Sunday, May 31, 2009

The McLuhan Memorial Lecture, 2009

Two thoughtful analyses of modern media, culled from yesterday’s Guardian. First, Ben Goldacre knows who to blame for the pervasive crapness in modern journalism:
Through our purchasing behaviour, we have communicated to newspapers that we want them to be large and cheap more than we want them to be adequately researched.
And Charlie Brooker uncovers the uncomfortable truth about BBC World’s news channel:
It’s a channel whose viewer demographic consists exclusively of men sitting on the edge of a hotel bed impatiently waiting for their girlfriend to finish in the shower so they can go and have a shit.

Friday, May 29, 2009

In search of a bottom end

I changed my Facebook profile picture a few days ago, and had a number of complimentary comments, presumably from people who haven’t noticed that the picture isn’t actually of me.

It is, in fact, Andy Partridge, singer and guitarist of Swindon’s bestest art-punk-pastoral-psych-popsters XTC. But Partridge is not the only happening beat musician to whom I bear a resemblance.

Some have suggested that I look a bit like synth-twiddling 80s nerd heartthrob Thomas Dolby.

Others reckon that I could double for Ash drummer Rick McMurray.

While in the olden days, I was told with tedious regularity that I played saxophone for Fair Isle janglers Haircut 100 (a role actually performed by one Phil Smith, the chap at the bottom on the right).

So I’ve pretty much got a band of Tim lookylikeys there - with one crucial lacuna. There’s no bass player. I know some trendy young hipsters today (your White Stripes, them Yes Yes Yeses) manage without a bassist, but I don’t hold with such false economies. So, over to you. Your task for the weekend is to find a four-stringer with a better than passing resemblance to your humble author.

I might even use him as my Facebook pic.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Stuff on the interwebs

Anyone so utterly 2008 as to still be on Facebook is strongly urged to join the It's About Time Marguerite Patten got a Damehood group. If you do, she might make you some nice biscuits. With dried egg. And liver and things. Maybe.

Oh yeah, and LC died. Metaphorically, obviously.

Monday, May 25, 2009

I love the smell of ink in the morning

Still with the black armband on, some thoughts from Frances Morgan, publisher of the lamented Plan B, via Everett’s blog. They go some way to explain why the mag will be missed, why I’m so proud to have had even a peripheral role in the whole Careless Talk/Loose Lips/Plan B ride, and maybe why I’m cooking up a neat little ulcer over the book I’m writing in a way I might not if it were *just* a website:
Quick question – any chance of the mag continuing in on-line form, a la Pfork, The Quietus or

I just wanted to answer this question. For me, the answer is no. This is not to slight the sterling work of the above websites, because they’re great examples of how web publishing can work. However, I feel very committed to print as a medium. There are many reasons for this, a lot of which can be picked apart and thrown aside as luddite, fetishistic, elitist, or just plain old-fashioned, and you’re welcome to do so…but it’s a commitment that I can’t switch off just because making this particular print product is no longer viable.

It is not that I’m decrying the web for making “everyone a critic”. I don’t think the web has killed criticism, not at all. It’s not that I am bemoaning the loss of “authority” of the critic – fuck authority, it’s that which has kept music criticism entrenched in such narrow gender, race and class strictures for so long (and I’d argue, actually, that the web has done less than it should to change this, but the potential is there for sure). I like a plurality of voices, wherever it occurs, although I do think that plurality often results in a lack of space to think and consider and to reflect; it seems to have generated this need for a quick response, an instant appraisal or commentary.

One thing I like about print criticism is that there is an unavoidable temporal gap between writing and print. This may not suit everyone, but I think it suits me and it suits the music I am interested in, and actually it probably suits most music. I do sometimes wonder if there is more of a connection between the music that gets reviewed and the style of reviewing than we actually acknowledge. Bit of unformulated thought, that, but I’d like to ponder it a little.

Although it might not always seem like it, we do edit things at Plan B. If you’ve written something for us, it will go through a few hands and past a few pairs of eyes before it appears on the page. If there’s time, we ask for rewrites and clarification. I like to have a little shout at everyone about punctuation. We have to stick to certain word lengths. I’m not saying web editors don’t do this too, but often more content is required at a greater speed. Put simply, it’s just different, and while I’d certainly work for online publications as a freelance writer, there’s no way I’d have busted my ass for five years on a very, very low wage to set up and maintain a web magazine. That’s not to say one shouldn’t, or that others at Plan B won’t. But it’s not for me. It never has been.

The other big factor is the visual side of Plan B, which is so important to us. The web – and again, this is my opinion – is not the right place for all those amazing photos and illustrations and layouts that go into making up an issue of Plan B. They belong on paper, decent paper at that.
As far as I remember, I only met Frances once, at Everett’s house in Brighton, where we were exerting the sort of care and attention she discussed on one of the middle issues of Careless Talk. Well, she was exerting care, I think I mostly made the tea. We got the train back to London together, and instead of talking about music in particular, we discussed the intersection of genius and lunacy, with particular reference to Louis Wain:

And, slouching towards relevance, a line by Thomas Mann, lifted from an interview with Clive James in today’s Guardian:
A writer is someone for whom writing is harder than it is for other people.
Oh good, maybe that means I’ve been getting better lately.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Brother beyond

Sad news: Plan B magazine is jumping before it gets pushed.

But the music still goes around, backwards and forwards, and so here’s my new favourite band, which had pretty much run out of puff before I was born:

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Into the den

In the wake of Annie’s cruel mockery, I have decided to stop self-Googling. Instead, let’s see what happens when I throw myself into the slavering maw of Wolfram Alpha:
Wolfram|Alpha isn't sure what to do with your input.
Yeah, I know how you feel.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

A modest fall

Trump on Kane, by Errol Morris, via Noel Sharkbloke.

Next week, Alan Sugar discusses Ingmar Bergman.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Freedom of speech

Dan Lyons of Newsweek, quoted in The Guardian:
Writing is now worth zero. The value of what we do is worth zero.
Well, that’s put a big fat cherry on top of the weekend.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Lace majesté

Half-awake self-Googling has unearthed something of which I have no memory whatsoever; a letter to The Independent (have I ever even read The Independent?) from 1994:
Your 'Tried and Tested' feature on workboots ('Boots made for working', Review, 6 March) purported to offer an objective comparison of various examples, combining stylistic and practical considerations as its criteria. It came as something of a surprise that the legendary Dr Marten's 1460 was nudged aside by a gruesome item calling itself the Caterpillar. But the real shock was that the main problem the panel found with the dearly beloved Doc was that they take a long time to wear in.

Do these people not understand? This is the whole point] The Doc is a design classic, but, at the same time, it is a cult icon. It is the footwear that Kevin and Tracy never considered, even when they were being seduced into Levi 501s, the only piece of clothing to rival the Doc's status. It is the footwear of tribes, of skinheads, of crusties, of mid-Eighties clubbers. It is the secret sign that casts post-modern irony upon one's regimented City suit, that symbolises the switchblade beneath Julian Clary's daffy finery. And, as with all tribes, the initiation ceremony binds us.

A new pair of Docs is not just a new pair of shoes: it is a pact. After the initial choices, we have the week or two of pain, of gritted teeth, of no dancing. When purchasing, forget polish or spare laces; go for a big box of Elastoplast. Compare notes with your Doccy chums. Does talc help? Thick woolly socks, perhaps? Maybe pummelling them by hand for half an hour every evening?

But, after suffering the paces through hellfire, a bond has been forged. Not just with your fellow fans/martyrs, but with the boots themselves. They are yours. They are now comfortable. They work. They walk. You wear them to the pub, to work, to your naff brother's wedding just to make a point. And, you will wear them, love them, long after the Caterpillar has demonstrated a lifespan not much more impressive that its larval namesake.

Tim Footman

London SW4
“Kevin and Tracy”, indeed. Today, I don’t even own a pair of Docs. A fortnight of “no dancing” has stretched to many, many years, and I can’t even blame my choice of bootage.

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Not quite dead

Once again, I haven’t posted for nearly a week. Several excuses, including a deadline or several. I’m not sure about the notion that Twitter has edged out blogging, but I have noticed that I‘m far more inclined these days to send a sentence into the Twitterverse than to craft a thought-out paragraph or three.

So, looking back at the 700+ posts I've written for Cultural Snow over the past three and a half years, I wonder how many of them might have been better expressed in under 140 characters.

Meanwhile, from among the dead trees, Peter Preston lumps together “puerile twitters and bilious blogs”. Although I only read his article because I saw it mentioned amongst the puerility, and now I mention it again, dripping with bile.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Yes we McCann

Some years ago, I remember seeing an artist's representation of all those too-fast-to-live rock stars, and how they’d look if they’d made it into their 50s and 60s. I was particularly taken by Jimi Hendrix who, had he lived to take part the Miles Davis collaboration that still captures the imagination of people who like noodly jazz-funk-rock fusion with occasional loud bits, would now look like Lester Freamon from The Wire. Apparently.

Of course, these reconstructions can have a practical benefit, especially when it comes to working out what missing children might look like. If Madeleine McCann is still alive she will now be six years old, and her parents have released an image depicting what she might look like. Of course, what they’re really doing is acknowledging that, what with the credit crunch and Jade Goody and swine flu and Susan Boyle and everything, even the mid-market tabloids had completely forgotten about her, so they needed a useful gimmick to get her back on our radar, if not to the days when her fate was so central to our very existence.

In the absence of anything approaching solid evidence, I guess they’ll be commissioning similar images every couple of years, and the media will feel duty bound to publish them. They know what sells.

So, in 12 years’ time, will we be able to enjoy reconstructions of what Madeleine McCann might look like, pissed and bleary, snapped from the gutter, as she stumbles out of a nightclub with her knickers on display?

Friday, May 01, 2009

Antonin Scalia is a monkey fighter and he can suck my lozenge

It’s not often I find myself rooting for the Murdoch empire, but when it comes to Fox TV’s challenge to the US Federal Communications Commission policy on swearing, I’m in the same corner as nasty old Rupe.

Essentially, in the wake of St Bono offering up a wee swearie at the Golden Globes in 2003, the FCC elected to operate a zero tolerance policy against bad language on network TV. This extends even to so-called “fleeting expletives”, usually unplanned, unscripted moments on live TV when an inadvertent flip or blimey slips out, the verbal equivalent of Janet Jackson’s nipple. And now the Supreme Court has voted 5-4 to uphold the Commission’s judgement.

The most vociferous of the anti-rudeness judges is the charming Antonin Scalia, who suggests that references to “sexual or excretory activities” trump any footling need to uphold the First Amendment. Now, I’ve never quite understood what’s wrong with sexual or excretory activities. I’m not sure where Justice Scalia thinks his nine children came from: maybe the stork brought them; maybe the same stork then removed all his bodily wastes when he wasn’t looking. But personally, given the choice between Scalia’s bumptious primness, and a clapped-out rock star saying “fuck”, I know which one I find obscene. The only good thing about the man is his passing resemblance to the Angelo Muscat (the butler in The Prisoner).

And without resorting to sneering generalisations, I think it’s useful to point out that on British television, this is a joke; in the States, this is reality.