Posts from 9th February 2004

Feb 04

Cheer Up Matt!

FT + New York London Paris MunichPost a comment • 216 views

Cheer Up Matt!: my off-the-cuff definition wasn’t meant to exclude anybody from anything, it was just a marketing thing really. I might as well have said that everything with a distribution deal creates an ‘imagined community’ (and of course it’s not an either/or thing – it’d be easy to name loads of records that are made within communities and then take on a wider pop life beyond anyone’s control. “If anyone else likes it, it’s a bonus”, to coin a phrase). I think I shouldn’t have set “imagined” against “real” though – “known” would have been better.

I don’t find the idea of “imagined communities” depressing or divisive. At the extreme a record made for such a beast would be released like a message in a bottle, with no idea of who might or might not buy it or even know about it. Of course that never happens: the marketing departments of labels big and small strain around the clock to make sure records reach people who will appreciate them (& hand over cash). But the idea(l) of it appeals to me. Pop is like a never-ending series of SETI searches – somewhere out there might be a bunch of people who will like that or relate to this, and the record acts as a probe to find them, to open communications. (It’s a bit like doing a blog, in fact.) Of course, the imagined community might not exist, but the hope is always there that it does.

Thirty years ago the most commonly found sort of restaurant here in Northeastern Mississippi was the catfish and steak house

Pumpkin PublogPost a comment • 405 views

Thirty years ago the most commonly found sort of restaurant here in Northeastern Mississippi was the catfish and steak house. A half-dozen in every county, all pretty much identical right down to the menu: burgers and fried shrimp for the kids, four or five steak choices, a pitiful salad bar, and the real reason everyone was there, catfish ‘ whole or fillet, deep fried. The quality of the steaks could vary wildly, but the restaurant lived or died by its fish and its hushpuppies.

In these simpler years before fast food and pizza chains got the foothold they now enjoy, when the matriarch of the family couldn’t stand to look one more blackeyed pea or pan of cornbread in the face without thoughts of killing her husband, everybody loaded up and headed for their favorite fish house. The County Barn, The Friendship House, Lackey’s, The Country Squire ‘ these stood in for local pubs, which didn’t and still don’t exist here. It was at Lackey’s in 1969 that I got my start on the path of gluttony or gourmandism, depending on your viewpoint: I ate seven whole catfish (and french fries, hushpuppies and cole slaw) while owner Iladean Lackey and my alarmed/amused parents watched. I was five years old.

The fish houses are still there, I’m happy to report, but something else is starting to dot the local landscape: the Chinese buffet. From about 1978, when the House of Kong first opened in Tupelo, we foothill folk have been crazy about our Americanized Chinese food. In the experimental early years, oddities like Seafood Birds Nest were available, but the menus have settled into easy predictability ‘ General Tso’s Chicken, Beef with Broccoli, Hot and Sour Soup that’s not as hot as you used to be able to get it ‘ served buffet style on line after line of steam tables, along with pizza, french fries and macaroni and cheese for the oldtimers who don’t go for that furrin stuff.

The fact that Amory, Mississippi, a town of 6500 mostly-conservative souls, can support two Chinese buffets marks a real sea-change in the region’s eating habits. The extent of it hit home two nights ago when my mother, almighty sick of peas and cornbread, called up and said, “We’re going to Hunan, want to meet us there?”

There is only one question we need to ask about School Of Rock

Do You See + FTPost a comment • 523 views

Is it also a school of Rockism? There was always going to be that difficult moment in the film where Jack Black introduces the kids to his pride and joy, RAWK MUSIC. What music do the kids like already? Difficult moment.

Christina Aguleira? Bad moment, Jack makes a face.
Puff Daddy? Good call, everyone hates him.
Liza Minelli? Ah, its a gay joke. Phew we are back on track.

For a movie that should be all about why Rock music is better than all other forms of art ever (the critical rockist consensus after all), The School Of Rock is surprisingly tolerant of the rest of the world. What destroyed rock music? Why MTV of course. This argument is good, but since it is not expounded on we don’t get corollaries like rap music, or radio narrowcasting. Instead we get to see Jack Black making a tit of himself whilst playing the greatest air guitar album in the world. It even makes an interminable jam, the worst part of rock, look enjoyable as it plays under the credits. You’ll walk out with a stupid grin.

The Grifters – Jim Thompson

The Brown WedgePost a comment • 796 views

The Grifters – Jim Thompson

Thompson understands tragedy. He understands that sometimes entertainment should hurt, should annoy. That truth, for a cynical world, lies in cruelty rather than the easy fix of happy ever after. Why is happy ever after such a fix? Because it is such a fake.

I have never seen the film of the Grifters, which is odd considering how much I like Stephen Frears and John Cusack. I am glad I read the book first. A brief, one sitting piece of pulp, it is notable for nothing actually happening for the first hundred and fifty pages. This is especially notable considering the book one has 185, and fits in a tricksy double (nay triple) cross in its eventual story. I can see how it could attract film makers with its strong characters and how-to-be a conman ethos. But I can also see how its very lack of story would need reconstructing from the ground up. I’ll see it in a couple of weeks and let you know on Do You See how they did.

Back to tragedy though. Thompson’s milieu is sleazy, bent con artistes, bunco boys and girls. An easy place to find tragedy, one might think, an easy place where tragedy is the order of the day. The point is that there are no victims, only the grifters themselves. All of whom are the ultimate victims. The whole may be plea for nature vs nurture, but it could equally be a shrug of disinterest. Count yourselves lucky, Thompson says to his suburban audience, you don’t live like this. And perhaps the reason The Grifters stands out in a market full of conman fiction is the piece where the lead actually does a days honest work. Not just honest work, but the dull, monotony of working out systems, SYSTEMS, for other salesmen to work by. Thompson knows who his audience is, and for a brief period he flatters us. For the end of the book we are there, in with LEAD, willing that he would give up the life of a scam artist to aspire to the greater, better, more satisfying life of middle-management. Like I say, Thompson understands tragedy. there is the tragedy in the book, and the tragedy of realisation of the reader when he too realises that for a glorious second he too has been conned into believing his life is better too.