alexsarll: (crest)
Been playing Space Crusade again, after a gap of a couple of decades. Back then, I imagine people thought it would lose its appeal once I worked up the courage to talk to girls. More fool them.

Align is a tricky one to classify; not quite a play, nor a lecture. Call it a performance, it's probably as close as we'll get. Taking place, perfectly, mere yards from the actual Bridewell, it is a story of London's sacred geography which never gets too swivel-eyed, is far more 'wouldn't that be interesting?' than making foolhardy statements about what is or isn't true - and yet feels none the less mystical for all that. Rather than hang around afterwards, I feel driven to strike out along the Strand Ley about which we've just been hearing, and it's all delightfully numinous until I hit the smell of a freshers' event at the LSE. I doubt the bacchanals of our ancestors were any more fragrant, but I can edit that detail out of my daydreams.
Also tricky to classify: Neil Gaiman reading his new book Fortunately, The Milk, with Chris Riddell illustrating it live. Already a little multimedia, but then you have it being acted out and sung and generally turned into something quite its own creature through the assistance of TV Smith, Tom Robinson, Mitch Benn, Lenny Henry, Tori Amos' daughter, Andrew O'Neill, and Faith from 'Jimmy's End' (who is much less haunted when she's playing a pirate queen, so that's handy).

Lots of gigs by the people whose gigs I see a lot - to whose ranks the Soft Close-Ups were temporarily restored when [livejournal.com profile] augstone was briefly allowed back in the country. Neither show was quite as melancholy as the Sunday afternoon show a few months back, but still, when on a wet Wednesday night they played their adaptation of that Housman poem about death (tautology, I know), any plans I had for a straight edge gig crumbled. Good suppors at both shows, too - Parenthesisdotdotdot, aka Tim from Baxendale dressed as the chap from Dr Caligari, and Marcus Reeves, who is essentially my friend [livejournal.com profile] dr_shatterhand playing Marc Almond. At the latter show they also had me returning to the wheels of steel for the first time in some years. I always did prefer playing quieter sets. Read more... )

Other shows have been further from my usual orbit:
Martin Newell playing his annual show in a converted Colchester church in the shadow of the appropriately-named Jumbo water tower, bearing a curious resemblance to William Hartnell as a Teddy Boy pirate. He's a charmingly shambolic raconteur, an occasional ranter, and a mostly mediocre poet, but once he's singing, oh, the songs.
A violinist plays Bach in another church, this time right on the border of the City. I conclude that Bach may be the music to whose condition art is said to aspire.
A distinctly white trio, playing the hipster pub sat incongruously opposite the East London Mosque, play a nameless and heavily highlife-influenced jam. Against all odds, it works.
In a bar inexplicably decorated with biscuits stuck to bricks, a jazz band have one singer who thinks Seasick Steve is a role model rather than a terrible warning about the gullibility of authenticity bores. But the other singer sounds far more like Billie Holiday than any modern Briton has a right to.
(And because you can't win them all, there was also the act who appeared to be Jack Whitehall fronting Reef)
alexsarll: (default)
A few weeks back, Livejournal stirred into something approaching life, and in the manner of the old days there was A Meme. About what people were up to a year ago, five years, ten. And the nostalgia of it all...well, people sometimes forget that the '-algia' in there is pain. That was an apt precursor to The World's End. Shaun of the Dead was already a film about the pain of growing up, so stack the best part of another decade on top of that, then go see it with some approximation of the old gang, and even a film assembling this much comic talent (and there are plenty of laughs) is going to feel like a twisted knife in places. I can't recall such a bittersweet comedy which is still so successful qua comedy since Withnail. Part of the power is in the way it dodges polemic: yes, refusing to grow up is seen as a sad and sorry way to live, but so is growing up. In so far as there's any kind of answer, it's the knowingly grand and ridiculous grab for another, impossible option which reminds me of the Indelicates' 'Dovahkiin'. It's not just a self-regarding elegy, mind - it also has lots to say about how the new cinema ideal of bromance is no more realistic or healthy than the Hollywood take on romance. Which is obviously no less saddening. I'm going to miss the Cornetto Trilogy, not mollified by their being in part films about missing the films you grew up on.
Also seen at the cinema (on the same day, which I don't believe I've ever done before - it does the trailers no favours): Pacific Rim, in which Guillermo del Toro has giant robots punch monsters, and vice versa, in a delightfully solid way which always feels like a Guillermo del Toro film, until the humans start interacting with each other when his normal sureness of touch deserts him, and even normally dependable actors fall oddly flat (one excellent and un-publicised cameo aside). And not at the cinema, but on the same day as its cinematic release, A Field in England. Which I applaud, even while thinking that a little more forethought about the casting might have made it more instantly convincing as the psychedelic horror it wants to be, rather than the oddball comedy as which it inadvertently opens.

More nostalgia: the Buffy-themed bash at the GNRT. Even more so, back to the Woodbine for the first time in a while, and the last time was itself the first time in a while too. As if to emphasise how long it is since that was a regular haunt, there's foliage growing into the Gents' and a wine called Tempus. Subtle symbolism there, Life. Still, there have been times of living too. Celebrating the Solstice atop Primrose Hill, and walking back from Mr B and the Mystery Fax Machine Orchestra along the dusky Parkland Walk, eternal moments when the level of drunk and the setting are exactly as they should be and one feels no longer apart from the world but in contact with the infinite and suffused with joy and peace. Took [livejournal.com profile] xandratheblue to Devon and, in the five years or so my parents have been there, this was the first time I swam in the sea, as against paddling, because for once I'd timed it right weatherwise. And we found a dragon skull on the beach. Then to lovely little Sherborne, and up Dancing Hill, which is in fact rather steep for dancing but I guess satyrs are nimble. Back in London, we were greeted by St Paul's and it's blue trees as a reminder that, lovely as holidays can be, this is the place to be. Though we did then go see Eddie Argos in an Edinburgh show about holidays, which might have made more sense before rather than after our own. Still lovely, mind.
(Other Edinburgh previews seen: Henry Paker, being powerfully bald, and Jeff Goldblum and his prawn (aka Ben Partridge). Not seen near so many this year as the last couple)

Wrapping up, since who knows when I'll get round to posting again: having chance to dance to Pink for the first time since Don't Stop Moving stopped moving, and 'Elephant Elephant' for the first time full stop, was a delight; I like the view from Telegraph Hill, though not the walk there in the sun (and it should have kept the old name, Plowed Garlic Hill); and I love how in a European city the Holy Thorn Reliquary would be in the cathedral, what with having part of Jesus' crown of thorns inside, but in London we just stick it in a back room of the museum, because we basically have the warehouse from the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark but let tourists wander around it 'cos we're cool like that.

*I've seen the Indelicates and Keith Totp (&c) twice since I last posted, and the Indelicates don't even play London that often anymore. Even seen the very seldom-sighted Quimper, who are coming into their own with the new live set-up, all disturbing projections and shadowed lurking. Also Desperate Journalist, who already had a good soundscape going, but are a lot more compelling now [livejournal.com profile] exliontamer has started really going for it on stage. And Mikey Georgeson aka Vessel aka Mr Solo, formerly a frequent fixture (and I think probably still the performer I've seen live the most times) for the first time in a year or so. He was, of course, excellent - the new tracks as good as ever, in particular 'I See What You Did There' and the waltz which sounds like imperial phase Bowie working with Tom Waits.
alexsarll: (Default)
Once again, I've failed to post anything here in approximately forever. First of all there's not enough for a post, and then there's too much but not enough for two, and so on and let's just bloody write something, eh? So:
I went on a walk around London locations from The Prisoner. Walking down the corridor from the credits was quite an experience, though I can exclusively reveal that the reason he looks so disgusted, and perhaps for the resignation itself, is the overpowering smell of urine. Some of the rest was a bit niche for me, and that was aside from the brief detour into the inevitably schismatic politics of UK Prisoner fandom.
I went on another walk across the Heath, and then down for a pint. And another pint. And a couple more, and half a bottle of wine. But it started with a walk, and thus it was a very healthy day, right?
I found out where Hither Green is (seriously, I hadn't even known compass points a few months back), and that not every 'Something Cottage' in London is bullshitting with the name.
Outnumbered, I was part of a quiz team up against a celebrity all-star line-up of Caitlin Moran, Charlie Higson, David Arnold and friends. And we almost beat them, holding it to the second tie-break. A brave effort, if I do say so myself.
I saw a play about a haunted sock in my normal comedy venue of choice, and a dozen or more acts on one evening's bill elsewhere. In the latter instance, I was there for Rich Hurley, who was as full of hate - and as funny - as I'd have expected from my first meeting with the splenetic bastard, more years ago than I care to put in writing.
I've had some quiet weekends, but also managed some clubbing - Nuisance twice, new boy Some Weird Sin, Black Plastic, [livejournal.com profile] retro_geek's glam night in the implausible Cakey Muto.
I went to an alliterative gig, featuring Mikey aka Mr Solo and the Melting Ice Caps and Alexander's Festival Hall (who don't begin with M, but now sound like the Monochrome Set, so that's OK) at the Monarch, except it was the Madness for the night because it was hosting an album playback.
Best of all, though, Rebekah Delgado's album launch at Bush Hall. Which is the perfect setting for the Drugstore-y, Mazzy Star-like, late-night music she makes, all ballroom grandeur - but better still than the gig was being on the balcony early on and seeing [livejournal.com profile] xandratheblue sweep across in her grand new winter coat and getting one of those moments of yes, this life is a film, and sometimes it's a bloody good one. And rather than just throwing some other friendly acts on the bill there was a guitarist as we filtered in, and an acrobat, and human puppets, and the whole evening felt like a Moment. Even if I did miss much of the main support because I was talking to Art Brut about dogs in the bar, he had something too - a young man, but with an old man's voice and suit, like he'd just regenerated. Name of Tom Hickox, and deserves to go far.
alexsarll: (crest)
Finished Paul Auster's New York Trilogy this week. I feel like I should have something to say about it, but every attempt I make reads like I'm trying to describe a dream. What a strange book(s).

The new Cathal Coughlan album is, unlike the Fatima Mansions records which first brought him to my attention, very quiet. Almost flat at times. Of all the strange little boys who were blown away by Scott Walker and decided to be singers too, Cathal was the one with the voice most like Scott's in sheer scale and power, but here he seemed to have made his Any Day Now - not a bad record by any means, but not one that grabs the attention either. Live, though...live these songs are so much more dynamic. They may not grab you, but they envelop you instead, and at times I was closing my eyes just to savour how damn *big* Cathal's voice is. Not that it was all new ones; aside from earlier solo work, there are two Fatimas tracks chosen with an eye to the Tube strike, 'The Loyaliser' ("Lockdown London!") and 'You Won't Get Me Home'. We do get home eventually, but only after a fairly lengthy journey that takes us past an estate agent called Herzog. Which was not even the most intriguingly named business we'd seen that evening.

Loved the first two thirds of Mad Men's return. As soon as Betty turned up again, I realised why it was that half hour had been so good. When did she get so desperately boring? I enjoy the focus on the new agency, and if we're going to see more of those left behind, please can it be the rump of Sterling Cooper, not the vacuously decorative ex? Also checked out Swingtown, whose emphatically 1976 setting makes me suspect they were going for some of the same retro kudos; in practice, it feels more like Anchorman. And the direction is clunky as Hell. Still, the script managed not to insult my intelligence at any point, which is rare enough for a US network series or one broadcast on ITV1. Plus Jack Davenport and Deadwood's Molly Parker gave very good central performances. I'll stick with it for now; knowing there's only the one season somehow makes it feel like less of a commitment.

Thursday: I am needed in the ancestral acres, with a chainsaw. Groovy. Further explorations of the old haunts are considered, but a downpour arrives with sufficiently precise timing to make clear that the time is not right. So it's a more leisurely journey back to the Lexington. Two entirely unconnected books I've read recently have brought to my attention that it stands right next to an area formerly considered to be Merlin's; I'm unsure what to make of this, but it has to be something, especially since the plaques I saw en route included one for the former home of that pioneer of the rum and uncanny, Charles Fort. The oddness continues - post-Britpop nearly men Ultrasound (subject of a running joke which has surely now backfired in Kill Your Friends' face) do not seem to have aged in the slightest, or even changed their outfits - except bassist and sometime singer Vanessa, who is turning into Tamsin Grieg. They play all the 'hits', and even manage to redeem the title track of the inexplicably disappointing album Everything Picture, but while the songs sound the same as they did first time around, when they were brilliant, rallying cries for the kids disappointed by the laddish morass into which Britpop had sunk, now there's something missing. These were songs that captured the zeitgeist of a time that never quite happened; through no fault of their own, they now struggle to connect. I don't regret going, and in a few months I'm sure I'll be playing the EPs again, but I don't think I'll be at any further shows.
alexsarll: (howl)
Not that Nuisance ever sees much in the way of sobriety, but everyone seemed even drunker than usual on Friday; possibly because I'd already been for drinks beforehand at T Bird (which is good again! Hurrah), within an hour of arrival I found myself thinking what a beautiful ceiling the Monarch has. Yeah. That aside, it was largely a picnicky sort of weekend, the greyness of this August notwithstanding; on Saturday I was in Kensington Gardens with Stationery Club, and Sunday was Brumfields in Highgate Woods. Both had plenty of comedy passing dogs (especially Brumfields, where one joined in most tenaciously with a game of frisbee, and another snaffled two Jammy Dodgers in one mouthful), and other Local Colour en route. Alongside the Serpentine I saw a teenager on a penny farthing with no idea how to get off, and someone on rollerblades using an umbrella as a sail; in Highgate I was asked for directions by an unusually attractive tranny just as the Passage's polymorphously perverse 'XOYO' started up on the headphones. Then later, back along a Parkland Walk which seemed oddly still, even where someone was playing woodwind - not apparently for money - under one of the darker bridges.

Watched two films the last couple of days, both sequels which don't require any familiarity with the original, both featuring possession by ectoplasmic mists. And that's about all they have in common apart from being damn good. Evil Dead 2 is a gleefully gory romp, man versus the supernatural presented as almost slapstick. Whereas Hellboy II - which feels much more like a Guillermo del Toro film than its predecessor, even though he directed them both - is a terribly sad and elegiac thing in amongst all the fighting and 'aw, crap'; every monster vanquished is a strange and wonderful thing which has now passed from the Earth, and when Hellboy is being tempted by the genocidal elf-prince (played, bizarrely but very well, by Luke from Bros), you at least half-want him to go for it.

I remember Jimmy McGovern's The Lakes being much-discussed in the nineties, mainly in terms of the sex. For whatever reason, I never saw it, but on a free trial of one of those DVD rental services I thought, well, John Simm stars, has to at least be worth a look, right? Only problem is, Simm is playing a scouser. Within minutes of his arrival in the Lake District, he's twice faced prejudice over this - ah, thinks I, this is about him showing the locals not all scousers are feckless gobshites. Except it rapidly becomes clear that he is; he's a thieving, idle little weasel who gets a local girl pregnant and whose compulsive gambling leads to the death of three kids. And Simm is still at least a little charming, but he gets that whiny voice down pat enough to almost extinguish it. Oh, I forgot to mention the music, which is like some nightmarish antimatter universe Nuisance; in the first episode alone, two major emotional scenes are soundtracked by Cast. There are some fine performances - especially the village priest - and lovely touches (some business with milk-sniffing, threaded lightly through the whole show, is astonishing) but overall it's a nasty, mean little show. And I really don't get why even my hormonal peers thought it was sexy.
alexsarll: (Default)
Saw The Hold Steady on Tuesday. The last big, current band I wanted to see and hadn't. And they did not disappoint me. OK, so they didn't play 'Soft In The Center', or 'Your Little Hoodrat Friend', or even 'Killer Parties' (which I was sure would be the encore), but then it's not like they played a short set, or any duds - they just have too many brilliant songs to fit them all in. On stage, they're an object lesson in how things which shouldn't work, sometimes do. Craig Finn holds all the attention, and Craig Finn is without doubt the least cool man I have ever seen fronting a band. Hell, even just in an indie *audience*, he would be noticeably one of the less cool ones. And he flaps his arms about and overacts double-takes during the bits where he's not singing and does spiels about how great it is to see "real people in a real room having a beer, not on Myspace or the messageboards" which from anyone else would have me cringing. And yet, it works. You know when parents tell kids that all you really need to do to be accepted is believe in yourself? And every kid who isn't incredibly stupid wonders how the parents have forgotten so much about the world as to think that, because while belief matters, belief won't cover everything? Well, turns out that if you believe as hard as Craig Finn, it is enough. Literally, magical.
(Speaking of magic - Alan Moore fans may be aware that he worships the serpent god Glycon, in large part because Glycon was comprehensively discredited centuries ago. I didn't know much more than that, here's an essay Moore wrote about Glycon a few years ago, and it turns out that Glycon was conceived by the False Prophet Alexander, "a plausible and gifted but amoral fraud". My new second favourite classical namesake)

Wristcutters - A Love Story is almost a parody of US indie cinema. Shannyn Sossamon, Tom Waits and a bunch of HBO and Arrested Development alumni are suicides trapped in an afterlife which is the same as life, except slightly worse - dead end jobs, broken-down cars, and an inability to smile (though wry half-smiles seem to be fine). And yet it's actually rather lovely - both smart and sweet, in the way that so many of those films try so very hard to be and don't manage.
alexsarll: (howl)
Another Britpop OD at Nuisance on Friday, then on Saturday a pre-Solstice trip to the Heath to catch Sunday's sunrise - an experience captured in alarming stop-motion form here, minus only the encounter with a group of louts who were apparently accompanied by Effie from Skins, and who asked us if we were a hen party, or on heroin. Interesting point on which to be uncertain, I felt. A wonderful time, equal parts mystical and ludicrous (and nicely counterpointed by catching the post-Solstice sunset from Greenwich Park's hill yesterday). The only problem was that after, when we wanted breakfast, it was Sunday so none of the cafes were open. We ended up in McDonalds, with which I don't have as much of a problem as some - except it wasn't doing fries. Or vegeburgers. Or milkshakes. And if a McDonalds doesn't do fries, vegeburgers or milkshakes, then what exactly is the point of it?

After that all-nighter, Sunday was inevitably a bit of a write-off. Read the paper and some C-list superhero comics from the library, ate, and finally watched Gone Baby Gone. Initially I thought that like so many much-praised films it was going to be a middlebrow let-down, because the opening montage-with-voiceover is a bit trite, a bit pat, a bit Hollywood - which is especially frustrating when the DVD includes an extended alternative with no such problem, at the cost of only a few extra minutes. But even before I knew this, I was soon won over. Casey Affleck really does make a very good Everyman lead, because he looks like someone you know - you don't know who, but someone. Michelle Monaghan, as his partner in both senses, combines a little of Liv Tyler and something of Zooey Deschamel without being as distractingly luminous as either. The rest of the cast is dotted with people who - like the writer of the book on which it's based - have done time on The Wire (and seeing Omar as a cop is especially startling). And the story works both as a nicely ambiguous thriller, and a meditation on society's obsession with child abduction cases, and indeed with children in general. I think Ben Affleck's move behind the camera may have been a very smart one.

Needless to say, I am still reeling from 'The Pandorica Opens'. Speaking as someone who watched Tom Baker's classic The Talons of Weng-Chiang the day before, I can still quite happily say that 'Pandorica' was top-notch Doctor Who. Something which may or may not hold true once we've seen how it's resolved, of course - but if Who has taught us anything, it's the importance of hope. questions and speculations )
I had problems flicker through my mind while I was watching, but unlike a Rusty episode where they loom larger afterwards, these ones go away with a little thought. How dense was the Doctor being not to realise what "the most dangerous thing in the galaxy" was? Well, we've seen already that this incarnation has massive gaps when it comes to self-awareness, most dangerously at the climax of 'The Beast Below'. What were sensible races like the Earth Reptiles and Draconians, or space cops the Judoon, doing allied with Daleks and Cybermen? No more nonsensical than the UK and USA allying with Stalin.
And didn't River Song as Cleopatra look like Kate Bush?
alexsarll: (crest)
Sometimes we all get anxious - if time is money then it explains how time and money can get wrapped into a sort of unified field theory of worry which then starts pulling in everything else, however outlandish. And London, being not half so stony-hearted as some have made her out to be, tries her best to cheer you up, pulling aside the curtain so you catch sight of side-streets you've never seen before in all the times you've gone down that road, but you're so convinced that you're in a hurry that you mark them for future investigation, so she makes them more and more enticing until finally you crack and trot down there and suddenly, even though it looks like a normal enough little street, the light and the birdsong and the breeze all come together and counteract that knot of troubles and everything's alright again. And you carry on along your way, lighter of spirit, and accomplish your missions and find time to drop in on the British Museum too, where while looking for something else entirely you find a statue of the Remover of Obstacles which contains at least enough of his essence to convey the appropriate sentiment of "Hey, we got this! Relax." And you know that something will turn up - it always does.

Went for another walk later on, to take in the fireworks - and I've no idea what most modern Britons are celebrating these days, whether it's an expression of anarchist tendencies which I can hardly begrudge even if they have chosen an iffy figurehead, or if they just like blowing sh1t up. Personally, commemorating the defeat and brutal execution of the seventeenth century's answer to al Qaeda still works for me, but whatever it's nominally about, the lights, and the bangs, and the smell of gunpowder in the air..it's magical in itself. And this year there was no magic in the air on Hallowe'en, in spite of all the witches and vampires on the streets, but it's stupid to be purist about these things, for the nature of the magical is not to be constrained by formulae - if it were just another science then what would be the point?

In spite of not having to fit myself around a working day at present, I still find myself fitting more or less to a standard diurnal schedule - most of the time. Last night was one of the exceptions, charging drunkenly around Youtube looking for gems I half-remembered or never caught, like this Whipping Boy video, and making the sad discovery that 'Stranger Than Fiction' by Destroy All Monsters is not half so good as I remember. I also watched '£45 zombie movie' Colin; obviously the same thing that made me keen to see it (zombie Al!) is the thing which most hampers my suspension of disbelief, but even so it has some haunting moments. I worry, though, that telling the story from the zombie's point of view, making the zombie-killers such unsympathetic characters, will be very counterproductive come the zombie apocalypse.

Other items of interest:
- Grant Morrison and Stephen Fry are pitching something for BBC Scotland.
- A rather entertaining drubbing of Florence & the Machine.
- "Presenter Lauren Laverne has signed up to write a series of novels for teenage girls." Anyone else remember when that news would have been terribly exciting?
alexsarll: (crest)
A moment of unexpected beauty: walking to the dole office, hardly the highlight of my week, I find myself striding through a rain of blossom just as, on my earphones, the Indelicates' 'Unity Mitford' peaks. I've just found a lovely map of fairy places, but can't help but feel it has slightly missed the point when enchantment lurks around every corner if you get the moment right. And so often this week, the moment has been right - spring just starting to feel confident that it's here to stay, the grass going mad to get as close to the sun as quickly as possible, everything alive. Everything possible.

Gigging galore over the past week; last night was the first full Soft Close-Ups show, in the Vibe Bar. Does Brick Lane have more curry houses or complete tossers? It's a close-run thing. The Vibe Bar seems to acquire new rooms every time I visit, and now has an atrium, a giant eagle, a postbox and what looks like a hotel. The set was hampered by the poor sound quality one comes to expect at multimedia art happening experiences, but otherwise wonderful, and I'm not just saying that because [livejournal.com profile] augstone took my advice after the last show about resurrecting the axe god moves, pedals and feather boa. Or feather boar, as I just typed.
On Tuesday at the less up-own-jacksie Lexington, Jonny Cola & the A-Grades and Glam Chops, both as stylish and pop as ever, the latter with a new jumpsuit for Eddie, whose new Art Brut album came out the day before but who was still here playing small shows with two of his side-projects. The other being Keith Top Of The Pops And His Minor UK Indie Celebrity All-Star Backing Band, a poorly-recorded version of whose excellent show you can see here. I can't decide whether the highlight was 'I Hate Your Band', with [livejournal.com profile] thedavidx and James Rocks playing each other's guitars while Keith sings "you could swap members, you could swap songs", or Fvck The MSP, with its rousing final chant of "Nicky Wire can suck my cock", something I hesitate to mention on the internet lest someone write the slash fic where Nicky Wire does exactly that to all 16 members of the band, including the girls.

Listening to the new Decemberists album, I wonder, as I did with the last two, why the same band who can sound so genuinely...unearthly is the wrong word, because I think of our Earth's past, or at least our Earth's past as it should have been, so say 'out of time'...on most of the songs, manage to sound so like a pedestrian indie outfit on the rest. The one which appears to have escaped from a poor PJ Harvey album in particular. Still, all considerably better than the new Bat For Lashes, which I don't even know why I bothered stealing - it doesn't even have one delightfully eerie single like the first album, it's just boil-in-the-bag kookiness for dull people.
alexsarll: (crest)
Granted, the last few times we were in the Noble we moaned, only partly in jest, that there were people drinking there, sitting in our seats, and generally lowering the tone. But if nothing else, shouldn't they have secured its future, meant it wouldn't have to be up for sale again, leave it in a position where one person's illness doesn't force us to resort to a nearby 'pub' no longer even fit to be named in this journal lest by doing so I pollute the servers and screens?
That's the thing about dark times - they're dark on every level. You can do your best to ignore the geopolitics, and heavens know it's tempting, but then you find your local's deserted you, your supermarket's discontinued your favourites, your shoelaces just won't stay tied. Once the entropy takes hold, it's as above, so below.
And then, of course, there's a reversal of fortunes in the war in heaven. And suddenly you see a pug acting the fool and a terrier with the yawns, and the moon's impossibly big and watching over Stoke Newington, and the setting sun lights the clouds behind the Gothic revival water tower like Camelot never fell.

I've finally finished a manga! Libraries have a nasty habit of getting enough volumes to hook me, and then never buying the rest - or in the case of Koike & Kojima books going one worse and, as sadistic as the stories, getting in the first couple - and then a random smattering of later volumes, just to tempt me. But well done Westminster, for completing their Death Note collection, even getting in the fairly superfluous companion and offcuts collection How to Read. Even leaving that aside, I can't deny there's some fat could be trimmed from the 12 volumes of the story proper, and that it never entirely gets to grip with the questions its central premise raises (vigilante killings of criminals by means of a magic notebook - I'm in favour, myself, but there's an emotional weight to the question which never quite makes the page). It does, however, manage some real moments of shock as it twists and turns, and one of those curious little tropes I always love is the ridiculously convoluted fight scene between incredibly smart antagonists, each of them revealing that they've anticipated the other's anticipation of their anticipation of...and so on. Consider the Seventh Doctor at his most Machiavellian, or Vandal Savage versus Resurrection Man in DC One Million, or Iron Man versus Black Panther in Enemy of the State II. Consider even, as comic incarnation of the type, the time-travelling fight scene in Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey - Death Note is fit to stand among them.

Meanwhile in Western comics vigilante news, Garth Ennis' epic Punisher run has concluded. Now there's a comic prepared to address its moral issues, albeit one which never collapses into the pathetic hand-wringing which has often haunted the series when other writers were doing it wrong. The problem was that the Punisher - who is sensible, and shoots criminals in the head - was co-existing with allegedly more admirable heroes who beat criminals up, and then leave them alive to escape from gaol and kill again once another writer wants to use the same villain. By shifting him ever so slightly out of that context, Ennis could cut loose - without going too far the other way and turning it into a puerile celebration of violence for violence's sake. There's a very good scene in Warren Ellis' new issue of Astonishing X-Men in which Cyclops takes a similar clear-sighted line on how, in the superhero's line of work, sometimes killing is the only sensible thing to do. Contrast this with this week's editions of Secret Invasion and Captain Britain - they're both good comics, but in both heroes who normally make a big deal of the Heroic Code and how they Never Kill show no compunction whatsoever about killing invading Skrulls. So implicitly, even the life of an intractably evil human is sacrosanct, but those green alien mofos? Waste 'em. Leaves a nasty taste in the mouth, doesn't it?
Startlingly, DC also managed to put out a good comic this week - Grant Morrison's latest Batman RIP reassures me that, the evidence of Final Crisis aside, he hasn't been totally subsumed by Levitzseid's Anti-Fun Equation just yet.
alexsarll: (crest)
Public Enemy were heroes to most, but they never meant sh1t to me me - most of my heroes ain't appeared on no list of Farrakhan supporters. But those who disagree may be interested to learn that The Bomb Squad have got into dubstep.

[livejournal.com profile] burkesworks has already posted his thoughts on the David Peace South Bank Show, and as regards his opinion of Martin Amis' strengths, of ITV in general and of the second half of this programme in particular, I agree. It was especially galling that while there was some discussion of Peace's work prior to The Damned Utd (the little of which I've encountered I found pretty unimpressive), so little was made of his having published another novel since, the astonishing Tokyo Year Zero. Instead, we got some old fool of an ex-player who seemed to be under the misapprehension that he could write, talking about how no non-player could understand the allegedly unique experience of being dropped from a football team. Which for starters plays into the horrid underestimation of a little thing called 'imagination' - but he then described it, badly, in terms which would apply equally to being sacked from any job one likes, or indeed to being dumped*.
Where I'd disagree is in the association of Peace with the 'angry young men' and working class realism. When I heard Peace read from GB84, that was what I thought of too - and that's why I filed him under Of No Further Interest until the praise for The Damned Utd from people whose recommendations I respect got overwhelming. What interests me in The Damned Utd and Tokyo Year Zero isn't that sort of writer, it's one burrows into the guts the past like James Ellroy. If there's a comparison to be made with a Northern writer, I'd go for Tony Harrison - they've a similar gift for marrying the rhythms of everyday speech with something deeper, rhythmic, primal. But even ahead of that, when I hear Peace say "there is no such thing as non-fiction" and talk about his working method of immersion in the past, I think of Marguerite Yourcenar or the Alan Moore of Voice of the Fire, writers who channel the dead in a manner which breaks down those silly little genre barriers which separated art from sorcery for a time. Peace even talked about how he'd initially wanted to interweave Brian Clough's story with an "occult history of Leeds United" - and how I wish he had, beyond those enigmatic little moments of cursing which divide the sections of The Damned Utd. Moments which a typically underinformed Melvyn Bragg inevitably failed to mention at this point in the interview, remnants though they must be of that earlier incarnation of the book.
I remain convinced, mind, that David Peace could one day write the definitive book on Gordon Brown.
(In other Northern literary news: Paul Morley on John Cooper Clarke. Bit rushed, and I could understand maybe one word in ten of Mark E Smith's contributions, but still well worth a listen; I loved Morley's description of JCC as "the missing link between Diana Ross and Charles Baudelaire". But how sad that a man who once hung with Nico and the Honey Monster is now reduced to working with Reverend & the Makers and the Arctic Monkeys)

*Until he started in on this little rant, I was unclear whether he had been a player or a fan. Not only is it a pretty academic point as far as I'm concerned, but many of the fans seem a bit confused on the point themselves: wearing exact replicas of their idols' tops even down to having the idol's name on; referring to the team's performance as though they'd contributed...I'm still not entirely sure that this fellow wasn't similarly deluded, even by the standards of the field he really didn't seem very bright.
alexsarll: (Default)
So I managed to bolt another chunk on to my mindmap of London; now I know how Holland Park connects to Ladbroke Grove to Portobello Road to Notting Hill to Kensington to Hyde Park, which brings me back to the fields I know. Holland Park has an awful lot of private squares, doesn't it? I have always thought of these as little enchanted kingdoms, and today I (legitimately) had lunch in one - not a Western one, one near Regent's Park. Lovely as it was, it was disappointingly like a smaller, neater, slightly quieter park, and entirely devoid of waiters with champagne, gambolling nymphs or anything which would quite pass muster as a grotto.

Could this be the worst book ever? Touched by Evil: The True Story of the Psychic Powers That Saved Me from a Life of Abuse.

Sainsbury's have started doing what is effectively quarter-skimmed milk, with orange caps, for those who find skimmed too watery and semi-skimmed too fattening. I suspect this is somewhat pointless, yet still strangely brilliant in a decadent late-capitalism sort of way.
alexsarll: (howl)
Sentences which could easily be misinterpreted: "I was mourning the end of a long-term relationship with a massive bender."

Grant Morrison has abandoned The Authority, putting most of the blame on the predominantly poor reviews the first issue received. What? Where would he be, where would we be, if he'd quit Animal Man or Doom Patrol or JLA over the reviews which missed the point? Even with his current Batman run, a lot of people were underwhelmed until he deployed the issue that pulled it all together. On top of which, this is a man who more than anyone else understands art's roots in magic. That first, brilliant set-up issue of The Authority began with our world, our poor hero-less world...and then threw in The Authority to save us. You can't leave a spell like that half-cast, man! And for pity's sake, it was only meant to be a four issue run anyway. If he'd been on schedule in the first place, it would all have been written before those bad reviews even appeared.
I'm still looking forward to his DC Universe stuff, obviously. But this has really dented my respect for him.

It's little more than a month since I first saw The Long Blondes live; this time I knew the new album and they played 'You Could Have Both', but I still have my reservations, and they come down to one thing: Kate Jackson's not the 'Kate Jackson' of the songs. I say this not as any criticism of her, you understand - only with the same sense of regret as accompanied my realisation that Viggo Mortensen is not actually Aragorn. I love the Blondes' music for its loneliness, the predatory gleam in its eye, its desperation. My kind host [livejournal.com profile] cappuccino_kid tells me that in the smaller shows in earlier days, more of that sort of stuff came across. But at a triumphant Forum show, with the crowd singing back every line...well, Kate's too busy having fun to get caught up in all that angst, and who can blame her? It suits some of the songs (from 'Guilt' onwards, the show really comes alive) but I am forced to conclude that, like St Etienne among others, for me The Long Blondes are a band where the live incarnation just isn't quite what I'm after.

Hushang Golshiri's The Prince seems to be accounted quite the classic of Persian literature - Golshiri was imprisoned by the Shah and no more popular under the ayatollahs, which always augurs well. Nor have I any criticism of James Buchan's translation, or his introduction (which one critic correctly classifies as "lucid"). The problem is...there's only so far a translation can go. The back cover told me of an ageing prince looking back on his life and his dynasty's extinction, which made me think of Lampedusa's The Leopard; the tone sounded somehow akin to that obscurely poisonous quality in Mishima. These are both writers I've enjoyed in translation, and yes, there are resemblances to both. But the hallucinatory shifts in identity, the portraits unconfined by their frames...these reminded me more of Polanski's Repulsion or Cronenberg's Spider*. Imagine trying to write those out as prose. Now, imagine trying to translate that prose. Oh, and all the characters are obliquely identified historical and political figures about whom your translation's readers are unlikely to know much, if anything. Imagine a Mongolian reading The Damned United, or a member of a remote tribe whose first encounter with Western literature is The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Black Dossier, and you will have some handle on my frustration.
The LoEG comparison's an interesting one, because straight after finishing The Prince I read an earlier, simpler Alan Moore - the recoloured 'Killing Joke'**. A book Moore has damn near disowned, purportedly because he doesn't feel it means anything in the wider world - it's just about Batman and the Joker being very similar, and since they don't exist, so what? Well, I'm not so sure about that. It's not his finest hour, for sure - like most of his DCU work bar Swamp Thing it's maybe a little sketchy, a little hurried. But would it mean anything to someone who'd never encountered these characters before? I think maybe it would. A murderous madman says all it needs is "one bad day", and any one of us could end up like him; another madman tries to prove him wrong. That's universal, isn't it? At least as much so, I would contend, as Golshiri's last scion of a deposed dynasty, at once ashamed and envious of his royal ancestors' excesses. Batman and the Joker don't exist - but nowadays, do faded princelings? Only a handful in the gossip columns; for the rest of us, strictly by analogy.

*Yes, I know it was a book first. But still...
**Yes, the new colouring job is much smarter, much more evocative, and simply better. But perhaps not so much so that the book's worth buying again if you already own it. Handily, I didn't, and this was free.
alexsarll: (bill)
A quiet weekend there, especially yesterday when I barely left my room, and didn't even click until afterwards how suited that was to an afternoon of gaol-based viewing. Having finished off the second half of Oz season 2* I settled in with my Guardian freebie disc of Kiss Of The Spider Woman. I'd always wondered why William Hurt kept getting acting roles when he manifestly wasn't able to act; I knew he had an Oscar but I assumed it must have been a precursor to Halle Berry's - perhaps people made of wood were the Academy's desired tokenistas that year and Pinocchio didn't have a film out? Turns out I had him wrong - he's more a Vin Diesel, a man who acted extremely well, once and then realised he didn't need to bother, he'd still get paid. But let's not allow his subsequent decline to sully that one magnificent performance. Let's pretend that he died like James Dean, maybe even got the Oscar posthumously...what a star! What a performance, what a film, what an opposite number in Raul 'Gomez Addams' Julia! I'm not even sure what I took away from the film - something beyond its slowly reconciled opposition between dreams and revolution, for sure, but something somehow formless and at once poetic yet inexpressible. A film about films that don't exist, from which I take away a message I can't verbalise - apt, I suppose.

I wouldn't like it thought that I won't give credit where it's due on those rare occasions when something good comes out of christianity. this computer game, for instance. Or, more timelessly, GK Chesterton. I've read his poetry and fiction before, and been very impressed by the quality of his mind and the facility with language which models it so well upon the page. Orthodoxy is the first I've read of his essays, and even if I don't agree with his ultimate agenda, every page has gems of phrasing and logic:
"Shakespeare is quite himself; it only some of his critics who have discovered that he was somebody else."
"The madman is not the man who has lost his reason. The madman is the man who has lost everything except his reason."

And so forth. I must always concede that he at least presents a case to answer, which is more than can be said for most thinkers. Ultimately, I think he and I could rally together behind Planetary's slogan: It's a strange world. Let's keep it that way. He wants a mystery and a grandeur to life, but also a welcome; if we would both guarantee those inalienable rights by reference to different gods, well, heavens know it's a lot closer than I feel to most of my nominal co-religionists.

NME Hack Throws Ill-Informed Strop is not, in and of itself, newsworthy. When features editor James McMahon grunts that "Today's Observer Music Monthly feature on 'the new eccentrics' has left me dizzy, shaken and above all furious at what my beloved rock music has become. For one thing it was seemingly written by an idiot whose politics and ideology have been formed by books rather than life experiences and emotional toil"...well, that's just the sort of wilful ignorance one expects from the strand of music journalism which loves illiterate oiks for their own sake, and that was ever with us (it was the Stud Brothers who epitomised it back when I followed the Melody Maker, but Garry Bushell's probably the most famous exponent). What interests me is that among the acts which this apparently appalling document of prole-hate champion are...Foals and Lightspeed Champion. Both acts which the NME cannot currently do enough to rim.
Also from the Department of Huh?: the shooting component of the accursed Olympics is to be held in Woolwich. The games are taking place primarily in East London. And what part of London goes more iconically with 'shooting' than 'Hackney'? OK, maybe Peckham or Brixton should also be in with a shot, but Woolwich? OK, it has the Arsenal, but a better way to honour that would be to move Arsenal back there (probably in the first hundred Things I Would Do If Super-Rich, that). Then again, we are talking about sportists here, so probably shouldn't expect too much evidence of brainpower.

Are Tube announcers going to keep mentioning the East London Line closure for the next 2 1/2 years (plus however much longer it takes in reality)? Because if so, it's going to get very boring.

*Not quite the first season's equal, I think, perhaps because Tom Fontana was only co-scripting many episodes. A few of the plotlines feel a little forced, harbingers of the whole 'ageing drug' fiasco when s4 was overstretched. But certainly there is still much to love and more to be impressed by. And less of Poet's Speech Painter-style performance poetry, which has to be a bonus.
alexsarll: (menswear)
The pub downstairs seem to think that early Saturday morning is a good time to do noisy things with barrels. I can't agree, but I do feel more or less rested, and it meant I got to see a rather promising augury - a magpie (one for sorrow, plus I hate the songbird-murdering scum anyway) being chased around and beaten up by one of my favourite birds, the crow.

As much as I'm never going to turn down a free Jeays and Project Adorno show, or the free booze thereat, I can't help but feel a little guilty that, said show being in a library, the funding for that is presumably coming from the libraries budget, which pretty much by definition these days won't have enough to spend on books anyway. Hmmm. Still, good shows (Jeays unveiled one new song which, to me at least, sounded a bit Justin Timberlake) and the third act was Pog, aka the Stapletons' drummer, who had a sort of poppier Another Sunny Day thing going on.

You stand against HBO - you're the bad guy. It really is that simple.

HP Lovecraft - THE CABARET. "I made my mind up back in Arkham, when I go...I'm going to have my soul turned inside out by nameless horrors from beyond space and time."
alexsarll: (bernard)
Finally got round to Wolverine Vs Batman The Prestige, which is not nearly as amazing as some reviews had led me to expect, but entertaining enough in its way. I did approve of the film resisting the temptation to make either of its duelling magicians the hero; though each has his own distinctive character, the abiding impression is that they're as bad as each other. I was under the impression that there was a twist ending, which distracted me; the plot's not *obvious* per se, but each step follows naturally from the one before, such that I was never exactly surprised. The best thing about the film is the great David Bowie as the even greater Tesla; it saddened me that the film included the standard "all characters/fictitious" disclaimer in the credits, for Tesla's role is already too easily consigned to forgetfulness or legend.

British Sea Power's latest mailout claims that one of their new songs sounds like "Amy Winehouse meets Charles Babbage". If anybody can live up to that, it's BSP.

On my brief lunch break today, at least half the people I saw in the street were so repulsive that I could have been in Derby. It was bad enough that I ended up taking London sodding Lite (the weaker of the two weak freesheets) from a distributor, just because she had a reasonably pretty face and I wanted to encourage a little civic beauty.

It pains me to admit it, but I'm still in no state for Beautiful & Damned. Have booked tomorrow off, and now intend to sleep 'til I'm better. If that means getting woken up in 20 years by a team of new-fangled superheroes, one of whom will later shoot me, then so be it; I am bored of sniffling.

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