Posts from August 2003
Isn’t it a cliche about tradespersons homes being the worst places to see evidence of their skill? Electricians and plumbers are known for having death-trap exposed wires and dogdy pipes as much as they are for being tapped up by bored housewives when they’re on the job? Presume something similar holds for most trades in this respect; maybe bakers make crap bread at home, or just buy it from the supermarket.
Bus drivers drive badly in their own cars. My dad took years to get a fence put around the back garden, whilst my mum always you to be far more slapdash when doing my hair than her customers. She also used to give me a clip round the ear if I didn’t keep my head still which was simply because she could, whereas the little darlings in her shop got a sweet smile for annoying behaviour.
I’ve just finished The Athenian Murders by Jose Carlos Somoza. I’d read a review in The Guardian which compared it to The Name of the Rose which is my favourite novel (currently read it 9 times) so I went out and bought it straight away. It was difficult to get into to begin with, so it remained on my bedside for a year before I bit the bullet and took it with me on a mini break to Dorset.
The story is interesting enough, but the really noodle-baking aspect is the dual story being told by the translator in the story who is working on an original Greek text and who produces the English text we read above. In English, I suspect that it has a greater effect, since the book was originally written in Spanish, so we’re reading a translation of a book which is about a translator and a text. As a result, it took me a few pages to work out that the translator referred to is a character, not a note from the actual translator of the English version.
As the story progresses, the translator’s notes become more involved leading to a novel way of reading; the flow of the Greek translation is broken by reading the notes. In some chapters, I read the footnote immediately; in others, I read the translation then went back and read the notes. It didn’t feel gimmicky though and led to an enthralling read, which it goes without saying I couldn’t put down*. There were plenty of gasps of surprise, and it’s a very good whodunnit too, not to mention whydunnit and whatthefucksgoingonandwhatsactuallybeenduninthefirstplace. Recommended.
* – Admittedly, Dorset seems a good place to get lost in a book, since rival distractions on Portland were few and far between.
evazev (5:37:19 pm): haha there is a new detective series starting tonight called “rosemary and thyme”
evazev (5:39:04 pm): “horticulturalist rosemary boxer and cheated wife laura thyme investigate when [boilerplate plot ensues]”
s*cette66 (5:39:14 pm): ?????!!
evazev (5:39:19 pm): i shall certainly watch that!!
evazev (5:39:40 pm): worst series title ever?
s*cette66 (5:39:58 pm): when do bobby parsley and sage mcdonald show up?
evazev (5:40:29 pm): the bbc shd do a spoiler series
evazev (5:41:32 pm): “former aromatherapist jessica liver and cripped high-wire-artist onions beauregard…”
s*cette66 (5:43:00 pm): haha
s*cette66 (5:44:47 pm): ” recovering alcoholic cop billy ‘piss’ pyztcywizc and ace reporter tammy vinegar…”
evazev (5:41:32 pm): this is a goldmine
(mark s was in conservation with tokyo rosemary)
(A better sense of the inside of West’s head could be gleaned from the photographs of the interior of 25 Cromwell Street, published in the Guardian colour supplement with an extract from Burn’s book, back when it was just coming out in 1998. As a professional builder, decorator and electrician, West was apparently in demand: but – to judge by these picture – the work he did on his own home, left for so long to his own designs, was a nightmare of unfinished, bodged bleakness. A choke of anti-sensual nothing, incapable of settling or reflecting, for fear of what might gaze back.)
There was a two-part doc on Channel 5 which made a claim about them I didn’t remember, so I picked up Gordon Burn’s Happy Like Murderers: the True Story of Fred and Rosemary West again. I quite quickly remembered why I disliked it so much the first time: Burn borrows the device Emlyn Williams used so effectively in his 1967 Moors Murderers book Beyond Belief, and re-uses it, badly. Williams’s book is a collage of fact, guesswork, the cliched speech of the locality (working-class Manchester, 40s-60s) and snatches from pop songs; Burn’s book, three times as long, is the same. Williams has an exceptional ear, for how a shared phrase can speak utterly differently in different mouths: Burn turns the whole region (rural working-class Gloucester and environs, 40s-90s) into a featureless mulch. Williams gives a sense of a community, lively as well as limited, and what the killers – self-declared hipsters – shared with it and did to it. You slog through Burn’s overlong, disastrously organised book feeling that the author can’t and won’t distinguish between the Wests and the entire West Country all round them: that he’s indicting everyone equally, the time, the place, the police, the poor, caravans, immigrants, fashion, pornography, mankind. One reason for the difference may be this: Brady was a voracious reader, and therefore never so distant – in one sense – from any writer imagining his inner life; West was functionally illiterate (he could write, but only barely, and didn’t read). Which may make West far more alien to the book-proud than any of his crimes. Another reason may just be that Burn isn’t that good.
I’d heard glowing recommendations from a couple of friends, so had to try Lorrie Moore. It’s a long time since I’ve read a novel so satisfying on every scale and level.
Her use of words is bright and playful, her sentences sharp and sweet and often very funny, the ideas they make up are original and full of intelligence and feeling, an all too rare mix of qualities. She combines sharp wit with genuine emotion, mostly understated and often ironically or obliquely expressed, but still unmistakeably deep. The way she can write something that makes you sad and makes you laugh, not in separate sections but at the very same instant, is a particularly rare skill, needing the finest control and judgement – this reminded me a little of the undervalued (too popular, I think) Larry McMurtry, an old favourite.
I guess most of my favourite contemporary novelists are Postmodernists, especially those playing with form and notions of realism. This novel starts with four chapters, taking up a quarter of the book, that put a few characters through four permutations, shuffling and remixing their lives and relationships and jobs. The rest is one more mix – my guess (supported by the text to some extent, but never stated outright) is that this longer section is the novel’s ‘reality’, and the others are fantasies, thought-experiment life-anagrams composed by the protagonist Benna, often for comfort and consolation. This is a daring and fresh way of getting at the hopes and dreams and fears of your character, a way into her character that is incisive and new, an exciting and disorienting conceit.
Thrillingly, a quick bit of googling suggests that this, her first novel, which I found remaindered just a couple of weeks ago here in London, is far less well regarded than any of her other books. The others must be astonishing…
Those who bet on microhouse in the 2003 microgenre deathpool can officially kiss their wagers goodbye. The top of this year’s class — Audision’s “First Contact,” Luomo’s “What Good,” Ricardo Villalobos’ “Easy Lee,” Ada’s “Believer,” Anders Ilar’s “Coastline,” Luciano & Quenem’s “Orange Mistake,” Mikkel Metal’s “Lowfour Rmx,” Jonas Bering’s “Normandie 1,” Mathew Jonson’s “Typerope,” the Modernist’s “Silicon Minor,” Dimbiman’s “V,” Sten’s “Part Three,” Benjamin Wild’s “You Never,” Rod Modell’s “Solar Cross,” Horror Inc’s “The Sentinel,” Krikor’s “Peeping Tom,” Robag Wruhme’s “Beatkutter,” M.I.A.’s “Milchreiter,” Pleite’s “Pleite,” Jabberjaw’s “Girlfriend” – has been just as terrific and lingering as any other, if not more so. The lack of stagnation, along with the fact that we’re at least five years away from ‘Do You Remember Microhouse?,’ means that the engine isn’t likely to sputter any time soon. Just as important: Every couple weeks or so, something has squeaked out from the woodwork that has stuck out from everything else. The majority of those responsible are also DJs, and you can sense that they are studying and revering their peers’ releases while being pushed into new directions.
Take Matthew Dear’s ‘Dog Days,’ a single off Leave Luck to Heaven, my album of the year thus far. None of the other tracks primed for the definitive microhouse box are quite as singsongy and springboard-buoyant as this one. There’s a steady loose-limbed swing and a periodic Moodymann-gone-teutonic jack to it that might put it somewhere between Herbert and Perlon, if it must be placed somewhere for context’s sake. Dear’s baritone, tightly tailgated by Dear’s near-falsetto, rides the contours of a mass of wriggling keyboard tendrils, stabs of synthetic trumpet and a clipped vocal sample (more like an attenuated millisyllable ground into hiccups). Dear’s voices repeat a four-line nursery rhyme of his own making several times over, and I couldn’t extract it from my head if I wanted to. It’s as contagious as “Hark Hark the Dogs Go Bark,” and the music accompanying it provides enough of a unique thrill alone.
DARKSTAR! Nope, I haven’t been down the Intrepid Fox for a few cider and blacks but instead have found a SUPER new ALE called Darkstar Hophead. From Darkstar Brewery (strike ONE!), located somewhere in ANSTY (sounds like angsty => strike TWO) it can supply a superb nights pleasant drinking. We’d started in Brixton and had a horrific pint of BASS in every Street Drinkers favourite pub, The Goose on Brixton High Street, and then moved across to the next cheapest pub. O no Wetherspoons O no I hear you cry but FEAR NOT!!! The Darkstar guest beer on tap was almost ridiculously fruity, imagine a pint of Pride crossed with a packet of
Opal FruitsStarbursts (keep the faith).
I do have a soft spot for street drinker pubs. You can generally keep yourself to yourself, the drinks are cheap and the lack of atmosphere leads less to the horrible uncomfortable feeling of sitting around like a nonce, rather a quite nice neutrality which can only improve. Which is more than I can say for a recent trip to The York on Islington High Street before a trip to go and see PIRATES in the Warner Village. After striding into the pub and ordering a pre-emptive RHUM I found myself sitting in the hem hem WASTELAND (tseliot ref there). But not to worry, it could improve when I was joined by companions… and then at 5.45 my ears were graced with the precense of Reel 2 Reel feat. Mad Stuntman. HUrrah! I thought, Rave On Feel the… hold on this is a bit bluddy loud… OW MY EARS MY EARS!
And then they started playing it again!
We soon put in a hasty retreat to the Red Lion Theatre Bar on the opposite side of Angel station, but more to come on that later…
…and thus needs not the minor pleasure that links can provide but I’m going to link him anyway because he’s saying some interesting stuff, about genres and lulls and scenes and Freaky Trigger’s particularly poptimistic stance. Which I think he (ever so slightly) mischaracterizes: I completely agree that genres swing from good to bad, even yes even my lovely bubblegum pop. Last year was a ‘lull’ in ‘manufactured’ pop taken as a genre — Girls Aloud and Justin and Lene Nystrom and TaTu and, yes, Busted have made ’03 a very satisfying year so far but there wasn’t anything very special coming along in 2002, or 2001 for that matter. The early and mid 90s weren’t great either. And only Justin feels momentous in the way that the Spice Girls or Britney or the Monkees were.
(It’s dead easy to spot momentous pop acts because they’re the ones that inspire pieces like the Alex Ross / Sasha Frere-Jones essays that kicked this whole thing off.)
(I think we can sadly conclude that TaTu have blown it, magnificent though the records were. Trevor Horn must have signed some devilish long ago pact whereby no hit band he produces can have more than 3 or 4 great singles before collapsing into acrimony or despond. The Buggles, ABC, Frankie, Propaganda, TaTu — one stunning LP and then the fallout. Watch out Belle And Sebastian! But that’s another story.)
What I do believe though is that the overall quality of the pop charts, with their bubbling mix of genres, remains much the same, and that the more music you get the opportunity to hear the more good music you will hear. Given these two factors each year seems better than the last to me. That’s what I’ve generally meant when I’ve suggested that ‘pop’ in the wider sense has no lulls. If you increase the scale of your scanner wide enough, even the biggest revolutions or genre-quakes seem less important.
It’s kind of a Gaian view of pop — a vast macro-organism of consumption whose surface fluctuations can be beautiful or devastating to people near the epicentre of a ‘pop event’ (UK garage, or 80s Amerindie, or even punk) but meaningless elsewhere. Sometimes there’s a Krakatoa which really does fuck up the pop biosphere, but it’s much rarer than genreologists might have you believe.
But to extend the metaphor, can’t there be serious shifts in this ‘biosphere’ which might lead to genuine, macro-scale decline, shifts that ‘popists’ might ignore, the pop equivalent of climate change. Yes, is the answer, but they’re gradual, to do with the ways music is distributed and disseminated before they’re to do with its content. The transformation of music to digital data is one big shift (cf K-Punk). The globalisation and centralisation of pop creation and broadcast is another.
What I don’t buy though is the idea (hinted at by Reynolds) that by boosting pop at the expense of ‘underground’ musics pro-pop writers are automatically bolstering the forces behind this latter shift. A Timberlake song is a Timberlake song, but it’s treated very differently by his record company, by Clear Channel, by Freaky Trigger and by an FT reader sharing it on Soulseek, though all of them are ‘promoting’ it in some way. What used to compromise some areas of pop music was that in order to consume it you pretty much had to give money to somebody who you might have felt didn’t deserve it: that is no longer a necessity.
I’ve got far away now from anything Jess was talking about. I will say though that I liked and was flattered by his assessment of what I (and NYLPM I hope) do well — the Alan Bennett of popcrit is a far from terrible thing to be. More tea, Vicar?
The only reason I went to see Confidence was because it was raining. That, and hopefully seeing the film in full might wipe clean the stain of its fucking annoying trailer. Edward Burn saying “that’s confidence!” as if he has something to be confident about. Not Rachel Weisz’s accent for one (a shakey amalgam of Kensington and New Jersey which gives the film some of its unexpected highlights). I don’t really understand Edward Burns appeal, though my female companion seem happily sated by his somewhat blank presence. I did not care for his character, which was fine because this is a conman film. Everyone double crosses everyone including the audience in conman films which means that since any likable character ends up bad there is no real investment. And since most conman films turn on implausible or out of character tricks you nearly always end up feeling cheated.
Actually, there is one thing that Confidence has on many of its rivals. Unlike the selection of heist films of the previous year (The Score and Heist in particular) Confidence plays it pretty honest. Despite the voice-over, the scam makes sense and very few people swap sides, excepting those you can already predict. The film is fair with its internal clues, and even parts that annoy you since our decidedly unomniscient narrator would not know about them soon resolve themselves. So if you like a little set of nested logic problems, Confidence won’t annoy you unduly. It is just the presence of Ed Burn in the middle that will; considering the wealth of great supporting talent orbiting around this relatively empty space. I want to see Donal Logue and Luis Guzman’s bent cops again – these are the actors with real confidence in this film. Probably about twenty lines each, and the steal the entire film.
And the cinema was dry.