Thursday, April 20, 2006

This Sporting Life

It was an afternoon of low workplace productivity, as hordes of cricket followers the world over (well, Darren and me) sat in front of their computer screens, transfixed, as the endlessly regenerating scorecard page at showed Jason Gillespie's unlikely but inexorable march towards a double century. Gillespie would have been known, in olden-day cricketing parlance, as a batting "bunny". It would not be going out on too far of a limb to predict that no nightwatchman will ever again, in the history of the game, score 200 runs. Some credit must go to the Bangladesh bowlers for being sufficiently poor as to allow Gillespie (recently shorn of his trademark mullet, and by all accounts bowling quite well too) to score the runs. But he still had to score them. And score them he did.

All of which inevitably brings to mind Ricky Ponting's recent, but subsequently retracted ("no pressure! no pressure!") observations about the sustainability of Bangladesh's status as a test-playing nation. You would have to think that, notwithstanding the Australians' little stutter at the start of the first test, he was not too far off the mark.

Meanwhile, "Party Like It's 1964" sits in third place in Miles Jupiter Glaspole's AFL footy tipping competition, after three rounds. Which probably means it's all downhill from here.

Monday, April 17, 2006

we seek him here, we seek him there ...

Haruki Murakami, while we are talking about him, has the first part of a new short story in this week's Guardian Review, where we would not have expected to see it (tho' they have run stories by such as Richard Ford and Annie Proulx before in the good ol' Grauniad).

Martin Amis, while we had momentarily forgotten all about him, seems to have been busily sharpening his acid pencil, and he turns up in the brand new New Yorker (and what a cracker of an issue it looks like) with a short story of his own, or a novel excerpt, or summat. Meanwhile his legions of haters in the UK will no doubt be sharpening their own implements for a spot of ritual disembowelment when Amis's next book appears. Readers will recall that this weblog is not one of the many kneejerk critics of Amis's last novel (the one with the yellow-on-black cover, or black-on-yellow, depending on where you bought it), which was in fact vintage Amis if you cared to read it with disinterested - as opposed to uninterested - eyes.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

All New Log for Girls

We don't know where he's been since the golden days of Ren and Stimpy, but now John Kricfalusi walks amongst us; so we have added him to the Linkin' Park.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Joke of the Week

Carl, aged eight, at bedtime: "Me and the dreamteam" - Carl's ever-expanding menagerie of soft toys - "are in the Solomon Islands. Did you know that in the Solomon Islands they build walls out of sticks?"

Carl's dad: "Really? What do they build the roof out of? Sticks?"

Carl: "No, wire. And do you know what the wire is made of?"

Carl's dad: "What?"

Carl: "Seaweed."

Carl's dad: "Seaweed? I thought you were going to say 'spaghetti'."

Carl: "No, dad, that would be the Cook Islands."

Carl's dad: [thinks about this for a second] "Hey, Carl, that is actually very clever."

Carl: "Good one, dad."

That Was December 2005

If you had been trawling the mp3 blogs as obsessively as I have, you could have put together the following hypothetical mix tape. (Parental advisory: commentary below contains what are known in the trade as “fine words”.)

Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac, “Albatross”: ah, the sound of languidly strummed guitars, with birdsong in the background. Nothin’ doin’. Cool drink in hand. Let’s just pause here for a while, shall we?

Little Feat, “Willin’”: bringing the voice of Lowell George into this laid-back, early-summer scenario can’t hurt. What’s next: the much anticipated re-rating of the Doobie Brothers?

[editor’s note: at this point it dawns on me that I once obtained (but how??) a taped Three Triple R Sunday afternoon session from what must have been about 1980 (this was before I fashioned an FM radio antenna outside my bedroom window at the farm, so this tape was, at the time, in conjunction with the three-month-late NMEs that were my only lifeline, a significant cultural artefact; I wonder who the DJ was) which featured, in close succession, something by Little Feat, and Peter Green’s “In The Skies”. Also played on that same show were a blistering song, which I probably should know the name of, by The Who that starts with Daltrey wailing “Young maaaaan ... ain’t got nothin’ in the world these days”. And something by Slaugher and the Dogs, a band that seems to have fallen completely through the cracks. And “Nice Noise” by Philip Brophy’s pre-post-modern experimental music project Tch Tch Tch (signified by the visual device of a right-pointing arrow at the bottom of the line, followed to its right by an up arrow, and then a right-pointing arrow at the top of the line). And “African Reggae” by Nina Hagen. All of which raises an important question: How is it that I can remember stuff like this but not the name of the person to whom I was introduced 10 seconds ago?]

Pablo Cruise, “Love Will Find A Way”: not the Doobies, but the palm trees are definitely swaying in the wispy breeze. Readers who remember my earlier “Dennis” pieces will be aware of the significance of this song in my life. Listening to it again, for the first time in many many years, brings a lot of things back. “Rosebud” ...

Duncan Browne, “Ninepence Worth of Walking”: staying in a mellow mood, here, but obviously, Dorothy, we’re not in California any more. Is Duncan Browne new folk or freshly unearthed/exhumed old folk? If a song sounds timeless, as this one does, it doesn’t really matter, does it?

Saturday Looks Good To Me, “Alcohol”: the kind of summery, guitar-driven girl-pop that regularly got me in the mid- to late-80s and gets me still. The fact that it’s over in two minutes and ten seconds only enhances its inherent goodness.

OMR, “The Door”: from girl-pop to drone-pop. Hook-laden, and owing the inevitable debt to My Bloody Valentine, who were surely the Velvet Underground of the 1990s (making Nirvana, perhaps, that decade’s Monkees).

Ladytron, “Destroy Everything You Touch”: this song, which maybe combines the best elements of the preceding two songs on this mix, presses pretty much every button that can be pressed, and hence was one of the best individual songs I heard in 2005.

Tatu, “All About Us”: still waiting to hear these Russian might-be-lesbian teenagers attack “How Soon Is Now?” (It must exist, it was once mentioned in the New Yorker, and nothing gets past that magazine’s fact-checking department.) Meanwhile, this recent single fills the hole. There is something in the early parts of the chorus that manages to channel the mysterious essence of Anna and Frida. This, you should know, is not faint praise.

Stereolab, “Interlock”: this is apparently from the next batch of 7-inch singles/mp3 downloads and/or the new album; but the sound is so stripped back and raw, if it was anyone other than Stereolab you would probably dismiss it as a demo. I hope it’s the real thing. They seem to have got their groove back. The bass guitar is way up front and centre, where you don’t find it very often in a Stereolab song. And you are reminded of what a good drummer they have. Loose, yet simultaneously tight. As if that last sentence makes any sense at all. With the added bonus that the juxtaposition of the boppiness of the music with Laetitia’s post-Marxist lyrics (“What is the good of all this knowledge / We’ve acquired in the face of deep nihilism”) reminds me of nothing so much as that segment on “Spicks and Specks” in which a contestant has to sing, to the tune of a popular song which the other members of the team have to guess, a passage chosen at random from a book with a title along the lines of “Weeds of New Zealand”. You would be surprised at how hard it is to recognise a tune when the words are changed to something about ragwort or phlox.

Loose Joints, “Tell You Today”: will the real Arthur Russell please stand up? I already possessed a track called “Tell You Today (New Shoes Part 1)”. When this came up for download, I hesitated, thinking, will it be the same? It’s probably the same. Will I grab it just in case? No. Yes. Wait. Oh, what the heck. And, lo, it is not the same. (But also not totally different, admittedly.) Where does it all end? As Jon Dale (link at right) recently wrote to me, “It’s Arthur Russell; it never ends.” There is a passage herein in which Arthur does a good impersonation of Robert Scott from the Bats. Go figure.

Answering Machine, “Call Me Mr Telephone (Lindstrom and Prins Thomas Remix)”: is it the sign of a good remix that you don’t need to know the original to enjoy it? And/or, if you hear the remix first, is it possible ever to embrace the original (eg, Annie’s “Chewing Gum”, thanks to the fakeID remix; “Heart Beats” by The Knife, as tweaked by Rex the Dog (even the acoustic cover version, by Jose Gonzales, means more to me than the original); or “The Difference It Makes” by MFA, the Superpitcher remix of which possibly makes the original redundant)? And how does that make the original artist feel? I have no idea what this gorgeous track is derived from. I am assuming that there was once a song there, and that some slight trace of it makes a cameo appearance around the five-and-a-half-minute mark. Whatever. It is the other ten minutes that make this so special. As the title to a long-running ILM thread so accurately states, “Linstrom and Prins Thomas Are the Shit”.

Sia, “Breathe Me (Ulrich Schnauss Remix)”: as with so much “new” music, I don’t have the words to say it. No, wait. I do: “I like.”

Mira Calix & Disjecta, “You and I”: in which I put on my boogie shoes. What I like about a lot of this modern “dance” music is that you don’t have to be dancing to get the most out of it. Which suits this uncoordinated, degenerating, semi-decrepit 41-year-old just fine.

Matthew Jonson, “Typerope”: I was once involved with a fanzine. Every interview we ever did, I think, ended with the question, “What the fuck is acid house?” (We genuinely had no idea; whatever it was, it hadn’t reached South Gippsland, except via the pages of three-month-old UK music magazines.) We never got a convincing answer (but some very funny ones, nevertheless, which in many ways was the point). I am now in a similar situation with a lot of the electronic dance music squelching its way out of (predominantly) Germany. For example: just what exactly the fuck is Ketamine House? And is there such a sub-genre as Whore House or did I dream that one? (I now see that Akufen has released a 12” containing a track called “Whore House”, so I can claim no credit for inventing anything.) Whatever you are supposed to call it, this song floats along like gossamer, and could only be improved by being allowed to run on forever.

Alexander Robotnick, “Computer Sourire”: it was a great disappointment to learn that “Alexander Robotnick” was “not his real name”. One of the first songs I ever downloaded, from a previous incarnation of Woebot, was a Robotnick piece entitled “Soundtrack”, which was as if someone had been listening to certain musty corners of my record collection (where the early-80s electronic music resides), and had added some ingredients that I had been seeking but never found.

Les Hommes Sauvages, “Autobahn”: I am, as you know, a sucker for Kraftwerk cover versions. This time, those cheeky Germans are reimagined by way of actual rock-group instruments - guitars, drums and the like. This is a nice complement to, although quite different from, the Balanescus' string quartet version of the same song, which is taken from an album made up, for the most part, of Kraftwerk interpretations, entitled “Possessed”, on Mute, that really should be better known (it also includes a lovely, whimsical David Byrne composition).

Sunday, April 02, 2006

J G Ballard exposes himself

It took me a while to get around to reading this piece, but I am glad I did. You don't often get to see J G Ballard writing in a direct, personal fashion.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Haruki Murakami: My Part In His Downfall

For those of you keeping score, the much heralded no-holds-barred, world championship bout between, in the red corner, me, and in the blue corner, “Kafka on the Shore”, the most recent novel by Haruki Murakami, turned out to be a non-starter (sorry, no refunds). I know when I am beaten, and with three weeks in which to read a 400-plus page novel, having been hampered by a nasty cold almost from the outset, I could see that being at page 35 after two weeks was not going to get me anywhere.

So I threw the book away (not literally, I hasten to add, in case any employees of Libraries ACT happen to be reading this) and, instead, perhaps inspired by the Seth cover for the recent “Style Special” issue of the New Yorker, got stuck into some graphic novels and other words-with-pictures publications that have been crying out to be read for a while now.

Ever since I bought “Kramer’s Ergot No 5” I have been too scared to read it, anxious that I had paid $75 for something that was really not my style. Well, I needn’t have worried. Sure, there is some edgy stuff in there, but almost everything is of a stunningly high quality, meriting several reads and much lingering over individual pages. (Oh, and the quality of the production ...) There seems, now, after too many years, to be a new list of names to take note of, names like Sammy Harkham, Ron Rege Jr, Kevin Huizenga, Anders Nilsen, and others, all of whom appear in KE5, along with “big” names such as Gary Panter and Chris Ware.

Then, there is David B, a French graphic novelist who has only recently become known in the English-speaking world, by way of his astounding book “Epileptic”, an autobiographical story of growing up with an older brother stricken by a mysterious illness. But it is much more than that. It is with a book like this that you can really see how “mere” comic books can, in the right hands, convey so much more than the “pure” art of words on the page.

Or you could choose Michel Rabagliati, from Montreal, who has been putting out, over the last few years, a series of graphic stories about “Paul”, a young guy growing up and heading out into the world. “Paul” may or may not be the author in disguise. Unlike David B, Rabagliati has a clean, spare, almost “classical” comic-book style of drawing. His stories are what you might call “nice” if that word hadn’t become so pejorative in recent years. One finishes a Rabagliati book feeling that everything is not lost, after all. Which is not a bad feeling to have in this modern world-out-of-control. The most recent book of his is “Paul Moves Out”, which exists in a glorious, but sadly not inexpensive, hardcover edition from Drawn & Quarterly.

Here we give a free plug to our regular comics pusher, Peter Birkemoe at The Beguiling, all the way across the world in Toronto.

Meanwhile, back at the library, “Cosmopolis” by Don DeLillo fell off the shelves at my feet, in a provocative, throw-down challenge. Three weeks. Two hundred and nine pages. Plenty of white space. Readers, I think I can win this, even given my lack of match fitness. (I am already more than half-way through after less than a week. The bookies have closed their accounts. As to whether it is a good book, well, it is no “Underworld”, but to say as much is only to say that it is not as good as one of the great books of the (post) modern era.) Will I, though, ever go back to “Kafka on the Shore”, or has the moment passed? Experience shows that I never find it easy to go back to a book once I have put it to one side. Plus, I have read so much Murakami over the years that I do feel a little bit saturated, and anyway he regularly has short stories in the New Yorker. And, well, I have had Philip Pullman’s third “Northern Lights” novel sitting beside the bed for rather too long, and I am beginning to feel its tug. But, as if that wasn’t enough, I am also expecting a rather large parcel to land on the doorstep any day now, after its arduous journey from the wilds of Canada, with (hopefully) more comic-book goodness than I can shake a stick at.