Posts from June 2009
Hundreds of posts now hang off Steven Wells’s intensely moving farewell article at the Philadelphia Weekly, which ends with an atypically cryptic Swellsy in prophet mode, quoting Michael Jackson, before the thread-flood of sad affection and bafflement from readers and colleages, bafflement that such a chaotically vivid force of self-willed nature is stilled; bafflement perhaps too that such deep fondness can well up out of the fury he loved to work to spark in one and all. I’ve read it declared a dozen times now that Steven alone is the reason such-and-such took up writing as a trade — all the little fires he started in all these hot little hearts, what’s that come to? The consensus (correct) that he was just a big bald huggable pussycat at heart, a friendly and a kind man behind the shoutiness; the gnarly and rather unacceptable sense that his lifelong war on the useless has somehow left us with more of it not less (which may be our fault not his); and huge great gobs of the feeling — utterly conventional and surely utterly bogus — that times and possibilities aren’t what they were.
|Andy Murray chastises a tennis ball|
During Wimbledon’s inaugural set of night-time tennis on Monday night, played under what’s become the most famous roof since the Sistine Chapel, I found that I loathe every particle of Andy Murray.
Now, I realize Andy Murray is a professional athlete. Macho theatrics and being as interesting as a pile of firewood come with the territory. But Wimbledon is not just a collection of freakishly fit young adults whacking things between each other, it’s a drama, and in this drama he pushes buttons I didn’t even know I possessed.
In the mid-90s I worked in the Music And Video Exchange chain in Notting Hill Gate. Paul Young’s No Parlez holds a special place in my affections from those years – not because we ever knowingly played it, but because it was the undisputed number one landfill vinyl “penny each for these, mate” champ. Browsing the 20p albums down in that malodorous Pembridge Road basement, it seemed like every fourth flick would bring you face to face with Paul’s teased-up hair, quizzical expression and sweaty leather suit.
So I listened to the UK Top 40 on Radio 1 for the first time in – oh, I don’t know, years. Like a lot of the audience, I was ambulance-chasing: I wanted to see how the download-led charts would cope with a superstar death. I was hoping – for partly selfish reasons – that Michael Jackson would get to number one, maybe even with a song that hadn’t got there before.
As it happened the Jackson thing was kind of an anticlimax. Scott Mills – the stand-in DJ running the show – started off by playing up the prospects of a Jacko clean sweep, but gradually began dropping hints that the album chart was where the real action would be. When “Billie Jean” limped in at 25 the game was up. In the end the closest Michael Jackson got to the Top 10 this week was Kanye West’s shout-out to him on Keri Hilson’s “Knock You Down” (#5).
There is a remarkably unremarkable piece of news on the BBC website. Apparently according to that old favourite “A MEDICAL EXPERT” the appearance of so many fat people on TV normalises obesity. Or as BBC News Health section put it: Fat Stars ‘Make Obesity Normal’ (their scare quotes). One assumes this is much like the way that thin stars normalises thinness and causes anorexia VIA THE SAME MEDIA. Nevertheless the EXPERT is an EXPERT, which we can prove by a few pull quotes from him:
Professor McMahon, a expert on keyhole surgery, said: “The increasing profile of larger celebrities, for example James Corden, Eamonn Holmes, Ruth Jones and Beth Ditto, means that being overweight is now perceived as being ‘normal’ in the eyes of the public.
“We talk about the dangers of skinny media images, but the problem actually swings both ways.”
Hold up. Eammon Holmes? Since when has he been seen as a crusader for corpulence?
Perhaps it is important to good actors to do mediocre films for you to recognise how good they are. Ditto with good directors. The only question is why would said people, possibly at the height of their careers choose such flat projects? Its a question that sprung to mind during SUNSHINE* Cleaning, a film whose gestation I am about to guess. Because it stars Amy Adams, Emily Blunt, Alan Arkin and was produced by the same team that produced Little Miss SUNSHINE. All of whom, one assumes, hooked up during the 2007 awards season when Amy was there with Junebug, Emily with The Devil Wears Prada and the rest of them with Little Miss SUNSHINE. Christine Jeffs (the director) so far has not been nominated for any major awards but was probably doing the rounds post Rain (good) and Sylvia (not so good), and possibly guessed that the cast and pedigree would do wonders for her career.
So the good in the film is obvious. This feels like a family. Emily and Amy convince as sister, Arkin convinces as their Dad.
There is a sequence in Red Cliff where the sneeky tactician for the good guys lets go a dove to gather intelligence, and said dove flutters over the lake acting as a battlefield. In this flight the dove takes in everything, the boats, the standing army, the state of the camps finally ending up with one of the films heroines (an implausible spy truth be told). Its a tricksy piece of CGI which flows perfectly and shows much of what is good about Red Cliff, a modern sensibility on an old tale. Oh, did I say it was a dove? OF COURSE IT WAS, ITS A JOHN WOO FILM.
John Woo, him of the constant bird action, picks up a new trick for this return to Chinese film making. using a tortoise as well as a dove. And this version of the battle of the Three Kingdoms is both respectful of its source material and yet modern enough to work as a film. Insanely complex to those of us unaware of the historical and mythological story, Woo manages to streamline the complex battle down into a form we can understand. Basically he has remade Troy with a slightly different story and a better feel for the flow of the story. But as with the Iliad, the real hero of this film is our sneeky strategist. Because for all the might of the Chinese empire, knowing a bit about the weather and mastery of tactics trumps the brute force any day, Indeed the Sage of the Three Kingdoms is much preferable to the sack of Troy when considered like to like.
On a recent radio program I heard some old dude talking about how kids dance these days: “Just all by themselves! Jumping up and down with their hands in the air!” This guy goes to some good parties, I thought. “Not like in my day – some elegant music, your hand on the waist of a girl, both of you moving together with the music.” Well that sounds pretty good too, I admitted.
Somewhere around the birth of rock and roll, dancing did indeed start becoming more of an individual pursuit. American Bandstand showcased this new style every week – kids in cardigans, bopping along in their own little space, sock hops and the jitterbug left far behind. But what dancing had lost in physical closeness it was gaining in originality. Disco music became the ultimate backdrop for random individual creativity on the dance floor, and the Jackson Five was right there with it. Then, wriggling free even of his own band and family, Michael Jackson in his Thriller years (and don’t forget Victory) became the ultimate expression of this change that had happened to popular dancing.
If you take pop history from the emergence of Elvis to right now, the release of Thriller– the highest selling album there will ever be – sits at the midpoint. This coincidence nagged at me when I reviewed the album’s reissue, not very well, for Pitchfork. My original draft (rightly rejected) was built on multiple ideas of Jackson as a “black swan”: a graceful exotic creature, an event that resets its context, a freak.
Just a short front page reminder to everyone that it is Poptimism TONIGHT at the Horse Bar, and as you might imagine we will be paying our respects.
a) Sky Saxon (you’ll hear Pushin’ Too Hard)
b) Farah Fawcett (you’ll hear The Day Farrah Fawcett Died by the Vandals)
c) Steven Wells (some Daphne & Celeste)
d) Michael Jackson. Lots.
So don’t be sad, celebrate all these lives with dancing and raise a glass or two while you are at it.