Posts from July 2004
a new semi-regular thing rating the television presenters of current-day Britain
#1: MIKE “Weapons That Made Britain” LOADES
Mike Loades, according to a brief and slightly half-arsed Googling wot I just done, is a fight choreographer and weapons expert. From watching Weapons That Made Britain, I have also learnt that he looks a bit like Christopher Timothy. However, what is really important here is that Mike Loades is a man who really likes hitting things with sticks.
Not just sticks, mind. Swords, spears, lances (he really likes lances), it’s all gravy. This week’s edition of WTMB saw him hitting shields with things and, conversely, hitting things with shields. In what was actually a pretty entertaining and informative documentary about the story of the shield in British history, from the Saxons through to around the 1500’s, Mike found plenty of opportunities to hit shields with things. He got two or three shields specially made. Then he started launching himself at them with axes. Very big axes.
There was a segment where Mike got some volunteeers to attempt to learn the art of the Saxon shield wall. They had to do this in a clearing in a forest, partly for space and authenticity reasons, and partly because Mike also likes riding around on a big horse like a slightly more chivalrous Adam Hart-Davis (if Adam Hart-Davis shopped at River Island). There was much opportunity for Mike’s co-experts to tell people not to do that or they’d be killed. Mike walked up and down the line… “you have learnt what to do? You are confident as a unit now? So I could just jump into you at any point, and you’d hold steady?”
So he jumped into them and they held steady. “Good!”
Mike went on to illustrate the usage of shields by modern riot police, the shields’ effectiveness coming in their flexibility and ability to deflect blows, as well as maintaining the old Saxon formation of a wall of police with long shields locked together, with another unit of police designed to rush in and quell situations with smaller, buckler-type shields. A policeman demonstrated the flexibility of these shields by getting Mike to hold one while he whacked it in various places. Mike seemed a bit nervous about this.
However, the piece de resistance was the segment about duelling shields, purpose-built shields from the 15th century (I think), sort of shaped like a long, thin oval but with spikes on the end, and with notches cut out for hooking people around the leg and so on. He and his hapless assistant engaged in a reconstruction of one of these duels. Much whacking of shield upon shield until Mike noticed that he had an opening, said “aha, yes, but now you’ve left yourself open here, and so…” he hooked hapless assistant aroudn the leg and sent him crashing to the floor, then swiftly levelled the spike on the bottom of the shield at his face and intoned – “Endgame! Look at my face.”
It was wonderful, particularly considering we could have been watching Simply The Best instead. And after WTMB finished, we did. More on that later, possibly, but for now, Mike “Come And Feel My” Loades gets 8/10.
Weapons That Made Britain, Saturday 7:10 p.m., Channel 4
AN OBLIQUE AND I HOPE NON-RANCOROUS RESPONSE TO BLISSBLOG’s LONG NON-RANCOROUS RESPONSE to etc (zzz)
While tidying up at Stone Lanes, I reread Teach Mark S a Lesson: Louis Prima. As it’s set long ago, it doesn’t strictly speaking answer any argt which says “yes yes back in the 60s this situation obtained but now it doesn’t”; but I think it shd cast a doubt at least on the certainty that now it doesn’t/can’t (bcz there were underground-oriented tastemakers who were ‘but now it doesn’t” back then too, and they were WRONG, and not just abt rock etc).
Actually I’ve only had time to skim SR’s v.long and detailed reply (it’s Trig Brother in an hour!!) but this is at least to pick up on the idea that the “pop” free-lunch REQUIRES cutting-edge technologies/techniques. Old abandoned highpop techniques (= the technologies we no longer consider technologies) (technics is a good, more-general word) can often also deliver: is late 50s Las Vegas Cabaret an “underground”, a SOACA? Well, yes, maybe it IS in a way; but if so, then you have to admit that there are endless pockets of potential SOACA scattered all over the Corporate Machinery, now more than ever (and not just in cutting-edge communities: as marcello noted, repetition is NOT an utter cultural-capitalist evil; it may in fact be a major overlooked nurturing ground; the retreat from the hip as the escape from the demands of planned cultural obsolescence). And thrown up at (quasi)random they will have MORE power than if they reappear after being hunted down via the habits and cliches of any specific given critical microcommunity, no matter how smart or learned (in fact the smartness and learning may constitute a problem) (ie Prima encountered out of “nowhere” trumps most of the perhaps not-dissimilar stuff unearthed in the Incredibly Strange Music books); which is notoriously defanged by the semblance of “ironic appreciation” that project cloaked itself in) (possibly misleadingly, possibly a bit scaredycattily).
(All this depends on the assumption that market forces can deliver things at random: that they’re not just a mask for the 12-ft-lizard supercontrol of a ruling cabal: but justifying this will take us out of NYPLM and into PBS and besides i have a bus to catch and evictions to cheer)
WHAT ALIENS MIGHT BE LIKE pt something-or-other [isn’t this a PBS series?]
On the whole science fiction novelists are no more convincing (though maybe more inventive) than science fact dreamers. Frank Herbert is the exception.
POP FACTOR: 839 CONTROVERSY RATING:
“Was I ever in love? I called it love.
I mean, it felt like love.
There were moments when –
There were moments when.”
The Streets finally have indie cred here. Painfully hip fashionable stores (the kind that stock Vice magazine amongst the Vintage) play Mike Skinner’s music beside Adam Ant and “Jean Genie” era David Bowie, which always struck me as silly – there is nothing glamorous or artificial in his music. He is the perfect British novelist, someone who plumbs the banality and pathos of middle England.
The single makes me cry. I have heard people say that it tells the world that boys shouldn’t cry, and i think that this is a dangerous misreading. He is begging, of course, but he has to be beg – there is nothing left, she is going to go, and the desperation is palpable. The drying of eyes is not machismo bravado, but an honest recognition of the futility of the situation.
I cannot think of an American hip hopper (fuck that – I cannot think of an American musician) that engages in this kind of emotional vulnerability, you could argue Marshall Mathers, but he is blessed with a multiplicity of personae, there is only one the Streets, and his life is so indivisible from the life of both Mike Skinner and all of the lads that he represents. (Lad as romantic hero, instead of hooligan – a new trope?)
The best thing though is the honest use of cliches. The dialogue has a verisimilitude – who hasn’t had there mates use the line, there is plenty of fish in the sea, as an attempt to clear the debris of a broken relationship, or don’t cry – because there is nothing to cry about. Or how that muteness comes, and all you can say is I can’t say a word, or that calling for the chimera of trust.
Even the sung intervals, while not technically brilliant, are revelatory – the mark of good singing I think is finding what your limits are, and what the song requires and using that in tandem (which is why Courtney Love is a Great Singer and why Mariah Carey is a Poor Singer). Mr Skinner’s aching, broken, soft pleading is exactly what is needed here, the cradle of melancholy and dust is sadder then any of the lachrymose ballads that the American Idol crowd brings.
Aside from the singing? The introduction of strings as signifier of romantic ballad is a good notice of genre, so that there is no real time wasted with superfluous introductions, and then it almost becomes a capella, the drums and guitars providing a skeleton, nothing over the top, nothing in excess, just what needs to be said, and what is said is said very well. 10 (Anthony Easton)
Dry Your Eyes is a lover’s discourse. But you’d be mistaken to think Mike Skinner is singing to his soon to be ex-girlfriend. The whole point of the song is that he was never able to express himself, let her know how he really felt. Not when they loved each other and certainly not now when all falls apart. So now, when she’s ready to part, what little he is able to convey is through motion – the (right) words are still stuck in his brain. The only listener is you. I love how he’s able to use all the cliches to his advantage. That’s what love is: you’d be mistaken if you think what you feel is really original. It’s happened a million times before.
Dry Your Eyes is stacked up with cliches – from the “plenty more fish in the sea” to the weeping strings. But then that’s what makes you understand this love song: you hurt with him. You can take a song (and relationship) apart and try to find what really moves you to tears (or smiles). There’s never really one thing. So with Dry Your Eyes, it could be the lyrics, the way Mike Skinner sing-speaks’em, the strings, the shuffling beat,… I don’t know. Nor care. I just feel. 10 (Stevie Nixed)
There’s vulnerability in those imperceptibly important movements of the eyes and the hands, in that unending stretch of time between learning the truth and acting on it, in the rumpled double-tracked vocals of the chorus and bridge, in those precious young & restless weeping strings, in the solemn funereal drum machine beat, in that first moment when the knowledgable Streets fan realizes s/he might’ve mistakenly changed the channel from Lock, Stock… to Love Story, in hearing Mike Skinner actually sing (mewl, even) one of the hoariest cliches available (“there’s plenty more fish in the sea”), and in realizing that other cliche about cliches being cliches for a reason. You always find what you’re looking for in the last place you look. 10 (David Raposa)
In lesser hands, this would have been career sabotage. In fact, the whole idea of a rap opera involving a conceit as flimsy as a money-swallowing TV set (still not sure how that one works) should be the recipe for a disaster of “Kilroy Was Here” proportions. But it SO works. It’s always facinating, but rarely this successful, when a rapper takes the plunge. Like last year’s “Deliverance”, a hip-hop power ballad for the masses to sing in pubs and sports stadiums. “Goodbye Lucille #1” from both points of view. 10 (Henry Scollard)
Cynically released to cash in on British sporting teams going out in everything, Dry Your Eyes is not a typical single and offers no closure. A song for the dumped, we never get a song for the dumper. So we feel sorry for Mike (though fans of the album will also be aware that he has also wronged her). But it manages to articulate the incohate rage, the helplessness and the idiocy of the dumping situation. In the Grand Don’t Come For Free movie, there won’t be a dry eye in the
house. The song is for us as well. 9 (Pete)
When Spain was defeated in Euro 2004, the song that was rising in popularity in our country was Aventura’s “Obsesion”, whose chorus goes something like “no, it’s not love, what you feel is called obsession”. So Dry Your Eyes has absolutely nothing to do with Spain supporters’ feelings about our team, and anyway in order to do so it would have said “dry your armpits” instead. I can guess that we relate to football in a different way than english supporters do. But what really matters is that I can really relate to the song itself – I never imagined that the “there’s plenty more fish in the sea” cliché could be so touching – and I think it deserves all the praise and chart success it’s already getting. 9 (Diego Valladolid)
A videotape, rewound, replayed, over and over. Your fingernails are biting into your knuckles; you didn’t know they’d got that long, maybe it’s just that you’re gripping too tight.
You should stop that.
Except, right, this is the bit where she. And then-
You know the movements blind, by now, you must. You’ve repeated them, rewatched them, so many times your hands started to shape them in the air, his side, her side. Sign language. Turn the volume off, overdub it, reword the words, more convincing, more like what you ought to say.
Doesn’t matter; still ends the same.
Rewind, play. 9 (cis)
One problem with storytelling albums is that individual tracks can often work less well as singles, out of the logical and emotional context of their story, and this does indeed lose some impact. Still, it’s interesting to consider it as a single track – would we associate this with UK garage or hip hop if we’d heard nothing else by him? Strummed acoustic guitars, weak singing, talking about your unsatisfactory love life – I imagine I’d be thinking indie, perhaps the territory of, say, Arab Strap, notwithstanding some quiet electronic beats late on. Still, there are some very strong and wonderfully evocative lyrics in this (not least the opening lines), and obviously having and knowing the album I have the benefit of context so I find it easy to like, but I wouldn’t think it will find him a lot of new fans. 8 (Martin Skidmore)
I like Dry Your Eyes, I listen to it on my minidisc all the time. There’s a noisy office person at work who likes having an audience to talk at. He’s this scary looking tough guy, facial expression always says ‘you got a problem?’ and he likes to talk about the muggings and robberies that have happened in his neighbourhood over the weekend. It’s really funny hearing this guy going on and on in his Brummie accent: ?I mean, I mean, if they say hand it over, I’m gonna hand it over, y’know what I’m saying?! I ain’t gonna argue, no sir!?
He also likes to talk music. I once heard him say the name ‘Joss Stone’ at least five times in a single sentence. Anyway, yesterday he walks up to the coffee machine, and you know what he was whistling really loud? Dry Your Eyes. I mean, what’s that all about? Dry Your Eyes isn’t something you’d whistle, is it? Is it? I like listening to Dry Your Eyes, but it’s not exactly chirpy or cheerful, so you can’t really whistle to it, right? Or turn it into a dodgy ringtone either? 8 (Bushra)
It feels weird to hear this outside of the context of “A Grand Don’t Come For Free”, much more so than it did with “Fit But You Know It”; it feels like a clip from a classic movie or something. 7 (Daniel Reifferscheid)
It’s got a sweet sentiment, I kinda like it for that. I can’t really imagine sitting back and listening to it though, and maybe it is a little too much like some guy talking over advert music. 6 (Jel)
Hard to begrudge the love expressed for this song by most here. But I just don’t share the feeling. It’s not me, not my life – not that that’s a pre-requisite for my enjoyment of a song (indeed perhaps it’s more a complaint…to have loved and lost in this way suggests a life well lived, possibly), but I’m having trouble even recognizing it as a good song. Good like Dido? Good like Coldplay? Somewhere between poignant and trite for sure, and either way somewhat painful to listen to.
The strings are not particularly tingle-inducing, the guitar link not particularly heart-tugging, we’re used to Skinner’s audaciously semi-drawn speak/sing method at least, and usually it’s entertaining. Here I’m not so sure.. Maybe it’s the eagerness of people to mention the ease, pre-meditated perhaps, at which this song can be tacked on to accompany sports highlights or whatever i.e. DYS hell. As happy as I am that Skinner has scored a #1 hit with this, I’m also a little disappointed because I think it’s his weakest, most unimaginative single thus far. 5 (Steve Mannion)
“I’ll wager xwaxboz quatloos on the newcomer“: [v.long post alert]
Aliens in SF movies are mostly humans in rubber suits for a good practical reason. But since humans read books to find out about themselves, aliens in SF novels are mostly humans in quasi-rubber suits, too. The races in Larry Niven’s Known Space stories – the Kzinti, the Puppeteers, the Outsiders etc – are carefully non-human by look, but the embodiment as a culture of some human characteristic hugely amplified (Puppeteers = genetic cowards; Kzinti = too brave fr their own good etc). The Mesklinites in Hal Clement’s 1954 proto-New Wave classic Mission of Gravity are physiologically non-human – supertough little centipedes on a variable-gravity planet, comfortable at more than 200 earth gravities: the book is about cultural differences, but really the gap is that between a 21st-century human scientist-astronaut and a (let’s say) 10th-century human trader-explorer: Barlennan, the captain of the Mesklinite sea-vessel, is at least as clever as the humans he’s encountered, in many ways more courageous, extremely psychologically shrewd – he’s a kind of pirate-businessman after all – but just not learned enough to make the most of the encounter. He’s totally recognisable, though, culturally: Clement keeps reminding us he’s not human (“Barlennan extended his pincers in a smile”) but you forget just as quickly. It’s hard not to see him and his crew as humanesque centipeople.
The master of non-human alien characters is Frank Herbert, of course: and the pinnacle of his invention his two novels about the ConSentiency, his (far more demanding and subtle) take on Niven’s Known Space concept: Whipping Star and The Dosadi Experiment. The ConSentiency is the galactic society in which humans mix with Wreaves, Laclacs, Chithers, Preylings, Soborips, Palenki, Taprisiots, the Pan Spechi, the Gowachin and Calebans. Some of these are humanesque physically – the Pan Spechi specifically adopt this form – but Herbert works hard to create non-human cultures, bcz these stories are primarily about the drama of encounter with alien logics.
Dosadi is the second: it begins as a thriller about Dosadi, a prison planet whose occupants (despite being mixed-species) have deliberately been kept unaware of the existence of the rest of the galaxy. Dosadi is like the Gaza Strip mixed with Hongkong times a million: extremely brutal in conditions and spartan in resources; incredibly high-density in population. As a result the inhabitants, by Darwinian and Hobbesian cultural pressure, are vicious survivalist warriors-for-the-self, fiercely streetwise – so quick to read each other that to offworlders they seem telepathic – and they’re just about to be unleashed into the civilised settlement. Except at this point, oddly and intriguingly, the story switches away to a trial: those who set up this horrible experiment are to face judgment. The protagonist is McKie, a human (with a twist but I’m skipping many plot complications); but the court is Gowachin. The Gowachin are a highly civilised and cultured but also ruthless Frog-people: basic to their culture is the moment in child-development when Dad jumps into the tadpole pool and culls his tad-kids, so that only the smartest and swiftest survive. This adds a certain charge to proceedings: the court – or Court-Arena, as it’s more accurately known – is a bloody place, where advocates’ live are forfeit, and where judges can be killed as part of the, um, argument. The Gowachin prefer drama, subtlety and innovation to the establishment of mere truth: it’s a Nietzschean legal system, you might say. Anyway, the upshot is, that you read to the climax of this tale – and I’ve read it dozens of times – and it’s exciting and hugely entertaining and certainly feels like closure, and yet (actually) I don’t yet grasp Herbert’s (or the Gowachin’s) logic.
With Whipping Star, this goes double. Again there’s a good thriller plot: the Calebans are the aliens who brought the Jumpdoor to the ConSentiency (which allow you to travel across space in a moment, to wherever you want). Calebans have come under threat (more plot complications omitted), are dying or vanishing: and if they all go (or die) everyone from any species who used a jumpdoor (which is nearly everyone, countless trillions blah blah) will also die. The Consentient “World” – this galactic federation of species and cultures – will end in a moment. So far so James Spacebond obv: but what makes this one of my favourite books ever is the character of the Caleban, as she communicates and flirts with McKie. Calebans are VERY ALIEN INDEED (we learn how so in the denouement of the book); and the fun is the tricksiness of translation across cultural differences which really ARE differences [long extract follows, for flavour] .
“Connectives possess aspect of this constant you seek,” said the Caleban.
“What are connectives?”
“– referents!” McKie stormed. “Then why use the term?”
“Term approximates. Tangential occlusion another term expressing something similar.”
“Tangential occlusion,” McKie muttered. Then, “Tangential occlusion?”
“Fellow Caleban offers this term after discussion of problem with Laclac sentient possessing rare insight.”
“One of you talked this over with a Laclac, eh? Who was this Laclac?”
“Identity not conveyed, but occupation known and understandable.”
“Oh? What was his occupation?”
McKie exhaled a long held breath, shook his head with bewilderment. “You understand – dentist?”
“All species requiring ingestion of energy sources must reduce such sources to convenient form”
“You mean they bite?” McKie asked.
“I thought you understood dentist!”
Etc. There’s lots of this stuff (which I adore) and here the Caleban is relatively comprehensible. In fact I don’t think she’s ever just talking gibberish: I think Herbert could justify every sentence, every idea, every superweird round-the-houses locution. I think inventing a character both coherent (in the sense that you intuit an inner logic) and this alien (you just can’t lay the logic out, even after you entirely know what the Caleban is and why she sees the world the way she does) is a fantastic achievement. Whipping Star would be a terrific film, and actually it needn’t even be an expensive one (except for all the rubber suits).
Beware the floating eye — this book about the symbolism found in the various elements of the US dollar bill is sorta good, sorta not. There’s a lot of basic history about the design of the bill which is very interesting, along with details about the evolution of the Great Seal of the United States over the years, good easy reading stuff that leaves you a little more informed than before. But everything about the pyramid design of the letter A and the word America and the lines through the eyes and noses and slanting alongside letters and all that? It’s great if you love Freemasonry conspiracy, I guess — and trust me, they’re in here too. Still, on balance I’d rather read this than The Da Vinci Code.
NEW ORDER — Technique
I actually posted this all over on ILM but I couldn’t decide whether here or there was the best place to put it. So I split the difference.
POP THE VOTE activists deplore ROCKIST PRESENTATIONAL ADVICE:
“Kerry obviously will never be a natural orator of Bill Clinton and Barak Obama caliber,” argues PolBlogger Billmon, “but there are some things he could do that would help a lot, one of them being to cut the hand gestures – those short, jerky motions that make him look like an automaton – about in half. Fortunately, his gestures became more fluid as he warmed up, but for the first ten minutes or so he looked like he was dancing to a Devo tune.” Self Disorganising Androidal Observers disagree: “He shd have moonwalked,” chirred NYLPM spokesbots Tik and Tok. “Spastically.”
Appliance Anniversary OK the list of wedding anniversaries is well known to be a bit lame – paper/cotton/fruit etc etc. – but Wedding Guide UK’s updated SPEND-MORE-MONEY-PLEASE list of ‘modern anniversaries’ is simply mental. “Oh darling, we’ve been married seven blissful years, here is the gift I have bought you for our Desk Sets Anniversary“.
Fans of Canadian publicly-funded TV might recognise Cosmic Odyssey, the Bill Shatner-narrated science series on the BC Open University’s Knowledge Network. The most recent installment was “Extreme Astronomy”, about “high-energy cataclysms in space and the people who track them down”. The visuals were good, the cosmic rays looked like Aquafresh. The writers had a bit of fun with Captain Jim by making him attempt to make gamma-ray bursts interesting despite the fact that “luckily, they’re not dangerous”. However if you watched all the way to the VERY end the value of these things were revealed in that they caused mutations and thus might make us eventually evolve into another species! I was watching this very stoned on BC bud with some old people so I immediately flashed on that 2001 scene where he sees himself aged 103, and as if that wasn’t enough for the paranoia to kick in the next show was about these Canadian immigration cops grabbing people (“we like to get ’em when they’re going about their business completely unawares!”), then interrogating them with demoralizing questions (lots of closeups of squirming suspects) before inevitably sending them back to Jamaica. The pigs were really evil (“our enemy is the public”) and the filmmakers cleverly left you in the dark as to what the suspects actually did, making it even more claustrophobic! One of the names in the credits was “Michelle Hozer”. If you’re in BC and you want to check out some science programs or just get weird you could do worse than channel 7, as Bill says, “It’s so paradoxical, it’s almost alien. Whether it scrambles our chromosomes, or gives us…something!”