Posts from 26th October 2004

Oct 04

Rock, Paper, Scissors

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Rock, Paper, Scissors

There’s a great article on this game (which had its world championships recently) here, explaining how it isn’t as artificial a situation as you might think – it describes a set of dice where over a number of ‘highest roll wins’ rounds, A beats B, B beats C and C beats A!

The Essential Essentials

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I did a ‘pick of the Trojan box sets’ over at ILM, which went down pretty well, then someone on I Love Comics asked for a similar view on the Marvel Comics Essential volumes (5-600 pages of vintage comics in B&W on cheap paper for about ’11, so extraordinary value when a 24-page comic costs around ‘2!), so since I’m even more familiar with them than with reggae CDs (and I freely admit to a bias towards the older stuff – I think Kirby and Ditko haven’t been equalled since)…

1. Fantastic Four #3 – Jack Kirby at his absolute peak, featuring Galactus, Silver Surfer, Black Panther, Inhumans, and a great fake-Thing story after the cosmic epic.
2. Howard The Duck – some of my favourite comics writing of all time, by Steve Gerber, and one of my favourite individual stories in ‘What Do You Do The Day After You Save The Universe’ – see above for FF parallels!
3. Spider-Man #1&2 – absolutely magnificent Steve Ditko art. The scene where he is trapped under some huge iron machinery with water dribbling down is one of my favourite ever series of panels.
4. Fantastic Four #1&2 – you’ll enjoy 3 more if you read these first, and even the early ones, stupid stories and all (sometimes more stupid than you would imagine possible, e.g. the Skrulls in original-issue 2), are fabulous.
5. Dr Strange – the stories aren’t all very interesting, but no one has ever drawn magic or weird other realms as gorgeously as Ditko.
6. Avengers (there are four so far), especially #1, for some more prime Kirby and the persistently undervalued Don Heck, and the very moving return of Captain America in original-issue 4.
7. X-Men #1 (original run) – very variable quality, but a lot of the foundations of much of the Marvel Universe today is here, and there are a few great issues. I love the Juggernaut’s origin in particular.
8. Captain America – the old WWII tales are pretty dull, but full of magnificent Kirby. The Red Skull origin, where he has Cap tied up, is some of his very best work, showing his mastery of quiet moments and body language as well as the action he is more usually praised for.
9. Thor – some of Kirby’s mightiest and most bombastic art, though warning: quite a lot from really limp artists and crap stories early on.
10. Tomb Of Dracula #1&2 – beautiful Gene Colan art, and hilariously wrong UK locations and lingo (“Come on you blithers!” being my favourite). Volume 3 is due soon, and will be as good.

I wish I’d had room for Ant-Man too – not one of their top stars, but a lot of this is terrific (some fine Kirby, and Heck’s best ever work, for me), and it’s material far less reprinted than FF, Spidey, X-Men and so on. I recently learnt that there is a Defenders (Hulk, Dr Strange and the Sub-Mariner team up, basically) one coming – if they start at the beginning, I’ll be buying it mostly in the hope of encouraging a volume 2, which could collect all of the fantastic Gerber run, probably my favourite superhero comics ever that weren’t by Kirby, Ditko or Grant Morrison.

More John Peel

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More John Peel

I think it was 1975 when I started listening to Peel. I’ve been on and off ever since, sometimes hardly missing a show for months on end, sometimes going equally long without hearing one. Even when I wasn’t listening, it meant something that he was still there. At a rough estimate, I have spent something like four to five thousand hours of my life listening to the Peel show on Radio 1.

It’s astonishing to think how much of my music collection is down to him. I’d been out at lunchtime and the one CD I bought was by Dillinja, someone who I’d first heard on Peel – and indeed it was Peel who first played jungle on BBC radio. And hardcore before it. As well as the punk and indie and rock stuff with which he is most associated, his show was the first place I heard so many soul and reggae and hip hop and techno and African artists that I love, plus odd unexpected chart acts like Terence Trent D’Arby and Kelis and Pink.

I think there’s another reason why this has affected me more than most celebrity deaths. I never met Peel, but he always talked a lot about his family. You often see “survived by a husband/wife and X children” in obit reports, but you don’t generally know anything about these people. This time it’s so painfully much easier to imagine the grief of his wife and children.

Until earlier that year

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Until earlier that year, I had been in a tiny indie band. After the Statistics paper in my ‘A’ level maths, a paper which I failed miserably and completely, I took the unhappy uphill walk back to the 6th Form Centre. It was already clear that my life was going to take an unwanted turn into failed exams, interrupted academic paths and so on.

Back in the Centre a friend of mine gave me a cassette. “You should listen to this,” he said, and I put in into the tape player. The last few bars of “Gold Mining” played and I turned around to Simon to say a few short words about how I didn’t need the mickey taking on that day, of all days.

And then, the sound of John Peel’s voice: “… that was The Visitors, and rather good too…” He’d played it the night before, when I had been trying to revise.

It’s not much but it brightened a horrible day that day and I’m still grateful for it. And no-one before or since would have bothered playing that song, off a flexidisc given away free with a fanzine. As far as I’m aware it’s the only time that song was ever played on the radio. He followed it with another song, “The Orcadian” by an earlier Visitors I’d never heard of before. It was amazing.

That, I suppose, was John Peel for you.

John Peel (1939-2004)

FT + New York London Paris Munich5 comments • 2,192 views

John Peel (1939-2004)

Pub Justice

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Pub Justice

Last night I went again to the pop quiz at the Rosemary Branch. It was a bit of a sentimental night because B, the one member one of our regular team who lives near there, is moving to Australia at the end of the week.

On his way to the pub, in the scratty park by the New North Road, B was mugged. They took ’20 off him, plus AU$100 and his bank cards. The AU$100 was a leaving gift he’d just received from his Uncle.

B was very shaken up but stayed and played the quiz anyway (he arrived first at the pub and the marvellous bar people gave him a free pint because he had no cash, bless them). Company, he said, was good and anyway it was our team’s last time.

We won the ’20 beer voucher for winning the main quiz. This was scant consolation for B, mind: by the time we redeem the voucher he’ll be on the other side of the world.

Then we won the Jackpot, which amounted to ’100. We told B to take what he’d lost (about ’60 he reckoned) then we split the rest between all four of us.

This seemed like a poetic sort of pub justice and was a small good thing to come out of an evening which had looked like turning very bad indeed. Of course, having won the quiz, when we won the jackpot our competitors were not very impressed at all. B thought he heard some actual hissing. I wanted to explain to everyone what had happened, to show them that it was a good thing that we’d won, but I knew that that would make me the King of Berks. And I couldn’t face that, not again.

The ’10 winnings I came away with gets added to the Grecian Earn, obviously. Look! The totaliser’s getting very close to ’100 now…

Broadcasting legend John Peel dead

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Broadcasting legend John Peel dead
From the BBC Newsroom:
Radio 1 DJ John Peel has died at the age of 65. He was on holiday in Peru with his wife Sheila when he suffered a massive heart attack in a hotel. John had been on Radio 1 since it went on air in 1967. The network’s controller Andy Parfitt said “John Peel was a broadcasting legend. I am deeply saddened by his death as are all who work at Radio 1. John’s influence has towered over the development of popular music for nearly four decades and his contribution to modern music and music culture is immeasurable. He will be hugely missed. ”

Teenage Kicks (And Others)

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Teenage Kicks (And Others)

– I sometimes used to worry that they’d sack him. I imagined him looking glumly through records he wouldn’t get the chance to play on the radio. It honestly never occurred to me he might die first.

– Mowing my Gran’s lawn when I was 15, the drone of the Flymo and the strum of “Take Me!” merging – taped, of course, off Peel.

– “Pacific State” – the first ‘dance music’ I liked. My habit of taping the whole Festive 50 meant that I had to take the rough with the smooth, until the rough became smooth.

– The first time I taped a Peel session was the House Of Love. They debuted “In A Room”, which became my favourite song by them. It’s hard to exaggerate how much all this stuff felt like a rite of passage – actually it’s not hard, you only have to listen to 6 Music, staffed by people who went through the same rites, a station Peel made possible (though he was always much more adventurous), a station I don’t want to listen to right now.

– Peel’s 50th Birthday as featured in the NME, a glimpse of a world were musicians were mates, the intersection of Peel-the-advocate and Peel-the-good-bloke. And in some ways that’s an important legacy – he was into music without any pretensions that it made him unusual or superior, he showed that the worlds of Extreme Noise Terror or Where’s The Beach? and of going and buying a pint of milk were no different. Unromantic? Maybe. Good.

– The Fall

– The last time I listened to the Festive 50 was with Alex T, in 1995 or so, sitting in his kitchen drinking beer. All the songs sounded rubbish, Peel – as usual – seemed faintly disappointed with his listeners (but also terribly proud), I guessed it was the end of my listening to him (of course now I wish I’d listened more) but I knew that I’d always be grateful, and I will.

The lifespan of originality as a laudable quality is perilously short.

Do You SeePost a comment • 228 views

The lifespan of originality as a laudable quality is perilously short. We try to hold up firsts as being somehow significant, but beyond their actual place in linear history they rarely stand out. Maybe Hillary and Norgay were the first to climb Everest, but most of their successors have climbed it in a better way, with advice gleaned from this initial success. First rarely equals best.

I happened to catch a rep screening of The Parallax View at the weekend. I had never seen it and was just aware of its place in the history of conspiracy thrillers. Post Manchurian Candidate (with which it borrows an awful lot of its narrative thrust and set pieces) it is possibly one of the first films to find suggest an enemy within the USA, and moreover it being corporate America. It is unclear however what the Parallax Corporation’s agenda is, and by the time Warren Beatty’s character has gone deep undercover the twist will be clear to anyone who has seen any subsequent conspiracy thriller. Not fair on Pakula’s film? Perhaps, but in my head it is derivative of even a hokey potboiler like Arlington Road (a film I have a soft spot for merely because it may be the only time I have seen a film named after a place, near that place – Arlington Road in Camden).

If we judge The Parallax View on other terms, it is a poorly connected thriller whose plot twists do not naturally develop from the storyline. It does however have one of the best modern day bar room brawls in it, and in that lies the suggestion that the film does not really know what it wants to be. Golden boy Beatty is very smooth, a journalistic cowboy (a pretty unconvincing blend). The only real standout piece is the brainwashing montage, which may well have bred a whole generation of critics who believe film can rule someone’s personality. Suddenly all the insults against MTV makes sense, except MTV editing is much more sophisticated that Pakula’s toytown subliminals.

A Defence of Mike Riley

TMFD1 comment • 432 views

A Defence of Mike Riley

I feel the level of criticism is unwarranted.

He got most of the decisions right. The Ljundberg / Ferdinand coming together was probably the most controversial. It was a push, but Ljunberg’s reaction was to get on with it and his touch had ruined the chance anyway. Is Ferdinand still technically the last man? Yes. Was it a clear goal scoring opportunity? No, I think the heavy touch voided it.

The Rooney / Campbell ‘tackle’ looked every inch a penalty from the referee’s position. Campbell dangled his leg across Rooney’s path and whether there was contact or not, nearly every referee in the business would have given it. Andy Gray said “that’s a penalty” as soon as it happened. Only after 15 replays did he change his mind. The one Riley missed was Ashley Cole upending Ronaldo. The assistant Referee was in line and didn’t flinch. Ronaldo’s reputation doesn’t help, I guess, but Riley got no support from his assistant.

So, if there is a criticism, it’s in the choice of assistant referees. I don’t know whether this is Riley’s decision or the FA’s, but he needed greater support. Van Nistelrooy was intent on snidey kicks and unchecked petulance and there were off-the-ball incidents that no referee could have spotted.

Riley tried to keep the cards to a minimum and showed composure in the opening half hour. He knew the first booking would be the start of a deluge. Perhaps he should have told Vieria to stop following him around, but he’d obviously thought about involving the captains in dialogue rather than isolate himself completely.

It was a scrappy game, verging on the impossible to referee (and he didn’t get every decision right), but I think he made a decent job of it.