Posts from 16th February 2005

16
Feb 05

My assault on the pop music of literature continues

The Brown WedgePost a comment • 147 views

My assault on the pop music of literature continues, albeit akin to buying The Strokes album now. Franzen’s The Corrections then; a doorstep sized beach novel made for slightly shingly, uncomfortable beaches. We are in “great American novel” territory here, which means that nothing much happens but it is awfully poignant.

That is a bit unfair. The Corrections is, for all of its meanderings, a good page turning read. Firstly it employs a very risky strategy of not having many natural breaks in the narrative (does not suck you in but makes it hard to know where to put it down). In its six hundred page trawl through a dysfunctionally average American family it covers as many bases as possible to allow its reader to identify with its characters. I would imagine the book has a identification strike rate of well over 90% of its readership (it got me). Once sucked in it offers both a mirror to our own gently dysfunctional lives and toys with a solution. To get to this point the book is a bit nasty about everyone, our hyper-critical parents, our feckless siblings. But that’s okay too: because the book also suggests that there is a general feeling in society that not only is everyone else inferior to us, but we too are inferior to the facade we present. Franzen gets to this point after spinning five soapy lives of varying humour, believability and social relevance. Like most books that capture the zeitgeist, it would be difficult to map this out as a surefire formula, but in retrospect its formula seems simple.

On another matter though, a classic example of being brought out of the book with a bump. Page 302 of the UK paperback edition, where we are firmly in the realm of the parents (the fathers) reminiscences. These passages have areas of largely scatological hallucination; an argument with a turd; Parkinsonian frailties. Nevertheless it is rarely that a single description, a description of colour, stays with me through a book. It is the use of the phrase “dogshit yellow” to describe some overboiled rutabaga* which threw me right out of the book. And even though I know that the evocation of dogshit was more to prove that the food was unpalatable than its colour, it still seemed glaringly out of place. (This whole sequence on the other hand is a perfect example of how Franzen is trying to get his audience to identify with these characters, what is more cliched than family battles over food a child will not eat.)

*And I don’t even know what rutabaga is. Though like dog detective, I can work it out from the context.

Pub science, but actually bar science.

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Pub science, but actually bar science. Explaining to the ‘rents how the weather works based on two weeks of geography fifteen years ago and a lifetime of half watching the BBC weather forecast (which as Danny recently noted is getting increasingly surreal). Words like isobar, cyclone and anti-cyclone get thrown into the mix, and small condensation diagrams are drawn on the table to little avail. Only when I explain that the constant volatility is akin to the workings of the financial markets do they grasp the inherently chaotic nature of the barometric system.

Score one for Working Lunch and Dragon’s Den over Sian Lloyd.

All New Captain Scarlet changes the theme tune

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All New Captain Scarlet changes the theme tune, the mode of animation and the colour of the Mysterons. It also manages to turn Melody Angel into a monkeyish munter with helmet hair and dispenses of Scarlet’s Cary Grant accent. But that is not all, in some kind of sop to political correctness Lieutenant Green is now a woman. Except this is not a sop, since the job of LG was always to be the office skivvy, so this is in many ways a retrograde step. This new, ahem, HYPERMARIONATION bog standard piece of motion capture CGI gives all the male characters terrible skin conditions and five O’Clock shadow. And takes two episodes to tell a story that the original Captain Scarlet took one to tell (the tedious origin of CS nebulous indestructibility). This version makes just a little sense and is duller, which is no mean feat considering the originals ponderous puppetry. About as relevant and timely as the CGI Dan Dare, and considerably less exciting.

THE ROLLING STONES – “The Last Time”

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#190, 20th March 1965

I’ve been trying to figure out why this doesn’t quite work for me. There’s a stiffness to it – the band don’t seem comfortable with this jaunty a sound. The riff’s a good one, full of bounce, but maybe not good enough to carry a song virtually by itself, and certainly not without some more variety in the dynamics (sure enough the instrumental break brings the track to life). The monotony of the riff then ends up highlighting the problems with Jagger’s vocals – every line in every verse has its final words bluntly emphasised, which puts too much stress on the rhymes and not enough on their content. It’s rather like listening to a non-rapper try to rap, they usually make the same “wow I’m rhyming!” mistake.

The chorus is great, though, Jagger at his most viperish – so manipulative. “This could be the last time, maybe the last time, I don’t know”. The tease! There will be many, many more times to come – it’s just that they’ll happen when and if Mick wants. Maybe that’s my problem with the song – musically it’s a jangly crowd-pleaser, verbally it’s a cold power-play.

Alex Party Needs YOU

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Alex Party Needs YOU

Troubled Diva presents its third annual cross-decade chart challenge, a concerted scientifical effort to discover when pop was best. The #10 from this week is pitted against the #10 from ten, twenty, thirty and forty years ago (the poor 50s don’t get a look-in, sadly). Then the #9s follow suit, and so on. It is organised fun of the highest order – today sees Ciara, Alex Party, Johnny Wakelin, Prince and the Moody Blues locked in combat, and you – yes, YOU! – are encouraged to go and leave your votes in Mike’s comments box.

Football goes Pop

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Football goes Pop

At 2.58 on the public address system at AFC Wimbledon vs Croydon on Saturday we heard Schanppi das Kleine Krokodil which I think is a UK first. Brilliant.

PS – new striker Andrew Martin has longish hair, so has been given the nickname of ‘Jesus’, obviously. He grabbed his first goal for the club, and to celebrate, the PA played “personal Jesus’. Whilst disapproving of music after goals, it was actually funny.

First Love

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Last lesson on a Friday is woodwork. In the workshop, thick with sawdust and the piercing whine of a circular saw, my heart is jumping. I am thirteen and have a date. Lisa is in my English class. She looks a little like Clare Grogan and that’s all I ever want in a girl. I watch the woodwork teacher and wonder what plans he has for the weekend and how dull they must be compared with mine.

In 1983, if you have a date with a girl who looks a little like Clare Grogan, you dress like this: Sta-Press trousers, chunky digital watch, button-down shirt and (fake) Sergio Tacchini jacket acquired from my dad’s mate, George. The aftershave doesn’t sting, because no shave precedes it.

I meet my mates first. We stand at the edge of the school fields, sucking on Marlboros and planning the weekend. We chat about our first love, football. Tomorrow morning we have an important game against Doddinghurst and our season hinges on its outcome. We walk slowly to youth club, not saying much, nervous and chain smoking. We understand the idea of arriving fashionably late and measure our step.

I scan the faces but Lisa hasn’t arrived. I think she has mastered this fashionably late thing. The room smells of its daytime function, all burgers and chips and grease. We hang around the DJ. The cool kids dance to the Selector and my polished brogues tap along, although really I prefer Haircut 100.

“There’s Lisa,” says my mate, nodding towards the Galaxian machine. Our eyes lock and I look away. In fact I take this aloofness thing too far and ignore her until the end of the evening. Then Lionel Ritchie comes to the rescue, and I pluck courage from the depths of my soul and ask her to dance to his crappy ballad. We shuffle around and touch lips. My first kiss. Hmm, feels OK. Euugh, she just put her tongue in my mouth! The lights come on and it is over too soon.

In the morning, Doddinghurst beat us five-nothing and I can’t care less.

Fightin’ Brian McFadden is back!

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Fightin’ Brian McFadden is back! These lyrics from his new single really take the cake, a worthy follow-up to “Real To Me” I’m sure you’ll agree:

There’s a world inside and a world out there
With that on tv you just don’t care
They’ve got violence, wars and killing too
All shrunk down a two-foot tube
But out there the world is a beautiful place
With mountains, lakes and the human race

Decided on Sunday to stop drinking for a couple of weeks

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Decided on Sunday to stop drinking for a couple of weeks. I don’t drink at home much so it’s only in the pub that temptation strikes. Last night was the first test. Arrived, ordered a lime and soda, sat sipping it – this isn’t so bad. Sarah and Steve and Sarah’s friend Alex were there, I sat listening to a story Sarah was telling and reached for my drink. She stopped telling it. “Odd”, I thought.

“Um, that’s my cider.” said Alex.

Cue mortification. As soon as my brain was momentarily distracted my hand had reached out for the reassuring shape of a pint of lager (well, it looked like lager). Hats off to Pavlov. None of poor Alex’s cider passed my lips, thankfully. But this might be tougher than I thought.