Monday, February 27, 2006

Notes On The News

from the luscious limp edition:

Reading Paul McGeough’s most recent, typically incisive report from Iraq in the Fairfax papers, my eyes rested upon the following expression: “... the rising impotence of ...”. Now, it could be just me, but is it possible that those two words don't fit together terribly well?

apostrophes are my life:

Nearby, in the same paper, was a job advertisement, from the Victorian state government. There, in big and bold lettering, were these words -


No. That’s all I want to say about this. Just, no.

joke of the week:

What if they held a democratic election in the Middle East and it was won by a recognised terrorist organisation? Yet again, Mr Bush would do well to remember that old phrase about not wishing too hard for what you want because you might just get it.

(And, wrestling with ideas beyond my abilities: if Iraq does happen to tumble into civil war [see Paul McGeough, supra] and if Hamas is able to establish a proper Palestinian government, the leaders of Iran would seem to be extremely well positioned. They have a good working relationship with Hamas, and they would appear to be bankrolling most of the dominant Shiite parties in Iraq. The Americans, unless I’ve been looking the wrong way, have been all but silent on the current “sectarian” violence in Iraq. My guess is they know that bringing the entire country to order is well beyond them. Might we wake up in the southern hemisphere one morning to reports of a helicopter evacuation of the Green Zone? The situation is, on one level, a win-win situation for those schadenfreudians among us. But, more seriously, and tragically, the word “mess” hardly suffices. Because what would happen if America pulled out? (Shhhh. Don't mention the price of oil.))

meanwhile, in “old” europe:

“Those Europeans”, Obelix is saying, while furiously tapping the side of his head cartoon-woodpecker style, “are crazy.” Exactly what point is Austria, itself note entirely squeaky clean in this area, seeking to prove by not only charging, but convicting, that nasty piece of work David Irving of something that is being reported here as “denying the Holocaust”? Thoughtcrime, if you ask me, is an idea better left to George Orwell and other worthwhile allegorists, as opposed to being the official policy of an enlightened democracy. Mr Irving, of course, well knows that any publicity is good publicity, and his photograph (wherein he is conveniently holding a copy of one of his books, OF COURSE) is now everywhere. And becoming a martyr to his misguided cause is not a bad career move. Surely it is better to marginalise him, and people like him, by starving them of the oxygen of publicity that they need in order to survive. I will say no more on this subject. But, citizens of the free world, beware: laws are being passed, maybe even in your country, whereby you might find yourself in jail on account of what you write, or whom you consort with. I'm sure that, if technology permitted, you might even need to be careful what you think. (End of sermon.)

and now, a word from our sponsors:

You want zucchinis? We’ve got zucchinis. In fact, we’ve got zucchinis up the wazoo. I don’t actually know what that means. Most are small and perfectly formed, but a couple were lost in the undergrowth for just long enough that they are now suitable for whacking baseballs out of the park. (Although you would only do it once.) It seems there are limits to what one can do with zucchinis. We are not far from that limit.

the elephant is still in the living room:

And, finally, the weather. Every day the planet is getting just that little bit hotter, and the only person who can realistically do anything about it is doing nothing about it. Or, nothing helpful, anyway.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

This here music mash up the nation

Things move a bit more slowly here in the Nation’s Capital than they do out in the real world, so I am indebted to my good man Darren O’Shanassy for introducing me, during a recent extended (but far from unwelcome) visit to this part of the world, to the phenomenon of the mash-up, a thing with which I have hitherto had only a passing acquaintance.

For the benefit of those of you even more ignorant than myself, a mash-up is what you get when you find two (or more) pieces of music, preferably with very little in common, and bang them together with the electronic equivalent of scissors and sticky-tape, thus creating an entirely new song.

Upon hearing a quality mash-up for the first time, one’s reaction is threefold:

amazement at the sheer audacity of the idea of putting those particular songs together

admiration for the technical achievement involved - it must be so easy to get wrong, and, like bad jazz, so obvious

roll-around-on-the-floor gleefulness when a song element you have always loved - or perhaps hated - appears in an entirely new context, and fits there like a glove.

Sometimes the technical aspect is the thing. Twinning “Riders on the Storm” with Blondie’s “Rapture” was a great idea. Listening to it once is a treat. Yes, they blend perfectly. Who knew? And yet, once the novelty wears off, perhaps two minutes in, there’s really not much to get lasting excitement from. It’s a neat fit, but that’s really all it is.

At the other end of the spectrum, you have something like “Ray Of Gob”, where Madonna’s “Ray Of Light” is paired with a blend of signature Sex Pistols songs and a healthy amount of swearing, to create something much bigger than its separate elements. The first time you hear it, you cannot wipe the grin from your face at how ridiculously brilliant it is. Bits of Pistol guitar skewer Madonna’s vocals, giving a renewed sense of clarity, and purpose, to both. Then you listen to it again. And again. And you can’t imagine ever hearing the Pistols, or Ms Ciccone, any other way.

A bit of dirt and grit also work wonders for Kylie Minogue, when she is conjoined with The Who’s “Won’t Get Fooled Again” for a mash-up entitled “Who Fooled Kylie” (whereas Missy Elliott and Joy Division, as demonstrated by “Love Will Freak Us”, simply do not belong together: Missy’s voice, unlike those of Kylie and Madonna, does not obtain any particular benefit from the kind of abrasion perpetrated by arty, moody boys).

And don’t get me started on Hank Handy’s “Beatles Mash-up Medley”, three minutes of complete insanity that is guaranteed to induce epilepsy in those prone thereto, and a nasty meta-hangover in all others. (Although even that pales in comparison with “Intro Introspection” by Osymyso, which takes the first bits of every instantly recognisable song you ever heard on the radio, and runs them all over the top of each other, stars-on-45 style, until you can’t take any more, and then keeps going for longer than you thought humanly possible, until you really can’t take any more.)

Those Kylie and Madonna mash-ups, along with many others of equal merit, are the product of Mark Vidler, the humble genius behind Go Home Productions, who surely deserves a Nobel peace prize for bringing together, in a spirit of peace and harmony, people who are less likely to have anything nice to say to each other than, say, George W Bush and Osama bin Laden.

It’s a real shame, though, that mash-up mechanics like Go Home Productions are, for the most part, forced to give their handiwork away. It is only that way because, unlike in the art world, where any two-fisted artist can appropriate pretty much anything that he or she likes and sell the resulting work for unfeasibly large sums of money [qualification: I have nothing whatsoever against artists, and good luck to them all, I am merely using them to make a point, which is, admittedly, unfair], the music-publishing juggernaut seems to have the recording industry stitched up to within an inch of its life, ensuring that mash-ups must dwell forever in a twilight zone of legality. But it’s an ill wind that blows nobody any good, and the mashers’ loss is your gain, for if you know where to look, or have good contacts, fine mash-ups are out there for the taking.

(I still haven’t found the mash-up Sasha Frere-Jones (link at right) wrote about in the New Yorker a while back which included Beck’s “Deborah”, which would certainly be something I would like to hear. At least once.)

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Through a glass, darkly

I found myself, for no good reason, perusing an American legal decision by the name of Healy v The Beer Institute.

Now, the Beer Institute: that sounds too good to be true. One imagines its members hammering out solutions to difficult questions of public policy while gradually sliding underneath the table. Where the best answers are usually found, if not always remembered.

Can I join?

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Strangeways, Here We Come

You can learn a lot by reading the Harper's Weekly Review. It distils the important things going on around the world, intermingled with things you didn't know you needed to know (as Don Rumsfeld may have said). The next-to-last item in this week's instalment (about the BBC's proposed Easter tribute) is so astounding it can only be allowed to speak for itself. If you see the BBC as a constant struggle between the creatives and the suits, you can have fun imagining some of the conversations that must have gone on.


Meanwhile and unrelated, over at Moistworks Jonathan Lethem, of whose writings we haven't read much but what we have read we have been rather thrilled by, has been having some fun of his own, putting together a double-header which can only be described as, er, "fowl".

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Oh You're So Silent Jens

If, as is speculated upon in this Pitchfork article, 2006 turns out to be the year of Jens Lekman, nobody will be more happy than me.

(Except, perhaps, Adrienne.)

Friday, February 10, 2006

Vital Signs

Shocked, stunned and, let’s be honest here, not a little embarrassed, to tune across to the re-emergent Ian Penman's weblog, as one does, only to discover there a link to - wait for it - this page.

And I’m, like, “say what?”

[stunned silence]

And I’m, like, “gosh”.

[at which point a foolish and somewhat gormless grin breaks out]

I’m pretty sure I have already bored everybody of my acquaintance senseless about what an influence the NME of the late seventies/early eighties was on me, in particular the writings of Penman and Charles Shaar Murray. As a shy and sheltered boy growing up on a farm, with little or no first-hand exposure to Culture, I made an instant connection with these two, and with their tastes in music, and in many ways they made me what I am today (whatever that is).

But to find little old me with what I take to be an endorsement from Penman himself? Heck. I’m not a writer, or a music critic, or a cultural theorist, or a cineaste. Not a purveyor of memes, or a surveyor of themes. Or anything at all, really. I yam what I yam, and that’s all that I yam.

But in the absence of an email address on his site, this is the only way that I can say “Thanks, Mr Penman, for everything.” Which I now do.


(En)forced segue corner:

And speaking of Ian Penman, it was interesting to read in the most recent Observer Music Monthly the other half of the NME’s Glummer Twins, Paul Morley, writing with some degree of convincingness (? - see, I told you I wasn’t a writer) of the idea that your music-listening experience should revolve around a combination of MP3 files and vinyl, and that the CD as a medium can (and should) now be done away with as a redundant, environmentally unsound and aesthetically pathetic artefact. In other words, download music, throw it on your iPod, and take it with you. Then go home and hold the record in your hand; put it on the mantelpiece; worship it.

(Interesting that Patti Smith’s “Horses” is one of his examples. The inadequacy of the Compact Disc TM is conclusively demonstrated by putting the (vinyl) album cover next to the miserable little CD cover. Mapplethorpe’s iconic (oops, sorry, Ian) image refuses to be reduced. (In fact, if “Horses” had come out in the CD era, perhaps “that” photo would never have become “iconic”.) Sure, you can buy the CD (I did) so as to be able to listen to the music with a clarity that your trashed-almost-to-death vinyl copy lost many years ago. But the object on which that music comes to you is as good as useless for any purpose except cluttering up the house unnecessarily.)

You could, I suppose, argue that affection for vinyl is correlative with age, and is nothing more than a kind of William Gibson-type retro-techno-fetishism. But it is interesting, is it not, that a large part of the stock of your local “dance” music shop consists of vinyl, and those are not places many people born before the advent of the CD are known to frequent.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Don't Let Our Youth Go To Waste

The boys have a friend who plays rather a lot of video games. This is not said by way of passing judgment on his parents, but as a simple statement of fact.

He also loves to draw.

He was at our house recently, and the boys were all busy drawing movie posters for imagined movies. Some of them have potential. Who wouldn't want to see a film called "3-D Tai Chi Madness"?

If there are any film producers out there, I would be happy to facilitate a meeting. For a fee, obviously.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

The Good, The Bad and The Ugly (not in that order)

Unlike Robert Hughes, when I think of Robert Rauschenberg’s stuffed Angora goat wearing a car tyre, the first thing I think of is not anal intercourse. I suppose his thinking is clear enough: goat = randy plus car tyre = round hole. Q.E.D. Well, perhaps, but might it not also mean:

1 what a pervy old bugger my long-time favourite art critic has become;
2 goat = Richard Nixon plus car tyre = donut, giving us Tricky Dicky and the Donut What Ate Him. I’d pay to see that.

I’m glad to have lived long enough to hear the Galaxie 500 Peel Sessions. Yes I am.

At this early stage, I’m afraid, I am not too sure about the new Belle and Sebastian album, “The Life Pursuit”. Adding Trevor Horn’s production to the mix led them to the joyful sounds of “Dear Catastrophe Waitress”. That album seemed to play to all of B&S’s not inconsiderable strengths, and wrapped them in a newfound clarity and precision. Whereas this new one sounds a bit forced, a bit (and this is the bit that really hurts) dull. Which is not something one has been able to say about any other B&S album, even those all-too-democratic affairs that were as much miss as hit. (And, for what it’s worth, “Storytelling” is, in my opinion, far from the bad apple in the bunch that it is made out to be.) “The Life Pursuit” might yet contain three certifiable B&S classics, which might include “The Blues Are Still Blue”, “Dress Up In You” and “Act of the Apostle II”. But that is not quite enough. And yet, isn’t this the danger inherent in trusting record reviews, and the primary pitfall of being a reviewer: some records just take their own sweet time. Maybe this will be one of those. I sincerely hope so.


Listening to “The Life Pursuit” again now: I think I might be succumbing. This could be the last time I ever say anything about a record that’s less than six months old.