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Most of this blog is related in some way to the music, books and films produced by Gonzo Multimedia, but the editor has a grasshopper mind and so also writes about all sorts of cultural issues which interest him, and which he hopes will interest you as well.

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

MICHAEL DES BARRES: Carnaby Street - Song by Song

The other day we started a new feature here on the Gonzo Daily. It is called 'Song by Song', and it does exactly what it says on the tin. Basically I go through an album song by song, and then pass my notes on to the artist who made the album in the first place, and see what they have to say. And now its time to look at what I think will be one of the most important new albums of 2012 - Carnaby Street by Michael Des Barres.

1. You're My Pain Killer
“I wanted to write a song expressing that love is my anti-depressant. When the drug companies understand that, perhaps we've got a shot at the peace of mind we crave”.

The album opens with the song with which I, and everyone else are most familiar. Indeed, I believe that the world debut of the song was on Gonzo Daily back in April. It was early in the morning, and I had a hangover. There was an e-mail from Rob Ayling in my in-box. This was the attachment, and it cut through the waves of self-pity that enveloped my skull with its message of redemption.

The mid-paced groove laced with funky but emotional organ playing sets the tone for the whole album. The nearest reference point that I can give for the whole album is The Rolling Stones, but not the ugly jaded behemoth that tours the world every few years but a Rolling Stones in an alternate universe where they are still as hungry as they were on Sticky Fingers, and where their endless quest for ‘Satisfaction’ still had some hope for fulfilment. A universe where the instrumentation of 1971 and the technology of 2012 meet in some glorious funky synergy.

Appropriately it opens with a drug song, but it is a drug song with a twist. Whereas the canon of rock and roll is full of elegantly wasted musicians singing love songs to drugs, this is something quite unique; a massively healthy singer at the top of his game singing a paen to love in which he tells his beloved that she takes away his pain and makes the world an OK place.

Speaking as a scientist, I should probably point out that opiates work by mimicking the action of endorphins (the pleasure chemicals released during sex) on the cerebral cortex. Speaking as a human being who has experienced both sex and drugs and rock and roll, this song makes perfect sense to me. Speaking as a fan, this song is devastatingly good!

2. Carnaby Street
“In my new incarnation, I discovered my roots in the gutters of Swingin' London. I was raised on a diet of rhythm 'n blues and velvet coats. This is my homage and recognition of what made me want to sing in a rock and roll band in the first place”.

I have a wonderful vision of one night in 1965, when the young M. P. Des Barres, who may or may not have already been the Marquis by that stage, I don’t know, read about the story of Robert Johnson – a story which inspired all the latter-day bluesmen of the Thames Delta to pick up their instruments and walk.

It is a story about how the young Robert Johnson, a wannabe bluesman in southern Mississippi just after the First World War, made a terrible pact with the horned one. He went down to a lonely crossroads at midnight, and exchanged his immortal soul for the ability to play guitar like no-one had ever played before. In my peculiar fantasy (and remember kids, don’t try this at home) I think that young Michael – after weeks of soul searching – decided to do the same thing. Clutching a guitar in one hand and a bottle of bourbon in the other he trudged wearily to the crossroads at the end of ‘Carnaby Street’ W1. As he approached the lonely crossroads he saw a shadowy figure there waiting for him. And with his heart pounding he slowly stepped closer.

He stood in front of the shadowy figure and was just about to start broaching his own version of Robert Johnson’s dreadful pact when he caught a glimpse of his reflection in a shop window. “Damn, I look good”, he thought to himself. “I don’t need Beelzebub. I’ve got the Mojo already”, and so he turned on his heels, left The Prince of Darkness kicking his heels at the crossroads and went on to enjoy his life.

The rest is history.

Flights of fancy aside, this song seems to be completely autobiographical. But unlike so many songs written by older men about their crazy youth, there is not a tinge of regret to be seen. It was a magickal time, and Michael enjoys looking back at it nearly as much as he enjoyed living it.
3. Forgive Me
“This is essentially a soul song about redemption and the fact that 'love can never die'!”

This is the jauntiest song so far on the album. Like so many of these songs it works on several different levels. Superficially Michael is doing an alpha male strut, with a tune vaguely reminiscent of Sam and Dave, or more realistically the final incarnation of The Jam doing a bloody good impersonation of Sam and Dave, but if you look a little deeper there is a soft, and spiritual centre to the song. Like Rod Stewart back when he was at the top of his game, Michael Des Barres is a consummate soul singer who can strut up and down with the best of them, but still has a soulfulness in his voice which would melt the hardest heart.

It also has a chorus to die for, and the guitarist extracts a series of lead licks from his instrument that slither along sinuously. I saw Mick Taylor do a tiny secret show in an Art Centre in North London about 12 years ago, and he sounded like this.

We will continue tomorrow. I was chatting to Michael last night, about all sorts of things (including my wife's birthday next week) and the depth of his committment and integrity humbles me. I am massively enjoying working with him on this album so my only message to other footsoldiers in the rock and roll wars is WATCH THIS SPACE boys and girls...

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