A personal selection of last week’s cultural highlights, in which the subjects of family, music and travels off the beaten track recur.
Film: Passenger Side (2009) It’s a curious phrase “dry humour”. Taken as insult, it suggests a barren joke, one incapable of producing laughter (this sentence, for instance, is a really good example). But, taken as a compliment, it is synonymous with implied humour – deadpan on the surface, but subverting expectation to make fun of its intended target. Passenger Side, Matt Bissonnette’s 2009 indie sleeper, is probably somewhere in between. Hip and entertaining, this day in the life story shows us an unknown side of L.A., as a young novelist begrudgingly drives his ex- junkie brother around town on a series of mysterious errands. The narrative, genre and the city itself all feel like familiar territory, but, as in the film, conventional landmarks are only hinted at through signs on the road. The quest which is the film’s real interest is the search for closer connection with one’s sibling. And on this score alone, it is well worth seeing.
Music: The Very Best of Ethiopiques (2007). This week I’ve been rediscovering some of my favourite CDs. While rummaging around in the loft, searching for boxes of new-born clothes, the birthing pool etc, I started browsing through our collection of CDs which we now keep in boxes after burning all of it all onto our hi-fi hard drive. I filled a few CD wallets with whatever was closest, and have been listening to them in the car all week. It’s been great listening to Fleet Foxes’ Sun Giant EP and the awesome Nu Europe compilation of new roots music, but the one that really hit the spot for me was The Very Best of Ethiopiques. A fabulous compilation from the Buda Musique label celebrating the diversity and inventiveness of Ethiopian jazz music, from the gentle solo piano of Tsegue-Maryam Guebrou on the track “Mother’s Love” to the fiery polyphonic rhythms of Beyene Habte on “Embi Ila”. But of all the gems on offer, the one I’d like to single out is by Mulatu Astatqe, whom I first heard on the soundtrack to Jim Jarmusch’s roadmovie, Broken Flowers. The track’s called “Tezeta” and if there were a registry of songs for listening to after you’ve parked your car at the end of a long day, this would be my official entry.
Radio: I love Mark Lawson’s interviews on Front Row. He has that mix of fascination, respect and fearlessness that all good interviewers have. He’s so good, that people often overlook the talents of his co-presenters John Wilson and Kirsty Lang. John Wilson’s interview this week with Niles Rodgers gets my pick this week. I knew I was hooked when I stopped washing the dishes (which, you should know, is an essential part of my day and corner-stone of meditation practice – how’s that for a positive reframe). I knew absolutely nothing about Rodgers, or the indelible impact he’s left on popular music as a musician, songwriter and producer. At his prime, he was responsible for such disco classics as Le Freak, I’m Coming Out and We Are Family. The stories behind the songs are almost as fascinating as the man himself – a chronic insomniac, raised by heroin addicted parents, who despite his circumstances, personal disappointments and struggles, seems to burst with vitality and positivity towards life. His autobiography, Niles Rodgers: An Upside Down Story of Family, Disco and Destiny sounds like a fascinating read.