Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Claim to fame

Several years ago, I got Stephen Pastel to write a review of a new Beat Happening box set for Careless Talk Costs Lives magazine.

I think this is probably the single most indie-pop thing ever done, by anyone, ever. Unless anybody knows any different.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

School of rock

In which I prove that it is possible to write about A-level results without resorting to images of excitable blonde teenagers in skimpy tops hugging each other.

P.S. And following that, an interesting "whither blogging?" post from Sunny Hundal.

P.P.S. Is that better? Although interestingly, The Guardian put this in the paper, rather than their 'blog' (which, as m'colleague Ms P rightly observes, is no such thing).

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Following the footsteps of a rag doll dance

Of course, the worst thing about celebrity culture is the misplaced sense that the private lives of famous people can affect our own; that their happiness or heartache is as important as our friends', our families', our own.

Still, I must admit that I gulped rather hard when I discovered that Siouxsie and Budgie have split up.

And on a completely different level, this story fills me with admiration and humility and anger and all sorts of things. What do you think?

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Potting the brown

The gentleman on the left is Senator Sam Brownback, one of the contenders for the Republican nomination for next year's American Presidential elections. Senator Brownback is described as being on the right wing of the party: presumably he perceives President Bush to be some kind of leftish subversive intellectual.

Of course, Senator Brownback holds resolutely conservative views on such hot-button issues as gay marriage, abortion, immigration and blowing up Abroadistan. So it's unfortunate that the word 'Brownback' suggests to me one or more of the following:

a) A slang term for a variety of heroin. ("Sheesh man, that gelcap o' brownback laid me out for two days.")

b) A slang term for an illegal immigrant. ("The harbour police just intercepted a crate with two dozen brownbacks come to work as hookers.")

c) Something unimaginable for which gentlemen advertise their fondness by means of a complex code of handkerchiefs in the back pocket. Or non-consenting variant of the same. ("That dumbass on my landing got uppity over a meth deal, so I got six brothers to brownback him in the showers. Mofo couldn't sit down for a week.")

Sorry, I've been watching The Wire.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Beyond the pale

One of the many cultural hurdles that Westerners have to cope with when coming to live in Thailand is the local attitude to race and ethnicity. It might be too harsh to suggest that Thai people are racist: it's just that their attitude to such matters can seem very peculiar, even (especially?) when they mean well. Here's an example provided by my friend Noel (whose book The Man Who Scared a Shark to Death and Other Tales of Drunken Debauchery will make teetotallers of you all):

Thai Toothpaste Ad

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Version therapy

I've just noticed something odd about my copy of Windows on the World, Frédéric Beigbeder's novel about 9/11. (Yes, I've lapsed from my commitment to read only female authors for the foreseeable future: but I also felt bad about not even having opened a book I bought two years ago. Guilt is bad, but a choice between competing guilts? Now I know what it's like to be the offspring of a marriage between a Jew and a Catholic.)

Anyway, in among the small type, somewhere between the publishing history and the ISBN I found this sentence:

"This English language edition differs in parts from the original French."

I should bloody well hope so.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Big Sister

The news that Posh Spice-looky-likey off of Big Brother Chanelle went to LA dressed as Posh Spice, but Posh Spice wouldn't see her really ought to set me off on a Baudrillardian flight of fancy about how many simulacra you can fit on a size zero dressmaker's dummy. But instead I'll just point out that if Chanelle looks like anyone, it's Angela Rippon.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Worldly goods

Been watching Noah Baumbach's exceedingly funny 1995 debut, Kicking and Screaming, which is about a group of students who are mentally and physically unable to leave college life behind after graduation.

Among the numerous twinges of recognition, I was struck by one image: the open back of a big station wagon, containing a student's possessions, en route from one place to another, neither of them quite 'home'. This was a recurring motif of my university years, as my dad developed new and ingenious techniques to accommodate my exponentially increasing collection of ephemera into a Fiat that, as far as I know, had no dimensionally transcendental properties.

But does this still happen? By far the biggest part of my accrued stuff came in the form of books and records. Surely nowadays students just stick everything on their iPods. And do they actually read books any more? What's Wikipedia for? In theory, all a student needs can be contained in a decent-sized suitcase or rucksack, and a laptop. And you can lug that lot onto a train or coach.

As the tired old A-levels controversy rumbles on, inevitably accompanied by pictures of cute, 18-year-old blondes in skimpy tops, have we seen the end of Volvo tailbacks around our university towns in the first week of October? Or are parents so desperate to check out their little ones' rented hovels that they drive them down anyway?

Oh, and Bill Deedes: Resht in Peashe.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Black chair blues

In which I use the current plight of the BBC as an excuse to regurgitate my showbiz anecdotes. I wonder if my old pal Zangdook will be coming out to play.

Oh, and if you thought you'd seen the last manifestation of that strange craze a few months ago for being photographed while pretending to read a biography of a certain middle-class beat combo, I think we've got a revival coming on.

Next thing you know, Channel 4 will make a nostalgia show about it.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007


I'm a big fan of Amy Winehouse. She's hugely talented and genuinely interesting, which automatically raises her above about 96% of her pop contemporaries. But if, as it appears, she's undergoing treatment for overindulgence in extra-strong fizzy pop and/or special sweeties, do you reckon she now regrets recording a song that would be such a gift to lazy tabloid sub-editors? I mean, it's not as if George Michael wrote a song called "They tried to get me to flash my willy at a policeman in a public convenience in Los Angeles but I said no, no, no", is it?

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Second life of Brian

The High Llamas, Can Cladders (Duophonic/Drag City, 2007)

The approved critical kneejerk when considering the oeuvre of The High Llamas (essentially consisting of Sean O'Hagan - late of Microdisney and sometime associate of Stereolab - plus a revolving cast of friends) is to say that it sounds more than a bit like Brian Wilson. Which is fair enough. O'Hagan writes melancholy, tuneful songs (check); he likes complex vocal harmonies (check); he's fond of unusual instrumentation, deploying harps, marimbas, banjos and the inevitable tack piano. So far, so derivative. If you demand untarnished originality in all creative product, you're probably inclined to dismiss O'Hagan as a hack, too much in thrall to his idol to escape from his shadow.

But this ignores the conceptual fun you can have with the scenario. After all, Wilson's career is peppered with enticing "what-if?"s, mainly variants on "what if he hadn't been mentally incapacitated for much of his adult life?" Like one of those books that starts with the premise that Hitler won the war, the work of the High Llamas can be seen as a succession of alternative histories. What if Wilson had released Smile in 1967? What if he'd had the strength to stand up to the egregious Mike Love? What if he'd got over his Paul McCartney fixation and transferred his attention to Syd Barrett or Nick Drake or David Bowie or some other damaged, left-field genius?

To an extent, what O'Hagan does with each album is to follow a different what-if. On the latest, Can Cladders, he seems to be going off on a more English pastoral route (which makes the examples of Barrett, et al, quite apposite, and yes, I know O'Hagan's Irish), and places more female voices in the creamy mix. It's very lovely, music to surround and comfort you, music to make you ponder, music against the background of which you can sip peculiar liqueurs and watch flamingos and jugglers do odd things on a lawn at dusk (or maybe it's dawn, you're not quite sure, you've had three too many liqueurs and your watch stopped 30 years ago). Think the Penguin Cafe Orchestra ditching the baroque and going romantic. Or something.

But the fact remains that the real attraction is that it offers us a hypothesis of how Wilson would have sounded if he'd gone down that route in about 1974, rather than getting fat and hairy in his bathrobe. As long as O'Hagan stays in that shadow, any discussion of The High Llamas will really be a discussion of someone else.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007


I've always had a grim sort of fascination for the type of marketing campaign where the actual product is an afterthought. Absolut is a classic example: they finalised the design of the bottle before they began formulating the vodka.

Along these lines, I've come up with the germ of a great campaign, but as yet have no product. All that I know is that the tagline consists of the wonderful Tony Benn

saying: "It'sh the dog’sh bollocksh."

Does anyone have a stray product to which this might be attached? I'm thinking maybe high-yield investments. Or Toilet Duck.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Life of buy

On Shopping, by India Knight

(Part of my mission to read more books by female authors.)

In many ways, On Shopping is a magnificent synthesis of content, form and function. It's part of the Pocket Penguin series, published in 2005 as part of the 70th anniversary of Allen Lane's groundbreaking contribution to retail culture. You can even buy all 70 books in the series, in a natty longbox, essentially paying 100 quid to allow Penguin to market their back catalogue at you. Moreover, as the name of the series suggests, the book's quite dinky, so could easily fit in a Mulberry handbag, a bit like a copy of Glamour magazine.

Oooh, hang on, have I just expressed an inadvertently gendered stereotype about shopping? Not to worry, since India Knight does the same thing on the first page, characterising men as "grumpy and monosyllabic when lured down the high street, wishing they were at home browsing the web for gadgets instead". According to the blurb, her purpose here is to spread the message that "if you don't enjoy shopping, you're simply not doing it properly".

In the event, she doesn't really fulfill that promise. On Shopping is a mesclun of chicklit, lifestyle, autobiography and self-help, peppered with a few URLs of varying usefulness. (To give you a flavour, try this: "If you have a house rabbit and want to buy it some presents, go to It will thank you." Er, yes.) Knight explains how to deal with stroppy shop assistants (comment on their excessive facial hair, apparently) but what's lacking is any kind of explanation of the charms of shopping that might win over us committed retailphobes. She's preaching to the choir.

A quick time out to declare my interests here. I shop, of course. The alternative is foraging or hunting, and I'd probably be even worse at that. Moreover, I depend for part of my income on retail: people buy my books, and although shopping in Waterstone's is less reprehensible to the puritan spirit than shopping in Hennes, it's the same thing really, isn't it? I'm uncomfortable with the environmental and social impact of excessive consumption, but I profit from it. It's a fair cop, guv, in used notes in a brown envelope. On the other hand, I've long been a devotee of the Japanese art of tachiyomi (corrected: thanks, Jun), spending hours browsing in bookshops with little or no intention of buying anything. Although I do feel bad if I leave a small, independent bookshop, or a second-hand establishment, without buying something. And I also believe it's morally wrong to walk out of a big chain bookshop having only made non-book (cards, mags, bookmarks, coffee, etc) purchases. Oy, the guilt. In my case, the concept of retail therapy has completely different connotations...

But at least I think about it. By contrast, On Shopping isn't really about the shopping process: it's about the stuff you buy. In her eagerness to please ("a voice as fresh as a skinny latte" it says on the back cover, which has to be the lamest simile I've read this year) Knight refuses to engage with this dark side of the high street. There's nothing about consumer debt, nothing about peer pressure, nothing about why an affluent society fills its spiritual, moral or intellectual void with a dead-eyed frenzy of chipping and pinning.

Knight does address the fact that consumer magazines operate under an unspoken agreement to talk up the products of their most lucrative advertisers, but not the extent to which this might affect our buying patterns. She recommends regular culls of kids' toys and the contents of adults' wardrobes, acknowledging that "It's one thing to be acquisitive and another to just sit there like a pig wallowing in excess mud." But she never asks why she felt the need to acquire the bloody things in the first place.

Saturday, August 04, 2007


I've often been tempted to do a post about the various indignities that get inflicted on the English language in Asia. I usually stop myself: the goofs are seldom as funny out of context; and in any case, the whole thing gives me a case of post-colonial guilt. Whoever perpetrates the sins against Dr Johnson found on sites like The Chinglish Files is at least making the effort: his or her English will always be better than my Thai.

But (and you knew there was going to be a but, didn't you?) I couldn't resist this one. On the cover of a slightly dodgy DVD of Seabiscuit, the 2003 movie about a runty horse that became a champion, I read:


Thursday, August 02, 2007

Me ears are alight

Oh all right then. It is summer after all, when inspiration and originality go off to their Tuscan villa for a few weeks. So let's have a mondegreen post. I was hesitant about this, because I thought they'd all be done; but then I received an e-mail from a shamefully blogless friend who alerted me to Abba's secret infanticidal tendencies, as demonstrated by the line in 'Waterloo': "Blowing up babies to be with you."

(Incidentally, am I the only person who thinks it's possible to track one's own sexual maturity - or otherwise - by which bird out of Abba you fancy? When you're very young and suggestible, you fancy Agnetha. Then, when you grow up a bit, you develop delusions of sophistication and start to fancy Frida because she's a bit dark and mysterious, and Agnetha's all blonde and pneumatic and obvious. Then, probably at some time in your thirties when you should be too busy to worry about stuff like that, you suddenly realise that Agnetha was the cute one all the time. It's like that love quadrangle in EastEnders, with Roy and Frank and Pat and Peggy swapping partners. Although there were two blondes in that equation. And no beards. There was however, as Billy points out, a bow-tie.)

Anyway, yeah, whatever. Have you ever misheard a song lyric, and then felt a bit silly when you discovered what the real words were? If so, call 01 (if you're outside London) 811 8055, and make sure you've got permission from whoever pays the bill. Or bung it in the comments box, it's up to you.