TANGERINESFinalUSPosterA subtle film about brotherhood and tearing down the idea of “the enemy,” Tangerines (Mandariinid) is a beautifully shot meditation on what war means to soldiers on opposite sides when they are forced to take shelter together after being injured in battle. Even though it arrives in theaters rather late after its Oscar nomination for Best Foreign film, the cooled buzz about this film from Estonia should not deter those looking for quality cinema. As the hype wanes, what you are left with is a fantastic movie that should stand on its own as a quality work of deft storytelling resonant with humanistic concerns.

The film opens with a title card providing context to this war that one character calls “The Citrus War.” Events in the film take place in Georgia in 1992, not long after the fall of Soviet Russia. Many newly freed states saw conflict during this time. In this case, Estonian immigrants were forced out of Georgia during the ensuing conflicts between Georgians and Abkhazian separatists. Lembit Ulfsak plays Ivo, a carpenter from Estonia who has refused to leave his property in the lush Georgian countryside. He builds crates for his neighbor, tangerine farmer and fellow Estonian Margus (Elmo Nüganen). They are caught up in the timely harvest of the fruit with no one to help, as most Estonians have fled at this point in the conflict.

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When a skirmish suddenly breaks out on their front yards, Ivo takes in two wounded soldiers from opposite sides. Ahmed (Giorgi Nakashidze), a mercenary for the separatists, vows to kill the Georgian soldier Niko (Misha Meskhi), as soon as both are well enough to step outside Ivo’s house — Ahmed does not want to dishonor their host by killing his enemy under Ivo’s roof. This allows the men to get to know one another, and despite conversations often turning to the rhetorical righteousness for either side, a humanizing effect occurs. Though Niko and Ahmed seem at odds over everything, they are also like two brothers that have gotten on one another’s nerves.

Writer/director Zaza Urushadze takes his time to allow the tension to turn while the men are inhibited from fighting, patiently deflating their tiresome conversation to levels of absurd, ill-informed rhetoric. Early on, we know the primary concern of the plot lies with the harvest of the crop and not the war. In a sly redefinition of military, Ivo and Margus have been promised help by other soldiers to pick the crop. This speaks to the importance of the land as more than territory but a space for life-sustaining nourishment. There are also many affectionate wide shots of the country’s lush landscape beautifully lensed by Rein Kotov. Against many of these images is the melancholic instrumental music by Niaz Diasamidze, a Georgian musician who specializes in the panduri and pulls incredibly somber melodies out of the bowed instrument.

Like the land and fruit, music also matters above the fight in Tangerines. After he’s well enough to sit at the table, Niko spends much of his time repairing a cassette tape that was damaged in the skirmish. The mystery of the music on it will not be revealed until the film’s finale. In one scene where Niko is working on the tape, Ivo has tuned his radio in on a station featuring a frantically plucked zither. Niko asks Ivo to change the music because it’s “driving him crazy.” As Ivo gets up, Ahmed says “but I’m listening to it.” And Ivo sits down.

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The relevance of music above the war is also wittily manifested by what isn’t translated from the radio. In this “war movie,” news of the war doesn’t matter as much as music. When Ivo and Ahmed turn on the radio, in two separate scenes, and tune it in to a news report, the subtitle only reads “War news on the radio.” Whether it was a creative decision by the director or not, it still serves to diminish the relevance of the war on this story. The specifics of what the radio announcer says about the war doesn’t matter as much as the music, be it the diegetic music that highlights the differences of the enemies or the extra-diegetic score by Diasamidze for setting the film’s somber mood.

But this is a violent setting, and indeed these men will be tested when war inevitably returns to their doorstep for a shocking finale that delivers the film’s message via a visceral confrontation. Urushadze never hints at his capability in staging the violent confrontation that closes this story of temporary peace during wartime. That he can add an impact to it via a humanizing character study speaks to the film’s use of violence in important narrative ways above exploitative entertainment value, but most of all, it offers a heart-breaking portrait of the dehumanizing randomness of war.

Hans Morgenstern

Tangerines runs 87 minutes, is in Estonian, Russian and Georgian with English subtitles and is not rated (expect wartime violence and cussing). It opened last Friday in our Miami area at the Tower Theater where it plays through Sunday and in nearby Broward County at the Cinema Paradiso – Hollywood where it plays through Thursday. For theaters in other parts of the U.S., visit this link. All images are courtesy of Samuel Goldwyn Films, who also shared an on-line screener for the purpose of this review.

(Copyright 2015 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)

MM-Main-PosterMad Max: Fury Road is a thrilling ride set in a post-apocalyptic world where the main ruler has centralized all resources. The new world is a top-down patriarchy where water, plants and even women and men are resources controlled and owned by a ruthless authoritarian version of Methuselah called Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne), who has also propelled himself by conveying a myth of eternal existence to his followers. Indeed, the regime at the Citadel is a strange combination of religious fanaticism, top-down control, private ownership of natural resources, and a cult-like militarized core of supporters who are mostly male.

The population at the Citadel also embody extremes; Immortan Joe’s army and the main inhabitants of the Citadel are pale white mutant warriors who need blood transfusions to function and exist as devout cannon fodder for their ruler/father figure. They run the Citadel through violence and manage a host of slaves who seem to have been plucked from other territories. Among these characters, women seem relegated (surprise, surprise) either as nursing machines or as “breeders,” a group of beautiful young women, who function as Immortan Joe’s wives. Among the inhabitants of the Citadel, Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) stands out; a fighter and leader in her own right, she has a mechanical arm and is entrusted by Immortan to collect fuel for the city though she longs to return to her mythical homeland.

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The main action of Mad Max: Fury Road is set in motion when Furiosa escapes and takes the five wives with her only to be soon found out by Immortan Joe. A chase ensues, involving the army from the Citadel that includes a host of vehicles souped up with skulls, spikes, chrome and real flames. The decadence of despot, Joe is acutely visible when one of the trucks in the caravan is solely dedicated to a group of drummers led by a punk/goth guitar player dressed in a skin-tight red outfit who rides at the front with a barrage of speakers at his back. The guns and violence launched at Furiosa are straight out of a nightmare world. Yet her steady resolution to find redemption and her hometown are enough to keep her going.

Furiosa also happens to have taken Joe’s wives with her, including a pregnant Splendid Angharad (Rosie Huntington-Whiteley), Capable (Riley Keough), The Dag (Abbey Lee), Toast the Knowing (Zoë Kravitz) and Cheedo the Fragile (Courtney Eaton). Max (Tom Hardy) ends up tied to the fate of the female group as he seeks to escape the Citadel where he has been turned into a highly coveted Type O negative human blood bag. He has even been named “Blood Bag” by Nux (Nicholas Hoult) a warrior from the Citadel who has strapped him to the front of his car as a human hood ornament, so he might join the pursuit in the middle of his transfusion. At first interested only in his own survival, Max, who enters the story struggling with his own existential demons as seen in violent flashbacks, comes to find that Furiosa’s journey is one he can subscribe to.

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The violence around and directed towards the six women is palpable, and although early in the film, their frailty seems to convince the audience that this chase will be over soon, their refusal to take part in the system that never worked for them gives them strength. These are complex female characters — not a small feat for an action film. For example, Splendid Angharad jumps out of the moving freight car as Immortan and his army close-in on them, in a display that surprises Max but that Furiosa seems to accept, as if she knew all along it was there.

The entire ride shows different forms of violence, from the visceral, directly aimed at the women as physical harm, to psychological control. The next point might be considered a spoiler, but it bares mentioning to speak to the intelligent quality of the film’s story. The caravan ends up meeting Furiosa’s ancestors, a group of women who used to thrive before Immortan’s rule. They provide an alternative view of the world for the women and in doing so set in motion the second half of the film, just as filled with action, only this time the group of women have turned around, facing their predators head-on. Via yet another profound plot-twist (and anyone telling you this film is just an extended chase and has no plot is not paying attention), the film makes a strong point that I have only heard from feminists before, the alternative view that fraternity and equality are far superior to patriarchy. In other words, feminism does not equate to man-hating, but it’s an alternative that can only be understood as a partnership. All this in the midst of fire, action sequences, and total vehicular mayhem.

Mad Max: Fury Road is the most recent iteration of the franchise from director George Miller, who previously directed Mad Max (1979), The Road Warrior (1981) and Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome (1985). The latest iteration shows his ease with the post-apocalyptic landscape and a deep understanding of presenting the high stakes in this world juxtaposed with high-paced entertainment. Although Miller has waited a long time to retake the franchise, one could say that he has perfected some of the elements of the post-apocalyptic world. The barren desert landscapes, the kinetically edited fast-moving shots that rely more on stunt work instead of digital effects — many presented in amazing widescreen, and his depiction of courage among the “wives” who are permanently in danger, are some of the many elements that will keep you from blinking for the two hours this movie runs.

Ana Morgenstern

Mad Max: Fury Road runs 120 minutes and is Rated R (it’s violent, for the most part). It opens everywhere in theaters on May 15. For theaters near you, enter your zip code here. For worldwide release dates click here. Warner Bros. invited us to a preview screening Tuesday night for the purpose of this review. All images are courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures.

(Copyright 2015 by Ana Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)

cg_theatrical_ellyYou probably have not seen a mystery movie quite like About Elly. Much more than a whodunit, it’s an experience that involves the audience in a way few will expect. Screenwriter/director Asghar Farhadi plays with tone and perspective in a very subtle way. This is the movie that put the Iranian filmmaker on the map while travelling the international film festival circuit in 2009. A few years later, Farhadi went on to win the Oscar for Best Foreign language film in 2012 for A Separation. Farhadi was even nominated that year outside the ghetto of foreign language cinema for screenwriting, an accomplishment in itself for a film in Persian.

His talents for writing are on strong display in About Elly, which only now is getting proper distribution in U.S. movie theaters. The film features a large ensemble cast who often rapidly talk over each other, yet distinct characters quickly stand out. The film never grows tiresome, even though the first third feels lighthearted before things suddenly shift into darker territory. The group includes three married couples, some with children, and a divorced man and a single woman. All have a long history together except for the single woman, the titular Elly (Taraneh Alidoosti). Sepideh (Golshifteh Farahani) is trying to play matchmaker between Elly — her child’s kindergarten teacher — and recently divorced Ahmad (Shahab Hosseini), so she has invited her to tag along on a weekend trip by the Caspian Sea.

The group has a long-standing relationship from their college days. Their casual teasing reveals a close kinship. Elly, however, is an outsider. 7There’s an uncomfortable air about her, and Sepideh works overtime to help her fit in, including a little deception about how long the group had planned to stay out there. What’s wrong with a little lie if it’s well-intended? It turns out a lot, and it’s the tangled web of lies that arise that will drive the story through one compelling twist in plotting after another.

Farhadi uses a light but unforgettable touch to reveal the film’s central drama after Elly disappears. He sets up the mystery of Elly’s disappearance by focusing his camera on her during an oddly ominous kite-flying scene. The idea of such an innocent act, a scene where Elly seems content and in the moment6, unconcerned of how to get out of this vacation or why she was brought here could portend something as ominous as her disappearance, which happens off screen, has incredible resonance. A labyrinthine set of lies, a vicious blame game and the inherent mystery of the stranger feed into an epic drama driven by revelations that only put that cast deeper in a grave of regrets they seem to be digging for themselves.

The film never heightens tension through snappy editing or even extra-diegetic music (the film features no score whatsoever). Farhadi also takes an incredibly natural approach. Conversations and dynamic reactions by characters feel straight out of a Robert Altman movie. The film also features strong performances throughout. Several actors perform through sudden pain, like a splinter in the hand and a twisted ankle, which heightens their urgency in raw, genuine ways. One can’t tell if these moments are staged or are spontaneous moments caught on camera. It’s yet another level of truth and lie to consider in a complex story of telling lies. About Elly ultimately makes you think about the lies people tell and their consequences. It’s an inspired mystery that unfolds in plain sight without any dramatic irony.

Hans Morgenstern

About Elly runs 119 minutes, is in Persian and German with English subtitles and is not rated (expect a few swear words and some stressful, suspenseful moments). It opened this past Friday at the Coral Gables Art Cinema. For other screening dates as the film rolls out across the U.S., visit this link. The Gables Art Cinema provided an on-line screener for the purpose of this review. All images in this review are courtesy of Cinema Guild.

(Copyright 2015 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)

psychocandyThe Jesus and Mary Chain have once again become quite active. Last year, they debuted their first-ever full live performance of Psychocandy, the group’s 1985 debut album. Now, as the Scottish noise pop pioneers arrive on the 30th anniversary of the album’s release, they are headed to the U.S. Hardcore fans should be delighted that the sometimes-at-odds siblings, Jim and William Reid, have made amends. The band has been on-again and off-again for many years. Besides the tour, they also have high hopes that this year might see the production of a new album.

That The Jesus and Mary Chain are channeling their roots with these live shows bodes well for fans of the traditional JAMC. However, this writer has long enjoyed their experimental leaps. As much as I like to lose myself in it, droning din can only hold my attention for so long. In 1994 the group made an incredible shift in their sound, highlighting melodies untreated by effects, fuzz and reverb and featuring the clearest vocals ever on a JAMC record. Stoned and Dethroned was a compelling album not just because of its surprising new sounds but also how it highlights what great songwriters the JAMC are.

It became a huge hit for the band, much to the chagrin of some of the more traditional JAMC fans. I had a sneak listen in the form of a promo CD from American Recordings, and below you will find a facsimile of the review I first wrote for a music ‘zine called “Jam Entertainment News,” which was later published by my college paper, “The Beacon,” from Florida International University (click to enlarge and read):

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I’ll leave you with a video pick from the album featuring Mazzy Star’s Hope Sandoval in what is probably the album’s perkiest track:

The Jesus and Mary Chain kick off their North American tour in Canada today (May 1) and continue into the USA until the middle of the month. Tour dates are as follows:

May 1 – Phoenix Concert Theatre, Toronto, ON
May 3 – St. Andrew’s Hall, Detroit, MI
May 5 – Riviera Theatre, Chicago, IL
May 7 – The Bomb Factory, Deep Ellum, TX
May 9 – Austin Psych Fest Presents Levitation, Austin, TX
May 11 – Ogden Theatre, Denver, CO
May 13 – Vogue Theatre, Vancouver, BC
May 14 – Showbox at the Market, Seattle, WA
May 16 – Warfield Theatre, San Francisco, CA

Hans Morgenstern

(Copyright 2015 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)

Mekons posterI had a bit of a meta experience at the screening of Revenge of the Mekons the other night. Early in the film, the band jokes about the lack of attendance at their shows, and someone explains that you know you are at a Mekons show because it’s just you and some friends. At Wednesday night’s O Cinema Miami screening of this delicious documentary, there were only three other people besides my wife and I, and as it turns out, two of them were longtime friends I know from the local music scene. Afterward we all learned that we heard about this screening from the same mutual friend’s Facebook posting about the screening, two days earlier. One of my friends, a fellow who basically defined the Miami noise-punk scene who goes by the name Rat Bastard, said, “Even if you gave a month’s notice about this screening, I bet you the same fuckin’ people would have showed because nobody gives a fuck about the Mekons.”

Well, their loss. We sure enjoyed the movie. Revenge of the Mekons is much more than a band profile. It’s the history of the UK punk rock scene told from an intimate perspective. It wraps social milieu, the art scene, the local music scene of Leeds, England and the lameness of the music industry around these unforgettable creative personalities. Up until seeing this film, this writer knew of the Mekons on the periphery, in the shadows of much more famous and accomplished bands. But Joe Angio’s film revealed a mythic quality of this band, a sort of well-kept secret of the U.K. punk scene of the late ’70s, and I feel enriched for it.

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Unlike many of their counterparts in that scene, the Mekons are still performing together and even still record new music. Despite one four-year break, they have consistently released new albums over the years, some of them on major labels. The film reveals there have never been any laurels to rest on, as notoriety has always eluded the group, despite respect from critics of both the art and music world. Still, there is humility to spare among the band members, many of whom have “real jobs” to pay the bills. Still, you feel like these people have a sense of magic around them. There’s a genuine quality to why they create music, despite it often having a ramshackle, amateurish quality. Yet there is a traceable evolution over the years in ways no one could ever imagine punk rock to evolve (there was a period where Hank Williams had a huge influence).

Though it feels like the film jumps around rather haphazardly, there’s a well-balanced offering of vintage footage, talking head interviews featuring members of the group and fans like music critic Greil Marcus and musician Will Oldham. There are also brief musical performances (no entire songs) meant to illuminate the band’s lyrics and the band members’ unbridled energy and humor (they still drink on stage, apparently). This approach also perfectly represents the Mekons’Mekons_-_Revenge_of_the_Mekons_PR_pic_by_Derrick_Santini_-_via_BB_Gun_Press___Music_Box_Films path to “success.” I use the word in quotes because even the band laugh about the idea of success. As singer Sally Timms notes during a group radio interview, they only measure success with their longevity. Names like Gang of Four and even U2 are dropped with a sort of bitter-sweet irony. However, even Hugo Burnham of Gang of Four appears to sing the group’s praises (Bono probably forgot about them, even though U2 apparently played warm-up act for a show the Mekons once headlined, a memory Mekons’ singer/guitarist/drummer Jon Langford recalls with great judgement of Bono’s stage presence and a bit of sly irony).

This all culminates in a wonderful portrait of what genuine, unbridled creative process is like for some incredible musicians, which also includes the amazing talents of Lu Edmonds (Live review: PiL at Grand Central, Miami, Oct. 5, 2012), credited as the band’s only true musician by the other members of the group. You sense that these artists are content with their place in the annals of rock ‘n’ roll history because they are still making rock ‘n’ roll history. Few bands have been able to reinvent themselves and get away with it over such a long career. There is a sense that there is no prior album to measure success against. But even sweeter, there’s an infectious, purist spirit that these are people who have all found their bliss. Revenge of the Mekons is a marvelous portrait of humanity benefiting from the spirit of creativity.

Hans Morgenstern

Revenge of the Mekons runs 95 minutes and is not rated (I can’t say there’s anything offense about it because this is as genuine a portrait of musicians you will ever). It played for one night only in Miami, but others across the U.S. will have a chance to see it, as it tours the nation. Screening dates can be found here (that’s a hot link, just scroll down a bit). You can also request this film by visiting this link. The film’s PR rep invited me to the one-night only screening for the purpose of this review.

(Copyright 2015 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)

My_Life_Directed_POSTER_FINAL_A_AIM.inddIn the new behind-the-scenes documentary about Only God ForgivesMy Life Directed by Nicolas Winding Refn, we meet more than a writer/director caught up in his craft. We also meet a father and husband sharing his self-doubt with his truest confidant: his wife, Liv Corfixen. Speaking via Skype with her husband, Nicolas Winding Refn, at her side, she says, “All that fear and doubt, of course, it’s only me who sees that. That’s why I thought I could make it a very personal film … as Nicolas said, he can’t show that side to everyone else because he has to be on top of the world. That’s why I thought it could be a good idea if I made it because it gets more intimate and personal, and that side you don’t get to see.”

“For Liv it’s like, here we go again,” Refn adds.

The couple have been married 20 years and have two daughters, ages 4 and 10. Corfixen is an actress in their native Denmark, and she appeared in small roles in Refn’s early films. But the documentary she has produced is their greatest collaboration yet. Even though, she admits, whenever she sees him caught up in movie productions, she feels left out of the marriage. “All the time. All the time,” affirms Refn.

“Early on, it was easier for me, I guess,” she says, “but as the years go by, I sort of find it harder in a way, or maybe it’s because we started to join him on those trips. Whereas, before, I sort of stayed behind in Denmark with the children, and that was too hard on our marriage, and then we decided to come along every time, like we did in Bangkok, cause then we see him more, but sometimes you get the feeling that you are left out because he’s constantly in a meeting all weekend … but you know it’s only for a few months, so you kinda live with it. It’s not like I’m complaining. It’s just sometimes I feel, oh, we got to get those eight weeks over with, so we can have normal life again.”

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Right now the couple and their children are in Los Angeles where Refn is in the middle of shooting his next movie, The Neon Demon. In My Life Directed By Nicolas Winding Refn, Corfixen captured him anxiously running his fingers through his hair, as he declared about his movie, “I don’t know what it’s about.” It would also seem a little futile to ask him what Neon Demon is about, at this point. When asked about his new film, he said he “kinda” knows what it’s about, but that could change. “I shoot in chronological order,” he explains, “so everything’s a constant evolution.”

Asked now what he thinks Only God Forgives is about, Refn answers:  “I think it’s about many things, but of course there’s a very strong undercurrent of an incestuous relationship between a mother and her son set in the world of crime with a backdrop that is very, very alien because being a foreigner in Thailand is essentially like going to the moon, so there’s a very strong science-fiction-esque element to it, and there’s very much a mixture of Asian spirituality where the acceptance of the supernatural world is as normal as eating, which is very alien to Westerners, so therefore it becomes very much like a metaphor for a man’s journey to essentially be — his impotence is because of his amputation, because of his violent nature, because of his mother that everything leads back to all evil.”

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After he finished Only God Forgives, Refn showed a fascination with the film’s many negative reviews. “I guess there’s almost a kind of sadomasochistic joy in it because, deep down, I know they’re wrong,” he admits.

“But it’s also fun,” adds his wife, who listens to him read a negative review in her documentary.

“It’s kind of enjoying the hatred that essentially has no effect. There’s a kind of Machiavellian joy in it,” adds Refn.

Full disclosure. I was among those who wrote a negative review of Only God Forgives. Although, I like to keep “hatred” out of my judgement: Film Review: ‘Only God Forgives’ is a problematic, distancing art film.

One thing we have in common is an affection for Chilean cult director . He appears in My Life Directed By Nicolas Winding Refn during two revealing tarot readings for both Refn and Corfixen. “Alejandro is all truth,” notes Refn before he explains how important the tarot readings are to him. “I’ve been using him a lot. I’ve also been using him in this movie, regularly. It’s always good, whenever in doubt, call the Jodorowsky hotline. It’s very much part of the game. Obstacles inspire creativity.”

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You can read much more of my conversation with this creative couple, including a fun little argument between them about the possibility that Corfixen may not be a huge fan of his work either, jump through the logo for the Miami New Times Arts section below to read this part of our conversation:

NT Arts

Hans Morgenstern

My Life Directed by Nicolas Winding Refn runs 58 minutes, is in Danish and English with English subtitles and is rated PG-13 (there is adult language). It opens exclusively this Friday, May 1, at the Miami Beach Cinematheque at 7 p.m. On the following Saturday, May 2, at 7 p.m., the cinematheque will also host a Skype Q&A with Refn and Corfixen.

(Copyright 2015 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)

Garson front cover by Terry O'Neill - Getty ImagesEven though it totaled over 15,000 words and was spread out across five parts, one of the most popular posts on this blog remains an archival piece on pianist Mike Garson (From the Archives: Mike Garson on working with David Bowie – Part 1 of 5). Most recently, the two-hour plus interview provided at least a tiny bit of backing material for a book: Bowie’s Piano Man: The Life of Mike Garson. I was honored the author, Clifford Slapper, found my work interesting enough to reference in his book, which stands as the first biography of the one musician who has spent more time collaborating with David Bowie, than any other one.

The UK-based Slapper — who is also a pianist — kept me posted about the book up to its publication. Below is a Q&A we recently conducted via email that reveals his noble inspiration behind it (the art and craft trumps the gossip) and also shows his light approach to prose, making the book not only an informative read but a breezy one at that.

Hans Morgenstern: What inspired you to write the book … besides Mike being such an important Bowie collaborator?

Clifford Slapper: When I was 7 I started going to piano lessons, as my parents had noticed that my miniature piano was my favourite toy. They found a local teacher called Miss Beryl Silley — quite a name, especially since she was teaching a young Slapper! My grandmother — who used to take me to the weekly lessons — bought me a cassette tape of Elton John’s Honky Chateau album (so named as it was recorded at Le Chateau D’Hérouville, where Bowie would subsequently record Pin Ups), which has great piano parts and which I love to this day. My real epiphany, however, was when I went out and bought a record myself for the first time, at age 10: David Bowie’s 1973 album Aladdin Sane, on vinyl. It completely blew my young mind! I have been in love ever since with the music of both Bowie and Garson!

Many years later, I got the chance to work, briefly, with David Bowie, and a couple of years after that to meet, and become Clifford Slapper and David Bowie by Ray Burmistongood friends with Mike, and then to work closely with him in the extensive interviews and research involved in writing his biography. Within a few hours of meeting, I asked if there were any biographies published of him, and he replied that there were not, but that as a fellow pianist with a similar outlook, I might be the ideal person to write one, and here we are five years later with the book finally being published.

How long were you working on it?

About five years. In addition to hundreds of hours of discussion with Mike, I also interviewed some forty people who have worked with him or otherwise know him well.

What was the most surprising thing you learned about Mike while doing it?

On first hearing that he had once planned to become a rabbi, I was initially surprised. In time, however, this was less surprising as he approaches his life and work in a way which is always studied, disciplined and yet inspired, and he naturally adopts the role of mentor, educator, and guide for many of those around him.

What was the most challenging part of writing Mike’s story?

It was difficult to decide how best to approach telling that part of his story in which he was involved with Scientology for some time, many years ago. In the end, I think we found the right way and the right balance. He has had an honest and Author Photo by Ray Burmistonunstinting spiritual quest throughout his life, and that was simply one period alongside many others in that regard. I also did not want to dwell on any salacious details which might pertain to the early tours with Bowie or others. This is a book about creativity and finding artistic and developmental meaning in life. It does not engage in the cheap gossip or petty mundane details which can all be found in profusion elsewhere.

What do you hope readers will take away from the book?

As I say at the end of the book, “Our shared hope is that people may be inspired … to overcome any obstacles in their quest for authentic expression and creativity … and that this opens up a wider exploration of how music is created and what it can do.” Mike hopes that the story of his life might bring pleasure and insight to readers but above all wants to encourage people to be active in taking “a few things from this book that ring true for them, and use that in their lives to bring joy to themselves and others”.

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The book is published in the U.K. You can purchase it in the U.K. and Europe here (that’s a hot link) or direct from the publisher here (another hot link — they ship worldwide). But there is also a U.S. entry on Amazon.com for those in the States. You’ll be supporting Independent Ethos by jumping through this link and purchasing it:

Bowie's Piano Man: The Life of Mike Garson

Bowie's Piano Man: The Life of Mike Garson

Buy from Amazon

Thanks to Clifford for taking some time to answer my inquiries and including me in his terrific book!

Hans Morgenstern

Book cover photo by Terry O’Neill/Getty Images. Photos of author Clifford Slapper are copyright owned by Ray Burmiston. From top to bottom: 1. Clifford Slapper on the set of Ricky Gervais’ TV show ‘Derek’ photo by Ray Burmiston; Clifford Slapper with David Bowie, photo by Ray Burmiston. 

(Copyright 2015 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)
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