Just in case anyone thought that the art of the spectacular marriage of brilliant lyric and complementarily brilliant melody was a dead or forgotten aspect of the starmaking machinery behind the popular song, the very welcome behemoth omnibus Luke Haines is Dead–a collection of salient album tracks/singles, b-sides, rarities, and radio sessions by all Luke Haines projects from The Auteurs to Baader Meinhof to his solo work, unfortunately excluding anything by Black Box Recorder—is an ample and thorough reminder that, in England at least, pop songwriting artists possessed of miraculous sensitivity, observation, and articulation are still hard at work.
Luke Haines is Dead is not as consistent as the last manifestation of Haines’s sublimely fucked-up idea of a “best-of,” 2002’s Das Capital: The Songwriting Genius of Luke Haines, in which his “greatest hits” were re-recorded with a symphony orchestra to almost unexceptionably fantastic effect, but three discs packed with tracks the likes of which you’ll hear nowhere else are still very well worth the investment of listening time and money (not much money, either; the set runs for about £13.99, approximately $25 U.S.). Included are very rare vinyl-only b-sides—the little piano-and-glockenspiel (or xylophone?)-driven b-side “She Might Take a Train;” the deep-cello mindless-entertainment attack “Disneyworld,” which contains the timeless protestation “There’s nothing wrong with Louis Mayer;” the ominously political “I’ve Been a Fool for You” by Baader Meinhof—and some alternate versions that best the originals, like a recording of “Johnny and the Hurricanes” that sounds like a Das Capital outtake; snare-drumless Rough Trade single versions of “Valet Parking” and “Housebreaker;” an “Oliver Twist Manifesto” that, like Morrissey’s “Billy Budd,” contains samples from the David Lean film, etc.
It all adds up to the kind of thing that makes you glad to have your wits and senses intact enough to take it in and appreciate it, and it is a further reinforcement (as if one was needed!) of Haines’s well-earned place—alongside Morrissey, Brett Anderson, and Jarvis Cocker—as a contemporary pop singer/songwriter whose work will remain timeless and is very likely to find a perpetually refreshed audience in the appropriately appreciative sectors of future generations.
I now forget what ‘net-surfing whim led me to look up Roland Barthes on Wikipedia, but I’m glad I did, as I unearthed this happy-making, heretofore unknown to me autobiographical tidbit: “His long, productive career reached from the early days of structuralist linguistics in France up to the peak of post-structuralism, and Barthes' works are considered key texts of both structuralism and post-structuralism. Because Barthes was gay, although not openly so until late in his life, some take him as an antecedent for queer theory.” Somewhere in literary heaven’s gay bar, someone is saying, “Roland Barthes, meet Oscar Wilde, Henry James, and Gertrude Stein.”
Many things I’ve come across in my life and in my explorations of film, music, and the vicissitudes of our culture have led me back to my bookshelf to dip into Barthes’s Mythologies, an endlessly useful and inspiring book—probably his best and certainly his most accessible—for those of us interested in cultural studies and criticism (it is also featured, alongside Susan Sontag’s Death Kit, in Bertolucci’s The Dreamers as a touchstone text for inquisitive and rebellious ‘60s youth). This time, I just opened to the beginning to read a few passages, and was struck by a paragraph in the preface explaining why Barthes wrote the essays (originally published in 1954-1956 in Les Lettres Nouvelles) collected in Mythologies:
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