Posts from February 2006

Feb 06

THE MONKEES – “I’m A Believer”

Popular89 comments • 6,782 views

#228, 21st January 1967

My feelings about the Monkees and their music are entirely entangled with my feelings about their TV show, and childhood TV in general. Pop music wasn’t a big deal in my house growing up, and I had no real idea of the Monkees as ‘a band’, even if they played a band in the show: I just didn’t know what that might mean or what a band might do.

There was a massive gap, it seemed to me, between American shows like the Monkees, or the Banana Splits, and British programmes like Ivor The Engine, or Fingerbobs, or Bagpuss. (Of course now I know that these shows were made for very different agegroups, but they would run together during the UK school holidays so I consumed them as a whole.) I preferred the British shows, by a long way – the Monkees upset and annoyed me, their shows seemed to make no sense, and though just as plot-light were more frantic: talking about it to Pete the other day, he described the American style excellently as “nothing happens all at once”. The Monkees seemed to be always running about – I could not imagine the genial hippies who fronted or narrated Fingerbobs or Ivor running anywhere. Those presenters reminded me of my parents, who would tell me a story and then leave me to my imagination. The Monkees reminded me of my nursery school teachers, forever chivvying me to join in and have fun.

(The running about in the American shows, of course, wasn’t because American kids were much livelier than British ones: it was mostly because the budgets were bigger and so children’s programme making wasn’t confined to tiny broomcupboard studios which necessitated the crafts-and-puppets approach the UK output took.)

I went wandering down this route when I was trying to figure out why I’ve always had such a blindspot about the Monkees. “I’m A Believer” is professional, slick pop, crammed with hooks and imaginative touches – and I often love professional, slick pop. I’ve danced to this song, I’ve thrown shapes on the “I’m in love!” parts, I can listen to it now and hear some subtle, surprisingly soft vocal touches: it’s a terrific bit of craft and full of heart and enthusiasm too. I ought maybe to be right behind the Monkees as some kind of godfathers of the artificially created band. Instead, even as I enjoy the record, I can still feel my five-year-old self, nervous and uncomprehending, faced with the Monkees’ kind of televised fun and resenting it.

Brandwatch: Something Old, Something New…

Pumpkin PublogPost a comment • 710 views

It’s back! Well, it never went away, but apparently iconic 80s drink Taboo is set for a makeover, building on the launch of “Taboo Blue” last year (not in the boozers I frequent). If you’re 18-24 and a lady you might want to look out for this as there is a huge taboo target painted on you.

(No word of Mirage, though.)

For our male readers aged 25 and over – and let’s face it this is most of you – Guinness is launching the “Guinness Surger”, an ultrasonic plug-in gadget which for seventeen quid will allow you to ‘activate the settle’ in your home-consumed Guinness and create the perfect pint. If you think this sounds a little desperate you’d be right – parent company D1ag3o is in trouble and a collapse in interest in Guinness is a big part of it. Maybe drinkers are just sick of stout?

Batman: Jazz

The Brown WedgePost a comment • 2,274 views

This very odd 3-issue miniseries by Gerard Jones and Mark Badger came out in 1995 – as a Batman story it falls a little flat, mostly because you can guess who the villain is very quickly. The plot – surrounding a Charlie Parker analogue who returns after being presumed dead for 40 years – is an excuse for Batman to wander around letting a bunch of old jazzmen, mobsters, pushers and so on tell their stories. These stories are themselves vehicles for a series of angry digressions on music and the jazz scene.

Throughout the comic, jazz music is treated with reverence when opposed to almost any other kind of music, though it rapidly becomes clear that the story’s motor is a conflict over what jazz ‘should’ be, and that Jones disapproves of attempts to claim this or that practise as authentic: the murderer is one of few* comics’ villains to have r0ck1sm as their motive! Even so the belief in jazz – however constituted – as possessed of an unshakable, pure and spiritual essence is obvious, and I was delighted to find the story’s payoff a version of the old “If you have to ask, lady…” line.

Quite what Batman is doing here is never quite clear – there is a bit of hokum in which the Bird figure shows a mysterious understanding of Batman’s inner pain, and it’s made clear that Bruce Wayne is a jazzbo himself, but even so the scenes with Batman duking (“Duke”-ing, ho ho) it out with ‘The Brotherhood of the Bop’ are ludicrous. But Mark Badger’s art is stylish throughout and if you have an interest in how the comics treat music you could do worse than hunt this down.

*Garth Ennis’ “Muzak Killer” in Judge Dredd is another.

I Was A Goblin: Fantasy Football

TMFD1 comment • 975 views

At first glance the I Was A Goblin series seems out of place on TMFD. Certainly when I was small, and played D&D, not many of my fellow enthusiasts were what you might call sportsmen. The gangly types were occasionally required to make ungainly stumbles round the track on sports day, and there was never the kind of institutionalised jocks/nerds hostility you seem to get in American high school, but these were still two cultures. I don’t even think any of the people I gamed with were fans of sport, or not with any passion.

Which is odd, because football and D&D are very similar. Think about it:

Play in “Football” (Box Set available from TSR) is based around groups of people who have to work as a team to achieve their objectives. These groups are a balance of four basic classes of player, though some players can ‘multi-class’ effectively and variant classes abound. On their adventures the team, or ‘party’ has a set ‘marching order’ designed for the greatest tactical effectiveness. Roles within the party vary: saving the party from damage, sneaking around to try and ambush the opposition, and so on. Some players employ a repertoire of magical effects and tricks, which can be very effective, though often leave them physically more vulnerable.

The adventures themselves consist of a series of brutal – and oddly repetitive – conflicts, often set in ancient locations which require lengthy travel to reach. Some of these encounters are randomly generated, and contentious outcomes are decided by the intervention of a referee.

Game objectives are threefold:

– quests for specific and valuable artefacts, which usually require a lengthy campaign to acquire.
– searches for ludicrous amounts of cash well beyond any player’s ability to spend.
– improvement in player abilities. If a player improves enough they may move ‘up a level’. A particularly successful campaign can result in an entire party moving up a level at the same time!

In between campaigns players tend to visit taverns and generally debauch themselves, though higher level ones often prefer to spend time in their castles.


This all maybe explains why I found it easier than I thought to start liking football. It almost certainly explains why I’ve translated this vague liking of football more into an appreciation of the Football Manager series of games than into actually getting out and watching any.

RIP Octavia Butler

The Brown WedgePost a comment • 380 views

I was living in upstate New York in 1984, a happily budding nerd for sf among other things. Star Wars had come out when I was six and some years on my tentative explorations into actually reading sf had led to Asimov, Herbert and others. So I joined the venerable Science Fiction Book Club — shortly afterward, due to an ordering error, I ended up with both rather than only one of the selections of the month. The one I wanted was Tolkien’s The Book of Lost Tales, Part One, which is of course great in its own way.

The one that arrived by accident, which I read anyway, was Octavia Butler’s Clay’s Ark. It remains one of the happiest accidents in my life.

Butler’s abilities as a writer, her imaginative capacity, her sheer presence, is almost shockingly great, though only because we accept so much that is less intriguing in the meantime (and I certainly don’t discount myself from that judgment). She brought so much to the table — thematically, stylistically and more — that to look back on it is to be amazed. She also knew how to talk, how to communicate her ideas in interviews, essays, and more, and more so also had the gift that many writers do not necessarily have to be able to talk about HOW one writes, how one can write and can continue to improve. This interview, though brief, has a telling example:

”I’ve talked to high school kids who are thinking about trying to become a writer and asking ‘What should I major in?’, and I tell them, ‘History. Anthropology. Something where you get to know the human species a little better, as opposed to something where you learn to arrange words.’ I don’t know whether that’s good advice or not, but it feels right to me. You don’t start out writing good stuff. You start out writing crap and thinking it’s good stuff, and then gradually you get better at it. That’s why I say one of the most valuable traits is persistence. It’s just so easy to give up!”

Wikipedia’s entry has more information and starting points. May she rest well and may her work always be cherished.

Feb 06

The Magic Doogalbout

Do You SeePost a comment • 240 views




Feb 06

food art

Pumpkin PublogPost a comment • 1,392 views

We’ve had a big food science day here at Freaky Trigger, but there’s food art too, you know. The Starchy Gallery specialises in potato art. Worth seeing the last contest winners, at the very least. As the site explains, there is a window show and more at a gallery in East Dulwich run by some wonderful pals of mine, Space Station 65 (the people behind Peckham Pet-Tastic).


Pumpkin PublogPost a comment • 818 views

Some Dutch have created a machine to pour the perfect pint. All well and good, except it takes the robot 1 minute and 11 seconds to do it – a round of 4 would take almost 5 minutes mechanical service time! So dreams of commercial success may have to be deferred, though I’m positive there will be a place for this gadget at The Albany…

Feb 06

Popular ’66

Popular159 comments • 4,148 views

I give marks out of 10 to every single on Popular. Here’s where you can say which entries you’d have given 6 or above to, and discuss the year in general in the comments. Here we have 1966, a year of many high marks including the project’s first two 10/10 records – Nancy Sinatra and “Yellow Submarine”/”Eleanor Rigby”. At the other end of the scale, I had little good to say about Jim Reeves. Over to you!

Which Of The Number One Hits Of 1966 Would You Have Given 6 Or More To?

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A Hint Of Lilt

Pumpkin PublogPost a comment • 972 views

It is National Pub Week!!!

No, I’m not sure what it means either. Maybe I should go to the pub more? Maybe not. Anyway, one of the upshots is that a pub which is pretty good at supplying me with interesting guest ales (The Three Compasses in Hornsey) has even more ales on at the moment. Best of last nights bunch were both from the Archers Brewery. The Little Gem ale was a nice light ale which was nice, tasty and against the odds lacked a strong lettuce flavour. However, the big winner of the night was the Golden Train ale – a full flavoured bastard which nevertheless was very, very refreshing.

And then I saw the tasting notes (also available on the Archers website, along with details on the shocking large range of season ales: ten a month). “Light Golden with a hint of Pineapple & Grapefruit”. And it was a fruity beer. But hold up, a hint of pineapple and grapefruit. Surely what you mean to say is “with a hint of Lilt”. Now the Golden Train did not have a totally tropical taste, but it strikes me honesty is the only way to go with tasting notes. So I wait with bated breath for the first wine taster to be honest and stop talking about “black cherry notes” and start talking about “tastes a bit like Dr Pepper”.