Wednesday’s Heroes: Norman Cook

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You could as easily give him credit in his better-known public identity, Fatboy Slim, preeminent DJ and pop collagist. But I’m more interested in where the collage materials come from, and in Cook’s deeds as a curator of sorts.

A Break From the Norm, released in 2001, was Cook giving props to some of the songs that composed his musical palette. He seemed stung by criticism that his success with the monster 1999 dance hit “Praise You” was owed mostly to a body-moving Spike Jonze video and the silky 1975 single “Take Yo’ Praise,” which he’d appropriated from singer Camille Yarborough, then sped up and flavored with other sonic enhancements.

When Camille Yarborough was recently interviewed on TV about being sampled on “Praise You,” she cruelly reminded me that I once stated that all I do is ‘nick bits from crap records and car boot sales.’ … Despite the fact that I take great delight in recycling charity shop records, I do occasionally take records that I thoroughly adore. Luckily these tend to be the ones cleared with the original artist & therefore available for compilations such as these. It is a joy to see these people, who I have sometimes cruelly repositioned in my records, finally getting props and exposure in their pure form …

— from the liner notes 

Among those treasures repurposed for Cook’s Fatboy releases was Bill Withers’ scouring antiwar song “I Can’t Write Left Handed,” its key phrase given a new incarnation as “Demons,” with Macy Gray.

Cook didn’t necessarily see himself as an acquisitor, but an archivist. This makes him a precursor to almost anyone toying with audio (or video) today. My suspicion is that a lot of people now engrossed in the homemade mashup/supercut culture see themselves this way, pointing back toward the sources of their inspiration while striving to craft something largely new out of it.

We may never see a day again when digital art is not created out of preexisting parts, but we can trace those parts back to their origins when we wish, and maybe discover older creations that uplift us in new ways. I might never have heard of Andre Williams without Norman Cook, and just listen to what I would’ve missed.

Ellen McIlwaine — Higher Ground

(What else is going on: I reviewed Nicholas Ray’s 1961 King of Kings for Film Freak Central, and ruminated on the blog thereon about the transformative narratives of fairytale movies [Hanna] vs. those of comic book movies [Thor].
It’s not as deep as it sounds.)

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