Tuesday, January 31, 2006

You really like me

It's Oscar nomination time!

Ang Lee's at 1/20 for best director. PSH something approaching that for Capote. Keira Knightley now has more Oscar nominations than Edward G. Robinson, Donald Sutherland and Marilyn Monroe combined.

Hope Jon Stewart's gagwriters are good.

God isn't in the details

"In order words, you haven't committed an offence unless of course you've committed the offence, in which case I'm afraid you've committed an offence."

Thus spake Rowan Atkinson on the subject of the bloody ludicrous religious hatred bill. In Bangkok, by the way, you can buy bootleg DVDs of Blackadder that are emblazoned with the irresistible come-on: "STARRING MR BEAN!!!".

Lost in music

New word for the day: amusia, a condition that renders sufferers entirely unresponsive, or even actively hostile, to music. Not just James Blunt either – any music.

Evelyn Waugh was notoriously indifferent to music, and admitted so in his Face to Face interview. And Ulysses S. Grant, great general, lousy President and amusing drunkard, is alleged to have said: “I only know two tunes: one of them is ‘Yankee Doodle’ and the other one isn’t.” And who was the king of England who had to be nudged when the National Anthem played?

But the great she-elephant of amusia has to be Quentin Crisp, who let rip in ‘Stop The Music For A Minute’, which flutters for its allotted 60 seconds (precisely) on the outskirts of Cherry Red’s seminal Pillows & Prayers compilation:

"I have been to bars in Soho, whose denizens have crossed social and geographical barriers to reach them. In one, I have seen a girl sitting amid musical pandemonium with a book open on her knees and her little finger entwined with that of her true love. Of course, she was not really listening, not really reading and not communicating with her friend in any way that required effort or style. It would be hard to say whether the jukebox caused the death of human speech or whether music came to fill an already widening void - but unless the music is stopped now, the human race, mumbling, snapping its fingers and twitching its hips, will sink back into an amoebic state, where it will take a coagulation of hundreds of teenagers to make up a single unit of vital force - which, once formed, will only live on sedatives, consume itself on the terraces of football stadia, and die.”

Monday, January 30, 2006

Prize quiz

Alert readers will note that I have crawled out from under my mossy rock of pseudonymity. What this entails I do not know.

To celebrate the occasion, there is a quiz, the prize for which will be e-mailable and of no financial value. First person to answer the following crap question wins:

Q: Who lived under the name of Sanders?

Mouths of babes

"Rock’n’roll is not good, it’s for the posh kids. Rock people are like the goofy people in your class who you can ask for help to do your work."

Bacon vs. Hockney

Handbags at dawn...


The beginning of David Boyle's Authenticity: Brands, Fakes, Spin and the Lust for Real Life (Harper Perennial, 2004), finds the author in Ocean Dome, a vast, fake, indoor beach in Japan. The weirdness of the set-up is accentuated by the fact that the real Pacific Ocean is on the other side of the road, only a few metres away.

Boyle, in his laid-back, British way, politely disagrees with the management’s line that “This is where we can feel that we are part of nature.” And he proceeds to demolish the glittery fakes and half-assed simulacra of the modern world, from Pot Noodle to A Year In Provence, from IMAX to the biggest baddy of them all, virtual reality.

But is the other beach ‘real’? What makes it ‘a beach’? What do we think of when we hear the word ‘beach’? Donkeys and candyfloss? David Hasselhoff? Do the Japanese think the same thing? And it’s ‘real’ in Boyle’s terms, because it’s ‘natural’. But the very fact that he’s flagging it up as ‘a beach’ rather than ‘a bit of land next to the sea’ suggests that it’s been colonised by humanity. The road that divides the two beaches (and, presumably leads people to each of them), well who in the hell put that there?

There’s actually a pretty good argument for a big, grown-up discussion about notions of authenticity, realness, truth and all that big stuff. From what I remember, Aristotle’s philosophy was based on the observation that A is A, and everything proceeds from that. When I challenged my Grade 13 history teacher that A might not be A (I think he was trying to lure us into the wicked, right-wing boudoir of Ayn Rand and enlightened self-interest) things all got a bit heated.

Having lived in Asia for – Jesus – getting on for three years now, I’ve come to realise that “A is A” is a profoundly Western way of looking at things. As Richard Nisbett points out in The Geography Of Thought, which I might get around to reviewing here one day, Asian and Occidental modes of perception are, if not genetically hardwired, fixed from the moment of birth by entirely different emphases in upbringing. They think differently, so their reality is different. Essentially, Cogito ergo sum, but East and West don’t agree what cogito means. Or, as a senior advisor to the Thai Prime Minister once asked me, “Why are you so obsessed with knowing the truth? Isn’t it more important to be liked?

Sadly, David Boyle doesn’t go here. Instead, he sits himself squarely within the Adbusters/No Logo/Slow Food movement, with its sceptical eye on capitalist notions of material progress, globalisation, branding and so forth. Which is good, or it was five years ago, when it really felt as if this kind of thinking could change the world. Boyle actually goes one better, by backing such practical manifestations of post-capitalist behaviour as local currencies, rather than just shaking his fist at Bush’s utter beastliness, the mode of discourse to which Naomi Klein seems to be reduced these days.

But (maybe because he’s essentially a down-to-earth, practical kinda guy), Boyle just has to play by the rules. His kinda people (pro-organic, anti-branding, but not hippies) are dubbed The New Realists, which he likes to see as being soulmates of Matt Thorne’s New Puritans or Paul Ray’s Cultural Creatives. But to me, it just sounds like another chunk of marketing speak, like Yuppies and Dinkies and Aspirers and C2DE's and Soccer Moms and White Van Men. It's as real or unreal, authentic or inauthentic as that big, fake son of a beach.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Thoughts on celebrity

Selections from Paul Morley's Words and Music (Bloomsbury, 2003), to commemorate Celebrity Big Brother being won by a non-celebrity:

*Celebrity is as fake as fuck and as real as anything.

*Celebrity is made up out of boredom and disappointment.

*Celebrity is a rumour about itself.

*Celebrity is the titillating balance between everybody being as famous as each other and everybody being as anonymous as each other.

*Celebrity is coming down in flames.

*Celebrity is a copy of something else that we then copy.

Fat feet

Just noticed that I've been posting considerably more in the last few days. Maybe it's because I've got some very boring work that's weeks overdue, and this is a pleasant little displacement.

And all I wanted to say was that a few minutes ago I tried to put both legs into one trouser leg, fell flat on my face and managed to knock a knob off the wardrobe door.

No wonder I was always the last to get picked for football.

Happy New Year

Yes, it's the Year of the Dog, and in honour of the occasion, here's Bert.

I should explain that in Thailand we get three New Years. There's the Western one, which is just a lazy continuation of the tacky consumerism we call Christmas - bad muzak versions of Phil Spector, fat babies in Santa suits, hedges toped as reindeer, etc etc. In fact, the Christmas/NY thing is really just a continuation of December 6, which is the King's Birthday and Father's Day all in one package. So what usually happens is the fairy lights go up some time in mid-November, and don't comes down until the end of Jan, after Chinese New Year (which is what we're on now) happens. Lots of food, firecrackers and dragons.

The Chinese began coming to Thailand in big numbers around the end of the 19th century, originally as unskilled labourers. Pretty soon they began making names for themselves in business, so that as early as the 1910s, the then king, Vajiravudh (Rama VI), published a book called The Jews Of The East, suggesting their influence ought to be curtailed. "In matters of money the Chinese are entirely devoid of morals and mercy. They will cheat you with a smile of satisfaction at their own perspicacity," he opined. Sound familiar?

Since then they've integrated fairly well, taking Thai names and so on, but they still dominate the business sector and, increasingly, politics. Only the civil service is an ethnic Thai holdout. Indeed, the big dirty secret of Thai patriotism is that, without the ethnic Chinese, the country would be screwed. Most farangs (that's us gaijin/gweilo/honkies) can't really tell the difference, except at New Year, when the Chinese all wear red shirts. It's like being in the wrong pub during a Manchester derby.

The final celebration comes in April, with Thai New Year, or Songkran. This is essentially trick or treat mated with a wet t-shirt competition; teenagers roaming the streets armed with buckets and water pistols, soaking anything that moves.

The key thing is, everyone takes part in each festival. Dragons, soaking, Auld Lang Syne, the lot. The Chinese know CNY is "theirs" but they don't stop anyone else joining in. The parallel situation in the UK, with hand-wringingly PC council functionaries setting up anaemic "Winter Festivals" and the inevitable opportunistic tabloid backlash about "abolishing Christmas" is simply tiresome. It's a party. Go.

Or don't, which is my usual Oscar-the-Grouch attitude.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

White noise

Interesting piece by Hannah Pool in today's Graun. She's at a loss as to the commercial failure of contemporary British black music, and the success of skinny, pasty-faced white boys with cheap guitars and expensive habits.

The usual reasons (all of which have a degree of justification); lack of long-term investment by record companies at the top of the list. But Hannah (who is black) rather shoots herself in the foot when she mentions why she never got into indie when she was growing up. "Indie bands didn't look like me," she writes.

Well, if we're going to be selecting our musical preferences on such a dimwitted basis, it's no wonder British black music is fecked. 91% of the population is white, and thus by definition "doesn't look like" Javine or Estelle or Dizzee Rascal. If this is the criterion, we should be more astonished that British Asian artists don't get a crack of the A&R whip.

There's another reason, though. Since 1964, white British bands have been staging periodic guerilla attacks on the US charts. Sometimes they crash and burn; sometimes they clean up. Dylan and Springsteen and the Beach Boys vs the Beatles and the Clash and Led Zep is a fairly even match in muso-crit terms. But there's been no equivalent black British attempt to storm the septic barricades. Unless you count Junior "Mama Used To Say" Giscombe. What black British artists are there who have a right to be in the same zip code as Public Enemy, Run DMC, Prince, Luther Vandross, Funkadelic, Sly Stone, Aretha, Otis, Marvin, Little Richard, Bo Diddley, Muddy Waters, Leadbelly, Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong..?

White British people love black music, probably far more than white American people do. Think of trad jazz, the blues boom, the Mods and the (original) skinheads, Northern Soul, the ska revival, rare groove... but it's all American (and sometimes Jamaican). I love black music. I don't love mumbling retards like So Solid Crew.

The reason that black British artists often can't hack it is that lots of them are shite.

Friday, January 27, 2006


From the current Business Week, about Applemeister Steve Jobs:

"And now Jobs was back in charge. Wearing shorts, sneakers, and a few days' growth of beard, he sat down in a swivel chair and spun slowly, says McCluney... "O.K., tell me what's wrong with this place," Jobs said. After some mumbled replies, he jumped in: "It's the products! So what's wrong with the products?" Again, executives began offering some answers. Jobs cut them off. "The products SUCK!" he roared. "There's no sex in them anymore!"

Hear that? Products. Not branding. Products. Real stuff. Sure, you can use your brand "to tell a story" or whatever wank your mktg consultant has just charged you 200 an hour for, but you need to make products that, at the very least, are not shite.

On a similar reality/bollocks interface, James Frey has admitted that his addiction memoir A Million Little Pieces is, pretty much, bollocks.

Forgive me if I don't share Winfrey's indignation (with a side order of damage limitation to her own, personal brand). There are many thousands of people making many millions of dollars specifically telling people stuff that just ain't so. They work in advertising, PR, politics, all over. In the universe they concoct for us, Saddam had WMDs, David Cameron is the future of British politics, Posh 'n' Becks wrote their own autobiographies and in the Congo, they drink M'Bongo. If you want to turn the Frey thing into a debate about the nature of truth, Oprah, then I'll join in. If you just want to make this ex-junkie feel bad because he made you look a bit silly, then I'll pass.

The voters have spoken, damn them to hell...

So you go to all the trouble of getting people in Iraq and Palestine to hold elections and then they have the bad manners to elect people who want to blow you up. Bloody inconvenient thing, democracy.

Back to the 80s

Is Paul Morley our greatest living writer? Discuss.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Old old old

I seem to be slipping into old age. Think I'm losing touch with pop music, which is probably age-appropriate, but it hurts. Still, it happened before in the early 90s when I never really got grunge.

Location is something to do with it. Here in BKK, Coldplay is still pretty fucking radical. Yes I can download stuff, yes I can read about, yes, if the worst comes to the even worst I can get it delievered. But I still feel isolated. Last week I bumped into a Canadian Belle & Seb fan and nearly wept with relief. The irony is, Oasis and Franz Ferdinand and Placebo will be playing here next month - but I'll be in London, having just missed the Bonzos reunion there.

(On the subject of Oasis, I always thought they were overrated, but they did provide me with an epiphany of sorts. The only time I saw them live was the moment I realised that "alternative music" was dead. It was Knebworth, 1996, over 100,000 people, and my view was blocked by three of those people, all wearing matching cagoules proudly announcing their allegiance to the Crewe & Alsager College of HE Lacrosse Club.)

Another reason for my estrangement from happy happy sounds is that I've been doing much dull work, which means concentration, which means background music, which often means classical. Obvious bits, like Brandenburg 5 and Beethoven Choral, but also oddities, like some French Renaissance stuff performed by the Baltimore Consort, which is all lutes and citterns and viols and recorders and hey-nonny-nonny but without being loathesome, strangely. And from here, it's but a step to complaining when anything written later than 1600 turns up on Radio 3. Not to mention the current hullabaloo kicking off at Radio 4. Anarchy! Bolshevism! Matron!

Even the films I've been watching have been elderly. Sorry Wrong Number (Anatole Litvak, 1948) and The Thin Man (WS Van Dyke, 1936). The first is noiry, Barbara Stanwyck neurotically great, Burt Lancaster pretty wooden (he was better on a trapeze). The Thin Man, another one I thought I must have seen before, is as fab as the crits say, and pretty damn raunchy for the era. "He never got near my tabloids!"

Looking back over some earlier posts, I realise I never got round to writing about Authenticity by David Boyle. I now can't remember it, and can't find it. But I will do something about, because I can remember it annoyed me, although I don't know why.

Just take me out back and shoot me, yeah?

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

The most offensive word in the world?

The following post contains language that may offend...

Did you know that if you enter the word "Jew" into Google, the first thing that comes up is a page called "Offensive Search Results" that apologises for the fact that "you may have seen results that were very disturbing"? As far as I can judge, "Jew" is the only word that causes this to appear: other taboo words, such as "nigger", "cunt", "motherfucker" and "Cheney" are allowed to pass without a warning. Even "yid", "kike" and "sheeny", all offensive words for Jews - ah, sorry, Jewish people - are OK.

I know anti-Semites tend to use "Jew" as a term of abuse, but isn't this a case of letting the bigots take over the language? A couple of BNP activists are currently on trial; the basis of the prosecution is that they were using the word "Muslim" as a coded reference to "brown people", thus contravening race relations legislation. So is "Muslim" taboo, or what? It doesn't get its own warning page.

Connotation vs denotation, as us lapsed Eng. Lit. students used to ponder. Or, as Jonathan Miller said, "I'm not a Jew - just Jew-ish."

MSHB, Lubitsch, J. Strange

Just popped my Wikipedia cherry by expanding and updating the Maher Shalal Hash Baz entry. Am now listening to their compilation album From A Summer To Another Summer (An Egypt To Another Egypt), the first fruit of their relationship with Stephen Pastel's Geographic label. If you've never listened to their fractured, fragile punk jazz, then do so. Now.

New Belle & Sebastian album next month, Stephin Merritt in March. Things looking a bit cheerier musically speaking. Will be in London Feb 12-18. Any gigs or other manifestations of wonder scheduled for that week, do let me know.

Also... last night watched Lubitsch's Heaven Can Wait (1943), one of those things I'd always thought I'd seen on a Sunday afternoon on BBC2 when I was about eight, but probably never did. It has it's moments, but looks distinctly coy now. On the other hand, one can only admire Lubitsch's ability to succeed in the face of fuckwitted censorship. It's the story of a man who asks to be admitted to Hell because of his own serial adultery; however, thanks to the Hays Code, the words "Hell" and "adultery" are never used. Classy.

And have just started Susanna Clarke's Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, which feels uncomfortably like something else (Dark Materials, Artemis Fowl) that's arrived in the H*RRY P*TT*R slipstream, but I'll give it a go anyway.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Bald, obscure LibDem in man-on-man rudeness shock horror

Mark Oaten, sometime contender for the LibDem leadership, has been caught out playing away from the fragrant Belinda and two kids. Fair cop to the News Of The World, to an extent; he had, after all, used images of himself as a loving hubby in election material distributed to the electors of Winchester.

But there's one sentence in the redtop account that just doesn't do it for me:

"The naked MP then got the rent boys to humiliate him with a bizarre sex act too revolting to describe."

No. I've no idea what the bizarre sex act was, but I'm sure it's pretty easy to describe. What the NotW means is that it can't be described with nudging the paper's Neanderthal readers over the blurry line between prurient schadenfreude and outright revulsion. Three-in-a-bed with rent boys in football kit is OK. But "bizarre sex acts" (chickens? shitting? hot drill bits in the perineum?) aren't suitable for a family newspaper, apparently.

It's not the primness I object to, or the hypocrisy. It's just the lousy, lazy journalism.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Two films

In the last 48 hours I have mostly been watching...

Titus (1999, Dir Julie Taymor)

When I was 19, I was packed off to Stratford with my fellow Eng Lit undergrads for a week of Shakespeare and associated stuff. The key moment was Deborah Warner's production of Titus Andronicus, starring Brian Cox. I was in the front row of the Swan Theatre, and at one point I got so wrapped up in the action I realised I was half-way out of my seat, wanting to squeeze a zit on the back of Peter Polycarpou (playing Aaron the Moor). As we wondered out, dazed, one of the ushers said that it was a fairly quiet night, because nobody had vomited or had a nervous breakdown, although a couple of people had to be ushered out, sobbing softly. That was when I noticed there was (stage) blood all down the front of my trousers. I don't think I've ever really enjoyed a stage play since - nothing could come close.

And neither can Taymor's version, although it does have its moments. It's one of those consciously anachronistic jobs, with 1930s microphones and cars, 1940s Lugers, stag hunting with medieval crossbows, Roman orgies, modern plastic toys, all kinda zhooshed up together. This does serve to reinforce the contemporary relevance (the rival cliques of Saturninus and Bassianus are represented by the colours of Rome's two modern football teams, Roma and Lazio, but I don't know how many people Taymor expected to spot that) and the film does transcend the Elizabethan video nasty that Shakespeare originally wrote.

The key problem is Anthony Hopkins. No disrespect to the guy, but he can't stop playing Anthony Hopkins. He's got that speech [pause and turn head slightly] LOUD SPEECH [pause and turn head back] speech tic that can work sometimes, but isn't a substitute for acting. Reminds me rather of the quiet bit-LOUD BIT mode that Nirvana ripped off from the Pixies. There's no sense of a Lear-like collapse of a once-great leader... it feels as if one day he just decides all the abuse is two much, and dresses up as a chef for a giggle.

Alan Cumming is admirably reptilian as Saturninus, and Jessica Lange is good as Tamora, queen of the Goths, actually creating sympathy for this bitch from hell. Best performance however is Harry Lennix as Aaron. It's a problematic role, because, as written, he has no real motivation for his villainy. PC directors have attempted to link his wrongdoing to the racist abuse he suffers (cf Shylock) but Shakespeare simple saw him as black, in all senses of the word. And, very bravely, that's followed here, with Lennix offers a sort of understated existentialism. He neither rages against his own vile nature, nor relishes it. He just is, right?

Also on the agenda is...

Mikey and Nicky (1976, Dir Elaine May)

Checking out the DVD cover, I thought this was a Cassavetes-directed film, but JC only stars in it, with his buddy Peter Falk. May, best known for wry observational comedy, in a neo-Woody Allen vein, seems an odd choice to direct this pretty bleak story of gangland losers, betrayal and failure. But as the two characters, Nicky (Cassavetes, who's stolen money from the Mob and is now in paranoid meltdown mode) and Mikey (Falk, the best buddy who claims to be there to help) stumble through the grimy night, stumbling in and out of apartments, bars, cinemas, cemeteries, buses (check out M. Emmet Walsh as the driver!) the essential humour of the situation comes through. It's a nasty, bleak humour, that takes no prisoners: exemplified by the dialogue when Mikey and Nicky go into a black bar (soundtrack - 'Love Train' by the O'Jays).

PATRON: We ain't stupid, you know.

NICKY: Why are you black, then?

Ned Beatty is also at his sweaty, polyester best as the hitman brought in to rub Nicky out.

One thought... you really couldn't make a movie like this any more. For the purely practical reason that much of its plot is propelled by the need to make contact by phone - Beatty and Falk are constantly in phonebooths, leaving messages, losing touch. Mobiles have wiped out a great many plot devices.

It was only when I sat down to write this that I realised both these films were directed by women. I don't know how significant that is, as they are both about very specifically male worlds, and women for the most part are sexual chattels (there's a vicious rape in Titus, and something pretty close in M&N). But was does link them is that they are both about Things Going Horribly wrong. Tragedy, in the truest sense of the word.

Saturday, January 14, 2006


Recently saw two films that I really ought to have caught up on before: Broken Blossoms and The Night Of The Hunter.

Broken Blossoms is one of DW Griffith's quieter, more intimate works, a rest after the racist ballyhoo of Birth Of A Nation and the sheer, bonkers over-indulgence that was Intolerance. It's uncomfortable in many ways (white actors yellowed up, "Chinky" cast around on the intertitles) and the acting is very eyebrows, if you know what I mean. (Watch any male silent actor apart from Keaton and he'll do odd things with his eyebrows.)

That said, Richard Barthemless as the gentle Chinese immigrant is wonderful, a sort of wistful Belle & Sebastian fan before his time. And the recreation of a sort of foggy Limehouse dystopia is very clever (presume it was all done on the backlot).

The Night Of The Hunter, as you probably know, is the only film directed by Charles Laughton, and is best remembered for Robert Mitchum having LOVE and HATE tattooed on his knuckles. It's actually a Gothic southern thriller, with religious maniacs, misogynist psychopaths, good girls threatening to go bad and a kid who looks a bit like Christina Ricci in a hall of mirrors.

What unites the two, of course, is the presence of Lillian Gish. They were made 40 years apart, and her two characters (the doomed, naive, abused daughter and the plucky, shotgun-wielding mother hen) are very different. But it's clearly the same person - the high cheekbones, the weirdly pursed lips and those eyes boring into your soul...

They don't make 'em like that no more.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Two thoughts from recent reading

Andrew O'Hagan discussing his time as a film critic in Granta 86. In a nutshell, O'Hagan had been attacking the middle-brow, coffeetable mentality of Miramax; Miramax and its cronies pointed out that the company was essentially propping up the ailing UK film industry and, in Stephen Woolley's words, "our film critics are generally confused, myopically naive and simply ignorant when it comes to matters of film production and finance."

O'Hagan's response:

"I had written as a film critic, not as an economic analyst. It was irrelevant to my case what the Weinsteins had done for British industry... It seemed obvious to me: if somebody doesn't like your book, there's no point in going on the radio to tell everyone what you're doing to keep people in jobs in the publishing industry. You defend your art, if that's what you're entitled to do, otherwise you take it on the chin."

I think a similar point can be applied to the cultural impact of globalisation. A standard defence of the creeping spread of global/US brands into the developing world is that they have a positive economic impact on the host country. But it's quite consistent to accept that point, while still arguing that, for sake of argument, a McSamurai burger is empirically a foul abortion of Eastern cuisine, or that Fantastic Four is an embarrassingly inept movie.

Which leads (...ish) to Anthony Bourdain, in A Cook's Tour :

"If you're a previously unemployable ex-convenience store clerk from Leeds or Tulsa, however, a guy with no consience and no chance of ever knowing the love of an unintoxicated woman, then Cambodia can be a paradise. You can get a job as an English teacher for about seven dollars an hour (which makes you one of the richest people in the country). Weed, smack, whores, guns, and prescription drugs are cheap and easy to find. Shy boys on motorbikes will ferry you from bar to bar, waiting outside while you drink yourself into a stupor. You can eat dinner, then penetrate indentured underage prostitutes, buy a kilo of not very good weed, drink yourself stuttering drunk, and be driven safely home to your spacious apartment - all for under thirty dollars. Cambodia is a dream come true for international losers - a beautiful but badly beaten woman, staked out on an anthill for every predator in the world to do with what he wishes."

Arctic monkeybusiness

Must admit, holed up here thousands of miles away from civilization (what is this Celebrity Big Brother of which you speak?) I've kinda missed the Arctic Monkeys. But Alexis Petridis claims to have them nailed:

"Meanwhile, Arctic Monkeys' sound is based entirely on music from the past five years," he says in today's Graun. "The laconic, distorted vocals bear the influence of the Strokes. The choppy punk-funk guitars have been filtered through Franz Ferdinand, the frantic rhythms and dashes of ska come via the Libertines."

The question, is - how does he know? How can he tell that the Strokes, FF and the Libertines are the direct influences, rather than any of the acts that have been tipped as influences on these three (say, Blondie, Joy Division, XTC, Costello, Gang of Four, The Clash, Small Faces...)

Of course, sometimes the act of "tribute" is so brazen that the direct link is clear. Remember when Will Young blethered on about covering "Light My Fire by the Doors" when his version was a strum-by-strum Xerox of Jose Feliciano's version? It was so accurate it could have appeared on one of those Top Of The Pops compilations (never mind the studio hackery, check out the cleavage on the cover). But unless one of the Monkeys actually goes on record and hails Julian Casablancas as one of the founding fathers of rock n roll, we'll have to presume that the band's sound is simply a distillation of 50 years or more of pop history, certainly encompassing the Strokes and the Libertines, but also Oasis, Slade, Dr Dre, Screaming Jay Hawkins, Engelbert Humperdinck, Neu!, Lee 'Scratch' Perry, Jive Bunny, Nurse With Wound, Waylon Jennings and Il Divo.

It's called postmodernism, stupid!

The Omega Factor: Paranormal boogie

Finished watching the DVDs of The Omega Factor last night.

For those who don't recall, this was a BBC Scotland drama production from 1979, which concerned a mysterious government department investigating paranormal phenomena. The key characters were Tom Crane, a journalist with psychic tendencies and Anne Reynolds, a physicist. Got it? Open-minded male, hard-nosed scientific female, conspiracy theories, weird goings on... That's right, "borrowed" lock, stock and cliche by The X Files about 15 years later.

Anyroad up, I remember being gripped by the show when it first went out (indeed, the only time it went out, but more of that later). I was 11 at the time, and coming back to it there's the inevitable frisson - am I reviewing the show, or am I reviewing the development of my own critical abilities?

Well, let's say first that The Omega Factor has not aged well. Almost entirely shot on VT, and a lot of it in very obvious studio mockups, it seems endearingly cheap from the perspective of a quarter-century. And that's not even considering the special effects, which often look like some kind of failed demo from Tomorrow's World. Look! Look! That man has gone mad! Let's superimpose glowy pink blobs on his eyes to make him scary. Woooooo!

Moreover, individual shows seem baggy and formless. I don't know whether this is a problem of scripting, direction, editing or what, but there seem to be rather too many long shots of cars pulling up, or closeups of James Hazeldine looking pained and earnest, all for no particular reason. And the final episode stutters to a halt in a manner that's probably meant to be enigmatic and open-ended, but in the end feels as if nobody could quite decide how to bring matters to a close. No second series was commissioned, and the show was never repeated; the notes accompanying the DVD suggest this was because of the stink kicked up by Mary Whitehouse and her dysfunctional freaks, but I reckon it was because the show was just a bit lame.

Indeed, many of the best bits, sadly, fall into the so-bad-it's good camp. Louise Jameson's costumes, for example, hideous confections of polyester, often topped off by big tinted specs and/or mumsy felt hats, brought back a frisson of horror. And in one episode, we get the tantalising glimpse of that most BBC of entities, the made-up pop group (cf Dross in The Archers, The Banned in EastEnders, Fresh 'n' Fly in Grange Hill, John Smith & The Common Men in Dr Who). This time it's the appropriately kitted-out Terry and the Pirates, who are about to serenade the residents of a disturbingly twee Highland hotel when all hell breaks loose and destroys their chance of nationwide fame. I did note that one of Terry's Pirates (maybe Terry himself) was wielding a double-neck guitar, suggesting that punk hadn't permeated this far, even by 1979. Maybe that eyepatch was a Dr Hook reference...

But best of all was that other staple of desperate drama, the fake nightclub. Earnest young persons boogying in a defiantly sexless manner, and Louise Jameson nodding her head in approximate time. Suddenly, Tom sees his apparently dead wife, dancing in a manner that suggestive of advanced Parkinsons. "That's her," he announces. "I recognise her dancing style!"

This is then topped by the appearance of Philip Locke (who I remember as a respected member of the National Theatre company) in the role of a comedy Russian academic. "You're surprised to see me in a place like this?" he barks. "But I like dancing. I like pop music." He then attempts to prove it by shaking his funky whatnot in a manner that screams UNCLE/WEDDING. Sublime.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Ruthie and the kiddyfiddlers

Ruth Kelly, bonkersly Popish education secretary, is under fire for allowing someone with "child abuse" convictions (accessed child porn on a computer) to work in a school.

Now I know I'm going to be accused of being soft on paedophiles (see Chris Langham post) but aren't we going a bit insane here? I remember several teachers with questionable sexual intentions when I was growing up. Can't recall any great harm coming to anyone, though.

You might remember the case of Nick Fulwood, at one time the British number two tennis player, who was banned from coaching under-18s last year because he'd slept in the same room as a 14-year-old girl. This was, incidentally, at the request of the girl's parents and, presumably, accepted by the girl herself. They never shared a bed. No evidence was ever produced of any assault or other offence. But it was "inappropriate" behaviour, so that's that then.

British education (and British tennis for that matter) is dying in a ditch partly because there aren't enough decent teachers to go round. If you apply the safety-first attitude that we've got at the moment, you won't have any child abuse, because no teacher will be allowed to come within 20 yards of any child. Lessons will be conducted by loudhailer.

God, I nearly said something along the lines of "political correctness gone mad". Shoot me.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Celebrity lesbian hardware

From Jeanette Winterson's blog:

"I am so glad of my G4 laptop while I am travelling; not because I can work, but because it keeps my knees warm when I am wearing a skirt."

In Bangkok, of course, this is not an issue. But I am glad of my G4 laptop because lugging around anything heavier in this heat is physically impossible.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Nicely put

Richard D. Lewis, author of When Cultures Collide (pub Nicholas Brealey, Boston, 2006) on doing business with Americans.

"You have a lot of cards up your sleeve. You know a lot more about Americans and their country than they know about you and yours. Many Americans think Finland is in Canada and confuse Lapps with Inuits."

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Fat fingers and other body parts

Keying in the URL of this blog from a strange computer, my finger slipped, and I found myself asked if I wanted to find an "ebony lover". If you're interested, what I keyed was http://culturalsnow.glogspot.com

How the hell did that happen? I don't get it. Once again, it feels like technology is running away with me. I think I'm the only person I know whose phone can't take photos, play music or cure cancer.