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Are you glad that's over?
October 14, 2013 9:23 AM   Subscribe

In October 1974 BBC host Russell Harty had a teenage musician named Brett Smiley on his show to perform his song 'Space Ace' and then interview him and his manager Andrew Loog Oldham. It was a pretty intense 4 minutes. The public reaction to both him and his music was similarly negative, and his record, Breathlessly Brett, was never released. It was recently re-issued, and Smiley is being recognized as a lost icon of the glam movement.

(via the latest episode of the great music geek podcast Audio Spackle, wherein comedian Dave Holmes breaks down his favorite songs to make people go: "Hey, who is this?" [Spotify Playlist])

If you're into poetic justice, witness Russell Harty being eviscerated by Bowie only a year later.
posted by Potomac Avenue (35 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite

 
I normally adhere to the "never read the comments" rule for Youtube, but "wow... I was in rehab with this guy" has a certain charm to it.
posted by thelonius at 9:42 AM on October 14, 2013 [12 favorites]


The best part of that interview video is the pan across the audience at the end...
posted by Snowflake at 9:45 AM on October 14, 2013 [4 favorites]


"Eviscerated" meaning "has a slightly guarded conversation with"?

The interview with Oldham and Smiley is kinda brutal, but mostly because Smiley is just so obviously unprepared for the limelight. The "is this kid really worth all this money?" set up is uncharitable and hostile, but it's also the kind of set up that, say, a young Bowie would have hit out of the park. Andrew Loog Oldham was probably among the more unfortunate possibilities as a mentor and guide for this youngster.
posted by yoink at 9:47 AM on October 14, 2013


I guess I just hear a lot more wind coming out of the sails when Bowie responds to questions like "Why are you coming back to England" with "To see YOU Russell, hmmm."
posted by Potomac Avenue at 9:50 AM on October 14, 2013


Much like Paul Williams, this guy looks like a discarded prototype for Milo Bloom.
posted by pxe2000 at 10:00 AM on October 14, 2013 [6 favorites]


Oh Lord that hurt to look at. Both the song, and the interview. That was a masterful show of cruelty without an unkind word spoken.
posted by Countess Elena at 10:07 AM on October 14, 2013 [2 favorites]


Great post, I'd never heard about this guy! But can the album be said to be in reissue if it was never issued to begin with?
posted by ardgedee at 10:24 AM on October 14, 2013


The album is on Spotify for anyone who's interested. The studio version of "Space Ace" is a bit better than the performance version in the clip, IMHO.
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 10:36 AM on October 14, 2013


Why hasn't Morrissey covered any of this dude's tracks?
posted by colie at 10:39 AM on October 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


1974. That was the year Bowie killed Ziggy Stardust as I recalled. I wonder if the likes of Mr. Smiley had anything to do with it. Music and image that would've been provocative (to the point of transgressive) in 1971, but three years later is merely derivative. And it doesn't really rock. So whatever. I'm not thinking the musical narrative of the past thirty-nine years needs much revision.

But I did enjoy Mr. Oldham's reference to "funeral packages" being big in America at the time ("Bob Dylan, General Motors tours"). He also gets a nice dig in at his former buddy (current junkie) Keith Richard.
posted by philip-random at 10:42 AM on October 14, 2013


Five tracks in, it's fine but kind of forgettable, when you consider this was the same year as Bowie's Diamond Dogs, T. Rex's Zinc Alloy, and Jobriath's Creatures of the Street. Glam was bringing the A game that year.
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 10:44 AM on October 14, 2013 [2 favorites]


Oh come on, this song is fantastic.
posted by mintcake! at 10:57 AM on October 14, 2013


Ooo, this cover of "I Want to Hold Your Hand" is awful.
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 10:58 AM on October 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


ahhhaahahah "please gimme your hand"
posted by mintcake! at 11:02 AM on October 14, 2013


It's like glam as played by the Ronco Stars of '75 Orchestra. I have to be honest, I'm kind of in love with this record right now.
posted by mintcake! at 11:05 AM on October 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


But I did enjoy Mr. Oldham's reference to "funeral packages" being big in America at the time ("Bob Dylan, General Motors tours"). He also gets a nice dig in at his former buddy (current junkie) Keith Richard.

The fantastically talentless Andrew Loog Oldham, whose sole skill was leeching off the artistic creativity of others (e.g. taking a "producer" credit for all the early Stones albums to which he contributed precisely nothing) and who had a pretty serious drug habit of his own was really in no place to sneer at anyone, let along Bob Dylan (a year away from recording Blood on the Tracks) or Keith Richards (two years after having made Exile on Main Street).
posted by yoink at 11:06 AM on October 14, 2013 [2 favorites]


The song is good; it's his vocal style that's off putting. I can't tell whether he's parodying glam or being earnest when he's singing.
posted by KingEdRa at 11:06 AM on October 14, 2013


Yeah, the "I Wanna Hold Your Hand" cover is really something. It's like a mashup of The Hardly Boys from Southpark and the Turtles.
posted by palmcorder_yajna at 11:08 AM on October 14, 2013


was really in no place to sneer at anyone, let along Bob Dylan (a year away from recording Blood on the Tracks) or Keith Richards (two years after having made Exile on Main Street).

bluntly, if there's anything to rock/roll as a disruptive, evolutionary force (which I believe there is, or certainly was), you're always in a position to be skeptical of the heavyweights, regardless of your own transgressions. The moment it becomes about due respect and honoring those who have achieved "greatness", it's just another mainstream opiate, more concerned with status quo maintenance than setting free the slaves.

I mean, did Johnny Rotten have a right to tear into Dylan, the Stones, wear an "I hate Pink Floyd" t-shirt? Who cares? The important thing is, he did.
posted by philip-random at 11:14 AM on October 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


... and speaking of Jobriath ...
posted by philip-random at 11:16 AM on October 14, 2013 [2 favorites]


Overall I'd say the album is a C-. We didn't lose anything particularly by it being shelved for ~40 years, but it's a shame he didn't get his chance.
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 11:18 AM on October 14, 2013


I mean, did Johnny Rotten have a right to tear into Dylan, the Stones, wear an "I hate Pink Floyd" t-shirt? Who cares? The important thing is, he did.

Johnny Rotten earned the right by doing something of his own that mattered a damn. Andrew Loog Oldham should have just shut up and been thankful the Stones didn't find a way to sue him for every penny he leeched off their success.
posted by yoink at 11:19 AM on October 14, 2013


How was this incident (or a pastiche thereof) not touched upon in Velvet Goldmine? How??
posted by Atom Eyes at 11:30 AM on October 14, 2013 [3 favorites]


yoink, I don't want to derail here but ... remove what you know about Oldham from the frame.

Was he not right about where rock/roll music was headed in 1974? What once had been truly revolutionary stuff was fast getting A. co-opted and neutralized by the powers-that-be, B. undermined by the self-indulgence of its greatest heroes.

And I say this as someone who loves Blood on the Tracks and Exile on Main St. But Blood on the Tracks, for all its artistic power, wasn't remotely as potent culturally as Highway 61, and Exile was the end (certainly the beginning of it) of the greatness that was the Rolling Stones.

Anybody had a right to be skeptical, and they should have been.

How was this incident (or a pastiche thereof) not touched upon in Velvet Goldmine? How??

it actually feels like a scene from it, so maybe it was
posted by philip-random at 11:32 AM on October 14, 2013


I normally adhere to the "never read the comments" rule for Youtube, but "wow... I was in rehab with this guy" has a certain charm to it.
I just bankrupted myself from getting a bunch of music name-checked in the BoingBoing comments. So never read the comments unless Brett Smiley is concerned, apparently.
posted by pxe2000 at 11:35 AM on October 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


Oh man. I'm going to have to show this to Ann Magnuson and ask her what she remembers. She's knocked it out of the park with Jobriath and Nomi, I hope she has a few things to say about this poor kid.
posted by mykescipark at 11:47 AM on October 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


I have the Brett Smiley record, but I don’t remember knowing that it never came out back in the day. Va-Va-Va-Voom is pretty great.

As a huge Glam Rock fan I find all the also-rans fascinating and there a lots of them out there in reissue, many of them pretty good. "Pretty good" may not have been enough to make them big stars at the time, but if you’re into it it works.

People were pretty critical of acts then, and the styles changed much faster than they do now. 6 months late meant no one cared, even if you were good. Originality was a big thing, as hard as it is to believe now. Aerosmith were trashed for years for being just a Stones ripoff.

I recommend the Hollywood Brats if you like the New York Dolls and the period where Glam turned to Punk.
posted by bongo_x at 12:24 PM on October 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm with Snowflake: the weirdest part of the whole thing was the final pan of the audience. The hell? I expected to see a bunch of kids and instead they all looked like elderly characters from a Monty Python script. I would have loved to have seen some reaction shot cutaways while the kid was singing.
posted by Max Udargo at 3:24 PM on October 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


I guess Jarvis Cocker has already seen this.
posted by billiebee at 3:54 PM on October 14, 2013


Between Harty and Bill Grundy, the UK of the 1970s seems like it had plenty of smug asshole TV hosts.

But to be fair... that performance was pretty excruciating. It made me think of Groovin' Gary. Glam rock done poorly is one of the most embarrassing things in the world. It's like watching a gawky teenager dress up in mommy's clothes. I did really like Va Va Va Voom, though. It gave me Club Makeup flashbacks.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 5:37 PM on October 14, 2013


Needs more cowbell.
posted by Schadenfreude at 6:14 PM on October 14, 2013


I think I lost it at "There comes a time when you want to do it with a knife" and by the time we got to "Are you aware--" "Aware? Sure! Sure!" in the interview, I decided I wasn't going to go searching.
posted by Spatch at 10:06 PM on October 14, 2013


Not to get all eponysterical, but if the guy's biography gets its title from a song off Aladdin Sane, it sort of mitigates against his being an "icon" in and of himself, lost or otherwise. At least with Jobriath, I'd actually seen one of his albums in the wild, as it were, several years after the fact, even though it was in the bargain bin and probably available only because so many unsold copies were around.
posted by Halloween Jack at 5:15 AM on October 15, 2013


So glad folks have mentioned Jobriath; he's the first thing I thought of. The Magnet Magazine link hints at the connection between the two would-be pop stars:

Brett’s story is by now fairly well-known...but a quick recap finds him in a similar cultural quagmire as Jobriath in regards to his contemporary reception.

Yeah, the "cultural quagmire" being that they were both obviously comfortable playing the queer. Smiley seems to have been mostly straight but he played the part perfectly and it's easy to see homophobia having a major role in the critical and audience reception: that pink suit, the jokes about Oldham's weight on his shoulders - "I don't think he's ever been on my shoulders" - the "unisexual" hype, lyrics about being the "Queen of Hearts"....just like with Jobriath, the hinting/winking becomes more overt and, in the early 70s, gets a much more hostile reaction than Bowie got.

It's a theory, anyway. Smiley was also 17 and being hyped like crazy which is sure to create skepticism among the Serious Adult crowd. But I did like this part from that link:

Cue: Russell Harty, a popular English talk show host who brazenly brown-nosed any passing talent-challenged pretender (David Essex, anyone?) who’d been bought into the top 50, chose this moment to demarcate the line between himself as self-appointed “cultural” arbiter and this fresh young voice and tried to verbally assassinate Brett on the first question after a stellar performance of the glorious “Space Ace”: “Are you glad that’s over?” Russell’s career would live on to feed unthreatening pabulum to blue-haired, bridge-club attendees for years and to droolingly, sycophantically suck up to the very similar but more chart-friendly likes of Bowie. But even though Brett defended himself and deflected Russell’s clueless barbs with quick wit, deft ripostes and immense charm that so reminded me of my friend and raconteur non pareil Lance Loud, and by all accounts Brett won the battle, but he sadly lost the war. The mighty had spoken, and his album was never released. The great “T.V. Eye” had blinked and turned askance, and Brett was officially “over.”

The interview that accompanies that Longhouse Poetry link is really informative about what went wrong with the drugs and the sex and the distribution and such, and it's fun to nose around the book The Prettiest Star: Whatever Happened to Brett Smiley, linked from the BoingBoing page.
posted by mediareport at 9:06 AM on October 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


Wow, that book link is... how do I put this? I've read some books and other things written by over-the-top fans, but:
Long before Brett Smiley, I had already sensed that fabulous beings existed beyond our realm of everyday pain and mundanity. Beautiful and mysterious, they came from other spheres, and I decided to make a rope ladder and find my way there.
I feel like Christopher Guest has decided to do a mockumentary version of Velvet Goldmine and that this is one of the tie-ins for it.
posted by Halloween Jack at 11:33 AM on October 15, 2013 [3 favorites]


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