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Let it blur |

Young Star

Let it blur

The press conference for Blur was doomed from the start.I was at the Hotel New Otani in Tokyo, Japan, covering the two-day/four-stage Summer Sonic 2003 music festival, which featured Brit rock bands Radiohead and Blur as headliners. The day before, I had a chat with Radiohead’s Jonny and Collin Greenwood. Nice chaps – witty, down-to-earth and amusingly sarcastic (not to me, though). Hard to associate the Greenwood brothers with the foreboding, darkly ambient music they create with the rest of the guys in Radiohead.

The boys from Blur were not cut from the same cloth: Vocalist Damon Albarn, bassist Alex James and drummer Dave Rowntree came across like Malcolm McDowell and his droogs in A Clockwork Orange out for a bit of the old ultra-violence. But they were not exactly malevolent; they were just bored to be there at the hotel being grilled by members of the Asian music press, and probably thinking of a thousand places they would rather be, counting the gloomy Tower of London.

But why do it all if they didn’t have the heart for it, I wondered. Especially since Blur is a devil-may-care band, not unlike Oasis and other members of the Britpop mafia. Well, even rockstars are slaves to the rock n’ roll marketing machine. In a screwed-up sense, we all are, anyway.

Before the press con, we were instructed by guys from record label EMI not to ask questions pertaining to guitarist Graham Coxon’s departure. (Coxon left for nebulous reasons during the making of the band’s latest album, "Think Tank." It was rumored that he got fired, that he got into a row, a fistfight with Damon, and various etceteras.)

So Rule No. 1 was "There will be no Graham Coxon questions in this press conference."

Rule No. 2: Never forget Rule No. 1.And the first query from a Hong Kong reporter: "During festival time, do you miss Graham Coxon?"

Aargh! That was the cue for attitude with a scarlet letter A to come strutting into the room where the star-crossed press con was being held. Damon Albarn sneered and said, "It’s like asking a question if you miss family when you go abroad. Of course we miss Graham. He’s like family. We grew up with him!"

After that somebody asked if the new Blur record is a commentary on 21st century life, or something as pretentious. Damon drearily answered, "I think in a hundred years, people will be gone… damned… I give it a couple of more years."

The three often mumbled under their breaths, chuckled at the terribly dull questions, and looked absolutely bored. Perky and chirpy, they were not. Maybe it was due to the misinformed reporters and their queries about Coxon, Gorillaz and Gareth Gates (Gates who? Oh, that insufferable cross between Elvis and Billy Joe Crawford, that’s who.)

"Is Out of Time a wakeup call?" another poor sap asked. (Wakeup call for what? For dozing journalists inside that damned room with Blur?)

"Out of Time has a strong message," said Damon. "It’s very open to different interpretations. Yes, it’s a wakeup call in the sense that it is a longing for more time. I’m not sure what for."

"Think Tank" was not a difficult album to make, according to the singer, despite Coxon’s departure, distracting side projects (read: Gorillaz) and the tricky pursuit of Indian, African and Middle-Eastern muses.

("Think Tank" finds Blur doing a Talking Heads/Peter Gabriel at a point in the band’s career where it is supposed to deconstruct and be lackluster. Instead it came out with an album that flirted with world music. Britpop, my foot!)

"It was a record we were constantly prepared for," Albarn said, to which Rowntree catatonically added that they felt "lighthearted, joyful" at that time.

"And a lot of the other tracks we did at that time had that edgy weirdness to them," shared Damon, "like Don’t Bomb When You’re The Bomb."

A reporter asked if there is a Song 2 in "Think Tank." (Meaning, if there is a potential American hit in the new album.) "Ahh, hell," I silently muttered.

Alex James stiffened, smirked and answered, "No. We don’t aim to make hits. Blur songs are not researched and analyzed. We don’t write songs with target markets in mind. If we are able to write a good song, then ‘Cheers!’ "

Somebody asked about the songs created by the dolts in Pop Idol, the British equivalent of American Idol.

Damon, obviously ticked, talked in a slow monotone. "‘It isn’t strictly music," he said. "It’s like singing karaoke one night, and a fairy sort of appeared and waved her wand on you, and you suddenly earn a living standing next to a karaoke machine. It’s television, light entertainment cabaret."

James offered his two cents. "The records are made by the best resources that record companies can lay their hands on, but they’re ultimately... shit (laughs). Just the idea of wanting to be famous – I’m not sure that’s the right way to go about it. I’m getting bored of it now."

And so were the other reporters. One girl posed a query about rock and pop as categories. Damon answered, "The trouble is, pop and rock mean different things in different countries. In England, we’re definitely a pop band because rock there means Iron Maiden and ZZ Top. Pop in our country may be rock in yours."

Of course, one of the requirements for pop bands is that they have to release – the horror! the horror! – singles. All three members of the band agreed that they would gladly go indie again and not release singles (if that were possible) if only to reclaim their artistic souls.

"Wouldn’t it be great if records were just long and not edited into something…" Albarn paused. "It’s like a big fish market, where fish is chopped into little bits and sold. You make a record and then little bits of words, ideas and melodies are chopped down and you lose what it is that makes the whole thing great in the first place."

"Besides," Rowntree added, "I’m not sure if we got the picking of singles right. We’ve always made at least one mistake in every album we make."

James philosophized, "Besides, you don’t have to know everything to make pop music. You just have to know one thing…"

Curious, Damon blurted out, "Which is…"

"You have to take one thing at a time," the bassist answered. "And that’s the best thing I thought up this week (laughs)."

Suddenly the moderator approached me and asked if I had any questions. I did what writers are supposed to do in an awkward situation such as that: I pulled a question out of my ass.
What Are The Myths And Misconceptions About Blur?
" I think the biggest myth is that we’re difficult to interview," Damon Albarn deadpanned.

James agreed. "The thing is that you don’t get to choose what you’re remembered for, really," he said. "You just got to keep plugging away, doing good work and eventually people make their own minds up about you. I think if you can reach somebody with your music, then what is there to misconceive about that?"

This is how I will always remember the boys from Blur. Bored. Boorish. Brilliant.
* * *
I recently got drunk at My Bros’ Mustache. Got drunk on good music, that is. The folk house (which has digs in QC, Makati and Malate) opened its fourth branch at Muelle Del Rio, Intramuros just behind the National Press Club. Performers included Asin, Joey Ayala, Sampaguita, Mon Espia, Arnel De Pano, Mae Romero and Folk Cause, among others. A word of warning, though: If you’re learning to play guitar, struggling with Cs, AM7s and finger-breaking barre chords, trying to get the strumming right for A Horse With No Name or Passenger Seat, try not to be blown away by musicians such as Wally Gonzales (Juan De La Cruz’s guitar hero) and Mon Espia (of Labuyo). They are good. They are really good. You might get to urge to give up the guitar altogether and learn a fallback musical instrument instead – like the tuba or the goddamn triangle. But if you’re a plain music-loving bloke, with no desire whatsoever for rock n’ roll world domination, and who enjoys beer, nachos, Crosby, Stills and Nash, you might like to check out My Bros’ Mustache in Intramuros. For queries, call 374-6142.

Keep on rockin’ in this un-free world.
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