Wednesday 29 November 2023

Racking up the years

"I'm old, not obsolete," opined Arnold, in the barrel-scraping retread that was 2015's Terminator Genisys. Much like CDs, these days. Remember when they were the future, all over Tomorrow's World, with their irridescent digital promise to tempt us all into rebuying our record collections? Long time ago, isn't it?

When I was at university as an undergraduate, an impossible number of years ago, I was a frequent visitor to the Record Library. It was a little room on the ground floor level of the main campus library, and was home to rack upon rack of vinyl and a small, but growing, number of new-fangled and impossibly exciting CDs. I didn't have a record player in my student hovel, but I borrowed CDs from the library most weeks and taped them onto whatever spare TDKs I had at the time. It didn't matter that the cassette recorder I was doing the copying on was, frankly, pretty rubbish - taping a CD was still better than taping the alternative.

Nearly 25 years after I left, I returned to that same university to work. Since staff have full access to the campus library, I also returned to the Record Library, which had grown somewhat, but also changed - most of the vinyl was gone, and the number of CDs had multiplied 50-fold, perhaps even 100-fold. And although everything is online these days, streamable or downloadable or Spotifyable or YouTubable, I would occasionally borrow a handful of CDs for old times' sake. I took great delight in finding and reborrowing some CDs I had first borrowed in the early 90s - there was a circularity to that that I greatly enjoyed.

Covid and lockdown meant working from home, of course. I'm still only in the office two or sometimes three days a week now - a change has been wrought that will be hard to go back from. But let's not digress. A month or two ago I went back to the library to get a CD, now more than 30 years after my first visit there. And the Record Library was ... gone.

Not gone gone, as I had first thought. But moved, to the lowest basement level, and from regular shelving to these space-efficient rolling racks...

Rolling racks

There was no-one around, no-one near the racks. They felt decidedly untouched. CDs are the past, and that makes me very sad. Still, they had a longer useful life than DVDs - you can't seem to give those away these days. Damn you Netflix, Disney+ and all the rest. But I loved CDs. Still love them. And have got thousands of the damn things. And no, Mrs Amusements, I will not part with them - they are a collection, after all.

Of course the other feeling these rolling racks triggered was a Proustian rush of recalling the department store I worked in as a teenager. As I may have mentioned before, I had a Saturday job in the lighting department of a well-known but now defunct high street store that was big enough to have an enormous, windowless stock room on its top floor. Most of the stock was housed in giant rolling racks that made the ones in the photograph above look puny. They were easily big enough to hide in, let's put it that way, and so were a great place to while away the time on a slow Saturday afternoon. Of course most stores these days don't have stock rooms in the same way - just-in-time ordering and better point-of-sale racking mean the shop floor is essentially the stock room now. "Just going to look for it upstairs" has, like CDs, become a thing of the past. That makes me sad too, but then of course I'm an old white guy and, as Mabel says in the wonderful Only Murders In The Building, "Old white guys are only afraid of colon cancer and societal change."

At this point, I was going to embed Yesterday's Men by Madness, but I've unsurprisingly featured that before, so here's something different, in the shape of When You're Old And Lonely by The Magnetic Fields, which gets away with its simplicity and lack of musical progression by being both short and (bitter)sweet.

When you're old and lonely you will wish you'd married me
I could build a fire for you and bring you cakes and tea
When you're cold and hungry I'll be waiting by the phone
You can call me up and tell me how you're all alone, all alone
When you're old and lonely and the rush of life is past
Days go by too slowly and the years go by too fast
When your golden loneliness is heavier than stone
You can call me up and say "My God, I'm all alone, all alone."

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Friday 24 November 2023

To me...

Graph of blog posts by month

I'll save you squinting to read the horizontal axis - this is a graph of the number of blog posts I've written every month for the last two years, prior to this one. The dotted red line makes the implicit trend explicit. I know it's just a count, it's got nothing to do with quality or page views (though both of those trend lines would follow a similar trajectory). Maybe I've just run out of words.

Take the rest of this post, for example. It starts with seeing this on Instagram the other day...

Which is one of those jokes that, if you have to explain it, stops being funny.

And then I thought, this could lead into a post about how U2 aren't all bad, actually (come back, Rol). Prone to pomposity, yes, effects-pedal-dependent, maybe, and so far over the shark even Quint couldn't get them, certainly. But there were some good songs there too, back in the day. Except ... I don't have the words, effort or energy required to write that post any more, it seems.

Bollocks to it. Here's a song.

See, that was alright, wasn't it? And if it was by anyone else, we'd all be enthusing. Although seeing Bonio in his big glasses inevitably brings this little snippet to mind:

"Are those your mother's cataract glasses?" Brilliant. And that's the post. More, by which I probably mean less, some other time.Tip the author

Thursday 16 November 2023

And oh, what a storm

Bradford were a late-80s indie five-piece from, ironically, Blackburn. Annointed by SPM, they opened for the quiffed one at his first post-Smiths live performance (the Wolverhampton Civic Hall gig) and were rapidly signed to Stephen Street's nascent Foundation label. Their first single predated that though, with Skin Storm being released in 1988 on the Village Records label; Wikipedia tells me that it was first independently financed recording to be released on CD, and who am I to argue? Anyway, for all singer Ian Hodgson's obvious vocal Moz tendencies, here it's really guitarist Ewan Butler's even more obvious Marr-isms that stand out, especially in the chorus. Or maybe they're Street-isms? Anyway, see what you think:

Bradford are on Bandcamp, where you can listen to the expanded, remastered version of album Thirty Years Of Shouting Quietly. It's alright, but Skin Storm remains the best track on it, still.

Of course, SPM loved them so much he had a crack at covering Skin Storm, and put his version on the B-side of Pregnant For The Last Time. Or maybe he'd just run out of new song ideas, in the relative doldrum of his Nevin years. Stop reading here if you've had enough of him.

See, for me that has a better vocal but an inferior band performance. Your mileage may vary. Anyway, there'll be some more old nonsense from me some other time, no doubt. Until then...Tip the author

Sunday 5 November 2023

I'm on fire

Had forgotten how much I like this and the album from whence it comes, Silent Alarm. I can thank Jo Whiley for playing it on t'radio t'other night, and reminding me just how good Bloc Party and Banquet are. Feels like a good tune for Bonfire Night too, and not just for the closing lyrics... well, it was either this or something by Catherine Wheel, a-ha ha ha... *

Tip the author* Makes mental note to post Catherine Wheel track next year. Or maybe that Kasabian track about being on fire.

Wednesday 1 November 2023

Turning Japanese

Duolingo is a mighty popular app. On the Google Play Store it has been downloaded over 100 million times. In the Apple realm, it is the #2 app in their Education category. Everyone wants to learn a new language, it seems, (and / or please a green owl) and I am no exception.

Background: I studied French at school. Although I stopped that 37 years ago, I got a AA at O-level, was pretty good at it, and have retained enough to make trips to France comfortable. I also studied Russian at school, which was harder, and I haven't retained much of that - I can ask "Where is Red Square?" but I probably wouldn't understand the answer. Anyway, the bottom line is that I haven't tried to learn a language since the mid Eighties.

So to Duolingo, where I am trying to learn Japanese. God, it's hard. Partly it's because there seem to be three character sets - Hiragana (over 100 characters or character combinations), Katakana (another 100+) and Kanji (45 characters so far and apparently more to come in later lessons). It all makes Russian's 33-letter alphabet seem a bit feeble.

Then there's getting your head around word order. To say I'm going to have coffee with my brother next week you essentially say Next week my brother with coffee going to have I am... which takes some getting used to. At least this ordering seems pretty consistent, so far at least.

Then there's the accent. Learning languages as a kid, I adopted an appropriate accent very easily. As a middle-aged fossil in the making, who hasn't used this part of his brain for a long time, any time I try to say anything in any language other than French or Russian, I end up sounding like I am deliberately trying to do a comedy foreign stereotype. And I'm not, I promise.

Age is a factor in other ways too. When you're sixteen, your brain is a lightning rod, ready to take input and turn it into neural connections as easy as pie. The teen brain is a sponge, basically, and it can absorb a hell of a lot of water. When you're fossilising, things are a bit different. The brain can still absorb but it's more like a damp tea towel than a sponge. Those neural connections have to be hammered into place. Learning just isn't as easy as it used to be.

I'm trying though, I really am. I'm 21 weeks into a daily Duolingo streak, and I can now say more in Japanese than I can remember in Russian. Whether anybody would understand me in downtown Tokyo remains to be seen, and whether I'll ever get to go back to Japan to try a few phrases is equally unknown. Let's hope so though, that I get to go back at least - Tokyo remains the most other-wordly place I've ever been.

So, here's some Japanese music. Homecomings are an indie-ish four-piece that met and formed at university in Kyoto. This song's title translates as Hurts. I've no idea what it's about (I haven't got to the Duolingo unit on deciphering indie lyrics yet) but the video has helpful subtitles that might ... oh, they're in Japanese...

And as the title of this post suggests, I did consider writing about The Vapors for the 800th time. But instead, here's Kirsten Dunst's cover of their most famous song. Yes, really.

Tip the authorWhat did you make of that? To be fair, Akihabara Majokko Princess was more of a video art installation from director McG than a serious foray into 80s power-pop from Kirsten. Whatever, the video was included in the 2009 "Pop Life" exhibition at the Tate Modern. Akihabara, by the way, is a frankly dizzying shopping district in Tokyo, particularly heavy on electronics and tech... although when I was there I bought a tiny paper diary. Make of that what you will.