Posts from 15th March 2005

15
Mar 05

THE ROLLING STONES – “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction”

Popular28 comments • 4,503 views

#202, 11th September 1965

That riff – we have to start with that riff – sounds like Morse code. A harsh nonsense message, transmitted on a loop. Too much information, too much communication. Ten thousand whisperin’, nobody listenin’. “Satisfaction” is a song where people jabber at Jagger and he’s too bored or too savvy to care, but then when he tries to speak it doesn’t work either. It has a plot. In fact it’s a sitcom, Jagger’s Bad Day. The Rolling Stones were often a very funny band – the “same cigarettes” gag is sharp, smart and spiteful. And you have to smile at the way Mick Jagger starts off sounding so very polite before the comedy of irritation gets going. The band plays straight man, making sure the timing is right (and it is – those delicious seconds before “Hey hey hey”).

The jokes still ring mostly true, and the situations linger, which (oh yeah plus the riff) is why “Satisfaction” 2005 is startling even if the venom in it has long since diffused throughout pop/culture/everything. The third verse punchline – stardom equals hucksterism – may or may not have been new in 1965, I’m siding with ‘not’, but it’s the way he tells it, short words chopped shorter, stresses heaped up, “can’tcha SEE-I’M-ON”, a vocal analogue of the riff, and then the exploding, “GET NO!” The partial solution to the satisfaction problem: make your own.

THE FT TOP 25 ANIMALS – 17. Ant

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(NB the #18 animal will appear soon, we have commissioned an expert in the field to write a piece and will publish it out of sequence!)

My work has been on a drive to get everyone to complete their profiles on the Company Intranet. This is 3000 people so no easy task. As part of the profile you are required to answer a question “What inspires you?”. Most of the responses have either been business crawliness (I am inspired by teamwork and the feeling of satisfaction when a PROJECT is handed in) or hello-clouds whimsy. However one person has put “Ants”. Good for her.

Unfortunately her reasoning is straight out of The Animal Kingdom for Managers. Also after discussing the pride and teamwork of the tiny ants she then boasts of “irradicating” them all in her kitchen, this is not the attitude we need from our staff surely. Anyway while not inspired by the humble ant I do like it a lot. As with the pig it is the versatility that wins me over:

– metaphor for playing God. One of the first things any self-respecting supervillain learns is the phrase “mere ants”.

– actuality of playing God in the form of an Ant Farm. Nobody I knew ever actually constructed an Ant Farm but they took the acquisition of one as a license to do unspeakable things to ants.

– creature of fear even at normal size as they have a tendency to swarm. Not that the ones on English patios swarmed much but my shaky grasp of ant lifestyles made me sure that if only a powerful enough queen could be found doomsday would ensue.

– very frightening indeed at giant African size. There was a feature on the ant menace on the BBC recently which allowed one lucky presenter to utter the sentence “Only the beaks remain.”

– not frightening at all at unrealistic colossal radiation-infected size.

– tireless humble worker, exploited by indolent grasshopper.

– Ant Man out of Marvel Comics, much-loved if generally useless superhero who controls ants (three of whom he named Crosby, Stills and Nash!)

– I have a metre-long ant soft toy.

In the Finnish department store

FT + New York London Paris Munich1 comment • 685 views

In the Finnish department store they laid out the CDs as follows:

– Classical and non; then
– Finnish language and non; then
– Mid and full price.

The racking policies of big shops are culturally significant. In Britain HMV’s familiar “Rock and Pop” / “Soul and Dance” / “Hip-Hop” / “Reggae” / “Specialist” policy helps establish and reinforce genre as the primary basis of differentiation. The primacy and size of the ‘rock and pop’ area confirms its status as the locus of media interest (just as the ever-growing DVD section confirms the fading commercial clout of recorded music).

Similarly the shop layout in Finland abandons genre in favour of language as the motor of difference. The Suomi section mixed cocktail techno with nu metal with jolly moustachioed traditionalists – a blend of age and style which foxed me initially. Why were Bodies Without Organs and Nylon Beat in different sections? Language. I’ve seen similar policies in French, Spanish, German and Polish stores.

The question – not one I’ve seen discussed except in one early-90s Wire piece – is what does a linguistic divide mean for non-Anglophone pop? What are the critical bugbears which animate European pop criticism? Are local bands working in ‘American’ genres judged on their sonic fidelity to the originals their language cuts them off from. Is there really a segment of the Finnish market which selects based on language over style?

Only a 4 for I’m Going Slightly Mad??!!

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Only a 4 for I’m Going Slightly Mad??!!

Popular hit its 200th No.1 yesterday, and this morning I find another P-inspired blog, this one with a slightly different focus: reviewing every Queen single! Best of luck. Queen are a good choice for this project, to my neutral eye: it’s hard to think of another band who, even if you embrace the basic premise, manage such a span of quality. There can’t be that many people who like EVERY Queen single, surely.

BITIN MY (PYROCLASTIC) FLOW

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BITIN MY (PYROCLASTIC) FLOW!!

the fictional-prophetic quasi-documentary is something the bbc seems to be doing extremely well, currently: there was a very neat one last year – about a possible “terrorist attack” via the markets (i forget its title) – which unfolded as news-reports (in classic orson welles martian invasion style). the supervolcano two-parter, run on sunday and last night in parallel with genuine scientific documentaries on bbc2, about calderas and supervolcanoes generally, and in (particular) the current situation in the vast magma chamber beneath yellowstone national park, was a touch less elegant – partly bcz it had to maintain the extreme-weather-thriller convention that the chief scientist on the spot also had the most exciting adventures (and he had annoying hair) – but its use of “after-the-event” talking head interviews straight to camera, from those in charge who survived, played brilliantly against the exact same NON-fictional device in the documentaries, in which real actual scientists delivered their sound-bites. Has this aired in the US yet?

It really ought to be in blood but pencil will do just as well

The Brown Wedge3 comments • 748 views

Rereading children’s books as an adult – those you haven’t looked at once since childhood – you sometimes slam into a particular contraction of response: a sort of ultra-localised Tom’s Midnight Garden Effect (TMGE), in which you simultaneously recall yr feelings at time of first reading, proust-stylee, and overlay this with here-and-now adult intellectual and emotional responses of a subtly different kind. At my mum and dad’s, in the times when they were resting and not requiring carer attention, I picked up the first three in the Swallows and Amazons series: S&A itself, Swallowdale and Winter Holiday (actually I think Peter Duck is the third but I wanted to tackle that out of sequence).

i. The TMGE in Swallowdale is the simplest: the explorers clamber up a local peak and discover a tin in a cairn with a note written by the Blackett sisters’ parents and uncle 30 years before (ie in 1901, when the elders were kids themselves). Their father is dead – I’m not sure we’re ever told how – and there’s a nicely written moment of the gulf that briefly opens up between them and the Walkers (whose father is alive and well, if overseas). As a child I entirely missed this aspect: I just thought the jump back into the past was a way of saying “Parents have done cool things too, long ago.”
ii. The TMGE in Winter Holiday I missed ENTIRELY as a kid (if memory is a guide). One of the farmers’ wives they’re variously boarding with – I think Mrs Dixon – remembers the “Great Freeze of ’95”, when horses pulled sleighs across the lake and she herself skated its entire length. At most this worked as a pointer to the rarity of the depth of freeze they’re enjoying: most years the lake doesn’t freeze. Now it strikes me this remark helps lock the kids into legendary rather than modern time: actually one of the things I’m most struck by is how IMPOSSIBLE their seemingly in-reach adventures have become in the intervening decades (not least as a result of the success of these books). I’ve never been to Coniston, but I imagine you can more or less WALK shore to shore now, across the decks of the thousands of little holiday boats. And – hi Robin! – local folks all have TVs and internet and the sense of rural isolation and distance, not to mention its sheer novelty, to the suburban reader, is long long long vanished
iii.The TMGE that hit me first comes with the opening words of the very first book: “Roger Walker, seven now and no longer the youngest…” Back then he was just a character in a book, and I’m not sure I registered his age as having meaning. Now the first very thing I thought was: “Is Roger still alive?” Book published 1929: Roger = 85 today. So yes, he could be. But he’s fictional, Mark. So hunt around to see if these stories are based on actually existing kids that Arthur Ransome knew. Well of course they are. Youngest to oldest, the Walkers = Bridget, Roger, Titty, Susan and John. Youngest to oldest, their models = Brigit, Roger, Mavis, Susie and (hmmm) Taqui. And I’m delighted to be able to say Mavis was known to her family as “Titty”: good. Because I always thought the junior Lennie Bruces who went off into giggles about this name to be unspeakably feeble and incontinent.

One reason I think I haven’t re-read Ransome’s series in-between-times is that I was, I suspect, worried I wd find it – in the classic semi-sneer – “too middleclass”. Actually that isn’t what I found myself thinking at all, simply because I know a little about Ransome’s own biography. And also because the actual real model for John Walker – always the dullest character – was a tomboyish girl called Taqui Altounyan, whose father was Armenian-Irish, and whose family had arrived in the Lakelands from Syria. Just ten years before this book appeared, Ransome himself had been a British journalist in Russia, covering the collapse of Tsarism and the 1917 revolutions: not only did he act for a long while as the trusted emissary between the Foreign Office and these baffling revolutionaries, who were entirely off the map of British ruling class experience, but he fell for and married Trotsky’s secretary Evgenia Shelepin (it was his second marriage, and lifelong: she settled in England with him).

With this in mind, elements I’d been worried would feel niminy-piminy and bland feel more like a deliberate shock shift into a studiedly neutral gear: Altounyan to Walker (Altounyan sounds like the villain in an Eric Ambler novel from the 30s!) ; Uncle Jim not so much retired pirate cpatain Flint as a quasi-bolshy fellow traveller on excellent terms with Trotsky? (I don’t know if Ransome’s memoir of the Revolution, Six Weeks in Russia in 1919, is currently in print: I’d like to read it. Presumably Evgenia was only too well aware of the grim fate befalling those of Trotsky’s colleagues who’d stuck it out under Stalinism.) And Nancy and Peggy’s late father: unless we ‘re somewhere told he died some other way, we have surely to assume he is one of the millions dead in the trenches or at sea in the 1914-18 war (or 1914-19 as it says on some village war memorials: because of course British troops invaded Russia to battle the Bolsheviki in 1919).

As it is, all three books contain moments of genuine peril, lightly sketched: the Walker father – away somewhere in the China seas patrolling the Empire on a Royal Navy destroyer – has (hurrah!) wired the MOST IRRESPONSIBLE PARENTAL ADVICE OF ALL TIME (at least as far as modern parenting theory is surely concerned): “BETTER DROWNED THAN DUFFERS IF NOT DUFFERS WON’T DROWN“. Four children boating totally unsupervised: the youngest, Roger, can’t even actually swim yet. In Swallowdale, John sinks Swallow; later, Roger twists his ankle in a fog high on the moors and has to be left sleeping with a charcoal burner. In WH, they rescue a sheep from an ice-bound crag; later, as a result of a misunderstanding, everyone goes out in a severe blizzard. These high-risk elements are played incredibly lightly: only John and Susan ever seem faintly conscious of peril, and then primarily in the form of worrying about parental fears and crossness.

(I’m back again at my parents’ house next weekend, so I’ll read some more and maybe write some more..)

DON’T BORE US DON’T WATCH THE CHORUS

Do You SeePost a comment • 356 views

DON’T BORE US
DON’T WATCH THE CHORUS

Perhaps it is a testament to the real poverty in French cinema at the moment that the really big box office successes from over the channel seem to be stuffed to the gills with cute kids. The Chorus is the life-affirming* tale of the difference a music teacher made to the lives of some unruly kids in a French boarding school in 1949. It is as light, fluffy and thoroughly predictable as it sounds: the power of choral music wiping clean all the horrors these children have seen.

But what of these horrors. This film is set in 1949, and the kids are about thirteen. Therefore they spent their formative years in an occupied country. There are kids here who are orphans, and some growing up without fathers. And yet all of this is to a great degree glossed over. Mohrange, the disruptive lead kid with the angelic voice, is shown to be unruly because he has a single mother. Pépinot, the pesonification of cuteness, is an orphan. Yet we never see any of the other children with normalized parental relationships, and why should they? They are in a strict boarding school. The film reduces the kids problems to an abusive headmaster, and that is solved easily by singing.

If The Chorus had been a British film things would have been much darker. Vera Drake is set at a similar time and is all drab greens and post-war darkness. The Chorus is sunny, light and the war is barely mentioned. Instead it is Etre Et Avoir in a mythical idyllic past. Consider this: at the end of the film our music teacher is fired. He thinks very little of taking the orphan boy with him, despite this clearly being kidnap. No manner of cute smiles, choral music and dappled sunset shots can obscure the incongruity of a film that says this is alright. File under cliche defining.

*Well, I had to check my pulse at the end to see if I was still alive.

stick with the beasts we got plz #5: NESSIE

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lonely aquatic dinosaur seeks similar for laughs, moonlit walks. no smokers or stegosauri

i. all other lake monsters have better names viz ogopogo, mamlambo, bessie oh wait
ii. at least mamlambo (“half-fish, half-horse monster”) EATS PEOPLE NOW AND THEN

conclusion: plz plz plz be a 30-foot pike THAT WOULD BE LESS BORING

NOT PROVEN BY SCIENCE AT ALL IN ANY WAY

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NOT PROVEN BY SCIENCE AT ALL IN ANY WAY

Just got some fliers at work for this pair of seminars: The UFO Contacts Seminars. Presented by “top” radio presenter Mike Allen these seminars will explode the myths behind the UFO Conspiracy finally leaving the truth bare. Which is really rather bold considering the truth is a couple of crazies in an Arizona desert and people who subscribe to the Fortean Times but find their Unconvention a bit flippant.

(I always forget how great the Fortean Times is: check out
18 Inch Dog Swallows 16 Inch Stick.)

Canine Unlikeliness

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This morning I met a woman who claims her dog can find its way home. On the bus. Getting both on and off at the right stop.

We’ve all seen Lassie, but I for one am sceptical. If any canine scientists out there would like to shed light on this phenomenon, then go ahead.