The 17th Annual Freaky Trigger Between Christmas and New Year Pub Crawl: The Highgate Upside Down Wales
To celebrate this milestone I thought on the 29th December this year we should go on a route which several milestones can be seen, and also have a metaphorical expeditionary force, a force for good of course. Good cheer. And considering sixteen years of this pub crawl, I have decided this year to be a little selfish and do one quite near to my house. And also a selection of rather decent fake country pubs rather close in. So I present you a self-indulgent Highgate pubcrawl.
Starting at the Woodman next door to Highgate Tube (high entrance) at 3pm we take a scenic walk to Highgate Village ending at the lovely Duke’s Head. Route below the cut:
In Britain it was another ballad, another global import megahit, arriving here with the spontaneity of a powerpoint build. But in America it was jetsam, a fragment of wreckage to cling to in a time of fear. Within days of the World Trade Centre falling, “Hero” had been remixed to incorporate found audio from 9/11, a collage of sobbing witnesses, panicked rescuers, and the drained sincerity of politicians interrupting Enrique Iglesias’ every line.
It’s a remarkable thing to listen to, pop snatched up into history, pushed beyond the limit of what it can accommodate. The sentiment of the song – Enrique as hero as lover – shifts into Enrique as firefighter, as cop, and as anyone desperately trying to help and to reassure. But the juxtaposition of pop and tragedy, grotesque as it is, works, because Iglesias himself is so lachrymose: his stagey chokes and moans and trembling lips mix into place smoothly alongside the real agony caught on tape. “I just wanna hold you… I just wanna hold you…” Iglesias murmurs at the end, exhausted and bereft. Romance turns into terror sex.
2. Spitfire And The Troubleshooters #1 (Brown/Morelli/Conway/Trimpe/Sinnott/Morgan/Roussos)
The New Universe was intended to be more ‘realistic’ than the main Marvel line – “the world outside your window” as the early editorials put it. In the comments to the first post in this series, Phil Sandifer reasonably asks how much of this was hastily added after the fact, perhaps to cash in on a vogue for gritty realism following the success of Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns.
For some of the New U titles, the relationship to ‘realism’ is obviously a very tenuous one. But there’s clearly something to it. Several comics read like attempts to solve puzzles, where the starting point is “the real world” and the end point is, say, “an Iron Man comic”. If you must do a comic about a powered exoskeleton, who is most likely to be building one?
Iron Man’s answer to this is – clear-sightedly for a 1963 comic – ‘arms manufacturers’. Spitfire And The Troubleshooters arrives at the same rough conclusion: a genius scientist is building it, the military want it. The wrinkle the comic adds is that it’s not about the genius scientist, who is killed off on page one. It’s about his daughter, an MIT Professor, who sets out to keep his final creation out of the hands of the military. With the help of five of her students, who essentially go on the lam with her.
Singing about going to be with God – about death and beyond – is a grand old hymnal and gospel topic. For those mired in trouble, misery and oppression, it’s one of the most powerful statements you can make: this world is not all there is. George Harrison, in 1970, was not mired in those things, no matter how high Mr Wilson and Mr Heath set their marginal tax rates. And he knew it – the original “My Sweet Lord”, written by a newly free singer on top of his professional world, is a surge of multi-faith ecstasy. Backing singers and the Chiffons come together – willingly or not – to take the strain off Harrison’s voice, and he builds a bridge to the hereafter out of a slide guitar solo.
Thirty-two years later, Harrison’s in the grave, and his song is at number one again. It comes reissued on a CD single with the original “My Sweet Lord” as the lead, but also a re-recording – “My Sweet Lord (2000)”. Laid down between the stabbing that didn’t kill him and the illness that did, it’s worth hearing and thinking about.
This is a blog about failure. Thirty years ago, Marvel Comics celebrated its 25th Anniversary by launching a “New Universe” – a start-up line of all-original comics, designed to… well, that depends who you ask. In theory, the New Universe was meant to reflect “the world outside your window”, returning to a level of ‘realism’ other Marvel comics had supposedly once had and lost. From the world outside Marvel’s window, it looked like a colossal vanity project – born of a need by Marvel’s then Editor-In-Chief, Jim Shooter, to prove a point to his critics: he was a creator, not just a brand manager.
In practise, once underway, both these aims were quickly scrambled. Marvel slashed the New Universe’s budget, and the grind of producing eight monthly comics on a shoestring soon became visible on the page. Within a year of its launch, Shooter was out of a job. This is a blog, after all, about failure, as it shows up in creative product: disappointing, mediocre, half-hearted, cruddy failure. It will also be about comics, and hype, and the 80s. At 13, a Marvel fan, I believed in the New Universe. Shooter’s very eighties pitch – that I would be “in on the ground floor” of something big – suckered me in. I have hardly ever been as excited as when the first issues of its titles trickled into a suburban British comic shop. And hardly ever as disappointed as when I read them. Some I dropped entirely, some I followed doggedly. At least one became a favourite, for a while. In among the failure may be some elements of success.
The Queen Of The Damned soundtrack, released later in 2002, is a fearful pile of tosh, a body count of nu-metal second-raters which illustrates a dilemma the film didn’t totally resolve: just which children of the night was this thing aimed at – nostalgic goths, or their snarling mallrat stepchildren? Through the film stepped Aaliyah, ignoring the question by offering a third option. Recently dead, a bigger star than ever, her immortal character moved like “More Than A Woman” sounded – seductively unnatural, a vision of skin and metal animated in Ray Harryhausen stop-motion.
This is our only meeting with Aaliyah, but it’s not a typical Aaliyah single: she didn’t make those, the smooth adaptability of her singing encouraging collaborators to push their margins. And speaking of collaborators, it’s also our first directly credit encounter with Tim Mosley, Timbaland, who took her as one of his muses. We’ve glimpsed Timbaland by reflection, via imitators and co-creators, and even here he’s occluded – co-writer Static Major heard the original “More Than A Woman” and felt he could do more with it.
Implicitly, it’s Static Major we have to thank for the song’s lushness, breaking off from Aaliyah’s two previous Timba-produced tracks, the playful “Try Again”, garlanded with acid squelches, and the bubbling, desperate paranoia of “We Need A Resolution”. Brilliant, but emotionally ugly and self-lacerating, that song had been only a modest hit. After finishing the vampire flick, Aaliyah shot a video in the Bahamas for a more conventional follow-up, gorgeous R&B sex jam “Rock The Boat”. She took a plane back to the States. It crashed on take-off. All nine aboard died.
It seemed appropriate to return to writing with a piece about the refurbed (although that’s an understatement) Fitzroy Tavern and my continuing love/hate relationship with Sam Smiths. Huge swathes of the pub writing on FT is about Sam Smiths back to, at least, sixteen years ago (Was our Pete the first pub blogger? Yes, yes he was) and six of our twenty five Pubs of the 00s were Sam Smith’s houses, but I’ve not set foot in one of their establishments for a couple of years and not been a regular visitor for much longer. This is partly having more money to spend on beer, partly the increase in excellent places to drink excellent beer in central London but mainly a disdain for Sam Smith’s actions as a company (and Humphrey Smith in particular), whether it was closing a pub on New Year’s Eve because the landlord was selling full pints, kicking people out of a Soho pub for kissing or just replacing the wheat beer glasses so they are pint to brim. And that’s before we get to the farcical situation in Tadcaster where the brewery objected to replacing a bridge (which they’ve just backed down from).
I’d heard that the Fitzroy had reopened after a year and then Eve’s blog post about Sam Smith’s popped up in my twitter feed (thanks Boak & Bailey!). So when we were deciding which pub to go to for our regular Friday evening drinks I suggested we met there.
“All magic — I repeat, ALL magic, with no exceptions whatsoever — depends on the control of demons. By demons, I mean specifically fallen angels. No lesser class can do a thing for you. Now, I know one such whose earthly form includes a long tongue. You may find the notion comic.”
“Let that pass for now. In any event, this is also a great Prince and President, whose apparition would cost me three days of work and two weeks of subsequent exhaustion. Shall I call him to lick stamps for me?”
— James Blish, Black Easter or Faust Aleph-Null (pub.Faber & Faber 1968, p.25-26 Penguin Edn, 1972)
A man discovers that recent deeds have created for him a fierce and a bitter enemy. Sinister events unfold and it becomes clear a fatal spell has been cast. If it is not lifted, the man will die, rather horribly. In the event, friends are able to help, forestalling the danger and defeating the terrible foe. Victory is theirs — but at cost of their best opinions of themselves. No longer can they quite self-describe as decent, rational, civilised, ‘modern’. They have become what they fought.
More Ghost Stories, the collection containing M.R.James’s ‘Casting the Runes’ was published in 1911; Life’s Handicap, the collection containing Rudyard Kipling’s ‘The Mark of the Beast’, was published in 1891. The short summary in the paragraph above accurately describes both stories.
I give a mark out of 10 to every entry. These polls are your chance to say which records YOU would have given 6 or more to. Not quite as many 2001 entries as the 2000 poll but still an awful lot. My 9s this year went to Destinys Child, So Solid Crew, and Kylie. DJ Otzi landed a 1. Over to you!
Robbie Williams quit a boy band because the grinning and flexing began to feel like a job, and feeling like a job meant feeling like a cage. He fled into pop stardom, and the cage followed. Rising up the TV ratings as “Somethin’ Stupid” topped the charts was Pop Idol, a show that was a four-month job interview for being a pop star, an announcement that the role was now a profession. And who was the blueprint for that these days? Who was the idol, the one with the X Factor? Nobody but Robbie. The Robbie of 1998, “Let Me Entertain You” and “Angels”, versatile, shining with charisma and desperate for love, was the model for what Reality TV spent the next decade hunting. He had wanted to do it his way: now his way was a template for sheer will-to-stardom. Meanwhile he looked for another jump. This time he went backwards: the swing era and the big bands.