Monday, 10 May 2021

Twenty-one in '21: Flowers for Algernon

I've read far less in recent years than I would like. To help remedy this, I've set myself the modest target of reading twenty one books in 2021. When I finish one, a thumbnail review here will follow.

5/21: Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes

The blurb: The classic novel about a daring experiment in human intelligence Charlie Gordon, IQ 68, is a floor sweeper and the gentle butt of everyone's jokes - until an experiment in the enhancement of human intelligence turns him into a genius. But then Algernon, the mouse whose triumphal experimental tranformation preceded his, fades and dies, and Charlie has to face the possibility that his salvation was only temporary.

The review: Brooklyn-born Daniel Keyes was a merchant sailor before finding his calling as a university lecturer and, eventually, professor or creative writing. He wrote four novels, apparently, but Flowers for Algernon is far and away the best known. Originally a Hugo Award-winning short story, Keyes expanded it to a novel whereupon that won the Nebula Award. He also adapted it for a 1968 film, Charly, which landed an Oscar for its lead actor but - spoiler alert - the film has not aged as well as the book. Oh, and it also got the TV movie treatment, twenty odd years ago, and that starred Matthew Modine and is well reviewed, so I'll be taking a look at that when time allows.

So what of the book? Well, the Hugo and Nebula awards should be telling you this is a science-fiction story, and it is... but it's a question-raising morality play too. What is more important, this novel asks, to have a brain or to have a heart? To care or to be aware? And, less directly but equally effectively, whether mankind should play god, in the grand tradition of everything from Frankenstein to Jurassic Park and a whole lot more besides. In this case, and to paraphrase, the scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could turn Charlie into a genius, they didn't stop to think if they should.

It's also a heartbreakingly sad novel too. Protagonist Charlie leads a simple but happy life but, as his intelligence grows, he realises that his life has not been, and is not, happy - that people he thought were his friends were actually just laughing at him behind his back. Also, as he gets smarter Charlie is able, for the first time, to examine and understand the troubled family history that saw his parents abandon him. And, most painfully, as he grows he realises that he can love, but cannot give himself over to that love until it's too late - his spiralling IQ means that he has left his sweetheart behind intellectually.

The real kicker comes in the book's final third, and is hinted at in the blurb. It's a hard read and left me wondering whether it is better to have been smart and lost that, than never to have been smart at all; it also left me wondering, not for the first time, what I would want to happen to me in the event of suffering a traumatic brain injury, or developing some form of dementia. To know, to be all too aware you are losing your mental prowess must be terrible.

There are also some neat writing tricks at play here from Keyes. The novel is written in Charlie's first-person narrative as a series of progress reports that he keeps as part of the study, and Keyes has great fun with this, varying his protagonist's writing style subtly yet progressively to demonstrate a growing intelligence. And having digested Charlie's linguistic up-turn at the start of the novel, this reader was hyper-attuned to subsequent variations; it was all the more saddening to see the first signs of deterioration creep into Charlie's writing (apostrophes were the first thing to go) because you know what had gone into the intial improvement. Watching a tower crumble is bad, but doubly so if you had invested in it from the outset.

There's also another theme to be discussed here, I think, about the burden of intelligence, the separation it can cause, the loneliness. Which would you choose: to be a sad genius or a happy imbecile?

The bottom line: don't be put off by the SF tag; this is a gripping, emotional read that raises a lot of questions and lingers long in the mind; only deprived a full complement of stars by a slight narrative lag in the middle third.

Since everything online is rated these days: ★★★★★☆

Monday long song: This is Hardcore

Great (long) song and a great video too.

Saturday, 8 May 2021

Minding the gaps: The Liar

Way back in January 2018, I posted about this song - The Liar by The Fernweh, and said that "when the single is released and there's a full embeddable version somewhere, I fully expect to darken your door with this again." So here I am, two and a half years later, to darken your door. Finger on the pulse, me...

I also said, "It's sounds like... 1969, I think." See if you agree.

Friday, 7 May 2021

Blue Friday: Possibly Maybe

This popped up at random recently, and gave me a bit of a "time flies" moment as I reminded myself it is 26 years old. Twenty-bloody-six. Still sounds terrific, I reckon; maybe the key to ageing well is to be timeless.

And if you're wondering why this qualifies for Blue Friday, well, it's a break-up song, isn't it? Check the lyrics, especially the last three verses. "I suck my tongue in remembrance of you" indeed...

Great video too. 26 years may well have slipped by, but there's still no-one quite like Björk.

Monday, 3 May 2021

Monday long song: Babe, I'm On Fire

I still have, and will probably always have, a bit of a blind spot when it comes to Nick Cave, but this is a powerful, wrecking ball of a song.

Monday, 26 April 2021

Monday long song: Travels in Nihilon

If, heaven forbid, there was a fire at New Amusements House, and I only had time to grab, say, twenty albums, Black Sea by XTC would be one of them, I think. This is probably the weakest track on it... but it is long, so...

Saturday, 24 April 2021

Every home should have one VIII

Prompted by a recent post by Charity Chic, it suddenly occurred to me that I'd omitted Fannies masterpiece Songs From Northern Britain from the EHSHO masterlist. What was I thinking?

Friday, 23 April 2021

Blue Friday: Looking For Sparks

I've been wondering for a while how to feature this song. It doesn't quite merit Clandestine Classic status, it's too short for a Monday long song and too long for a Sunday short. Guess it'll have to be a Blue Friday post then...

Thematically, it's in the right ball park, at least. A song about being dumped, and more specifically being at the stage where you'd say or do anything to get the other person to take you back. You know, the raw stage, before you ultimately resign yourself to cultivating a healthy dislike for the person instead. Either that, or you just meet someone new/better... but the raw stage makes for a better song.

I don't know anything about Seafruit. Nor does Wikipedia, although has this somewhat anodyne biog:

After spending four years with a band called the Wild Orchids, Geoff Barradale (vocals) formed Seafruit in 1998 with Alan Smyth (guitars, strings, synth, piano), Joe Newman (synth, organ, bass, flugelhorn, sitar), Stuart Doughty (drums, percussion), and Tom Hogg. Although the Wild Orchids never landed a record deal, Seafruit were able to sign with an independent label, Global Warming Records, within a year of their existence. By February 1999, Seafruit had completed recording its debut album, which wasn't released until more than a year later. Seafruit's first single, "Looking for Sparks," was released in the U.K. in March 1999. The guitar-heavy track marked a stylistic departure for Barradale, who had a fling with chart success as the frontman for the '80s synth-pop outfit Vitamin Z. Seafruit performed at U.K. music festivals and opened for Drugstore and Headswim while releasing singles such as "Hello World" that hinted at the album's melodic guitar rock. However, none of the singles attracted significant radio airplay. Seafruit also filmed a video for "Hello World," but its appearance on the Internet provided it with far more exposure than television did. When Seafruit's self-titled first album was released in October 2000, minimal promotion killed any opportunity of commercial success.

Whatever. I think I got this track from a Q magazine subscriber CD, way back when. It makes me think of Embrace when they were having a good day, at least in the verses if not the chorus. It's quite easy on the ear, and has a pleasant enough video too, although I'm not sure about the whole "playing our invisible instruments" thing for the band - there's a bit where the guitarist is playing a solo on his invisible guitar where it looks like he could be playing with something else instead. But that's enough lowering of the tone - here's the song.

Tuesday, 20 April 2021

"I thought I just needed a night's sleep, but it’s more than that."

Apologies in advance for the blog cross-pollination; I won't write about LEJOG here again until it's over, I promise.

I really haven't been writing much on here of late. Posts that have surfaced have been mostly one-liners to accompany an embed of some sort, be it a photograph or a YouTube video. At least the latter has kept some of blog themes ticking over but, really, they're going to attract or even retain readers for long, are they?

So why the (relative) silence?

Well, I've just been ... busy. And running myself into the ground. Yes, I'm still working from home, and that undoubtedly has its perks ... but it also means you're surrounded, non-stop, by all the home/life stuff that you're supposed to be doing. I can't look out of my current "office" window without a continual reminder of the unholy mess the garden is in. I can't get a cup of tea without walking past the room that is permanently in a state of redecoration, or without walking up and down the stairs that mock me with their squeaks, creeks and that one loose board. Every weekend I write myself a list of things I must do in that precious 48 hour window, and every Monday I look back the list and see that only half of it has been ticked off. And all of this is on top of being a father and a partner, two roles that I place far, far above work and the house/garden.

And then, of course, the elephant in the room. In less than twenty weeks, I shall be setting off on my bike to cycle from Land's End to John O'Groats, in just nine days. So any and every spare moment I have right now, I should be on a bike, either for real, outside, or virtually, on my turbo trainer. It's continual, and it's draining. I'm at the point of not really seeing how I could be cycling more than I currently am, what with, you know, life being in the way ... and I am still not doing anything like enough to be properly ready for the physical onslaught of 980 miles, of more than 52,500ft of elevation. But short of taking a sabbatical from work, I genuinely don't know how I can do more.

Look, it's all for a good cause. I'm trying to raise money for the Alzheimer's Society, and any sponsorship, big or small, is so very welcome, thank you. So very motivating too, and that's what I need most because, until September, I might not be posting much here of any merit... until September, like Llewyn Davis, I'm just going to be tired...

Thursday, 15 April 2021

The Unewsual VIII - when is an iguana not an iguana?

Let's ignore the strange-but-true state of Prince Philip getting his own top-line news category (ahead of the apparently more trivial coronavirus and Brexit), and instead revel in the magnificence of this headline, and the least creative use of stock photography imaginable...

Full story here...

More street art: Lemmings

Saturday, 10 April 2021

Twenty-one in '21: Later

I've read far less in recent years than I would like. To help remedy this, I've set myself the modest target of reading twenty one books in 2021. When I finish one, a thumbnail review here will follow.

4/21: Later by Stephen King

The blurb: Sometimes growing up means facing your demons.

The son of a struggling single mother, Jamie Conklin just wants an ordinary childhood. But Jamie is no ordinary child. Born with an unnatural ability his mom urges him to keep secret, Jamie can see what no one else can see and learn what no one else can learn. But the cost of using this ability is higher than Jamie can imagine as he discovers when an NYPD detective draws him into the pursuit of a killer who has threatened to strike from beyond the grave.

Later is Stephen King at his finest, a terrifying and touching story of innocence lost and the trials that test our sense of right and wrong. With echoes of King's classic novel It, Later is a powerful, haunting, unforgettable exploration of what it takes to stand up to evil in all the faces it wears.

The review: regular readers of this here blog will know that I am a sucker for pretty much anything by Stephen King. I also happen to think he's having something of a late-career high, with some of the books he's produced in the last decade being as good as anything he wrote in his 80s pomp. Add to the fact that one of King's previous publications for this Hard Case Crime imprint, Joyland, is an absolute favourites, and you could say I was predisposed to like Later. And surprise, surprise, I did, very much.

The thing is, I didn't just want this review to turn into "I'm a King fan, this is great, five stars, go and buy it" - rather, I spent some time thinking about exactly what makes it so very good. Because even a Constant Reader like me can hold his hands up and say that not everything that has churned from King's keyboard has always been so great (you won't see The Dark Half in his greatest hits blurb, or books like From A Buick 8, in which he basically recycled himself whilst, perhaps, battling greater demons). No, there were times in the 90s when I almost let King go - I told myself at the time that I was just outgrowing his books but that was a convenient lie, easier to swallow than the truth that the new books simply weren't as good. But I hung on, as much out of habit as anything else, which makes me all the happier to talk about the quality of his most recent output, this late-career renaissance. There's more to it though, with Later, and it suddenly struck me what at the weekend, as I read the last few chapters whilst churning out the miles on my turbo trainer.

Simply, I think King is most effective when he writes in the first person, as he does here. At the simplest level, he is a master storyteller, and the first person narrative voice lends itself to that more than third (or the occasional second). It's like he's saying, "Let's sit by the fire, you and I, and I'll tell you a tale if you're prepared to listen. It's long, and I might get a little dry, but I've got a mug of something hot right here and, besides, we've got all night..." King's first person prose is so direct, so engaging, it's hard not to get drawn in, and just zip through. In short, in feels more like listening than reading.

So, with a modest spoiler alert, what can I tell you specifically about Later? Well, the "unnatural ability" our narrator Jamie has is that, Sixth Sense klaxon, he sees dead people. So no, despite the imprint this is not a straightforward hard-boiled crime case. But there is crime, oh yes. And bad things happen. Lots of bad things. Most of the time, Jamie is untroubled by his gift, and the dead swiftly move on... somewhere... after dying, so it's not like he's beset at every turn. But eventually his mother's ex-partner, a cop, uses him to extract information from a very bad and recently deceased people, and that's where poor Jamie's life takes a 90-degree turn. I can say no more without compromising the story, but safe to say that whilst this is not a horror story in the conventional sense there is horror here - the horror of people, and the awful things that they do. And really, that's the worst horror of all, isn't it?

Bottom line? Whilst not as good as Joyland, Later is certainly on a par with King's other entry in the Hard Case Crime roster, The Colorado Kid, and continues his late-period sweet spot. The first person narrative is a joy and, unlike some of his more conventional horror stories, here the author resists the urge to overwrite. I raced through this, and could happily digest a sequel too. Wish I could say more, but I don't want to risk further spoilers - I've probably said too much already. What I would say, a review coda if you like, is that the comparison to It in the blurb is misplaced... but don't hold that against it.

The bottom line: totally engaging first-person narrative that completely absorbs the reader into a fantastical plot, from a master of the storytelling art. Recommended.

Since everything online is rated these days: ★★★★★☆

Friday, 9 April 2021

Blue Friday: Between The Wars

It doesn't get much better than this; not ashamed to say it brings a tear to my eye.

Sunday, 28 March 2021

Friday, 26 March 2021

Blue Friday: Whispers and Stories

It's ten years since I first tried, and failed, to write a blog post about this song, but I was reminded of it after reading some of Rol's recent posts featuring Lori McKenna (here and here) - not musically but thematically. Let's wind the clock back to 2012, then, and imagine we're watching ITV. There's a good chance that, at some point in the proceedings, this advert for the VW Polo would come up:

It has a lovely soundtrack, doesn't it? And a heart-tugging refrain, almost guaranteed to get something in the eye of every dad in the northern hemisphere...

...but at the time, there was a little bit of a controversy. It seems that VW had tried, and failed, to license this track for their ad, Take Care by Beach House:

Having failed, VW did whatever any corporate giant would do and went off to commission a creative agency to produce a soundalike, theme-alike track. The creative agency in question was Sniffy Dog and the track they came up with was Whispers and Stories - it's the 90 second track you can hear in the ad at the top of the page. And here's the thing: whilst I like both tracks, it's the Sniffy Dog song that I like best. I know, I know, it is contrived, a deliberate emulation, born of a corporate exercise rather than an emotional and creative spark... but I borderline love it, and not just because it gets something in my eye.

Here's a longer version that I found on YouTube - I don't know if it's a genuine Sniffy Dog longer version, or even if such a version exists, or whether it's just the creation of an enterprising YouTuber who noted a gap in the market for a longer version. Somehow, given the nature of how the Sniffy Dog track came to be, I guess it doesn't really matter. Here you go: prepare for pre-meditated but nonetheless effective bittersweet sadness.

Monday, 22 March 2021

Twenty-one in '21: Jews Don't Count

I've read far less in recent years than I would like. To help remedy this, I've set myself the modest target of reading twenty one books in 2021. When I finish one, a thumbnail review here will follow.

3/21: Jews Don't Count by David Baddiel

The blurb: Jews Don’t Count is a book for people who consider themselves on the right side of history. People fighting the good fight against homophobia, disablism, transphobia and, particularly, racism. People, possibly, like you.

It is the comedian and writer David Baddiel’s contention that one type of racism has been left out of this fight. In his unique combination of close reasoning, polemic, personal experience and jokes, Baddiel argues that those who think of themselves as on the right side of history have often ignored the history of anti-Semitism. He outlines why and how, in a time of intensely heightened awareness of minorities, Jews don’t count as a real minority: and why they should.

The review: I like David Baddiel's writing. I've read most of his adult fiction and, from what I can see of it, his writing for kids is also very good. This is unlike anything he's written before though, unless you count the occasional broadsheet op-ed. For this is a short polemic that seeks to illustrate how and why anti-Semitism is propagated still, even amongst the liberal left and those who might think themselves enlightened in such matters. In Baddiels' own words, this book "is very specifically about progressives; it's not about the mainstream media. And it's written from this point of view, to use a phrase much beloved of progressives, of my lived experience: the lived experience of a Jew who feels as most Jews do that the reaction of progressives, to anti-Semitism, is that it doesn't matter very much."

Baddiel also suggests that, for a long time, only Jews really cared about anti-Semitism. As he goes on to illustrate (with lots of examples) the hierarchy of racism that persists, it quickly becomes apparent that this is pretty much exactly right. Baddiel wonders if an apparent duality in how Jews are perceived as simultaneously having high and low status is a part of the problem, leading to the troubling concept that it's maybe okay to be discriminatory or offensive to someone if they are well off, or so lowly as to not warrant consideration. Which is pretty terrible, when you think about it. And think about it, this book certainly encourages you to do.

What it isn't trying to do is simply demonstrate the no-brainer deplorable nature of racism; rather, as the title suggests, its argument is literally that Jews don't count, that racism against them is somehow less offensive, that the Y-word is somehow not as bad as the N-word. Why is that, David, wonders? Why indeed. After highlighting a tweet by American actor Kevin Walker (that I won't link to, it really doesn't need the oxygen), Baddiel is quick to point out "that this is not a #JewsDontCount example. This is straightforward, active anti-Semitism. The #JewsDontCount side of it is that there was very little progressive calling out of Walker for it." That is the nub of the matter.

Also, be prepared to engage your grey matter, for this is a book that really makes you think: why, for example, anti-Semitism even has its own name, and isn't just called racism; why, for example, some people conflate being Jewish, Israel and Zionism, when it suits them to do so; and why, most of all, when people say something like "we stand against anti-Semitism and all types of racism", however well-intentioned, they are really just illustrating part of the problem.

This is not a lightweight topic, of course, and it's a sign of Baddiel's skill as a writer that he keeps the reader engaged throughout, even managing to raise a few wry grins along the way. It's also a sign, of course, that Baddiel hasn't just picked a side in an argument, but that he's lived the argument.

How to sum up? Well, I like to think I am progressive, that time will reveal me to be on the right side of history. And I'm glad I've read this book. It certainly achieves it aim of illustrating the inequality that exists between anti-Semitism and other forms of racism, the inexcusable ism-schism (trademark me, just now) that really should not exist in these supposedly enlightened times. Is it going to convert any rabid anti-Semites? No, of course not. But might it help to level the playing field, to tear down that hierarchy of racism? I hope so. Oh, and in case you're still not convinced that this is an essential read, ask yourself where the "Jewish" tick-box was on yesterday's census form...

The bottom line: brilliantly argued, thought-provoking and compelling takedown of the ism-schism, that continues to occupy headspace long after the last page

Since everything online is rated these days: ★★★★★★

Monday long song: Firth of Fifth

I know that picking early Genesis for a Monday long song is like shooting fish in a barrel, but the piano intro of Firth of Fifth is pretty bloody fantastic. I thought I'd featured it here before but a quick search has disabused me of that notion, so here we go...

Saturday, 20 March 2021

Friday, 19 March 2021

Learning from Apollo 13

One of the few joys of lockdown has been going for a walk and listening to a podcast, something I rarely seemed to have the time to do before. I have particularly enjoyed Louis Theroux's Grounded and, most of all, re-listening to both series of 13 Minutes to the Moon. Everything about the latter is perfect for this listener, from Hans Zimmer and Christian Lundberg's majestic score to Dr Kevin Fong's enthusiastic and knowledgable narration and the wealth of archive material. It's truly an epic listen, and I cannot recommend it highly enough. Series 1 covers Apollo 11, the thirteen minutes in question being the time taken for the powered descent from lunar orbit to the Moon's surface. Series 2 covers the ill-fated, but ultimately triumphant, voyage of Apollo 13.

It struck me, listening to the concluding episode of series 2 last night, that we can all learn from Apollo 13, how to deal with and overcome adversity, however challenging. Here's a quote from Fong's closing monologue that really hit home:

There is so much that we might learn from the people who flew and saved that mission, even today, perhaps especially today.

In the face of crisis, no matter how apparently insurmountable, we must act. We must do so urgently and decisively. We must delegate authority, defer to expertise, and understand where in the system that expertise truly lies. We must know when to lead, and when to get out of the way. We must know when to follow, but learn to take full ownership of the tasks that fall to us. We must act together, across whatever distance, so that the whole becomes far greater than the sum of the parts. And we must never, ever give up, no matter how impossible the future might suddenly appear, because within all of that lies a kernel of hope and determination that might grow into something much more.

This is surely all applicable to any great challenge. It's certainly applicable to how humanity might face a pandemic, and how I wish those that lead us could have been more urgent and decisive in recent times, deferred to expertise, all the rest. But more than that, this kind of thinking needs to be applied to how we address climate change. The Apollo programme, for my money, is our greatest achievement, and the safe return of the Apollo 13 crew represents what can be achieved with decisive leadership, a collective will, co-operation, determination and hope. Preventing our planet from burning is going to be hard but has not become impossible... yet. We just need someone like Gene Kranz to take charge of it...

Blue Friday: Small Town

I was going to feature this as a Sunday Short but it's two seconds too long for the two minute rule, so... luckily it's just about blue enough for today, despite being quite funny. Imagine being from the arse-end of nowhere, feeling very different from everyone around you, and unable to get away. That's the gist of Small Town from Songs for Drella, John Cale and Lou Reed's musical tribute to, and biog of, Andy Warhol.

Thursday, 11 March 2021

In praise of Lou Ottens

Compact cassette logoLou Ottens has died, at the age of 94.

Lou who, you say?

Lou, the Dutch engineer who, whilst working for Philips in the 1960s, invented the compact cassette tape. Since then, over 100 billion tapes have been sold globally, a fact that may have surprised both Ottens and Philips, since his invention was originally designed for dictation machines. But there were three factors contributing to its success: firstly, collaboration with Sony meant that it could be established as a worldwide standard, rather than having to compete with rival formats (remember how the techincally inferior VHS lost a format war to Betamax?); secondly, and crucially, improvements in fidelity meant it could be used for music, rather than just dictation; and thirdly, the Walkman eventually came along, making it the must-have mobile format.

And then, of course, there were mixtapes. I was going to write a paean to the humble cassette in general, and mixtapes in particular, but then remembered I had already done so, back in the very early days of this blog (2005). It already seems a quaint piece, with talk of burning CDs instead of making a mixtape... when's the last time you burnt a CD? Anyway, you can read the original post here but here's a snippet of what I wrote back then.

Because of the time and effort that went into making a really good compilation tape, giving someone a mix meant something. Making a tape for a friend meant "these are songs that I like - you might like them too because we're mates". Making a tape for a girl meant "I want you to think I'm cool" or "I want to seduce you with music"... or, most often, "look how obvious I'm trying to make it that I like you". And what pleasure could be gained from making a tape for yourself! Sometimes, with careful planning and a stroke of luck, the perfect compilation would emerge, and do sterling service on the car stereo for the next six months.

I still have a number of compilation tapes knocking about. I even keep one particularly good mix in the car "for emergencies", i.e. when I'm sick to death of the CDs in the autochanger. Others are gifts from people that mean so much. I'll never play them again because they're becoming so frail, but I'll never get rid of them. The sight of them with their hand-decorated inlay cards is enough for me to remember the thought that went into them, the emotional investment that was made. But I do recognise them for what they are: relics of a bygone age, the 20th Century. Nowadays the whole product can be done and dusted in minutes, digital inlay artwork included - some homespun discs could even be passed off as commercial products, which makes me a bit sad. I can't argue with the fact that technology has made compilations easier to make and more professional in quality but there's just no fun in it anymore. No more will I spend a blissful weekend planning and recording a perfect C90 and never again will I be able to give someone a compilation that says "this is how much you mean to me".

And because no post these days seems complete without some embeddable content, here's a montage of Rob from High Fidelity, talking about mixtape rules. Thanks, Mr Ottens, and RIP.

Wednesday, 10 March 2021

Sense memory

Last time I was able to visit my parents (i.e. some time ago now), I stumbled across a pair of fingerless gloves in what was my old bedroom. They were tucked away in a drawer of a long-forgotten wardrobe. I fished them out and brought them back with me, and then tucked them away in a drawer here. Fast forward to winter, scrabbling around in said drawer for something to keep warm, I actually fished them out and put them on.

At this point, I should make it clear that in every material way these are completely unremarkable: a simple pair of black fingerless gloves. The label inside tells me they were made by Damart, a company that is incredibly still going but at the time I would have dismissed as "makes thermal clothes for old people". But it's that "at the time" that is so important, and why the feeling that putting them on triggered was so visceral. For these gloves were a mainstay of my wardrobe in the late 80s and early 90s - if I was going out and the weather was anything less than clement, than I would either wear the gloves or at the very least have them in my jacket pocket. Putting them on again after thirty years was momentarily transformative, transporting me back to how I dressed, looked and felt back then.

Aside from the fact that I had a lot more hair, no glasses and a smaller waistline, how else did I dress, look and feel for a night out in the late 80s? Well, I would have been wearing jeans with a belt, though no belt was strictly needed. The bottom of each leg would have been folded in on itself to reduce the width, and then folded up into the world's thinnest, sharpest turn-up. Below them would sit a pair of black suede shoes, regularly restained with some kind of weird dye that came in a plastic tube with a sponge applicator on top; this was to maintain maximum blackness, you didn't want to be turning out with grey suede shoes. I probably wore white socks with these, most of the time, for contrast. On top, I would have had a band t-shirt (my Wedding Present George Best shirt and Smiths Hatful of Hollow did particularly sterling service), although other T's that I wore to death featured Diana Rigg (this pic) and Audrey Hepburn (this pic) - I thought myself so cultured, and wanted people (who am I kidding, girls) to see that, but it was all academic because I would immediately have layered a shirt over the t-shirt, though the shirt would have been half-unbuttoned, leaving a V of the t-shirt visible to anyone who was interested. I mean, no-one was interested, but the thought was there. One such shirt was a special favourite, grey with green stitching and tiny white buttons, slightly over-sized but bought cheaply in a little clothes shop called Marcus, just across from the post office in town, a shop that was like Mr Byrite but, can you believe, even cheaper.

To top it all off, I would have had a denim jacket over the shirt, in cooler weather at least, the sleeves of which were long enough to pull down over my hands. The collar wouldn't have been down but neither would it have been fully turned up - hey, this was the 80s, not the 50s, after all. But it would have been sort of half turned up. Similarly, the jacket wouldn't be done up, but then it wouldn't be totally undone either - just the bottom button would be fastened. And finally, the black fingerless gloves. Not full gloves, heavens no, fingerless, mandatory. Quite a look, eh? Calm yourselves, ladies.

Anyway, the reason I know I wore these from the late 80s and not earlier is that the previous pair of fingerless gloves in my wardrobe went onto a post-pub beach bonfire with The Man Of Cheese, when we ran out of anything else to burn. I know, I know, but you made your own fun after a night drinking cheap cider in The Royal Oak, especially when there was nowhere else to go and nothing else to do.

It was a golden time though.

Later, as the 90s got going, the black suede shoes were replaced, first by a battered pair of desert boots with green laces, later by a pair of cherry red 8-hole Doc's. The white socks were replaced with black. Reluctantly, the grey shirt with green stitching got replaced too, as did the denim jacket, both usurped in a bold two-for-one move as I adopted a purple jumper that I wore to death, anywhere, for anything, until it basically fell apart. The jumper/jeans/boots combo became my new outfit, my new uniform, the new version of me.

Putting on those fingerless gloves again, for the first time in more than thirty years, was weird. The world has moved on. I have moved on. In many ways, my time is no longer golden. But just for a moment I was transported back, and instead of being a middle-aged man walking to the shop to buy some milk I was a kid again, '87 maybe, walking with The Man Of Cheese through his home town to meet other school friends in the park, maybe have a sneaky drink from a giant plastic bottle of Strongbow or Woodpecker that we'd pass around, before heading off to a disco in a faded seafront hall, where the big attraction might be a personal appearance by whichever member of Grange Hill had recently outgrown the series and was trying to establish a career for themselves beyond kids' TV. Flirting with girls, circling and being circled by the opposite sex. A time when just kissing one of them would be considered a success worthy of punching the air on the way home. Of sleeping it all off on a Z-bed at The Man Of Cheese's, knowing that you'd be doing it all again in seven days time. It probably sounds very tame to the sixteen year olds of today, but it wasn't, you know, it really wasn't.

All this from pulling on an old pair of gloves ... sigh. A song is in order, I think. This isn't from 1987, nor is it about gloves, but it does seem very appropriate. Plus it's a cracker, and if you don't agree then I'm sorry but you're wrong.

Your favourite shirt is on your bed, do a somersault on your head...

Monday, 8 March 2021

Twenty-one in '21: All My Colors

I've read far less in recent years than I would like. To help remedy this, I've set myself the modest target of reading twenty one books in 2021. When I finish one, a thumbnail review here will follow.

2/21: All My Colors by David Quantick

The blurb: From Emmy-award winning author David Quantick, All My Colors is a darkly comic novel about a man who remembers a book that may not exist, with dire consequences. A bizarre, mind-bending story at the intersection of Richard Bachman, Charlie Kaufman and Franz Kafka.

It is March 1979 in DeKalb Illinois. Todd Milstead is a wannabe writer, a serial adulterer, and a jerk, only tolerated by his friends because he throws the best parties with the best booze. During one particular party, Todd is showing off his perfect recall, quoting poetry and literature word for word plucked from his eidetic memory. When he begins quoting from a book no one else seems to know, a novel called All My Colors, Todd is incredulous. He can quote it from cover to cover and yet it doesn’t seem to exist.

With a looming divorce and mounting financial worries, Todd finally tries to write a novel, with the vague idea of making money from his talent. The only problem is he can’t write. But the book – All My Colors – is there in his head. Todd makes a decision: he will “write” this book that nobody but him can remember. After all, if nobody’s heard of it, how can he get into trouble?

As the dire consequences of his actions come home to both Todd and his long-suffering friends, it becomes clear that there is a high – and painful – price to pay for his crime.

The review: This caught me completely on the hop.

Like you, I was familiar with David Quantick largely from his music journalism - he started out with the NME before graduating as reviewer gun-for-hire with Q and Word, to name but two. I was less aware that he wrote comedy for television too, but he has an impressive list of credits there (Spitting Image, The Day Today, Brass Eye, The Thick Of It and TV Burp, to name but a few). But I bought this book on the strength of his music writing, which I always enjoyed, and the intriguing premise, above. And, despite the slightly fantastical nature of that premise, I was expecting either a suspense or a comedy, based on that "how can he get into trouble?" But I should have paid more attention to the blurb. For whilst this is certainly suspenseful, and there is plenty of humour too, the real thrust of this novel is best described in that first line: "the intersection of Richard Bachman, Charlie Kaufman and Franz Kafka." This story has a dark underbelly, an uncanny nature that is not to be found, I'm guessing, in the on-the-face-of-it-similar Richard Curtis film Yesterday. Telling, also, that the publishers reference Richard Bachman in the blurb, rather than Stephen King; they're trying to appeal to genre aficianados. They want readers who are in the know.

It's a good touchstone for this book, especially given that it concerns a writer, his troubles writing, the dark side of the craft. That's a common King trope, as you probably know. Here, Quantick (who himself has written two non-fiction books on being a writer) picks up this theme and really runs with it. This is King material, but King if he'd grown up in Plymouth instead of Maine. And (I say this as a huge King fan) it's King if he was more focused, less prone to over-writing, sharper in the denouement. In short, it's bloody good.

Quantick's dry humour runs throughout the prose, and is especially effective when applied to our (anti-) hero Milstead and Behm, the private investigator he hires (brilliantly, concisely, vividly characterised, by the way). It's an essential element to the storytelling too, the smiles such writing can prompt, as it helps to balance out the darkness... and there is plenty of darkness. Adultery, dependence, mental health issues, death and, let's stop beating about the bush, something both sinister and supernatural going on beyond our protagonist's control... it's all here.

And it's all so readable; I honestly can't remember the last time I read a full novel in less than 24 hours but that's what happened with All My Colors. It's a terrible old cliché, I know, but I really couldn't put it down.

What else? Well, what a reader likes and dislikes in a writer's style is, of course, subjective, but you'll recall from my last review, of Simon Mayo's Knife Edge, that I found some stylistic issues, authorial habits that grated. Well, there are none here at all. It is an utter joy to read, an intriguing premise so satisfyingly realised. It's the sort of book I wish I'd written myself, that's how much I enjoyed it.

The bottom line: dark in tone and humour, this is an impossible-to-put-down tale straight from the Twilight Zone, all wrapped up in perfect late-70s period detail. Very highly recommended.

Since everything online is rated these days: ★★★★★★

Sunday, 7 March 2021

Sunday shorts: The Moneygoround

No, not the Style Council track of the same name but this, from The Kinks' 1970 album Lola Versus Powerman and the Moneygoround, Part One. One YouTube commenter nails it in asking "Has there ever been a song that has such an incredible balance between hilarious and absolutely heartbreaking?"

More to the point, has there ever been such a short song with so many lyrics?

Whatever, it's enough to warrant a temporary resurrection of the Sunday shorts theme. Here you go.

Friday, 5 March 2021

Blue Friday: Wendell Gee

According to Michael Stipe, "Wendell Gee was a death dream where I was buried in a hollowed out log with this metal mesh kind of lizard skin over the top and I could hear and talk, but all of the alive people could not hear me. Like a ghost. I stole the name from the highway between Athens, Georgia and Jefferson, Georgia, where I would visit with R.A. Miller in the early 80’s. It was one of the few really autobiographic but from dreamworld lyrics that I wrote; shortly after that I barely ever injected real life situations into the songs or lyrics, instead focusing on what I felt was my strong suit as a writer." Specifically, the name that Stipe stole belonged to the former proprietor of Wendell Gee Used Cars, on U.S. Route 129, near Gainesville, Georgia.

...all of which is irrelevant to me reminding myself how much I love IRS-era R.E.M., and that the plaintive chorus and banjo solo in this make it a fine Blue Friday track.

Wednesday, 3 March 2021

Twenty-one in '21: Knife Edge

I've read far less in recent years than I would like. To help remedy this, I've set myself the modest target of reading twenty one books in 2021. When I finish one, a thumbnail review here will follow.

1/21: Knife Edge by Simon Mayo

The blurb: 6.45am. A sweltering London rush hour. And in the last 27 minutes, seven people have been murdered.

In a series of coordinated attacks, seven men and women across London have been targeted. For journalist Famie Madden, the horror unfolds as she arrives for the morning shift.

The victims have one thing in common: they make up the investigations team at the news agency where Famie works. The question everyone’s asking: what were they working on that could prompt such brutal devastation?

As Famie starts to receive mysterious messages, she must find out whether she is being warned of the next attack, or being told that she will be the next victim...

The review: I wasn't going to do this again, having missed by target in 2019 and 2020 and with reading time at a premium, but here we are. Perhaps I will have more time to read whilst bike training. Also, this isn't the sort of book I would normally buy, but I was tempted into parting with my hard-earned because I like Simon Mayo. I will listen to any radio show with him at the helm, and have done so since he was the pre-ginger breakfast DJ on Radio 1. His more recent Radio 2 drivetime show was like a balm for the soul, and he even manages to make Mark Kermode more bearable. I was pre-disposed to liking Simon's book, in other words: I wanted to like it.

And I did... ish... mostly. There are plenty of plus points. Mayo uses his knowledge of the media well, especially in the opening chapters, and builds a completely authentic-feeling news agency environment. It also feels like he's done his research when it comes to extremist organisations, and the environment in which they operate. Add to that the fact that his plot - terror attacks targeting journalists in seemingly motiveless, co-ordinated operations - feels very now, if not quite the unusual now of 2020/21. So why do I only like this, ish?

Well, it's the little things. I haven't read any of Mayo's other fiction, but in Knife Edge at least he seems to have a habit of introducing every new character with a literal physical description, as in "Six two, white, mid-fifties, safari suit..." and "a young twenty-six, wild, curly blonde hair and a slender frame." "Five six, gangly and with an eager-to-please smile." I could go on. I get that maybe it's a deliberate stylistic choice, a nod to hardboiled detective fiction perhaps. But every time it happened, it grated with me, because it feels like the sort of writing you get encouraged to do at primary school and then encouraged not to do on creative writing courses. I don't need to know he's exactly 6'2", do I? If he's tall, show me he's tall by having him look down at someone else. If he's mid-fifties, don't tell me that, but show me that he's a bit slower getting up that younger colleagues, or something like that.

The other slightly annoying habit Mayo has, here at least, is dropping into overly sparse prose at moments of high tension, sometimes resorting to a string of isolated verbs. "Slowing. Stopping. Reversing. Parking." I know why he's doing it - change of style = change of pace, staccato prose = heightened tension - but it's done too often, for this reader. It jars, and upsets the flow of an otherwise pleasing, flowing style.

I should say, for clarity, that there is a lot to like here: good research will only take you so far, but on top of that Mayo has a fine plot, and he can undoubtedly write. Not only that, but the story picks up pace as it progresses, and the conclusion fairly rattles along (albeit with a plot twist that's never really satisfactorily explained). It's just that I think this could have been even better. I don't think this book would have been published in this form if the author didn't come with a degree of fame attached, and that's no disrespect to Mayo but more to his editor(s) who, I think, could have wielded their pens a little more and turned this from decent pot-boiler with occasional Dan Brown tendencies into the cracking thriller it clearly aspired to be. Never underestimate the power of a good editor.

The bottom line: good, not great, but timely and well-researched thriller that would have benefited from better editing.

Since everything online is rated these days: ★★★★☆☆

Sunday, 28 February 2021

Clandestine Classic LXIV - Saudade

The sixty-fourth 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.

Well now, I haven't done one of these for a while, and with good reason: how many classics are there, that I rate but you haven't heard of? It gets harder and harder to think of them. But today's song, the closing track from Love and Rockets' debut album, is worth five minutes of anyone's time.

Let's get the facts out of the way: Love and Rockets were formed by three members of Bauhaus, once that band had split in '83. With a marginably more accessible sound, the band's first album Seventh Dream of Teenage Heaven, released in 1985, did well enough to set the tone for a further fifteen years of output before the band called time (though neither album nor the related singles charted on either side of the pond). Today's choice is the instrumental album closer, five minutes of blissful steel-strung guitar, somewhat at odds with the 6/7/8-minute opuses that make up the rest of the album. Oh, and saudade is a Portuguese word with no direct translation in English, but that can be defined as the nostalgic or profound melancholic longing for an absent something or someone that one loves, but you knew that already. Appropriate, wouldn't you say, for a trio of musicians who were moving on from what had got them where they were?

So what makes this a clandestine classic? Musically, it's lovely though hardly exceptional - the guitar part, for example, is beautiful but not complicated, simple chords, simple picking (even I can play it). And it maybe goes on a bit too long (see other similar bands of the era: I'm looking at you, The Church). But, but, but... I came by this song in my first year at university, living in halls. A hall-mate had a copy of Seventh Dream on cassette (TDK SA90, since you ask, the preferred cassette brand and type of the day) and, at the end of that halcyon first year, when she returned to her home country, she bequeathed that tape (and several others) to me, on the basis that she could record them from the vinyl again when she got home, and giving me her tapes would make her luggage lighter.

I still have all those cassettes, though I haven't played them in years - they'll be too fragile now, brittle ribbons of oxidised tape. But I cherish them for the memories they encapsulate, their hand-written, hand-decorated inlay cards in my friend's handwriting. Everything about them speaks to me of a golden time in my life, of unrepeatable experiences, of connection, of what was and what might have been, of paths not taken, of Jonbar points, of friendship that endures despite separation, of nostalgia, of wistfulness, of melancholy, of saudade. So whilst there are other songs from that clutch of cassettes that evoke the same feelings (Skyway by The Replacements, for one, Surfer Rosa and Come On Pilgrim by Pixies and anything from the first two R.E.M. albums, especially), it feels entirely fitting and appropriate that this is the song I feature to capture that set of very personal feelings. So I'm sorry if this song doesn't move you in the same way (and let's face it, that would be very unlikely) but remember, my gaff, my rules...

You can pick up Saudade on that debut album in your format of choice, right here, or it also closes their retrospective best of, Sorted, if that appeals. Me, I'm off to wallow...

Saturday, 27 February 2021

Anniversaries of anniversaries

A couple of nights ago, I watched a documentary on BBC4 about the Secret Policeman's Ball. I missed the start, but it quickly became apparent from the age of the talking heads that this was not a new, or recent, programme. Turns out that it was celebrating the 25th anniversary of the first Secret Policeman's Ball, and was first screened in 2004... in other words, it won't be long before we can celebrate the 20th anniversary of a documentary celebrating a 25th anniversary.

Anyway, it was a great watch, particularly with regard to the first two balls - I've got nothing against Dawn French, but I think Peter Cook was funnier, that's all. You can, and probably should, take a squizz whilst you still can, over on the iPlayer.

The point of this post? Well, the doc drew attention to the fact that the balls weren't just about comedy, but music too. A clip was shown from 1979, I think, in which Pete Townshend performed Won't Get Fooled Again acoustically, ably (though barely audibly) accompanied by John Williams of Cavatina fame. Turns out that this was the first time Pete had ever performed the song acoustically. I think it's brilliant, and shows what a great song it is, even shorn of Roger's shredding vocals, John's thunderous bass and Keith's carpet-bomb drums. Here it is.

For comparison, here's what can only be described as an incendiary full-band live performance of the same track from a year before, in what was Keith's last live performance. Note how Pete's pointed "Do ya?", after the line Oh I know that the hypnotized never lie, is aimed squarely at the audience in both performances.

A final thought before we move on, and for the sake of completeness, let's all take a moment to remember Roger's pre- and post-Brexit stance, and acknowledge that, ironically, he was fooled again.

Friday, 26 February 2021

Blue Friday: The Next Life (live)

I wanted an excuse to post The Next Life, by Bernard-era Suede. Finding this clip of a live performance on Later, from 1993, gave me that excuse.

I've said it before and I'll say it again - what might they have achieved, if only Bernard had stuck around?

Friday, 19 February 2021

Blue Friday: Suck

Here's Such Small Hands covering The Wedding Present. The original is excellent, as Wedding Present songs tend to be. But this cover elevates it still higher, I think, replacing the power of Seamonsters-era Gedge with something altogether more delicate. There's a rare fragile beauty here that, to my mind, adds to the desperate yearning of the lyrics.

Monday, 15 February 2021

Monday long song: Rock Lobster

Sorry, I know it's a little late in the day for a Monday long song being, as it is, only about three hours from Tuesday. But this came up in conversation over dinner, and I remembered how much I love it. That's all the reason I need, really.

God, this was 1978. I had The B-52's first album, from whence this comes, on cassette; probably still got it somewhere. And it's probably oxidised into an unplayable ferrous lump. Oh, to be young again.

Thursday, 11 February 2021

Our friends...

Our Friends in the North debuted on British TV screens in January 1996. 25 years ago... man alive. I've written about my love for it before - I think is has been seldom equalled and never bettered. But that's just me.

Anyway, the purpose of this post is to draw attention to a really good piece on the BBC Culture website about it, specifically this: Our Friends in the North: One of the greatest ever TV dramas - definitely worth a read.

Oh, and I even used a minor OFITN character as partial visual inspiration for a minor character in my novel, and made an oblique reference to the actor that played that character in my character's surname. Not that anyone is interested in that.

Anyway, here's a nice talking-head piece about the show, and the now-famous last scene. You can, and should, do yourself a favour and buy this on DVD right now, which you can do here. Go on! I genuinely can't think of many better ways to spend £13.99

25 years though. God.

Monday, 8 February 2021

Monday long song: Station to Station

Reading Charity Chic's musings today on filling Bowie-shaped record collection gaps, it suddenly occurred to me that Station to Station would make a good Monday long song. So here it is...

Friday, 5 February 2021

Blue Friday: Home

Dawn Landes is an American singer-songwriter. I saw her live (remember gigs?) back in 2008, supporting The Wedding Present; as I recall, I was beguiled.

This track, Home, is taken from Dawn's 2014 album Bluebird. Whilst it's seven years old, our current inability to visit loved ones, to see the places we might think of as home, makes this song feel very now. And besides that, it's excellent, I think.

Tuesday, 2 February 2021

Don't judge me

I heard the new Tom Jones single the other day - Cerys played it on the radio. And I hesitate to say this, but I think I quite like it.

It's not quite what it aspires to be. Tom's voice doesn't have the grizzled, broken gruffness of, say, a late-era Cash spoke word piece. Oh, and there's a moment when this famously Welsh superstar borders on being too Welsh (it could almost be Bryn from Gavin and Stacey describing the moonwalk as "sliding backwards really"). And although this is Tom's new single, it already feels like the past - its critique of television comes at a time when the online world's influence makes TV look so twentieth century; its damnation of Trump ("an old man with a comb-over had sold us the moon ... reality killed by a reality star") comes as we (hopefully) see the back of the orange one. And some critics (and lots of YouTube commenters) think the guitar riff is a Radiohead rip-off. Well, it's just three chords, in a certain order. Tom's musicians aren't the first to put them in that order, and they won't be the last. Sounds great, if you ask me.

The video is a real piece of work too, taking a wide aim and hitting most of its targets. As well as Trump, Boris, Zuckerberg, OJ, Weinstein, Jacko and a whole host of others fall within the crosshairs.

I don't know what it says about me that the first song of 2021 to really catch my ear is a spoken word piece by an eighty year old, about a medium in decline. Also, I don't care what it says about me. It think this is good, simple as. Others might disagree, but I don't care about that either, not any more.

More power to you, Tom. I don't know what I'll be doing at 80 (walking with a stick and losing my marbles, probably) but I doubt it will be as good as this.

Monday, 1 February 2021

Monday long song: Money-Go-Round (parts 1 and 2)

Sorry, having a bit of a Style Council jag here at New Amusements Towers. Here's a long song for your Monday, the Introducing version of Money-Go-Round. God, I loved that EP, so much so that I shelled out to get a 9-track European imported version from Our Price, rather than just the 7-track UK release.

Thursday, 28 January 2021


I have the sort of job that requires me to have an annual appraisal, which itself requires the completion of a rigid, onerous and slightly ridiculous form.

In prepping for my imminent annual dissection I referred back to last year's appraisal write-up and note that I wrote about a promotion opportunity being closed off to me, thus:

...if others are moving forwards and I am standing still, am I actually going backwards, relatively speaking?

I can't help myself, when it comes to words. I bet my colleagues think I'm a pompous arse.

Anyway, here's an appropriate song that I thought I had featured before but can't seem to find where, so apologies if this is repetitious... but at least it bears repetition, so much so that I'll include two versions. Play loud.

Wednesday, 27 January 2021

Rude Runes

It's a source of constant surprise, and regret, that I have made more money from t-shirt designs than I have books. Regret, because I'd dearly love to be a successful author. Surprise, because I literally knock up the t-shirt designs in minutes, with precious little thought for actual design or visual appeal. I don't try very hard at it, is what I'm saying.

But anyway, after becoming familiar with the Anglo-Saxon alphabet today (don't ask), I suddenly hit upon the idea for Rude Runes - basically, t-shirts (or hoodies, or badges, or laptop cases, or ... or all the rest) that proclaim a modern swear word, curse or oath, but spelled out in Anglo-Saxon runes. There's an example on the right, the most obvious one if you're trying to read or decipher it without knowing actual Anglo-Saxon letters.

There are nine such designs in all, if you want to drop the F-bomb, proudly display the C-word, tell someone to F-off, call them a dick or worse... all available in a range of fetching colours, and on a range of products, not just clothing. And they're all available, along with other hastily knocked-up designs at - be quick, because for the first two days all new designs are discounted, so a Rude Runes t-shirt is currently only a tenner, rather than the usual £15.

Go on, there must be someone you'd like to give a scatter cushion to, whilst simultaneously calling them a tw*t...

Monday, 25 January 2021

Time-Capsule TV III - Terry Wogan interviews Rik Mayall

I won't take you through the YouTube dot-to-dot that led me serendipitously to this clip, I'll just leave it here for your viewing pleasure. Recorded in 1984 for a spot on Tel's thrice-weekly chat show, the clip begins with five minutes of not so much stand-up but performance from Rik as Rick from The Young Ones, and then a ten minute interview. And it's the latter that's especially interesting: Terry, then 45 or 46, becomes, to my mind, slightly fixated on whether 26yr-old Rik's humour is aimed at the young and designed to appal the older generation. Rik answers politely and intelligently, and tries to move the conversation on, to talk about his comedic influences, but it sort of looks like that was the line of questioning Tel has prepared, and that was what he was going to follow, regardless. Rik seems to get a bit bored at one point, and looks almost relieved when the interview is over. Mind you, when Terry asks Rik if, when he matures, he would mind going into a situation comedy, I couldn't help but think of Man Down.

After watching this I wondered if I, as a middle-aged man now, would be appalled by today's youth comedy. I pretty sure I wouldn't, I just might not think it was very funny. Mind you, this week I've been mostly laughing at the utter genius of Rod controlling Emu throwing Rod into a freezer, so...

Anyway, here's the cracking wee clip of when Terry met Rick, now both much missed.

Thursday, 21 January 2021

The (im)persistence of memory

I have a pretty good memory. In fact, at the risk of grandstanding, I'd go as far as to say I have an excellent memory. It's not photographic, or eidetic, or any other -ic, but I have very good recall. More often that not this is a blessing, though it can also be a curse (something I've sort of alluded to before). Either way, you'd want me on your pub quiz team.

Maybe this is partly why I'm interested in false memory syndrome. I'm not talking about generic common false memories - you know the sort, you think you remember something from a family holiday when you were two and a half but what you really remember is a photograph taken of you on that holiday. I have no empirical evidence to back this up but I suspect such "constructed" memories are quite common. No, what really interests me are memories of things that never happened.

Example. Reservoir Dogs is a film I've seen a lot, though not recently. I have a crystal-clear memory of Harvey Keitel, as Mr White, saying the following line to Michael Madsen, as Mr Blonde:

"Just because you say something is so [pause] doesn't necessarily make it fucking so!"

This memory is razor-sharp in my head. I can see how Harvey in standing, I can picture the angle his head is tilted at.

Except it didn't happen.

I know this, because I went looking for a video clip of the scene, with the intention of making it into a GIF-based meme rebuttal to all the blow-hard Trump supporters who asserted that they knew, they just knew, that the election had been stolen from them, despite the total lack of any evidence to corroborate that perspective. I know, I was bored, it's lockdown, what do expect? But to my surprise, YouTube failed me - I couldn't find the clip. I even tried Vimeo. Again, nothing. So I searched film-quote websites for Mr White soundbites, to make sure I'd got the wording of the quote right, just in case I had misremembered (although, in my arrogance, I didn't really think this was the case). Still no luck.

In desperation, I found a copy of the Reservoir Dogs script online, here (it's brilliant, by the way). Side note: did you know that "fuck" and its verb-form variants appear exactly 200 times in that script? Well, you do now. Anyway, by searching the script for "necessarily", I found these lines, as spoken by Nice Guy Eddie (Chris Penn):

"You beat on this prick enough, he'll tell ya he started the Chicago fire. That don't necessarily make it so."

And that's as close as anything in the whole film comes to my false memory. In fact, the scene as filmed, rather than as scripted, was even closer to my memory, with the F-bomb dropped as I had remembered (as filmed, the F-count is way higher than 200). But it wasn't Mr White speaking. I think maybe I conflated this with another scene in which Mr White argues swearily with Mr Blonde (the whole "You gonna bark all day, little doggie, or are you gonna bite?" scene). Who knows. Basically, my subconscious mind took these two scenes and mashed them together to create an entirely new scene that never actually existed. Fascinating, eh?

It ain't necessarily so

Barking all day

So, false memory syndrome, that is to say memories of things that didn't happen rather than constructed memories, is fascinating. Freud was very interested in it, but what did he know? Maybe Tarantino unwittingly performed memory implantation on me instead ... but that's a whole other can of worms.

What a load of old waffle. Good excuse to write about a classic film though, eh? And yes, since today is 21/01 I did wait until 21:01 to post this - you should probably feel sorry for me...

Wednesday, 20 January 2021

About hope

"Remember, Red, hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies."

So writes Andy Dufresne in a letter to his friend Red at the end of The Shawshank Redemption. It's a nice uplifting quote, isn't it, in what, for many people, is a nice (ultimately) uplifting film.

There's a problem with hope, though. It's fragile. Hope can be dashed. It might not ever die, if Andy is to be believed, but it can certainly be hospitalised. Today, for example, I am feeling cautiously hopeful: hopeful that Trump is gone for good; hopeful that Biden and Harris are an unqualified success; hopeful that the vaccincation roll-out can gather pace; hopeful that daily COVID deaths must surely (please) start to fall soon...

Regular readers of this blog (both of them, ha ha) will know that I am not usually this optimistic, even guardedly, about world affairs. So I should add, for balance, that my hope is cautious. Trump is gone but says he'll be back, "in some form" (which sort of implies he's really some kind of shape-shifting alien, and that would certainly explain his lack of humanity); Biden is kicking off with a swathe of seemingly excellent executive orders, but the US is a fractured nation right now, and he and VP Harris have their work cut out; and whilst the UK is finally starting to get to grips with vaccination (God, it's taken them long enough), it's really hard to have any faith in the hopeless, hapless, heartless shower that is Johnson, Gove, Patel, Hancock, Rees-Mogg and the rest ... and that's putting aside any party politics, and judging them purely on their achievements to date.

Seems appropriate to remind ourselves, then, that earlier in Shawshank, Red admonishes Andy, thus:

"Let me tell you something my friend. Hope is a dangerous thing. Hope can drive a man insane."

Take the two lines together and you get a neat summary of how I'm feeling right now - my hope hasn't died, yet, but it is driving me insane. It certainly feels like a dangerous thing to cling on to. As that other great sage once said, maybe I should stop watching the news.

Until then, I will leave you with two hopes: firstly that Joe and Kamala prevail; and secondly that we truly have seen the last of the Trump clan in public office (I'd love to see a female president, just not Ivanka, thanks). After all, I try to be optimistic ... but, you know, a pessimist is never disappointed.

Friday, 15 January 2021

Blue Friday: Matthew Arnold's Field

About as blue as they come, this is from Ben Watt's superb 2014 album Hendra. In Matthew Arnold's Field, Ben describes scattering the ashes of his late father, the jazz musician Tommy Watt, at one of his favourite beauty spots near Oxford.

At a time when daily COVID deaths are through the roof, to the extent that we are becoming numb to the figures, and at a time when physically saying goodbye to a loved one might be hard, if not impossible, this might strike a chord.

Wednesday, 13 January 2021

Current mood, plucked from the ether

Continuing the aforementioned review and partial cull of my excessive CD collection, I came across an album I fully expected to go: Ether Song by Turin Brakes. I probably bought it at the time, or soon after, on the basis of breakout hit Pain Killer (you know, it had the "Summer rain" chorus). Tur(i)ns out to be quite unrepresentative of the rest of the album though, parts of which head tentatively in a Radiohead direction...

Anyway, it's this track, more than any other, that has saved Ether Song from The Purge, not least because it captures the essence of my current locked-down, post-Brexit, black-dog mood rather well. I would say enjoy, but that's not really the point with this kind of song, is it? At least not lyrically.

Sunday, 10 January 2021

Sunday shorts: A Working Day

A one-off resurrection for the Sunday Shorts series, and with a song that is hardly appropriate for the day of rest: this is the opening track from Lonely Avenue, the collaboration between Ben Folds and Nick Hornby. I've been listening to it a lot lately, and you should too. There may be other, better Lonely Avenue posts soon too, who knows... but until then, here's A Working Day.

Tuesday, 5 January 2021

Doubling down

Over the Christmas and New Year, I spent a bit of time thinking what I might blog about in 2021. Reader, it was time poorly spent. I had an idea for featuring songs that actually benefit from the much-maligned saxophone, like Echo Beach by Martha & the Muffins, or Will You? by Hazel O'Connor, that kind of thing. The Joy of Sax, I was going to call it. Yeah, I know... luckily, I quickly realised that I would only be featuring songs that we all know and love already, so what would be the point? Then I had an idea of featuring songs that run one into the other, like All Mod Cons/To Be Someone by The Jam, or Weightless/...And Stones by The Blue Aeroplanes, that kind of thing. Segué to Heaven, I was going to call it. Yeah, I know... luckily, I quickly realised, etc...

So, until I can think of a decent idea for a blog post, I'm just going to have to continue the aforementioned review and partial cull of my excessive CD collection. Specifically, I've found a CD that I own two copies of, because I bought it in a charity shop and then, much later, saw it in another charity shop and couldn't remember whether I'd bought it already or not. We've all been there, right? Anyway, that's the only reason I'll be selling a copy of The Seahorses' sole album, Do It Yourself. Here's a track from it that, in a nutshell, encompasses everything that was good (that singing voice, musicianship) and bad (fret-based self-indulgence, lyrics) about the band. Here you go.