Finally - a rock gig in Bristol… Pretty awesome night at The Thunderbolt indeed… Here we have Zepher, a band who style themselves after the fun side of classic ’90s rock, who were absolutely refreshingly good to watch. Then we have The Void, who I mentioned a while ago. Will finish their artwork for my own fun sometime. As for the band, they were on fire :) With their gutsy ambitious ’70s-style metal jams, they’ve still got it a year later. Many thumbs up.
As might be evident, this one was a rather a battle against lighting. Great gig though, and glad to see Tom headlining. If you’re in the mood for some fleet-footed acoustic songs, you’ll find much to like in his work :)
Tom Martin at The Talking Heads, Southampton, 13/08/2014.
My Top Ten all-time favourite music videos: #10. Come As You Are - Nirvana
As I’ve mentioned before, the music video is an art-form I am specifically interested in. Where it works and where it doesn’t. To create something which stands with an existing piece to make both items more than the sum of their parts is a fascinating endeavour and something I try to do often. The music video is a very important form of this, as supplementing the song, the musician’s ethos and the impressiveness of the video as a standalone item all play a part.
So here are my all time top ten. With of course my music tastes, selective listening, appreciation of music history and journalistic factors all acting as biases. Also, due to the length of articles and time taken to write, this will be a multi-part series. Let me know what you think :)
Director: Kevin Kerslake
Nirvana have an incredible legacy to their name, one so much discussed and with enough well known detail in their mythos, that it’s actually intimidating to consider exploring them. In all honesty, I don’t know if I’ll ever consider myself a fan, with as much to consider as you’ll find on their plate, though I find the parts I have heard to be either good or pretty fantastic. They are a convoluted investment for sure.
With that much piled onto the band, I was surprised to find that can be made immersive. And there are few better examples of proving your importance in one fell swoop that this song paired with this video. The Nevermind cover that we all know is great, if rarely discuss, is a prominent motif. The death of Kurt, that keeps them a mainstream talking point far outside the genre fanbase, is an aspect that makes its unfortunate presence felt. The band’s noted power in performance is audible and is visible onscreen. The song is sterling musically and lyrically. And the video is a blinding work of presence and montage…
The power in the performance is unquestionably audible, and onscreen the band are suggested to be performing with the same conviction. I say suggested, the majority of their onscreen presence is obscured in some way. Kurt’s delivery ceases being the focus quickly, as he takes to swinging from a chandelier (a rock imagery perennial) and orating from projection upon the film or the walls of the manor the video takes place in. Where the band are collectively seen it is through a curtain of flowing water, end shot excepted. This seems to be an avoidance of repetition and a way to treat the song sensitively. The explosive energy that goes without saying for Smells Like Teen Spirit, audibly and visually, is eschewed for something more subliminal. It works, as the rockstar aspect is allowed to take a back-seat to the craft unfolding. The band only truly appear in the end shot, as Kurt leans from behind them to kiss the camera before they fade from focus, bringing some final benevolence to the subdued ambivalence and covert aggression of the work.
Taking the work into broader places, are the visual ideas that develop throughout the song. The Nevermind cover, is reprised in video form. This is a well known symbol, somewhat open to interpretation, but generally read along the lines of, from the waters of the womb we trade our strength in purity of conception, for a strength much less holy, offered down in dribs and drabs from those above our station. This is expanded upon by the lyrics and the visual elements the director adds, spliced in over the oration or placed in the manor house setting. The lyrics mean a lot to people, so this is my reading, and need not overtake yours if you know the song. From the lyrics I see a man looking over someone in ambivalence, seeing how their innate human warmth and spirit has been dragged through the mud in the above pursuit. Contemplating if and how their redemption could be achieved, through methods kind, caustic or brutal. “Come dowsed in mud, soaked in bleach… An old memory," indeed.
The visuals collude and contrast with these combined ideas. Spliced footage of micro-organisms and cell division and fertilisation of the egg all elude to a creation of life; the cell, the man and the very beginning. The water of the cover is abstracted in the water pouring down the screen and flowing down the stairs, another trinity of symbols. The connotations of water are clear cut here, its beginning of life in all senses, its role in faith (co-opted here for a broader look at spirit) and the well used flow of water for the passage of time. Water pouring over the shots of performance goes as far as to suggest that the band, however successful, is still inescapably part of these human aspects. And literally floating among these allusions is the gun. The uglier facet of the dollar of the cover, the contrasting brutality in spirit alluded to in the lyrics. The advocation of human life is pitted against the tainting cruelty, that even the protagonist can be driven to. He says he doesn’t have a gun, whether we believe him is a matter of trust and faith, things he already sees broken down. The dog limping on the stairs in the Elizabethan Collar does little to reassure. The subdued ambivalence and threat sit heavily onscreen for the runtime of the song, until we cut to outdoors, the end shot that suggests there’s something left. If you can appreciate, maybe there is redemption.
The resulting video is much on the director, understanding his medium and the song he was working with. Kerslake was given a colour scheme and use of the album cover as his starting point and ran with it, to an incredible result. The symbolism reminds as much as explains, leaving us a powerful set of imagery to consider. And bolsters the contradiction of the song, suggesting the opposing ideas within the broader one, in a way that a linear story would not.
The achievement of the video is very much in what it gets across through abstraction. Symbolism outside of storyline has been used for the power of suggestion in film since the birth of the medium, especially when the art form was more nascent. That has, however, been oft considered part of the highbrow collection, a way to create and appreciate that is seen as being understandable to few. The music video is a lesser documented situation where this is really not the case. From early popular music videos ‘til now, we see the power of this around us, and barely think to consider it as the same. And maybe it is the best medium to do this; the music video inherently mixes artforms to create links, and the use of montage here is a true example of the concept extending to the visual aspect, taking the artform further.
In the interests of living up to my content standpoint, I have set up a side blog for the less safe for work stuff I create, or anything that’s under-developed for general publishing.
I have no intention of making a main attraction of plausibly provocative work for its own sake. This is from the view that not everything worth working on, is appropriate to put in front of someone at their work desk or eating their cornflakes.
Feel free to follow and enjoy for an extra part of my work, and I will link here accordingly for work that is worth showing, but needs previewing a little more discreetly to avoid major content mood-whiplash.
I have also updated my content issues page accordingly, and made another separate one for the side-blog. Please respect these by reading them and thus being aware of my standpoints on more difficult content.
Thank you and enjoy…
While the US and South Asia had a lunar eclipse overnight on the 8th, here in the UK we had the largest full moon I’ve seen in a long time. I’ve always intended to get a picture of the moon; that night’s was amazingly big and the night was warm and mellow. Always going to be an interesting camera exercise as our eyes tune out the brightness to see the detail in a very different way to a camera.
And I’m back…
…As mysteriously as I left (i.e. not very), I’m willing to call myself back in business. Maybe a little early to call, still a few people I’m chasing up on outsourced work, and my current drawn self portrait is difficult to finish. But nonetheless, aims at being an unbeaten craftsman aside, some recent work makes me quite happy, so it’s time to start sharing.
Commissions are always taken, and do ask me things if you would like to. I love discussion and everyone’s being shy. Of course, you don’t have to. Just hope my new photos are as fun to look at as they were to be at, and that you enjoy some doodles.
Peace out. x
Preview photographs from my interview with Harry Bundell…
Colden Common, 28/08/2014.