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Song of the Day: Mick Jagger, “Memo from Turner” – from Performance (1970)

Featured prominently in the movie Performance, directed by Nicolas Roeg with Donald Cammell and released in 1970, this song remains one of my favorite Mick Jagger/Stones songs—right up there with “Sympathy,” “Satisfaction” and “Monkey Man.” Here it is in a clip from the movie, with what is surely Jagger’s finest performance in any film:

A higher quality clip (and without the subtitles) is available through TCM: Performance (1970) — (Movie Clip) Memo From Turner. (As a Warner film, Performance is part of the TCM archive and you can check their webpage on the movie for any scheduled broadcast times.)

The Song

The song “Memo from Turner” was released as a single in the UK and also appeared as the first track on the second side of the Performance soundtrack—which also features music by Randy Newman and Buffy Sainte-Marie. It features Ry Cooder on slide guitar, and other musicians, rather than the regular Stones line-up. (Keith Richards reportedly balked at playing on the track because of love scenes in the movie between his girlfriend at the time Anita Pallenberg and Jagger, which were rumored to have gone beyond simulation.)

The song is also available on a number of compilation albums, including The Very Best of Mick Jagger, and some Rolling Stones compilations, such as Singles Collection: The London Years.

A second version of the song was released on the Stones album Metamorphosis in 1975. It features a different line-up of musicians—but still not the Stones—possibly including Brian Jones and Stevie Winwood of Traffic, as well as slightly differently lyrics. I think the original is much more powerful and appealing, but you can compare the two for yourself.

The Movie

The original trailer and a promo:

I first encountered “Memo from Turner” in the movie, watching Performance at the UC Theater in Berkeley when I was in high school. Sex and drugs and rock n roll—with gangsters. Wow. A very trippy experience—disorienting, at times harsh and scary, other times dreamy, sexy.  We’d gone to see it for the sex—having been turned on by nude scenes of a very young Jenny Agutter in Walkabout, another Roeg film.

We were not disappointed. There was, for the time, a huge amount of sex, lots of naked breasts, bisexuality, a ménage à trois or deux. (This was before Showtime and the internet—seeing this much sex was pretty much only possible for young teens in the casually controlled environs of an arty cinema showing a foreign film.) Though as I recall, other than the sex, my friends were not as blown away as me. But then again, I was the most decadent—the most sex and drugs and rock n roll—in our group, and also the one most engaged with movies as movies, the most interested in cinema.

And Performance is an interesting piece of cinema—like all of Nicolas Roeg’s early movies, of which this is the first, his directorial debut. Look at what followed. Performance was filmed in 1968 but not released until 1970. The next year saw the release of WalkaboutRoeg’s finest film, powerful and enigmatic, starring then-unknowns, Jenny Agutter and David Gulpilil. (As a side note, the vague menace and enigmatic feel of Walkabout was clearly an influence on a later Australian film also featuring Gulpilil, Peter Weir’s The Last Wave.) Don’t Look Now (1973)—a truly spooky movie starring Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie and based on a story by Daphne Du Maurier—was followed by The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976) with David Bowie. Roeg was proving very adept at creating low key, enigmatic and spooky movies.

Then Bad Timing: A Sensual Obsession (1980) with Art Garfunkel. Roeg clearly also had a thing for working with major music stars, and he tended to elicit from them the best screen performances of their careers. In 1985, Roeg’s film Insignificance was released; it imagines a meeting in a hotel room between Albert Einstein, Marilyn Monroe, Joe DiMaggio and Senator Joseph MacCarthy. This may be the last serious Roeg film. He has continued to work—indeed, he has a film due out later this year, Night Train starring Sigourney Weaver, which I will definitely be going to see, but really nothing he has done since Bad Timing has had the kind of power or interest or critical acclaim of his early work.

(As a side note, I found it interesting that Roeg worked as a second unit photographer on two of my favorite films of the 1960s—Lawrence of Arabia and the James Bond spoof Casino Royale, starring David Niven and Woody Allen and the proverbial cast of thousands.)

The Lyrics

“Memo from Turner” (Performance version) (Jagger/Richards)

Didn’t I see you down in San Antone on a hot and dusty night?
We were eating eggs in Sammy’s when the black man there drew his knife.
Aw, you drowned that Jew in Rampton as he washed his sleeveless shirt,
You know, that Spanish-speaking gentlemen, the one we all called “Kurt.”
Come now, gentleman, I know there’s some mistake.
How forgetful I’m becoming, now you fixed your bus’ness straight.
I remember you in Hemlock Road in nineteen fifty-six.
You’re a faggy little leather boy with a smaller piece of stick.
You’re a lashing, smashing hunk of man;
Your sweat shines sweet and strong.
Your organ’s working perfectly, but there’s a part that’s not screwed on.
Weren’t you at the Coke convention back in nineteen sixty-five
You’re the misbred, gray executive I’ve seen heavily advertised.
You’re the great, gray man whose daughter licks policemen’s buttons clean.
You’re the man who squats behind the man who works the soft machine.
Come now, gentleman, your love is all I crave.
You’ll still be in the circus when I’m laughing, laughing on my grave.
When the old men do the fighting and the young men all look on.
And the young girls eat their mothers meat from tubes of plasticon.
Be wary please my gentle friends of all the skins you breed.
They have a tasty habit – they eat the hands that bleed.
So remember who you say you are and keep your noses clean.
Boys will be boys and play with toys so be strong with your beast.
Oh Rosie dear, don’t cha think it’s queer, so stop me if you please.
The baby’s dead, my lady said, “You gentlemen, why you all work for me?”

(lifted from Keno, then edited—additional corrections welcome)

Getting It

Filed under: Movie Music, Movies, Song of the Day, , , ,

One Response

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Tesha Foxx, zerode. zerode said: Song of the Day: Mick Jagger, "Memo from Turner": http://wp.me/pgsJ7-vw […]

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Oh - and hello to Jason Isaacs.

The 400 Blows

zerode

is an over-caffeinated and under-employed grad school dropout, aspiring leftwing intellectual and cultural studies academic, cinéaste, and former poet. Raised in San Francisco on classic film, radical politics, burritos and soul music, then set loose upon the world. He spends his time in coffee shops with his laptop and headphones, caffeinating and trying to construct a post-whatever life.

 

What's in a name... The handle "zerode" is a contraction of Zéro de Conduite, the title of Jean Vigo's 1933 movie masterpiece about schoolboy rebellion.

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