Let Love Rule

New releases in New Zealand, 1989

Let Love Rule, Lenny Kravitz

i

I heard the lead single off this album once on TV and bought the album which was a pretty bold move for cash poor 1989 self.  One reason I may have loved the song Let Love Rule is because it remains the only song I have ever figured out how to play by myself.  What helped was that it is an incredibly simple song using 12 bar blues.  Also luck helped I imagine as there are plenty of simple songs using 12 bar blues (everything by AC/DC?) that I wasn’t able to figure out.  The only other song I worked out was Knocking On Heaven’s Door, but in this case I wasn’t trying to play that song and I believed – for about 24 hours – that I had just written an amazing original song.

Side One of Let Love Rule is good.  Side Two begins to get a bit boring.

ii

The bad girl of The Cosby Show was Lisa Bonet which was in the final leg of its run in 1989.  She had been in Angel Heart, she had left the spin off Different World because she was pregnant, she married Lenny Kravitz who she shares some writing credits with on this debut album.

Most people my age will have watched The Cosby Show growing up.  Something that feels pretty awkward now given all the information we have about Bill Cosby and how he was behaving even then.  When it first arrived I thought that show was hilarious.  Because Bill Cosby played a father and a doctor in the show the revelations about his actions feel worse; like it’s always worse when you hear what a Catholic priest has been up to.  I realise that Cosby was only acting, but he did also take that persona and cross it over into other areas by writing books about fatherhood, love, marriage and childhood.

I’m not sure why people were briefly fascinated by Lisa Bonet.  Perhaps it was partly because she seemed to be trying to run against the squeaky clean image of Denise Huxtable.  She definitely did not behave much like Denise in Angel Heart.  Sadly most of the rebellion off screen involved taking her top off and getting pregnant which is not that progressive.

I didn’t see Angel Heart until a long time after it was released.  I remember it as being incredibly stylish with a great soundtrack.  Watching clips now makes me wonder about my judgement on both of these things.  The chicken and egg thing?  The names?  Perhaps it stands up as a cult movie, but the soundtrack is fucking annoying.

iii

Kravitz had no hits off Let Love Rule in New Zealand, but he had hits later.  I remember the very exciting sound and video for Are You Gonna Go My Way?  I also remember listening to it recently and thinking how thin it was.  Take away the lighting rig from the video and it is also a very thin video featuring models dancing self-consciously in single file and a band you feel was picked on their cool retro appearance playing the song.

Does it sound like I don’t like Kravitz?  I think I feel let down by him.  Which is not dissimilar to how I feel about the whole Lisa Bonet deal from the late 80s.  They both seem to exist in a very lightweight and beautiful version of alternative.  I don’t think either of them are faking anything just that they’re maybe not that sharp or interesting in fact; that what they wore and how they looked indicated something interesting that wasn’t in fact there at all.

I may as well be talking about myself of course.  Getting my hair permed.  Wearing cowboy boots.  Buying biker jackets.  Just a pasty white kid from Kāpiti underneath it all and not that interesting.

iv

Koos van den Akker is the man who made the “Cosby Sweater”.  There is a short film of him on Vice.  I think this screen shot captures the issue:

FFS

The caption is important: “To my eye, this looks good”.  It was a moment in the film where I briefly thought: “Are we looking at the same thing?”  but by that point he had already shown us about twenty sweaters and tops which were so garish and awful that I knew he wasn’t joking.  Truth be told, I didn’t see the ugliness at the time; at the time I thought his sweaters were cool.  Things change.

What do we do with The Cosby Show now?  It’s fairly straightforward to stop listening to Michael Jackson, but The Cosby Show was an ensemble.  He didn’t even really write it, and there was a good cast.  Watching Phylicia Rashad and Cosby together is great.  Rashad was a real asset to that show and played her character perfectly: right between warm and steel.

I don’t think I was watching The Cosby Show by 1989.  It did get worse.  Less funny.  The children grew up – a problem The Simpsons has never had to face – and sitcoms very rarely deal with time well.  Sitcoms are repetitive and cyclic; the tensions never resolve.  If they try to resolve the tension they are often simply restating it in a new form like they did in Cheers.  Kids growing up wrecks it all and there will be that inevitable moment where they get in some new little kids to replace the original little kid who got too big.

v

Listening to Lenny Kravitz again has been almost identical to listening to him in 1989.  I think the first time I listened to Let Love Rule I thought it was great and I listened to it a few times.  However, looking at how dirty my LP is I think I have not taken it out and listened to it again since 1989.  The thirty year break made me think: “oh! this is actually better than I thought” – but by the second listen I was already getting bored.

The Cosby Show on the other hand?  Irritatingly good.

*

New releases in New Zealand, 16 July 1989

  • Cliff Richard – The Best Of Me
  • Kylie Minogue – Hand On Your Heart
  • Natalie Cole – Miss You Like Crazy
  • Neville Brothers – Sister Rosa
  • Robin Beck – First Time

Doolittle

New releases in New Zealand, 1989

The Pixies, Doolittle

If man is five, if man is five, if man is five
Then the devil is six, then the devil is six
The devil is six, the devil is six and if the devil is six
Then God is seven , then God is seven, then God is seven

i

In my final year at Kāpiti College I made friends with a guy who had just come from England.  Let’s call him Dave.

Dave was a pretty cool guy.  He dressed cool, he listened to cool music.  He had a T-shirt that said “New Zealand Night Life” which had a picture of a mostly black night sky.  His father had a handle-bar mustache.  Dave called the handles “bugger grips”.  At the time I didn’t immediately understand what he meant.  I was a naive boy from New Zealand who didn’t get anal sex jokes yet.  Look how wise I am now.

Once Seventh Form finished Dave moved into a flat in town.  It was a very large old wooden mansion that had been turned into a warren of flats with a huge shared dining room, kitchen and living room.  He lived in a mostly self-contained flat at the back with his girlfriend.  People sold drugs there, and the flat was once raided by the police who didn’t find anything because they didn’t look in the cupboard under the stairs where the drug dealer kept his drugs.

I didn’t hang out at the flat for drugs I went to get something more mind-altering: cool music by people I had never heard of.  Dave introduced me to the Cocteau Twins and The Pixies.

ii

I remember thinking that The Pixies were quite scandalous because the cover of Surfer Rosa had a picture of a woman with no top on it.  I also remember thinking that The Pixies were much earlier than Nirvana but I see now that Bleach and Doolittle came out the same year.  It was a great year to be getting into guitar.

Monkey Gone to Heaven.   I hadn’t heard a song like that before.  I hadn’t heard a song like Tame before.  For someone who wanted to be in a band their music sounded simple.  It sounded like something even I could play.  That’s not true, but it felt true which is enough when you are 17.  If I had attempted Tame with my band it would not have sound intense and frightening: just frightening.  You know what I mean.

There was the sound.  I mean the sound of something like I Bleed.  It’s so fucking great.  Pretending to be about a bass line, but the split vocals, and the thundering toms, and the cycling strangled guitar make it the soundtrack for the climatic moment in an imaginary B-grade horror movie.

Not to mention the lyrics.  I can’t love a band unless the lyrics are good.  I love The Pixies.

iii

Dave was a prick.  He may have changed so I should say: Dave was a prick back then.

He went out with a girl who I’m going to call Rachel.  She had also been to Kāpiti College in the same form as us.  She was a very nice person.  Sweet even.  He – as I mentioned – had turned into a prick.  That was an early lesson in the eternal life question: “What does she see in that guy?”  The last time I saw her she was walking up Molesworth Street on the way to work.  She had just discovered she was lactose intolerant and her face was covered in spots.  The fact that we talked about that quite openly and she thought it was funny is some kind of indication of her lack of affectation.  That was the mystery I think.  Dave was all about affectation.  The right music, the rights clothes, the right cigarettes.  All that nonsense.  Rachel and I parted never to meet again I suspect.

I can’t remember the last time I saw Dave.  I’d be amazed if he was still here in shitty old New Zealand.

iv

Seeing The Pixies live was an odd experience.  They were good, but it’s a bit weird not to talk to the audience.  At all.  Was it a bit like playing the CDs really, really loud?  Yes.  It was.  Which is good on one level because it means they were playing with the same intensity and precision.  On the other hand… shouldn’t a live event be different?  The only moment which felt really good was when the audience sang that great Kim Deal vocal from Where is My Mind?

It was better than I make it sound.  Hearing a band live is different from turning your music up loud.  The bass, for starters, in your rib cage.  Also: there they were (minus Kim) – heroes of my youth!  In the flesh! But…

v

At the old Bar Bodega I saw a band called Short.  Probably in 1995.  I went with the girl who was sad like me.  The old Bar Bodega was very small.  About the size of a living room really with a tiny area for the band in one corner, and a bar on one wall, and a dense mash of people in the sweaty ear-splitting dark.  Short played post punk.  A three piece.  Drums and bass and a crunching set of guitar chords.  Their originals were great.  Their cover of Bowie’s Starman wonderful.  The girl who was sad like me bought their EP but it wasn’t recorded well.  A lot of New Zealand music wasn’t then.

For me I think that was my Pixies concert.  I always think of it when I think of The Pixies.  Before the new Bodega.  Before the closed Bodega.  Before, before, before.

New releases in New Zealand, 9 July 1989

  • Edelweiss – Bring Me Edelweiss
  • The Jacksons – Nothing (That Compares 2 U)
  • Deacon Blue – Wages Day
  • Jason Donovan – Sealed With A Kiss
  • Milli Vanilli – Baby Don’t Forget My Number
  • Coldcut feat. Lisa Stanfield – People Hold On
  • Michael Damian – Rock On
  • Paul Norton – Stuck On You

Batdance

New releases in New Zealand, 2 July 1989

Batdance – Prince

*

“They take the surface very seriously.  The package is the substance.  That is at the heart of their sense of beauty.”

Donald Richie on the Japanese

i

For a long time the movie theatre with the greatest feeling of faded-80s-class-grotty-90s-grunge in Wellington was The Regent.  It was the theatre no one went to anymore, built on the second floor of a small shopping mall no one went to anymore.  It was supposed to be a series of boutique shops, a flight of wide steps up a mirrored staircase to a movie foyer with gold handrails and red velvet curtains, and a fine dining restaurant.  What it became was a series of vacant shops and a worn out, chipped and faded foyer of B-movies.  A friend of mine was assaulted on the back stairs there.  Another worked in the only functioning shop on the ground floor and arrived one day to find it had been robbed and a big shit deposited in the middle of the floor.  The shop was called Mindgames, but the message of the shit was pretty straightforward.

One B-movie offered at The Regent was Graffiti Bridge.  It seemed like the poster advertising it was up in that foyer for years but that the movie itself may have never played.

ii

I have a long standing lack of interest in superheroes that stretches back to Batman (1989).  It might be because when I was a kid superhero movies were dumb.  There was Batman on TV which people now regard as a cult classic but at the time I just thought was silly, and there were some creaky Superman movies.  Superpowers seem like a lame plot device, and who the hell was Batman anyway: a rich man who likes cosplay?

Who were my superheroes?  By 1989 they were probably people like Prince.  Later on they would be Jim Morrison, Grunge bands, and Marlon Brando.  I wrote a poem for Sixth Form English that said: “my heroes always die at the end”.  I wrote that in 1988.  It was a prescient read on Grunge that’s for sure.  My favourite movies for a very long time were Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and Gallipoli.  They end almost identically.  On the Waterfront‘s end is a muted victory.  Viva Zapata?  Back to everyone dies at the end.

The main thing I like about Batman now is Birdman.

And Batdance of course.

iii

I parted company with Prince for 25 years after Batdance.  I’m glad we made up at the end though.  Just before he died.

In 2016 I went to Auckland with a friend to see Prince.  It was eye-wateringly expensive.  I had reservations about the cost right up to the moment when the lights came up on the stage and there was a silhouette of Prince with a giant-ass afro, and a cane and the crowd went crazy.  My thought?  “Fuck, yeah!”  I mean, it was fucking Prince, and once the silhouette vanished it was really him – sashaying around the stage in a slinky suit soaking in the applause with an attitude that seemed to be humbly saying: “mmhm, that’s right, I am pretty fricken awesome: clap mofos”.  The audience clapped.  I clapped.  I imagined it was similar to – but not as spiritual – a Catholic meeting the Pope.  Actually, scratch that: it was just as spiritual.

Purple Rain had first melted my mind in 1985 when I was 12.  From 1985 to 2016 was 31 years.  The last album I had bought by him was Lovesexy in 1989.  I loved the song Batdance.  Then we drifted apart.  I was never into the Come, Diamonds and Pearls stuff, and even though he would occasionally do something like Sexy M.F. or Black Sweat, he really seemed to be adrift in bloated albums, slow jams and soulless not very funky funk workouts.  Thankfully in 2014 there was Art Official Age.  Not even some chipmunk vocals and lasers could spoil a good album album.  He was calling me home.  (Yes, me.)

There were many moments in the concert that were amazing.  U Got The Look was one of the highlights.  I always felt kind of so-so about that song, but he turned it into a dirty, honky-tonk, funk grind which went on and on being amazing.  Something In the Water sounded beautiful on piano.  I suppose the moment of greatest emotional impact was Purple Rain.  Even though it was just a truncated version as he was riffing through some of his greatest hits, it was the other moment – after his initial arrival – when I thought: “I cannot actually believe I am here and this is happening.”  I don’t know how many times I played air guitar to that song in the 80s but it was a lot.  It was a powerful feeling.  The opening notes punching though my 43 year old exterior and gripping me by my 12 year old heart.

iv

This story ends with him dying of course.  All my heroes die at the end.

He was in Auckland in February 2016, and died in April.

What was he?  A serious surface?  A packaging of substance?  It was always  a mistake looking for hidden depths in a Prince song.  The song Purple Rain is a great example.  It hints at meaning.  The music says a lot more than the words, but music of course talks in “feel” only.  So you are left with an evocative sound onto which a million thoughts can be projected.  Prince was mostly only direct and clear when he was talking about sex.  Otherwise, good luck trying to read something profound.  Let’s Go Crazy?  We get the vibe – let’s party – but as for the lyrics?  When the Doves Cry?  What is that sounds like doves crying and what the fuck does a dove crying sound like anyway?

On the latest posthumous release Originals, there is a great piece of fluff called Make Up.  The music is frantic and cold.  The vocal cold and clipped.  A list of make up applied; a look constructed.  You can dance to it.  It feels like it is maybe saying something.  The delivery and tension seems to point at meaning.  And then away.  A beautiful surface.

Definitely a kind of genius.

*

New releases in New Zealand, 2 July 1989

  • Funky Cold Medina – Tone Loc
  • Batdance – Prince
  • Forever Your Girl – Paula Abdul
  • Manchild – Neneh Cherry
  • Wind Beneath My Wings – Bette Midler
  • Can You Keep A Secret – Brother Beyond
  • Halleluiah Man – Love and Money
  • Room To Move – Animotion
  • Help – Bananarama