Commie Crimbo

 

As 2017 draws to a close, it would be remiss of me not to mention this year also being the 100th anniversary since Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov – better known to one and all as ‘Lenin’ – staged his Bolshevik Revolution. American radical journalist and socialist John Reed (who was portrayed by Warren Beatty in his wonderfully-epic 1981 movie, Reds) witnessed at firsthand the chaos of Lenin’s 1917 revolution and chronicled the story in his seminal book, Ten Days That Shook the World.

 

Large and imposing street statues of Lenin once used to dominate the former Soviet Union and the states of the former Warsaw Pact countries – but after the break-up of the Soviet Union on December 26, 1991, just about all of those Lenin statues were removed or pulled down. But one in Poprad, in then Czechoslovakia, was saved from being melted down, and curiously ended up becoming the only US public statue of the Bolshevik totalitarian dictator.

 

You can find this larger-than-life (all 16-feet and 7-tons of it), controversial bronze rendering of Lenin, as he glares down at you from his corner perch in the funky, free-thinking beatnik Republic of Fremont in Seattle – and the full story of how it ended up there, can be read by clicking here. And with Fremont being Fremont, each Christmas old Lennie gets into the community spirit of things by being bedecked by the locals in Crimbo lights and seasonal trimmings.

 

There are many reasons why this was one of my favourite Seattle landmarks to photograph, such as this one from the archives, shot on this day back in 2011. It’s just so out of place to find a Lenin statue located in the US, yet, paradoxically, so completely in place with it being there in Fremont, the city’s quirkiest neighbourhood. And earlier this year, as the US hotly-debated within itself about just which controversial statues should and shouldn’t be removed from public display, it became the subject of the ‘saddest right-wing protest ever‘, as seven protesters ‘marched’ on Fremont to demand its removal.

 

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Sitting here overdosing on the sunshine by the pool in Saint Louis, in the US Midwest, tuning-in to the TV in the evenings offers up almost end-to-end promotions for a week of festivities in tribute to the 40th anniversary of the death of Elvis Presley, who died on August 16, 1977. And despite being on a month-long work/vacation, I thought we’d pay tribute also by delving into the Seattle archives to bring the King out of the shadows – well, at least his hidden bronze statue, that is.

 

The unmistakable lip-curling, hip-wiggling, quiff-quivering, guitar-gyrating stance is there for all to see in this statue – but only if the public look carefully for it, as it’s hidden in the shadows of a courtyard off Broadway on First Hill (directly across from the Elliott Bay Book shop on 10th Ave). It was one of three statues of rock icons – Jimi Hendrix, Chuck Berry and Presley – commissioned by Mike Malone, a music-loving real-estate developer.

 

The statue of Hendrix, directly on Broadway, at Blick Art Supplies, is by far the most iconic and most photographed. But Malone also commissioned Seattle artist Daryl Smith to do similar ones of Elvis and Berry – and all three can be found within a few blocks of each other.

 

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From one music legend to another, as we neatly segue from recently-departed Chuck Berry to long-gone Bob Marley, who came to fame with a juxtaposing rivalry during the rise of punk in the mid-1970s here in the UK. And Top of the Pops often took on a surreal feeling on a Thursday evening during this period as Marley, with his poetic words and rhythmic melodies, was often pitted against the mayhem, nihilism, and constantly gobbing Sex Pistols.

 

And last week, the reggae legend’s life was set to his own soundtrack, as ‘One Love: The Bob Marley Musical‘, written and directed by Kwame Kwei-Armah, opened to good reviews at the Birmingham Repertory Theatre, and now looks set for a London West End run and talks of it being turned into a movie.  This is the first musical of Marley’s life and features his greatest songs, including No Woman No Cry, Exodus, One Love, Jamming etc. 

 

The musical tells the story of a man propelled from rising reggae star to global icon, and is mostly set around the time when Marley’s beloved homeland of Jamaica is on the brink of civil war, and he’s called to unite his people as only he can with his music and his message of love and peace – and, as you do, he almost ends up being assassinated in the process!

 

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That wily, irascible old bugger Chuck Berry has passed away at the ripe old age of 90. His contribution to the music we all love in its myriad forms is incalculable. And as they would say in Corrie, “Ta-ra, Chuck!”

 

Berry was the true sound and spirit of rock ‘n’ roll who put more into his songs than many a Hollywood director has put into film. It’s said that he wrote the soundtrack for American teen rebellion in the mid-to-late 1950s – and indeed, such was his influence, that he even got a nod from the cult movie Back to the Future, as Marty McFly parodied how he got his trademark sound and famous duck walk. 

 

I was lucky enough to see Chuck Berry perform in Seattle in 2002 alongside Jerry Lee Lewis and Little Richard as part of a legends’ farewell tour. He played ‘My Ding A Ling’. I really wish he hadn’t. But he also played ‘Johnny B Goode’ and ‘Roll Over Beethoven’, and it was outstanding.  He was 76 then but easily outshone the other two.

 

And amazingly, unlike Motor City, Seattle’s funky and bohemian Capital Hill neighbourhood has a bronze statue of Chuck Berry (in mid duck-walk), created by local artist Daryl Smith, which is one of a group of three he was commissioned to do, the others being Elvis and Jimi Hendrix that I’ve written about in blogs passim.

 

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It’s a quintessentially modern Seattle tale: downtown Seattle’s Icon Grill on Fifth Avenue will shut its doors this coming weekend to make way for  – yes, that’s right, you’ve guessed it – yet another yuppie high rise development slated for its prime downtown location.

 

To me, Icon seemed like a permanent anchor on Fifth Avenue and Virginia Street, and perhaps more familiar to millions of passersby over the years for its snarky readerboard (like the much-missed ‘Lusty Lady’) below its iconic Icon Grill neon signage; one memorable message in 1999 reading, “Thanks WTO. It’s been a riot.”

 

The Icon Grill was one of my favourite haunts, mainly because it was always right there on my doorstep, and served up wonderful comfort food in a tasteful, flashy interior inside an eclectically adorned dining room, replete with blown glass decorations and local art.

 

Sadly, Icon’s closure follows hard on the heels of other recent departures forced by development, including Old Spaghetti Factory, Tini Bigs and Hula Hula – and again, all were lovable haunts during my lengthy Seattle sojourn.

 

Progress, don’t you just love it?

 

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Poor America. Such a tough choice of who to vote for today: a lying, misogynist, racist, dangerous, unpredictable narcissist who can’t even be trusted with his own Twitter access let alone the nuclear codes, or a woman who might as well be reading her top-level-security emails off the jumbotron at Yankee Stadium?

 

It’s little wonder they are pissed at everything and not enough cardboard to list their many complaints, as the photo shows. And no, we are not taking you back…hell, as if we haven’t enough problems of our own right now trying to fathom out the self-inflicted mess we voted ourselves into with Brexit.

 

It all reminds me a little too much of Paddy Chayefsky’s wickedly wonderful 1976 satirical/black comedy Network that I recently watched for the umpteenth time, as TV news anchor Howard Beale (fantastically played by Peter Finch, in a true Oscar-winning performance, albeit posthumously), takes a nervous breakdown live on air, ignores the teleprompter and lets out all of his frustrations of the world in which he lives before ranting “I’M AS MAD AS HELL AND I’M NOT GOING TO TAKE THIS ANYMORE!” and then urges all the viewers to open their windows and do the same.

 

It’s all getting to be strangely prophetic – where’s Wolf Blitzer when you need him most of all?  

 

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Apart from inventing the modern world as we know it, did you realize you also have the Scots to thank for Halloween as well? 

 

Halloween is a Scottish contraction of All Hallows’ Eve (All Saints Day) that first entered common parlance in Scotland in 1745.  At this time of year, when the days were at their shortest, it was thought that the ethereal boundaries which prevented faeries, witches, bad spirits, and the tortured souls of the undead from roaming freely in the real world were breached.  

 

Although he was not the first to describe the festival in print, Scotland’s national bard, Robert Burns, is credited with popularizing the concept of Halloween and the supernatural themes surrounding it. His poem ‘Halloween’, one of Burns’ longest, was published in 1786 and explores many of the festival’s eeriest stories and traditions. One of the lines, “what fearfu’ pranks ensue!”, makes mention of practical jokes at Halloween. 

 

And that brings us to the other Scots’ ‘invention’ associated with Halloween: the globally-recognised custom of trick-or-treating. Until recent times, this was known exclusively in Scotland as ‘guising’, gaining popularity from the late 18th century onwards. Children would disguise themselves as ghosts and evil spirits in a bid to blend in with the free-roaming undead. Simple treats, such as fruit and nuts, would be offered in return for a song or performance at a person’s door. 

 

And an early version of carved pumpkins first appeared in Scotland and Ireland during the 19th century. They were known as “tattie bogles” or “potato ghosts”, ghoul-like faces carved from potatoes and turnips – not a million miles away from modern-day carved pumpkins we see today – to ward off evil spirits.

 

But all of these Celtic traditions – widely believed to have originated in the USA via the large contingent of Irish and Scottish settlers – were soon to be, just like Christmas, commercialized out of all proportions Across the Pond by our American cousins.

 

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Hard to imagine it was so long ago, but 25 years ago this week, Nevermind entered the pantheon of the all-time great rock albums, as the unmistakable riff to Nirvana’s seismic debut single, Smells Like Teen Spirit, almost overnight  transformed the band from “grunge” unknowns into one of the biggest rock groups of the era – Nevermind the toll that fame and fortune subsequently contributed to the sad demise of their legendary frontman, Kurt Cobain.

 

And for anyone looking to indulge in the macabre of Kurt – as I regularly discovered during my almost decade-long Seattle sojourn – then the No.27 Metro Bus is but a quick journey from Downtown to Lake Washington Boulevard and the mansion where Cobain lived with Courtney Love and controversially took his own life.  However, this is now a private residence – and the garage-outhouse where the star blew his brains out has long been demolished to avoid ghoul seekers…but it failed.  

 

Cobain’s body was cremated, with his ashes scattered in an undisclosed spot in the Wishkah River near his hometown of Aberdeen, Washington.  So in the absence of any other shrine, devoted fans congregate on Nirvana/Cobain anniversary moments at the more permanent Viretta Park, a small patch of grass directly next door to the mansion, and in particular the lone bench there – and today’s photo was one of a series taken in 2014, on the 20th anniversary of his death – where he’s said to have spent time reflecting on his life and music, that has now become a de facto memorial to the grunge icon, where they’ll leave candles and flowers as well as scrawl messages. 

 

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Another one from the Seattle back-catalogue, showing a ferry shot in the evening dusk from Pike Place Market as it heads out across Puget Sound towards Bainbridge Island  – and the apt title of When The Boat Comes In, comes from the BBC classic drama with the same title that this year celebrates its 40th anniversary. 

 

When The Boat Comes In was British TV at its very, very best – they don’t make shows like this one anymore.  So memorable and in so many ways. When it started in early January 1976, I was an innocent 14-year-old (well, 14 anyway!) and becoming more and more politically aware – and this cult drama from the BBC (and only the BBC then could have made this) showed the struggles of the working class between two World Wars, a General Strike and the Great Depression. 

 

I knew back then that this drama was well-done – it’s only after rediscovering the joys of it again on YouTube, have I realised just HOW well done this had been. And aye my bonny lads and lassies, all in its full-on Geordie accent and lingo.  The great James Bolam heads the cast alongside a host of North East actors, and almost all of the filming done on location in the South Shields region.

 

It was a time of economic depression and also charted the growth of union power and with it the rise of the Labour Party, as the Liberal Party of David Lloyd George and Winston Churchill began to implode.  Its nothing short of a wonderful social drama, and you can watch all four seasons (13 episodes each of 50min!) uninterrupted on YouTube by clicking here.

 

But be warned though that it is very addictive, and you’ll be prone to lengthy sessions of binge viewing following  the exploits of Jack Ford and the Seaton family – including schoolteacher Jessie, played by Susan Jameson, Bolam’s real-life wife – in the (fictional) poverty-stricken town of Gallowshield in the North East of the 1920s. Also be warned that, like me, you’ll soon be humming the memorably distinctive signature tune ‘Dance Ti Thy Daddy’, which is very, very catchy and will quickly grow on you…

 

Come here, maw little Jacky

Now aw’ve smoked me baccy

Let’s hev a bit o’cracky

Till the boat comes in…

 

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Thankfully for the well-being of the neighbours, these badass speakers aren’t the real deal but in fact a sculpture entitled ‘Badussy’ (Or Machu Piccu After Dark) by the Peruvian-born and Miami-based visual artist William Cordova.  His edifice was made from 200 donated 1970s- and 1980s-era chipped, clunky old stereo speakers that were generously donated by Seattleities for the sideshow to a major exhibit on the Inca’s of Peru that ran through the fall of 2013 at the Seattle Art Museum.

 

It alludes to modern urban subcultures, and it refers back to the glory days of vinyl and album rock (there was a few LPs scattered on the floor on the other side, mainly of the funky variety with Earth, Wind & Fire), when baby boomers piled huge stereo systems into their tiny rooms.  Today, of course, mp3s and smartphones have made such hi-fi connoisseurship obsolete. Music is portable, not monumental. And that, partly, was the the point of machu picchu.

 

Cordova’s mini-mountain is about 15 feet high; it’s less a tower than a large stump. Nobody wants these speakers any more; nobody listens to music that way. The programme blurb reads: “Cordova has produced the semblance of an antiquity. Dimly lit, machu picchu after dark looms as if it were a monument visited at dusk; familiar as a form, though unfamiliar in its significance. Neglected or collected, the objects have been repurposed. This is how the past persists, whether walls or songs, even when its origins are forgotten.”

 

Well, okay – but remember to keep it down.

 

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