Archive for June, 2012

Lesson learned: Never start a blog before you go to South by Southwest, move into a new house, go on vacation, and get laid off and rehired by the same company in the same day.   It tends to get in the way of your posting.  But no excuses! Onward with the bloggerification!

There were plenty of musical highlights at SXSW 2012, but one of the lessons I learned the first time I went (back in 2009) was to check out some of the panels.  So I made a point of checking out “Song of the Wicker Man,” a panel run by Will Hodgkinson, Chief Rock & Pop Critic of The Times.  Along with Matt Sullivan (Founder, Light In The Attic Records), Crispin Parry (CEO/Creative Director, British Underground), and Nigel Adams (Director, Full Time Hobby Records), Hodgkinson explored the music of the 1973 film The Wicker Man.  Alynda Lee Segarra and Yosi Pearlstein of Hurray for the Riff Raff were also there, performing beautiful versions of some of the songs.

Now, many of us here stateside remember The Wicker Man as an over-the-top, symbolically in-your-face horror film starring Christopher Lee as Lord Summerisle, the Laird of an island called Summerisle where a young girl has gone missing.   A policeman, Sergeant Howie (played by Edward Woodward), arrives to investigate, and needless to say, things go very badly for him.  The people of Summerisle credit their worship of the old gods for their bountiful harvests and perfect climate.  Throughout the movie, Howie staggers around the island in various stages of personal and religious conflict as he witnesses couples having sex right out there in the open, encounters naked women jumping over candles, and hears a seductive woman in the hotel room next to his sing (and bang on the walls) in very erotic fashion.  Not-really-a-spoiler alert: there must be a sacrifice to keep the good times goin’.  Three guesses who.

While American audiences then and now probably found the film mildly diverting (for the pagan sexuality if nothing else), and while some of us certainly appreciate its heavy use of folklore, the film was apparently like a live wire shooting through those fortunate British few who saw it.  According to Hodgkinson and company, folk songs and tales up until then had been bowdlerized and softened, to the point that they were little more than quaint little diversions.  Here, though, was a film that filled everything from a pub gathering to a Maypole dance with dread and menace.  It was if someone had gone back to the original days of the songs and slingshotted them into modern society, like little pagan culture bombs.  Check out this very useful and relevant site  for lyrics to some of the songs, including the title theme (based loosely on Robert Burns’s “The Highland Widow’s Lament,” about a woman whose clan has been wiped out), the racy (especially for its Medieval origins) “Gently Johnny,” and several other original compositions that were supposedly based on old folk ballads.

Here’s “Gently Johnny” from the film, which serves as a good example not only of some of the film’s dramatic qualities, but also how it used music to good effect:

And here’s something unrelated from Hurray for the Riff Raff (I couldn’t find anything from the panel discussion), just because you should never miss the opportunity to spread the gospel about a good young band:


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