alexsarll: (pangolin)
Very nearly went a whole calendar month without seeing any gigs there, which is most uncharacteristic. Just managed to avert that on January 31st, courtesy of Desperate Journalist at the Monarch, whose Friday nights were once Nuisance &c, and are now hip hop nights for tiny children in very few clothes. It was well Polanski. The next night, Joanne Joanne at the Dublin Castle, which has not changed, nor is it ever likely to; and since then, Gene covers at Nuisance and the newly-expanded Soft Close-Ups. Which is to say, I'm back in the swing. Earlier gigs I never got round to writing about include Dream Themes in Kiss make-up, the McDonalds (who are apparently not a novelty band), or Untitled Musical Project's drummer having some kind of meltdown at their comeback show. Alexander's Festival Hall have gone pleasingly 'el, and [ profile] exliontamer's third band, Violet Hours, make the best musical use of 'The Waste Land' I've heard since the late nineties, when it was incorporated into one of the few bits of DJ mixing I've ever appreciated.
I've also been to more Daylight Musics than usual. Somewhat to my surprise, it really suited the Penny Orchids - when they're a little quieter, in a much bigger space, the nuances of the sound get much more room to affect, especially when [ profile] hospitalsoup takes lead vocals for the first time I've seen in far too long. The festive Festivus show was also a joy but, as ever with Daylight Music, you don't half get some odd stuff turning up on the bills. When it's a man playing Philip Glass on the massive organ, that's a joy. But it might equally be someone like We Used To Make Things, a large band who are half brilliant (a suave brass section, a black Rosie the Riveter with an almost holy voice) and half terrible (four Mumfords, one played by Robert Webb, plus a singer who appears to be the horrible result of the realisation that Bobby Gillespie = Bee Gee).

Aside from gigs, there's been X-Wing and arm-wrestling, brunch and - most of all - Bruges. Which really is, as a wise man once observed, a fairytale fucking town. Some of its sillier museums (plus the one thing we wanted to see while changing trains in Brussels) were closed due to our visit being slightly too off-season, but we could still see the Belfort and the Bosch, canals and churches, the windmills and cormorants guarding the perimeter from the modern day. It's remarkable how it can be so mediaeval and yet still alive; you'll see a wall decorated with memorial medallions, assume they're all centuries-old, then look at the dates and realise that while some are, others come up to the 1990s. Yet still the continuity and style are maintained. In that sense it feels far less stuck in its own past than an ossified city-that-was such as Paris. I can also see exactly why they're filming Wolf Hall there; accordingly, it made for the perfect holiday read. But of all its strange and marvellous sights, the most remarkable must be the Michaelangelo sculpture. Not because it made its way outside Italy in his lifetime, but because it's a woman who actually looks like a woman. Madness.

Viewing: Anchorman 2 and Hobbit 2 are both much what you'd expect from their predecessors, and of course that works better for the former than the latter, which is still fundamentally a mess. There's simply too much happening, and too much of that jars with the original story even if it's ostensibly part of the same world. The abiding impression is of those stories which, in trying to make the most of a shared universe, instead simply draw attention to its cracks, and leave you wondering why Superman doesn't sort out all those non-powered crooks in Gotham. On the other hand, I also watched the first American Horror Story and while that's likewise wildly overstuffed with characters and incidents, the effect is much less queasy - simply because they were always conceived as parts of the same whole in the way the Necromancer and comedy dwarves so clearly weren't.
alexsarll: (crest)
All those Sam Tyler references in Ashes to Ashes had me thinking, whoever's mysteriously contacting Alex...could that voice be John Simm doing posh? It could, couldn't it? And then the trailer for next week blew my theory apart. Oh well, it was fun while it lasted, and now I'm back to having no idea at all where they're going with this, but being confident that it will be somewhere good. And I've been reading a 2000 issue of Select which I found while clearing out my desk, all articles about 'what are MP3s?' and *video* reviews and interviews saying how Embrace's second album will take them to the next level, and this isn't even from so very long ago - I moved to London in 2000 - and it makes me more than ever think that after Ashes to Ashes is done, the nineties are now strange and distant enough for Dead Man Walking to be a perfectly viable series.

Speaking of changing eras, I read Virginia Woolf's Orlando yesterday, and what a glorious confection of rhapsody, absurdity and time it is. Yes, it's 13 years since I got into the band of the same name and followed up plenty of the other reference points, but I'd seen the film and I don't like reading books too soon after seeing the film, even in cases like this where knowing the plot is a fairly abstract concern. It's the starring role The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen has now found for Orlando (the androgyne, not the band, though that I would also love to see) which had me investigating, because the infuriating braggart of '1910' is not at all how I remembered Tilda Swinton in the film. And indeed, is not what I find in Woolf's original. I think Moore and O'Neill have the promiscuity and the rough-housing down better than Swinton, but she has that distracted quality which they've lost. And while inserting side adventures during and after the novel's timeline works perfectly, I question whether LoEG has not done a certain damage to the premise by making Orlando an ancient who fought at Troy and Actium; one of the features which I feel most strongly in Woolf's novel is the sense of Orlando's rootedness in the English countryside, the ancestry which ties Orlando to the soil regardless of gender or distance. And it's a shame, because the way in which Woolf's Orlando moves so self-consciously yet seamlessly from age to age - a gigantic cloud rolling in as the 18th Century gives way to the 19th, for instance, and England suddenly, gradually growing damper - is just the sort of play on the eras' conceptions of themselves and each others to which the League project draws such delightful attention*.

In much the same spirit of meditative Englishess as Orlando, I finally watched Cloudspotting, which I apologise for not plugging while it could still be caught on iPlayer. I've raved about Gavin Pretor-Pinney's Cloudspotter's Guide here before, I'm sure, and the new appreciation it gave me for the beauty which floats above us most every day. But the concept works even better on TV, with the BBC's archive of near Miyazaki-quality flying footage to plunder, and Pretor-Pinney himself so naturally and thoroughly engaging, like a cross between Jim Broadbent and Mark Gatiss, except more fun. One credit did surprise me, though: Script editor: Steve Aylett.

Never got around to writing about that Keith TOTP/Glam Chops show last week, did I? In part because I only wrote about them a week or so earlier, and not much changed except that Eddie was drunker and Glam Chops have a new song called 'Thunderstruck'. Which kicks arse. Oh, and I finally watched a Gregg Araki film, Mysterious Skin. Which was much as I expected in terms of tormented small-town US gayness, but all that UFO stuff and missing memories made me think of Velvet Goldmine and Flex Mentallo, which can never be a bad thing. Also, it has Dawn from Buffy as an off-the-rails fag hag with great eye make-up! It is, alas, let down by the standard problem afflicting any film which addresses wrongcockery - even in a world where cinema can convincingly show us an army of thousands of orcs and undead rucking in front of Minas Tirith, if you're showing a kiddy-fiddler on film, the effects and editing have to be so clunky as to make entirely clear even to madmen and magistrates that the child was not on stage while the nasty man said the rude things.

*Of course, nerd polyfilla is easily applied here: in the League world Woolf's book is known by the title which is in any case its full title here: Orlando - A Biography. Woolf was one of those eminently readable but maddeningly agenda-led biographers, who in satirising the conventions of biography, ran roughshod over a real life rather than a fictional one.
alexsarll: (manny)
As many of you will doubtless already have seen all over your friendslists, the New Royal Family once again decided to use my 'unconvincing disapproval' face to spice up the video to their latest smash, which for all I know may be the last music video Britons can watch on Youtube. The NRF are also playing the Gaff on Holloway Road this evening, so why not come along and see if I can look as unconvincingly disapproving in the flesh? Or alternately just watch the band, which would probably be a better idea all round.

Which item leads because it at least makes me look halfway cool, and since last posting, I have been otherwise been engaging in high-grade geekery to such a degree that even I still feel a little nervous about admitting to it. Well, OK, and I did go to lovely Soul Mole. But still, too many dice. As has been pointed out, compared to the various other midlife crises on offer, it's less deleterious than most.

I'm reading Graham Greene's The Human Factor - not one of his best, thus far. But it is a late effort, coming from 1978. Which feels weird right off - Graham Greene, whose Greeneland always feels so thoroughly mid-20th Century, was writing during my life. I'd...not even forgotten when he died, just never even considered the notion that he might not have passed with his age, like the Elves departing Middle Earth for the Grey Havens. But he had a book out in 1988. He died in 1991 - the same year Will Self published his first book (which I mention not as a passing of the baton but because Self is one of the few writers anywhere near the modern British literary mainstream whom I think worth reading). 1991 is, of course, 18 years ago, which is odd because in my head the eighties are still only circa ten years ago. And is Greene being anachronistic by having MI6 business sealed over grouse shoots in 1978, or am I forgetting how much of old England still persisted then? Especially given recent musings on Black Box Recorder and Red Riding, I suspect it's at least as much the latter.
alexsarll: (crest)
Since I made it back from Devon and a resurgent cold it's been a delightful haze of parties and pubs (and thank you all for a lovely birthday, it made entering the rather characterless age of 31 a pleasure rather than a puzzle). I love these inbetween days - one of my presents was Intermission, a compilation of solo Go-Betweens tracks from the period of their split, and as well as being lovely anyway, the name and the cold sun outside make it a good fit for right now.

My reservations about that BBC4 series on fantasy have been strengthened now that I've made a start on ER Eddison's The Worm Ouroboros, a book to which The Lord of the Rings was compared at its launch. It's at once recognisable as part of the same tradition, and a bizarre vision of an alternate track fantasy could have taken. Not so much in the style - although it makes Tolkien look like a dirty realist at times* - as in how it lays out the toolbox. Eddison does much what Tolkien did to people Middle Earth - he takes the names of spirits from folklore, and then ascribes them to human-like races in his imagined world. But after sixty years of Tolkien-derived fantasy, we're used to elves and dwarves and goblins. Eddison, on the other hand, calls his races witches and demons and imps, and from those names we don't expect solid, human-like races, even if the demons do make the concession of having little horns. There are also the foliots, whose name baffled me entirely until I then also started the deranged encyclopaedia that is The Anatomy of Melancholy and learned accidentally and almost at once that they are visitors to forlorn houses who make strange noises in the night. Except here they're not, they're a rather sappy bunch who live on an island and remind me faintly of the Dutch.

Have fulfilled the first of my definite plans for the life of leisure, with a one-sitting reread of All-Star Superman. Which is at times even more perfect than I remember - I especially like how fractal it gets, with lines like "I always write the Superman headlines before they happen" encompassing the whole - but I remain uncomfortably certain that the Bizarro story didn't need to cover two issues.

Finally got round to seeing The Last King of Scotland, and while I was almost as impressed as I expected to be - the central performances are stunning, Forrest Whitaker possibly even excelling his turn in The Shield (whose first series is a tenner on DVD in the HMV sale, and strongly recommended to anyone feeling a Wire-shaped gap in their viewing) - the ending left a little of a nasty taste in my mouth. Clearly the film is massively engaged with the idea of white exceptionalism, but it still seemed to fall slightly into it at the last.

*'"I like not the dirty face of the Ambassador," said Lord Zigg. "His nose sitteth flat on the face of him as it were a dab of clay, and I can see pat up his nostrils a summer day's journey into his head. If's upper lip bespeak him not a rare spouter of rank fustian, perdition catch me. Were it a finger's breadth longer, a might tuck it into his collar to keep his chin warm of a winter's night."
"I like not the smell of the Ambassador," said Lord Brandoch Daha. And he called for censers and sprinklers of lavender and rose water to purify the chamber, and let open the crystal windows that the breezes of heaven might enter and make all sweet.'
alexsarll: (howl)
Isn't today meant to bring the worst storm in 20 years? I'm looking out the window and seeing gently waving branches, non-storm-clouds and patches of blue sky. Meteorology: it's like astrology except that you get taken seriously by people who don't read the red-tops.

Last night I saw The Vessel, Eddie Argos and company go glam. Well, I say that - it was actually one of the more subdued outfits I've seen Vessel wear, but Eddie's jumpsuit was quite something. Paranoid Dog Bark: top fun.

Checking out the week's TV schedules, there are only two things I want to see on terrestrial - and they both start at 9pm on Thursday. Nice work there, BBC. OK, most of the other stuff turns up on terrestrial within a week of its Freeview airing, but others never will; I'm not even sure I want to watch Tin Sandwich, Anyone? - A History Of The Harmonica, but bless BBC4 for making and showing it. I definitely do want to watch the final part of their Worlds of Fantasy, though I had definite issues with the second episode, about Tolkien and Mervyn Peake. The timeline the programme suggested, particularly coming after the previous episode about the child hero, has Tolkien applying his academic mind and singlehandedly crafting the fairytales and children's stories into modern fantasy. I overemphasise slightly - but still, where was the acknowledgment of Lord Dunsany or James Brance Cabell, cultish figures now but pretty big back in the (pre-Tolkien) day? What about the pulp authors? Sure, Clark Ashton Smith is all too easy a figure to overlook, but everybody's heard of Conan so some brief nod to Robert E Howard, please. Perhaps most important of all - isn't it worth mentioning that Tolkien was a key figure in making fantasy a genre, and that before him someone like Hope Mirrlees or Sylvia Townsend Warner could write the odd book we would now class that way in a career we wouldn't? What frustrates me is not even leaving these writers out of history; I'm used to that. It's that even if you do know about them, Tolkien still achieved something unique and remarkable, and I'd have loved to see the opinions of some of these talking heads - China Mieville, say, or Dianna Wynne Jones (Toyah Wilcox less so) on what exactly that something was. The closest I can come is to say that there's a solidity to Middle Earth, as against the more fabulist fantasy of Tolkien's predecessors and peers. It's not a fairyland; its rules are not so very different from our world's.
And that brings us to the real elephant in the room - Tolkien's influence. The talking heads were all happy to claim a Gormenghast influence, but Tolkien was discussed more as shaping the whole form than as a personal guiding light. Understandably, because Tolkien's a bit like The Doors: great, but anything taking him as a direct influence, sucks. Good fantasy draws on that earlier tradition, or Peake's phantasmagoria; the crappy sagas clogging up the shelves owe Tolkien. The only way anything good ever comes from that road is in opposition, turning on the debased tropes of Fantasyland with the wit of a Terry Pratchett or the savagery of George RR Martin. the solidity of Tolkien's subcreation inspired mere stolidity; he was a genius whose great work unwittingly turned a whole field into mush for decades.

Great Grant Morrison news: Seaguy 2: Slaves of Mickey Eye is go! The interview (containing links to previous parts) also contains indications of a possible reconciliation with Millar, and news that there's still no progress on reprinting my favourite comic ever, Flex Mentallo. Remember that next time you wait for the trade.
In other comics news, I just tried to read the first issue of Pax Romana. The set-up sounded good (Vatican vs islam Time Wars), the art style's interesting, and I think the script's probably OK - but I couldn't get in to it through the lettering. I've never held with the idea that the letterer's doing his job if you don't notice the lettering - not noticing Todd Klein or Dave Sim's lettering would be a terrible waste - but I think this is the first time lettering has killed my interest in a book. Though maybe it doesn't help that I've just finished the best papal comic going, Kirkman's Battle Pope.

January 2016



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