Friday, 27 September 2013

This film should break ground



Early 1968, before Stanley Kubrick took the helm of A Clockwork Orange and created the classic we now know, Hollywood producer Si Litvinoff sent both a draft of Terry Southern's script and a copy of the original novel to John Schlesinger, just one of the filmmakers he approached to direct before pinning Kubrick down (incidentally, other potential directors, Litvinoff recently told me by email, included John Boorman, Roman Polanski, Ken Russell and Nicolas Roeg). Also sent to Schlesinger was the following letter, which is interesting if only for providing a fascinating snapshot of what could have been: an adaptation of Anthony Burgess’ novel starring a certain Mick Jagger in the lead role as Alex, accompanied by a soundtrack from The Beatles.

Indeed, the Stones frontman had his eye firmly on the role, but it seems David Hemmings was the favourite following his success in Blowup. This didn't sit well with fans of Jagger, as evidenced by the petition also seen below, signed by such stars as Marianne Faithfull and all of The Beatles, that was sent to Southern.

Their efforts were wasted. A year after Litvinoff's letter was written, Kubrick stepped in.

Enormous thanks to Si Litvinoff and the BFI.

(Letter source: BFI - reprinted with the permission of Si Litvinoff; Petition courtesy of John Harvey; Photo above, via.)

SI LITVINOFF PRODUCTIONS, INC.
SIXTY FIVE EAST FIFTY FIFTH STREET
NEW YORK CITY
PL 2-0430

February 2, 1968

Mr. John Schlesinger
22306 Pacific Coast Highway
Malibu, California

Dear John:

Enclosed are:

1) A CLOCKWORK ORANGE – draft
2) A CLOCKWORK ORANGE – novel (USA Edition)
3) THE WANTING SEED – novel (USA Edition)

With regard to A CLOCKWORK ORANGE, we have in mind juxtaposing the "Nasdats" (in a futuristic-Edwardian look) and their unique language, against a totally science-oriented society (with their own attitudes and language). The "Nasdats" would thus be the equivalent of that age's Renaissance men. Only in prison, where exposure to this new life is limited, is there "normal" life and "normal" language. This has not been treated in the first draft which is just a point from which to take off. This film should break ground in its language, cinematic style and its soundtrack. (The Beatles love the project, and Mike Jagger and David Hemmings have both been keen to play "Alex".)

After you've read the script and novel, I'm sure you will see the incredible potential we all see in this project.

Please ring up when you've had a chance to read and think.

Best,

(Signed)

SI LITVINOFF

SL/aks
Encls.



Transcript
DEAR MR SOUTHERN, WE, THE UNDERSIGNED, DO HEREBY PROTEST WITH EXTREME VEHEMENCE AS WELL AS SHATTERED ILLUSIONS (IN YOU) THE PREFERENCE OF DAVID HEMMINGS ABOVE ****** MICK JAGGER ****** IN THE ROLE OF ALEX IN 'THE CLOCKWORK ORANGE'...

Thursday, 26 September 2013

I'll rap your head with a ratchet



Although they only existed for a mere 7 years and released just 3 albums, Nirvana were a band of immeasurable influence in the music world thanks in no small part to Smells Like Teen Spirit, a single track on Nevermind, their second album. It was this song that brought them out into the open, going on to sell millions of copies and win countless awards, its iconic video seemingly broadcast on MTV every 20 minutes for the next 6 months. A year after Nevermind’s release, the band got to work on what would be their final album, In Utero, produced by Steve Albini, outspoken engineer extraordinaire. Shortly before they formally agreed on his involvement, Albini wrote to Nirvana and laid bare his philosophy in a pitch letter that is fascinating from start to end.

This letter, and many other fascinating pieces of correspondence, can be found in the bestselling book, More Letters of Note. For more info, visit Books of Note.

(Image above: Steve Albini (left) with Nirvana in 1993, via.)

Kurt, Dave and Chris:

First let me apologize for taking a couple of days to put this outline together. When I spoke to Kurt I was in the middle of making a Fugazi album, but I thought I would have a day or so between records to sort everything out. My schedule changed unexpectedly, and this is the first moment I've had to go through it all. Apology apology.

I think the very best thing you could do at this point is exactly what you are talking about doing: bang a record out in a couple of days, with high quality but minimal "production" and no interference from the front office bulletheads. If that is indeed what you want to do, I would love to be involved.

If, instead, you might find yourselves in the position of being temporarily indulged by the record company, only to have them yank the chain at some point (hassling you to rework songs/sequences/production, calling-in hired guns to "sweeten" your record, turning the whole thing over to some remix jockey, whatever...) then you're in for a bummer and I want no part of it.

I'm only interested in working on records that legitimately reflect the band's own perception of their music and existance. If you will commit yourselves to that as a tenet of the recording methodology, then I will bust my ass for you. I'll work circles around you. I'll rap your head with a ratchet...

I have worked on hundreds of records (some great, some good, some horrible, a lot in the courtyard), and I have seen a direct correlation between the quality of the end result and the mood of the band throughout the process. If the record takes a long time, and everyone gets bummed and scrutinizes every step, then the recordings bear little resemblance to the live band, and the end result is seldom flattering. Making punk records is definitely a case where more "work" does not imply a better end result. Clearly you have learned this yourselves and appreciate the logic.

About my methodology and philosophy:

#1: Most contemporary engineers and producers see a record as a "project," and the band as only one element of the project. Further, they consider the recordings to be a controlled layering of specific sounds, each of which is under complete control from the moment the note is conceived through the final six. If the band gets pushed around in the process of making a record, so be it; as long as the "project" meets with the approval of the fellow in control.

My approach is exactly the opposite.

I consider the band the most important thing, as the creative entity that spawned both the band's personality and style and as the social entity that exists 24 hours out of each day. I do not consider it my place to tell you what to do or how to play. I'm quite willing to let my opinions be heard (if I think the band is making beautiful progress or a heaving mistake, I consider it part of my job to tell them) but if the band decides to pursue something, I'll see that it gets done.

I like to leave room for accidents or chaos. Making a seamless record, where every note and syllable is in place and every bass drum is identical, is no trick. Any idiot with the patience and the budget to allow such foolishness can do it. I prefer to work on records that aspire to greater things, like originality, personality and enthusiasm. If every element of the music and dynamics of a band is controlled by click tracks, computers, automated mixes, gates, samplers and sequencers, then the record may not be incompetent, but it certainly won't be exceptional. It will also bear very little relationship to the live band, which is what all this hooey is supposed to be about.

#2: I do not consider recording and mixing to be unrelated tasks which can be performed by specialists with no continuous involvement. 99 percent of the sound of a record should be established while the basic take is recorded. Your experiences are specific to your records; but in my experience, remixing has never solved any problems that actually existed, only imaginary ones. I do not like remixing other engineer's recordings, and I do not like recording things for somebody else to remix. I have never been satisfied with either version of that methodology. Remixing is for talentless pussies who don't know how to tune a drum or point a microphone.

#3: I do not have a fixed gospel of stock sounds and recording techniques that I apply blindly to every band in every situation. You are a different band from any other band and deserve at least the respect of having your own tastes and concerns addressed. For example, I love the sound of a boomy drum kit (say a Gretach or Camco) wide open in a big room, especially with a Bonhammy double-headed bass drum and a really painful snare drum. I also love the puke-inducing low end that comes off an old Fender Bassman or Ampeg guitar amp and the totally blown sound of an SVT with broken-in tubes. I also know that those sounds are inappropriate for some songs, and trying to force them is a waste of time. Predicating the recordings on my tastes is as stupid as designing a car around the upholstery. You guys need to decide and then articulate to me what you want to sound like so we don't come at the record from different directions.

#4: Where we record the record is not as important as how it is recorded. If you have a studio you'd like to use, no hag. Otherwise, I can make suggestions. I have a nice 24-track studio in my house (Fugazi were just there, you can ask them how they rate it), and I'm familiar with most of the studios in the Midwest, the East coast and a dozen or so in the UK.

I would be a little concerned about having you at my house for the duration of the whole recording and mixing process if only because you're celebrities, and I wouldn't want word getting out in the neighborhood and you guys having to put up with a lot of fan-style bullshit; it would be a fine place to mix the record though, and you can't beat the vitties.

If you want to leave the details of studio selection, lodgings, etc. up to me, I'm quite happy to sort all that stuff out. If you guys want to sort it out, just lay down the law.

My first choice for an outside recording studio would be a place called Pachyderm in Cannon Falls, Minnesota. It's a great facility with outstanding acoustics and a totally comfy architect's wet dream mansion where the band lives during the recordings. This makes everything more efficient. Since everybody is there, things get done and decisions get made a lot faster than if people are out and about in a city someplace. There's also all the posh shit like a sauna and swimming pool and fireplaces and trout stream and 50 acres and like that. I've made a bunch of records there and I've always enjoyed the place. It's also quite inexpensive, considering how great a facility it is.

The only bummer about Pachyderm is that the owners and manager are not technicians, and they don't have a tech on call. I've worked there enough that I can fix just about anything that can go wrong, short of a serious electronic collapse, but I've got a guy that I work with a lot (Bob Weston) who's real good with electronics (circuit design, trouble shooting and building shit on the spot), so if we choose to do it there, he'll probably come along in my payroll, since he'd be cheap insurance if a power supply blows up or a serious failure occurs in the dead of winter 50 miles from the closest tech. He's a recording engineer also, so he can be doing some of the more mundane stuff (cataloging tapes, packing stuff up, fetching supplies) while we're chopping away at the record proper.

Some day I'm going to talk the Jesus Lizard into going up there and we'll have us a real time. Oh yeah, and it's the same Neve console the AC/DC album Back in Black was recorded and mixed on, so you know its just got to have the rock.

#5: Dough. I explained this to Kurt but I thought I'd better reiterate it here. I do not want and will not take a royalty on any record I record. No points. Period. I think paying a royalty to a producer or engineer is ethically indefensible. The band write the songs. The band play the music. It's the band's fans who buy the records. The band is responsible for whether it's a great record or a horrible record. Royalties belong to the band.

I would like to be paid like a plumber: I do the job and you pay me what it's worth. The record company will expect me to ask for a point or a point and a half. If we assume three million sales, that works out to 400,000 dollars or so. There's no fucking way I would ever take that much money. I wouldn't be able to sleep.

I have to be comfortable with the amount of money you pay me, but it's your money, and I insist that you be comfortable with it as well. Kurt suggested paying me a chunk which I would consider full payment, and then if you really thought I deserved more, paying me another chunk after you'd had a chance to live with the album for a while. That would be fine, but probably more organizational trouble than it's worth.

Whatever. I trust you guys to be fair to me and I know you must be familiar with what a regular industry goon would want. I will let you make the final decision about what I'm going to be paid. How much you choose to pay me will not affect my enthusiasm for the record.

Some people in my position would expect an increase in business after being associated with your band. I, however, already have more work than I can handle, and frankly, the kind of people such superficialities will attract are not people I want to work with. Please don't consider that an issue.

That's it.

Please call me to go over any of this if it's unclear.

(Signed)

If a record takes more than a week to make, somebody's fucking up. Oi!

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Don't feel bad that I'm gone



In 1936, Jim Henson was born—a creative genius whose wide-reaching and positive influence on the population is rivalled by few in the world of entertainment, due to an incredible career that began in the 1950s when he created the now-adored Muppets. Henson passed away far too early, in 1990, aged just 53. Some time before, he wrote two letters to be opened in the event of his death: the first to his five children; the second to his "Friends & Family."

(Sources: Jim Henson Productions & Graham Sharpe; Image via Unlikely Words.)

To His Children

First of all, don't feel bad that I'm gone. While I will miss spending time with each of you, I'm sure it will be an interesting time for me and I look forward to seeing all of you when you come over. To each of you I send my love. If on this side of life I'm able to watch over and help you out, know that I will. If I can't, I'm sure I can at least be waiting for you when you come over. This all may sound silly to you guys, but what the hell, I'm gone—and who can argue with me?

Life is meant to be fun, and joyous, and fulfilling. May each of yours be that—having each of you as a child of mine has certainly been one of the good things in my life. Know that I've always loved each of you with an eternal, bottomless love. A love that has nothing to do with each other, for I feel my love for each of you is total and all-encompassing. Please watch out for each other and love and forgive everybody. It's a good life, enjoy it.

-------------------------------

To Friends & Family

I'm not at all afraid of the thought of death and in many ways look forward to it with much curiosity and interest. I'm looking forward to meeting up with some of my friends who have gone on ahead of me and I will be waiting there to say hi to those of you who are still back there. I suggest you first have a nice, friendly little service of some kind. It would be lovely if some of the people who sing would do a song or two, some of which should be quite happy and joyful. It would be nice if some of my close friends would say a few nice, happy words about how much we enjoyed doing this stuff together. Incidentally, I'd love to have a Dixieland band play at this function and end with a rousing version of "When the Saints Go Marching In."

Have a wonderful time in life, everybody; it feels strange writing this kind of thing while I'm still alive, but it wouldn't be easy to do after I go.

Thursday, 19 September 2013

You must not worry about Santa



In 1961, immediately after overhearing her parents discuss the possibility of Soviet nuclear tests at the North Pole, 8-year-old Michelle Rochon grabbed a pencil and wrote a letter to U.S. President John F. Kennedy, in which she asked him to prevent the tests for one particular reason. Her letter, and the reply she soon received from Kennedy, can be read below.

(Source: The Letters of John F. Kennedy, published by Bloomsbury Press on October 29, 2013; Photo above: 8-year-old Michelle holding Kennedy's letter.)

Dear Mr. Kennedy,

Please stop the Russians from bombing the North Pole because they will kill Santa Claus. I am 8 years old. I am in the third grade at Holy Cross School.

Yours truly,

Michelle Rochon

--------------------------

THE WHITE HOUSE

October 28, 1961

Dear Michelle:

I was glad to get your letter about trying to stop the Russians from bombing the North Pole and risking the life of Santa Claus.

I share your concern about the atmospheric testing of the Soviet Union, not only for the North Pole but for countries throughout the world; not only for Santa Claus but for people throughout the world.

However, you must not worry about Santa Claus. I talked with him yesterday and he is fine. He will be making his rounds again this Christmas.

Sincerely,

(Signed, 'John Kennedy')

Miss Michelle Rochon
Marine City, Michigan

Wednesday, 11 September 2013

Nothing is ours, except time



Towards the end of his 69 years, Roman Stoic philosopher Lucius Annaeus Seneca wrote numerous insightful letters to his friend, Lucilius Junior, in which he offered often invaluable advice relating to a wide range of issues. In 65 AD, the year of Seneca's death, 124 of these missives were published under the title Epistulae morales ad Lucilium (Moral Epistles to Lucilius). The first of these fantastic letters, on the subject of saving time, can be read below.

English translation follows.

(Source: Seneca, Volume IV, Epistles 1-65; Image: Portrait of Seneca by Peter Paul Rubens, via Great Thoughts Treasury.)

Seneca Lucilio suo salutem

Ita fac, mi Lucili: vindica te tibi, et tempus quod adhuc aut auferebatur aut subripiebatur aut excidebat collige et serva. Persuade tibi hoc sic esse ut scribo: quaedam tempora eripiuntur nobis, quaedam subducuntur, quaedam effluunt. Turpissima tamen est iactura quae per neglegentiam fit. Et si volueris attendere, magna pars vitae elabitur male agentibus, maxima nihil agentibus, tota vita aliud agentibus. Quem mihi dabis qui aliquod pretium tempori ponat, qui diem aestimet, qui intellegat se cotidie mori? In hoc enim fallimur, quod mortem prospicimus: magna pars eius iam praeterit; quidquid aetatis retro est mors tenet.

Fac ergo, mi Lucili, quod facere te scribis, omnes horas complectere; sic fiet ut minus ex crastino pendeas, si hodierno manum inieceris. Dum differtur vita transcurrit. Omnia, Lucili, aliena sunt, tempus tantum nostrum est; in huius rei unius fugacis ac lubricae possessionem natura nos misit, ex qua expellit quicumque vult. Et tanta stultitia mortalium est ut quae minima et vilissima sunt, certe reparabilia, imputari sibi cum impetravere patiantur, nemo se iudicet quicquam debere qui tempus accepit, cum interim hoc unum est quod ne gratus quidem potest reddere. Interrogabis fortasse quid ego faciam qui tibi ista praecipio. Fatebor ingenue: quod apud luxuriosum sed diligentem evenit, ratio mihi constat impensae. Non possum dicere nihil perdere, sed quid perdam et quare et quemadmodum dicam; causas paupertatis meae reddam. Sed evenit mihi quod plerisque non suo vitio ad inopiam redactis: omnes ignoscunt, nemo succurrit. Quid ergo est? non puto pauperem cui quantulumcumque superest sat est; tu tamen malo serves tua, et bono tempore incipies. Nam ut visum est maioribus nostris, 'sera parsimonia in fundo est'; non enim tantum minimum in imo sed pessimum remanet. Vale.

-----------------------------

Greetings from Seneca to Lucilius

Continue to act thus, my dear Lucilius—set yourself free for your own sake; gather and save your time, which til lately has been forced from you, or filched away, or has merely slipped from your hands. Make yourself believe the truth of my words—that certain moments are torn from us, that some are gently removed, and that others glide beyond our reach. The most disgraceful kind of loss, however, is that due to carelessness. Furthermore, if you will pay close heed to the problem, you will find that the largest portion of our life passes while we are doing ill, a goodly share while we are doing nothing, and the whole while we are doing that which is not to the purpose. What man can you show me who places any value on his time, who reckons the worth of each day, who understands that he is dying daily? For we are mistaken when we look forward to death; the major portion of death has already passed. Whatever years lie behind us are in death's hands.

Therefore, Lucilius, do as you write me that you are doing: hold every hour in your grasp. Lay hold of today's task, and you will not need to depend so much upon tomorrow's. While we are postponing, life speeds by. Nothing, Lucilius, is ours, except time. We were entrusted by nature with the ownership of this single thing, so fleeting and slippery that anyone who will can oust us from possession. What fools these mortals be! They allow the cheapest and most useless things, which can easily be replaced, to be charged in the reckoning, after they have acquired them; but they never regard themselves as in debt when they have received some of that precious commodity—time! And yet time is the one loan which even a grateful recipient cannot repay.

You may desire to know how I, who preach to you so freely, am practising. I confess frankly: my expense account balances, as you would expect from one who is free-handed but careful. I cannot boast that I waste nothing, but I can at least tell you what I am wasting, and the cause and manner of the loss; I can give you the reasons why I am a poor man. My situation, however, is the same as that of many who are reduced to slender means through no fault of their own: every one forgives them, but no one comes to their rescue.

What is the state of things, then? It is this: I do not regard a man as poor, if the little which remains is enough for him. I advise you, however, to keep what is really yours; and cannot begin too early. For, as our ancestors believed, it is too late to spare when you reach the dregs of the cask. Of that which remains at the bottom, the amount is slight, and the quality is vile. Farewell.