Saturday, September 17, 2011

Jean-Luc Godard: Sympathy for the Devil, Part 2

I. In Jean-Luc Godard's Sympathy for the Devil (1968), the Rolling Stones bring the title song to fruition in the studio, intercut with various scenarios that capture the violence and chaos of Revolutionary Year One, 1968.  In one of the more chilling connections between recording the title song and outside events, Mick Jagger changes the lyric from (in one version):

I shouted out
Who killed Kennedy? 
It was always
You and me . . .


I shouted out
Who killed the Kennedys?
When after all
It was you and me . . .

Why the sudden change?  Because Bobby Kennedy was assassinated on June 6, 1968 -- exactly while the Stones were wrapping up "Sympathy for the Devil," which they had begun recording on
June 4. Eerie. Oh, and, by the way: Andy Warhol, who would design the cover for the Stones' Sticky Fingers (1971), was shot in New York City by Valerie Solanas -- author of The SCUM Manifesto* -- on June 3, 1968. Double eerie. 

In the recording sessions, Mick Jagger is clearly the main driver (the lyrics are his, inspired by French literature and the tumultuous history of humanity), with Keith Richards as the primary musical guru. Charlie Watts, Bill Wyman and others provide backup, while, sadly, Brian Jones -- who'd earlier inspired the Stones to expand their sound by including more "exotic" global instrumentation, among other things -- seems to be lost in his own mind, strumming away at an unplugged guitar in his own music box, occasionally gesturing for another cigarette. Like Amy Winehouse in 2011, Jones would be dead at 27 years old, thirteen months after the "Sympathy for the  Devil" recording sessions filmed by Godard and his crew.

Other things to note: the church organ experimentation and slower versions of the song, Keith Richards on bass guitar as well as on, by way of overdub, electric guitar, and Mick, having soaked up Americanisms as well as French literature, singing:

Pleased to meet y'all --
Hope you guess my name!

II. Finally, Godard spotlights the divergent arcs of two movements: Black Power and feminism. Early in the film, we see Black Power militants -- all men -- in an auto junkyard, symbolically executing white women dressed all in white (it's a movie, folks). Later, we see "Eve" interviewed, after having tried to reach Black Power men by phone -- they had not picked up. Later still, we see two black women conducting an interview in the junkyard, perhaps an attempt to bridge the two movements, or to show they remain mutually separated. Hard to tell. As we now know, Black Power was violently confronted by the powers that be, and the women's movement, and feminism, would inspire some changes to the status quo in the 1970s; the whole idea of gender issues would quickly expand to include pushes to reform public policy and cultural attitudes regarding sexual orientation, gay rights and related matters, right through the time of this posting.

*Opening lines:  Life in this society being, at best, an utter bore and no aspect of society being at all relevant to women, there remains to civic-minded, responsible, thrill-seeking females only to overthrow the government, eliminate the money system, institute complete automation and destroy the male sex.

Today's Rune: Signals.              

1 comment:

Charles Gramlich said...

Thrill seeking females eh? Sounds like a biker film. I've only heard the revised lyrics about the Kennedys. I didn't know there was an earlier version.