alexsarll: (Default)
This weekend was a bit more evenly spread than the last, though between them I'm definitely convinced that four-day weekends and three-day weeks should be the 21st century norm. I got out and about plenty, even as far afield as St Margaret's and Ladywell (and massive props to [ profile] obsessive_katy for her mad walking skills, which far eclipse even my own elastic concept of 'walking distance'). But in between the leisurely blur of drinking in various London locations, seeing 18 Carat rock out live, and getting a few books finished (on some of which there shall be more anon) I also managed to watch a film a day. This on top of Doctor Who, obviously - which resolved many of the previous week's questions while leaving me vastly more baffled than before, but mostly in a good way. Also, terrified, and slightly surprised that they were allowed to show that at 6pm. This even when I'd watched Image of the Fendahl, the peak of the show's (previous?) gothic phase, earlier in the week. At least that had rustic comic relief in the supporting cast, as against Richard Nixon and an implacable gay with a gun. So yes, I have no idea what's going on, but I loved it nonetheless - especially the little character moments, so much more heartbreaking for not being over-egged the way they would have been under RTD.

Those films, then. Tron: Legacy, which looks amazing, and sounds astonishing (for all that Daft Punk's music bores me as a focus of attention, it makes a great film soundtrack), and has Michael Sheen as David Bowie, and two of Jeff Bridges. And then stumbles at the doorstep of greatness because the ostensible lead is some anonymous plank who succeeded even in annoying me, the man who thought Shia laBoeuf was OK as Indiana Jones' kid. And then, carrying on with the eighties theme, RoboCop, which I've somehow never seen before. Part of me was glad to suddenly get all those references, especially from Spaced; part of me wondered why it isn't referenced much more frequently. Though there's no mention of the term PFI, it's exactly what the film is about. The classified Directive 4, which prevents executives of the company who are buying up the state from being detained by RoboCop, is something we see every time Tesco or News International or Vodafone or whoever laughs in the face of the law and provokes barely a glimmer of reprimand. Why does it not get quoted more often, if only with a bitter shrug, the way we talk about bad weather and Tube delays?

The third film we'll come to another day, because it ties in with something else, but the last, as Monday ended and the long, luxurious weekend with it, was Chimes at Midnight, a film which knows all about the party being over. Orson Welles embodies Shakespeare's Falstaff brilliantly - and yet, you can't help but see him more as telling a very autobiographical tale of Orson Welles. "If I wanted to get into heaven on the basis of one movie", he said, "that's the one I'd offer up." I don't think he meant just for its artistry - he knew it was an apologia pro vita sua. A larger than life wastrel who was not just witty, but the cause of wit in others - and yet who knew it had all, somehow, been a terrible waste.

There have also been, of course, events in the wider world. But nowadays adding to the online opinion surplus about the big stories just feels profoundly unhelpful. Something pithy can do nicely for Facebook, but presuming to preserve it for posterity? Why bother?
alexsarll: (Default)
I haven't been up to a huge amount lately; judging by today's sun the time of hibernation may be ending, but there's been a lot more reading and DVDs than antics. Spot of furniture construction for [ profile] xandratheblue (sometimes I wonder if I may have overdone the John Steed-style 'pose as feckless incompetent' bit, people do get very surprised when I'm practical), comedy then pub on Sunday (Michael Legge especially good as the bewildered MC, Steve Hall from Klang talking more about his swimsuit area than I might have wished, but still excellent). I've watched a lot of films, but more on them later in the week, I think. Two series finished and one promising new show started, so let's keep this one televisual.

My hopes for BBC One's new space colonisation drama Outcasts were not high; I'd heard bad things about how the makers didn't like it being considered science fiction, and as a rule that just means someone is making very bad science fiction. Imagine my surprise when it turns out to be the hardest SF I've seen on TV...possibly ever. And that's hard in both senses; the set-up is not that far off Firefly, but this is a lot less jaunty and swashbuckling. This is about the hard slog of the early days, the muttered references to how bad things were on Earth, the realisation that humanity is down to a few thousand people and even they can't live peacefully together. A good cast - Liam Cunningham, Hermione Norris, Keats from Ashes to Ashes and Apollo from BSG - but not all of them make it to the end of the episode. I like it when shows kill off major characters unexpectedly, it helps to maintain the sense of jeopardy.

Primeval used to be good at that too. This series, not so much, even though the protagonists have suddenly developed a quite uncanny ability to go on missions without adequate back-up, then drop their guns. Since ITV attempted to cancel their one good programme - for showing up everything else they produce, I assumed - it has got visibly cheaper, not in terms of the monster CGI (still great) but in terms of what seems a hurriedness to the writing, and a weird emptiness of the sets. They've saved a ton on extras, but ended up with something that feels a bit too much like Bugs, if anyone remembers that. But if nothing else, it's the only TV drama I've spotted which has any interest in demonstrating the evils of PFI.

But for really getting through the main cast, since Oz ended there has been nothing to equal Spartacus: Blood and Sand. I'm not surprised they're following it up with a prequel, because there really aren't many characters left to follow into the future except Spartacus himself, and Andy Whitfield is too ill to resume that role, poor bastard. And of course prequels have their own problems, because you know who's going to make it. So this may turn out to have been essentially a one-off - but what a one-off. Looking back, even in the earlier, sillier episodes the big theme was there, and that theme was the real trickledown effect. Not the happy, fluffy right-wing fantasy where we all get rich off the very rich's spending - the real version, where the moment's whim of someone higher up than you can up-end (or simply end) your whole life. Again and again, person A suffers simply because B has just had a row with C. And especially when B literally owns A, that can be fatal. Even when they don't, a catastrophic cascade can still result - but the indignities and worse, the difficulty of love or friendship, of being unfree are powerfully drawn. And where the corny old film of Spartacus used this haunting horror of slavery to praise the American Dream, to show how much better things are nowadays, the TV show is made in darker, wiser times. It knows that, unless there happen to be a couple of oligarchs watching, the audience are slaves too.
alexsarll: (death bears)
Apparently the 100 Club should be saved - but only through a sponsorship deal and associated renaming. So last night I went for probably the last time before it becomes the Sony Rebellion 100 Club, or the George Osborne Tax Shelter 100 Club...just imagine how those giant zeroes at the back of the stage will look when they're replaced with Rupert Murdoch faces! Still, for one night only, David Devant and his Spirit Wife could make us forget that. After coasting a little of late, they've got new songs! A new spectral roadie! And the magic tricks are back, even some la-la-la-la-la-lead piping! Excellent stuff. Between songs, Vessel reads from My Magic Life, but it's his own running autobiography, not the original Devant's. It is an excellent way to mark a midwinter solstice after which we all hope things will get brighter - even if outside, all that's happened so far is that rain has replaced snow. Remember how, two winters ago, we all got massively excited and rushed off to build snowmen and have snowball fights, because we only had one chance? And now we're back to thinking of snow as a wintertime fixture, like we always imagined it was supposed to be from the Christmas cards.

The last weekend before Christmas seemed to be largely cancelled on account of snow and illness this year, and yet I found myself not minding too much. I just holed up with Powell & Pressburger's first collaboration and Howard 'Misfits'* Overman's underwhelming Dirk Gently adaptation, then moseyed through the snow to Dalston for a pleasantly subdued Sunday. It may have helped that on Friday I got through the following:
- The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension.
- Tom Baker being Tom Bakerish at some unsuspecting ancient Celts in the first of a new series of audio adventures, The Relics of Time.
- Volumes 12 and 13 of Robert Kirkman's superhero epic/soap opera Invincible.
- Nuisance, complete with house band playing Britpop covers.
Of each of these things one can fairly say: that was great fun, but also, really, what the fvck?

*Speaking of which, I was slightly underwhelmed by the Christmas special. Yes, any Christmas special which is motivated by a thorough hatred of the church is doing something right, but the religious plotline felt a bit too much like the first season finale, and I wonder whether the resolution might not be a cop-out. Still, I suppose a lot remains to be seen depending on the unseen choices they made.
alexsarll: (crest)
Yes, it's that time of year again; I think I've heard everything that's coming out (and the Duran Duran was really not worth waiting for), I've listened back to the ones I couldn't make up my mind about, and then I've started juggling positions and seeing which orders made sense. Nonetheless, this list is of necessity provisional; I completely missed until this year the arrival of at least two albums which should have been in 2009's top 20, by Circulus and George Pringle. It should also go without saying that like any such list, it is entirely subjective. And Number One is really not going to surprise anyone to whom I've talked about music in the past couple of years. So without further ado, the chart rundown )...and there was a 30-40, but halfway through putting in the HTML for the italics, I decided no, all of those are either too samey or too patchy. They had lovely moments, but they weren't great albums. And moments don't make albums. A lot of my favourite songs this year - Big Boi's 'Shutterbug', Robyn's 'Dancing On My Own', My Chemical Romance's 'Na Na Na', Shrag's 'Rabbit Kids', Underworld's 'Between Stars' - were from albums other people really rated, but which to me sounded like more than half filler. Then you had Spoiler Alert!'s 'Booster Gold' and Mitch Benn's 'I'm Proud of the BBC' (an EP track and a stand-alone single, respectively), and Gaga's 'Telephone' from a 2009 album. I don't buy the whole death of the album line, mind; there have always been great singles that hunt alone, or live on patchy albums. But I have found that when an album isn't physically present, it can no longer nag at you from the corner of your eye. When it's not even digitally present, when there's only access to it - on Spotify, most especially, with its refusal to tell you what you were doing even the five searches back that it used to manage unless you specifically note an item at the time - then only a song itself, lodged in the brain can remind you about an album, remind you that you were briefly very impressed, pull you back. And it doesn't happen as often as I would have expected. Is that determined by the music the year had on offer, or is it a general thing? No idea. But looking back at that list, thinking about all the albums that didn't make it, an awful lot of music this year has sounded tired. That is not in itself a bad thing - tiredness is an emotion which, like any other, can set the tone for great art. But not all of them were accomplishing that transmutation and, even when you think about the ones who were...well, it's not the best of zeitgeists, is it?
alexsarll: (Default)
Doesn't the weekend seem a long time ago now? Even more so for the approximately 50% of people I know who were in chalets, falling in love with Frightened Rabbit, I suppose. But London had its share of inadvisable festive drinking too. Red absinth was a bad idea. I've also finally been to the new pub at the end of the road, the Stapleton. Which is a lot less depressing than it was in its previous incarnation as the Larrick, but then you could still say that if they'd replaced the Larrick with a concentration camp where the furnaces were soundtracked by Avril Lavigne. The Stapleton, on the other hand, is Actually Rather Nice, strangely cosy for such a large space, helped by the most enormous Christmas tree I've seen indoors in ages.

Otherwise: viewing! I have another DVD rental trial thanks to Aug, and while I'm startled at some of the films that aren't available (I'm not talking obscurities either, but stuff starring Liz Taylor, or Orson Welles, or directed by Cronenberg) they did start well by sending me Pandora and the Flying Dutchman. Which I want to say is a great film, but that would in some ways be untrue. It has a particularly annoying use of that crappy fake night-time effect you see in old colour movies, where they film through sunglasses and hope you won't notice the shadows. And the entire supporting cast is rubbish. But that sort of works, because be they wise antiquarian, or land speed record holder, or great bullfighter, none of them is anything in the face of myth. And Ava Gardner, as Pandora, and James Mason, as the Dutchman van der Zee, have all the grandeur of myths. As they dance around each other in the dream-like, vaguely Felliniesque port of Esperanza (no, the names aren't subtle) they are simply mesmerising, and everything around them partakes of that and becomes so too. Meaning that a film about the cursed immortal van der Zee's quest to escape this world has a camera that's utterly in love with it. Flawed, but well worth seeing.

I've been meaning to watch lesbian cult classic The Killing of Sister George for about a decade, and it was worth the wait. They don't make battleaxes like Beryl Reid anymore.

While I no longer hate Colin Baker Doctor Who like I used to, I still can't deny that most of his TV stories were rubbish. Vengeance on Varos is an exception. Mostly. Shown in 1985, it's a prescient vision of a society sedated by watching people tormented on TV (Jason Connery is a bit wooden in the victim's role, though still considerably more lifelike than Gillian McKeith) while rations are cut. The rulers are powerless figureheads, while unaccountable corporations grow fat through the insistence that there's no other way, and if their demands aren't met they'll simply leave. Admittedly, some of the enactment of this theme involves the old Who standby of wandering around corridors, narrowly avoiding a series of baffling and inconsistent traps, but the sentiment and vision are there, and so is most of the script. Excellent work from Martin Jarvis as the poor bloody Governor, too. He almost makes one feel sympathy for modern politicians. Almost.
alexsarll: (bernard)
Apparently David Cameron's not just a Smiths fan, he likes Modest Mouse too. He's certainly doing his bit to keep their album titles topical. I skirted the edge of the protests yesterday. I wasn't in town to agitate or demonstrate - I did that the last time a party students trusted turned out to be lying about tuition fees, and I don't see that my contribution would achieve any more this time around - but since one of the routes I could take would combine the journey I was making anyway with a little disaster tourism, why not? With the lines of riot police blocking empty streets, the searchlight helicopter, the riot vans haring around in sixes, it all felt very Eastern European.

This was on my way to see the Jeays festive show at the Battersea Barge which - perhaps because of the disruptions? - wasn't as full as the past couple of years. The raffle format bore fruit, as it usually does - even when audience members chose songs I don't love on record like 'The Man from Del Monte', Phil's live performance has enough of Brel's demonic side to make them fascinating. The regrettably obligatory support slot from performance poet the Speech Painter was introduced by Phil in verse. A lengthy poem which was far more savage, and much funnier, than any of the supposed poet's work. It almost seemed too cruel. Almost.
Other shows seen this week include Brontosaurus Chorus (on excellent form - album-in-full shows are so much less depressing when it's a new album rather than a sanctioned classic), Jonny Cola (still with the new line-up), Boy Stood Alone On Mountaintop (solo acoustic singer-songwriters aren't really my thing, alas), Bleech (Amy Pond's sister and a slightly out of date Hoxtonista trying to be Elastica, but not as good as that sounds) and Pan. Apparently two thirds of Pan used to be Le Tetsuo, a name I knew but not a band I ever heard. The name doesn't really suit them, the sound being very tight and constrained, and their singer looking like David Morrissey as the young Gordon Brown. These are not bad things, you understand - simply things which contradict the name. I can't quite make out the lyrics, but the words I catch in one chorus include 'lesbian' and 'exes', which are both good words to have in your chorus.
alexsarll: (bernard)
Jacques Tourneur's Night of the Demon is perhaps best known as the source of "It's in the trees! It's coming!" on Kate Bush's 'Hounds of Love', but Mark Gatiss' recent history of horror made some mention of it, and got me rather intrigued. And yes, it's very good, a proper old-fashioned frightener like Dead of Night. It's an expansion, adaptation and updating (albeit only to the fifties, when you can smoke in airports and board moving trains and shoot mentals up with speed and not get in trouble when they run out of a window - happy days) of MR James' 'Casting the Runes', and like so many screen takes on his stories, it works a lot better than you might expect. This in spite of the producer overriding the objections of screenwriter, director and star and showing an actual demon, which is clearly a cheap and dated model effect - yet somehow still works.
(As in the James original, the sorcerous villain is named Karswell, which in fifties accents sounds quite like Carsmile, leading one to occasionally wonder what [ profile] carsmilesteve is up to. This becomes particularly acute at one seeming mention of Carsmile's Demon, which I could only picture as an indie cousin of Maxwell's Demon)

I read a piece in the paper about Patrick Keiller's Robinson films shortly after reading an essay by him which was one of the better contributions to a somewhat disappointing anthology called Restless Cities. The two I watched both consist of Paul Scofield narrating the thoughts and journeys he takes with this Robinson, over (mostly) still camera shots of...nothing in particular. London feels very Saint Etienne - at one stage Robinson wishes, like 'Finisterre', that the 19th century had never happened - but where St Et love London, Robinson is more pessimistic even than his fan Iain Sinclair, thinking of it as "a city full of interesting people, most of whom...would prefer to be elsewhere". "As a city it no longer exists" he claims, in 1992, seeing only the worst in the future. And of course we know that the fears of 1992 were misplaced then, but they seem more applicable now. One can only hope that this is the human tendency to forecast doom again, and that they are once more misplaced*.
Robinson in Space, the sequel, roves further afield, making "a peripatetic study of the problem of England", looking at the out of town shopping centres and the container parks, talking about the present of a country whose past includes the Martian invasion of the late 19th century, Sherlock Holmes and Dracula as surely as it does Thatcher and the dawn of the motorways. The library's DVD seized up at the end, but somehow it didn't much matter.

If you'd told me ten years ago that Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie could make a film together that would look boring, I would not have believed it, yet trailers for The Tourist entice me not at all. And yet, Depp remains a hero.
"I think it was Michael Eisner, the head of Disney at the time, who was quoted as saying, ‘[Jack Sparrow is] ruining the movie.’ Depp reveals to Smith, however, that he remained unfazed by the studio’s hysteria. “Upper-echelon Disney-ites, going, What’s wrong with him? Is he, you know, like some kind of weird simpleton? Is he drunk? By the way, is he gay?… And so I actually told this woman who was the Disney-ite… ‘But didn’t you know that all my characters are gay?’ Which really made her nervous.”

Bit of a misfire of a weekend, all told. One party I'd intended to rendezvous with relocated, and if ever there was a night when you didn't want your boots to somehow extrude an internal nail, it's got to be one where you're attempting a glam stomp. Which then of course left me unfit for Tubewalking on Sunday. Oh, and These Animal Men's new incarnation is distinctly samey, but that may be because all their effects pedals were snowed in. Still. One goes on.

*Speaking of things misplaced, Michael Bywater's Lost Worlds: What Have We Lost & Where Did it Go? is not the book one might expect. At first it seems a little fogeyish in its laments for Meccano, proper doctors, the rubbishness of modern music - but Bywater knows that for all the arguments he can muster against modern music, they're also a generational obligation, not to be trusted. He knows that the proper doctor may have had a reassuring manner, but that most of the time he couldn't do much to stop you being ill. He knows, in short, that the past was often not all it's now cracked up to be. Many of the entries have a sting in the tail, as when he moans about how everywhere in Europe smells the same nowadays - but then twists and says how much better that is than the smell of fire and burning flesh 60 years ago. And he writes beautifully: "The gifts of life do not turn to dust, nor does loss cast a shadow. Loss sheds its light on what remains, and in that light all that we have and all that we have had glows more brightly still."
alexsarll: (Default)
Another film I'd been meaning to see for ages: Network. Like They Live, I wonder whether its anti-TV vitriol is still too much for it to be broadcastable? Strange if so, because if Network has one message it's not anger - even if it is the "I'm as mad as Hell and I'm not going to take this anymore" speech which everyone quotes. No, it's how the Spectacle will assimilate anything, spoilers, for a 1976 film, but still ) Just look at all the money Rage Against the Machine made Sony last Christmas.

The Sunday wobble about which I've posted previously wasn't the whole weekend, of course. There was a leaving do for [ profile] rosamicula, which doubled as a welcome home for [ profile] dawnage and whatever Rick's LJ is, as if in obedience to some hitherto unknown Law of Conservation. At the Walrus, which I've always wanted to check out simply for the name, but which I usually only pass en route to the more prosaically named Horse. I'm not sure what it would be like as a winter pub, but in summer, it has the garden to be a godsend. Then another new drinking destination for Saturday's birthday festivities, Bourne & Hollingsworth, which exists somewhere between wartime speakeasy and provincial tea-room, and serves cocktails in teacups, and where I made my first attempt at MP3 DJing, for a given value of 'DJing' and certainly not one which merits posting a setlist, before heading on to DSM where I remember very little beyond the presence of the DBB. I blame the Laundry novels for any current addiction to TLAs.

The sketch which made me laugh most in last night's (as ever, admittedly patchy) Mitchell & Webb was Caesar. But the ones which most impressed me were the one where they bit the Apple hand that feeds, and especially the opening self-criticism session. As against Peep Show, their own work sometimes gets accused of a certain traditional, cosy quality. Good to see them rolling with those punches and coming back with this level of savagery.

When it wasn't giving me the fear re: space, one of the things I like about that Ray Bradbury collection* I'm reading is that, for all that it came out through a science fiction imprint, it doesn't feel obliged to be all SF. I'm only a quarter of the way through, but if a story doesn't need to involve a spaceship or a time machine, then Bradbury doesn't throw one in just to keep within his genre; sometimes all you need is two men meeting on a beach. As I may have mentioned once or twice before, I'm not too keen on genre boundaries, which is why a project like the Neil Gaiman co-edited anthology Stories interests me. If you know McSweeney's Mammoth Treasury of Thrilling Tales, this is basically a less confrontational, more entryist approach to that. The cover, instead of a masked lion-tamer, is just contributor names - it's almost as studiedly uninformative as the title. And where Chabon's introduction railed against "the contemporary, quotidian, plotless, moment-of-truth revelatory short story", Gaiman simply extols the joy of the story in which the main question is - "what happened next?" The two share a couple of authors - two of the big beasts, in fact, Michael Moorcock and Gaiman himself, both among the main reasons I'm reading either collection in the first place. Beyond them, Stories makes a deliberately wide-ranging selection. There are other people I actively want to read - Gene Wolfe, Joe Hill. There are people I've vaguely meant to read - Michael Swanwick, Walter Mosley. Then there are people I'd never have thought to read, some reviewers' darlings - Joyce Carol Oates - and some big sellers - Jodi Piccoult. The clever bit being, of course, that for any reader, each of those four categories is going to include a completely different selection of names. In the interests of fairness, I'm reading every story, and if I've not been convinced to investigate the oeuvre of any of the writers I wasn't already interested in, nor has any of them been quite as bad as I expected (though there is something of a fixation on stories of elderly siblings). Obviously, part of me hopes that the people coming in for Oates will be rather more impressed by Gaiman...but the world's not quite that satisfying, is it? And if nothing else, I will probably read some more Mosley. Maybe even some Swanwick, though I was put off by the self-evident falseness of one of his central conceits: apparently characters in books don't read books. Even leaving aside the bookish heroes of MR James, Lovecraft and Borges, what about Dorian Gray, Don Quixote, Scott Pilgrim?

*I put the non-Bradbury part of Monday's post into the 'who do you write like' meme currently prowling Livejournal, and it told me Edgar Allen Poe. I was quietly pleased, but then realised I was missing a trick, especially when I saw Bradbury himself was one of the answers, and entered his contribution instead, but apparently he writes like Douglas Adams.


Mar. 9th, 2010 02:10 pm
alexsarll: (bill)
No, not the Ian Curtis flick, which I've still yet to catch and increasingly suspect I'm not that bothered about seeing. Just the theme of several recent bits and pieces:

- Aside from the Alice-themed Are Friends Eclectic? and a little light Saturday pubbing, most of my recent outings have seen me tramping around Islington via its libraries in search of some items they definitely owned at one point but now seen unable to locate. I've found various other stuff instead, of course, of which more in a moment, and I've also found things in between - a section of Regent's Canal I'd always missed before, for one, which feels like our own Little Venice. But also the city farm in Paradise Park (which, disappointingly for Divine Comedy fans, is not called Paradise Farm). A rather feeble effort compared to Mudchute's, it is nonetheless decked around with dozens of signs warning you to disinfect your hands the second you've stopped touching the animals AND wash your hands before you leave AND don't even think about eating in the area (except for the cafe, obviously, that has special magic anti-germ force fields). Yet I remember plenty of farm trips when I was young, or just wanders down to the end of the road to feed the cows, and while if they licked your hand it smelled rather pungently of baked beans such that you probably would wash your hand before eating anything anyway, I don't recall any of us ever being struck down by whatever terrible blight these signs imply we should fear.

- Craze: Gin and Debauchery in an Age of Reason by Jessica Warner - one of the other things I found in that library tour, and a book I borrowed without even reading the blurb, just for that name. While the story of gin's origins would be interesting in itself (its inventor was one Franciscus de la Boe of the University of Leyden - is gin the true Face of Boe?), Warner is more intrigued by the moral panic which ensued as a prototype of modern drug scares. And this is very much The Wire in periwigs, with the counterproductive legislation, the product getting stepped-on, the snitches and the underclass. The main difference being that the paternalism back then was more blatant:
"skirmishes over drugs are necessarily skirmishes over how people live - and sometimes seem to waste - their lives. When we react against a new drug and the effect it might have on other people's behaviour, we are also reacting against the culture in which the drug has taken root. This is what makes the rhetoric of 18th century reformers so refreshing: unlike modern reformers, they were unabashedly elitist. What they had to say may not have been attractive, but at least it was honest."
The lawmaking classes back in the gin age wanted the proletariat healthy and fertile, so the population would keep growing, so that there were plenty of soldiers and sailors to be expended, and plenty of labourers to keep wages low. Those priorities may have changed slightly as mercantilism has given way to consumerism, but not that much - just witness the horror with which the CBI greets any increase in the minimum wage, let alone the slim chance of that legislation actually being enforced. Warner is fully aware of how much continuity exists and, after a survey of the nineties War on Drugs, finishes with predictions about what might be the next drug scares now crack had been defanged, assuming they would either involve new drugs or new settings for drugs, not seeing implicit in her own account that you can manufacture a panic out of nowhere if you need one. Hence the absurd and mendacious 'super-skunk' fear being put about these days - because when you have a generation of parents and legislators who mostly tried dope themselves back in the day, you can't expect them to fall for the same 'reefer madness' lines unless you claim those reefers are a new and deadly upgrade. Hence 'binge drink Britain', essentially the gin panic with a miniskirt and a fake tan.

- As regards consumerism taking over from mercantilism, I finally saw John Carpenter's They Live. In 1988 this may have seemed like SF/horror, or black comedy, or satire - now, except for one interesting hypothesis about why governments and businesses aren't doing more about climate change, it's mainly stating the obvious. Carpenter proposes special sunglasses which enable you to see the coded messages in advertisements - messages like OBEY and STAY ASLEEP. In a world where Carling, a supposedly 'fun' beverage, plugs itself with a simple BELONG, who needs the shades? The CCTV cameras are obvious now too, we just ignore them anyway. And as for the big speech by the member of the elites who've sold humanity out to to Them: "I thought you understood. It's business, that's all it is. You still don't get it. There ain't no countries anymore. They're running the whole show. They own the whole planet. They can do whatever they want." Tell me something I don't know.

A rant

Feb. 26th, 2010 12:01 pm
alexsarll: (marshal)
In spite of London Transport's best efforts, I made it to the Good Ship last night in time for Lullaby Oscillatrix, and The Icebergs, and The Angry Bees, three very different new musical adventures involving my endlessly creative chums (OK, 'musical' might not be quite the right word in the case of the Bees). And the faff en route did at least mean I could pretty much finish off Anna Minton's Ground Control en route. It's a book I've been trying to read in public not just for the normal reason of it being nicely pocket-sized, but also as my own small rejoinder to the situation it describes in which, as that review is headlined, "they sold our streets and nobody noticed". The current government has encouraged councils to privatise public space, to sell off assets which were bequeathed to local communities in perpetuity (if not legally, then morally, this is clearly theft), to design cities in accord with unproven and pernicious theories. There's so much here I didn't know. Just one example: since 2004, compulsory purchase orders no longer need to show public benefit in any terms other than monetary ones. Needless to say, the idea that said money will benefit the public relies on our old favourite, trickledown economics - because in the short term it's going straight to the developers. Shameful. Also, it would seem, inescapable. This all took place under a nominally Labour government, which is shameful and ludicrous, but it's not as if it would be reversed by the admitted Tories, and I no longer even have any confidence in the Lib Dems.
In 1821, John Hunt was imprisoned for an article describing MPs as "Venal boroughmongers, grasping placemen, greedy adventurers and aspiring title-hunters...a body, in short, containing a far greater proportion of Public Criminals than Public Guardians." Obviously a lot has changed since then; now MPs realise that prosecution only makes martyrs and the system ticks over nicely if you just ignore how much the public hates the whole damn pack of you, so critics can make high-profile TV dramas like On Expenses which essentially advance Hunt's point over an hour of docudrama (the usual disclaimer admitting that some details have been compressed then turns around and reminds us that "mostly, you couldn't make it up") with a fine cast including Brian Cox and Anna Maxwell Martin...and nobody bats an eyelid, and MPs complain that they can't be expected to travel in standard class with the proles, and they use slave labour in breach of the minimum wage laws they passed themselves, and we head towards an election which is once again going to beat all the records for low turn-out because nobody's fool enough to believe any result would accomplish anything, especially not after we saw that even if we had a genuinely inspirational politician like Barack Obama - which we clearly don't - then, like Obama, he would probably be incapable of achieving anything if he got in, not with the system arrayed against him.
alexsarll: (Default)
I'm trying my best to get into the Fyfe Dangerfield solo album's just not as interesting as Guillemots. I think we have to conclude that, in the new terminology, he has 'done a Cheryl'.

With so much good TV restarting this week, I suppose it makes things easier that, its Fast Show pedigree notwithstanding, Bellamy's People is rubbish. The broad-brush caricatures - of a fat man, the Mitford sisters, Andrew Loog Oldham - lack any spark of life, and even when they have a target which is rich in comic potential and really deserves the mockery, a 'community leader', what ought to be funny is not.
Similarly, How Earth Made Us has some stunning footage - especially of a crystal cave deep beneath Mexico - but I'm saved from the need to persevere by the presenter, who is essentially Peter Capaldi playing a prick.

"in a real revolution - not a simple dynastic change or mere reform of institutions - in a real revolution the best characters do not come to the front. A violent revolution falls into the hands of narrow-minded fanatics and of tyrannical hypocrites at first. Afterwards comes the turn of all the pretentious intellectual failures of the time. Such are the chiefs and the leaders. You will notice that I have left out the mere rogues. The scrupulous and the just, the noble, humane, and devoted natures; the unselfish and the intelligent may begin a movement - but it passes away from them. They are not the leaders of a revolution. They are its victims: the victims of disgust, of disenchantment - often of remorse. Hopes grotesquely betrayed, ideals caricatured - that is the definition of revolutionary success."
So wrote Joseph Conrad in 1911's Under Western Eyes, and could the last 99 years have done more to prove his point? Of course, he does not deny that the Russian autocracy against which his revolutionaries strive is itself a grotesque and incoherent tyranny. Similarly, we cannot really claim any better for the deranged kleptocracy which still dares to call itself capitalism and which holds the modern world in so firm a grip. But nor can we realistically believe that a revolution would make things any better when, almost without exception, history shows them making things basically the same, yet slightly worse.

Have also been reading Tokyo Days, Bangkok Nights, a collection of two Vertigo Pop miniseries from 2002-2003. At the time I only read the London one by Peter Milligan which, like so much of his work, remains uncollected (but wasn't that great anyway). These two are by Jonathan Vankin, a writer whose name still means little to me, and on this showing that's no great omission. Both stories have Americans coming up against cultural strangeness and institutional corruption in the relevant cities, and while I've quite liked Giuseppe Camuncoli's Hellblazer art (a gig for which he was blatantly auditioning with his portrayal of the one Brit here), he can't make Bangkok anything more than the sort of clunkingly obvious middlebrow culture clash story which, on screen, would be in with a good chance of an Oscar or two. So why did I bother reading this, or talking about it? Because Tokyo has art by Seth Fisher. I've only been getting into his stuff recently, but it's amazing - he's one of the very few artists to have anything like the sheer physicality of Frank Quitely, but instead of Quitely's hyper-realism it's paired with a cartoonish sensibility somewhere between Philip Bond and manga. It's gorgeous. And there's hardly any of it because, for reasons I've never seen properly explained, Fisher went off the roof of an Osaka club in 2006 and died having never really done any work with a decent writer. So we have to sift through what he could accomplish on a script by Vankin, or Zeb Wells, and wonder what he could have accomplished paired with Milligan or Morrison. Rest in peace, Seth.
alexsarll: (Default)
So here I sit in the library on a dismal day at the fag-end of a decade on which nobody quite seems able to put their finger, but a decade at the start of which I wouldn't have been sat writing anything like this, having been strictly a messageboards and emails boy. The post-christmas milestones have been passed; thank you to all who made my birthday, and I remain amazed that the Freaky Trigger pub crawl could find an OK and a great pub within minutes of where I worked for eight years but neither of which I had ever entered (and about how many viable post-apocalyptic Ant&Dec TV formats there are, but over that topic it is probably best to draw a veil). Which means now it's just about waiting out the last 36 hours. Back home, my CD player currently contains one of the first great albums of the previous decade, St Etienne's Foxbase Alpha (albeit in that most noughties of formats, the 2CD deluxe reissue) and a burned copy (the second most noughties format) of what may be one of the next decade's first great albums, the new one from Los Campesinos!. I have no idea what I'm saying here, I just felt the moment should be marked, even if it's not much of a moment.

Le sigh

Dec. 21st, 2009 01:18 pm
alexsarll: (bernard)
Snow ahead of's been a while, hasn't it? Proper blizzards of the stuff sometimes, even if by morning it always seems to be mere ice and slush. Which has slowed me down a little, made me less prone to randomly striding about the place, but is nothing like as claustrophobic as having my laptop suddenly keel over on me. Updating from the library now, I can occasionally get a little life out of it but it still feels like something between losing a sense and having the walls close in on you.

The last normal weekend of the noughties, and I started it by going to a nineties night. Then on Saturday, a glam night. Really Sunday should have followed with a fifties night and Monday be set for a thirties event, but nothing suitable was available (though Eddie Argos was just back from Nuremberg, and come to think of it, if Holland Park yesterday didn't feel quite fifties, it didn't feel like the modern day either. West London is weird). The glam night wasn't all seventies, they played 'Glam Rock Cops' and 'Christmas Number One' too, and Glam Chops are technically a noughties band, but when you have Proxy Music playing, that tends to outweigh other factors. When their James Nesbit-a-like Eno took the mic for 'Baby's On Fire', [ profile] cappuccino_kid noted that it was a bit like a Smiths tribute act doing 'Getting Away With It'. Which it is, and that would also be awesome. He also proposed an act who, instead of this emphasis on the early material, only cover the last three albums: Roxy Muzak.

Recent viewing:
Ed Wood's Bride of the Monster is the most straightforward of the three films of his I've seen, the closest to a normal B-movie, but it still has moments of the peculiarity only he could bring, most notably the police chief's budgie.
Dollhouse has finally moved away from 'generic TV action format of the week', and even scaled back the sheer rapiness of the concept (they're all volunteers for mindwipes, for a given value of 'volunteer', and get paid off after five years. So that's OK then). It's even had two consecutive episodes with actual plot and progress and, y'know, *watchability*.
Hung ended with the ex-wife plotline we'd all seen coming months back, and I'm hoping the next season dials down the sex comedy aspects (particularly since our gigolo lead never even seems to get any really unattractive clients) and puts more emphasis on the industrial collapse, the death of the American dream and the rest of the properly HBO stuff.
Misfits demonstrated its distance from Heroes even further by going from strength to strength, ending with possibly its best episode. Can someone please put a backing track on Nathan's big speech? Because I loved it and I want to dance to it.
alexsarll: (crest)
It always used to be - perhaps still is if you catch me off guard - that asked when I'd like to live, I'd instantly reply 'the twenties'. Yes, as a rich person, obviously - just like anyone who thinks we've never had it so good is obviously thinking of themselves rather than a Third World peasant, just like nobody ever said Rome and meant as a slave (well, except maybe a few serious submissives). But a while back a doubt dawned and has been niggling ever since - were the twenties rich any different to the arses clogging the gossip mags I spurn? Do we just romanticise them through distance, the same way classic pirates seem sexy while having your yacht seized by Somalis with automatic weaponry is distinctly less so? DJ Taylor's excellent Bright Young People - The Rise and Fall of a Generation: 1918-1940 is doing nothing to convince me otherwise. Yes, in America the gilded twenties produced some artists of genuine stature - the Fitzgeralds, Dorothy Parker - but over here we mostly ended up with never-was-es like Stephen Tennant and Brian Howard, always just about to write masterpieces which somehow never quite materialised. Of the books written from and about the scene which did appear, most are now only ever read as research for social histories like this one, and even those which survive for wider public attention - which basically means Evelyn Waugh's Decline and Fall and Vile Bodies - are still principally known for reflexive reasons just as they were at the time; like their subjects, we read them to be at once scandalised and fascinated by the thinly-veiled documentary of the times*. Times which only produced these books. Which we only read because...and so on. If Waugh had kept his powder dry on the topic until Brideshead years later (assuming he'd somehow supported himself in the meantime and not become another Tennant or Howard), would literature be much the poorer?
But mostly, what was written about them was the gossip mags, the disgust/obsession of the middle-market rags, the same we see nowadays. "The reader's curiosity, in fact, was almost bovine. It went only so far. It wanted, above all, to be reassured that the grass it ate was grass, that the people presented for inspection, whoever they might be, were worth reading about." Consider the junkie Brenda Dean Paul, the radio news following her escapades with the same urgent irrelevance as Amy Winehouse or Pete Doherty gets from the websites and tabloids. And never mind Winehouse, she couldn't even claim such nugatory cultural achievements as Doherty, being an 'actress' in the loosest possible sense (but then, she did exist in a time before ITV drama, so that at least could have changed).
Understand: it's not Taylor taking this line - he laments the decline of the Bright Young scene into a parade of wannabes and ever-increasing efforts at novelty, but the wondering if there was ever anything there in the first place is just me. Similarly, the modern parallels are if anything underplayed. Though the book being a couple of years old, there's one at least which couldn't possibly have spooked him like it did me. Describing a Punch satire of the scene:
"Losing sight of Lady Gaga for half an hour, the interloper eventually finds her with her arm round the waist of 'a young heavyweight in horn-rims dressed as a baby', listening to a hollow-eyed girl ina tutu and an opera hat who is singing a song with the refrain 'It's terribly thrilling to be wicked'."
Of course, counterpoint all this with the worries of parents about how the Bright Young People were wasting their time, refusing to acknowledge the serious side of life and you realise - if they had, they'd still have been wasting their time. What else could they have done? Gone into business and been wiped out by the Crash. Gone into finance, and caused it. Gone into politics and achieved about as much at the rather duller masquerades of the League of Nations as the Bright Young People did at theirs which at least had plenty of cocktails - or stayed in domestic politics and as like as not been damned forever for going along with appeasement. As a wise man once said: "Yes, you may be wasting your life. But it's your life to waste. Hell, no matter what you chose to do, you were wasting it anyway. And that you have the chance to doom yourself in such a way...well, that's glorious." Or as an even wiser man put it, "There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so". The good times are good times because of what they become as a half-memory which itself becomes an aspiration. Sometimes it's better not to meet your heroes, not even in a group biography.

*On the other hand, while I rather like the look of The Noughties Were Sh1t ("This blog will chart the worst of the noughties. The rubbish new genres, the horrible new trends, the idiot popstars, the dullard celebrities, the pitiful movements and the squandered promise of a rubbish generation. Think of it as a process of truth and reconciliation. We must make sure that the fucking noughties are never allowed to happen again"), I'm conflicted in the awareness that even aside from having myself had a pretty good decade - I may be a victim of the economic bust having never really got the benefits of the boom, and yet compared to a decade ago I live in a much better place with more friends and more avenues of entertainment - that site is the work of one of the best bands of the decade. A band whose driving force is disgust with that decade. And so the contradiction spirals on.
alexsarll: (crest)
Finally saw the hilarious Superbad on Friday; I loved it, though being shown it by a female friend I could see that her amusement was purer, in that it wasn't tempered with that terrible recognition anyone who's ever been a teenage boy must feel. Mentioning it to [ profile] augstone later, he thought I was asking if he'd seen Superman; I wasn't, but if his secret identity were McLovin instead of Clark Kent, wouldn't that be glorious? Also on Friday night: got lost in Emirates, impersonated a chessboard, saw Sex Tourists/Doe Face Lilian/The Firm. As is traditional on Holloway Road love-ins, the roster also included one band I didn't know; as is traditional, they were pants, ie so pants that even being pretty girls in knee-length socks covering 'I Wanna Be Your Dog' couldn't save them. Let's hope tradition stops before the Gaff burns down, though.
Saturday and Sunday also fun, but Monday...that Monday was overacting. It hammered its point home with a scenery-chewing excess of Mondayness. I did not approve.

Glen David Gold's Carter Beats The Devil was, quite deservedly if unusually, a success both with the general public and with people I know. His follow-up has been delayed and delayed, but should finally be with us this year. Except, just like various bands have had exclusive distribution deals with various chains (mainly in the States), in the UK Waterstone's get Sunnyside in July, and everyone else has to wait 'til Autumn. What makes this even stranger - that's the hardback, ie the prestige edition aimed at people who have money to spare and really can't wait for the book. Which comes out in the US in May, and can be pre-ordered from for $17.79. That's not quite the bargain it would have been two years ago, but if you're into the book enough to get a hardback in July, for about the same price you can get one in May instead. So what do Waterstone's and the UK publishers get out of this, except for winding up other booksellers?

Comics links: have a bunch of Grant Morrison rarities, including Batman and Superman text stories from 1986 - two decades before he got to do definitive runs in the main titles - and Alan Moore interviewed on the new League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Obama, and his grimoire-in-progress:
"We want it to be a lot of fun and we also want it to be exactly like the way you would have imagined a book to magic to be when you were a small child and had first heard of such things."
As someone who has attempted to read Crowley, that sounds like just what Doctor Dee ordered.

I'd been looking forward to Tin Man, a reimagining of The Wizard of Oz starring Alan Cumming, Callum Keith Rennie and lovely, lovely Zooey Deschanel. Not only was I disappointed, but I don't even have much to add to USA Today's disappointment when they say that "Ambitious and intriguing though it may be, Tin Man is simply too long, too grim and too determined to impose a Lord of the Rings universe-saving quest on top of a simpler, gentler story." It perhaps doesn't help that Alan Moore so recently finished showing how you could reinvent that story to a darker end, so long as you had a point, rather than just mashing together various fashionable SF and fantasy tropes into a world with no thematic consistency or resonance, much less plausibility.


Feb. 20th, 2009 11:34 am
alexsarll: (seal)
A Day And A Night And A Day by Glen Duncan )
Since which I decided, after a few Conan stories which were dubiously racist and rapey even by Robert E Howard's standards ("Women are cheap as plantains in this land, and their willingness or unwillingness matters as little" - this is the hero speaking, remember - "But I am not such a dog as to leave a white woman in the clutches of a black man."), to read some nice light space opera. Except it turns out that like the Glen Duncan book, James Blish's 1956 They Shall Have Stars is about the spiritual malaise of humanity in the first decades of the 21st century. The USA's democratic traditions are wounded after certain elements of the administration decided, for reasons of "security", to place themselves above the law. A key government position became hereditary, building on trends initiated when "a stunningly popular Man-on-Horseback who dripped charisma but had no brains to speak of" was President. Space exploration has stalled, tangled in bureaucracy and vested interests*; "scientific ideas have become so abstract that even their originators can't suggest ways to test them", except by ever more grotesquely massive and experimental means (although at least unlike CERN, theirs seem to work). It's not so much a space opera as a prologue to a space opera in the other books - for one junior senator, against all odds, finds himself in a position to turn things around...and no mention is made of his race, but Bliss Wagoner is at least as silly a name as Barack Obama, right?

*As with Brunner's Stand on Zanzibar, this dystopian vision of pretty much now is slightly too optimistic, in that apparently no major moves were made in space since the 1981 establishment of a base on Titan. We should be so lucky as to live in that dystopia.


Jan. 23rd, 2009 05:41 pm
alexsarll: (magnus)
I'm surprised more hasn't been made of Mick Harvey leaving the Bad Seeds. Mick's been working with Nick since The Boys Next Door, and I've always wondered how much of what we think of as Cave is in fact Harvey, particularly when listening to Harvey's other projects. I suppose now we get to find out.

Final Crisis: Superman Beyond's second issue confirms that this is the comic Final Crisis should have been. Yes, Grant Morrison is reusing his old tropes again - breaking the fourth wall, Limbo, the self-evolving hyperstory, creators trapped in creation - but here there's a manic, fizzing joy and ingenuity I'm not getting from the parent Rock of Ages reprise. Some great 3D sequences, too - though should you happen, as I did, to look out of the window with your glasses still on, it brings a real moment of Crisis terror - RED SKIES!
Elsewhere in comics, Bendis' Dark Avengers may not have any lines to equal the best of Warren Ellis' Thunderbolts run, but in so far as it's taking that series' concept - Marvel's biggest bastards given the keys to the kingdom - to the next level, I'm very much interested. Thunderbolts, meanwhile, has gone deeper and darker under Andy Diggle, and this issue includes a considerably more substantial Barack Obama appearance than that meaningless fluff-piece of a Spider-Man back-up strip, albeit to considerably less fanfare.

Have been left with a nagging sensation that I've not used my leisure to best advantage this week, to the extent that I started getting quite angry with myself/the world and had to go wander the British Museum for a while to calm down. Silly, really - even aside from the nebulous business of Seeing Nice People, I've watched another Losey/Pinter/Bogarde masterpiece, Accident; seen the Soft Close-Ups and Mr Solo; and made a reasonably good start on Ulysses, so it's not as if I'm flicking myself off to Trisha just yet.

I know list articles are intrinsically pointless, and I know they're designed to provoke quibbling, so I'm not going to get up in arms about the omissions from the Guardian's Novels You Must Read, or the times where they've chosen a book which isn't the author's best. And I should be glad, I suppose, that one of the seven sections was science fiction and fantasy. But since when was Kavalier & Clay, The Man Who Was Thursday or The Wasp Factory science fiction or fantasy? They may not be dull enough to be literary fiction, but none of them takes place in a world that is not the consensus version of this one - except in so far as they are not true. If we say that the fictional comics in Chabon's book make it an alternate world, then so does the fictional MP in The Line of Beauty, and down that line every book bar the most tiresomely domestic becomes SF. Which would amuse me at least a little, it's true, but is patently nonsense.
alexsarll: (menswear)
The headlines of late may be a seemingly endless parade of semi-comprehensible financial doom, so I've been very glad of the Somali pirate debacle. Yes, I know that real modern pirates are not nice men (for that matter, nor were the old school, whatever the twinkle in Errol Flynn or Johnny Depp's eye might try to tell you otherwise). But it's still hard not to love a story in which pirates nick 33 tanks, and then manage to shoot three of their own number during a debate over tactics.
"He said radicals on board wanted to keep the shipment of 33 T-72 tanks and other weapons in Somalia while the moderates wanted "to back-pedal on the ransom issue"."
Moderate pirates!

Marie Antoinette is a spectacularly boring film. And I use those words precisely - it is at once spectacular, and boring. I've watched both of Sofia Coppola's previous films in a sort of doze, but this time I was watching with friends so that wouldn't fly. Nonetheless I was lulled into enough of a dream state that, as when you're in a cruise ship which is also your school, the distinction between Kirsten Dunst and Scarlett Johansson ceased to have any meaning to me and I started talking about the former's album of Tom Waits covers. The sets, the costumes are so lavish, made and dressed and shot with such obvious love...and yet the film conspires to make you stop looking at them, or at least half-close your eyes, with its majestic tedium.
The new series of The Sarah Jane Adventures, on the other hand, was clearly made for about thruppence and yet it's full of thrills. And that's not even as strained a link as you might think, because the astronomer in the first two episodes has previously played Robespierre opposite Richard E Grant's Scarlet Pimpernel, so there. But really, this was cheap; there's some model work with the radio telescope which would have been at home on Thunderbirds, and yet it's still a better Sontaran story than the last series of Doctor Who managed. The only problem being - they do rather let this show sneak out, don't they? I know it's on in the teatime slot for children, but they must know that a fair amount of adult Doctor Who fans want to watch it, so why is it not brought to our attention a little more?

Am increasingly losing patience with the mice. Given I have now learned that 'put a donk on it' is a viable solution to all problems, I am wondering how best to put a donk on a mouse, and even (though I hesitate to ask) how exactly that would help.
alexsarll: (magnus)
I like climbing things. If you've ever been in a park with me, you probably already know that. And while I find all the fuss made about 'parkour' deeply naff, if I'm walking alongside a low wall, I'll as likely as not hop up and walk along it instead. This goes for the middle of the day and sober as much as the evening drunk; it's not a big deal so much as 'why not?'. Similarly, if I'm walking alongside a slope I usually try that thing of running at it and then along it where you don't fall off so long as you keep going.
Last night, I got overambitious and thought I could do this with a vertical wall. While wearing shoes with pretty much no grip. It may come as no surprise to you, dear readers, that I failed, resulting in an ungainly sprawl. But as I attempted it, I was so sure I could do it, the sort of certainty which really ought to be its own guarantee, if the world were as susceptible to will and confidence as they say it is.

Five Thoughts On The Popularity Of Steampunk.

As much as I love Bill Murray, I'd always put off seeing Groundhog Day because it is a film in which he finds love with Andie Macdowell, and (except in the grossly underrated Hudson Hawk), I loathe Andie Macdowell. Watching the film, though, it becomes clear that we're not seeing every iteration of Bill Murray's looped day. As such, it becomes easier to reconcile yourself to the horrific idea that he can only escape by romancing the vile woman. Clearly he has already killed her in every manner for which Puxsatawny can supply the materials - only to find himself waking up on the same morning. Similarly, he has also slept with every other inhabitant of the town, including the groundhog - and still not escaped. From which it becomes clear that even though she's unaccountably the hardest work of them all, even though the idea is repugnant beyond all measure, the malign forces which have trapped Murray will only be satisfied with the most abject act imaginable - he has to get with Macdowell.
So yes, he may wake up next to her, smiling. But it is the smile of a broken man. He has now known the true horror of the cosmos, the depths to which the secret rulers of the world will drive a man. The only question is which comes first for him now - catatonic insanity, or one final, mercifully-permanent suicide.

The Beautiful And Damned is not the club it was with Dickon at the helm, and you can take that in the broadest sense. The night as I knew it was a pub where strange and wonderful things happened, with dancing; now it's more a show. It has found itself a new audience who seem happy with that, but one gets the unhappy impression that certain elements here are that little bit too keen on The Mighty Boosh; I can forgive the compere introducing Martin White & his Mysterious Fax Machine, if only because that does sound like an act I'd like to see, but when he fluffs the name of the night (that pesky second 'the' creeps in, which is so easily done but entirely destroys the point of the phrase)...I can only take so much cheerful incompetence.
Martin White & his Mysterious Fax Machiney Fax Machine Orchestra, who seem still to have more members every time I see them, are worth the trip nonetheless; I especially enjoy their new Bond theme, undoubtedly the best song called 'Quantum of Solace' to be released this year by a man named White.
alexsarll: (seal)
Just as the Large Hadron Collider seems to have left us in the same lousy universe we were in on Tuesday, so its associated Torchwood episode was a bit of a disappointment. Part of the problem is that what counts as mad science for us should be positively passe on Earth-Who - "Large Hadron Colliders? Oh yeah, UNIT has two. At Torchwood we only have one, but it's better. Pink. Of course, the Doctor didn't need one at all, he trained Higg's bosons to come when he played the recorder." It's the same mismatch we got in Marvel's various foolhardy attempts to have the events of seven years ago be a big deal on their Earth, even though that New York gets its skyscrapers trashed pretty much weekly. But even beyond that, spoilers ) You'd do better having Keith Richards warn against the evils of drugs.

There's been a lot of going back this week. I don't mean in the wider world - that seems Hellbent on beating a course back to the Dark Ages, to the extent that I can't be bothered to keep charting it on here, it depresses me to no end. I mean personally, whether it be the old gang back together at the wedding, or my plans for tonight when I'm off to the Verge (as was), scene of many a drunken night back in the Fan Club days, to see the New Royal Family, sober. Last Saturday I went to Stay Beautiful for the first time this year, an experience I half-expected to be valedictory, but which left me feeling much less out of place than I expected. And last night, even with Indelicates and David Devant shows on offer, I went to see the Blow Monkeys. Now in a sense, Devant or the Indelicates would have been more 'going back' - I've seen each I don't know how many times, and the Blow Monkeys never. Nor, in my decade or so of London gigging, have I previously been to the Jazz Cafe*. But the Blow Monkeys...I was introduced to them getting on for 15 years ago, just as my music tastes were starting to get beyond what the inkies and Select (RIP) were feeding me. Their infectious sense of calm and beauty, the genuine venom mixed in with an understanding that you can sometimes revolt better by transcendence than opposition - that wasn't very teenage, and in some ways it's still not very me, but it became quite formative nonetheless. I'd heard Dr Robert had moved on in something of the same wrong direction his contemporary Paul Weller did, and never expected a new Blow Monkeys album, or a chance to see them live. But then, that was before eternal recurrence came early and everyone started reforming.
Now, obviously I know that for the time being, time impacts on beings. But I've seen eighties acts before; Hell, I've seen seventies acts before. And most of them seemed to have jumped on to that celebrity track where ageing really does make people look cooler somehow, more lived-in and not just lived-out. Which is why it still came as a surprise when the chap in the audience I'd unconsciously pegged as 'the big lad who needs to stop trying to carry off the Dr Robert look these days' was, inevitably, Dr Robert. Dr Robert who was one of the reasons I initially got into the band because a few people had mentioned that I looked like him - and not putting myself or my younger self down here, but he looked like a much prettier me, which obviously had this narcissist hooked. Still charming, still sparkling, still with that voice and even that lisp - but not the young Apollo anymore.
And there weren't that many people there. First London date in 18 years, people know at least a couple of songs, not that big a venue - it should be fairly full, if not perhaps sold out. Not so. And predictably, some of that crowd are lig zombies who chatter through the new stuff - of which we get a lot but hey, I like most of the new album, I'm not complaining. What does puzzle me is the selection from the classics. Obviously they wouldn't get away without 'Digging Your Scene' or 'It Doesn't Have To Be This Way', and they don't try, or seem anything less than happy to be playing them again and comfortable with their past. But then we get songs that hit as duets, sung solo - 'Celebrate', 'Wait' and 'Slaves No More', the last of which I didn't even like much in the first place. Likewise 'Heaven Is A Place I'm Moving To' and 'Springtime for the World', songs I usually skip on CD. I wasn't honestly expecting 'Beautiful Child' in the current climate, or 'Cash' which I imagine would be a nightmare to play live, but wasn't 'This Is Your Life' a hit? Wasn't 'It Pays To Belong'?
I'm not saying I regret going, but I still feel like I missed something.

The support, incidentally, was Rhoda Dakar, ex of the Specials, accompanied by some bloke from Bad Manners on acoustic guitar. She played 'Racist Friend' from the old days, but not 'The Boiler'. Now, if you've never heard 'The Boiler''s getting on for 30 years old now and I'd say there's still nothing quite so harrowing ever to have been released in the disguise of a pop single. It wouldn't work in a cheery support slot for an upbeat band, it wouldn't work acoustic, and although she's aged incredibly well, one could hardly shout for it without the risk of being terribly misconstrued. But still, it seems weird to have seen Rhoda Dakar and not heard 'The Boiler'.

*Not what the name implies, is the short version. More a mid-size provincial venue, or the 12 Bar inexplicably rebuilt at double size. And £4.10 a pint? Get out.

January 2016



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