alexsarll: (crest)
So it looks like entries every other month is now standard. I still have notes in amongst the films and bands about kicking the leaves around, and here we are almost at that point again (though for now it's still altogether too hot for my liking, with the prospect of donning the big coat nowhere near appealing). And I wish I had been better about writing stuff up, because there are names in those notes of bands I know I liked, but about whom I remember nothing - like Tomorrow We Sail. I'm sure they have a page somewhere which would remind me, but that's not the same as a record of how the show felt. At least with Pete Astor I had the sense to offer myself some reminder - "more like Nick Drake than most Nick Drake wannabes; timeless but raw". It's not much, but it's a snapshot, which is the most any diary can be. Him I saw supporting John Moore at a rather undersubscribed evening; subsequently, Moore's novel would be the first project I've tried crowdfunding which did not meet its target, is not (at least in that manner) coming to pass. If a cult act are too popular, get T-shirts in Top Shop, their cultishness comes to seem rather a joke; if they can't even draw a decent crowd to the Lexington, not even with balloon tricks and an impromptu Black Box Recorder reunion, that may be going too far the other way.
(The journey home that evening was one of the times I've had strangers get a bit overfamiliar on account of the beard. I wouldn't mind so much if they weren't always straight men with lesser beards wanting some kind of symbolic contact)
Who else? Sarah Cracknell's new band. Martin Carr's new songs. Martin Newell. You'll notice a theme here; new but not new. Every so often I read a piece about some hot new act who aren't an act I already liked reconfigured, and unlike its kin it doesn't instantly bore me, and I give whoever it is a listen. And at best I think...yeah, that's OK. Last night it was Julia Holter. Magical stuff, I'd been told. But what I heard was perfectly pleasant background music.

That all sounds terribly jaded, doesn't it? But even beyond all those old favourites that still do it for me music-wise, London retains its infinite supply of everything else. A little depleted by the bastards and the oligarchs, perhaps, but not half so much as the dismal opinion pieces might suggest. You can still hear Arthur Machen's 'N' being read in Abney Park, happen upon accidentally private rooms in pubs that haven't been gentrified and gastroed to death, attend celebrations of life's odd contents which have speeches about anything from lifts (Boring) to exorcisms (Nine Worlds). The galleries have Gothic gems and surprise chunks of Grayson Perry. I think the decider for me, at the point where too much stuff was closing down and too many people calling it quits, was rediscovering Bingo Master's Breakout, London's premiere bingo, poetry and karaoke night, where every month a band plays a karaoke set of themselves, and the poets have to sing and the singers have to read poems, and the landlord has a real thing for Half Man Half Biscuit, and someone wins a Werner Herzog film. It's a strange world. Let's keep it that way.
alexsarll: (bernard)
Bloody Hell, didn't post at all in February and now March is almost done. Clear up some of the notes, at least; I've got a list of films stretching back to Grumpy Cat's Worst Christmas Ever, and being a civilised human being, I only watch Christmas films in December.
(I watched it mainly because Aubrey Plaza voices Grumpy Cat, which is a bit of a disconnect given how much I fancy Aubrey Plaza, but in the increasingly crowded ranks of 'films which know they are terrible and run with that', it's a lot more entertaining than the ones with shoddily-realised sharks)
Christmas itself generally seems to be a bit short of Christmas films (maybe it's different in the States, but over here the idea that It's a Wonderful Life is always showing is pure falsehood). And it's not because they don't show oldies; I think last year was the first time I'd ever seen Singin' in the Rain in full, and what a delight it was. But mainly it's the recent-ish family fare; Avengers again (still awesome), The Pirates! In An Adventure With Scientists (much more successful on screen than I'd expected, the verbal games of Defoe's books replaced with equally inventive sight-gags and some excellent plasticine acting.

Beyond that: a higher proportion of horror than usual; maybe it's all those dark nights. Been meaning to see Robert Wise's The Haunting since reading Jeremy Dyson's survey of the supernatural horror film, and it's almost as disorienting as he suggests, all without much in the way of special effects. Whereas the original Thing from Another World just feels like bad sixties Doctor Who, all base-under-siege and central casting characters without the spark provided by a puckish interloper. The Mist gets off to a good start by casting Thomas Jane and Andre Braugher, then running a fairly faithful adaptation of a Stephen King story that, for once, is about the right length to become a film (seriously, a novel needs to be a miniseries at least; a film is a novella at the absolute most). Faithful, of course, except for the ending, which Frank Darabont made even darker, the bastard. The Babadook is not quite the genre-redefining classic some of the initial press suggested, but still an efficient little frightener. And you could probably call Only Lovers Left Alive horror, but that's not because its fabulous, ethereal lead couple are vampires; it's because those poor luminous creatures have to share the world with moronic, destructive 'zombies', also known as the human race.

Ralph Fiennes' Balkan Coriolanus is a good attempt at dealing with one of the Shakespeares on which it's probably hardest to sell a modern audience, but it's all so dour and tensely homoerotic that I was almost hoping the ludicrous chatterbox Nahum Tate added in his clusterfuck reworking of the play would bustle in to lighten it up. That said, Baby Doll leavens the usual Tennessee Williams psychosexual tension with an unusually heaped dollop of farce, and only ends up a bit of a mess, and we all know what an ungainly beast the end of Peter Jackson's Hobbit sprawl became, so maybe clarity of tone can be respected even when it gets a bit one-note. Inherent Vice was for me a very powerful movie precisely because it contained such multitudes - Lebowski-style stoner noir pastice mixed with genuine high stakes and a sense of an era slipping away - but when it apparently caused mass walkouts among audiences who want a film to be either one thing or another, who regard art and ambiguity as a bug rather than a feature, you can see why directors stick to pigeonholes.

Not fitting into any of those vague groupings: Ruling Class. Peter O'Toole is always watchable, and he makes for an incredibly hot Jack the Ripper, but I could really have done without the songs.
alexsarll: (default)
Just over a week now since I got back from Prague; the now-traditional late anniversary trip which has taken us ever further afield, first Margate, then Bruges, and this year Mitteleuropa. The first time I've flown in getting on for a decade, too, and I still can't abide the ridiculous mixture of security theatre and profiteering which we still have to go through on account of one half-arsed terror scheme all those years ago.
In Berlin, which even more than Paris seems to have made too many concessions to the automobile, we almost wholly failed even to skirt the fringes of the city's famous nightlife. True, it can't have helped that we were there on weeknights in January, but mostly we tired ourselves out sufficiently doing the hits (museums, Wall fragments, the Brandenburg Gate) that evenings in with Lidl fizz were a welcome wind-down. The exception being the black light crazy golf, which was a truly consciousness-expanding experience (not something one often hears said of golf), even given we left the cocktails until after. And then, a train along the Elbe, all castles and crags. Well, I say that; first there were interminable plains which made East Anglia look fascinating, but I try to forget those. But then the romantic riverside, and then Prague itself, one of the very few cities which to me is a thing in itself rather than a monoculture ultimately traceable to a cutting from one London district. This was my third visit, and I hope it won't be my last, for each time there are new riches, or at least new riches to me - the Cubist cafe, the old Jewish cemetery and the Municipal Hall have all been standing since long before my first time there, way back in the nineties. There's a lot more English spoken now, which I put down to the stag parties and the Internet; also a lot more Thai massage places, which I'm pretty sure will just be the stag parties. But it's still Prague, still cheap by any standards other than the past's, still enchanted. And long may it remain so.

Since I returned, I've managed to be busy without being particularly social, in part because I was already booked elsewhere on the night of the month's big people-I-know-gig. Still, worth missing the odd show to see Daniel Kitson, who remains, well, Kitson - more comedic this time than sometimes, more play than storyteller, but still a law unto himself. Ditto Birdman, a film I like despite it being up for awards from the Academy, whose general cluelessness is finally beginning to become more widely apparent now they've snubbed The Lego Movie (I'm not saying they're the world figures most in need of hanging from lamp-posts, but I would like to see them on that list). Even at the Union Chapel, for my first Daylight Music of the season, I managed to miss many of the people I knew on account of it being unusually full of people I didn't. Who could have known that the mainstream draw they needed was Amelia Fletcher singing about chickens, Sarah Cracknell's new sixties-style side-project, and Darren Hayman doing William Morris?

There's still a ton of other stuff I should write up - most of Autumn and Winter is jotted in drafts somewhere - but let's post this now, at a sensible length, rather than strive eternally for something compressed and complete.
alexsarll: (bernard)
Had one of my occasional weekends at places outside the usual orbit - gay pop night Duckie on the Saturday, country at Come Down And Meet The Folks on Sunday. The former would be in my usual orbit if only it were as easy getting back from Vauxhall as it is getting down there; I can't recall the last time I went to a club and they didn't play a single dud song. The same cannot altogether be said of Come Down..., but they did adopt one innovation which would be welcome at other gigs: the opening acts do two songs each. Enough to whet the appetite, not enough to bore anyone. I've seen so many support acts who'd have benefitted from being restricted to that sort of teaser.
I did two numbers myself at Bingo Master's Breakout a couple of weeks back, covering GK Chesterton and Alphaville (and even my apophenia struggles to divine a common thread between those two). Ciccone were there as part of their comeback tour; one of the first bands I ever saw in London, quite by chance, long before I could know I'd end up knowing them, walking the other Parkland Walk with one of the core personnel. It all knits together, one way or another. The other show was at the Windmill, whose gents' is not exactly salubrious, but at least no longer reeks of piss. Likewise, returning to the Rhythm Factory for the first time in a decade or thereabouts, I was pleased to find it no longer full of bad drugs (even if they had been replaced by furries and steampunks; nowhere's perfect). These small tidyings-up, I can forgive; I'm not against all renovation, even all gentrification, but when a once-welcoming boozer like the Noble ends up looking like the departure lounge at a shit airport, something's awry. I try not to worry about London, knowing that every generation is convinced it lives at the end of an era - but sometimes, even knowing that, it's hard to resist.

What else? James Ward, formerly of this parish, seems to be attaining mild celebrity with his Adventures in Stationery; I went to the launch, where he was interviewed by fellow ex-LJ star Rhodri, and it ended up altogether too much fun for a Monday. John Watterson aka Fake Thackray is another for the list of tribute acts I've caught lately, though readier than most to play the hits, in so far as Jake Thackray had hits. The X-Wing habit is proving hard to kick, even if my results remain patchy. [ profile] tigerpig returned to the other side of the world, her passing marked by events including a noise gig which, perhaps down to the occasion, managed to fit a surprising amount of feeling in amongst those dissonant frequencies. Albeit not quite so emotional a show as Martin Newell's Golden Afternoon; Gershwin's 'Summertime' is one of the first songs I remember, one of the first things to make me feel melancholy, long before I knew the word 'melancholy'. Combine that with Newell's natural affinity for the moment where summer's waving goodbye, turn it into a duet with Lorraine Bowen on that most poignant of days, Sunday...yes. Bless the mad old bastard.
alexsarll: (default)
A month without an update there, when really I should have posted about the blossom and the moon, the Wapping waters, the Salisbury and the Constitution, and actually watching Eurovision again now the Russians have pissed off enough of their client states to ruin the bloc voting. Ah well. There was an end to Her Parents staying together for the kids, and I finally saw the Indelicates do 'Dovahkiin' live, and orchestral, with a half-lit giant heart the perfect backdrop. And sticky though that venue was, it still has nothing on the decrepitude of the Electric Dog Show's cave, where Quimper and the venue remain unsound, in different yet somewhat complementary manners. Gyratory System are more upbeat, less pummeling than usual - like the music from a Soviet animation about a happy factory. And headliners Howlround do cruel things to old tape, like they're trying to send a 1960s supercomputer insane. Not sure I'd listen to it at home, but mesmerising to watch.
And I even went to a biggish gig, the sort I normally avoid on account of the sort of audience they attract. Turns out the Union Chapel must be enough to deter the talkers, because Mick Harvey (aka the talented one from Nick Cave's bands) was received in appropriately stunned silence as he played some of his Serge Gainsbourg reworkings. It wasn't entirely reverential - how could it be, when he turned the end of 'New York USA' into a wonderfully black joke, or played the obligatory 'Je t'Aime' as deliberately half-arsed karaoke? But people were paying enough attention only to laugh or talk back when it was mandated, to remain spellbound and silent for 'Initials BB' or the heartwrenching possessiveness of 'Sex Shop'.

Went to the Boring conference on Saturday which, unlike its predecessor, was at no stage actually boring. Alas, managed through drink to mislay most of the delegate pack (Chewits, puzzle book) and also the programme, so I can't remember the names of half the speakers. The biggest surprise was the perpetrator of Comic Sans, whose entrance I felt I could not applaud, but who turned out to be OK. His original impetus was valid - a cartoon dog does not talk in Times New Roman. It's not his fault that precisely the same mistake which inspired Comic Sans now applies it indiscriminately where it doesn't belong. Still, I wonder if Alan Moore knows Watchmen was one of the font's key inspirations and, if so, whether that's another reason he considers its influence to have been so poisonous?

Films: Behind the Candelabra is exactly the mixture of camp and misery I'd expected, with only Rob Lowe's scene-stealing a surprise. The Wind Rises is as painfully beautiful as Miyazaki's farewell was always going to be. Kill List confirms Ben Wheatley as a properly uncanny talent, its bad men in the edgelands leaving a creeping sensation akin to a British True Detective. This Is The End, conversely, is an American The Trip, albeit with more sodomy. Maybe Coogan and Brydon will head that way next series. Godzilla was my first IMAX experience, and what better film for a format all about the BIG and LOUD, while BBC4's Duchess of Malfi was equally terrifying on the intimate scale.
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 [ 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 [ 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)
Had a couple of weddings last month, out of London to varying degrees - one in a home counties barn, the other in Compton Verney, which is not the most accessible location but does mean you can have a reception surrounded by Cranachs, Holbeins and a coral nativity diorama which some enterprising Neapolitan crafted centuries back, and climb atop a bloody big rock if you need a break from the band. I'd decided to go straight from there to Devon the next day, simply because going back into and then out of London again appalled my sense of progress. This might have been a false time-economy, but the resulting vaguely diagonal journey did take me in a reasonably straight line across large swathes of the country I don't often see - a real 'How fares England? sort of journey. And despite what one might fear, every train involved was punctual bar one which was deeply apologetic over being a minute behind schedule. Inevitably, by the time I got to the seaside the warm spell had passed, so it was all sea mist and chopping up telegraph poles and being disappointed when local country acts didn't emphasise the side of their oeuvre which most appealed to me (the unspeakable bastards).

Other exotic locales I've visited include Walthamstow Village, where I attempted to convince people even less conversant with the area than myself that model butterflies were simply the giant fauna of Zone 3, and Peckham Rye, which seems to have a higher concentration of brilliant dogs than anywhere else in London (also a boy trapped in a tent, which is always good entertainment). And, as the year has made its stuttering advance into Spring, the Edinburgh previews have begun: I've already seen Thom Tuck (excellent as ever, even in the very early stages), Nish Kumar, Sara Pascoe and, as a late sub for Ben Target, Matthew Highton - who looks like Frank Quitely drew him and tells stories (perhaps not wholly true) of a life Peter Milligan could easily have conceived.

Not a great deal of clubbing lately - though Poptimism did offer a chance to dance to 'Only Losers Take The Bus', so what more does one need? - and my pub quizzing, if successful, has been sparse. But there have, as ever, been gigs. The Bull and Gate is no more, because apparently Kentish Town needs another damn gastropub, so Keith TotP et al played a send-off - the first time in a while that I've seen the Minor UK Indie Celebrity All-Star Backing Band on a stage large enough to contain them. In support, Dom Green's latest band, with a very apt set formed by pulling together songs from all the bands he'd been in before that had played there - and yet ending with a new one which may be the best thing he's ever written (but then, I was always a sucker for epics about London). Rebekah Delgado, supporting a bunch of steampunk tits at a rock pub, then off to Shenanigans. The Indelicates, still the best band of the moment, ever more romantic and ever more doomed. But I think my favourite overall event was the Soft Close-Ups show which was the only reason [ profile] augstone was allowed back over to visit us. They've always been a fairly melancholy band, but with the immigration-based reminder of how fleeting things can be, and a Housman poem set to music, this outing was especially mis. And yet, gorgeous. [ profile] icecoldinalex supported and, for a note of bathos, the venue was decorated in vintage soft p0rn. The sort of inexplicable afternoon which comes along too seldom.

The current series of Who has for the most part continued on its profoundly underwhelming course, with a revival of hopes occasioned by 'Hide', 'Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS' and Gatiss' campathon undermined by last night's inexplicably middling Gaiman effort, but between Bluestone 42, It's Kevin and Parks and Rec's second season, there has at least been plenty of good comedy on the box, and these are surely times in which we need cheering up, so thank heavens for that. I've barely seen any films of late: Iron Man 3 at the cinema, which was a joy; Skyfall and Terror by Night on DVD, which were a little less so. I just can't quite buy Basil Rathbone as Sherlock Holmes, he's far too socially adroit - even clubbable.

When this goes up, I'll still have more than a year's worth of posts on one page, where once a page would have not been sufficient for some months. And yet, we persevere, in some limping fashion.
alexsarll: (bernard)
Last weekend, I got the equivalent of one of those experiences where people who baffle me go into a sauna (bad enough in itself), then run out into the snow. Saturday night: the first big gig I've been too in a year or more, Crystal Castles. Who at least have an audience smaller than those at the last big gig I went to, Magazine - they mostly appeared to be tiny children with brightly-coloured hair or Siouxsie Sioux eye make-up, which makes for an adorable agglomerate. Brixton Academy remains a great venue, despite the management's best efforts, and Crystal Castles continue to be one of the few modern electronic bands who really impress me, on account of having a bit of Digital Hardcore somewhere in their make-up - that old idea of a song at once physically painful and catchy. Plus, all the lightshow one generally only sees at gigs which are supposed to be A Bit Much in films. In short: delicious overstimulation. And then, on Sunday, Boring, a day of talks devoted to the mundane. Obviously the idea is that considered in enough detail, the most superficially tedious things can reveal fascination - or terror, in the case of ASMR, a subculture of which I was happily unaware before [ profile] rhodri's talk.
Conclusion: they were both lots of fun. But I still have no intention of rushing out of a sauna into the snow, thanks all the same.

Otherwise: went for a wander with Paynter and found various odd little London delights along our way, all of which were supposed to be closed but, because it was one of those evenings, weren't. Such as a Soho gallery full of clocks become castles, and mutant taxidermy. Or an enormous free tire slide plonked in Leicester Square as promotion for a film where Wolverine plays the Easter Bunny. Finally managed to beat Charlie Higson and David Arnold at the pub quiz - but on a week where they weren't on form, so as to still only make third. Perhaps we shouldn't have named ourselves after a supervillain team, given their success rate? Saw the Pre-Raphaelite and Turner Prize exhibitions, each containing some good stuff alongside a great deal of embarrassing filler, though obviously the dead guys' ratio was a bit better. Went to another gig, at more my usual level, where Joanne Joanne were again delightful (they've started to incorporate songs from the cocaine soul years now), and Shrag played their song very well. Went on a Tubewalk, and discovered that in Lambeth it's easier to find leopard pigs than a bearable pub; the first was playing the sort of jazz that gives jazz a bad name, the second too full and too gastro for words (and had signs urging us to 'follow our banter online'), and the third was set on closing half of its floorspace for no apparent reason. And they wonder why people prefer to drink at home now.

The Guard is a black comedy starring Brendan Gleeson, a man whose face is so expressive that I could happily watch a film of him doing his weekly shop. It somehow comes across as low key in spite of all the swearing and violence - much like In Bruges, which also stars him and whose director is The Guard's director's brother. Also like In Bruges, the rest of the cast is packed with great actors - Liam Cunningham, Mark Strong as a particularly philosophical drug dealer, Don Cheadle as the FBI agent out of water in rural Ireland. Strangely moving, unlike How to Steal a Million, which I'd seen years ago and which is still as gorgeously empty as prime Wodehouse, a beautiful insubstantial rainbow which would evaporate without Peter O'Toole and Audrey Hepburn anchoring it by sheer charm. Both are of course vastly better than Prometheus, two hours of sound and fury signifying nothing but the bleeding obvious. But then, I've already discussed that on Facebook, haven't I? The same place we all now tend to put anything pithy, anything intended to get a mass response. The latest wave of spambots has taken me back to a few old entries on here, just to delete their spoor, and I'm amazed each time by what a busy poster I was. So young, too - there's a spot of anti-RTD hysteria in one of the entries I saw which makes me sound about 12. Even some of the longer, more considered content isn't here anymore - my book reviews are on Goodreads now. And yet, this is kept going, in part simply because it has been kept going, and so it would seem crazy to abandon it now - a very London attitude, beyond which, I never did like lines drawn under the past. And I suppose now, unlike February, June, July and October 2012, I've made it at least one more month with more than a single post. Livejournal Abides.
alexsarll: (Default)
I've finally finished watching The Ascent of Man, which is every bit as impressive an achievement as its reputation suggests, tracing human history from before the beginning to 'the present day' (ie, the early seventies), in the process showing up most supposed documentaries as the facile, fragmentary toss they are. Seriously, if Adam Curtis has a copy of this, he watches it on long dark nights, then curls up and weeps. Should we make contact with some actual intelligent life, and have a few days to win them over, then this would be the ideal introduction, a 'Previously...In The Human Race' intro which - the Holocaust episode notwithstanding - makes us look a fair bit cooler than we usually are. It's angry at times, rightly so, but optimistic with it. It is, essentially, a factual counterpart to The Wire in terms of What TV Can Do.
Anyway, perhaps because Olaf Stapledon's future history Last and First Men is one of the very few works to operate on anything like the same scale, I found myself flicking through that - but it wasn't my copy, it was the library's more recent edition, with an introduction by science fiction writer Gregory Benford. An introduction which disses the first few chapters, advising new readers to skip them entirely, because "Stapledon proved to be completely wrong about the near term". Now, granted Stapledon predicted that what we now know as the Second World War would be vastly more destructive than it was - but everyone from Waugh to Wells made the same mistake, something we now tend to forget because it seems obscene that such an awful, epochal conflict was in fact a mild drizzle compared to the final downpour so widely predicted. Beyond that, though, here's Stapledon's near future:
- "With Europe exhausted, America and China eventually become the world's superpowers. Had they learned from the best of each other, this might have foreshadowed a golden age; instead, there was an exchange not of virtues but of vices."
- The emergent global culture falls, for various complex reasons, into a one-dimensional worship of ceaseless, purposeless motion. True, the motion in Stapledon's future is the literal movement of planes in aerobatics, not the abstract dance of finance and 'growth', but I think we can forgive that.
- Inevitably, this foolhardy cult begins to tax Earth's resources, but the high priests blindly insist that the answer is ever more of the same; their god must be placated, so everyday luxury, even health, is sacrificed in order that the ritual functions can continue.

If only he had been wrong.
(Somewhere in the back of my mind, some of my more quixotic components have now become fascinated by the idea of a Last and First Men roleplaying game, perhaps utilising the fact that the Last Men, two billion years hence, can travel back telepathically to any period of the human past)

Between this and the stuttering, perhaps-foolhardy progress through Blake's 7. I've not been watching much current TV. Justified, of course, especially now that the rest of the show is almost up to the level of Timothy Olyphant's central performance as the wry, unflappable lawman. But beyond that, it didn't help that everything seemed to have converged on Wednesdays, 10pm. I opted, of course, for Sons of Anarchy - which has been correctly summarised as Hamlet on Harleys, if Lady Macbeth had been swapped for Gertrude. know how Hamlet is all about delays and dithering? I think Sons may have overtaken it on that point. The fourth series artfully twisted the knots ever tighter, limiting the number of characters and their options, making clear there was only one way this could end. Except - it didn't. Yes, the reason for that was not entirely implausible - I sometimes wonder if the baroque profusion of clashing law enforcement agencies in the US exists solely so that TV shows apparently headed for their Götterdämmerung can then stall everything with an inter-organisational pissing contest. And yet, still, the season ended feeling like the show should have ended. I'm tempted to jump ship here, but I suspect the need to know What Happens Next will lure me just as it has always lured humanity to disappointing sequels.
alexsarll: (crest)
Another delicious day off, so I should probably update this thing while there's a slightly greater chance of anyone reading it. Plenty of good gigs lately - the final Vichy Government show and the first for Quimper was a fine passing of the torch, or 'passing of the torture' as Mr Chilton creatively misheard it. There were some bands in between, but the less said about that the better - though I was amused by this review: "blended with a cover or two (my favourite had to be Red Hot Chili’s ‘Give it Away’), which not only kept the whole crowd engaged, but completed energised.". Which is not technically untrue, if you count the aforementioned Mr Chilton running upstairs, screaming about the horror, as 'energised'.
And then, a couple of nights on, Keith TotP, gloriously shambolic as ever, and Kit Richardson (who was much better than I expected from an unknown quantity singer-songwriter, and even got away with covering QotSA's 'No One Knows'), and the Indelicates. Who are always very good, but with a few of the more seldom-played songs breaking up the familiar set, were simply jaw-dropping.

John Brunner's The Jagged Orbit is not on the same level as The Sheep Look Up, let alone his masterpiece Stand on Zanzibar, though it forms part of the same project: a prismatic view from c1970 of the dystopian near future ie now. But, though it's didactic in places, though the whole emphasis on race war and apartheid was mercifully mistaken, elsewhere it demonstrates the same prophetic gifts as those greater books. Here is "this incomprehensibly complex modern world where the forces of economics and macroplanning ruled with the impersonal detachment of storm and drought", a world of veils on Western streets and churnalism in place of news, of casual psychopharmacology and near-ubiquitous diagnoses of newly-created mental illnesses. Hell, Brunner never quite managed to predict the Internet - though at times you can sense him groping mere hair-breadths from it - but he still managed to see that the world of the future would need what we now know as the spam filter. Though I'm sure that my friends who work in TV would have some bitter words with his shade regarding the sections on making a TV show: in the second decade of the 21st century, computers mean the editing process takes a matter of minutes!
Interestingly, although the nicked-from-John-Dos-Passos-then-improved narrative technique of Sheep and Zanzibar isn't fully realised yet, there are sections where Brunner shows his workings, pasting in an article (often from the Guardian) from the papers of his day, usually one ending with recommendations for avoiding future escalation of the problem it describes. That'll be a chapter. The next chapter, titled "Assumption regarding the foregoing made for the purposes of the story", will read in full: "Either it wasn't done, or it didn't work."

Spartacus: Gods of the Arena avoids the traps of a prequel well. Yes, there are characters you know can't die, and others you know won't be sticking around - but there are still plenty of bad things that can happen short of death, especially in a show this wickedly inventive, and there's more than one way for a character to exit the stage, even with death so close at hand. It's very much in the same vein as Blood and Sand - though there are times when you wonder if they feel the parent series was, somehow, slightly lacking in the sex and gore department. The one real revelation is that the guy who plays Crixus can in fact act, and had just been very good at playing a complacent lunk when that was where the character was.
alexsarll: (howl)
Local venues the Archway Tavern and Nambucca have both had refits, but the latter is still the same bloody shambles it always was, with the same misguided belief that this is somehow endearingly rock'n'roll. The Archway's transition to some kind of weird nineties theme bar, on the other hand...well, at least the theme seems to extend to what now constitutes a cheap pint, but in the nineties would still have been a nightmarish three quid. The bands at both were led by Davids, and more an exercise in larking about than anything else; both were a great deal of fun. The supports at both were bloody embarrassments. And both were Hallowe'en events, of course*. Normally I'm adamant about celebrating the great festivals on the actual day...but it's Monday today. Even the restless dead don't rise with any enthusiasm on a Monday.

Speaking of the dead rising - I finally read DC's zombie superhero epic Blackest Night. Which, to my utter lack of surprise, has all of writer Geoff Johns' usual sins - including that unseemly tendency to get all metatextual about how comics used to be so bright and innocent, and why can't they be like that still, while taking a sordid delight in demonstrating the gruesomeness of the modern by repeated graphic dismebowelments &c. He wants to eat his tasty braaaaains cake and still have it, really. In total, Blackest Night sprawls across seven collected editions of tie-ins (for no real reason beyond perversity, I read the core series last). The Exterminators, on the other hand, covers a mere five books. One of the many comics from Vertigo (aka 'the HBO of comics') to be cancelled before it reached its proposed destination, this was a planned 50-issue series which only made it to 30. Largely because, as writer Simon Oliver acknowledges in a rueful foreword to the final collection, it's about bugs, and so at least a quarter of the potential audience would be too revolted to read it. And it is, make no mistake, a revolting series. But also, for all its fantastical elements, one which feels like it's saying something interesting about humanity, and nature, and the poor schmucks who have to hold the line between the two. Whereas Blackest Night, for all that it manages some lovely tricks with colour, really doesn't have much more to say than 'Dude, if Hawkman was a zombie he'd be even more badass!' Which is not only fairly hollow - it turns out it isn't even true.

*Though unlike Christmas creep, Hallowe'en crawl has some limits. On Friday, even in Camden, there was little sign of sexy cats &c. Or at least, not specifically Hallowe'eny ones. The alleged retirement show of Steven Horry, Frontman, with support from Rebekah Delgado and Aurora, was many things, but spooky was not among them.
alexsarll: (Default)
So. A little more than two weeks since I posted about anything but the New 52. During which time I have been to see [ profile] xandratheblue in sexy cabaret, in the pleasingly post-apocalyptic space the Old Vic have constructed in some old tunnels. And to the National Liberal Club, which is exactly the sort of grand old space where I think of London weddings as properly taking place since attending my first as a child, where people I'd not seen since university made me feel at once terribly old and surprisingly young. And paintballing, which I've never done before, and which is strangely fascinating for the way you really do feel the fog of war (and not just from the goggles steaming up on a day that really doesn't feel like October) - you have no idea whether you've hit anyone, or how many people are out there, or of anything much beyond the need to keep shooting and not get shot*. In the final game, having fallen in defence of the President (our stag, who turned out to be paint-bulletproof anyway), I watched from the Dead Zone as two fighters, unsure of each other's exact locations, frantically duelled from behind cover at a distance of maybe four yards, 'death' having granted an appropriately detached and godlike perspective on the conflicts of the living.
Then on to Oxford. Having been to the Other Place, I always thought of Cambridge as simply Oxbridge entire, whereas Oxford is what happens when you attach Oxford to an actual city. But lately I've realised that's not the whole story. Sitting in gentler, more thoroughly English countryside, not the blank, unfinished Fens, Oxford is more truly idyllic. Nor do the winds from the Urals chill it to the bone each winter. I don't know that anyone as thoroughly complacent as a Cameron or a Blair could ever come from somewhere with Cambridge's sharp edges. I think maybe that's been part of the problem these past 15 years. But then, I am of course massively biased.

Anyway: waiting at Paddington to assemble the paintballing party, I saw (though nobody else did) a fat child run past dressed as the Eleventh Doctor. Which confirmed that really, the look is not a good one in and of itself. What to make of the latter half of Season 32? I don't know why, but for me it didn't quite fly. I love the Ponds, and they were the best thing in the final episode, but I felt we got a little too much of them. We got the wrong Cybermen (especially when you've just rewatched The Invasion), defeated too soppily. There have been great images, great performances, great lines - none sadder than simply calling Amelia Pond 'Amy Williams' - but somehow they haven't added up to great Doctor Who, not even with a great Doctor in the lead. But now he's stepped back into the shadows, everything changes again, and I'm still very excited to see what happens next.

*Though this point was elastic. In one game, as attackers, we could respawn. In all games, by the rules of this establishment, head shots didn't count. I assume they wished to discourage head shots, while assuming that pain and startlement would be sufficient disincentives to stop people from willingly getting themselves headshot as a tactical measure. Given I have a very thick skull, and very thick hair, and a fairly high pain threshold, however, I was basically using my head to draw fire.


Sep. 16th, 2011 12:08 pm
alexsarll: (Default)
The weekend again already, at least if one is using up annual leave, and as per last week it doesn't look to be the most raucous of weekends, but is nonetheless deeply cherished for all that. There are a lot of people moving away from Finsbury Park lately, and for all my science fiction-inspired futurism, on a domestic level I disapprove of change. Still, at least by happening in autumn it's seasonally appropriate (as ever, I prefer 'pathetic truism' to the nonsensical term 'pathetic fallacy' - because weather and human moods do tend to match up).
Often, the moments in life of which one feels proudest aren't really suitable for the internet; they're better held close and secret. But last Sunday, while picking up a book that makes dinosaur noises for my Cthulhuchild, I overheard a customer asking the shopkeeper where he should start with Avengers comics. And un-English as it was, I 'Excuse me, if I might assist'-ed, and explained the situation, and by the end of it the fellow was ordering the first volume of The Ultimates (because it's better than the originals, and much closer to the films, which were what had inspired him to ask in the first place). So I'd supported my local independent bookshop, done some comics evangelism and helped a slightly puzzled shopper, all in one. I fear this may make me part of the Big Society.

Beyond that...well, it's all been a bit science-fictional. Had my first games of Cosmic Encounter, a game which manages both to be very simple to pick up, surprisingly tactical, and completely different each time depending what combination of alien powers the players get. Went to the British Library's Out of this World exhibition, full of manuscripts, old editions, life-size props (though I could tell the TARDIS was a fake - no warmth or hum) of science fiction classics. But 'science fiction classics' as defined by someone who actually knows their stuff - Olaf Stapledon got due respect (they even had the original hand-drawn timelines for the millions of years covered in his majestic Last and First Men), and John Brunner was well-represented too (I never knew he'd come up with the computer sense of 'worm'). So much there that I'd love to go back if only I hadn't come along so late in the run, and a perfect gallery for it too, somehow. If I had one quibble it would be the absence of Simak, but then everyone forgets about Simak nowadays, and in an odd way that fits the backwoods, leaving-the-city-folk-to-do-city-things nature of his work. Seriously, though - melancholy pastoral SF. It's excellent.
Oh, yes, and there was Torchwood. Of which the best that can be said is that about half of the last episode was quite good, and maybe five minutes really kicked arse.
alexsarll: (crest)
Yesterday was the first Who this season that I didn't see live, because I was off having a lovely pub crawl country walk in Kent. Not the bleak Kent, or the bits that are basically London's dregs, but the Garden of England bit which inspired HE Bates (whose cottage we went past). And it was lovely. London is the place for me, now and for years yet, but one day I shall have a cottage somewhere with an old graveyard and cricketers on the green, where nothing of importance ever changes. Speaking of which, 'The Curse of the Black Spot' was thoroughly predictable, wasn't it? Every plot beat could be foretold at least a minute before it happened, in part because the set-up was the classic Who base-under-siege, and the resolution was a tribute to early Moffat. But I find something oddly comforting in these middling, everyday episodes, and Amy looked great as a pirate (even if her differences with the siren could surely have been resolved more sexily), and it made no sense but somehow I even forgave the virus/bacteria line, because if Who was always as full-on and smart as those first two episodes, and as I suspect next week's Gaiman story will be, then it would just get a bit too much.

Last weekend's big news stories left me mostly unmoved; our mediocre future monarch was wed to a passably symmetrical young woman, and we eventually killed a bastard who had it coming, but who was only ever first among equals. But then the last combat veteran of the First World War died and...that's huge. A moment, an era, could last week be described as 'in living memory', and now it can't. And then on top of that, the AV vote, in which 85% of my countrymen made clear that in spite of the last 30 years, they're quite content with how politics is done here, thank you very much. Which disgusts me. But at least, of the 11 areas nationwide which voted otherwise, Finsbury Park is at the intersection of three - and next to a fourth. The others include Oxford, Cambridge and Edinburgh. The smart places, basically. It's only a crumb of hope, but it's something.

The Dodgem Logic jamboree on Wednesday has been well-covered elsewhere (and there's even a photo of my back at that link, just to prove my presence). Savage Pencil's loud, unhelpful contributions aside, it was a brilliant evening - but then when you have Alan Moore, Stewart Lee and Robin Ince on the same bill, that's inevitable, isn't it? Kevin O'Neill, Melinda Gebbie and Steve Aylett also turn out to be just as interesting off the page as on. For a moment I even thought I might be able to get a poster of O'Neill's 'four seasons' image from the last issue (so far), but no, it was just one promo piece. Which he talked about, saying that it was inspired by the idea of a perfect England for which the English, even as far back as Chaucer, had always been nostalgic. And then Alan Moore was talking about how Dodgem Logic had been inspired by the old underground mags but, rereading them and seeing how they actually were rather than how he remembered them, he had in fact, if he said so himself, made something better. Which reminded me of someone characterising the new Doctor Who - and this was even before Moffat took over - as the programme which actually was as good as Doctor Who fans remember Doctor Who being. People can be dismissive of nostalgia but, in the right hands, it's a profoundly creative urge.
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?

On top

Apr. 18th, 2011 07:59 pm
alexsarll: (magnus)
So that was the last two day weekend for a while, but it still managed to be large in spirit if not duration. Pulp hits from the Nuisance band, a leaving party in East 17 and then picnic action in Finsbury Park where, pleasingly, those horrid itchy white fuzz things are off the trees, meaning a wider range of climbing options for the season. Lovely. And I managed to fit in a viewing of Day of the Locust, one of Tinseltown's periodic bursts of self-flagellation, which starts out as a meandering slice of 1930s Hollywood life ("less a conventional film than it is a gargantuan panorama", said one wise critic), culminates in apocalypse, and yet never feels like it has betrayed its own inner logic. It also features a young Donald Sutherland as an uptight, spineless fellow called Homer Simpson. Which comes as quite a surprise the first couple of times his name comes up.

The American Library Association's list of the books the most people want banned is, as ever, composed largely of books which threaten to teach young people that sex is fun and homosexuality is perfectly normal. There is, though, one interesting anomaly: Barbara Ehrenreich's Nickel and Dimed, which exposes the truth of life in the minimum wage, showing how big employers screw people and how, contrary to the corporate and political lies, a McJob will not improve your life. Apparently its 'political viewpoint' offended people; its 'religious viewpoint' also, presumably in that it emphasises what damage the Protestant work ethic has wrought. I wonder how many of the busybodies who objected to it were simply concerned private citizens, and how many were Wal-Mart managers, politicians keen on cutting benefit 'scrounging' and other interested parties?
(Continuing on the theme of 'USA WTF?', the finale of Sons of Anarchy's second series was a beautiful, brutal piece of television - until the very end, when it suddenly veered into utter silliness. And worse, silliness of a stripe which suggests that next season will see even more abominable attempts at Oirish accents. Foolish Sons of Anarchy!)

In the run of Neil Gaiman books, Interworld seems to be one of the ones people forget. Perhaps this is because it's co-written with someone other than Terry Pratchett? But I liked the one book I read by co-author Michael Reaves, and it was dirt cheap on Amazon, and so I thought I might as well take the plunge. And it's OK. The set-up: a kid finds that he can walk between parallel worlds, as can the versions of him on all the other parallel worlds. So most of the major characters are versions of the same person, teamed up to protect the multiverse. This means that Interworld joins Ulysses and China Mieville's 'Looking for Jake' on the short list of books I was planning to write before discovering that someone else had saved me the trouble. It's not as good as either of those, mind - and I was surprised not to find the twist I expected (ie, the one which my version would have had), in that the arch-villain didn't turn out to be yet another version of the protagonist. Still, it's a perfectly serviceable young adult romp, and now that story is out in the world I no longer feel any responsibility to it.
alexsarll: (crest)
The TV version of The Walking Dead is very, very well-done but - for my purposes - entirely pointless. I'm way further on in the story than this early, funny stuff. I want to know what happens to Rick next, not see a variant edition of what happened to him way back when. Perhaps if the comic ever ends and I'm not getting my regular fix, I'll come back and watch the DVDs, but for now? Surplus to requirements. Obviously I'm glad it exists, earning the creators money and getting new people into the comic, and I'm not faulting the craftsmanship, but I won't be persevering, and I suspect that after this experience I also won't be bothering with the TV Game of Thrones.

It was a good weekend for picnics, but I also made one deeply peculiar trip to Acton (which is essentially a small provincial town that happens to be on the Tube). I assumed the pub the Indelicates were playing would be something like the Windmill, but it was a quiet, wooden pub downstairs with the gig in a function room up top, and at first I thought I had inadvertently wandered into a private party for children. I briefly thought I might not be the oldest person there, before realising that the chap with the impressive 'tache was the promoter's dad, and he was going downstairs for a nice quiet pint. The supports were both fairly generic, but that's forgivable in teenagers, and they had good enough voices that hey, maybe in two bands' time they'll be worth another listen. I got ID'd, simply because they were IDing everyone, but my weary, disbelieving glare was apparently sufficient proof of age, so I got my black wristband OK. The DJs did play some young people's music, but a lot of it was stuff like Cornershop, which I suppose is the same to them as the Clash were for clubs in my teens. And then there was the bit where a girl who didn't like the moshing came to stand with us, and we were a bit puzzled at the proximity until we realised she was swallowing her pride and going to stand with the grown-ups where it was calmer...I mean, as if I hadn't been feeling old enough already from having met my Cthulhuchild in the afternoon (and presented him with a cuddly Cthulhu - you know how some third-rate religions don't like their deities depicted? That's 'cos those religions' deities know they don't look cool enough). And it hit me during conversation with Simon that I have now lived for longer than there was between the end of World War II and my birth. Bloody Hell.
So the set...I think it was the first time I've seen 'Roses' live, and it didn't disappoint. Given the crowd I was surprised they didn't play 'Sixteen' or 'We Hate The Kids' (even though these were clearly nice kids, they could have done with the warning about their peers and their future). The absence of 'Jerusalem', though, made perfect sense, given most of the crowd would have been too young to vote in last May's debacle.
In summary: dear heavens I felt old. But cool old. Mostly.

The Runaways is not entirely free of the standard rock biopic and My Drug Hell tropes. But coming straight after attempts to watch Synechdoche, New York and Outkast's Idlewild, both of which have a bit of novel surface detail but are otherwise almost wholly cliche, it at least felt lively. Yes, I may be biased in favour of a film which has scenes of punked-up, drugged-up sapphism set to songs from the first Stooges album, but I still wouldn't have expected two Twilight alumni* to be quite so convincing as Joan Jett and Cherie Currie. Svengali Mick Foley isn't bad, either. Well, he is - he's a diabolical sleazeball, but still someone I could see myself taking as a management guru, especially when his heckler drill for the girls in the band is so reminiscent of the wrenches scene from Dodgeball.

*Of whom Dakota Fanning was also Satsuki in Totoro, which when you see her using her impossible platform boots to crush up pills for ease of snorting, and inevitably looking like a great ad for drugs while she does it, is really quite wrong.
alexsarll: (bernard)
I was getting quite worried about the electoral reform referendum, because at the moment who doesn't want to p1ss on Nick Clegg's chips? But the No campaign's ads are so transparently mendacious and manipulative that I think someone may finally have succeeded in underestimating the British public. Result.

I've finally seen Scott Pilgrim, and it's not bad, is it? Some of the stuff they necessarily lost in the transition from comic to film, I wasn't that sorry to see go - the moping around, the wilderness trek. It lost emotional weight, but it gained energy; the whole story was told with the sugar rush romp feel which in the comics had to be complicated after the first couple of volumes if it weren't to become exhausting. And Michael Cera was a very different Scott (which had been my main objection to seeing the film), but he was still a recognisable one. I was more thrown by the cinema take on Knives (insufficiently psycho) and Envy (insufficiently hot). But on balance I think I prefer the other work to come out of Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg's temporary split, Paul. It's a charming autobiographical bromance (Early on Pegg and Nick Frost even give themselves lines like "Can you believe it? Us! In America! We've dreamed about this since we were kids!") and a big geeky action comedy all rolled up into one big bag, I suppose. It's a lot less bittersweet than the Pegg/Wright films, and I don't mind that one bit.

Otherwise, I've largely been thinking about how strange time is (mainly while drinking). There was a Nuisance, of course, and the usual glimmer of surprise that in 2011 the night I attend most frequently plays the same music I was hearing when I first started clubbing. But also seeing Circulus, and being slightly disappointed that a band who come across so temporally alien on record would engage in such standard band-on-stage-at-small-venue activity as making suggestions to the soundman about the monitor mix. They shouldn't even admit they know what the monitors are, dammit! But then, they should probably be playing an enchanted glade somewhere rather than a venue sponsored by an energy drink, and in that case how would they power the instruments? It doesn't quite work, but on headphones on a country walk you can pretend that it does, so long as you don't think too hard about the headphones. Which all tied into [ profile] al_ewing's latest (and best) book, Gods of Manhattan. It's set in a shared steampunk universe but, being a smart man working in a near-exhausted genre, Al pushes and prods at the boundaries, having realised that "The only rule is no electricity" and even that can be subverted. The main story is great pulp fun - the serial numbers have been filed off, but essentially it's Zorro vs the Shadow vs Doc Savage (except also Superman and living in a menage a trois) in a retro-futurist dream of New York. But the setting is almost better than the story, simply for the way it mixes so many odd little bits of our culture into the new context, and while being funny also makes emotional sense. And within that you've got the beautiful idea that the people in the alternate reality are themselves dreaming of our reality - the ageing Warhol makes models of impossible devices like miniature telephones, too small for steam to ever power, in a movement that's been called 'dreampunk'.

*Though even back in Derby - where you soon realise that Royston Vasey is an accurate portrayal of the county - we seldom had anyone quite so creepy as the guy in the red blazer in. Cross Louie Spence with a new ad campaign for Rohypnol, then picture the result breakdancing to My Life Story...
alexsarll: (Default)
The headline would have to come out of order, and that's my stand-up/lecture/thing at Bright Club on Tuesday, which seemed to go down pretty well. I'm sort of tempted to put the text on here, because I can't see when I'm ever likely to need to give another comedic talk about Emperor Frederick II, but you never know...

- Paul Gravett giving a talk at the library about graphic novels, and slightly fluffing it. The guy is very smart, and engaging, and he knows his stuff, but he pitched this wrong. Too much of it was miserable autobiographical project after miserable autobiographical project and yes, that's exactly the way to get a reading group or broadsheet literary critic on board, but not this audience who were already reading comics. It's not the way to get the general public interested, either. Even if you don't want to talk about superheroes (and I can respect that, if only as entryism) then talk about Scott Pilgrim, Shaun Tan, The Walking Dead, the renaissance in crime comics, Bryan Talbot. Talk about the real variety in comics, not just the various settings from which people can extrude navel-gazing yawnfests.
- Runebound, which like Talisman takes place at the exact point where board games start to become simple roleplaying games. Yes, I am a geek, what of it?
- Spending more than an hour in the Camden World's End for the first time ever, and feeling very old, but strangely at home. I love that London, with all its infinitely diversified tribes, can still have somewhere that feels like The Indie Pub in a provincial town.
- [ profile] thedavidx's Guided Missile special, with the birthday boy covering Adam Ant songs, and the Deptford Beach Babes, and Dave Barbarossa's new band (nice drumming, shame about everything else), and Black Daniel whom I still don't quite get even though I was in the mood for them this time. Plus, the return of the 18 Carat Love Affair! Now a slightly looser, rockier proposition, a little less eighties. Not a transition of which I have often approved, but it suits them.
- Realising that not only had I finally, definitely found De Beauvoir Town, but I was drinking in it. Then going home to be disappointed by Boardwalk Empire, which I will still doubtless finish sooner or later, but which I am no longer cursing Murdoch for nabbing. Not to worry, there are still plenty of other things for which to curse him.
alexsarll: (Default)
If you haven't been keeping up with Luke Haines' recent ventures, he's just released 50 albums. Which so far as anyone can work out are 50 versions of the same album, Outsider Music each recorded live in one take, and each costing £75. I don't have it, no. There's various Bill Drummond-style rhetoric about this restoring the sanctity of the physical album &c, but given the old bastard has always made an art out of wilful perversity, I suspect a large part of it is making a few grand quickly while seeing what the fans will put up with. In much the same spirit, last night he played the new material live at the Hoxton Pony, a venue whose name is in a sense honest, but perhaps a little too disguised by the Cockney rhyming slang. The intro tape doesn't seem to be able to stay at the same sound level for a whole song, and two of those songs are by the Doors. And the support is a berk who is apparently from a band called Silvery, and who seems to have been booked just so Haines can remind himself how much he hates Britpop because his stuff sounds like something which [ profile] steve586 would refuse to play at Nuisance. Haines himself is sounding a little odd on account of some missing teeth, and horribly plosive because he's doing stuff with the mic which even I know how not to do. It is, in short, not the ideal setting. On top of which, as Haines says while introducing the song about a friend who met Alan Vega of Suicide, "the new songs were rather like the old songs". One song, more recent even than the Outsider Music stuff, is introduced as part of a forthcoming concept album about seventies wrestling, and concerns the domestic arrangements of Kendo Nagasaki. From anyone else, you'd know that intro was a joke. But from Haines? (Suggested heckle: "Play the one about the seventies!")
Haines is in that spot a lot of artists get to where they've found their territory and, if they do get any new fans, it'll be through a critical rehabilitation rather than a sudden shift in the material. This is not necessarily a bad thing; I was listening to the new Twilight Singers album on the way to the gig, and there's not a surprise on it, but that doesn't stop it from being the third best album of the year so far (not the faint praise it may seem in mid-January, the H Bird and British Sea Power records are excellent). But if these songs really don't get any wider release...well, most of them I won't honestly feel as gaps in my life, the exception being the brilliant 'Enoch Powell'.
And then we get the old songs, and a reminder of why we put up with all this because yes, the man has written several dozen absolute and eternal classics, and here's a selection. Most terrifying is to hear 'Future Generations' in the company of a fan born in the nineties*, proof that Haines was, as usual, right when he first sang "the next generation will get it from the start".

I hadn't even been planning to go to that show until mid-afternoon; I had other plans, and I'd assumed it was sold out. And by that point I'd already reached my standing goal of doing at least two things per day beyond pootling around on the net or reading a comic or two or other minor stuff; I'd filled in my tax return, and I'd finally watched Videodrome (which is basically just 'Blink - The Queasily Sexy Years', isn't it?). This in spite of having developed a problematic addiction to "I am the man who arranges the blocks" after having heard it at Bright Club the night before, with which I had thought I should re-familiarise myself given I'm performing at the next Wilmington one on February 15th.

*edit: Actually 1989, I am informed, and unlike Wikipedia I trust people to correct their own biographical data. But I feel the point stands.

January 2016



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