Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Betamax blogging

I've decided not to close the year with a Best-of-2008 list because, quite frankly, I haven't read/heard/seen enough genuinely new stuff to fill 10 slots, let alone 10 things that have filled me with such enthusiasm and/or loathing that I can stack them in any particular order. Instead, I've been having one of those tedious internal debates about whether to herald 2009 with a bells-and-whistles redesign for Cultural Snow. I've barely done anything to the default design I picked when I started blogging three (!) years ago, leaving it, as Cath Elliott puts it, looking "too much like a Penguin Classic". I do sometimes feel a bit inadequate when I see the lovely pictures and clever squiggly bits with which the rest of you decorate your sites. I haven't even bothered to add on one of those doodads that tells me when the rest of you have updated. (I did try it, but it made a horrible mess all over my dashboard.) I've just bunged a few widgets down the right-hand margin, and if the spacing goes a bit wonky I just go off and make another cup of tea and hope the Blog Fairy will sort it all out.

So what's stopping me from creating Cultural Snow 2.0? Well, sheer bloody indolence for one thing; as well as a distinct lack of confidence in my own technical and creative abilities, the dashboard disaster being pretty much par for the course. And I've always been a late and nervous adopter of technological innovations, although I recently discovered that I was only the third person in Bangkok to sign up to Twitter.

I briefly considered following Mr Frith's lead and putting a call out to a hip young designslinger, although that would inevitably create tensions: as well as being indolent and incompetent, I can be a bit of a control freak when I put my mind to it, a lethal combination. But I've also come to the conclusion that now everyone else has a bells-and-whistles blog, mine no longer looks primitive and creaky; it looks minimalist and a wee bit retro. And I'm also reminded a little of Aunt Percy.

Aunt Percy (real name Persimmon) was a character in one of my favourite childhood books, Clement Freud's Grimble. She lived in a tower block where the flats didn't have numbers; instead, they were all painted different colours to distinguish them. Aunt Percy's door was buff. Unfortunately, because all the doors were exposed to the elements, the paint gradually faded, until all the doors were buff. One resident suggested that they should put their names on the door, but Aunt Percy objected. She'd made the right choice of door colour to start with, so why should she have to bother with putting her name up? So all the others put their names on the doors, and underneath they put "and Aunt Percy doesn't live here".

So when Grimble goes round to Aunt Percy's flat for his dinner, because his parents have unexpectedly gone on a cruise to Peru, he knows to look for the door with nothing on it.

Not quite sure where I meant to go with that.

Anyway, in the current turbulent circumstances, the best of good wishes alone can't hope to ensure a happy new year, per se; but let's hope that 2009 will at least be interesting. Even if your front door isn't.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Dying the death

One of the reasons I stayed on at my secondary school into the sixth form was a desire to take part in the house play competition. As far as I recall, it was the only event in which the four houses (all named after English naval heroes, which gives you some idea of the environment in which I existed for seven years) battled each other in circumstances that didn't require a communal shower afterwards.

The normal process was to choose something sub-Coward, or Rattigan on a bad day; if you had a couple of actors who could attempt a non-specifically northern accent without sounding Sri Lankan, you might select from that unjustifiably crowded field, the School of Hobson's Choice.

We (Charlie, Rick and I) didn't want to play safe. A few years before our number came up, one enterprising soul had staged the first act of Ibsen's An Enemy of the People, which was a bit of a disaster, but a brave disaster. We wanted to follow that example, either to triumph, or to go down in a blaze of incomprehension. We elected to put on Woody Allen's play Death (now probably better known as the source material for his underrated 1992 expressionist comedy thriller, Shadows and Fog). I can't remember why we dressed the hypnotist as Aladdin-Sane-era David Bowie, or gave the murderer a Fulham scarf to wear; or indeed why we chose 'Spread A Little Happiness' as the introductory music; but something seemed to work. The judges retired to a more salubrious venue, and the following morning the headmaster announced that we'd won.

It was a few days later that I discovered none of the judges had thought our production was the best. All had placed it second, then disagreed wildly about the merits of the other three plays, enabling us to come up through the middle. Despite our strivings, we'd achieved the one thing we dreaded most: a beta-plus; a polite verdict of all-round competence.

When, several years later, I put on a show at the Edinburgh Fringe, the critic from The Scotsman described it as "unbelievably atrocious". I was delighted, and notwithstanding the entreaties of my colleagues, put the quote on the posters; attendances doubled in the second week.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merrily on high

A persistent urban myth holds that when the sodden corpse of the free jazz saxophonist Albert Ayler was fished out of the East River in November, 1970, it was discovered that he'd been tied to a jukebox. Which surely suggests a particularly bleak parlour game, or maybe the pitch for a radio programme, Desert Island Discs reimagined by Chris Morris: if you were plunging towards a cold, dark, watery, inevitable doom, which records would you want to be playing on the lump of chrome and glass and bakelite that was dragging you under?

Albert Ayler: 'Bells' (1965).

Oh, Merry Christmas, by the way.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

404 = P45

As the economic indicators get so gloomy that Survivors starts to look like a documentary, global capitalism is having to find stylish and innovative methods of making people redundant. I discovered the other night that one major Asian newspaper is so terrified by the notion that spurned employees might deploy editorial depth-charges, the IT department is told who's for the chop before the victims themselves find out. The first indication that you're on the scrapheap isn't an ominous summons to the boss's office, or even the appearance of a security guard with a cardboard box; your computer just freezes, leaving you gazing at a glassy microcosm of what your own life has suddenly become.

But how do they get rid of the IT guys?

Sunday, December 21, 2008

What's it to yah?

I'm trying to compile a list of people who haven't recorded a version of Lugubrious Lenny Cohen's 'Hallelujah', but it's tough. So far I've come up with:

preposterously diminished dart-chucker Andy Fordham;

the late Kathy Staff off of Last of the Summer Wine (who did record a ska-tinged version of Cohen's 'Paper Thin Hotel' in 1979);

that brilliant bloke who threw his shoes at Dubya;

the Ood, or at least one of them;

and former union boss and transcendent erotic icon Rodney "Would lady comrades please keep their knickers on until composite 11 has been debated" Bickerstaffe.

I'm pretty sure that's it. Unless you can think of any more...

PS: Sensible overview of the my-version's-better-than-yours thing from Daniel Finkelstein in The Times.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Sit on this

I've always had the greatest admiration for good salespeople and marketing bods, because it's something at which I'm utterly hopeless. It's a combination of my crapness with strangers, my principled loathing for shopping and consumerism of almost any kind and my utter inability to feign enthusiasm about anything whatsoever, including things I quite like. So I'll say at the outset that Sally, who works for the modern furniture retailer Regency Shop, does good sales. I'm not quite sure why a retailer specialising in modern design should be named after a period of the early 19th century, but hey, maybe that's why I'm not in marketing.

I'm also slightly befuddled as to why Sally contacted me and asked me to put a link to her Beau-Brummell-meets-the-Bauhaus emporium on my blog. To be fair, she does offer a hint:

"I realize that you have knowledge of barcelona :)... it'd be swell if you can place our barcelona chair link on your blog..."

Now I do have a cursory knowledge of Barcelona, having visited the place somewhere between once and three times; well, precisely between once and three times, as in twice, the last being more than eight years ago. It's jolly nice and I hope to go back, this time maybe for more than three days. But I don't know why this should give me any particular insight into a particular piece of furniture about which the only thing I know is that it was designed by Mies van der Rohe. And I'm not even sure how Sally knows about my limited knowledge of Barcelona; a trawl of my blog turns up one reference, in which I make a passing reference to the city in a post otherwise devoted to Cambodia.

But Sally's not done; in a final twist, she clarifies that the Barcelona chair that Regency Shop offers at the very reasonable price of $345 (plus shipping) isn't actually a Barcelona chair, presumably to avoid paying pesky royalties to the Mies van der Rohe estate:

"we call it the ibiza chair."

So Sally wants me to give a mention to this chair, because it's named after somewhere I haven't been. Or, more specifically, because I've been somewhere it's not named after. And you know what? I did!

Told you she was good.

PS: More conceptual Mies stuff here.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

I wouldn't normally do this kind of thing

Been listening to the Pet Shop Boys' recent Radio 2 show, which opens with 'Left To My Own Devices'; as always, that line, surely their most celebrated, leaps out: "Che Guevara and Debussy to a disco beat".

It's memorable, but does it actually mean anything? There's an implication that Neil Tennant is announcing his own aesthetic manifesto, a fusion of politics (Che) and high art (Debussy) in the guise of apparently throwaway pop fluff. Although maybe these are just words that sound good. But if not, why choose these particular indicators? Apart, of course, from the fact that Che and Claude don't look entirely unalike, as can been seen from the attached pics. It's a linguistic formula ("A and B to a C beat") that could incorporate any combination of unlikely bedfellows as 'A' and 'B', where 'C' signifies a specific musical form; although I reckon the word would have to have more than one syllable: " a ska beat" sounds oddly abrupt.


• Architecture and pessimism to a rocksteady beat

• Pogle's Wood and Julie Burchill to a foxtrot beat

• Darwinism and mumbling to a trad jazz beat

Some of which sound like the sort of thing that Nietzsche might doodle in the margins while trying to get his head round a difficult Sudoku; or maybe they're just candidates for the space under the blog title.

The only potential downside is that constructions inevitably become clichés: think of "X is the new Y"; or the profoundly tired "M is like N on acid". So we'd better have fun with it before the wheels fall off. Over, as ever, to you.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Shelling out

I was eight years old when I went abroad for the first time, a family fortnight in Brittany. To prepare for the experience, my parents took us to a nearby French restaurant, where I entered into the spirit of things by ordering escargots. The starters duly arrived, but mine wasn't among them.

"Daddy," I hissed. "Where are my snails?"

"They take a little bit longer," he explained. "The chef has to go to the churchyard next door and pluck them off the gravestones."

Despite that trauma (which would probably nowadays see my father being prosecuted for child abuse - did you see the story about the teacher who was sacked for telling children that Santa Claus didn't exist?) I grew to love the little rubbery buggers, ordering them whenever the opportunity arrived. But gradually, I realised that what I really loved was the vast quantities of garlic and butter and parsley in which the snails were cooked, and they slipped from my culinary Top 10.

Fast forward rather more years than I'd care to think about; to Saturday night, in fact. I'm reviewing a new French restaurant in Bangkok, in the most excellent company of Charles Frith. Escargots Bourguignon is on the menu and hey, what the hell, let's have some. Although the garlic and butter is present, it's a restrained, elegant version of the dish, not a full-on vampire killer; as a result, you can taste the snails.

"I think these snails must be frozen," I say. "They don't taste of anything." And then the sickening, shuddering realisation kicks in. Maybe snails really don't taste of anything anyway.

It's as if you're a music fan in the late 1980's, and you've just invested in this new-fangled compact disc thingummybob; you splash out on the complete works of your favourite artist on CD. And when you get them home and play them, you realise that what you loved about your old records was the smell of the vinyl, the static as the disc came out of the sleeve, the pop as the stylus made contact, the crackle and the buzz, the familiar label going round slightly more than once every two seconds. And the music you thought you loved was pretty bloody ordinary.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

The naked truth: postscript

Just an addendum to my earlier witterings about The Fermata; I read the book last weekend, in a beach hut near Pattaya, east of Bangkok. From the window, I could see lots of (Western) people in various states of undress: bikinis; topless; those tight thongs that German males of a certain age deem to be appropriate beachware. Now, all these people knew they were lurching towards nakedness; but did they know that, by Thai cultural standards, they were exceeding the boundaries of decency? Several Thai families were on the same beach, swimming fully clothed, as is the Thai way. When a scantily-clad farang loomed into view, they just looked in the other direction, feeling awkward but not wanting to make a fuss; as is also the Thai way. Unless the Westerners were being particularly crass and insensitive (possibly believing that with the Thai tourist industry in such a dire state, the locals should be pathetically grateful for their mere presence) I presume that they just didn't know the effect their unclad state was having, the message it was sending.

By watching the Westerners parade about with their nipples twinkling in the sun, the outlines of their genitalia clearly visible, was I being another Arno Strine; seeing them exposed to an extent they didn't necessarily realise? Should I have alerted them, like the serpent in Eden, awakening Adam and Eve (or Helmut und Heidi) to their own fall from grace? Or should I have just watched from a distance, hoping that none of them reads this?

Thursday, December 11, 2008


I'm intrigued by the story of Daniel Hoevels, the Austrian actor who slashed his own throat on stage after a real knife was substituted for a prop. Apparently, the audience applauded ecstatically at the gory effect, then stopped pretty quickly when they deduced that his commitment to art had gone just that little bit too far. As Andrew Lloyd Webber's lyricist said, "human kind / Cannot bear very much reality."

If only it had been the duel scene from Hamlet, which might have offered even greater potential for amusing blade-related misunderstandings.

Less than Jake

Apparently, Brokeback Mountain was shown on Italian TV on Monday night without the gay bits. Which is more ludicrous than Hamlet without the prince. Paris without the Eiffel Tower? Jethro Tull without flute solos? Your turn.

PS: More disappearing homosexuals here.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

The music of the spheres

'Genius' is a debased word, but Oliver Postgate had it to spare. I salute his memory with a raised glass of green soup.

PS: Cracking Martin Rowson cartoon in the Graun.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Virgin on the ridiculous

My premier post on Prospect magazine's First Drafts blog. (Awaits collective CiF-style rumination as to whether it's a *proper* blog or not.) Thanks to James Crabtree for the invite. Probably NSFW, by the way:

Before they soundtracked the fall of Communism with the sappy power ballad Wind of Change, the German rock band Scorpions were probably best known for their album covers, which pushed the boundaries of adolescent “ooh-aren’t-I-outrageous?” tedium even by the remarkable standards of European heavy metal...

For full metal mullets and non-ironic lighters aloft, follow this link.

PS: And for a bit of kiddie-porn hysteria that makes the above look entirely sensible, go here.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

The naked truth

I've been reading The Fermata, by Nicholson Baker. I think I've read most of Baker's fiction over the years, but for some reason this had slid between the cracks; a phrase that seems fairly appropriate because Baker has two obsessions - sex and language - and investigates them in the minutest detail. "Between the cracks" would probably send him off on a twelve-page discursion about metaphor, cliché and some woman whose bum he accidentally groped, or thought about accidentally groping, in a Dairy Queen on the outskirts of Baltimore in 1979. Perhaps with footnotes.

The Fermata is the peculiar tale of Arno Strine, who discovers a talent for stopping time. (Those of you who've seen Heroes will know what I mean, and will also have further evidence as to how startlingly unoriginal - yet strangely enjoyable - this mash-up of The X Files and The Tomorrow People really is.) Strine uses his gift for two purposes: to get his work done in apparently superfast time (he's a temp typist); and to look at women's bodies.

This makes Strine sound like a pervert, and he is, but (by his own perception) a fundamentally decent, thoughtful pervert. He does actually like women, and would be mortified if anything he did upset them. He looks at their bodies; touches them; even masturbates in their presence; but then ensures that everything is returned to normal when time restarts, so that they never feel violated. Sometimes he seems to overstep his self-defined mark, mysteriously introducing sex toys into the lives of strangers, but his motive is always to bring happiness. Sick he may be, Patrick Bateman he ain't.

Baker adds to the moral confusion by having Strine write pornography, which is offered to us in the course of the narrative. We're distanced from it (it's fiction within a fiction) and Strine's motivation is supposedly honourable; he offers it to the women he sees, to excite them, to bring him joy, although he also masturbates while writing it. But it's definitely porn, not erotica (don't ask me what the difference is, it just is) and can be read as such. Should a reader appreciate Baker's gift for aping the tropes of Hustler and Penthouse? Or enjoy a discreet hand shandy of his/her own? (Incidentally, Mary Gaitskill in the back-cover blurb describes The Fermata as "Rabelaisian" which is one of those glorious critical references that's taken on a life of its own; people who've never read a comma of Rabelais know what he's like because of all the other writers who've been described as Rabelaisian; essentially, people who write about morally suspect things with such joy that you can't hold it against them. There's a similar phenomenon in rock journalism; everything the Stooges and Captain Beefheart ever recorded could be permanently wiped, and their reputations would be unaffected. But we're veering into Baudrillard territory there, and I did promise you a holiday from that.)

The crucial thread throughout the story is that Strine keeps his gift a secret, so none of his 'victims' (and I debated long and hard - ooh, there he goes again - about whether or not to use those quotation marks) know they've been spied on, undressed, fondled. Which, of course, raises all manner of questions about supposedly victimless crimes. If you never know that a man across the road is watching you undress through the curtains, is there a problem? If I don't know that the CIA is reading my e-mails, is there a problem? Because his gift is so bizarre, Strine can only discuss it with his acquaintances as a hypothesis, a parlour game, a piece of conversational fantasy; I know it's crazy, but what would you do if you could stop time? Even in its theoretical state, they tend to be repulsed by the potential invasion of privacy, so he keeps the secret from everyone but the reader until the end of the narrative. And when he does genuinely attempt to persuade someone that it's true, there are unexpected consequences.

The only thing that Baker doesn't address is the notion that maybe everybody has these powers. Since nobody knows when Strine stops time, how would Strine know when someone else stopped time and undressed him? And stepping back a little into the realm that we desperately call 'reality', Baker has constructed a fictional possibility. How would it be if everyone in the world knew that possibility wasn't a fiction; except for Baker? He's merrily playing with the creative possibilities of time, unaware that everyone else in the world is groping his bum.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Lost your bottle?

I've been flicking through a new Bangkok business magazine called Director (I know, it's a pretty rock 'n' roll life I lead) and came across a piece about Diageo, and how they're dealing with restrictions on alcohol marketing in Thailand. The most delicious part of the rules is that advertisers can't actually refer to the products, only the brand. So you can't show a bottle of Johnnie Walker (Diageo's big seller in the region) or even suggest that Johnnie Walker might be something that someone might want to drink. All you can show is the quintessence of JohnnieWalkerness, and quietly hope that someone will be encouraged to buy some whisky on the back of it.

Zanita Kajiji, Diageo's VP (Marketing), says:

All that's left is to focus on the brand... About the positive messages associated with that brand. That makes it easier for someone else to say exactly the same thing, and you then can't differentiate the product for the consumer.

Uh... I would have thought the exact opposite was true. How many consumers can really tell Johnnie Walker Red Label apart from any other big-selling Scotch (Bell's, Teacher's, 100 Pipers) in a blind tasting? Especially when it's consumed, as is usually the case in Thailand, with copious amounts of ice, soda and often slices of lime? Surely all that distinguishes them is the brand, so the marketing restrictions actually make things easier, by doing away with the mundane reality of product, that so often gets in the way of a good ad. I'll let someone else explain:

Thursday, December 04, 2008

History today

Who says bodice-ripping can't be educational?

The first piece I ever wrote for Cif was about Thailand; specifically about the coup in September, 2006. There were a few more articles along the same lines, but eventually I drifted away from the subject, because it felt as if I was wrestling with smoke. Every time I came to a conclusion, something bizarre happened that challenged all my previous preconceptions. Only last month, I wrote a feature for another publication, quoting a senior figure in the Thai tourist industry thus: "and so long as they don't blockade the airport, it doesn't matter". The day after the magazine went to press, the PAD – bitter opponents of former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra and all his works – blockaded the airport.

Deciding that I'll never understand this place, I watched the first couple of episodes of the civil war drama The Devil's Whore instead; at which point a dim lightbulb popped up above my head...

Further oaths, muskets and heaving bosoms to be found here.

(Picture from

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

How do I love thee? Let me count the bubbles in this Aero...

Small Boo and I have long complained that it's damn near impossible to remember which commodity goes with which wedding anniversary. I mean, all the obvious ones for the big numbers: silver; ruby; gold; they're pretty easy. But the earlier ones are impossible. Which one's paper? China? Leather? And are they different in other countries? Anyway, we decided to create a definitive list, on the basis that we're right and everyone else is wrong, unless they agree with us. But we got bored after about a dozen. So you lot are going to have to finish it.

1 year: dental floss
2 years: belly-button fluff
3 years: pencil shavings
4 years: papier maché
5 years: corduroy
6 years: Arctic roll
7 years: dog hair
8 years: nail varnish
9 years: cough sweets
10 years: xylophones
11 years: gravel
12 years: assorted souvenirs from Radio One roadshows 1974-1979
13 years: over to you...

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Together in electric dreams

Oddly enough, I didn't read much science fiction as a child. I'm sure I looked and dressed as if I did; and plenty of my friends were the sort of high-functioning sociophobes who devoured the oeuvres of Isaac Asimov and Stanislaw Lem and L. Sprague du Camp and Dean Koontz. (Incidentally, I've long believed that all the birth names of actors that are rejected as marquee-inappropriate - names such as Issur Danielovich Demsky and Spangler Arlington Brugh and Herbert Kuchacevich zu Schluderpacheru and Diana Fluck - are redistributed to SF authors whose monickers are deemed to be too ordinary.)

I loved Dr Who, of course, and must have had about 40 of the Target novelisations, but that wasn't *proper* SF, any more than Star Wars was. I think I dabbled with a bit of HG Wells and John Wyndham, and I know I read Fahrenheit 451. But one book that has stuck in my memory is Ben Bova's The Dueling Machine, which I remember borrowing from Leigh Park library at least three times.

So when I picked up a second-hand copy a few weeks ago, it was more than a potential read or even a re-read; it was a matter of revisiting my own younger self. What was it that grabbed my eight-year-old imagination so fiercely?

The eponymous machine is a device that allows people to settle disputes without bloodshed, in a virtual arena; problems arise when combatants actually start dying. The obvious comparison is with the Dr Who story The Deadly Assassin, written by Robert Holmes, which would have been transmitted at around the time I first read Bova's book. Passably interestingly, the conceptual battleground in which the Doctor takes on Chancellor Goth is called The Matrix, and if we leap forwards a further 20-odd years, there are also clear similarities between ideas in Bova's and Holmes's works and the notions that underpin the Wachowski franchise (although that's really only a remake of Tron, but with better clothes and worse acting).

Not only does Bova get his head round the concept of virtual reality over three decades before Second Life, he also second-guesses both how the Web would work, and the uses to which it would be put:

The order was scanned and routed automatically and finally beamed to the Star Watch unit commandant in charge of the area closest to the Acquataine Cluster, on the sixth planet circling the star Perseus Alpha. Here again the order was processed automatically and routed through the local headquarters to the personnel files. The automated files selected three microcard dossiers that matched the requirements of the order...

The personnel officer selected the third man, routed his dossier and Sir Harold's order back into the automatic processing system, and returned to the film of primitive dancing girls that he had been watching before this matter of decision had arrived at his desk...

When I first read The Dueling Machine it was a fantasy; now it seems almost spookily perceptive (although the gender roles underpinning the entirely superfluous love story must have looked pretty outmoded even in 1969) . Back then, I missed his nods to Marshall McLuhan and Vance Packard, which may even have extended to the Situationist appreciation for the subversive power of the decontextualised slogan. The hero and villain are fighting in a TV editing suite, and one of them falls onto a row of switches:

"LOOKING FOR THE IDEAL VACATION PARADISE?" a voice boomed at them. From behind Odal's shoulder a girl in a see-through spacesuit did a free-fall somersault. Hector blinked at her, and Odal looked over his shoulder, momentarily amazed. the voice blared on, "JOIN THE FUN CROWD AT ORBIT HOUSE, ACQUATAINIA'S NEWEST ZERO-GRAVITY RESORT..."

Through his mind flashed another maxim from his old instructor: "Whenever possible, divert your opponent's attention. Create confusion. Feint, maneuver!"

Hector rolled off the desk top and ran along the master control unit, pounding every switch in sight.

"TIRED OF BEING CALLED SHORTY?" A disgruntled young man, standing on tiptoes next to a gorgeous, statuesque redhead, appeared beside Odal...

Of course, it's only when they're out of context that these texts and images make us feel truly uneasy. Under normal circumstances, they're designed to lull us into a dream state, as much a replacement for reality as the dueling machine itself; even if they create insecurity, the solution is inevitably in the next paragraph. And when the prescribed solution to a financial crisis caused by injudicious consumption is for people to go out and buy stuff, sometimes with fatal consequences, you know the slogan-makers have won the war.

Which is why I find the newest purported mental dysfunction on the block so unconvincing. People afflicted with Truman Show syndrome apparently believe they are unwitting performers in some kind of reality TV show, and their only desire is for some omnipotent director to call "cut!"

But surely that's not a psychiatric disorder. Rather, it's the most sensible coping mechanism for modern existence, and I suspect everyone in the developed world does it to some extent. When I was a child, when I first read The Dueling Machine, I would sometimes create a fantasy life, and believe it to be reality. Now, I tend to look at reality, and wish it were a fantasy.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

What price now for a shallow piece of dignity?

I'd hate to give the impression that the works of Douglas Coupland are essentially a string of vaguely connected smartarseries. On the other hand, this is from Life After God:

"One day I came home from the library, where I had spent the afternoon trying to make people feel middle class by scowling at them."

(And in response to all your kind messages, fine thanks, unless or until I need to go anywhere.)

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

From despair to somewhere

Richey Edwards, lyricist, ideologue, stylist and half-assed guitarist for the Manic Street Preachers has finally been declared dead, nearly 14 years after his disappearance; as such, he warrants an obituary in the Daily Telegraph. I can't help but think that, had his body been found in 1995, he wouldn't have earned such a niche among the war heroes and Tory MPs. So essentially he's being honoured for his post mortem achievements, and the hotly debated Cult of Richey; we are encouraged to remember the myth and the mystery rather than the man.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Abuse your delusion

So have you got yours yet? Your copy of Chinese Democracy, of course, the long awaited Guns N' Roses album that's been long awaited by everyone who makes a habit of waiting a long time for long-awaited Guns N' Roses albums...

More eagerly anticipated guitar heroics, and Nabokov and Jerry Lewis, here.

Wot no chameleon circuit?

From the background notes for Dr Who, in the BBC archive, to which James Blue Cat so kindly directed us:

"Therefore, we do not see the machine at all; or rather it is visible only as an absence of visibility, a shape of nothingness..."

Production meetings in those days were clearly spun off from Cambridge philosophy tutorials. It amazes me that the show ever made it to the screen.

Lust in translation

I always wonder whether a word's impact is down to its form or its function. I mean, would George Carlin's Seven Dirty Words be as dangerous if they were rendered as Plop, Widdle, Rumpy-Pumpy, Quim, Nosh, Physical Manifestation of the Oedipal Narrative and Funbags?

Saturday, November 22, 2008

...makes the tart grow fonder

A few days ago, I was sampling lots of nice food for free and wondering whether 'restaurant reviewer' should be added to my list of the only jobs that are really worth doing.

One of the dishes was an orange and absinthe sorbet, which led to a discussion with the nice restaurant PR lady about la fée verte and its various cultural connotations. She knew that the stuff had been banned in many European countries for much of the 20th century, and that Kylie Minogue had played its spectral manifestation in Moulin Rouge; but not, apparently, that its renaissance in Britain was partly due to the efforts of someone who'd once been the drummer in The Jesus and Mary Chain.

And we talked about 1915, the year in which France prohibited the production of absinthe, and the resulting invention of pastis; literally a pastiche of absinthe, a half-hearted impersonation, a fuzzy photocopy of the real thing. And it was only then that I realised that a drink such as Pernod was, for much of its existence, a perfect simulacrum; a copy of something that didn't exist.

But I didn't say anything; I refrained from pontificating about Baudrillard and Deleuze and The Matrix to someone who really just wanted me to write nice things about her restaurant. Maybe I don't need to see Baudrillard in everything, like someone finding the name of God in an aubergine; maybe, as with my bubblewrap moment, it's a sign that I'm finally joining the human race. Although I still shared it with you, I suppose. Maybe that's different.

We moved on to the paprika-smoked Ahi tuna, and jolly nice it was too.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Marks will be awarded for showing your working

I've been catching up with Are You An Egghead? In many ways, it's something of which I approve, a consciously difficult quiz show (there's no quantitative way to measure these things, but I reckon the level of the questions is rather tougher than those on Mastermind or University Challenge), presented as mainstream tea-time entertainment. Moreover, it's real Revenge of the Nerds stuff: those of us who never got the girl, and always wore the wrong trainers, can only gloat at the elevation of geeky brainboxes to the role of tea-time sex symbols. One of the most glorious moments so far was when one bubbly contestant from Coventry selected the diffident polymath Kevin Ashman (second from the right in the picture) to join her team, because she fancied him. For those of us who always got picked last for football, it was something special.

One quibble, however; the contestants are encouraged to explain how they negotiate the multiple-choice brainteasers. I suppose this is laudable, making the retainment and regurgitation of arcane knowledge more accessible to the casual viewer; rather than just sucking it all in as gloriously incoherent combat, a sort of cerebral version of the sumo coverage Channel 4 used to offer in the good old days, the punter may actually learn something.

But for those of us whose sole talent is knowing a tiny bit more than most people about Jacobean tragedy or soul music or the birthplaces of England cricket captains (Ted Dexter? Milan!) will understand it isn't as straightforward as that. Very often, as Alistair remarked in a response to my previous post, with reference to sell-out 80s Goth combo the March Violets, "I Just Know That". I've got no idea whether I picked it up from a book, or a geography lesson when I was 13, or an explanatory sign in the V&A, or even from watching a TV quiz show. I Just Know. And watching people who also Just Know desperately trying to concoct a plausible post-hoc justification for why they've decided that the answer's Borneo, rather than Viscount Palmerston or the square root of π, is a little bit tiresome; for a start, it requires self-examination, and that's one thing we botched and bungled geeks really don't like doing in public. (There's a similar tendency in Mastermind, when Humphrys has his little chats before the general knowledge rounds; fair enough if you want to talk about the specialised subject, but the "so, you're a policeman, do you get annoyed with all the form-filling?" delving can make for pretty uncomfortable viewing.)

So, respect to Olav Bjortomt, one of the few contestants with the cojones to say "I know this one", and leave it at that. I'm all for opening up the world of pointless trivia to as wide an audience as possible; but let's retain a little mystery, OK?

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Let's plow...

You know when you're dreaming, and something in the dream startles you so much that you wake up?

Well, there I was, back at school, as I so often am in my dreams; I'm sure many of you do the same thing. Specifically, I was on the path between the art block and the science labs, the one that led past the Goodfield block (named in honour of a headmaster who'd dropped dead on the tennis court, if I remember correctly). And, because life in dreamland is really just one big movie, there was a soundtrack; a not-desperately-good, defiantly 1980s cover version of the Stones' 'Miss Amanda Jones'.

And (maybe I should have realised I was dreaming at this point) I was dancing. Dancing madly to the music on the soundtrack, dancing up the path to the labs. I was still dancing as I went into the lower biology lab, vaguely remembering that it was also my form room when I was in the third year. There were some people in the lab, and they seemed to appreciate my moves.

"Go for it, Duckie!" called one girl. "Keep dancing."

And I caught my reflection in the mirror that seemed to be provided for the purpose, and realised I was dressed in a garish thrift-store outfit, quiff, jacket sleeves rolled up, that could only exist within the confines of a John Hughes movie. And yes, I was Duckie, lovelorn geek hero of Pretty in Pink. But...

"Bollocks," I thought. "The jangly version of 'Miss Amanda Jones' wasn't in Pretty in Pink. It was in Some Kind of Wonderful."

And that's when I woke up. Roused from my slumbers, not by subconscious fear or embarrassment, as a normal person would be, but by my own pedantry.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

"Trapped in the same lie": Artifice and absence in the last episode of The Wire

(And now for the inevitable anticlimax, goaded out of me by Realdoc and others. Just be grateful that I've trimmed most of the Baudrillard and all the Barthes from it - at one point, it was about twice the length, not including footnotes. I did think a SPOILER ALERT might be appropriate here, but since The Wire is officially the greatest show you've never seen, and probably never will, there's not much point. Unless this provokes one or two of you to join the club, of course.)

The Wire is lauded for its realism; but of course, it is not real. We know the names of the actors who pretend to be cops and gangsters, teachers and students, politicians and journalists and dockers and priests and junkies and hookers; we know the names of the writers who put words in their mouths, and the directors and the producers too. The true obsessives know the cameramen and the editors and the stunt performers and all the musicians who recorded the various versions of the Tom Waits song and the person who crafted Brother Mouzone's bowtie.

But that's not what realism means, of course. Realism at its best means the art of lulling the viewer into two parallel states of consciousness: deep down, they know it's not real; but at the same time, they care as if it is real. The fun is in the tension between the two states. By the last episode of the last season, the makers had grown confident enough to play metafictional games with the audience, dancing in the spaces between The Wire's universe and ours, without severing that emotional, unironic bond.

It's in similar territory to Brecht's Verfremdungseffekt: deliberately alerting the audience to the artificiality of the drama to remind them that the big themes are more important than the imaginary characters. But David Simon (the most appropriate candidate for the role of 'author' here, if such a job title still exists) goes one better; he downplays the reality of Wireworld by allowing real Baltimore to intrude. Entangle yourself with the hyperreality of Omar and Kima and Carcetti; just remember that there's something approaching reality (that's real reality) going on at the same time.

Think of the relationship between the actors and the roles they play. Many characters take their names from real individuals in Baltimore; Sgt Jay Landsman for example, who appears both as a character (played by Delaney Williams) and as an actor (playing Dennis Mello). Journalist Bill Zorzi and convicted killer Felicia 'Snoop' Phelps, meanwhile, play themselves, or at least characters who share their names. Elsewhere, the producers cast from the headlines: reformed drug dealer Melvin Williams (who was arrested by David Simon's colleage Ed Burns) plays the Deacon; disgraced police commissioner Ed Norris plays a cop called, uh, Ed Norris, And sometimes it's just a matter of settling scores: Simon named a loathesome police lieutenant 'Marimow' to get back at one of his bêtes noires from his days on the Baltimore Sun. That's the real Baltimore Sun, by the way, not the fictional one on screen...

Ah, the paper. Which brings us to the last season, and the last episode, and the title screams its intentions. "-30-" is journalese to signify the end of a piece of copy. Not only is our attention drawn to the fact that this is the last episode; it also labels The Wire as a piece of journalism, something purporting to be true. Except that, as Scott Templeton's concoctions spiral out of control, and his paymasters turn a blind eye, we know that any claim that journalism may once have had on the truth is long gone.

Not that anyone else has clean hands, of course. As Norman Wilson says at the beginning of the episode: "Everyone's getting what they need behind some make-believe." Mayor Carcetti has just realised that his ascent to the Governorship may be derailed because the serial killer that he used as a way to lambast the State for lack of funding doesn't actually exist. He's a politician, so he's used to lying; what throws him is the fact that this time he thought he was telling the truth. Similarly, Templeton is a journalist, and well used to embroidering the truth; but on this story, he's unaware that his embroidery is decorating an invention. It's empty and, as his colleague Alma discovers, so is the notebook he wields as a badge of his journalistic integrity.

This emptiness, this absence, becomes a central theme when McNulty finds himself confronted by a classic simulacrum - a copycat of a killer that doesn't exist. "The lie's so big," he declares, channeling Goebbels, "people can't live with it." But they can, and they do, as the (conveniently insane) copycat is blamed for the other killings and Carcetti gets his photo-op.

But there's one more absence, one more lie to deal with. In the past, policemen who died have had wakes staged for them; this has also been a handy way for the makers to acknowledge the passing of cast members (both Foerster and Cole were honoured thus when the actors who played them died). These were fictional funerals to mark real deaths; McNulty now receives a wake when he (the character) isn't even dead. Except that this is the last episode, and as far as the viewer's concerned, he may as well have taken a bullet; Landsman's eulogy is for The Wire itself. -30-. It's all make-believe after all; the only difference is, the make-believe in The Wire won no prizes, unlike Templeton's Pulitzer-worthy creations.

In the end, only two characters break free from the cycle of mendacity, although they both express their moral purity in unlikely ways. Daniels, unwilling to help the new mayor by producing statistical bullshit, leaves the force entirely and becomes a defence lawyer, in which role, presumably, he lies for a living; but at least he and everyone else knows it's an act. And Marlo, encouraged by Levy to reinvent himself as a legitimate businessman, slips away from the posh party, knowing that his true self can only exist on the street. By acknowledging himself as irredeemably evil, he achieves a sort of nobility through self-knowledge; a sort of truth.

Thursday, November 13, 2008 c'est la même chose

3:am magazine is gracious enough to direct us to Reality Studio, a Burroughs site that has the complete archive of My Own Mag, the mid-60s publication created by artist, poet and all-round provocateur Jeff Nuttall.

Now, I never really found myself on the same wavelength as Nuttall. I first heard of him in the late 1980s, when I was growing increasingly exasperated with the dayglo floristry that constituted the 1960s revival of the time, which glossed over the social and political upheavals - Vietnam, Black Power, gay and women's rights, Powellism - in favour of footage of dollybirds dancing in parks (the sort of thing I described here).

But by the time I got to Nuttall's seminal work, Bomb Culture (thanks, Murph), I'd read equivalent volumes by Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, Guy Debord and Richard Neville, and Nuttall's opinions on how to stick it to The Man gave me a distinct feeling of déjà lu.

Now, though, looking through the scrawls and doodles of his earlier stuff, you see the urgency, the need to communicate, that informs the best of blogging. OK, the mechanics of production and transmission are different, and you don't get the same sense of conversation (© Patroclus), although I'm sure the magazines provoked plenty of it.

And I bet there was some 1960s equivalent of bloody Andrew Keen to sneer about how amateurish the whole project was.

And just to prove the decade could indeed be dangerous and subversive and unexpected, not just jolly and tuneful, here's Jimi Hendrix and chums giving Lulu's producers psychedelic kittens. RIP Mitch Mitchell.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Another one bites the cyberdust

Patroclus has dropped her heaviest hint yet that she's going to knock this blogging malarkey on the head. I should respect her decision; or take a big-picture, Zen view of the whole thing, and accept that shit happens; or even play reverse psychology games and say that I never liked her poxy site, with its Pictish cryptograms and nerdy crushes on Steven Johnson and Cornish babies and two felt pens and all that, and good riddance, and neerrrrr.

But I'm just going to sulk, and occasionally kick the leg of this desk.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Big words

So I finally worked out how to post a word cloud, but then the chapter had to undergo some last-minute revisions, and then I forgot all about it and blah-di-blah. Whatever, as my niece Lily says, and she really shouldn't, but it's very funny when she does, 'cos she's only five.

Anyway, here's the text of the chapter I've contributed to the forthcoming title Radiohead and Philosophy, to be published by Open Court some time early next year. Click to make it larger. I can't imagine that any of the predominant words will surprise anyone, although I do use "profound" rather too much, don't I?

(Image from

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

When I get older, losing my hair

(I suppose I should post something about Obama but, really, what is there to say? The sheriff is near...)

The other day, I had an Ayurvedic fusion massage. It was work, not play: I was reviewing the spa facilities at a big posh hotel. This isn't my usual sort of gig, I should stress. I tend to cover restaurants, shops and the like; activities where you keep your mind on the job, and most of your clothes on. As I submitted to the expert fingers of my therapist, I wondered how one is supposed to review such an experience; how can you keep your critical faculties intact when the whole point of the experience is to drift off into a sort of blissful half-sleep? Like the Sixties, if you remember it, you weren't there.

At one point, she proferred a tub of some fragrant unguent, laced with ginger, aloe and apricot, explaining that it would strengthen my hair roots. As she rubbed it into my scalp, I wondered whether such claims would stand up to the rigours of the Advertising Standards Authority. I do remember that purveyors of hair products are forbidden from saying that such-and-such can give you healthy hair, because all visible hair is essentially dead; the best you can hope for is "healthy-looking hair". But what does that mean? If something can't in reality be healthy, how can it look healthy? Could you have a healthy-looking rock, or a healthy-looking chair?

The fact that my mind was meandering along such a pointless, meaningless trajectory is, I suppose a tribute to the care-kneading properties of the spa. Maybe I should just type 1000 words of stream-of-consciousness bollocks and say there, that's how good this place is.

On the way home on the train, still slightly spaced out, I found my battered copy of Douglas Coupland's The Gum Thief tangled up with various press releases at the bottom of my bag, and realised that three weeks ago, I'd got to within 20 pages of the end and then forgotten about it. Which may say something about Coupland's ability to write compelling prose, or my ability to finish what I'd started, or both. Or, of course, neither.

But I won't review the book, except to say that it feels like an uneasy synthesis of Coupland's self-consciously post-modernly smartarse works (Generation X, Microserfs, JPod - the ones where it sometimes feels as if the plot is just an excuse for a barrage of one-liners) and the more heartfelt ones about dysfunctional families and suburban loneliness (All Families Are Psychotic, Eleanor Rigby).

I'll just offer this short extract:

By twenty-five you know you're never going to be a rock star, by thirty you know you're never going to be a dentist, and by forty there are maybe three things left that you can still possibly be -- and even then, that's only if you run as fast as you possibly can to try to catch the train.

Which links, however tangentially, with two events of the weekend; my bubblewrap-related midlife crisis and seeing Nick and Barney for the first time in Dawkins knows how long. Because, with all due respect to the many fine, upstanding, dedicated, talented firefighters and brain surgeons and teachers and fishmongers and actuaries and Sudoku compilers and lumberjacks and bank clerks and hod carriers and psychiatric social workers and morticians and spivs and dilettantes and flâneurs and hotel spa reviewers out there, I've come to the conclusion that there are only two jobs worth doing: editing the Guinness Book of Records; and being a Dalek. And between us, we cracked them both. Before we were forty.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Wrapper's delight

There were a couple of largeish sheets of bubblewrap on the bedroom floor. I picked them up and put them in the bin, without experiencing the slightest desire to pop them.

I think I've finally grown up.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

One of us

Yesterday saw a delightful evening with my old chums Nick and Barney, who are such erudite polymaths (books, paintings, songs, plays and more) that it seems rather reductive to describe them as Dalek operators, but I suspect that's what will appear on their gravestones. Sadly, none of their Dr Who gossip is fit to repeat in the public sphere, but by the end of the evening we had decided that this

should be remade starring these guys:

Which leads, I suppose, to a meme of sorts: pick a film to be reimagined (as is now the preferred terminology) and the band you'd like to see populating it.

Or, if you prefer, just make up something sordid about Dr Who.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Thieving punts

49% of students at Cambridge University have admitted to plagiarism, according to an online survey.

“Sometimes when I am really fed up,” said one student, “I Google the essay title, copy and throw everything on to a blank Word document and jiggle the order a bit. They usually end up being the best essays.”

But isn't that how everyone always writes everything?

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Hit the Wife in the North

Following Betty's foray into identity politics ("I AM A BLOGGER, NOT A WRITER"), comes an interesting short piece by Adrian Slatcher on the Manchester Blog Awards that apparently wants to blur the boundaries:

I think what is interesting is how a format that began as a semi-public "diary" now has almost no pretence about its pretension - the blogger is now craving an audience, and all last night's readers were more accomplished than some more literary types I've seen over the years.

Which raises an interesting question - at what point does a blogger become a writer? When money changes hands? When the presses roll? Or just when readership exceeds a certain level? That said, he isn't quite brave enough to contradict the Betster. Not all bloggers are necessarily writers but:

...I'd be surprised to find a young writer who now wasn't putting out some of their work via a blog.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Guns and buns

In which I contrast American and British methods of registering disapproval of our elected representatives, and have a dig at a former NUS President while I'm at it:

I am of course delighted that the alleged plot to murder Barack Obama and over 100 other African-Americans has been foiled. And yet, deep down, I can't help thinking that at least it shows someone's taking this election seriously.

One nation separated by a common cheesecake recipe here.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

And I guess that's why they call it...

(I wrote this about four years ago, for the lamented literary magazine Zembla. Recently, while looking for something completely different, I found it again. Normally such rediscoveries are excruciating, but I think this one just about stands up.

Which is a contrived excuse for not being able to come up with anything new.)

When you're fifteen, sixteen, pop music speaks to you. Not just figuratively, in that it's aimed towards you with all the black arts that the marketing Nazis of the music biz can muster. But it really talks. To. You.

When I was fifteen, sixteen, I was listening to The Smiths, and heaven knows my bicycle was punctured and I walked home alone. The boy with the thorn in his ear and the hearing aid in his side, he knew me. He said plenty to me about my life.

But then I wasn't fifteen, sixteen any more, but I was still listening to The Smiths and Primal Scream and The Stone Roses and De La Soul and The House of Love and Syd Barrett and The Velvet Underground and James Brown and Northern soul and Jamaican ska and Stravinsky, and I still enjoyed them all. But they didn't sit down at the foot of my bed and say: "Yeah, I know what you're thinking. I know your problems. Of course I understand." And that, I thought, was that - another thing you leave behind when you're fifteen, sixteen, like acne and anarchism.

Spool forward a while and it's 2000 and I'm working for a big publishing company and life is OK, you know. I make decisions. I exchange droll badinage with the likes of Ian Hislop and Johnny Vaughan. I consider getting a suit made, a proper one. Occasionally I Google my own name and the result is not displeasing. And pop music is still there but I'm not listening to it, just hearing it. In fact, I'm starting to prefer instrumentals because they make better background music while I work. Print runs. Blurbs. Find a picture researcher. What about the Spanish edition. Talk to the Daily Express. Stay late. Drink coffee. Talk to The Bookseller. Reissue, repackage. Pick a colour for the cover.

And at the same time, I'm playing a triple CD called 69 Love Songs by The Magnetic Fields. And, crazy as it seems, it contains sixty-nine songs about love: sweet, bitter and the other. And there I am, trying to choose a colour for the cover of the next book, when track five of the first disc begins. It's called 'Reno Dakota'. Female vocal (Claudia Gonson). Something that sounds like a ukulele or an autoharp or a banjo (as played by Gabriel the toad on Bagpuss). Crazy rhymes, some of them for "Dakota". One minute five seconds. And Claudia sings the couplet...

It's making me blue

Pantone 292

...just as I'm looking at the swatches of colours to pick the Pantone reference for the book (numerical Pantone references indicate a specific combination of primary colours, to enable designers and printers to get a precise match). And, for about two of the sixty-five seconds that the track lasts, Claudia is talking to me. Me. She said that to *me*. She's saying a little something to me about my life in a way that nobody has for a decade and a half.

And then I decide we'll do the cover in orange. Which is significant, I think, although I'm not quite sure how or why.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Ceci n'est pas un blog

Just in case you haven't heard, blogging is dead, and Twitter killed it. Says so in Wired. Must be true, then.

Before my time

Clive James in The Guardian, on the late literary agent Pat Kavanagh:

Every literary career is different but the same principles apply. The first principle is to have principles. The writer should not expect to have junk published; the publisher should not expect to get away with publishing junk; and the agent should not expect to be praised for extracting a huge advance from the publisher for a piece of junk that will never get the advance back.

Ouch. You know what, Clive, you can't get Spangles any more, either.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Race uncertainty

The news media seem to be obsessed with a) the credit crunch; b) the US election; c) Tories on Russian yachts. So I decided to write something for Cif about a Mongolian accountant. In north Wales. Which sounds like a dire, yet lucrative fish-out-of-water memoir arriving in the grubby slipstream of Judith arsing O'Reilly. But don't worry, it isn't.

PS: Ooh hang on, it's gone.

PPS: ...aaand it's back again. Go here, if you fancy.

Monday, October 20, 2008


An exam question set by Vladimir Nabokov when he was a college tutor in the 1950s, quoted by Martin Amis:

"Discuss Flaubert's use of the word 'and'."

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Strange (he)brew

Sorry, I did promise you a big chinny-strokey post about The Wire this weekend. It's coming, honest; I just need to trim back the 450-word digression on Roland Barthes, and think up an ending that doesn't rabbit on about how Sydnor is the new Daniels. Incidentally, I was Googling for an image related to the phrase "McNulty copycat" and somehow found this:

And you know what, I'm glad I did.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Holding out for a zero

Readers of Welcome to the Machine will be aware of my fondness for the taking-an-idea-for-a-walk-just-to-see-where-it-goes school of interpretation, and my impatience with the banausic notion that the easiest way to get a definitive explanation of what a song's about is to drop an e-mail to the songwriter. So I am smitten with admiration - and not a little jealousy - at the following paragraph, on the talk page for OK Computer's Wikipedia entry:

Has anyone in the band spoken about the level of intent of the title reflecting a 0K Computer? I think that the theme of memorylessness is prevalent with them (e.g. titling an album Amnesiac) so it seems like the most sensible interpretation of the name as a computer with no memory. Yet in an interview with Yorke when asked point blank about the title's meaning he doesn't bring that up (though he doesn't actually answer the question at all, just kind of says the title isn't that relevant to the musical content). I'd be very suspicious that it wasn't intended as a play on the OK/0K duality—I just can't find it stated explicitly anywhere on the web.

HostileFork, whoever you may be, I salute you.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Widdecombe inna Babylon

I did think of writing this piece (about a Jamaican version of the Bible) entirely in patois, but I'm old enough to remember the eat-your-own-teeth embarrassment that was 'Informer', by Snow:

I'll put my (prayer) cards on the table. I really like the King James Bible. It's something about the mouth-feel of the language, like a dark chocolate or a potent Armagnac, dense with begetting and smiting and howbeit and whosoever. If God were ever to make my acquaintance, I'd prefer that he spake unto me in sonorous tones, rather than having a quiet word. I'm the same with hymns; give me To Be A Pilgrim or Dear Lord and Father any day, over happity-clappity singalongs that Barney the Dinosaur would condemn for their crushing banality....

Go here for the authorised version.

While I've got you, I'm planning to post my no-holds-barred neo-Brechtian analysis of the final episode of The Wire at some point this weekend. If you get all the box sets today, and throw a sickie for the rest of the week, you should be up to speed in plenty of time.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Repeat to fade

From The Gum Thief, by Douglas Coupland:

Or maybe memories are like karaoke--where you realize up on the stage, with all those lyrics scrawling across the screen's bottom, and with everybody clapping at you, that you didn't know even half the lyrics to your all-time favourite song. Only afterwards, when someone else is up on stage humiliating themselves amid the clapping and laughing, do you realize that what you liked most about your favourite song was precisely your ignorance of its full meaning--and you read more into it than maybe existed in the first place. I think it's better not to know the lyrics to your life.

Talking of which, my current favourite song might just be in amongst this lot.

Friday, October 10, 2008

The ambassador's faulty reception

Harry Enfield suddenly finds himself reinvented as the Bernard Manning de nos jours:

These days it seems as if every government, every religious body, every charity has someone on the payroll whose sole purpose is to watch the telly, keeping an eye out for stuff by which they might advantageously be offended. The latest culprit is that monster of depravity Harry Enfield, whose show Harry and Paul has aroused the wrath of the Philippine ambassador to the UK, Edgardo Espiritu, with its allegedly racist depiction of a Filipina housemaid...

Full thing here.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

A new day will dawn

I've been listening to recordings of John Peel's Festive Fifty shows from 1978, and developing a grudging admiration for the old-school rockers who managed, in the face of a barrage of gob, to vote 'Stairway to Heaven' into 14th place. They remind me of the Japanese soldiers who stayed on their remote Pacific islands for decades, refusing to believe the war had been lost.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

I am, I said

I don't know whether it's prompted by a genuine sense of curiosity, or a brazen desire to rack up a whole load of comments, but Scott Pack has asked his readers to provide links to their blogs and (here's the tough bit) brief descriptions. In return, he's promised to visit each one.

I'm not sure if it was meant to be a meme, but I'm nicking his idea. If you're a lurker who blogs, make yourself known; even if you're one of the usual suspects listed to the right, a succinct summary of what you (think you) get up to in your sector of The Blogopolis would be fascinating.

PS: I'm especially keen to hear from the previously silent visitors who, according to my NeoCounter, come from such unlikely corners of the globe as Mongolia, Guam, Belize and, uh, 'Europe'; if only to disprove my hunch that you're really soulless bots. On second thoughts, if you're a bot, I'd be fascinated to meet you.

Monday, October 06, 2008


For some reason, I've been thinking about thirtysomething. Well, rethinking two somethings that I thought about thirtysomething the first time around.

The first was how terribly edgy and contrarian the whole lower-case title thing was, and how only the bravest of designers would ever dream of copying it. And the other was how old all the characters were, and how I'd never get like that.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Thank Crunchie

Ah, Friday. I was going to concoct a megapost about McLuhan, Brecht and Baudrillard in the final episode of The Wire but: a) I've been a bit busy with proper work; and b) apparently, only about four people watched the final episode of The Wire.

So, what can a time-poor boy do? Crack open a few YouTubes, of course.

The first has literary overtones, and comes courtesy of the lovely Garfer:

Then, an old joke, but nicely done:

And finally, this one has been kicking around for a few weeks, but you may have missed it (especially if you've been watching The Wire instead):

Closing concept: an internet phenomenon that revolves around links that claim to be taking people to a video of Rick Astley performing 'Never Gonna Give You Up', but don't. What would it be called?

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Coulda been a contender

The splendid Ian Hocking Twitters me to the fact that Google has resuscitated its index from January 2001. Another world. No Twitter, no Blogger, no Wikipedia, no YouTube, no Facebook. There was, however, a World Trade Center.

The inevitable temptation is to type one's own name in: I know who I am, but who was I nearly eight years ago? Well, in January 2001, I was in a bit of a slump, having recently been made redundant. However, I did have my name attached to one of the best-selling books of the previous year, so my results soared to a startling 450. To offer a bit of context, an Illinois state senator named Barack Obama only made 672.

PS: Correction... Blogger did exist. But who knew?

Monday, September 29, 2008

It's like that

AA Gill reviews the Spanish restaurant El Bulli, in The Sunday Times:

Food on paper is only ever an approximation of food in the mouth, and it relies on a shared experience, and if you haven’t eaten here, you haven’t had the experience.

Well, yes... but by that reasoning, isn't all criticism essentially pointless?

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Postmodern pleading

Just to disprove the notion that Ulster Protestants have no sense of humour:

The defence case of Michael Stone, accused of attempting to kill Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness in 2006, has raised eyebrows in political, legal and artistic circles alike. On the face of it, his claim that his actions constituted "performance art" is an attempt to claim kinship with those, such as the Dadaists and Situationists, who have sought to blur the boundaries between art and political protest...

Follow this link for the journalistic equivalent of one of those end-of-terrace murals.

Your 100 best tunes (or not)

I rather thought that memes had gone horribly out of fashion, until Kek-W kicked off his take-a-passing-fancy-for-a-blindfolded-walk 10cc Top Ten idea. The gist of it was that you didn't actually need to provide a 10cc Top Ten; simply something that began with the notion of a 10cc Top Ten. It was the thought processes he was after, not whether anyone would be brave enough to admit they loved 'Dreadlock Holiday'.

(Brief conceptual aside... If we're doing the free-form, rhizomatic thing, is this a new meme, or is it a continuation of Kek's orginal meme? In fact, are all blog memes simply a continuation of the first time one blogger asked another blogger to do something, then pass it on? Are they all part of one vast MemeBorg, neither collective nor individual? Oh, just nod, I'm not a stalker or anything.)

What I've done is to list my 100 favourite choonz, as young people probably no longer say. I tried not to think too hard, simply jotting them down until I got to a hundred, then stopping; as a result, I now disagree intensely with about 10% of the inclusions, but there it is. I'm surprised to see that Camera Obscura haven't made an appearance; and there's nothing from the Two-Tone stable. No T. Rex, no XTC, no De La Soul, no Buddy Holly, no Nurse With Wound, no Louis Jordan, no Siouxsie, no Ian Dury. I feel as if I should be writing letters of apology to a few people.

Random as it was, I did stick to a few self-imposed rules. No artist could have more than one song on the list; indeed, if a performer played a prominent role in more than one act, only one of those acts could appear. (So the presence of Pink Floyd prohibits the inclusion of any Syd Barrett solo stuff; Mark E. Smith's shouty bit at number 31 means The Fall are disqualified). No song could appear in two different versions, although strangely, there are three different songs with the same title, and two more with a very similar title to that. And no classical music, because that raises too many questions about what specifically it is that you're selecting (A whole symphony? A movement? The twiddly bit from that lager advert?) and issues of attribution. (Are the Goldberg Variations 'by' Bach or 'by' Glenn Gould?)

But none of that need concern you. What I want is not necessarily your 100 fave platters with the above restrictions, although if that's what happens, that's fine. It's what you concoct on your own blogs in response to this, and what happens afterwards.

Anyroad up, here's the list:

1. Abba, 'The Winner Takes It All'
2. Air, 'Playground Love'
3. Al Green, 'How Do You Mend A Broken Heart?'
4. Aretha Franklin, 'Don’t Play That Song'
5. Associates, 'Those First Impressions'
6. Beach Boys, 'God Only Knows'
7. Beatles, 'Happiness Is A Warm Gun'
8. Beck, 'Totally Confused'
9. Belle and Sebastian, 'The State I Am In'
10. Blur, 'You’re So Great'
11. Bo Diddley, 'Who Do You Love?'
12. Bob Dylan, 'I Want You'
13. Buzzcocks, 'Love You More'
14. Chavela Vargas, 'Paloma Negra'
15. Chic, 'I Want Your Love'
16. Creedence Clearwater Revival, 'Traveling Band'
17. Darlene Love, 'Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)'
18. David Bowie, 'Be My Wife'
19. Dolly Parton, 'I Will Always Love You'
20. Drifters, 'Save The Last Dance For Me'
21. Duke Special, 'Last Night I Nearly Died'
22. Dusty Springfield, 'I Close My Eyes And Count To Ten'
23. Ella Fitzgerald, 'How High The Moon'
24. Elvis Costello, 'I Want You'
25. Flaming Lips, 'Do You Realize?'
26. Françoise Hardy, 'Comment Te Dire Adieu?'
27. Frank Sinatra, 'One For My Baby'
28. Go! Team, 'Everyone’s A VIP To Someone'
29. Guillemots, 'Trains To Brazil'
30. Ink Spots, 'Don’t Get Around Much Any More'
31. Inspiral Carpets w/ Mark E Smith, 'I Want You'
32. Jackie Mittoo, 'Get Up And Get It'
33. Jackson Five, 'I Want You Back'
34. Jacques Brel, 'Ne Me Quitte Pas'
35. Jane, 'It’s A Fine Day'
36. Jesus & Mary Chain, 'Just Like Honey'
37. John Holt, 'Ali Baba'
38. Johnny Cash & June Carter, 'Jackson'
39. Judy Street, 'What'
40. Kinks, 'Victoria'
41. Lorraine Ellison, 'Stay With Me'
42. Lovin’ Spoonful, 'Darling Be Home Soon'
43. Magnetic Fields, 'How Fucking Romantic'
44. Maher Shalal Hash Baz, 'Post Office'
45. Mamas & the Papas, '12.30 (Young Girls Are Coming To The Canyon)'
46. Manic Street Preachers, 'Faster'
47. Marvin Gaye, 'Too Busy Thinkin’ ‘Bout My Baby'
48. Maurice and Mac, 'You Left The Water Running'
49. Moldy Peaches, 'Nothing Came Out'
50. Nancy Sinatra & Lee Hazlewood, 'Summer Wine'
51. Neil Innes, 'How Sweet To Be An Idiot'
52. Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds, 'Into My Arms'
53. Nirvana, 'All Apologies'
54. Otis Redding, 'Shake'
55. Pet Shop Boys, 'Your Funny Uncle'
56. Pink Floyd , 'Jugband Blues'
57. Pixies, 'Debaser'
58. Pizzicato Five, 'Twiggy Twiggy'
59. Pogues, 'Rainy Night In Soho'
60. Primal Scream, 'Star Fruit Surf Rider'
61. Prince, 'Temptation'
62. Prince Buster, 'Girl Why Don’t You Answer'
63. Pulp, 'Babies'
64. Radiohead , 'Climbing Up The Walls'
65. Ramsey Lewis Trio, 'Wade In The Water'
66. Randy Newman, 'I Think It’s Going To Rain Today'
67. Rascals, 'Good Lovin’'
68. Rolling Stones, 'You Can’t Always Get What You Want'
69. Roxy Music, 'Remake Remodel'
70. Sebadoh, 'Willing To Wait'
71. Sex Pistols, 'Pretty Vacant'
72. Shirelles, 'Baby It’s You'
73. Shonen Knife, 'Top Of The World'
74. Simon Dupree and the Big Sound, 'Kites'
75. Sister Rosetta Tharpe, 'This Train'
76. Small Faces, 'All Or Nothing'
77. Smiths, 'You Just Haven’t Earned It Yet Baby'
78. Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, 'I Second That Emotion'
79. Soft Cell, 'Say Hello Wave Goodbye'
80. Son House, 'John The Revelator'
81. Standells, 'Dirty Water'
82. Stereolab, 'French Disko'
83. Stooges, 'I Wanna Be Your Dog'
84. Sugarcubes, 'Birthday'
85. Super Furry Animals, 'God! Show Me Magic'
86. Swan Silvertones, 'Trouble In My Way'
87. Sylvian/Sakamoto, 'Forbidden Colours'
88. Temptations, 'I Can’t Get Next To You'
89. Tom Lehrer, 'National Brotherhood Week'
90. Tom Waits , 'Johnsburg, Illinois'
91. Toni Harper, 'Candy Store Blues'
92. Toots & the Maytals, 'Monkey Man'
93. Urusei Yatsura, 'First Day On A New Planet'
94. Velvet Underground, 'The Gift'
95. Vicky Leandros, 'L’Amour Est Bleu'
96. Wah!, 'Come Back'
97. White Stripes, 'In The Cold Cold Night'
98. Willie Nelson, 'Bring Me Sunshine'
99. Wilson Pickett, 'Land Of 1,000 Dances'
100. X-Ray Spex, 'Oh Bondage Up Yours'