Posts from July 2005

Jul 05

Black Lois Lane vs Tharg The Mighty

The Brown WedgePost a comment • 431 views

The I Love Comics bestest characters ever poll is underway, and from the votes so far it’s looking pretty interesting. There’s still the best part of a month to vote so if you love comics, give it a go.

Jul 05

Like Father, Like Son

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Saw Stage Beauty the other day, Richard Eyre’s film of the play Compleat Female Stage Beauty. As such it purports to tell the story of the footnote in theatrical history when women were suddenly allowed to act. Interesting, if, one gets the feeling, a touch melodramatic and inaccurate. But raucous none the less, with a nice turn from Rupert Everett as King Charles II.

But wait. Isn’t that the same Rupert Everett who played King Charles I in To Kill A King. And was killed? Why, yes it was. Not many people have played father and son in two different movies, or for that matter do it so well.

Jul 05

Go on, nominate Gnasher

The Brown WedgePost a comment • 277 views

You have until midnight tonight to nominate characters in the I Love Comics BEST EVER CHARACTERS POLL!

Here’s a big list of who’s been picked so far. You get four choices.

The Opera At The Gates Of Dawn

FT + New York London Paris MunichPost a comment • 392 views

So why did Roger Waters rejoin Pink Floyd for Live 8? Was it the sense of occasion? The putting away of petty squabbles for a greater cause. Maybe he discovered that Nick Mason hadn’t after all pranged his car in the street. All of these are possible, as is the possibililty that it give him a little bit of extra publicity for his new opera.

You read that right.


Anyone who has ever suffered through The Pros & Cons Of Hitch-Hiking or (shudder) Radio Kaos, will be well aware that Mr Waters grasp of narrative is shaky at best. So just as well that Ca Ira is an operatic history of the French Revolution, which comes with an in-built, if messy, narrative. Nevertheless it is an idea which reeks of the type of self-aggrandisement and Floyd nonsense that the Live 8 performance almost put to rest (for some people, if not others).

If only he had spent more time working on the title. Instead of Ca Ira, he could have called it Ci Ara, and then it would have at least had a sure-fire, if not strictly operatic, hit like Goodies in it.

Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love To Town

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Hilary Clinton wants to send 100 00 more troops to Iraq, and when I was trying to formulate a response to this, i-tunes popped up with this song.

Its weird, it seems like i-tunes has replaced the goats stomach, tarot cards and dice as divination tool of choice. Its shuffling function provides a way of throwing the I Ching – connecting it to popular cultures ubiquitous search for meaning.

So, Waylon Jennings version of the song is on the stereo right now and though it is 25 years ago, the shock of familiarity stings. The first line that really comes thru is he chucking away the central point of the song, namely: “it wasn’t me who started that crazy Asian war/but I was proud to be my patriotic chore”.

It might be helpful here to get some context. His girl is cheating on him, and he cannot physically leave his room or his chair – and this isolation matches her loneliness; the actual suffering of an unjust war is made explicit. (I.e. “its hard to love a man whose legs are bent and paralyzed”).

In this gothic version of Coming Home makes one, of course think of the popular culture of resistance that provided a constant correction to the pentagons view of the war in Vietnam. But this song is more of a problem then the Hollywood lefts arrogance found in movies like Coming Home and the Deer Hunter, it gives the credit to the solider, as brave, as sad, as tragic, but as unwilling to be viewed as a hero.

I wonder what the implications of patriotic chore are in relation to the implications of this song. The man does not die but he has no legs and no useful cock and nothing but a sense of exhausted loneliness, which the person who was supposed to take care of him takes advantage of.

The work cannot even end as a proper Appalachian murder ballad, though it tries (“if I could move/I’d get my gun/and put her in the ground”)—violence begets violence, and the war across an ocean becomes a localized domestic fury and there is no solution, the song ends with ambiguity and exhaustion.

What needs to be said was this song was so popular that it became almost a country standard at the same time as the ballad of the green berets, for example. It was recorded and often a hit for Bobby Bare and Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings. The version by Kenny Rogers is advertised in several late night ads for K-Tel comps for Christ’s sake.

My question is then, where is this now? The closest we have to someone with the personae of a Waylon is Toby Keith, and he has been in enough Iraqi hospitals plus Walter Reed to know that this pattern of boys and girls with their arms and legs blown off cannot work anymore. Then there is Chely Wright, and her refusal to brook any dissent on the war, in the chilling Bumper of My SUV, or Clint Blacks silly and opportunist Iraq and I Roll a dozen of examples, but not one recent one I can think about that have the dissenting power of Ruby and her vet lover.

Any one has any ideas?

Jul 05

Can You Hear The Sun Scream?

FT + New York London Paris Munich1 comment • 671 views

Someone, somewhere (mixmaster extraordinaire Steve M, an e-mail) mentioned Sunscreem earlier to me. I glibly shot back an e-mail saying that they were great and you should dis them at your peril.

And then I remember. Sunscreem were great. Not great in a “they are actually any good” sort of way. But rather in the way that they illustrated the realities of the great indie/dance wars of the early nineties. One the one side we had Faceless Dance Music (FDM) made by spotty teenagers in their bedroom. On the other we had Real Proper Bands (RPB) who made indie music, gigged and were – generally rubbish. One set made great, vital pop music (FDM), the others looked a little bit better on Top Of The Pops and played toilet venues near us.

Someone, somewhere (Sony Music, Soho Square), wondered if there was a way to fuse these two seeming irreconcilable musics. And we were not talking the Happy Mondays or even the Stereo MC’s here, whose hopalong grooves you could dance to but not in a eee-d up way. If only there was a band who sounded like the FDM but actually were an RPB. Thus uniting both factions.

Sunscreem was an answer. It was not THE answer, and they lasted one album with three hits. That album, 03 (like ozone) is synth heavy, treated guitars and the female voice up in the mix much like a lot of the FDM of the time. Proper songs (see all this terminology was unable to cope) we interspersed with acid-beatfest. And for the eight kids in Britain who really thought this was the perfect Frankenstein of pop, the RPBFDM heaven, it was the best thing ever. I was, as ever, one of those stupid kids.

Of course the actual answer to the war was the KLF, The Prodigy and, lest we forget, the Utah Saints: with Orbital mopping up people who hate anything that might be a novelty record. Basically Faceless Dance Musics who had killer tunes and learnt how to do it live*. Maybe sticking little lights on your glasses is not quite rock and roll, but strapping it to a decent sound system is. In wars between pop genres, the genre straddler is rarely the winner.

I still have a very soft spot for that Sunscreem record though. And I love the way that whenever it comes up on my MP3 player, it is only ever one of the two minute linking dance bits which sounded endearingly rubbish then, and sound endearingly rubbish now.

*The KLF did not do it live. But the records sounded like they were, which was a bigger stepping stone than you’d imagine.


FT + New York London Paris MunichPost a comment • 362 views

The first volume of this great-12″s-of-the-80s was a surprise hit – this second has confessed dynastic ambitions (see inner sleeve). Some staggering pop moments here of course – the widescreen bliss of New Gold Dream, the Annihilation mix of Two Tribes with its extended Reagan impersonators and “air attack warning” spiel. And the occasional surprise (erm, Hue and Cry?) because of course when your eyes glance over the listing in the shop, compilation magic takes hold and the stinkers turn invisible. Solidly enjoyable comfort food on the whole, with electric moments. But if I have a worry it’s the way the series is narrowing in scope – looking at the tracklisting you’d think 12″ culture was an idea that had sprung fully formed from the head of rock one night in 1983 while it waited for its raincoat to dry.

Whalesong Nein Danke

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After the two minutes silence I wasn’t feeling too bad, until I came in and the radio – 6 Music – was playing Sigur Ros, followed by Bright Eyes. It’s a rotten thing to have to do as a DJ, follow up a silence – you can’t play upbeat music, but the music that self-defines as sad feels absolutely inadequate. Sigur Ros’ one-size-fits-all emotionalism seemed unbearably naff, such a safe, enfeebled pick. So self-consciously ‘appropriate’. Of course what I really wanted was – well, I don’t know what I really wanted, like I said it’s a bad job to have, picking this stuff. But I certainly didn’t want the well-meaning emotional debrief of Sigur Ros. It made my mood worse. And then Bright Eyes – well. Concealed like a seven-foot bear in a hide-and-seek game in my Stylus comments is an anger that indie music, specifically this indie music, is so precious about its emotional verity and yet so bad at addressing the guilty awkward business of actually being sad.


The Brown WedgePost a comment • 223 views

There is a bad habit, one which unfortunately I share, of considering things which have only the most tenuous of links as plays on words or puns. Call them parapuns if you will (I will), as they are half-baked and rubbish. An example: well an example from my own writing leaps out at me for the pointless amount of work it made me do. Writing a thriller at the moment, there is a scene where a character comes across and ansamachine with 40 unheard messages. This number was plucked randomly to suggest “a lot”. Then via a comic pratfall one is accidentally erased, leaving 39 messages.

Suddenly the idea of “The 39 Messages” seemed hilarious to me. So much so that I then wrote an entire chapter with the messages in. Needless (though it spun out a few interesting ideas) and more importantly, there is barely a link between the 39 Messages and The 39 Steps. There is nothing there.

But of course mine is not in print and will be excised before it gets to that point. Pity be the publisher who though his stock of Noam Chomsky books were getting a bit high and he though of bundling four of them together. As “The Chomsky Quartet”. Play or words with the Brodsky Quartet, coincidence or just rubbish. Parapun at best.

Jul 05

Ten Books I Haven’t Read Since Childhood

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Among those of us with an interest there seems to be a kind of canon of children’s literature which centres on Narnia and the Moomins and then fans outward. I could talk about the Moomins for a thousand years but what about the books that didn’t make the trip over into my adult life? Here are some of them:

1. The GREEN KNOWE books by Lucy M Boston – stories of an old house and the children who have lived in it. Said children tend to meet each other through time quite a lot. I had a huge crush on one character, whose nature as i) being from the 17thC and ii) being not real made said feelings manageable. The actual books were very sedate with a strong sense of place.

2. BORROBIL by William Donaldson (i think) – two children walk into a wood on Beltane Eve and have a lot of Celtic styled adventures. Unusual in that the child protagonists do very little, they’re pretty much bystanders to most of the real danger, which is oddly comforting. Narnia for pagans, maybe. Borrobil is a comical Bombadil type by the way.

3. The LITTLE HOUSE books by Laura Ingalls Wilder – I was obsessed with these when I was about seven, oddly I guess since I didn’t read any other girl-identified books. The fascinating rhythms of another life, and a slow growth into adolescence, at which point I pretty much lost interest, though read on out of duty. (I think my tipping point was when her sister went blind).

4. A BOOK OF [X] by Ruth Manning-Sanders – the most well-remembered of an awful lot of fairy story books. [x] would stand for Monsters, Witches, Giants etc. Most of the tales were pretty interchangeable. High workrate.

5. THE ROSE AND THE RING by William Makepeace Thackeray – a bit of a cheat since I think I have re-read it again and what had seemed effortless fantasy to small me had become laborious Victoriana. Enjoyably sort-of-revisionist fairytale nonsense with a very satisfying tie-up between the first and final chapters.

6. STALKY AND CO. by Rudyard Kipling – boys being horrible to one another in boarding school, which I read well before I ended up at one myself. The incident I remember most clearly is one of a teacher sucking diptheriac goo out of a boys’ lungs – major ‘ew’ factor. I would like to read it again and may pick up a cheap edition.

7. CAN’T REMEMBER by Can’t Remember – it’s by the same person who wrote a boring book called Abel’s Island, a Robinsoniad involving a mouse in which nothing happens until well over halfway. His OTHER book (the one I actually remember fondly) involved a hobo dog and his life choices and adventures, he plays a piccolo and this made me want one. (A request that was rightly refused). The dog’s name MAY have been Dominic. The book was philosophical in tone.

8. THE BADGERS OF BADGER HILL by Someone Or Other – some badgers defend their hill against the evil tread of man. Post-Watership Down but more kiddy-aimed.

9. BOTTERSNIKES AND GUMBLES by Dunno Mate – Gumbles are round and plump, Bottersnikes are spiky and unpleasant, bite bite bite, fight fight fight. May have been Australian.

10. THE ADVENTURES OF THE LITTLE WOODEN HORSE by Ursula Moray Williams. And Gobbolino the Witch’s Cat which was basically the same book. The same book as Pinocchio if we’re being honest. Sorcerous kitten and toy horse subjected to tear-jerking tribulations in lots of very short chapters.

Next I may do the books I read as a kid that you’d have to pay me to sit through again.