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Shredding the Boards

Wednesday 22 May 2013, 09:39

Roddy Hart Roddy Hart Presenter

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Is there some sort of undeniable creative thread that links the acting profession to the music profession?  Both worlds seem littered with individuals equally as willing to try their hand at either job, often with hugely variable and unpredictable results.  Zooey Deschanel is a talented actress – doe-eyed indie darling of movies like 500 Days Of Summer and accomplished comedy foil to Will Ferrell in Christmas classic Elf – but she is also one half of rising pop duo She and Him alongside M Ward, already on their 3rd album and growing in popular and critical stature every day (we’ve been playing the infectious new single “Never Wanted Your Love” quite a bit on the show).  Tom Waits is a revered songwriter, but it was perhaps inevitable that the showmanship and theatrical verve so evident in his work would find its way onto screen in some form (he has always favoured the more peculiar of roles, one particularly memorable character his bartender in Francis Ford Coppola’s “Rumble Fish”).

I have been thinking about this because last week I headed to the Royal Concert Hall in Glasgow to see a long time favourite of mine, Loudon Wainwright III.  I’ve attended a number of his gigs over the years, and converted a fair few non-believers in the process.  There is always much to recommend, even for the uninitiated, in his highly personal and often hysterically funny songs.  In beauties like White Winos, April Fools Day Morn, Your Mother And I, One Man Guy and so many more, his life is laid bare.  But beyond the songs, there is the physical side to his performance – all nervous ticks, sudden lunges and bizarre facial contortions.  It has to be seen to be believed, and there is little surprise that he has also wandered into movies (beginning in 1974’s M*A*S*H as the ”Singing Surgeon” and continuing as recently as hit films Big Fish and Knocked Up).  But this particular show in Glasgow somewhat strangely welded the two talents together.  So, in between the usual perfectly crafted three-and-a-half-chord gems that seem to flow endlessly from his pen, we were also treated to serious monologues written by his father (Loudon Snowden Wainwright, Jr, a writer for America’s Life magazine with whom his son had a famously difficult relationship), delivered from an antique armchair on the stage.  It was unexpected and, although a little too close to a sort of public therapy at times, it mostly worked.  It may not have been quite what the audience paid to see, but it certainly added an extra dimension that was admirable.

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There is of course a natural relationship between acting and music – the need to express creative urges well suited to both vocations – so it is perhaps only to be expected that the more arty type may flit quite frequently between the two.  But it doesn’t always work. Despite valiant efforts, the film career of David Bowie never quite squared with his musical persona(s).  And Scarlett Johansson’s album of Tom Waits covers just seemed odd (though top marks for giving it a go, Scarlett – call me anytime you want a full review).  The Beatles of course made some fun movies as the Beatles, but John Lennon didn’t quite make the grade as a serious actor in Richard Lester’s “How I Won The War”.  And maybe we should be thankful, because it allowed him to concentrate on writing some of the best songs popular music has ever known. He channeled any creative frustrations he had from his failure as an actor into his writing, and by no coincidence he happens to be our Undercover Writer on the show this week.

Also on the show we’ll hear a Record Of Note from Beth Orton’s beau Sam Amidon, and go Live On Arrival with Bob Dylan’s 30th Anniversary Concert Celebration (his acting wasn’t the best either, but thankfully he stuck at the music).  So join us this Thursday at 10.05pm on BBC Radio Scotland as we raise the curtain on an evening of superlative entertainment.

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