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Friday, June 28, 2013

Posted by Geoff at 11:08 PM CDT
Updated: Friday, July 12, 2013 5:29 PM CDT
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Wednesday, June 19, 2013
NPR's All Songs Considered this week featured Sami Yenigun asking Daft Punk's Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo to talk about the songs that inspired their new album, Random Access Memories (the linked page above includes an audio version, so you can hear the duo talking about these songs). Midway through the program, Yenigun says, "You mentioned Paul Williams as one of the guests you had on the record. Can we hear some of his music?"

Bangalter replies, "Yes. I mean, probably one our favorite songs or moments from Paul's career, which we really admire from beginning to end, is the song called 'The Hell Of It,' which is the ending title [music] of the movie that we love so much called Phantom Of The Paradise, directed by Brian De Palma. It's a 1974 film that had a very major place in our teenage years, [in our] discovery of films and music and what we wanted to do as musicians and as artists."

On the audio version of the program, they then play a portion of "The Hell Of It" from the Phantom Of The Paradise soundtrack.

The Guardian's Dorian Lynskey interviewed the duo prior to the release of Random Access Memories. Lynskey wrote, "Their first loves were Jimi Hendrix, the Velvet Underground and Phantom of the Paradise, the bizarre 1974 musical horror movie that Brian De Palma made with Paul Williams. 'It covered everything we liked when we were teenagers: horror, rock, musicals, glam,' says Thomas, glowing with fandom. 'Listening to Led Zeppelin songs backwards, watching Texas Chainsaw Massacre on VHS and getting KISS and David Bowie albums. It synthesised all of these elements.'"

In a review of the album, Slate's Geeta Dayal delved into the Paul Williams collaboration "Touch," and its relationship to Phantom Of The Paradise:


Here they’ve “sampled” the vintage production of their favorite records, using the same analog equipment, techniques, and musicians. Instead of sampling Chic, they brought in Chic co-founder Nile Rodgers to play guitar on two tracks. Instead of sampling Quincy Jones’ productions for Michael Jackson in the 1980s, they brought in the actual session musicians who played on the albums—including John J.R. Robinson, a drummer on Michael Jackson’s Off the Wall, and the guitarist Paul Jackson, who played on Thriller. They’ve “sampled” the clothes, too (Daft Punk’s tight sequined jackets resemble Michael Jackson’s) and the fonts (the cursive lettering on the cover of Random Access Memories resembles the cover of Thriller). Daft Punk even “sampled” their favorite movie—the 1974 Brian De Palma schlock classic Phantom of the Paradise—by inviting in Paul Williams, the movie’s composer and lead actor, to sing the album’s epic, melodramatic centerpiece, “Touch.”

Phantom of the Paradise is key to understanding Daft Punk’s aesthetic. In the movie, a nerdy songwriter is reborn as a phantom who attempts to exact revenge on an evil svengali record producer named Swan. In one scene in the movie, Swan traps the phantom—now wearing a tight black leather jacket and a robot helmet—in a sophisticated recording studio walled with racks of analog gear. The phantom, whose vocal cords have been destroyed, speaks through a talk box attached to his chest, sounding remarkably like a vocodered lyric in a Daft Punk song.

It’s easy to see why the rock opera was catnip for Daft Punk, who claim to have watched it more than 20 times—the movie is completely over-the-top, drenched in pathos, and layered with in-jokes and sideways references, much like the band’s music. Daft Punk’s black leather outfits in their 2006 feature film, Electroma, seemed inspired by the phantom. “Electroma is a combination of all the movies we like, paying a big, almost unconscious homage to them,” de Homem-Christo told Stop Smiling in 2008. “There are so many different influences: In the end, it becomes such a melting pot of everything that it resembles something else altogether. We love cinema the same way we do music—we’re from a generation that doesn’t segregate.”

Touch” is the apex of Random Access Memories, the total realization of the album’s ambitious reach. There’s nothing cool about it, and it takes guts to make music like this in 2013 on such a grand scale. It’s Daft Punk’s love letter to Phantom of the Paradise, and it’s schmaltzy and deeply weird. The lyrics are, well, daft (“Touch, sweet touch/ You’ve given me too much to feel”), but the lyrics are beside the point; Williams’ graceful vocal delivery is awe-inspiring. It’s simultaneously melancholy and uplifting; the moment where Williams’ voice trails off and “Get Lucky” begins is a great moment in pop music.


Meanwhile, Peaches' musical, Peaches Does Herself, which was inspired by Phantom Of The Paradise and others, opened in Toronto earlier this month. In an interview with Now Toronto's Norman Wilner, Peaches elaborated on the film's influences:

“The HAU theatre in Berlin asked me to do a production,” Peaches recalls. “And the first thing I said to them was, ‘I’d like to do Jesus Christ Superstar as a one-woman show.’ And they were like, ‘Done. What else? We want a bigger production, we’re gonna get government money,’ blah blah blah. And so I thought of all these ideas – burlesque, Weimar – and then I thought, ‘You know what? I am all that, right now! So I’m just gonna take 20 of my own songs and make a narrative.’”

The one thing she didn’t want to do with the show that became Peaches Does Herself was create a jukebox musical. Peaches hates jukebox musicals.

“They never have anything to do with the band they’re about,” she says, and “also, the asinine dialogue – that’s horrible, I don’t relate.” She gestures to the rest of her crew surrounding her in the diner booth. “That’s the reason why people like us don’t like [those] musicals – it’s never the original artist.

“That’s why I loved Tommy so much as a child,” she says, talking about the Ken Russell movie of the Who’s rock opera. “They’re all in it, and there’s no talking. The entire Acid Queen scene is, like, ingrained in my brain for life. And I also saw Phantom Of The Paradise – the music isn’t actually so great in that, but Brian de Palma did an insane, amazing job. And then Rocky Horror, which has amazing music, amazing production, [an] amazing theme – that’s my holy trilogy, right there.”

But there’s more going on in Peaches Does Herself, thanks to a lifetime of pop culture rattling around in its creator’s brain.

“My mother was really interested in the Busby Berkeley movies and Singin’ In The Rain,” she says, “and all that stuff. I got to pay homage to all those things that I loved, all those other musicals. And we decided to film it.”

Posted by Geoff at 10:38 PM CDT
Updated: Wednesday, June 19, 2013 10:58 PM CDT
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Wednesday, May 15, 2013
About a year ago, Paul Williams revealed that he was then working on a top-secret project with Daft Punk. Now we have a new Daft Punk album, Random Access Memories, featuring several collaborators, including Paul Williams and Giorgio Moroder, which seems to be the top secret project Williams was talking about (the album officially releases May 21, but is currently streaming on iTunes).

Well, yesterday, quite a buzz was created from a small piece of news that appeared in a Pitchfork cover story on Daft Punk. The helmeted duo, made up of Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo, were interviewed by Ryan Dombal, who writes, "At one point during our interview, Bangalter let it slip that he and de Homem-Christo recently had a meeting with [Brian] De Palma to 'discuss some things,' though he declined to divulge any specifics."

Of course, this bit of news takes on a certain significance when combined with the knowledge that Daft Punk are huge fans of De Palma's Phantom Of The Paradise. Back in 2007, they told The Guardian's Alex Rayner that they saw De Palma's film together in the theater more than 20 times. They also noted that their own film, Electroma, and Phantom Of The Paradise both feature "a hero with a black leather outfit and a helmet."

The Playlist's Drew Taylor, Criterion Cast's Joshua Brunsting, and JoBlo's Niki Stephens all posted enthusuastic articles about the juicy tidbit, speculating whether they might be talking about a film project, a music video, or even having De Palma direct some sort of live show. "Maybe they discussed a love for llamas or something," wrote Stephens. Guess we'll just have to wait and see what, if anything, ever comes of it.

One of the songs Paul Williams collaborates on, "Touch", is the centerpiece of Random Access Memories. Regarding that track, here is the last part of Dombal's Pitchfork article:


But of all the moving parts that make up Random Access Memories, the most head-scratching section to put together was the album's eight-minute centerpiece, "Touch". The kaleidoscopic track stars 72-year-old Paul Williams, who wrote immense hits for the Carpenters, Barbra Streisand, and more in his 70s heyday, before descending into drug and alcohol abuse in the 80s, and then recovering in the 90s. Daft Punk were obsessed with Williams from an early age, largely due to his role in director Brian De Palma's schlocky 1974 pop opus Phantom of the Paradise, in which he plays a Faustian ghoul who trades his soul in order to become rock'n'roll's preeminent impresario. The movie is ridiculous, funny, entertaining, and endlessly referential-- just like Daft Punk...

...For inspiration, Bangalter gave Williams a book of stories about people who had died, came back to life, and remembered parts of past lives. And Williams' lyrics are about an awakening: "I remember touch," he croons, longingly. "As somebody who has been pronounced dead and came back, I could connect to this idea in the song," says Williams, who's now 23 years sober and the subject of the quietly triumphant recent documentary Still Alive. Meanwhile, the song warps and bends, floating through genres, epochs, and emotions with a sense of hallucinatory wonder, recalling nothing less than the Beatles' "A Day in the Life". "It's like the core of the record," says de Homem-Christo, "and the memories of the other tracks are revolving around it."

As Bangalter and de Homem-Christo talk about "Touch", there's still a sense of astonishment in their voices. "It was the most complicated thing we've ever done," says Bangalter. "And it became so exciting because it didn't feel like we took the easy route. With this record, we had the luxury to do things that so many people cannot do, but it doesn't mean that with luxury comes comfort." It's this high-stakes, high-wire mindset that keeps these guys in an enviable position within the collective imagination, no matter how long they take between magic tricks. Because if Daft Punk are still able to amaze themselves, there's still some hope for the rest of us.

Posted by Geoff at 1:27 AM CDT
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