The Church Of Me
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Kissing in the churchyard, I know a righteous woman

Tuesday, December 17, 2002
ABOUT A YEAR
Part One

...as that's how long The Church Of Me has been in existence and there is a need to take stock, not just of music but of myself. A year which has been alternately horrendous and liberating. The two co-exist like reluctant neighbours. Change has been constant but not immediately apparent. So much remains unresolved and perhaps unresolvable. How do you live without certainty, yet not be paralysed by fear? How does the writer sum it up? Well, he shouldn't even try. Accept illusion as your tool of trade while strength remains to justify your role as writer. And the writer has to pay his fare as well. Have I paid mine? Does it matter?

It always matters...but it all means nothing.

It matters while there are people alive to whom the writer can make a difference. It matters while there is art in existence, or about to exist, which can make a difference to the writer. It matters for as long as I am here to hear, to see, and be a human being in search of a haven.

FILMS
My list only goes to five. I am considerably less of a cinemagoer than when we were both here. It's difficult to accept solitude and direct engagement with the screen when one is so used to viewing in company. And much of what I have seen this year has not punctured me; whether by means of inbred stylistic dreariness (Sweet Sixteen, All Or Nothing, The Morvern Callar, Ten), tacked-on studio endings which ruin what the films had been carefully building up (In The Bedroom, Y Tu Mama Tambien, Insomnia, Lantana), films which aren't about what they should be about (The Son's Room, 24 Hour Party People), films which simply cannot speak to me (Potter, Rings passim) and films which are too pleased with themselves by half (The Royal Tenenbaums).

It also doesn't help that by far the most radical, shattering and moving thing I saw on a cinema screen this year was Chris Marker's 20-year-old Sans Soleil, which seems to stand as a regretful marker of its own, as if to say, "this is what the rest of you should have been aiming towards."

So just five films which spoke to me. This is no benchmark for anyone else; it indicates, as with any "critic," that the critic's state of mind and circumstances are crucial to their reception of a work of art.

5. BULLY
He's annoying everybody. So let's kill him. What is worse, his cynical nastiness or our blank, robotic reactions? Whose is the normality? Larry Clark uses the kids just as the Neptunes use Justin - blank ciphers, fill in with whatever prejudices you have stored up in you, and watch them be questioned. It's like Rothko's Seagram Building murals - you're already entombed, don't you get it?

4. L'EMPLOI DU TEMPS (TIME OUT)
Who cares what "work" we do? How crucial is our job to our lives? This French film ducked out of the denouement of the real-life case on which it was based; when his illusion is uncovered, the progenitor here doesn't kill his wife and kids, but instead just drives off and disappears. He is perfectly happy driving around the motorways, clandestine Holiday Inn meetings. If this had been an American film, you would have had Steve Martin in the lead and it would have been a jolly Producers-style lovable conman comedy, with Martin gleefully roaming around America and setting up Bilko-esque scams. This film as it stands closes down that escape route. So what? it is asking. Wouldn't they be perfectly happy to entomb themselves in that abandoned ski chalet forever? Not even entombment - they actually might be happy again. Isn't that what's important?

3. DONNIE DARKO
He cannot fit in, the harder he tries. He is an obstacle to himself and others. This is George Bailey in reverse - everyone else would not only be better off without him, but actually would be alive. He knows that he must sacrifice his own worthless life for the greater good. Lie there. Let the aeroplane get you. The way in which the girl and the mother acknowledge each other, mutely but absolutely knowingly, at the end. They know they are lucky to have survived. A film which would have been unimaginable without the precedent of James Stewart.

2. MULHOLLAND DRIVE
Yes, David, the rest of them are still struggling with Laura Palmer's tarpaulin from which you set sail over a decade ago. Like The Manchurian Candidate, if you miss the first minute of this film, you will not "understand" it (and by that, I mean, literally, the opening credit sequence). A showbiz Vertigo - is it better to live her own life, or drown in the illusion of another (note how nearly all of these films come back to the same theme)? The second half is the equivalent of the final 60 seconds of Dead Of Night - we proceed past all the "real" people steadily and methodically, yet still terminate at the theatre of ghosts. Yet again Roy Orbison is reinvented. That final high note on "Crying" drains her, kills her - but then she is only an illusion anyway. Lynch asks you, "What are you looking at?"

1. SEX & LUCIA
Suicide is about caring what other people think. Can an artist get so tightly wound up in, and consumed by, his art that he finds no purpose for his own life, is disappointed by his own life? He wants to die. She will not let him. She will not lose him. She will find him, in glorious, digital, feel me touch me colour. All primary colours. And then go back, lose yourself and find life. She will extract him from his pain as though she were picking a spring rose, perfect, from a cracked vase in the middle of a serrated minefield. She will not allow him to deny his own worth. And the sex. It's beautiful, passionate, adventurous but crucially loving. You cannot discard that. She will not let me. Ultimately I will not let me.

The jeweller's manager is rushed off her feet. He is lying face down in a field sobbing, screaming. But they are communicating. They both know he won't do it. That mobile 'phone, that umbilical cord which links you. She knows exactly where you are. You know that she knows. There is no need for explanation. You feel her hands in the cold wind. Go back to a world, to a life that is right for you.


TOP 50 COMPILATION/REISSUE/MISCELLANEOUS "NOT NEW" ALBUMS OF THE YEAR
Part 1: Numbers 50-26

Two main music lists, Top 50 "new" Albums Of The Year (which you'll get on Thursday and Friday), while today and tomorrow, content yourself with the Top 50, for want of a better word "old" Albums Of The Year - compilations, megamixes, reissues, previously unissued archive stuff, anything which doesn't quite fit into the "main" list.

50 MINNIE RIPERTON Come Into My Garden
Exquisite 1970 set from the doomed angel, full of utopian yearnings which ask only to caress you. Contains the original of "La Fleur" amongst many other jewels.

49 PAVEMENT Slanted And Enchanted
I do get the feeling that Wowee Zowee (which is reissued in February) might be their actual masterpiece, but this is the 2CD B-sides and all redux version of their breakthrough debut. In many ways, another umbilical cord of which I can't quite let go.

48 THE ZODIAC Cosmic Sounds
Included for sentimental reasons, a favourite of Laura's for some 20 years - 12 tracks with "Desiderata"-style ominous voiceovers for each sign of the Zodiac, set to session-musician psychedelia. What we got out of it was perhaps considerably more than what they put into it.

47 VARIOUS Not Necessarily "English" Music
Absolutely vital 2CD avant-everything compilation, put together by David Toop, with lots of "nuggets" from Cornelius Cardew, AMM, Scratch Orchestra, Bailey, Parker, Ron Geesin, the People Band and many other visionaries. Get this instead of Forty Licks.

46 VARIOUS The Greatest Ragga Dancehall Anthems 2002
Here more or less as a sub for Elephant Man's Higher Level, which I've yet to hear - nine of the 40 tracks here are by him. Capleton, TOK, Sizzla etc. all do the expected. As usual with these Greensleeves compilations, more pop cheek and mischief than in an aircraft hanger full of Pop Idols.

45 JOHN COLTRANE A Love Supreme (Deluxe Edition)
No it certainly isn't his best, but if you have to have it, this is the version you need - 2 CDs, the second including the only concert performance of the suite. To those familiar with the original, the liberties Coltrane takes with the material here will come as a useful shock. We also hear the long-desired extra tracks done with Archie Shepp on second tenor and Art Davis on second bass - sadly we now know why these were previously kept on the shelf; Shepp is, shall we say, surplus to requirements.

44 PETER BROTZMANN TRIO For Adolphe Sax
His debut, just preceding Machine Gun, and the real sequel to Ayler's Spiritual Unity. Recording quality is that of the back of a bus queue but the emotions are as clear as this morning's cornflake remnants.

43 WIZZARD Singles As and Bs
A worthy memorial to this schizophrenic Roy Wood project, half devoted to pop which manages both to be epic and homemade, the other half devoted to unexpected adventures into avant-jazz rock.

42 THE WHO My Generation
OK, it's in stereo. But short of the vinyl original, it's the best you're going to get. This would probably have been number one in Laura's list. A cornerstone of our lives.

41 DAVID AXELROD Anthology II
More deliciously paranoid orchestral musings from the great man. Adderley blows his brains out, David McCallum conducts, wannabe Oz pop stars deconstruct the Beatles, Lou Rawls is cool and collected abreast the storm, Blake is reclaimed sinisterly, C&W ballads derailed unexpectedly.

40 THE FALL Totally Wired: The Rough Trade Anthology
The cost of a seven-day bus pass will get you this umpteenth, but best, collection of one of the most sublime single runs of the early '80s, from the title track to "Kicker Conspiracy." Walk to work and back for a week.

39 NURSE WITH WOUND Chance Meeting
Did this spruced-up reissue come out this year? Well I got it as new this year, so I'm putting it in. Absolutely bloody essential, of course; nothing like it before or since; and no I haven't worked out the bogus names on the influences list yet, even with the extra track in tribute to them.

38 DEREK BAILEY Pieces For Guitar
Well of course it didn't just come out of thin air. The world's greatest musician utilised Webern's compositional systems and memes to produce this previously unreleased 1967 series of - dare we breathe the word? - compositions. He was at the time also working in the house band for I'm Sorry I'll Read That Again. There are rules behind everything.

37 JOHN STEVENS No Fear
Long-overdue reissue for this dynamic 1977 trio session with Trevor Watts (at the time in the middle of a 'flu bout) on alto and Barry Guy on bass. Watts blows the Vick away on the title track, and "Just A Matter Of Time" is a more moving lament for the dead than anything on that last TLC album.

36 SPONTANEOUS MUSIC ENSEMBLE Challenge
Equally long-overdue reissue of the SME's 1966 debut. Watts, Paul Rutherford and Kenny Wheeler are all in attendance. You'll be surprised at how close to George Russell the music sounds - before they started to stretch out and abandon the old ship.

35 SOFT MACHINE Third
The version of "The Moon In June" on Top Gear cuts this one, but this remains the recorded highlight of the Ratledge/Wyatt/Hopper/Dean line-up. What everyone imagines Zappa was like, this band actually were.

34 MANFRED SCHOOF European Echoes
Mentalist 1969 big band freakout by Globe Unity in all but name (but with three pianists!). Ecstatically brilliant, even though Bailey is barely audible.

33 THEORETICAL GIRLS 1978-81
Crucial No Wave document, featuring the band which was Glenn Branca's main concern before The Ascension, etc. Makes Interpol sound like Interpol.

32 BBC RADIOPHONIC WORKSHOP BBC Radiophonic Music
One of two reissues, this is the earlier and better album, iconic and still startling in what it achieved from the '60s onward, but never alienating.

31 IANNIS XENAKIS Persepolis & Remixes (Edition I)
How do you subvert to capitalism without selling out to it? Commissioned for 59 loudspeakers by the erstwhile Shah of Iran, this glorious work manages, by its indirect callings to the Persian traditions which predated the Shah, to transcend whatever boundaries anyone might wish to set upon it - including those attempted by the remixers. Francisco Lopez' is the most successful and affecting; Merzbow and Yoshihide, alas, are Merzbow and Yoshihide (how far away Ground Zero's Revolutionary Chinese Opera now seems) and too many others settle for the soft option. But the original whups the ass of "Hymnen."

30 OST The Wicker Man
Now given a redux release, the vanishing zone where folk embraces what Throbbing Gristle were later to make manifest.

29 MEV Spacecraft
Imagine the three pianists on European Echoes hooking up with the Radiophonic Workshop with Cornelius Cardew and Joe Meek fighting over the producer's chair. Gene pools explode; distant, floating, cacophonous and Rzewzski is a visionary.

28 SONNY SHARROCK Monkey-Pockie-Boo
I agree with Ben Watson that the tidied-up new vinyl version is softer-hitting than the cheapo Affinity reissue in the late '70s, but this is a blistering excoriation of noise and passion. Linda Sharrock outdoes Yoko Ono and anticipates Diamanda Galas; with her husband, Blind Willie Johnson awakes from his slumber and explodes his rage all over the white canvas.

27 NWA Straight Outta Compton
Dr Dre starts here, Ice-T starts here, gangsta rap gets a blacker coat of paint here, even Wu-Tang starts here. And yet you can dance to it and drive around with it in the summertime.

26 DEXY'S MIDNIGHT RUNNERS Don't Stand Me Down - The Director's Cut
Third time lucky for this latest attempt to get the mix right, and it certainly has more punch than either the vinyl original or the '96 Creation pan-and-scan job. A man exults the greatness of the world, of love, of the Other, and you all misread it for desperation and breakdown. So he obligingly did it for real.


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