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P o s i t i v e V i b r a t i o n s

have you read?

by barb lien

You know, writing something for this feature should be dead easy. I have a lot of opinions and I love telling other people about my personal heroes and villains. But, my path seems fraught with unforeseen difficulties.

Danger Number One is that I'll mention obvious choices for this column. Have you heard the Beatles? Promising little group from Liverpool. Have you heard the Byrds? The Searchers? Well, you get the point. I'm not out to insult the readers' intelligence.

Danger Number Two is that I'll try to mention an artist or a group that I like but don't know enough about to write a concise career overview. I mean, I like Martin Carthy a lot and I try to check him out when he gets to my part of the world, but, one would have to be a musical archaeologist to track down all the groups he's worked with all the LPs he's played on, and so forth. The best thing I can say on that subject is, go see him live and judge for yourself.

Danger Number Three is that I'll endorse someone I don't like in order to seem more of a total fan girl. For example, I have no use whatever for the Incredible String Band. I tried it, but it's hippie music and I'm an old new waver. I can dig Fairport Convention and the Pentangle but some things I just cannot stomach.

Danger Number Four is that I'll mention someone that Robyn's been compared to so many times we're all sick of hearing it. You know, the usual suspects the Jazz Butcher, the Only Ones (yay!), XTC, etc, etc. I just can't bring myself to mention them again.

The final danger is that I'll just prattle on about my own private obsessions, not people who you'd be interested in all that much. Have you heard PJ Proby, Marianne Faithfull, X-Ray Spex, the Shop Assistants, the Jacobites etc. Not really appropriate, ya know?

Okay, okay, I do have a point here. I don't want to write about music this time out. I'd prefer to talk about items you may want to check out if you appreciate a certain vein of English humour.

Mentioning The Goon Show may be pretty obvious, but, Spike Milligan's wicked sense of humour and sheer inventiveness can never be overrated. The Beatles learned as much from them as from Buddy Holly. If you want to read a book that's laugh-out-loud funny, try Mr. Milligan's Puckoon. It's certifiable.

And, maybe mentioning Beyond The Fringe may be pretty obvious to those who are up on Cambridge (and Oxford) comedy. But the comedic talents of Jonathan Miller, Alan Bennett, Dudley Moore & Peter Cook hit Broadway in the early 60s as a kind of foreshadowing of Beatlemania and its influence can be seen in everything from Monty Python to Blackadder. Bennett became a playwright of note. Miller did a medical show called The Body In Question and directed a lot of Shakespeare plays. Dudley Moore went on to be as em barrassing as Paul McCartney.

Peter Cook, though, has always been a madman and perhaps my favourite British comedian. He did a 60s TV show with Dudley Moore called Not Only But Also, the hilarious movies Bedazzled (a cruel but hilarious rewrite of Faust), The Wrong Box, and The Bed Sitting Room (directed by Richard Lester, a surrealist thingie about life after World War III), a Broadway show in the 70s called Good Evening, and my fave bits in the Secret Policeman's Ball movies (the skits with John Cleese are especially funny). Unfortunately, he now just smokes like a chimney and does chat shows, by God he has something.

Speaking of movies, if you have the sort of wild and wicked sense of humour I think you do, check out a flick called The Ruling Class with Peter O'Toole, about a man who thinks he's Jesus Christ. It's both funny and a little chilling.

Almost done. I'm pretty sure you know the Bonzo Dog Band and its members myriad side projects such as the Rutles' All You Need Is Cash pseudodocumentary. But there's one side project that I'm especially fond of. Viv Stanshall did some spoken word LPs concerning an African explorer named Sir Henry. The LPs have something to offend everyone on them, but they are insanely funny and worth checking out if you like spoken word stuff.

That's it. Hope I didn't mention anything too obvious. Oh, final note there's a book called Percy written by one Raymond Hitchcock that is worth reading for a dry and unusual sense of humour. I read it years before I'd ever heard of the man's son, out of curiosity. See, it was made into perhaps the worst movie I've ever seen (pretty fair soundtrack by the Kinks, though) and I had to find out if the book was awful too. Avoid the movie like the plague, but the book I rather liked.

This article originally appeared in issue 3 of Positive Vibrations, the Soft Boys/Robyn Hitchcock/Kimberley Rew magazine. It may be distributed freely but may not be sold except with permission of the author or publisher.
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