Remembering Elvis?

Posted on 16th August 2017

elvis duffoLife transcends D, like essence tanscends concept. Like Elvis rings out elliptically, to the last epsilon, beyond our Voyager. Now 40 years, to this day, since this ordinary, folk-anointed king pulled off his Shakespearean shuffle. So Duffological …

Jeff Duff has sung about Elvis, D-wise, in the form of “Walking in Memphis”, that Marc Cohn song (oh yes, that Song of the Year & Best Male Pop Vocal Performance, 1991, Grammy Awards).

Here’s to saints, their little selves … and the fancy they’re preserving us …

Duff on Elvis, from one mainman to another:

A fab tube by Colin Hay of Duff singing the Cohn song in Waterloo, Sydney, 2013, with a lavish dose of his performance arts:

~ and Duff performing this song intimately with his main keysman Glenn Rhodes at the Mullumbimby Music Festival, 2014, as filmed by Anthony White:

~ and at the Thredbo Jazz Festival, 2013:

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Rock Brain of the Universe Extolls Jeff Duff

Posted on 23rd July 2015

Thrice-crowned Rock Brain of the Universe, Australian journalist  Glenn A. Baker, has recouped his often-quoted observation that Jeff Duff, had he been born in the northern hemisphere, would long have been cushy, in popular minds, alongside Bowie, Reed and Iggy Pop — noting "the presence about him … the astonishing voice … the capacity to fit into any environment …"

That’s in this exciting and informative vid with generous quotes from the Southern MainMan Himself [3 views as of posting]

For more about Glenn A. Baker, see bios at wikipedia and Penguin.

Actually, listening to Duff here, we hear the limits of Baker’s thesis. Duff admits he was “too way out there” even for British audiences. Yep, the data available to the Institute for Duffological Studies do not exactly gel with GAB’s proposition that Duff, alienated from Oz, found a perfect home in punk UK. Duff was gob-smacked and punched-up at his UK first gigs, abandoned by execs at a publicity stunt, and encountered groaned out enthusiasms from UK TV presenters even as he offered them masterful live performances—to(Russell Harty on ITV, and Annie Nightingale on the Old Grey Whistle Test). Maybe this is real punk-type celebrity; Duff still hotted up the charts, so much so that he’s become one of the elect "UK New Wave Greats", in line with Elvis Costello, The Jam, and Joy Division. But this historical status wasn’t led by bells and whistles, Rudolph and chorus-girls. It came by mighty slogs, against the odds—slogs and odds perhaps no less trying than what JD endured in Oz, after all.

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Duffo 4 Eurovision 2015

Posted on 14th February 2015

euro_1

The Daily Telegraph reports:
"Australians responded with bewilderment and delight at a decision to allow them to compete in this year’s Eurovision Song …Contest – and immediately began pondering efforts to enlist Kylie Minogue or Midnight Oil. For some Neighbours fans, news that Jason Donovan ruled himself out will be disappointing, but the list below suggests there are a few strong contenders …"

Strong contenders and nonsense aside!
Duffo rules!
Specifically, c’mon, Daily Tonygraph, err, Telegraph, in response to your list of Euro-contenders, we at the Duffological Institute contend …

S_Jade_1

Samantha Jade

Were we internet trolls, we might remark about some "harridan" channelling Charlie’s Angels, and music-vids like screen-tests for Dr Jekyll and Ms Hyde. BYO paper-clips and tooth-picks for fun. But there’s just a little, more basic problem, besides: Who is she? And so we need …

kmin_1

Kylie Minogue

If ever or ever there was a Judy Garland without herself, there is Kylie Minogue. If every generation has a voice (Sinatra, Presley, Lou Reed …), Minogue is there but at the same time isn’t. That’s pretty quizzical (Bowie-esque?), but the humans still among us like to show we’re not robots when we vote. And so we need …

sia_1

Sia

Is this the swan who lost her wings while fixing her face to Graham Norton’s back-wall? Is this the diva who struggles to pronounce “chandelier” for beauty’s sake? Her Eurovision calling cards state that she’s "collaborated with Rihanna, Beyonce, Eminem & Katy Perry," and proffer "her fondness for wigs & dance routines." What (all kindergartners so impressed aside), the lady can’t name-drop (like Duff) Bowie, or Warhol …? Try again.

tina_arena_1

Tina Arena

Ms Arena’s bilingualism is certainly a strong point, but Duff, too, has long been cross-over cultural, even more than any other Australian artist. Who’s the only Australian artist among the UK “New Wave Greats” on Repertoire’s 2-CD compilation album of the same name? Who else in England topped the Argentine charts at the height of the Falklands War (with his “Walk on the wildside” – filmed with Bowie’s “Ashes to Ashes” make-up artist)? And Duff was already TV-smart as a 17-y/o on the Paul Hogan Show, still topping youtube lists. So the answer we’re searching for is …

onj_1

Olivia Newton-John

If ONJ promises to reprise “Xanadu,” maybe. If she does it in Bob Downe style, certainly. But that’s not gonna happen. No, she’s a rainbow wide and long, and belongs with the immortals. She’d have to come down from Mount Olympus to pull this one off, between drinking nectar with the gods, to sing a fanciful song of pleasure, Athena and Diana for critics. No, “She startles like a botanist finding a rare flower,” is the best they’d admit, the bitches.

Who else, then, instead? It’s only, surely … Midnight Oil/Peter Garrett. Hunh? Go

Duffo_Jeff_Duff_2015_170wJeff Duff.


Dreaming on, imagine seeing Duff live, all over Euro, as in …

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On top of the Duff

Posted on 19th August 2014

Take the top hat, surmising how it crowns The Duff, and get more oxygen into your thinking, and more antioxidants into your brain, than, say, TV promises of Lucy …!

Question:

What do Uncle Sam, leprechauns and Dr Seuss’ cat have in common with Jeff Duff? Add the Mad Hatter to that, and you’ve got an "a–ha" moment: It’s all in the a–hat. A topper, in fact. Taller than a trilby. A large but trim brim, occasionally fluted. And its most enigmatic feature: a flat crown.

uncle sam leprechaun cat in the hat  / jeff duff

Thesis:

Authority of class and sex are key signals of a topper: to be worn at the Stock Exchange, at the races or riding to hounds, on the coach going to Parliament or a funeral, taking a box-seat at the Piccadilly, playing high stakes at the Pontoon, or signing an armistice. So entertainers could signal themselves as a class-act by donning a topper — like Fred Astaire in dance, or Howard Thurston in magic (— who would pull out not just a rabbit but trapeze artists and multiple mini top hats from his own topper; see youtube). It’s artistic mimesis, imaginal association — appropriating a cultural meaning by taking up its cultural cue.

mabuse stock exchange scene races coach astaire

Antithesis:

At least as many entertainers, however, have used the top hat to create something different: to make an ironical statement, to show up the subversiveness of their acts and attitudes, including in song, dance and humour. Charlie Chaplin, before he came up with his bowler-topped tramp, was one of many English music-hall artists to use this theatrical trick. Performing in a top hat gave an ironical twist to their cockney accents, and upped their romanticizing about poor living, and reinforced the conservative values they sang into their songs. Among these topper-tiled curmudgeons and cads were Henry Champion (Any old iron?), George Leybourne (Champagne Charlie), Henry Vance (Walking in the zoo — a song that gave us the word “okay”), Charles Coborn (The man who broke the bank at Monte Carlo), Harry Ford (Knocked ’em in the Old Kent Road), Rich ‘n’ Rich (The Court of King Karactacus), and Ernie Mayne (And the fog grew thicker and thicker).

chaplin champion leybourne vance

Keeping close to classiness, Marlene Dietrich made her own subversive statement in top hat and tails — simply in virtue of being a woman taking on this most masculine (phallic?) symbol. More in line with the music-hall subversion, there’s Bert Williams, with a top-hat plus lap-lap or feather-tail, on top of playing on being a Black American. Then we get, in their footsteps, several rock artists, including Marc Bolan, Alice Cooper and Slash, taking up the topper.

dietrich bolan cooper

Synthesis:

As for Jeff Duff, look over the images he cuts in a topper. It’s not a mere Fred Astaire kind of classiness, and it’s also not a simple Chaplinesque twist. We’ve heard before about how a dialectical shift between opposites is a common feature of Duff’s lyrical work (blogpost). That’s a shift between the above thesis (the top hat’s class, authority, Uncle Sam, Lincoln, toffiness …) and antithesis (the leprechaun, Cat-in-the-Hat, Mad Hatter, music-hall artists, rocky fops …) So there are multiple voices, sources, signs and images in a Duff style – but the whole is more than the sum of these …

Duff in his toppers combines and goes beyond these elements. The image he cuts has both classiness and puckishness. He could be taking the best seats at the races, or treading the music hall boards, each with sure and sincere effect. He can’t really be slotted alongside any of the above reels, for instance, not with any depth. Naturally, it’s not just in the costume. The process is more prismatic than that. The person is the new synthesis himself. It’s the effect of the entity he is, accentuated by donning a top hat.

rockwiz throne jeff duff

+ P.S. Of course, other hats have fitted Duff’s crown — see the covers of Gonna Send the Boys Around, Ground Control to Frank Sinatra, Kiss My Apocalypse, and Fragile Spaceman, among his albums. Even a fez among his Great Gatsby appearances, and a propeller on a Countdown appearance, and whenever emergency portends. But in donning the topper, Duff epitomises and gives a key to something that is essential to his art — including in his words and music.
+ P.P.S. Further theoretical development could occur by referencing Sheldrake’s theory of morphic resonance, or Hardy’s theory of semantic fields, and their supposed parapsychological effects.

There was once so big a topper on Duffo
 
that all bods agreed was just troppo,
 
or too Viennese, or made them all sneeze,
 
which mightily pleased Maestro Duffo.

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“Me a celebrity? I just grow bananas.”

Posted on 28th July 2014

Duff in Sydney Morning Herald September 2004

Duff in Sydney Morning Herald September 2004

Duff recently commented on his facebook that he didn’t regard himself as a celebrity – as well as offing his banana again. Both of these themes were taken up in a Sydney Morning Herald article on Jeff Duff, 25 Sept 2004. Richard Jinman was the journalist. Thanks to Justin Pearson for the material.

From the bashing that greeted him back in Oz, after a decade of “losing touch with my genitals,” the article almost assures us that, when not packing fruit, Jeff Duff doesn’t suffer from, say, “Fame, that makes things hollow.” Or “Fame, fame, fame,” in general.

Or is it like Tiberius, wasn’t it, who didn’t want to return to power to win a war if it stopped him from growing cabbages? A Tiberius Complex? But one that still makes Duff the hardest working artist in Australia, there to F your mind over and over and over again.

2061 views as of posting

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L’Art de Duff: Visual artists portray Jeff Duff: #1

Posted on 8th June 2014

duff_portrait_basement_2Visual artists have espied a lot about the Duff, in their visuo-intelligent ways. Like that portrait greeting goers-down to The Basement, once bled for delight and goodwill, to see him in silken blouse, against a warm cabaret drop, coolly fitted against a soporific wall of blue – now here before it in striking creams, with a watch about his otherwise nubile left-wrist, his right-arm in frozen salute to rest his countenance upon; and a winking eye where once eye-fulls of reflection did floweth. All as he art-masters the situation. But who these artists?

Yes, the Walk on the Wildside faces of Duff by Richard Sharah, soon after he crafted Bowie’s Ashes to Ashes face. Yes, award-winning music-vids by Lew Keilar of Duff songs. But as for still artists …

Justin Pearson paints Jeff Duff: 1994. oil on wood, 90 x 65 cmJustin Pearson – painter-most-prized of Australian opera – gives Duff in angelic mode – brushing him down on wood in oil with wings – about the time (1994) of Duff’s Angels and Rascals album. Is this not the most transliminal of Pearson’s subjects? By setting Duff against a wood grain, Pearson accentuates Duff’s über-naturalness – whorls-n-whirls well setting off the Duff without containing his wonderousness. Maybe this painting recoups but surpasses a theme of that Wim Wenders movie “Wings of Desire” (Himmel über Berlin, 1987); that amongst us, there are angels with human biographies, in our very own necks of the wood. Yep, proving the point, here’s a pic of Duff like a Wenders angel, but smiling over human traffic, and smiling back to any kid rising over it.castlehill_a
The painter, Justin Pearson, has kindly informed us of the following inspiral thoughts, with more pix from the Duff-Pearson Experience:

"In 1994, Surry Hills, I meet Jeff at an art exhibition in Sydney. At that time i was looking for a good subject to portray at the Archibald. He said yes and i was thrilled to paint such a great singer and charismatic figure. I did two portraits of him in oils. One small one on wood (i thought the grain of the wood was a bit psychedelic and so matched him). He asked me if I could put Angel wings on him (angels were the thing at that time, like vampires are now) so wings it was. The other painting oil’s on canvas was very big, so big I had to do it in two parts (not a good thing to do for an art comp), one on top of the other, portrait size.
 
"He and I spent a lot of fun time painting the portraits, Me splatting colour on canvas and him singing and posing. Sorry to say the large painting did not get in the Archibald. I understand now, it’s not the way you paint and the techniques of painting but also the way you present the painting. Some might say it’s the subject matter or who you know, but I think Jeff is an Icon and a great benefit to the music world and Australia." – Justin Pearson

Justin Pearson artist
Justin Pearson's Duffodyssey>/a>

Justin Pearson’s Duffodyssey



Jeff Duff by Catherine Hourihan

Catherine Hourihan’s New Wave Ghost

Art-photographer Catherine Hourihan shows Duff amid a series of Phantastical Portraits that featured in many of Duff’s 2013 publicities. The collection was exhibited recently at m2 gallery in Surry Hills. Ms Hourihan kindly writes the following for us Duffophiles …

hourihan_1museum3
"I conceived and directed the shoot, it was shot in the tunnel at Museum Station and it was a lot of work liaising with the Downing centre and organising the lights etc. I thought of Jeff because I met him briefly in the early 90s when my friend Mark Chochrane made that amazing video for Jeff’s version of walk on the wild side. Not long after that I went to NY for over a decade but I guess I never forgot him; I loved the clip and his singing. When I returned to Sydney I began a serious photographic practice and I thought of Jeff.
"The portraits are about combining the mythical and other worldly with mundane reality, how there is a magical element to existence just beneath the surface of everyday life. I called the portrait of Jeff ‘New Wave Ghost’. I think he embodies an era but also he has a whimsical, other worldly quality. My direction to him was imagine you are from the past and you found yourself here and that you can see the future. He just went with it and we got a beautiful evocative image.

"I’m very excited that Jeff is using the pictures on his next album “Walking on Eggshells.” I can’t wait to hear it."

Catherine Hourihan

Hourihan’s photos remind of Bowie on the escalators of “Ricochet,” to the tune of doubt and dog-howled “Heroes”; and the “hours …” shoots, as below. But as opposed to Bowie’s exhaustion, and invitation, Duff’s stance is, in part, puppet-like, inspiring by bald curiosity as he goes into a Frankenstein walk, still wanting back his brain; a frozen-momented street-mime; a rabbit at the end of a shot-gun, caught out for being curious; a neo-über mainman in a late Space Odyssey.

bowie_hours_1bowie_hours_2



Penelope Beveridge‘s photos for Duff’s Fragile Spaceman give off, momentarily, a gasp; and then a reverie, and then a storm. Babes just think of the morbid; those who’ve walked some miles are mystiqued, walk its wharf, fall off its plank, and enter its world; dance not with death but tear off their skirts to excite Querelle, the man who kills the thing he loves, lost at the precipice of human touch, in love with Duff songs, submitted to heavenly ends. Da-ti-dah, l’art de Duff. Beveridge’s Duff could be the antithesis of Fassbinder’s Querelle, but strip away lust and loss, and we end up with similar eyes upon the seas, meditating over the waves of the world in blind wonder.Brad Davis in Fassbinder's Querelle

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Warhol, Popeye and the Duffodoll

Posted on 17th November 2013

andy warholWhy did Andy Warhol, after shaking it with Jeff Duff, at some ’70s London party, report that he’s not been so moved about music since he got off on Sinatra, Presley, Jagger and Bowie (“popeye”) …? Maybe it was this song that clinched it – one off Duff’s The Disappearing Boy album, for which Warhol wrote his famous blurb: “Sinatra, Presley, Jagger & Popeye – now Duffo“. Check out the youtube here.

By the way, when Warhol mentions “Popeye” in this blurb, let’s note that he’s referring to Bowie, as in Bowie’s “popped” pupil, and also for the purpose of happy-slapping Bowie for the quizzical way he (Bowie) wrote about him (Andy) in his (Bowie’s) song about him (Andy) – being just a “cement (semen?) fix”, “another standing cinema”, “friends just for show”, etc. (off the Hunky Dory album). So Warhol says, in a syllable or two, how Duff’s the latest head off the best of popular songsters – from Sinatra to Presley, from Jagger to Bowie – but surmounting Bowie, who could only affront and confront and mimic the man (Andy). Warhol saw Duff as an Internationalist of great art-historical import. No Aussie artist or other has ever had it so bling.

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Iconic/Ironic Aussie Tunes in Suppository of Sound

Posted on 23rd August 2013

Celebration of the nation!
julian assange v john fanham australian electionWhile Australia goes through the freedoms and woes of a Federal Election campaign, as orchestrated by Rupert Murdoch (“the only murderer in this act is the conductor,” as Marlene Dietrich said, in Alfred Hitchcock’s “Stage Fright”), Duffophiles rise up like angels! More radiantly and aggressively than usual – even by the mullett, if that’s what it takes – given the day-by-day ideological warfare upon the citizenry (as in Abbott’s latest assault upon English, and Assange’s media-punk take on “I Have A Dream”), but ready to rebel upon any futures that portend!

While swinging that way, let’s celebrate the Aussie song-book – and so attend to “Perfect Tripod“, led by Eddie Perfect, a just-released album of faves from the book, launched with a live tour to boot. News of this CD and tour was heralded over today’s public and private media. Yay! The Aussie song-book is in safe hands, with barber-shop renditions of You’re the voice and Overkill. Now let’s keep factoring in the creative work by Duff on the very same theme …

Go to wilsonpub for several takes, crossing the talents of Ed Wilson (Daly/Wilson Big Band) and Jeff Duff (Kush/Duffo/Jeff Duff Band/The Prophets/Jeff Duff Orchestra/Alien Sex Fiends/Jon Lord’s Hoochie Coochie Men/Ziggy Show), interlacing blues/jazz standards (like Georgia, All of me and What a wonderful world) with the Aussie song-book: including Love is in the air, Howzat, I still call Australia home, and Who can it be it now?. That’s a grand flambé – a seamless reconstruction of the Oz song-book vis-à-vis the masters of 20th century sound.

Yay OK: Oz rock never dies, and Eddie Perfect’s new “Perfect Tripod” album, like the Wilson/Duff “Cooler than cool” album, makes the mark, like hot dinner, when creatively celebrating the Oz song-book. But hey, maybe one album’s more coolly and cleverly ironic, and not just iconic, than the other …? More usefully referential across our musical memories, even …? Anyway: Keep lapping up your heritage – Duffologically or bust!
You can’t go worse than the man who would be PM struggling like a psycho for a single English word. Just VOTE V DUFF!

Duff mix
– like in the next election to the National Film and Sound Archive’s list of audio icons – on top of this year’s crop.

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Duff digs Doug and vice versa

Posted on 6th December 2012

Drums of Duff-Stuff have been beating wildly again: The Duff was spotted in the audience of the Studio Theatre, Sydney Opera House, last Saturday night (1st December), at a performance of Doug Parkinson. Duff was slightly spectacular himself in his cricket whites and quirky shoulder-bag – and did not go unnoticed by Parko either, who offered a salutation from the stage to his mate.

So imagine a Doug-n-Duff double act – when these two power-houses of soul will surely huff-n-puff the whole Opera House down …?

Thanks to Anthony and his underground posse of Sydney Duffophiles for psst-ing this hot info to the Institute. Psst other actualities to the Institute to “info” @jeffduffstuff.com.

Meanwhile, enjoy sonorous, psychedelic Dougo blues right here, in a heart-stabber, doing everything head-on-heart subliminal beats do, shamanically, with Duff angels to fly to, punk in your pulse, and the vision of Doug and Duff fronting the Opera House, two cool Pavarottis of Oz song …

And how do you describe his vid? Montage experiments, without excess, quickly cut through … There’s Parko just long enough to get associated with hope; not long enough to get stressed out by; the photographer and editor had psychology in mind, for one thing. And pulled it out!

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Duffo’s dialectical disco: An ostinato of opposites

Posted on 14th October 2012

~ Logical reflections on Duff #2 (after #1)

Michael Parkinson verbally abused Zsa Zsa Gabor when she confessed on his TV chat show that she loved animals more than humans. Parkinson thought that was pathetic, and worlds collided. There was a sudden battle of minds and spirits over one of the great dialectics of human reason: the value of man versus other animals. It was a collision that goes down as a great dramatic moment in human history; Parko and Zsa Zsa on the world’s forum, TV, stealing the light over a core philosophical point.

Hegel’s dialectic

Resist the idea that we are animals, plain earthlings? Intrinsically related, by chromosomes and neurochemicals, to plants and rocks? It takes a certain kind of guy – actually, an artistic genius – to exploit such angsts. Many artists are delighters, and others light up the night-side of human nature. But few, such as Duff, shine a light upon the double dimensions of night and day, creating (not just communicating) a third factor, beyond what Parko and Zsa Zsa encapsulated. Hegel’s lyrico-scope set over Duff songs reveals something akin to paradox – that black is white and vice versa, that “this sentence is not true”, and to be happy is to be sad, and vice versa, and to feel proud in any human capacity is to be ashamed of all that makes us human. That’s all too easy, however. Go the Duff for a higher paradox.

Brechtian Verfremdung: A female officer, with joyous authority!

For the art of contradiction, see the very classes of song that Duff produces. On the one hand, there are those that, at a blush, sound funny, coy, and even silly (but always very clever) – like the fun he offers on his “Noses run in my family”, “Monkey for your love” and “Banana Song”. And then there are the ethereal jaunts of, say, “The choir inside my mind”, and “Angel Song”. And the libidinal melancholies of, say, “Come drown with me” and “Hurt me tenderly”. But that ain’t the ‘alf of it – Duff plays out such opposites of insight and delight within a song, and then often does this with a doubly surprising trick – yes, expressing the essential Gabor-Parko dialectic, the rub between the norm of pride and the extreme essential, between the obvious positive and its unguarded negative … but also as a über-Brechtian method. If all that enthusiasm of interpretation is too confusing, it’s on a plate for you here: In the following samples of Duff’s flat-lined expression of the “ostinato of opposites”:

Satanic Deity – Kush: Snow White and the Eight Straights

Cage the people at the zoo
Let the monkeys roam
A lot of men perceive the steel and concrete as his home.[…]
Now think of war as something good.
Life as something bad.
And when I cry I think I laugh,
And when I smile I’m sad.

New Boy in Heaven – Jeff Duff and the Prophets: Kiss My Apocalypse

You’re a devil with a halo. You’re an angel with a gun. […]
You’re a virgin with a dirty face, in a hang-man’s noose.
You’re the deadly silent witness, you’re the madman on the loose. […]
You’ve got the angels waiting, for your punishing embrace.

God Bless all the Clowns:

God bless all the clowns.
God bless them when they frown.
God bless all the clowns.
God bless them as they drown.

Give Me Back Me Brain – Duffo (Beggar’s Banquet album)

Now I’ve got a face without an expression
I tried to smile again, but I look so depressin. …
It could have been fate
It could have been luck
It could have fallen off the back of a truck.
Whatever, whoever
It sure ain’t me
Coz my brain is my body’s employee.

John & Betty Go to L.A. – Duffo: The Disappearing Boy

I’m building an igloo in the Sahara.
It’s snowing inside my sauna.
I feel like an Eskimo in Egypt.
My deserts are covered with fauna.

God for a Day – Duffo: The Disappearing Boy

I’ll be laughing when the nails are hammered in …

Come Drown With Me

I’ll be your lifeline, I’ll take your breath away.
You’ll be my skyhook, don’t let me slip away.
You’ll be my lifeline, you’ll take my breath away.
I’ll be your skyhook, I won’t let you slip away.

I Be the Alien

You’ll wake alone but I’ll hear you scream.

A touch of Hoffmann’s “uncanny”: Tomcat Murr, the scribe

A curious thing about expressing yourself in this cha-cha of opposites, in this flux of antimonies, is the paradox that the opposites and antimonies are more related to each other than most other ideas are to each alone. … There is also a touch here of Brecht‘s Verfremdungseffekt: the “making strange” or “alienating” about something familiar and normally unattended, and so forcing (often unwelcome) attention to it, recognizing that what was normal is really strange, what was deemed passive is actually actively working upon us and shaping our visions and ideologies. Duff’s lyrical work does this, to be sure, but goes a step beyond – where the base thing being referred to is often itself outside and exceptional – something apposite to us observers. So we start, say, with mention of an Eskimo, or waking up alone – some exceptionally outsider identities and experiences – and these are themselves “made strange” – the Eskimo is set into the heat of Egypt, and the lone awakener is heard to scream – but how when they are alone? In this way, Duff’s lyrics – even when superficially simple – can have a profound subliminal effect, merging, it can be seen, Brecht’s alienation effect with a touch of E. T. A. Hoffmann‘s uncanniness within the scheme of a Hegelian dialectic! The song “Blinded by the dark” (on the Fragile Spaceman album) perhaps best and starkly epitomises this, in its very title, while Duff often accomplishes this psycho-lyrical weaving with threads not so much of starkly contrasting blacks and whites but of alternating greys … synthesising many colours … But of all that we better be silent and leave Duff to do his work.

Actually, it’s not just in the lyrics. Listen to all these intros. They’re all quite different to each other by instruments, tempo, rhythm … but there’s at least one way by which they’re all alike – and that’s in using an ostinato of opposites …

What is the effect on the listener of this artistic trick, of Duff’s moment-by-moment ostinato of conceptual opposites, drawn from the source of the kaleidoscopic manifold beyond the senses? A perfect phi spiral, naturally – from the ears to the spinal chord and all the way up and down the lifelines of every bod, and so along the kundalini highway to the songlines of all ages.

Another Brechtian connection: Mac the Knife – Duffo style …

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On the gifts of Pasht, Egyptian god

Posted on 21st September 2012

Readers of Duff’s blog will have been touched by his recent news that his cat companion of 22 years, Rubinstein, has had done with her feline coil – and shuffled off unto the 10th dimension that is cat heaven. We here at the Institute for Duffological Studies, and so too, doubtlessly, our readers, extend our sympathies to Mr. Duff on his loss. And we would add …

All cats start off as superbeings, from worlds unimaginable by us, and they are destined to live apart from others, more than any human masters – from Moses to Murdoch – could imagine, and their prize for holding stubbornly on to that proud consciousness through all their earthen days is a free passage to godhead, when they stand as one like the sun over us still experimenting here in the lower worlds. Cats continue in superbeinghood, having captured the eternal, in a blink, after all, and never paining for the loss of being among us. Yet they will quietly accept our completeness, when we might lose ourselves totally, mortally, at the heels of their spirits one day.

Cats – just listen to children talk about their cats, and see them loving them – accentuate both parenthood and childhood, all humanhood – models for a sure sense of our individuality and potential for duty and devotion. They also teach us about the death of love – not only love physically bound, but love that starts anew at every funeral, beside the backyard burial, and continues for our pets, and so our sakes, across the universe, much further and more radiant than we could imagine for any human satellite.

Breaths are lost when gazing upon the stars above us, as lives are blessed when herding the cats of this world about us.

Like the Egyptians sang to Pasht, when they felt the meaning of life, we call out, across the night, across our neighbourhoods, for puss to come back home to us – an essential experience in this universe of things.

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– rodg.
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Logical reflections on Duff

Posted on 1st May 2012

Stuart, the comic-book seller in the TV comedy The Big Bang Theory, at one point, as sexy Penny steps away from his counter, tightly mouths “I love you”. It’s something between a private whisper and an open confession, with pain anyway. The canned laughter doesn’t hold back.

What’s so funny about that? Oh, that we should all be able to relate to it – the desire of what cannot be requited, underdog lust like Weltschmerz, the old horror of beauty and the beast.

Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice works on something similar – it all turns on us recognising what is common to us all. We’re supposed to be satisfied that someone else feels just like us – and, because the novel is a world-wide hit, that the whole world must feel like us. Not about anything we’ve been publicly conscious of – just what we allow each other to privately admit. It is the private pleasure about a common good – one that novelists, poets, screen-writers, even song-writers, have all been able to reliably bank upon, over the centuries.

And then there was Duff. A common approach to Duff’s songwriting involves, yes, the confessionalism we’ve come to expect of great artists. Why? It’s all theatre anyway, as Bowie’s taught us about self and culture – that our need for authenticity is satisfied by artifice anyway – so what was our need to begin with? Duff’s lesson is related but different and as unique. He gives us a confession of extreme feelings we’re pressed not to relate with – feelings about being with each other that, we might suspect, with some alarm, are not just Duff’s … No openly shared scenarios of emotion but what, if others saw them, they might have something contrary to say about. These feelings expressed by Duff don’t form a meme, at least not one that thrives on sunlight. But they are unpassable offers anyway. Here are a few to examine, à la Duff.

Hurt me tenderly

God for the day

I handed you the nail

These are emotional scenarios, the “emo-semantic narratives” a cad would say, that we do not quietly admit, at least not as openly much as themes of impossible “beauty vs puny” desire, and pride-powered prejudice. (Austen’s heroine doesn’t even, in the end, learn that much from the exposure of her prejudice – which should be more about herself and love than about self and pride, about how self and world relate, not just virtues of character and social perceptions. So much for the value of common feeling.) That Duff has turned each of these odd feeling-themes into a song implies his faith that they – weird twists of spirit and marginalia of mind that they might be – are not only his own. He expresses and maybe even celebrates here his speciality; and hurrah to that. But he must also be saying, all the while, that these phrases always merit our attention – not just because we are of that mind ourselves (as Austen and Bang Theory trade on), but because we care so much not to realise these things – as if denial was ultimately important.
(See also Duff’s "Lost in my Room", "Duffodoll", "Killing this Affair" …)

The title here quotes Duff’s "Logical questions to God".

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– rodg.
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In love with a song?

Posted on 13th December 2011


Is it possible to be in love with a song? Well surely it is, or we’d have no ice-cream trucks playing Greensleeves all over the Chinese world, and then some.

There are many Duff songs that will take anyone away, whisked upon Cloud 9, breaths halting. But there are few songs we don’t need to share at all for universal company and euthenasia. One such song of Duff’s is “If You Believed in Angels.”

Duff recently performed this at The Basement, when he was launching his Fragile Spaceman album. He noted, in introduction, that it came from an album of “children’s songs.” I have to look this up – but isn’t that his “Alone and Paranoid” album – where this song is entitled “Angelsong”? Are all children alone and paranoid?

Friend Robert, not so long ago, came by and heard me rolling out some David Bowie songs. “Bowie in the key of Angel” he offered – and spot on he was in sizing up my selections. I was playing Bowie’s “I’m Deranged,” his “Look Back in Anger,” his “New Angels of Promise,” “5:15,” … Just more and more angel songs. Angels annunciating and adoring shepherds. Watching over sleeping babes. Raphael taking Tobias by the hand as a dog looks dumbly on, and the Virgin is coronated as angels staff the watchtowers. Gabriel stalks the palaces, pointing out in anxiety and Latin phrases the absolute way to all who are absent. Angels are worshipping … “Adoramus …” in fragile but lingering frescoes.

Do you not believe in angels, those silent, nodding witnesses of all our moments? They trespass on your privacy, but at no cost to your vanity. They are there not in shadow, and they are there not in light. Their presence is elemental, pervasive and persistent – that is to say, somewhere about your every ideation. They do not possess; your thoughts are free; they do not inhabit, unlike devils, they do not take your hand, leading you aside as an automaton. No, you will miss angels if you look for them, let alone try to touch them. Angels, appreciated, require, respond to change (devils devour stasis). Swedenborg, Blake, Crowley, Rilke and Duff. They have not only journaled angel-life. They invite angelic presence, if our over-senses appeal. Duff doesn’t just announce “I believe in angels …” – all thoughts of angels are promising.


What does an angel look like? Swedenborg, the 18th century natural scientist (and "mystic") informs us that:

the faces of angels are the forms of their own interiors, thus of the affections that are of love and faith. (De Caelo et Ejus Mirabilibus et de Inferno, Ex Auditus et Visis)

And so how might you hear an angel? It is quite a physical happening. Again, Swedenborg:

That the speech of an angel … flows down from within even into the ear has been made clear to me by the fact that it flows also into the tongue, causing a slight vibration, but not with any such motion as when the speech tone is articulated into words by the man himself. (op. cit.)

Granted, but what do angels speak about? Well, their meaning is in their tone, and so they are mostly heard to sing. As Blake reported:

I heard an Angel singing

When the day was springing,

“Mercy, Pity, Peace

Is the world’s release.” (Poems and fragments from the Note-book, c. 1793)

Too true, then how should one listen to an angel? Aleister Crowley, in a vision, advised:

My adepts stand upright; their head above the heavens, their feet below the hells.

But since one is naturally attracted to the Angel, another to the Demon, let the first strengthen the lower link, the last attach more firmly to the higher.

Thus shall equilibrium become perfect. (Liber Tzaddi, XC, 40-42)

For those who so listen, “the kingdom shall be theirs.” Rilke was inspired samewise when writing “Only he who has eaten poppies with the dead will not lose ever again the gentlest chord” (Sonnets to Orpheus, IX). As for angels, Rilke was suspicious that they could satisfy human need, without choking the needy one:

Who, if I cried, would hear me, among angels anyway? Sure enough, one of them just takes me to his heart: I turn back from his overbearing. … Each and every angel terrifies. So I’ll just withhold myself, and choke back that dark, sobbing call. Damn, who can we turn to in this need? Angels, no. People, no.
[or]
Who, if I should cry, would hear me for a moment from among the orders of angels? And should it happen that one of them suddenly takes me to his heart, I would recoil from his greater being. … Each and every angel terrifies. And so I withhold myself, and choke back that dark, sobbing call. Oh who can we turn to in this need? Angels, no. People, no. (Duino Elegies, I, my translation)

Wer, wenn ich schriee, höre mich denn aus der Engel Ordnungen? und gestezt selbst, es nähme einer mich plötzlich ans Herz: ich verginge von seinem stärkeren Dasein. … Ein jeder Engel ist schrecklich. Und so verhalt ich mich denn und verschlucke den Lockruf dunkelen Schluchzens. Ach, wen vermögen wir denn zu brauchen? Engel nicht. Menschen nicht.

Rilke explored and expanded upon and over-rode these thoughts through 10 elegies. Jeff Duff’s “If You Believed in Angels” comes after all this emotive, essential enquiry. Angelsong is, as Swedenborg and Blake related, all in the tone – which Duff provides in ample intonations and exhalations, and so the passing strings and piano trickles.

A song cannot bring an angel to your door-step, and cannot tie an angel to your heels. Yet angelsong might have you speaking in tongues. If so, clear out from the city, no straying in the centres of the capital, speaking your crazy mind. Embed yourself back into the song that enchanted you. Lie down within its tones. And so see to it: no entirety or eternity can withstand your ennobling.

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An incongruous conflation

Posted on 8th December 2011

Who would Duffo be the most extraordinary person to record/perform with?

I’m thinking of those incongruous matchings like Nana Mouskouri with Nina Hagen, and Bing Crosby with David Bowie. It matters little if the other is living or not. My own guess … Well, I might have said Dame Joan, or Don Lane, some months ago, but a top-hat combination at the moment would be Duffo and …

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