), written by the great Gerry Goffin and Carole King (see My Pop Life #135 ) a sweet social commentary-type pop tune that the late 60s had coming out of its ears.  Guitar intro of wonder, lead vocal, lyrics, melody, harmonies, wispy weird middle eight, it’s the perfect pop single.

Peter Tork with Bob Rafelson 1968

The Monkees were formed as a TV show (!) by Producer/Director Bob Rafelson in LA who pitched the idea with his partner Bert Schneider to NBC.  Bob later went on to direct the Monkees in the psychedelic oddity Head (1968), then went on to make Five Easy Pieces (1971) starring Jack Nicholson and other movies such as Mountains Of The Moon which in a strange twist of fate I was employed to help him cast in June 1988, working alongside casting director Celestia Fox.  They saw two actors per day, one in the morning, one in the afternoon, for the two lead parts, Burton & Speke, and I would work with the actor for three hours at a time under Bob’s direction.   Many of my mates came in: Adrian Dunbar, Bruce Payne, Gabriel Byrne, then others : Tom Conti (he was really good), Patrick Bergin (he got Burton) and Iain Glen (he got Speke).  When Bob asked me what part I should play I said Speke but they disagreed and offered me a smaller one – so being a twat I turned it down and old friend Chris Fulford got a trip to Kenya instead;  just as well, I’d have probably caught AIDS.  In those days I thought if I did too many supporting parts it would lessen my cracks at playing a lead.  It did, eventually.  So I didn’t work with him on a movie, which was a shame, but of course, I did too.

Bob Rafelson

{I later fell out with Bruce, did two movies with Gabriel (I, Anna & Diamond Skulls), became neighbours in Brighton with Patrick and in 2009 I went to Galway to work with Iain and old buddy Stuart Orme.}

Anyway,  The Monkees couldn’t put a foot wrong for this ten-year old boy, yet to worry about small parts and auditions (although that was the year of the Selmeston primary school nativity play in which I played cuckold Joseph), yet to discover that they weren’t in fact cool, because they were manufactured and didn’t write their own songs, yet to discover that despite all that they were still brilliant.   The TV show was great, the songs, often written by Boyce/Hart were classic pop music.   When I moved to Brighton in the late 90s and found Stephen Wrigley, Dave Barnard & Adrian Marshall playing live in my local pub The Dragon I used to look forward to going down there on a Monday night when Caribbean food was served.   They would open up the mic in the second set, and had a large book of lyrics on the pub table for hopefuls to peruse.  My kind of heaven !  One night we sang Pleasant Valley Sunday to assorted random locals.  It climaxes with a tremendous verse where the lyrics are all ba-ba-baa ba-baa bababa in three-part harmony. We were about as slightly drunk as we should be and ended up over the road in the jazz club, drinking further until we’d formed a Beach Boys tribute band in our heads.  Which became The Brighton Beach Boys.

*

In 1976 aged 19, Simon Korner and I were hitch-hiking our way across the USA and we’d reached Los Angeles (see My Pop Life #130 and My Pop Life #30).  On July 4th it was Independence Day – in fact it was the Bi-Centennial of the United States’ independence from Great Britain – and they were celebrating 200 years of Freedom from the monarchy and the old colonial power.  We chose to visit Disneyland down in Orange County.   What a remarkable place.  Totally surreal, especially on this particular day, and being a little stoned as we were.  Not that we needed to be.  Walking in was like inhaling non-reality.  Like a whole town with different neighbourhoods – Tomorrowland, Fantasyland, Bear Country, Snow White’s house, Cinderella’s palace, cascading waterfalls, Mississippi river steamers, large blue grinning cats playing the guitar, jazz, R’n’B and disco bands playing at every corner and a huge Uncle Sam float with the Statue of Liberty prancing weirdly beneath an eagle (and a giant US flag) as crowds lining the streets stand and cheer.  America On Parade.

Disneyland: ‘America On Parade’, July 4th 1976

We choose to take another ride – on The Matterhorn, an enormous rollercoaster, and as we round another hairpin bend hear the strains of “I’m a Believer”  floating through the brightly-colored air.   We climb off the ride and walk over to a nearby stage to find, rather astonishingly, The Monkees playing live – at that point comprising Davy Jones and Micky Dolenz  from the original band playing with their songwriters Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart.

I guess legal reasons stopped them using the word Monkees

I mentioned this moment to Micky Dolenz when I met him in Liverpool a few weeks ago.  Funny old thing life.  The Monkees issued a new album in 2016 which got amazingly good reviews, but he was here for the same reason as me.  The Brighton Beach Boys had been invited to play “Pet Sounds”at Beatlesweek, which is a week-long celebration held every summer in that fair city.  We drove up from Brighton, checked in and scouted the locations – The Royal Court Theatre for the first set, and The Cavern for the 2nd set.  The atmosphere was bank holiday, sunny, the streets were heaving, music pouring out of every venue, everyone was drunk.  Reminded me of New Orleans – the crossroads historic coastal city drenched in music.

the great 1st album

We walked around the corner from The Cavern and went into The Hard Day’s Night Hotel which annoyed some of the entourage (we don’t belong in here).  But we had a drink and when Micky Dolenz turned up I chatted to him at the bar even though he appeared to be more interested in two youngish ladies to his right.  He remembered Disneyland.  They giggled.  “I think you’re in there” I remarked.  He smiled. Sensing my moment I pounced.  “Mind if the band have a picture with you?”

Later that afternoon he drove past us on Duke Street in a taxi with the same two girls and a glazed grin on his face.   He was on the same bill as us the following day, although we were on at 2pm and he was in the evening.  Legend.

So this manufactured pop has woven a golden thread running through my life from the moment it came out right up the present day.    I didn’t know what half the words were in 1967.  “Another pleasant valley Sunday, here in saddasimba land”.  But the thrill of the intro, the voices and the harmonies still work their same magic almost fifty years later, here in status symbol land.

My Pop Life #99 : La Tristessa Durera (Scream To A Sigh) – Manic Street Preachers

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La Tristessa Durera (Scream To A Sigh)  –   Manic Street Preachers

…I retreat into self pity…it’s so easy….

 The summer of 1993, West Hollywood.  132 N King’s Road just off the corner of Beverley Boulevard.   About ten blocks from The Beverly Centre.   Breakfast in Jans.   A small circle of friends centred on David Fincher‘s gang – Chip & Carol, Paul Carafotes, Rachel Schadt, Marcie, Ron, David’s girlfriend Donya Fiorentina, and a few Brits : Anita Lewton and Suze Crowley in Venice, Bruce Payne in Beverly Hills and his girlfriend Nina Kraft and a revolving door of visitors that is the lifeblood of Hollywood, or at least some of the blood – British and Irish actors – Jude Law, Richard E. Grant, Paul McGann, David Thewlis, Fiona Shaw, others whom I never met.   It’s a strange bubble, hard to find the centre, and the beating heart of LA carries on with or without you.   An indifferent city.   But it is also the centre of the film industry, where people talk about films, go to see films, compare the opening weekends of film openings, where choosing what you’re going to see on a Friday night feels like it actually matters.   I always liked that.   Getting auditions and meetings at Paramount Pictures, at Universal, at Disney.  Having a “drive-on” so you can park your car on the lot.   You never want to take that for granted.    I’d done my first truly Hollywood film in 1992 :  Undercover Blues with Kathleen Turner and Denis Quaid, Fiona Shaw, Obba Babatunde and Stanley Tucci, (all shot in Louisiana while Jenny and I were on honeymoon).

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But I’d had a “drive-on” for costume fittings and read-through at the MGM Studio Lot in Culver City at the time.    By 1993 I was into a routine of regular meetings and auditions all over town.    I can only remember one.   Billy Hopkins, who’d cast Alien3, the very reason why we lived in Los Angeles, had asked me to come in and read for the part of Howard Payne in a new thriller being directed by Jan De Bont.   Howard Payne was the bad guy.    I did one of the best auditions of my stupid life, unpredictable, whispered, snarled, charming, bisexual and deadly.   The following day one of my agents Jim Carnahan rang me to say they’d offered me the role.    Whoop!    My life – our life – turned around.    But the etiquette – indeed the common sense – of show business – means that you do not talk about jobs, work, gigs until you’ve signed the contract.   There are always quite a few days of negociating.   And so we started, the number of days, weeks, the quote (per week), the dates, the costume fittings, the billing, the whole shebang.   It did drag out.    But no more than usual.   Until the day 2 weeks after the audition when Jim rang me and told me that they’d just offered my part to Dennis Hopper.   The film was called Speed.   It also starred Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock.   It was an unexpected hit.   I would come across Billy Hopkins again a year later, but that’s another story, even worse than this one.   This one wasn’t my fault.   It was the glass ceiling of Hollywood.

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The Manic Street Preachers had passed me by until their second album Gold Against The Soul, which everyone said wasn’t as good as their first.   We played it a lot.   Probably heard on Radio One whilst in England, but also likely to have been played on KCRW the Santa Monica College Radio Station that everyone in LA listens to.  (All white bourgeouis I mean).   There is a morning show called “Morning Becomes Eclectic” between 9 and 12am where you could hear almost anything white and groovy.  Not much hip hop or Dance music.  A little bit of groovy mexican music.  Loads of English indie.  Otherwise American Radio is totally segmented into genres – ROCK FM, GROOVE FM, COUNTRY FM, CHART FM.  all with tons of commercials of in-un-ending banality.  So KCRW’s gentle white supremacy became the least-worst ear-bashing of a morning.

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James, Richey, Nicky, Sean in 1994

La Tristessa Durera is in an unknown Pyrenean language half-way between French and Spanish.  Le Tristesse Durera means “the sadness continues” in French, and were the last words spoken by Vincent Van Gogh according to a letter written by his brother Theo.  Vincent Van Gogh shot himself with a rifle near one of the cornfields which obsessed him toward the end of his life.   Why Richey James translated Le Tristesse as La Tristessa we shall never know, (I suspect it’s just more poetic?) but there’s a lot we shall never know about Richey James Edwards.  The song itself is lyrically brilliant, one of Richey’s best and concerns a war veteran who describes himself as “a relic, I am just a petrified cry – wheeled out once a year, a cenotaph souvenir…

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That a young writer could put themselves into the shoes of an old war veteran, singing “Life has been unfaithful…and it all promised oh so much” is a huge credit to a compassionate and disturbed individual who seemed to see through everything and everybody and only find the pain and hypocrisy, the torture and ugliness inside.  He suffered from depression and self-harmed on a regular basis, also was reported to have suffered anorexia too.  He wrote and spoke about all these issues with great humility and common sense.   He would go on to write 80% of the lyrics to the next Manics LP “The Holy Bible” (1994) which is a monument to man’s inhumanity to man and a modern rock classic, and the following year in February 1995 Richey would disappear.  Not quite without trace – his car was found near the Severn Bridge, with evidence that he’d been living in it.   The outcry and column inches would last for years.   He was finally pronounced missing presumed dead in 2008.

Richard James Edwards was born in Caerphilly in 1967 and went to school with all the other band members at Oakdale Comprehensive in Blackwood in the 1980s.  He joined the Manic Street Preachers as a roadie in 1990 after securing a 2:1 in Political History at the University Of Wales, Swansea.   His politics and poeticism helped to shape the Manics entire image, Nicky Wire playing bass also wrote lyrics, while James Dean Bradfield, guitarist and singer provided the music.  With Sean Moore on drums they were a formidable live act but I did not get to see them until the late 90s as a three-piece.

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They always had a visceral passion and anger which was grounded in punk rock, a militancy based on being from South Wales, so recently hammered by Thatcher in the miner’s strike (1982) and an intellectual and poetic analysis and understanding which came from Wire and Edwards’ voracious appetite for reading, whether it was Dostoyevsky, Rimbaud, Camus, Orwell or Mishima.  They were my favourite band for a few years in there, they seemed to have their collective finger on my pulse.    These were songs you would sing along with not necessarily understanding the exact meanings of the lines:  “the applause nails down my silence” or my favourite line to spit out “I see liberals – I am just a fashion accessory…”  but of course there he is referring literally to the use of war medals as badges on fashion catwalks.   In the final verse our old soldier admits “I sold my medal – it paid a bill…“.

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All of their songs have this deep disgust at life’s injustices at their core and their huge success is built on being able to articulate the fury of the intelligent left-over people of the world.   Another song from this album “Life Becoming A Landslide” was also instrumental in my screenplay for New Year’s Day (see My Pop Life #75) which would actually begin with an avalanche, and also hopefully bottle some of those powerful feelings of disappointment at how life unfolds for each of us, and all of us…

the video

Live at Glastonbury ’93 with Richie (turned up!)

My Pop Life #40 : I Ain’t Mad At Cha – Tupac Shakur

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I Ain’t Mad At Cha   –   Tupac Shakur

Heard you might be comin’ home, just got bail
Wanna go to the mosque, don’t wanna chase tail
I seems I lost my little homie he’s a changed man
Hit the pen and now no sinnin’ is the game plan

Tupac raps about how times have changed since he was a child, how friends have left him, how people have turned on him since his success, how things can’t ever be the same.   In the first verse an old school friend who became a muslim doesn’t want to join him in his new life making rhymes & money:  but they go back a long way together, and 2pac is not angry.  Second verse is about an old girlfriend, third verse concerns his success.   It’s a lovely lazy funky reminiscence, thoughtful and lyrical, wise and compassionate, one of the best tracks from his best LP All Eyez On Me.  The sly slinky bass line and piano figure is a direct lift  from 1983’s A Dream by Michigan Motown act DeBarge, not sampled but re-played faster and funkier.  But it makes the track one of 2pac’s finest moments, dance-floor filler, late-nite groove, take your partner and slowdance.  Not many rap tunes you can do that with.

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It was recorded the day that Tupac was released from prison – Oct 12 1995, along with another track Ambitionz az A Ridah – both produced by Daz Dillinger.   The soul singer Danny Boy sings the chorus hook.  The track was released 2 days after Tupac was shot dead on Sept 13th 1996 in Las Vegas, probably by the Crips gang whom he had attacked hours earlier.   I don’t suppose we’ll ever know what happened and much print and film has been spent on the attempt, with no clear conclusions.   I personally find the East Coast/West Coast beef unlikely to be the cause of death.

Tupac was an educated man whose parents were both Black Panthers.  He was raised in East Harlem and among his close friends from school were Jada Pinkett.  But it was on the West Coast that he made his mark as a rapper, first with San Fransisco’s Digital Underground, then as himself.   He was a charismatic actor too, clearly in demand and successful but appeared to enjoy flirting with the thug life which eventually killed him as a young man at the age of 25.

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We were getting used to living in Brighton when this LP came out.  All Eyez On Me was a blast of G-funk hip hop from the Dre stabled Death Row Records.  It has 14 producers, including Suge Knight, boss of the label, Dr Dre, and Tupac himself.  Apart from this one track it is an unapologetic glamourisation of gang-banging and thug life, not at all like his previous 2 LPs both of which feature more conscious raps.  We moved to Brighton because it reminded us vaguely of Venice Beach in Los Angeles, one of the few ‘neighbor”-hoods where we’d considered buying a house, had a good look at one, but eventually didn’t.  You could hear gunshots there on some evenings as Anita Lewton could testify.  You could buy weed from shady types on Pacific Ave.  The whole LP reminded me of Los Angeles, Snoop Dog, California Love, all that bollocks, there I was on Brighton Beach reading the Argus with headphones on listening to gun this nigga and hoe that.  The grooves are sensationally good, but the content is frankly embarrassing – apart from this one tune.  And this one tune is a tune.   Things were changing…

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                                    Then he got shot.   The video was filmed with a new re-recorded version of the track played live, it features Tupac in heaven alongside other dead musicians Jimi Hendrix, Nat King Cole, Bob Marley, Louis Armstrong, Miles Davis, Marvin Gaye, Sammy Davis Jr.  Danny Boy is also present as an angel.

Change, shit
I guess change is good for any of us…