Friday, 29 November 2019

Gaslighting the nation

My first and, I promise, last post about party politics and the 2019 General Election...

With all apologies to fans of Hugh Jackman
(and for very hurried, Photoshop-less graphics work)
I suppose you have to have some kind of grudging admiration for Johnson and his Tory-boy chums. I mean, they have learned. They have really learned. Not just from their own past campaigns, and from those of New Labour (when did you last hear the phrase "spin doctor", by the way?), but also from the right-wing upstarts of the Brexit Party and, most of all, from the Republicans' Trump campaign. For right now there is nobody, literally nobody better at repackaging a narrative and peddling it as truth than Johnson et al. Or more accurately, because Boris is not actually as clever as some people once thought, Conservative Campaign Headquarters, CCHQ. Someone there is really earning their 30 pieces of silver.

Take last night's climate debate on Channel 4, an event to which all party leaders had been invited and all bar Johnson and Farage showed up. Now it's easy to see why Farage ducked this - the more the general public see of him, the less they like him. Far better for him to concentrate on blowing his dog-whistle to ensure the continued support of those that already back him; he knows he's not going to win anyone over, least of all on the environment. But Johnson? The man who is, lest we forget, still Prime Minister and leader of the largest party in the last Parliament (and the man whose backers have plenty of investment in fossil fuels, and the man who wants to be best buddies with eco-catastrophe Trump...). For him to duck a debate on what should really be the defining issue of our time? Scandalous. And he was rightly called on it. Social media was awash with the scorn being poured on him for ducking this. #ChickenBoris was trending, and CCHQ didn't like it. What was to be done?

And this is where they earned their money, again. Because, uninvited and unexpected by Channel 4, they sent Michael Gove along at the eleventh hour. And to ensure their preferred narrative could be repackaged and peddled to depict the Tories as the aggrieved party, Gove even had his own camera crew with him; his, or rather CCHQ's, perspective could be captured rather than Channel 4's. Because look, here was Michael, all eager, politely asking if he could be allowed to participate in the climate debate because, after all, he had been Environment Secretary, and wasn't it important for the Conservative position to be heard... well yes, Michael, but if it was so important, why not send the party leader to a leader's debate?

Credit to Channel 4, they played it with a straight bat. The production team were consulted. The other party leaders were consulted. And the answer was, rightly in my view, thank you but no. As you may have seen, they empty-chaired Boris and Nigel, replacing them with ice sculptures that symbolically started to melt during the debate.

And so there should be two stories this morning: one, what the attending leaders actually had to say at the debate; and two, the cowardly non-appearance of Conservative party leader, Boris Johnson. But the whole thing has been repackaged by CCHQ and the public is being told no, that's not a fair depiction of what happened, the things you have seen and read with your own eyes are not correct. Look, enviro-Gove attended the debate but nasty old Channel 4 wouldn't let him in. Don't you see, it's Channel 4 and the other party leaders that were the cowards, for refusing to debate Michael. Oh, and look, we sent Boris's dad along too, to say charmingly baffled things about WhatsApp, in the hope that it might evoke a rose-tinted nostalgia for that time when Boris was on HIGNFY a lot, you know, when he was more popular. Don't believe the truth, people, believe our truth. And if that's not gaslighting, I don't know what is.

Of course this repackaged narrative of the Tories as media victims is also quite handy for legitimising a threat to review Channel 4's public service broadcasting remit (and, by inference, funding). This from the party that has also banned the Daily Mirror from their campaign bus. The message is clear. Report us the way we want or else. That sort of thing reminds me of Soviet Russia. Or 1930s Germany.

The underlying message of this whole sorry story though is...you can't trust Boris. More than that, you can't trust the Conservative party. Whilst Johnson might be their notional leader, he's just a figurehead - witness his squirming response on the further cowardice of dodging the Andrew Neil interview ("Other people than me are responsible for those discussions and negotiations" - Christ, man, you're supposed to be the leader!). And you really can't trust him/them on the NHS. How many new hospitals, really? How many new nurses, really? Not up for sale, really?

I almost started this post by saying I don't have a particular political axe to grind. I'm not trying to get you to vote for a particular party. But I guess I have ended up here, imploring you not to vote for a particular party. Don't be conned. Don't be taken in. Don't vote Conservative.

More than that, though. Do vote tactically. Give our country its best chance of not having a Tory majority or Tory-led coalition. There are three main tactical voting guidance sites, so take your pick of these: remainunited.org, www.tactical-vote.uk and tacticalvote.getvoting.org - unhelpfully, they don't always agree, so visit all three and then use your common sense.

EDIT: Oh, and if you think I'm over-reacting to the manipulation and treatment of "dissenting" media by those in power, I've just read that the i newspaper has been bought by the owner of the Daily Mail... good luck to us all.

Thursday, 28 November 2019

I used to love how he said "Pracatan"

RIP the marvellous Clive James, an absolute staple of my 80s and early 90s television watching...

And here he is, interviewing another hero, The Shat, because, well, why not?

He wrote some good books too...

Wednesday, 27 November 2019

Addendum

This was on the radio this morning, and it suddenly struck me that this is a song to add to last week's discussion of funeral playlists.

For a start, it's a wonderful Kinks song, and they were a band that was so important to the younger me. Then there's Kirsty's singing - I love the idea of her voice filling the crematorium. And finally, there are these lyrics, that I hope would be uplifting for anyone that shows up:

Thank you for the days, those endless days, those sacred days you gave me.
I’m thinking of the days, I won’t forget a single day believe me.
I bless the light, I bless the light that lights on you believe me.
And though you’re gone you’re with me every single day believe me.

Days I’ll remember all my life. Days when you can’t see wrong from right.
You took my life, but then I knew that very soon you’d leave me.
But it’s alright, now I’m not frightened of this world believe me.

I wish today could be tomorrow.
The night is long, it just brings sorrow, let it wait.

Thank you for the days, those endless days, those sacred days you gave me.
I’m thinking of the days, I won’t forget a single day believe me.

Days I’ll remember all my life. Days when you can’t see wrong from right.
You took my life, but then I knew that very soon you’d leave me.
But it’s alright, now I’m not frightened of this world believe me.

Days...

Thank you for the days, those endless days, those sacred days you gave me.
I’m thinking of the days, I won’t forget a single day believe me.
I bless the light, I bless the light that lights on you believe me.
And though you’re gone you’re with me every single day believe me.

Days...

There, that's nice, isn't it? A positive message to leave my nearest and dearest. And, as a bonus, the whole thing is over in three minutes. I don't think music played at a funeral should go on too long, do you? Anyway, here's three versions of the song:


Original video


Bonus TOTP performance


Source material...

And as an aside, the Kirsty MacColl website is an amazing resource and something of an Internet rabbit hole, with great detail about every song. Have a look sometime...

Monday, 25 November 2019

Down in the tube station at midday

I do love a bit of serendipity. Here's a case in point. I had cause to go to east London at the weekend, and found myself alighting the tube at Leytonstone station. And there, to my surprise, was a whole series of beautiful mosaics celebrating the life and films of Alfred Hitchcock.

I quickly surmised (and Wikipedia confirmed) that Leytonstone was Hitchcock's birth place. These mosaics were commissioned in 1999 to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Hitch's birth, and they're fantastic! I didn't photograph them all (tricky amidst the commuter hustle) but here are my favourites:


This is Cary Grant in Suspicion, here bringing his young wife a drink that she suspects to be poisoned. I love how the colour and pose suggest that threat and uncertainty...
 

Hitch directing Janet Leigh in perhaps his most famous film, Pscyho. Note how Hitchcock is depicted in red, to me foreshadowing the cinematic blood he is about to spill. Leigh is brilliantly rendered here too, but best of all is how the shower curtain divides Norman's face, symbolising his mother/son duality. At least that's how I read it...
 

Artistically my favourite mosaic, though it depicts a film I've never seen and know little about, The Skin Game. But what a striking image...
 

Want to know more about these, before you trek off to Leytonstone Gallery Tube? London Walking Tours have this excellent guide.

Sunday, 24 November 2019

Sunday shorts: Bonus Track

It might not be true, but I like the idea that the band were asked to come up with a short song to hide as a "bonus track" on a CD. Don't blink...

Wednesday, 20 November 2019

Death at one's elbow

I was going to write about the funeral I went to earlier this week; about what it is to have a "good" death, and the not so good; about seeing distant relatives for the first time in a very long time; about fragility and mortality; about how many people might be at my funeral if I live as long as the deceased did (spoiler alert: not very many); and mainly about how I have never really faced death, not really. I am lucky, I know that - I'm in my (very) late forties and have got this far without anyone very close to me dying. The nearest I have been to grief is when my dog died - I was 15, and had a day off school. I have grieved for a lost friendship, but that's a very different thing (from seeing them every day to them being 3,000 miles away, since you ask). Bottom line - I will face it at some point, inevitably, and I don't think I will handle it very well.

I was also going to write about eulogies, who I'd want to read mine, and maybe whether I'd write my own, in advance.

And finally, because this blog itself would probably die without embedded music videos, I was going to write about what music I might want played at my funeral. I used to joke with The Man Of Cheese that I'd like The Last of the Famous International Playboys - how we chuckled. But really, what might I have? Maybe this...

Maybe this, or the more traditional version of it, as a parting message?

Or maybe this, even if it is a funeral cliché...

If there was anyone in attendance, I could bring them down with this:

Although if I chose any Bowie, it would probably be this, for the lyrical conceits of a hand reaching down for me, and the nightmares coming today...

So many songs, so many choices. Hopefully I've got a while yet to work it out. Or I could just say sod it, and plump for this:

If it's not too maudlin, got any thoughts on your funeral tunes?

Sunday, 17 November 2019

Sunday shorts: What You Do To Me

Some short songs are so short but so good, you can't help but wish they were a little bit longer. Others are perfectly suited to their length, like this one.

And is it just me, or are there some chord sequences here that are reminiscent of Where I Find My Heaven by The Gigolo Aunts?

Friday, 15 November 2019

I'm as old as...

Shamelessly thieved from Rol at My Top Ten but expanded to a top twenty because I couldn't choose. The basic premise, in Rol's words is:

All this got me looking further into famous people who are the same age as me. I made a list and asked myself for each of them: do I really think I'm as old as they are? Are they older than me in my head... or younger? It's an interesting game to play.

I simplified this a bit, and just picked a random selection of (semi-) famous people who were born in the same year as me. And that's calendar year, not school year. Anyway, here goes, numbered but in no particular order:

1. Uma Thurman.

In my head, Uma is younger than me. That's because, in my head, she still looks like she did in Pulp Fiction, or Kill Bill, or Dangerous Liasions. Hmm. Mostly Dangerous Liasions, actually.

2. Matt Damon

Poor old Matt. They really did a number on him in Team America: World Police but if he'd retired after Good Will Hunting, that still would have been a good career, I reckon. And because it's youthful Will I associate Matt with, I thought him younger than me.

3. River Phoenix

Younger, of course. He'll always be younger than everybody, right?

4. Melania Trump

In my head... well, I had no clue, to be honest. I think when there's that much make-up and (allegedly) surgery involved, you can probably forgive me for not being able to form an opinion. And she's got bigger problems, to be honest.

5. Rachel Weisz

In my head, not younger or older than me but just exactly the right age for me... sigh.

6. Ethan Hawke

I used to think he was younger than me, because he played lots of fresh-faced roles. But as he's gotten older, a grizzled quality has emerged that would make me think him older than me. I'm not (too) grizzled yet, I hope.

7. Beck

I thought him younger than me, until I looked up the relatively recent picture of him shown left. Now I would think him older.

8. Vince Vaughn

Another who has made the transition in my mind from younger to older than me. Maybe being charged with drunk driving ages a man...?

9. Andre Agassi

I thought him older, if I'm honest. Maybe that's because he went bald early, but more likely because he was winning tennis grand slams when I still felt like a kid.

10. Louis Theroux

I would have pitched Louis as being pretty much the same age as me, in part because I could imagine him being in the same year at school as me, and us getting along. I am probably not alone in this delusion. Who doesn't like Louis?

11. Samantha Mathis

As a younger man, I had a bit of a thing about Samantha that was based almost exclusively on her role in the rom-com Jack and Sarah, when I thought of her as being about my age. By the time she appeared in American Psycho though, I had started to think of her as older than me.

12. Sadiq Khan

Blimey, the Mayor of London is my age. And I've done what with my life, exactly? If I'm honest, I thought him younger than me but hoped he was older.

13. Glen Medeiros

Something might have changed your love for him now, eh ladies? The 80s crooner has morphed into used-car salesman, by the look of it. I thought him older than me, not least because when he was famous girls my age liked him, so he had to older, right?

14. Claudia Schiffer

A difficult one. When I was young, I thought her older, because in 1989 when she was the Guess jeans girl she looked impossibly wonderful to gawky, gauche, teenage me (who had this poster on his wall). But now, I think of her as younger because (you guessed it) to me she's still the impossibly wonderful Guess jeans girl...

15. Christopher Nolan

I thought him younger than me, if I'm honest. A film-maker who could realise Memento had to be younger, brighter, fresher than me, right? Of course, I forget that when that came out, I was younger, brighter, fresher too. Oh time, you cruel sod.

16. Bernard Butler

If pushed, I probably would have plumped for Bernard being younger than me, solely because when Suede emerged he looked so fresh-faced and fey, so impossibly clean-shaven, that even to the youthful me he seemed young. Pah! What did the youthful me know?

17. Debbie Gibson

Ah, the perennial Electric Youth is not so youthful any more, is she? But for similar reasons to Bernard, I would have thought her younger - when she hit the airwaves, I felt too mature to like her, too grown up for such fluff. I know, I know...

18. Mariah Carey

As with Melania, I can honestly say I had no clue as to whether Mariah was older or younger than me. I think this is because every picture I have seen of her for the last 25 years has been so rigorously airbrushed or Photoshopped (example left is very recent), who could possible know if the subject was 25 or 50? Not this boy, for sure.

19. M. Night Shyamalan

I remember clocking Shyamalan's cameo in Sixth Sense and thinking, "God, he's young (damn him)." And that thought has stuck. Funny how first impressions last, eh?

20. Simon Pegg

I thought Simon the same age as me, not just because all his cultural references align so well with mine but also because, as we have already established, basically I am Simon Pegg, right?


I had fun doing that (cheers, Rol), probably much more fun than you all had reading it (sorry about that). If you have any comments to make that you haven't already made over at Rol's place, fire away...

The Good, The Bad and The Ugly ... news

The good

Jet suit inventor breaks speed record off Brighton beach - innovation, tech and a typical maverick inventor ... what's not to like?

Roger Federer beats Novak Djokovic at 2019 ATP Finals in London - that he can still be this good at 38 should boggle all of our minds.

The bad

Project Nightingale: Google probed over US patient data deal - remember when Google's motto was "Don't be evil"? No, neither do they.

Flooded Venice battles with new tidal surge - Venice is truly wonderful. Go and see it soon because it won't be there in 50 years.

The ugly

A rubbish story: China's mega-dump full 25 years ahead of schedule - there are so many, many ways in which the problems caused by our spiralling global population are manifesting themselves. Awful.

Donald Trump confirms pre-election UK visit - as if we didn't have enough happening on the domestic political scene, without old Tango-face Tiny-Hands rocking up and sticking his oar in. Though would any of the principals welcome an endorsement from this pariah?

Tuesday, 5 November 2019

How do you solve a problem like ... Doctor Sleep?

Disclaimer: I'm a Constant Reader and a Kubrick obsessive.

Heeeere's... Danny!
Earlier this week, I went to see Doctor Sleep at the cinema. I don't know how it is doing, box-office-wise, but there were only six other people at the screening I went to, on a rainy Sunday evening. Maybe people aren't liking it; certainly The Guardian doesn't. I admit, I had reservations - after all, how do you follow The Shining? Regular readers of this blog will know that Kubrick's liberal interpretation of King's original story is one of my favourite films, of any genre, of any time. There was scope here, I thought, for cinematic blasphemy.

And then there's the problem of making a sequel that is both true to King's Doctor Sleep and yet also a successor to Kubrick's Shining, given that the latter was famously so very different to King's Shining. I mean, forget the thematic differences between the original book and the original film, what about the practical differences? In King's book, The Overlook Hotel is basically blown up by an exploding boiler and Dick Hallorann walks away; in Kubrick's film, The Overlook is abandoned and poor old Dick... well (spoiler alert), he gets an axe in the chest. So where do you even begin to draw those threads together? Well, I guess the answer is to do what Kubrick did, first time around, and reinterpret the book on which the film is based. And that's basically what director Mike Flanagan has done, except he's stayed closer to the theme and tone of King's novel than Stanley did. King likes this new film, as a result.

I had other reservations too; one is that the Doctor Sleep novel, whilst perfectly serviceable, is not, in my view, King's best. Like many of his more recent works, it starts well, develops an interesting premise, builds tension and then seems to tail off, with a somewhat unsatisfactory denouement. Don't get me wrong, I bought, read and enjoyed it as soon as it came out... but it's not his finest work. Then there's the casting of this new film - could I see Ewan McGregor as Danny Torrance? I wasn't sure that I could. But then I didn't know who I would cast in that role instead.

But enough of the pre-amble. What of the film? Well, Flanagan's Doctor Sleep is not so much a sequel to Kubrick's - at times, it feels more like a paean, such are the nods to, and acknowledgements of, what has gone before. Some are about as subtle as a...well, a baseball bat to the head, perhaps: the most obvious, and consistent, is the soundtrack, from the Berlioz-evoking opening theme right through to closing with Midnight, The Stars and You, and everything in-between. At some point, Flanagan has realised the importance of Kubrick's soundtrack in evoking a certain mood, and has stuck with it to great effect. Equally blatant is the number of overhead shots of cars in transit through desolate landscapes, again evoking Kubrick's opening scene. Slightly more subtle, and wonderfully realised, is a scene in which Danny meets Dr John in the latter's office - on the face of it, this vignette serves no purpose and could easily have ended up on the cutting room floor. But everything about it, from the pacing and conversational back and forth, the office decor, even the weather outside, perfectly echoes Jack's interview for the caretaker's job with Mr Ullman in Kubrick's film. Seen in that context, it becomes a more important scene, a Jonbar point from which Dan's path is changed, just as his father's had been on landing the Overlook job. Such was my delight at this tiny sequence, and its dialogue, if I hadn't been in the cinema I probably would have exclaimed something along the lines of, "Clever, very clever." As it was, it put a smile on my face.

Other nods are genuinely more subtle, and if you're a fan you'll have fun spotting them. Example? Abra's house number is 1980; surely no coincidence, given the year Kubrick's film was released. No doubt there's a list online somewhere detailing all the references, actual and imagined, but don't seek it out - why spoil your fun?

As for the whole "one story as two sequels" dilemma, well, Flanagan handles it well, even if he has to deviate from King's story to do so. He finds a neat way of including the cinematically-dead Dick Hallorann. He finds a neat way of revisiting the Overlook, and manages to give it the ending King had always envisaged. Oh, and the approach to the Overlook is a shot-by-shot recreation of Kubrick's opening but at night, in bad weather. I think my response to that was more Pavlovian than Proustian, but it certainly triggered something. It's not really a spoiler to say that Wendy appears in flashbacks (props to Alex Essoe's vocal coach too, as she gets the voice spot on). Jack also appears, in a way, as do certain other hotel regulars. It's certainly not a spoiler to say the scenes in which Dan walks the hotel corridors filled me with genuine unease. But it may be something of a spoiler to add that, if King ever writes another instalment in the life of Dan Torrance, well, Flanagan has made filming that even trickier.

Rose the Hat
I've noticed that, in this review (if that's what this is), I've basically assumed you know enough about King's and Kubrick's work to render any kind of synopsis unnecessary. If you're wondering what actually happens in the film, IMDB has that covered. In their review, The Grauniad criticised Doctor Sleep for being too long, slow and boring. Stephen King, on the other hand, has been quoted as saying he thinks the film will appeal to fans of Kubrick's film and of Frank Darabont's Shawshank Redemption, because of the unhurried storytelling of the latter. I'm inclined to agree. It's a long film - 152 minutes - but at no point did I look at my watch or wish things were moving along faster. Oh and that same review also laid into Rebecca Ferguson for her portrayal of Rose the Hat, but I thought she was pretty good.

The bottom line, then? If you have any interest whatsoever in King's books or Kubrick's film, you are going to get something out of Flanagan's Doctor Sleep. Is it a great movie? One that will still be shown and discussed at the cinema in nearly 40 years time, like Kubrick's? Well, no. But with all the expectation and baggage it carries with it, is it a good film? Yes, it is. Just about as good as it could be, I think.

EDIT: despite what I said a couple of paragraphs back, it seems a sequel to Doctor Sleep might be on the cards after all...

37 days to go

Just wondering... on the day we commemorate an attempt to blow up Parliament, I'm curious how you're feeling about the election... don't worry, it's anonymous, I have no idea how you're voting.

Oh, and if you need some help deciding, you could try Who Should You Vote For... it was pretty on the money for me.

Sunday, 3 November 2019

Sunday shorts: Feelin'

Worth sticking with the poor sound quality for the contemporary video. Beatles guitar motifs to the fore...

Friday, 1 November 2019

Clandestine Classic LXI - A-Punk

The sixty-first post in an occasional series that is intended to highlight songs that you might not have heard that I think are excellent - clandestine classics, if you will. Maybe they'll be by bands you've never heard of. Maybe they'll be by more familiar artists, but tracks that were squirelled away on b-sides, unpopular albums, radio sessions or music magazine cover-mounted CDs. Time will, undoubtedly, tell.

There are two Vampire Weekend albums in our house. The first is Contra, bought by my partner on the strength of a broadsheet review. The second is their eponymous debut, bought by me, secondhand, purely to get hold of today's classic. I've listened to both in their entirety once. What I found thereon is perfectly serviceable, if somewhat anodyne; I could see why they were popular, for a while, but they didn't do much for me. I guess I am not, nor have I ever been, their target market.

The exception, of course, is A-Punk, a single that limped to 55 in the UK singles chart. It fared a little better in the US, and made #4 in Rolling Stone's top 100 songs of 2008. You might not know it by name, but you'll probably know it when you hear it... and surely that's a good indicator when seeking to ascribe classic status to a song. Its distinctive intro has made it ripe for commercial re-use in the intervening eleven years, you see - not just for adverts, but also as the kind of song that is used, in instrumental form, as a musical backdrop to all kinds of television programmes. But there's more to A-Punk than commercial ear-wormery.

For starters... well, I don't know what it is exactly, whether it's that infectious, right-up-the-fretboard guitar intro, or the pace of the song, or the vocal delivery, or just the underlying melody, but something in the way the New York four-piece (thanks, Wikipedia) deliver this song reminds me of Blister in the Sun by Violent Femmes (a song whose ad-friendliness I wrote about in 2008, coincidentally). I think we can all agree the Femmes track is excellent, and so is A-Punk, for many of the same reasons.

And then - bear with me here - the "Hey, hey, hey" refrain reminds me more than a little of The Ramones' "Hey! Ho!" in Blitzkrieg Bop. Yes, really! No bad thing, right?

I can't pretend I know what the lyrics are about, who Johanna is or whether turquoise harmonicas are a thing or a euphemism. I can tell you that Sloan Kettering is a renowned cancer care hospital, which may give a clue to a darker story behind the upbeat delivery of these words, as might the fact that one half of the ring mentioned ends up at the bottom of the sea. What I can tell you, for absolute certain, is that this song has the power to make me dance (in the privacy of my kitchen). And inappropriately at that, in the manner of the nutty boy dancing I did in my youth, to the sounds of ska and Two-Tone. And that's the clincher, really - any song that can make me dance, simply for the joy of it, has to be a stone cold classic.

You can buy today's selection on the aforementioned debut album if you like, but as I've already mentioned, it's not all like this. So maybe YouTube is a safer bet - good video too, I reckon. Oh - 41 million views. Maybe not so clandestine. Bollocks. But I wanted to write about it, and it's just a bit too long for a Sunday short, so... my gaff, my rules - enjoy!