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Tuesday, 1 December 2009

The Long Plastic Hallway (A Major Label Story) Part 3

Below is a blog I started a couple months back. Now that I'm back in the States, and have a little distance from my European adventures, I feel a lot safer putting this out there. It's hard to talk about the almost and what could have been with maturity and eloquence. Here's my best crack at it:

I've been back in NYC for three months now, through the summer and into fall and, the occasional overseas jaunt aside, I may be here for a while longer. It's a funny concept to wrap my head around, makes my time in London seem like a music filled dream of pubs and clubs, fried brekky and Wellingtons. These days I wake and find myself right back in my Red Hook stomping grounds, renting a dusty, floor-boarded apartment just a half a room bigger than the one I left two years ago. What happened? How did I get here? I never thought I'd find the answer in a Turner Classic Movies Murder Mystery DVD 4-pack at Barnes and Noble.
Lately I've developed a serious appetite for Bogart. His dry, pragmatic, pessimistic brand of optimism has pulled me in like magnet. The past few weeks I've scoured iTunes, renting any and all Bogart titles: The Big Sleep, The Treasure of Sierra Madre, Key Largo. There's something so singular about his self-control; he never loses his cool, even when he's losing his cool (McQueen definitely took a page out of his book). And what a strange looking man for a movie star: a long, giant, stone faced mug planted a top a thin, wiry, body which at first looks awkward, but then moves with complete grace, taking guns from his enemies like a trained ballet dancer. And in no movie is the power of Bogart more on display then John Huston's masterpiece, The Maltese Falcon.
The story is typical noir: Bogart plays Dashell Hammet's finest creation, Private Investigator Sam Spade, who, in the pursuit of his partner's killer, is led down a continually twisting path, meeting all sorts of n'er do well miscreants along the way ala Peter Lorre and Sidney Greensteet. The cause of the commotion is The Maltese Falcon, a jewel encrusted bird lost since the 15th century and worth untold fortunes. All parties involved are after the bird, including Mary Astor, who is Bogart's love interest, and incidentally, (SPOLIER ALERT) the killer of his partner. What I found especially intriguing about the film, is how it's a direct parallel for the music business.

***
Standing at a fork in the road of my blog, I feel like Robert Frost, trying to muster the courage and take the road not taken, sidestep a bitter rant on the cruelty and injustice of the music business. We've all heard countless stories about major labels breaking the hearts of artists, shelving records for months, years, maybe even for good They lift musicians to the pinnacle of their profession, only to drop them out in the cold to fend for themselves. Sad to say I am another casualty, but rather than dwell in the darkness, I'm trying to see light at the end of the tunnel. And for me the light always comes in the darkness of a movie theater. Stay with me here, I'm going somewhere:

***

I remember peeing in KensalTown studios a couple years ago (Jason Mraz penned and recorded the international smash "I'm Yours" there, perhaps simultaneously while I was urinating). I had signed to EMI 4 months prior and was riding a high of accomplishment. It was in that toilet I first read Hunter S. Thompson's genius quote about the industry, scrawled on the wall by some musician who'd come before:

The Music Business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There's also a negative side.

Those words cut right to my core then, and still hit me hard now. If I think back to when I started writing songs in my high school bedroom, more than 12 years ago, I never saw it as a path to fame or a career choice. I wasn't trying to be the guy in Billy Joel's The Entertainer, didn’t want to play all kinds of palaces and lay all kinds of girls. I was writing songs because it was the only way I knew how to make sense of the world, to ease the weight in my chest. And somewhere along the way, despite my best efforts, I ended up like all the other singing, songwriting hooligans, chasing desperately after the Maltese Falcon.
For the bulk of my twenties, I recorded album after album, went from manager to manager, signed one bad contract after the next, all in the pursuit of doing what I love. I thought that if I made uncompromisingly great music and performed it with all my heart, that everything would work out in the end. Plow straight through life in the carefree pursuit of your passion and at some point end up with a permanent smile over the rainbow. I wish that cherubic 18-year old had seen The Maltese Falcon. Maybe Bogart could have knocked some sense into that baby Rock Star with the handle of his revolver.
There is no Maltese Falcon. At the end of the movie, the bird turns out to be a fake, and everyone who pursues it becomes obsessed. The only character who lives by any moral code is Spade. In the final minutes he not only hands over the Falcon to the cops and gives back $1000 of bribe money, he also turns in the girl he loves (remember she’s the killer of his partner, and is trying to get Sam's to, in his words, "play the sap"). Spade refuses love, the realization of his dreams. As an explanation, he gives one hell of a monologue:

You'll never understand me, but I'll try once and then give it up. When a man's partner is killed, he's supposed to do something. It makes no difference what you thought of him. He was your partner, and you're supposed to do something about it... and it happens we're in the detective business. Well, when one of your organization gets killed, it's... it's bad business to let the killer get away with it... bad all around, bad for every detective everywhere. I've no earthly reason to think I can trust you. If I do this and get away with it, you'll have something on me that you can use whenever you want to. Since I've got something on you, I couldn't be sure that you wouldn't put a hole in me someday. All those are on one side. Maybe some of them are unimportant. I won't argue about that. But look at the number of them. What have we got on the other side? All we've got is that maybe you love me and maybe I love you. You know whether you love me or not. Maybe I do. I'll have some rotten nights after I've sent you over, but that'll pass. If all I've said doesn't mean anything to you, then forget it and we'll make it just this: I won't, because all of me wants to regardless of consequences and because you've counted on it, the same as you counted on it with all the others.

Let me make my metaphor as plain as possible:

The girl is the music business. Your partner is your art. The Maltese Falcon is the dream of success, and the detective/dreamer/singer songwriter is Spade. Every day I wake and hope for the strength to be like him. As I beat the streets of NYC once again, my mind lives in another city in the past; it's 1941 in San Francisco, it’s always raining and I'm wearing a trench coat with a .45 tucked in my pants. I've had to learn lessons I never wanted to learn first hand. The only advice I give to any aspiring acolyte is keep a good look out for villains, don't play the sap for anyone, especially yourself, and stay alive long enough to close the case and move on to the next one.

And write some good tunes while you’re at it. I mean, that's the whole point, isn't it?

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

The Zen of Aaron Boone (A Major Label Story Part 2)

It's 20 past midnight and up and down the long, narrow island of Manhattan, there are countless people celebrating the victory of their pinstriped warriors, The New York Yankees. Right now I present a stark contrast to the bustling, crowded sports bars of the Upper West Side, sitting in my sister's old bedroom, covered in stuffed animals and flowered blankets, falling in and out of sleep while watching hour upon hour of streaming online movies courtesy of Netflix. I promised myself not to let this blog's fate match my last. But last time I sat down to write one of these things, the words came gushing out like a rusty faucet, dirty brown water not meant for drinking (I'm doing my best to clean it up for consumption like an artistic Brita filter). It's a tough pill to swallow, going from living the life of a UK chart-raiding acolyte to crashing back at your parents for the first time since college. But hey, those the brakes. What would the up be without the down, the left without the right? Just as in January 2007 I was spending 5 nights a week boozing and accumulating credit card debt in downtown NYC, I had no idea that in January 2008 I would be living in England signed to a major record label, or that in January 2009 I would still be living in England signed to another subsidiary of said major record label. Right now it's looking like January 2010 will provide yet another stark contrast. But you know what - I'm actually happy. And being happy is a weird thing for me.

I've been suffering from a strained voice these past few months, a blister developed on my chords back in July as a result of stress and poor health. It's the kind of weakness that cuts right to the core of my identity. But do not fear loyal concert goers, I'm well on the mend and will be in fighting shape for my December tour, thanks to various "New Age" practices I've adopted. I went to my first acupuncture session this week, and I've developed a serious Yoga habit over past months, guided in my stretching by some guy named Rodney Yee who wears too-short shorts and sits on a platform on a cliff overlooking a beach in some perfect place that cannot exist. In addition, I've completely cut all alcohol, coffee, carbonation, dairy, citrus, spicy and fried food from my diet (In case your wondering, yes I'm very boring to hang out with now. I take all my friends to drink tea in Starbucks). But it's the combination of these things, along with an hour's worth of vocal exercises a day (which sound unbelievably terrible), that's making me healthier, building my sound back up so it's richer and fuller, and I suspect better than ever before. My day is taken up by simple tasks - writing new music, rehearsing my new band, responding to emails from fans, figuring out my new very nerdy keyboard rig. And for the first time since I left New York for London two winters ago, I don't feel the pressure of a giant looming in the woods. I don't feel like I'm speeding toward a terrible crash, some poor diner on the Titanic feeling the chill of the Iceberg. And this new found simplicity is bringing a bounce back to my step, ink to my quill, happiness to my warm gun...

There's an easier way to say what I'm trying to say:

Everyone wants to be Derek Jeter. But there's only one Derek Jeter, and I'm not him. And if you asked me to choose between being A-Rod and Scott Brosuis, I'd pick Scott the man with the ugliest face every time. And every now and then, if you bide your time, tuck your head down, and get a bit of luck, you get to have a moment like Aaron Boone in the 2003 ALCS, where the world stops and watches in wonder.

The irony is I don't even like the Yankees. 1986 Mets still play the field in the dreams of my life.

Monday, 12 October 2009

The Maltese Falcon (A Major Label Story)

Coming as soon as I wake up and finish writing it. I am a skilled woodworker with my thoughts. Stay tuned...

Sunday, 2 August 2009

Hungover

Sometimes coming home ain't all it's cracked up to be. While in London, I had visions of returning to graffiti filled subway cars, three-card monte hustlers set up on sidewalks, and spending late summer nights in checkered cabs racing through rain slicked streets. For some reason, the rest of the world views New York City as it was in the 1970's and 80's, home to the bohemian lifestyle that created Hip-Hop and Pop Art. Living in England the past 18 months, I started to romanticize my hometown as the rough and tumble metropolis that nurtured my artistic personality, a concrete womb as opposed to jungle. But being back here, I was greeted by a very different NYC, a place that felt more like Chicago, or Cincinnati, maybe even Indianapolis, some other American collection of highways and byways. Maybe it's a case of the recession blues, or just getting older, but my hometown has changed, and I'm not sure if it's for the better...

My realization started about a week after being back. While standing on the corner of Lafayette and Houston, some shirtless guy with nose paint and tightly wound abs gestured for me to follow him into a darkened room. This wasn't a homeless ne'er-do-well trying to include me on a score, but rather an over eager Hollister employee hoping I'd buy some redesign of Jams (I still have a pair from 1991 somewhere). I'd never heard of Hollister till that moment, but from the people streaming in and out of this black-lit cave, you'd think it was the latest nightlife hotspot, not a clothing store. What this Ambercrombie & Fitch spin-off was doing in the heart of downtown NYC was truly baffling. When I left America, The Gap was everywhere, but it certainly wasn't the place to be

The next shock to the system came when I went to see a movie called The Hangover. Zack Galifianakis, one of the stars of the film, has been a cult comic hero here for sometime. With this role he'd finally broken into the mainstream, a John Belushi for a new generation. I'd seen him on Conan O'Brian recently and he was hilarious. Conan threw out that The Hangover was the most successful R-rated comedy of all time, a factoid making me all the more excited. The next day I settled down in a midtown multiplex with a tub of Popcorn, ready to laugh my ass off. What commenced was one of the most dislikable 100 minutes of my movie watching career, a mindless rehashing of every Owen Wilson/Vince Vaughn/Ben Stiller vehicle without a charismatic lead to pull it off, not to mention a second grade plot revealed entirely in the trailer (why watch a movie when the whole thing is in the preview, right?) By far the most infuriating, soul-sapping part of this movie, was the Alpha male portrayed by Bradley Cooper.

Here we have, Phil Wenneck, your stereotypical party-hearty everyman (who looks surprisingly like the guy outside Hollister) getting trashed on roofies at a bachelor party the night before, stumbling round Vegas the day after, reacting completely unbelievably to the completely unbelievable situations he and his buddies have goten themselves into, flashing a too-white smile and perfect six pack at every possible moment. To quote Jonah Hill in Apatow's new flick, Funny People (good movie, little long though) - There's nothing funny about a guy who's in shape. All the while, Phil keeps his frat boy cool with all the "crazy" shit that's going on. He's the only character in the movie without any human flaws, and the only one who has nothing seriously bad happen to him (outside of a hospital visit we never find out the cause of). And we're supposed to believe this guy is married with two kids and a SCHOOLTEACHER! Worst of all, whenever he tries to convey anything humorous, he screams at the top of his lungs. For the record, yelling does not make something funny.

I'm sure those of you reading this are thinking: calm down JV, it's just a movie... but it's not just a movie. It's the MOST SUCCESSFUL R-RATED COMEDY OF ALL TIME. To give you an idea of how preposterous this is, here's a list of some of the other successful R-rated comedies of all time, all of which in my opinion, are in a different league of originality, and more importantly, funny:

Beverly Hills Cop
Borat
There's Something About Mary
Knocked Up
National Lampoon's Animal House
Wedding Crashers
Pretty Woman

My problem is this movie is a reflection of the values of the modern American male youth, hence it's overwhelming success. It's every American guy's fantasy - get wasted in vegas, win a lot of money, and marry a stripper who looks like Heather Graham. Phil Wenneck is every guy I ever hated growing up at school, at camp, even the playground. And today he's the guy every guy want to be. When I was a kid, the coolest guys were Michael Jackson and Pee-Wee Herman. They were cool because they were different. They were freaks! They didn't look like male models and they could do strange things like moonwalk and talk to animals. Even back in the day, teen idols possessed a rebellious streak (Marlon Brando, James Dean, Elvis, Steve McQueen, John Travolta, even the Dukes of Hazard were running from Boss Hog). There is nothing rebellious in the slightest about Phil Wenneck. He never goes against the grain. He behaves hedonistically without regard to his friends and is rewarded with the time of his life. He's the slapstick comedy version of John Mayer - a smirking, vanilla faced everyman who is famous and we're not quite sure why...

So in short, please don't go see The Hangover. Pixar's Up is a more rewarding alternative. The hero is a 70-year-old hopeless romantic who flies his house to South America with balloons, discovers an extinct bird and fights talking dogs that fly 1920's style fighter planes. In my opinion, that is so much cooler than stealing Mike Tyson's tiger and getting away with it.

Monday, 13 July 2009

8 Great English Things (There are only 8)

I am leaving London for the summer. The past 6 months have been my longest stint here yet, the longest amount of time I've been away from home my entire life. With my flight a mere 72 hours away, I feel a fear creeping up inside me that I have become too "English". My mind is cluttered with conversations where I refer to "Laundry" as "Washing", say "loads" in place of "tons", make dentist appointments for "half six a week Monday" instead of "next Monday at six thiry". As much as I dread the ridicule that will follow the abandonment of my native New Yorker tongue, I have come to the realization over the past half year, that England ain't half bad. Yes there is no sun here and it rains all the time and the people can be cold and closed off and hyper-stylized and they drink too much and then act inappropriate and at times have stereotypically poor hygiene and bad teeth, but there are a few things the UK has over the USA. I counted 8. Here they are:

P.S.: If you think I might have missed a great English thing, please email it to me at jvfanmail@gmail.com

Marmite -

I've already dedicated a entire blog to Marmite, the disturbingly thick yeast extract solvent I spread on my bagels each morn (have to get my NYC fix somehow). Back in September I saw it as a warning sign of my impending Englishness. Guess I was right. Read my Marmite blog at http://julianvelard.blogspot.com/2008/09/marmite.html

Withnail & I

Before I got to London I'd never heard of this 1987 cult classic, a perfect slice of dark comedy which has become mandatory University viewing here in the UK. Consider it a more literate, drug fueled counterpart to Animal House or Up In Smoke, one of those special kind of movies where every single line is instantly and eternally quotable. I remember watching the movie Warlock in 5th grade and being strangely drawn to Richard E. Grant's character, Giles Redferne. Withnail was Grant's first role and he is truly brilliant, spewing one memorable, hysterical line after another. And Richard Griffiths, Uncle Vernon of Harry Potter fame, plays a very different kind of uncle here, the terrifying Monty who nobly exclaims, "I mean to have you boy, even if it must be buglary!'

Pimm's & Lemonade

First produced in 1823 by James Pimm, a farmer's son from Kent, Pimm's is a gin-based drink containing quinine (tonic water) and a "secret" mixture of herbs. There were originally 5 different types of the drink (No.1-5), but after the brand fell on hard times in the 1970's, No.'s 2 & 5 were phased out. Pimm's mixed with lemonade is one of the traditional drinks at Wimbledon and during the Ashes. I tried this delicious, refreshing summer cocktail while playing my first and only game of Cricket. You can watch my experience at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WTL477pVFmc


Marks & Spencer's at rest stops

Pulling off the M1 (The UK's version of I-95) while en route to Latitude Festival, I discovered what I still consider to be the best thing about England. I walked into a gas station and was able to purchase freshly squeezed orange juice, smoked salmon, and a tomato and mozzarella bruschetta. How is this possible? Mark's and Spencer (M&S for short) is one of the UK's major retailers of clothing and food. They are known for their superior quality and taste, servicing an upper end of clientele compared to Sainsbury's or Tesco's. They have food outlets in rest stops throughout the north of England. I can't tell you how many times I've been on tour in the States I've forced myself to eat hydrogenated, freeze-dried, fat boy foods like Beef Jerky, two-week old Donuts, and Sandwiches made from God knows what. Never again.

Nando's

This one may seem ridiculous to English people, but I think Nando's is amazing! We don't have high-quality fast food in America. It's all crap (with the exception of In-and-Out Burger in L.A. which is clearly what they eat atop Mount Olympus, the food of Gods). Nando's is a Portuguese Chicken joint which is fast, nutritious, and delicious. And the price is right! And you can get membership rewards cards! Buy 9 Chickens and the 10th is free. Amazing!

Fancy Cars parked on the street

People park really dope, mint condition vintage cars on the street in England. I dunno why, maybe it's safer here, but somehow I doubt it. Walking around London, I see incredible MGs, Triumphs, Austin Martins, Porsches, even Lamborghinis almost every day. Here's a look at the ones I snapped, pretending they were mine of course:

Film4

Film4 is the UK version of HBO but better in my opinion. We all know HBO's original programming is second to none (Sopranos, The Wire, Curb, Entourage, etc.). But in my mind, HBO stands for Home Box Office, just like MTV stands for Music Television. When I was a kid MTV played music videos, and HBO played movies, and that's all Film4 does. Their programming is impeccable, mixing long lasting classics with the latest releases, curating their schedule with themes like "Great Indie Directors' Week" or "The Films of Ben Stiller". Plus it beats HBO in the cost department: it comes as a part of Freeview which is, you guessed it, free.

BBC iPlayer

We've all heard about the BBC in America courtesy first of Jimi Hendrix's Radio 1 sessions, then Austin Powers' amazing BBC song, and now through BBC America which plays UK comedy staples like Little Britain and The Office. The BBC website has an amazing feature called iPlayer which lets you watch any of their programming on demand without commercials, whether it's coverage of Glastonbury Festival, The Olympics, documentaries on Jazz legends like Jelly Roll Morton, or the latest original Guy Ritchie rip-off, East London gangster mini-series. This is the gold standard of television programming. BBC 1, 2, 3 and 4 is all they need to get the job done. My Pops has over 700 channels at home and there's never anything on.

Sunday, 12 July 2009

Monday, 15 June 2009

It's 9 O'Clock On a Saturday...

There comes a time in a man's life when he has to stop blogging and start living, you know!!!.... I'd like to say my lack of communication stemmed from a deep need for self-reflection, that I had to take some time away from my online audience to ponder and process the past 2 years of ups and downs and in-betweens. But truth is, I've just been really, really busy.

This Spring I've become quite the scribe, occupied not with gigging, but exclusively writing songs for myself and others. The last twelve weeks has seen me produce an obscene amount of material, collaborating on music for the first time in my life. I've had the pleasure of working some great, established talents like Greg Kurstin, Gary Clark, Martin Brammer, Steve Robson, Lol Creme, Grant Black, and Jerry Abbott, as well as exciting new artists Rachel Furner, Ayah Marrar, and Ed Drewitt (all three of them are in my Top friends on Myspace, check em out, they're great!). As for the fruits of my labor, they will be on display during my shows this summer in the UK and US, as well as future recordings... more on my recording career in a few paragraphs... right now I feel a thought brewing (uh oh)....

So how does it happen that a self-made, suffering artiste like myself becomes, dare I say, a hack, in the truest sense of the word, i.e. Alexandre Dumas, Victor Hugo? While living in New York, making music was my private obsession, dirty auto-erotica done in the confines of my Brooklyn apartment and the occasional recording studio. Playing shows provided me with a much needed release, an exhibitionist kind of thrill. I considered myself a streaker of the highest order.

But when I got to London, something changed. For about a year I sat down on my lonesome to write and I was out of things to say. It was the first time in my life I was sapped of melodies, a rusty, dusty muso pick up truck on the side of the road. I mean let's face it, after 7 or 8 dedicated years of singer/songwriter-ness, how many times can a guy hit a chord on a Piano and feel inspired to pour out the contents of his soul? As I write this, Nicole Scherzinger of the Pussycat Dolls is on MTV pouring out the contents of her soul on a Piano in the middle of the desert, belting a dance remix of "The Hardest Part". If that's not confirmed proof that the singer/songwriter mold has been completely co-opted, I dunno what is. Somewhere between John Mayer, Jason Mraz, Jack Johnson, Gavin Degraw, James Blunt, Paolo Nutini, Howie Day, Joshua Radin, Brett Dennen, and Mat Kearney, I stopped buying into the notion of the earnest guy with his guitar tugging on my heart strings. Ok, maybe these all-american, cheeky chaps are legitimately suffering and there is something strangely beautiful about it but honestly, who cares? Not me.

So where does that leave this nearly 30-year confirmed Piano singer/songwriter, now that he's slagged all the acts he could potentially open for? ;) After awaiting the release of my major label debut, a Pop inflected, singer/songwriter album called The Planeteer for nearly a year, I find myself making a different kind of music. Music that's F-U-N. With the current shit economic situation, multiple international conflicts, global warming and whatnot, I don't wanna hear some guy who's never struggled with anything but a line at Starbucks whine about bourgeois malaise that he mistakes for heartbreak. I want Michael in 1982, I want Prince 1984. I want to party with Zombies and Were-wolfs like it's 1999, or 2009 for that matter. I want a self-aware, self-made, world weary version of Robbie Williams who's able to sing about life and love and sadness with a raised eyebrow. To put it plain and simply, where's my generation's Billy Joel?

Now before I propose a full on, feel good revolution, I owe you guys an explanation. To answer the emails I've received as of late: The Planeteer has not been released. The sad truth is its fate is up in the air, like a piece of my heart lying around outside my chest, without a home in your stereos, ipods and file-sharing sites. The reasons why, while painfully clear to me, would be painfully boring to you. Just know that with each passing week, my album is getting closer to your ears. In the meantime, I've put some new music on Myspace. More than ever, I feel I'm writing the best music of my life, working toward a new album of truly inspired songs that not only make me happy when I listen to them, but make me wanna dance. Don't worry, it's not a disco record (though that would be cool - I would make a great Tony Manero). Just think about that part in Uptown Girl, when Billy blasts into the bridge (Middle 8 for you English people) and goes "woah-oh-oh-oh-oh, oh-oh oh-oh, oh-oh-oh-oh-oh". Now imagine 45 minutes of that feeling. I've finally acquiesced to all the after-work businessmen at the hotel bar. I will sing you a song. I am the Piano man.

Tuesday, 24 March 2009

Right Of Way

Okay, I realize my last blog may have ended on a down note. When we left our hero, he was a beaten man on a perilous promotional trail, a collision victim of public transport, days spent navigating murky UK weather, cold nights beneath a single-layer Travelodge comforter. It’s amazing what a little sun can do for your spirits. The past week and a half in and around London has been miraculously blue and clear, not a cloud in a sky. It’s equally amazing how quickly my pessimism/cynicism/realism has been replaced by a genuine optimism. Maybe it’s getting a full 8 hours sleep, or a return to boiled eggs, bagels and marmite in the morning, but there’s an extra pep in my step lately. I’ve been hitting the Piano with a renewed vigor, like a boxer coming off a knockout round. Such is the seesaw life of this self-pronounced artiste! But this would not be your typical, pontifical JV blog entry if I didn’t use my considerable writing prowess to whinge about something, specifically a British something.

As a native New Yorker, I consider walking in an urban environment to be an area of expertise, something of a birthright. I have been living in London for close to 15 months and still have no comprehension of pedestrian/car etiquette. This may seem a simple, trivial, even ridiculous matter, but I assure you, Right Of Way is a very complex thing here in England. The nation that made Darts a sport has also made the act of crossing a street a labyrinthine, mystical process. Just like Hercules’ Hydra, I chop off one of the beast’s heads only to find two grow back in its place.

Point in case: last night I was traveling through my Islington neighborhood to next-door Dalston in the pursuit of Vietnamese food. I was headed along Southgate Road, a major two-lane cut-through for drivers trying to avoid the congested Angel center. During the day, this street is pretty busy and with no crosswalks (they call them Zebras here), a force to be reckoned with for the average man-on-foot. During the evening however, the road is clear, allowing motorists to speed with no consideration for people, as I find London drivers tend to do (I have a theory this is because of all the twisting and turning. As soon as drivers see a straightaway, they gun it. I would too. Driving can’t be much fun here with all the sharp angles and speed bumps, or humps as they say. Not like I would know. I can’t drive).

Amidst my quest for Pho and Duck spring rolls, I was walking in the direction of traffic, crossing what I would call a side street, i.e. a small road leading off the main thoroughfare, one without a foot traffic light. Behind me, I felt the hum of a speeding engine, and twisted my head to see a car quickly rounding the side street, headed straight for me. To my knowledge, there are no clearly defined rules in this situation. I would like to think common sense prevails. In my mind, if I’m walking straight, it means I have the Right Of Way. If a driver, while trying to change course, sees a pedestrian halfway across an intersection (in this case the driver was coming at me from behind, making me, the pedestrian, blindsided), Right Of Way dictates the driver wait for the pedestrian to finish crossing before completing the turn. I was reminded again tonight, as I have been so times before, this is not the case in London. As Bill Hicks astutely observed, “In London when a driver sees a person crossing the street, they turn their wipers on.” If you, as a pedestrian, do not relent completely to an automobile, and thereby cause the driver to apply any degree of pressure to their break pedal, he/she will honk and gesticulate violently at you, perhaps shout something along the line of, “ For Fuck’s sake!” Before I came to this country, I didn’t know Fuck was proper noun, let alone something you can act in the interest of.

I hate to be the squeaky wheel. I believe that when you are a stranger in a strange land, you should do as the locales do, assume their customs as your own. To quote Ron Burgundy in Anchorman, “When In Rome.” But riddle me this: what kind of city gives cars the Right Of Way over people but not cyclists? I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen cyclists in this town, smack dab in a bus lane in the middle of the morning rush, leisurely pedaling away with a jam-packed bus of commuters right on their tail. Bikers in London truly are the chosen people, self-righteous green priests of the environment who rule the road with an iron fist, delivering a swift and brutal judgment on anyone obstructing their path. The scolding you get for blocking a car is nothing compared to incurring the cyclist’s wrath. The few times I made the mistake of placing so much as my foot in front of a bike, my ears were assaulted by a cascade of slurs that would make even the most hardened sailors blush. These fetid tirades coming from the mouths of some the cutest, hipster women my eyes have ever seen. It’s enough to make this musician cry.

I dunno whether it’s the card carrying liberal, eco-driven mentality of powerful lobbying groups, or just they way they roll in London, but it appears bikes are indeed king, and we walkers are merely flies on the proverbial windshield, playing cards in the proverbial spokes. Last night was a reminder that while I live in this city, no matter how intrinsically bizarre they may seem to me, I must do my best to comprehend and obey the English rules of Right Of Way. But, from time to time, these Brits must forgive an instinct from deep inside my being to call out, in the words of quintessential New Yorker Ratso Rizzo in Midnight Cowboy, “HEY, I’M WAH-KING HERE!”

Sunday, 15 March 2009

Survival

I’m finally relaxing on a Sunday, drinking coffee, and watching Louis Theroux dissect the phenomenon of plastic surgery. For those of you who don’t know, namely Americans as Mr. Theroux’s show is a BBC production, Louis is a TV journalist of the highest caliber who does one hour documentaries on the cultural insanities of the United States, from evangelical cult members to degenerate Vegas gamblers to hardened criminals in San Quentin prison, and everything in-between. What makes Louis so good is his innocence. He identifies with his subjects, asking them simple, direct questions without judgment. He makes people feel safe so they open up and give the camera an insight into their psychology.

My current UK tour over the past couple weeks has been, at times, reminiscent of a Theroux special. Problem is I can’t tell whether I’m Louis or one of the people he interviews. I’ve been doing a promotional work, playing each night at Living Rooms, a bourgeois chain of restaurants fitted with white digital Pianos in the bar area. My 45-minute set is routed through the house speakers, gently backing people’s dinner conversations, a gig reminiscent of my cabaret days in NYC. My mornings are spent visiting music colleges where I play for eager students who throw a barrage of questions at me, desperate for direction in the wild world of the Music Business. So far, I’ve lost my voice twice from singing through inadequate sound systems, and been in a car wreck, our van totaled by a side on collision with a commuter bus in Edinburgh. I keep waiting for my cockney tour manager, Jamie Franklin, to pull off his fake mustache and shout, “Smile, you’re on Candid Camera.”

Jamie has been great company, keeping me sane during this sometimes torturous journey. He’s the positive to my negative, the Laurel to my Hardy, the Derek to my Clive. All the madness has been chronicled on my Video Tour Blog, its regular updates the reason this Blog is so long overdue. Throughout conversations with Jamie during the long drives, I’m slowly coming to terms with the fact that I’m a glass-half-empty kind of guy. The definition of a Cynic is a person who believes people are motivated purely by self-interest rather than acting for honorable or unselfish reasons, someone who questions whether something will happen or whether it is worthwhile. Reading this now, it sounds more like the description of a realist to me. I dunno if it’s the streets of New York coursing through my veins this sunny London afternoon, or watching Louis interview a Hilton Casino Marketing Executive about keeping gambling addicts at the tables as long as possible, but I find that nobody gives anybody a break. You get a break when you win it.

It’s in the midst of this self-examination and search for generosity I find myself each morning trying to give 18-year olds good reasons to become musicians. This is, perhaps, the deepest irony of all. What I am supposed to tell them? Yes it’s possible to sign a record deal, make a classic album, sell millions based on the merit of your work and live happily ever after with your supermodel wife and beautiful children, be honored at awards ceremonies for your contributions, future generations forever influences by the unflinching honesty of your music. Here I am, a 29-year old boy who can’t cook for himself, traipsing the countryside playing dinner music, lucky to be alive after a disastrous crash, all in the pursuit of some farfetched dream I had when I was their age.

But then I take another look, and I see myself as one of the fortunate ones. In a time where people are losing their jobs left and right, the world facing the darkest economic gloom of the past 80 years, here I am playing my tunes to strange people in a strange land. In the past three years I’ve toured England, Scotland, and Ireland, played shows in Paris, Amsterdam, and all across the continental United States, including Montana. Just recently, my record label put me on a plane to LA to work with some of the best producers in the business. And even though I’m in the middle of an ill-advised promo tour that feels like a massive step backwards, it still beats boarding the A Train on 172nd Street at 7:15am, traveling an hour plus in a packed car to downtown Brooklyn to teach 5-year olds how to Hula-hoop. It’s times like these I must remember that it’s the experience, with all the glorious and shit moments, that is the reward, truly the break that I’ve won.

And this is the message I try to impart to the wide-eyed would-be Rock Stars every morning. There are no guarantees in this world. People will fuck you if you let them. Life as a musician is continual series of somersaults. Your best move is to look down, tuck your chin, and perfect your form. And eventually, though you’ll be dizzy and dazed, you will get somewhere. And who knows where that somewhere is, be it commanding 80,000 people on Glastonbury’s Pyramid Stage, or a Wednesday night in Newcastle playing Piano tucked away behind the hostess stand (yes this happened to me a week ago). Take the highs and the lows in stride, not out of modesty, but necessity. It’s survival.

If Louis Theroux asked me a few simple and direct questions about being a musician, this is what I would tell him. Hopefully I wouldn’t come off as crazy as the desperate, body modification obsessed middle-aged men I’m watching right now. However, there are no guarantees in this world.

Wednesday, 18 February 2009

The Song Remains The Same

This Saturday I’m getting on a plane and flying 11 hours to a place that is the antithesis of everything I believe in. Last time I was in L.A. was nearly two years ago, right after my first ever trip to London. If only I had known that precious week would be my last serious dose of sunshine till now. As I type my mind is racing with images of cruising the 101 in a convertible, top pulled down and that radio on, brown skin shining in the sun. My love for you will still be strong. Thank God for Don Henley.

Why, you ask, would I take time to kick back and relax when my new single, ‘Love Again For The First Time’ is set for release in coming weeks? The sad truth is I’ll be spending very little time outside the soundproofed walls of studios. I’m flying to Los Angeles for 3 big time writing sessions in the hope of churning out another single for my debut record, The Planeteer. I’m insanely excited to be working with top-notch writers and producers Greg Kurstin (Lily Allen, Little Boots, The Bird & The Bee), The Matrix (Avril Lavigne, Liz Phair), and Beau Dozier, son of Motown writing legend Lamont Dozier. Accompanying me to the sessions is the man I wrote my new single with, Martin Brammer (James Morrison, Tina Turner). I consider myself incredibly lucky to spend seven days with these very talented people. I plan to suck them dry.
Some of you may be saying to yourself, “That’s madness. From what I’ve seen (in concert and on YouTube), JV is a certified hit machine. The man eats, sleeps, and breathes Pop. You could wake this guy up any time of night, put a Dictaphone to his lips, and record a number 1 smash in 9 countries. Why would someone who turns a tune effortlessly need to fly 5,000 miles to write a hit? Well my friends, justified as you may be in asking the question, the answer is simple: what makes a hit a hit has changed.

I was a strange child, as you may have guessed by now. While all my friends rocked out to Nirvana and Nine Inch Nails, I was grooving to Annie Lennox and Stevie Wonder. Yet all of these acts were innovators in their own right. Each had their own sound, their own unique sense of melody, harmony, rhythm that made them stand out. I don’t think you’ll find four songs more varied Heart-Shaped Box, Closer, Sweet Dreams, and Isn’t She Lovely. These days I turn on the Radio (I don’t own a Radio, but it’s a metaphor dang it!) and I hear the same songs sung by new people. Pop culture is eating itself. Listeners are no longer being challenged by Music. Instead, programmers cater to the lowest common dominator, conditioning people to hear most simple sounds with simple messages. Music has become subservient to the Brand, and songs have become the advertisements.

I’m not saying Pop music hasn’t always been plagued by the inane and obvious. It’s easy to remember greatness and let mediocrity slip into oblivion. Several acts from my youth instantly spring to mind, once ubiquitous, now a footnote: Hootie and The Blowfish, Candlebox, Blues Traveler, Spin Doctors, Extreme, Color Me Badd, Sugar Ray, Goo Goo Dolls, Third Eye Blind, Jewel, and everyone’s favorite rapper-turned-movie star, Will Smith. But these days, the similarity between current hits and past hits is more and more alarming. I’m finding it increasingly difficult to tell the difference between a band’s singles. It was one thing when hip-hop was sampling tunes and turning them into hits twice over, giving credit where credit’s due, i.e. every one of Sean “Puffy” Combs’ hits. But we’re at a point where I don’t think artists are even aware of what they’re ripping off. Below is a list for your perusa of recent hits that I think sound dangerous close to existing songs. Cubic Zirconium followed by Diamonds.


That’s Not My Name by The Ting Tings – Mickey by Toni Basil
T-Shirt by Shontelle – With You by Chris Brown
Walking On A Dream by Empire Of The Sun – Dreams by Fleetwood Mac
6 of 1 Thing by Craig David – 1 Thing by Amerie
Fascination by Alphabeat – Modern Love by David Bowie
The Boy Does Nothing by Alicia Dixon – Mambo no.5 by Lou Bega
Kanye West’s 808’s & Heartbreak album – Something In The Air Tonight by Phil Collins
Cry For You by September – Clocks by Coldplay


And here are some bands with two songs that sound almost identical:

The Script – The Man Who Can’t Be Moved and Breakeven
The Fray – Cable Car (Over My Head) and You Found Me
Take That – Rule The World and Greatest Day
Coldplay – Clocks and The Speed Of Sound
Basshunter – (I can’t believe I’m admitting to knowing Basshunter’s singles )
Angel In The Night, Now You’re Gone, and All I Ever Wanted

The grand prize goes to Nickelback for How You Remind Me and Someday. Both were proven to be nearly the exact same song by Mikey Smith, a 21-year-old college kid in Alberta. Check it out - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a37hakpZjQA

If I come off sounding slightly angry and embittered, it’s cause I am. Over the past decade, the music industry has made choices that have consistently decreased the value of its product. Between illegal downloading, reality TV-show stars, corporate monopoly of media outlets, and just plain pandering, recorded music is no longer a desired commodity. People don’t feel like they should pay for records, and I don’t blame them. Why buy it if it’s crap? 7 of the Top 10 best selling singles in the UK this century have been spawned by X-Factor, 5 of which are dreadful, forgettable ballads (Bob The Builder’s Can We Fix It is the lone independent stand out). The stars of today are not exceptional people like Kurt and Trent and Annie and Stevie, they’re your average guy, the girl next door. Pop Music no longer sends a message of individuality and originality, but rather conformity (the proof is in the pudding: The lyrics to Shontelle’s T-Shirt read as a list of designer clothing ranges that rhyme). More and more I long for the innocence of my youth, when Paul and Michael would sing side by side in the back of a truck full of hay. Heck, these days I’d be happy with another Thong Song. At least that had a cool melody.

Stepping away from all of this, I hope to come out of next week’s sessions with a some cracking tunes. I’m working with the best in the business, and writing good songs will be my giant musical middle finger in the face of all things mundane. Let me leave you with the immortal words Mark Althavan Andrews, known to us Sisqo: Dumps like a truck, thighs like what. All night long, let me see that thong.

Feel free to email any thoughts or comments to jvfanmail@gmail.com

Tuesday, 10 February 2009

The Dreaded Credit Crunch, A Musician's Perspective

I was recently asked by Gigwise.com to write a brief piece on being a musician in this rough economy. Here's what I came up with. As always, email your thoughts to jvfanmail@gmail.com. Hope you dig...

The Credit Crunch. I never heard the term before I moved to England. Now I hear it all the time, read it daily in the headlines, see it smattered across scattered pages of the latest London Lite on the tube. The BBC has a way with words. Poetic descriptions seem to float out the TV set every 15 minutes. Last week it was ‘Siberian Winds’ and ‘Flirting with Hypothermia’. But the dreaded ‘Credit Crunch’ has been their favorite phrase of the past six months. New programs pop up nightly on BBC 3 about how to save while shopping locally. Last week I watched Gordon Ramsay teach men with Moobs (that’s Man Boobs for Americans) to eat cheap and healthily, sandwiched between segments of him shouting expletives at McFly and running the London marathon. All this commotion caused by something that sounds a lot like my favorite sugary breakfast cereal. To be honest, I’m not too fussed. In fact, it’s the only time in my life I’m glad I’m a musician.

I’ve been playing music professionally for 10 years. It hasn’t been the easiest road. So many days I wish I had a time machine so I could go back and grab that curly haired 19-year old kid, shake his shoulders, smack him up and down and convince him to do something reasonable with his life, something where there’s a guaranteed check on Friday. I’ve had to work my fair share of jobs to make ends meet. Waited tables for years, bartended, even taught elementary school gym. By day I led vicious gangs of kindergarteners in jumping jacks and squat thrusts. By night I sang my songs in every hole in the wall club, hotel, bar and restaurant New York had to offer. Countless evenings I’d come home at 2 in the morning, lug my 45-pound, 88 key digital Piano up a 4 story walk-up, only to wake up at 7 AM and head off to 8 hours of pounding basketballs and twirling hula-hoops. I vividly recall frothing at the mouth while singing My Funny Valentine to a group of noisy investment bankers slurrping Beefeater Martinis in a midtown cabaret bar. They talked through the entire song, a brave, drunken few shouting that most sacrilegious of requests, Billy Joel’s Piano Man.

One thing a recession teaches you is there’s no such thing as a guaranteed check on Friday. This past fall I recall watching footage of ex-Morgan Stanley employees aimlessly idling at Canary Wharf, flocks blue-shirt oxford boys looking like deer in the headlights. These guys knew exactly what they were gonna do with their lives. They had a 10-year plan: work 100 hours a week till your 30, then sit back and watch the cash roll in, a steady stream of bonuses whether their clients make or lose money. And here was a generation of Gordon Geckos standing around like Footballers at halftime. Brilliant.

Being a musician offers something that few career paths do: purpose without money. Apart from a few notable, extremely talented exceptions who are typically self-absorbed (Sting, Chris Martin), self-righteous (Springsteen, Bono), pompous (McCartney), or bloated egomaniacs (Kanye West) who look at music as a path to fame (Beyonce) and use songs as marketing slogans (Jay-Z), most musicians make a modest living at best, and at worst live off credit cards and take-out menus for the bulk of their lives (that was me before my record deal, and may still be me in the future. Time will tell. I’m praying I get to become one of the self-absorbed, pompous, egomaniacal ones!) The one thing we are never want for is purpose. I find most musicians so wide-eyed and na├»ve that they actually believe quality will prevail, and their goal is to be a part of, or get as close to that quality as possible. Money is just an afterthought. I suspect that’s why the music business is full of sharks and opportunists. Musicians are a biggest bunch of suckers I know, myself included.

Sorry if I sound unsympathetic, but in the midst of a world-wide downturn, I find myself on the same path I’ve always been on: a slow, grinding gravel trail up the mountain, pushing my financial boulder as always, forever Sisyphus. Except now I see a lot more people alongside me, pushing even bigger boulders, trying to get back on top in this crumbling economy, when in the end, the boulder always rolls right back down to the bottom. I’m happy to sing songs for you guys while we push. Just don’t ask for any Billy Joel.

Wednesday, 21 January 2009

The Last Days of Video

I’ve addressed this topic in my blog before, but the problem won’t go away. Years pass, seasons change (not in the UK apparently), people fall in and out of love, but the crisis continues like the growth of mold in a two month old teabag (Not that I would know, my apartment is very clean). These days I think it’s more relevant than ever. Truly understanding the dilemma may be the key to unlocking not only the mystery of the credit crunch, but also perhaps the meaning of life itself. I am of course, speaking of the demise of the Video Store.

When I was 14, my first job was working as a delivery boy for The Video Connection, my local video store on 80th and Broadway. Back in the heyday of VHS, video stores had names that implied futurism while feeling ancient at the same time, as if they’d always been there and would be for millennium to come. Names like Video Vault, Pegasus Video, Royal Video, and Champagne Video, the lone survivor of the VHS boom. I recently walked through Champagne Video’s doors over the holidays. It was as if I’d entered a time warp: row upon row of rectangular plastic black boxes with poorly laminated covers. Movies grouped by section signs with cheesy, oversized bubble letters. Colorful displays on the checkout counter offering five flavors of microwave popcorn. It felt like 1994 all over again

Those were the days when the world was mine to discover. Every afternoon after school I’d pound the all-to-familiar blocks of my neighborhood, knapsack filled to the brim with tapes like Santa in his youthful prime. During the day I suffered all the indignities high school had to offer, but from the hours of 4 to 8, Tuesday through Thursday, I was in charge of my own destiny. I became a welcome sight to the uptown bourgeois elite, bringing them new releases of the day like Sirens with Hugh Grant and Elle Macpherson and Angels and Insects with Patsy Kensit. The titles and stars of countless, seemingly meaningless films were forever etched in my mind.

Back then (we’re talking the 90’s folks), movies came out on video no sooner than 6 months after being in the theater. This was when the Major Studios were king and had complete control of the supply chain. Whenever they decided to put a movie out on tape was the only time you could see it outside the cinema. Peer 2 peer networks didn’t exist. Pirated copies were made by a guy in the back row holding an off-center camcorder. If you wanted to see the movie you had to rent it. In addition, Studios would price VHS tapes at $89.99, making them impossible to buy for home entertainment. The Video Stores were the only places with enough capital to purchase cassettes and the clientele to make their money back. The Video Connection would get 5 copies at most of a new release (It was a big deal when they bought 10 copies of Jurassic Park). All these factors built up unbelievable anticipation for a movie coming out on video. Only 5 (10 when it came to the dinosaurs) lucky customers would get the latest film on a Tuesday night (Tuesday was the night we would allow customers to rent new movies. It was my most dreaded day, sometimes I would get out of there as late as 9:30!). As the delivery boy, the power was in my hands. I was Hermes, messenger of the Gods, delivering mortals fresh pop culture food for their starved brains. In retrospect, I realize Sirens was a piece of English poo. But back then, Hugh Grant was hot shit post-Four Weddings and A Funeral and pre-Divine Brown. Anything he was in sold like warm bagels straight out the oven.

It was at this job was where my love of Pop music blossomed. I have an overzealous clerk by the name of Derek Davidson to thank for beginning my education. Derek was a guy from Canarsie who’d been living on the Upper West in a one bedroom for ages, and still does to this day. Derek had a serious love of music and movies, and very definite opinions on what was good and what was crap. It was Derek who first gave me Elton John’s Tumbleweed Connection, 10cc’s The Original Soundtrack, and Steely Dan’s Katy Lied. It was Derek who introduced me to the films Stanley Kubrick, Martin Scorcese and David Cronenberg. Derek was the first guy I ever played in a band with, and he was the first guy to kick me out of one. I have so many wonderful teenage memories of trolling the streets of New York with a Discman in hand, discovering for the first time albums like The Beatles’ White Album, XTC’s English Settlement, Queen’s A Night At The Opera. And it’s all thanks to Derek. If it weren’t for him, you guys may not have these caustic, over-informed diatribes to read online. You’d also be less several nostalgic, sentimental Pop anthems for that matter.

After high school, things became a blur. I went off the college as big chains like Blockbuster and Hollywood Video pushed independent video stores out of business. A few years after graduation, Blockbuster, once a towering Goliath, was humbled by online rental services like Netflix and Lovefilm (which have a much better selection I must say. Who needs 50 copies of the new Will Smith movie?). VHS made way for DVD, which will soon make way for HD DVD and Blue Ray, or some other medium (whatever happened to Laserdisc?). In the next decade, movies and music will be usurped by video games as the main source of entertainment. Today’s Pop Stars are entrepreneurs, business moguls hyper–aware of the power of their brand. Clothing lines and perfumes are just as important as the song or the screenplay. Old-fashioned storytelling and heartbreaking performances have been replaced by CGI special effects and Super Hero movie franchises. The auteur of the future will be more informed by Halo, Resident Evil, Call Of Duty and World Of Warcraft then ET, Star Wars, Raging Bull or Clockwork Orange. The days of dreaming in the Video Store are gone. Maybe it’s for the best. I can’t tell you how many hours I’ve wasted, wandering in the wonder of the aisles.

Monday, 12 January 2009

Slumdog Singalong

Maybe this sounds strange, but recently, through the dark days that dawn in London in January, I find myself wanting to write a musical. I’ve been told my entire career my songs would fit right in on Broadway, with comments ranging from celebratory to slanderous, mainly the latter. I think the musical may be the most derided entertainment form. One look at the typical fare and you can’t help agree with its detractors. It seems the cheesiest, corniest, most unbelievable subject matter is reserved exclusively for musicals, be it the shameless rehashing of a film in the name of commerce (The Producers and Hairspary are the quality examples, Shrek, Saturday Night Fever and Lord Of The Rings: The Musical scrape the bottom of the barrel) or ridiculous, unentertaining concepts, i.e. Rollerskating in Andrew Lloyd Weber’s Starlight Express; I was recently forced to sit through a West End production of La Cage Aux Folles. I can’t believe someone thought men doing cartwheels in drag for 3 hours with no semblance of a story would be interesting. Shame on them.

Other fodder includes songwriters trying to cash in on their catalogs, creating flimsy plots to fill their publishing coffers. Billy Joel’s Movin’ Out, The Beach Boys’ Good Vibrations, John Lennon’s Imagine are prime examples (they even made a Boney M musical called Daddy Cool). Movies are just as guilty of perpetrating this trend, the High School Musical series an all too familiar reminder (they have confirmed 5 sequels. Someone save us please!). I ask the simple question: What’s so silly about someone stopping in the middle of the street to sing and dance? If Marlon Brando looked cool doing it in Guys and Dolls, it can’t be all that bad.

Back in the 1920’s, and moving well into the 1960’s, the musical was considered a serious art form, attracting the best and brightest songwriters, directors and performers. Virtually the entire catalog of standards, the songs of George Gershwin, Richard Rogers, Jerome Kern, and Cole Porter, had origins in Musicals. Movies studios did their part, producing musical masterpieces like Singing In The Rain and An American In Paris, creating vehicles for song & dance stars Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire. There are still serious autuers out there in stage and film who have tried over the years (some more successfully than others) to breathe new life into the genre. Stephen Sondheim, Jason Robert Brown on Broadway, and Martin Scorsese, Woody Allen, Brian De Palma, and Lars Von Trier just to name a few.

Over the holidays in New York, I saw a movie that truly energized me, restored my faith in commercial art (Akon was beginning to look like the Grim Reaper). I haven’t been this excited by a piece of cinema since watching Pulp Fiction at age 15 (saw Tarantino’s masterpiece a total of 5 times in the theater. Only other movie I did that with was Jurassic Park. Dinosaurs are awesome). The film is Slumdog Millionaire by Danny Boyle. It’s a quirky rags-to-riches story told through flashbacks, the pivot point being an Indian version of the melodramatic game show, “Who Wants To Be An Millionaire”. This movie has it all: an inventive (yet totally unbelievable) script, brilliant performances by a cast of unknowns, mainly children, visuals shot at a furious pace with gritty realism, and a rocking contemporary soundtrack (M.I.A. never sounded so good). Mr. Boyle has somehow transmuted child prostitution, poverty, and blindness into a feel good film about destiny and hope, and has done it in less than 2 hours, a refreshing contrast to bloated, award season epics like Defiance and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (which was good, but TOO LONG!). And he topped the whole thing off with a slap-happy, Bollywood-style dance number ending. I left the theater buzzing.

Cut to a week later, I’m back in London, eating brunch and reading the Sunday Guardian (as us bourgeois major label musicians do) and imagine my surprise, where in a interview, Danny Boyle states his next project is going be a musical! “The achievement would be to create an entirely original musical rather than film a classic stage adaptation,” he says, continuing “There’s something amazingly cinematic about putting dance and film together – it’s what motion pictures are all about.”

I nearly choked on my Turkish breakfast. Is this man reading my mind? The guy who created 3of my favorite movies of the last 15 years (Trainspotting and 28 Days Later, and now Slumdog), a very-arty sci-fi flick (Sunshine), a glorified travel film (The Beach), a Hitchcock style thriller (Shallow Grave), and a beautiful piece o’ shit (Life Less Ordinary) wants to do a musical? Consider this blog my job application, my CV, my ad in the personals – DANNY BOYLE I AM YOUR MAN! If you guys have any ideas on how to pitch me to write the songs for his next movie, if you know anyone who may have his ear, please drop me a line at jvfanmail@gmail.com. This needs to happen.

Akon, eat your heart out.