Decibelle

Gazelle Amber Valentine of US-Georgian band Jucifer

Gazelle Amber Valentine of US-Georgian band Jucifer

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Hair Today

“We had a roadie guarding his dressing room, to stop him [Graham Bonnet] getting out, because he was threatening to have his hair cut. It was very petty, but it had become an obsession with me. But he got out of the back window and went and got his hair cut. I didn’t see him until we went on stage, and, sure enough, he’d had his hair cut really short. He was doing it just to annoy me.” — Ritchie Blackmore: “[…] Music is very serious”, The Guardian, 25/v/2017.

Performativizing Papyrocentricity #38

Papyrocentric Performativity Presents:

Nature by Numbers30-Second Elements: The 50 Most Significant Elements, Each Explained in Half a Minute, ed. Eric Scerri (Icon 2013)

Fresh FleshThe Complete Illustrated Guide to Freshwater Fish & River Creatures, Daniel Gilpin and Dr Jenny Schmid-Araya (Hermes House 2011)

The Reich StoffRocket and Jet Aircraft of the Third Reich, Terry C. Treadwell (Spellmount 2011)

Past MastersJustice for All: The Truth about Metallica, Joel McIver (Omnibus Press, revised edition 2014)

Ant on E – Burgess on Waugh

M.O.R. of BabylonSleazy Listening: Frottage, Fladge and Frenzied Fornication in the Music of the Carpenters, Dr Miriam B. Stimbers (University of Nebraska Press 2015)


Or Read a Review at Random: RaRaR

Performativizing Papyrocentricity #26

Papyrocentric Performativity Presents:

World Wide WingsThe Big Book of Flight, Rowland White (Bantam Press 2013)

Kite WriteThe Kite-Making Handbook, compiled by Rossella Guerra and Giuseppe Ferlenga (David & Charles 2004)

Gun GuideSmall Arms: 1914-45, Michael E. Haskew (Amber Books 2012)

The Basis of the BeastKillers: The Origins of Iron Maiden, 1975-1983, Neil Daniels (Soundcheck Books 2014)


Or Read a Review at Random: RaRaR

Performativizing Papyrocentricity #19

Papyrocentric Performativity Presents:

Book in BlackBlack Sabbath: Symptom of the Universe, Mick Wall (Orion Books 2013)

Critical Math – A Mathematician Reads the Newspaper, John Allen Paulos (Penguin 1996)

Rude BoysRuthless: The Global Rise of the Yardies, Geoff Small (Warner 1995)

K-9 KonundrumDog, Peter Sotos (TransVisceral Books 2014)

Ghosts in the CathedralThe Neutrino Hunters: The Chase for the Ghost Particle and the Secrets of the Universe, Ray Jayawardhana (Oneworld 2013) (posted @ Overlord of the Über-Feral)


Or Read a Review at Random: RaRaR

Performativizing Papyrocentricity #16

Papyrocentric Performativity Presents:

Brit GritGranite and Grit: A Walker’s Guide to the Geology of British Mountains, Ronald Turnbull (Francis Lincoln 2011)

Singh Summing SimpsonsThe Simpsons and Their Mathematical Secrets, Simon Singh (Bloomsbury 2013)

Go with the QuoStatus Quo: Still Doin’ It – The Official Updated Edition, compiled by Bob Young, edited by Francis Rossi and Rick Parfitt (Omnibus Press 2013)

Breeding BunniesThe Golden Ratio: The Story of Phi, the Extraordinary Number of Nature, Art and Beauty, Mario Livio (Headline Review 2003) (posted @ Overlord of the Über-Feral)

Brit Bot BookReader’s Digest Field Guide to the Wild Flowers of Britain, J.R. Press et al, illustrated Leonora Box et al (1981) (@ O.o.t.Ü.-F.)


Or Read a Review at Random: RaRaR

More Musings on Music

Black Mother Nirvana — from the potency of Purushmedh to the blast-beat barrage of Bodhisattva

Groaning and Grieving — the ashen passion of Slough of Despond

Pummelling Putridity — probing the purulence and putrefaction of Paraphistomiasis


Elsewhere other-posted:

• More Musings on Music

Performativizing Papyrocentricity #8

Papyrocentric Performativity Presents:

Auto-BiommiIron Man: My Journey through Heaven and Hell with Black Sabbath, Tony Iommi, as told to T.J. Lammers (Simon & Schuster, 2011)

Halfway to ParalysedHalfway to Paradise: The Birth of British Rock, Alwyn W. Turner (V&A Publishing, 2008)


Or Read a Review at Random: RaRaR

Vigor Mortis

Front cover of The Best of Black Sabbath
In the Christian religion, the resurrection follows the virgin birth. In the rock-graves at Heysham, the virgin birth follows the resurrection. Or rather: the virgin-births follow the resurrections. There are many of both. The rock-graves at Heysham* are carved in solid rock near the remains of St Patrick’s chapel, an ancient ruin overlooking Morecambe Bay on the coast of Lancashire in England. You may have seen them before, because they appear on the cover of a compilation album by the heavy-metal band Black Sabbath, where they’re filled with ice and look suitably dark and sinister. But the graves are sometimes full of life and activity. In spring, as the rainwater filling them begins to warm, there are resurrections – dozens of them. Tiny crustaceans (a group of animals that includes crabs, shrimps and woodlice) hatch from eggs that have over-wintered in the sediment on the floors of the graves. Some of the crustaceans are called water-fleas, others are called seed-shrimps. Water-fleas, whose scientific name is Daphnia, hop through the water with jerks of their antennae, sieving it for fresh-water plankton. Seed-shrimps, or ostracods, are enclosed in tiny double-sided shells through which their legs protrude. They trundle over the stone sides of the graves, scraping off algae and catching even smaller and simpler animals like rotifers and protozoa.

The rock graves at Heysham (c. 11th century A.D.)

Rock graves at Heysham, Lancs. (c. 1000s)

Water-fleas are famous for parthenogenesis, or their ability to produce offspring without sex. Those that hatch first in spring are female and give birth without mating with any males. A single water-flea in a jar of stagnant water soon becomes a swarm. It’s only later in the year that males are born and the water-fleas mate to produce winter eggs, which sink to the floor of the graves and lie there through the cold weather. The eggs of water-fleas and ostracods can also survive desiccation, or drying-up, and can be blown on the wind to new sites. That is probably how these crustaceans arrived in the rock-graves, which they must have occupied for centuries, through the coldest winters and the hottest summers, dying and being reborn again and again. When a human being or large animal dies, chemical changes in the body make the muscles rigid and wood-like. The scientific term for this is rigor mortis, or the “stiffness of death”. Rigor mortis wears off in time and the body begins to rot. The rock-graves at Heysham are an example of vigor mortis, or the “vigour of death”. Medieval human beings created the graves to bury their dead, but the bodies that were once there have been lost to history. The water-fleas and the seed-shrimps remain, tiny, overlooked and fascinating.

A seed-shrimp or ostracod

A seed-shrimp

A water-flea, Daphnia pulex

A water-flea


*Heysham is pronounced HEE-shum and is an old coastal village near the city of Lancaster, after which Lancashire is named.

Get Your Locks Off

Led Zeppelin, Ray Tedman (Titan Books, 2011)

Front cover of Led Zeppelin by Ray Tedman

The most important thing in this big book of photographs is, of course, Robert Plant’s hair, which often looks remarkably like mine in both its colour and its curliness. There’s also little to choose between me and Robert Plant in the sex-god stakes, so I’ve often wondered precisely whose gigs my mother was attending in her youth (related rumours circulate, muso mutato et mama mutata, about at least one other keyly committed core component of the counter-cultural community). These aren’t unusual thoughts for me when I look at a book about Led Zeppelin: their hair interests me more than their harmonics. I usually get bored well before songs like “Whole Lotta Love” and “Stairway to Heaven” are over and I would much rather listen to the Beatles or Black Sabbath, even at their worst, than to Led Zeppelin, even at their best.

But, at their best, before their locks were shorn as the 1970s ended, Led Zeppelin did look much more like rock-gods than either the Beatles or Black Sabbath. One thing all three bands have in common is their classic quadrivalency: there are four men in each filling the four standard rock roles. I’ve outlined my humorous theory of the classic guitar-bass-drums-vocals line-up elsewhere, so all I’ll say here is that Led Zeppelin fit the theory well. Each member has a distinct personality as he plays a distinct instrument. Each is also distinct in appearance: Jimmy Page is rake-thin, Robert Plant well-built, John Paul Jones average, and Bonzo stocky. Bonzo always had facial hair too, which must say something about his psychology. The colour of his hair certainly says something about his psychology. Like skin-colour and eye-colour, hair-colour is a chemical phenomenon: different colours signal different chemicals or different levels of chemical in the body, and so in the brain. Lighter hair, like lighter skin and eyes, tends to go with a more introverted, less aggressive personality and it may be significant that Robert Plant and John Paul Jones, with lighter hair, are said to have been the two best-behaved members of Led Zeppelin. Black-haired Bonzo was notoriously bestial and also the heaviest drinker. Jimmy Page wasn’t violent, despite having black hair, but his somatype, or body-shape, doesn’t predict violence.

His face may predict high intelligence and high artistic achievement, however: he has always been a good-looking man. Good looks are related to symmetry, and symmetry is related to intelligence and coordination. Again, this isn’t an absolute rule: good-looking people can be stupid and bad at music, just as ugly people can be intelligent and good at music, and strange things can sometimes happen at the extremes of the bell-curve. But biology is about averages and tendencies, not absolutes, and biology is central to understanding human beings and their behaviour. That’s one of the things I find interesting about looking through this book, but there’s much more than individual biology at work here. Led Zeppelin followed fashions as well as setting them and faithfully reflected the look of the three decades in which they existed: the ’60s, the ’70s, and the ’80s.

Or first year of the ’80s, anyway: Bonzo died on 25th September 1980 and the band broke up. The book then follows Plant and Page into their solo careers and their occasional re-unions with Jones, but nobody looks as good as he did in the band’s mid-’70s prime, when their locks were longest and their testosterone levels highest. Endocrinology, or the science of hormones, is another essential part of understanding human behaviour and rock music at its loudest may influence hormones with more than its rhythms and melodies. High volume affects the entire body, not just the ears, and Led Zep were loud and proud, a band who shook the glands of their fans in more ways than one. As I’ve said, I’m not a big fan of Led Zeppelin myself, but if you are I can recommend this book. The photos range from the casual to the candid, the rampant to the risible, the phallocratic to the fan-worshipped, and there are regular biographical pages to guide you through the Led Zeppelin story. Oh, and there’s an index too, which books like this often lack.


Light and Shade: Conversations with Jimmy Page, Brad Tolkinski (Virgin Books, 2012)
Front cover of Light and Shade Conversations with Jimmy Page by Brad Tolinski
I’ve seen too many bad bios about big beasts of the rock jungle to expect much when I pick up a new one, but I was pleasantly surprised by Light and Shade. It does descend into rock-journalese from time to time – Cream and Jimi Hendrix adopted “a new, heavily riff-driven mode of expression” in 1967, apparently – but the conversations with Page are interesting, intelligent, and even impish, as when Page reveals he can mock himself:

On your 1973 tour you started using your own private plane, the Starship. Was that a good thing, or did it just guarantee that the party could continue and you’d never have a moment of rest?

No, it was a good thing. It was a place where you could bring your music and books and create some semblance of continuity as you travelled from city to city. However, [our former tour manager] Richard Cole ran into one of the air hostesses on the Starship recently and she told him, “You know we made a lot of money off you guys,” and Cole asked her how. “Well,” she explained, “when people on the plane used to sniff cocaine, they’d roll up hundred-dollar bills to use as straws. Then after they were high or passed out, they’d forget about the money. So we would go around and grab all the money that was laying around.” That might’ve been true, but I’ll tell you one thing: They never got any of my money! [laughs]

(Ch. 7, “The tours were exercises in pure hedonism…”, pg. 172)

And now you know, if you didn’t already, why Page has the nickname “Led Wallet”: he has always been canny with his cash. But don’t be misled by the coke reference or the chapter-title: this isn’t Hammer of the Gods, the most notorious of the Zeppographies, so the sex’n’drugs side of Page’s rock’n’roll story doesn’t get anywhere near as much attention as his music, his metaphysics, and his mutating fashions. There aren’t many photos, but they’re all well-chosen and you can trace the evolution of Page’s looks, locks, and collaborations right from the 1960s to the present day. There are also contributions from John Paul Jones, Jack White of the White Stripes, publicists, guitar experts and fashionistas, so you do get a well-rounded portrait of an interesting and highly influential musician. I’m not a big Led Zeppelin fan and I still liked this book. And regretted the absence of an index. So it’s a shade light there. Otherwise, it should provide many pages of pleasure for Page-o-philes.