Sunday, 18 January 2009

Playlist: City Screen Basement, Fri 16th Jan

The Electric Mayhem: The Muppet Show Theme
The London Philharmonic Orchestra: Theme From 2001
"Ampex Stereo Performance Evaluator"
Back Garden Birds: Town Parks And Squares
(The 'Back Garden Birds' aren't a band, you understand. This is a BBC wildlife recording of actual birds. And I've copywrited 'The Back Garden Birds' as a band name now anyway, so mits off.)
Manfred Mann's Third Chapter: Snakeskin Garter
(A1 Funky Prog Rock. If the Wu haven't sampled this, they should do.)
Wu Tang Clan: C.R.E.A.M.
Dennis Coffey: Let The Sunshine In
The Electric Prunes: Gloria
Pink Floyd: Come In Number 51, Your Time Is Up
(I've read this is like an alt. version of 'Be Careful With That Axe, Eugene'. This is better.)
Power Of Zeus: The Ritual Of The Mole
(Featuring the world's fattest prog-funk break)
Ultimate Force: I'm Not Playin'
David Axelrod: Overture
The Beatles: Helter Skelter
Steve Martin & The Toot Uncommons: King Tut
("Born in Arizona, got a condo made of stone-ah - King Tut!")
Jimi Hendrix: Level
(You could spend a whole even playing brilliant Hendrix bootlegs. If this track was by some unknown psyche/funk outfit, people would be nuts about it.)
Johnny Jones & The King Casuals: Purple Haze
(I think this turned up on a David Holmes compilation. A great funk cover of the Hendrix classic, recorded in 1976, but sounds ten years older)
The Premiers: Farmer John
The Barbarians: Moulty
(I think I instinctively like rowdy early 60s Frat Rock more than any other genre on earth.)
The Gun: Race With The Devil
(Thundering Sabbath-esque blues rock heaviosity, w/horns)
Black Sabbath: The Wizard
Edan: Polite Meeting / Funky Voltron
(From 'Beauty & The Beat', aka: The Best Album Of The Noughties)
Bob Newhart: Introducing Tobacco To Civilisation
(Newhart is God.)
The Velvet Underground: Sister Ray / Venus In Furs
JD & The Evil's Dynamite Band: Haaa-Sheesh
Rare Earth: Feeling Alright
Muddy Waters: I'm A Man (from 'Electric Mud')
Black Merda: Prophet
(The definition of Black Rock)
Patrizia & Jimmy: Trust Your Child (Part 1)
(From the wonderful 'Home Schooled: The ABCs Of Kid Soul' compilation)
The Mohawks: Champ
("CHAMP! Dur-duh-nuh, dur duh-nuh, duh dudda duh duh")
The C.A. Quintet: Trip Thru Hell (Part 1)
(Spooky, oddball B-Movie garage-psyche)
Jon Lord: Organ
The Shangri Las: Leader Of The Pack

Saturday, 17 January 2009

Now Showing: The Not Necessarily Hip Movies Hot-Wired To Your Soul

While there are some movies which burst into your life once, slam you in the subconscious and lodge 'emselves there for eternity whether you ever encounter them again or not, I guess there are others, perhaps less epochal type affairs, which influence your life on more of a rolling basis, not sacred cows or personal totems, but simply those movies which you return to, for whatever reason, again and again and again throughout your lives. Let me give you an example. I've seen The Wild Bunch, from bloody beginning to bloody end, maybe five or six times, max, in my life. The first time I saw it, lets say 8 years ago, it pretty much totally destroyed my mind. It is A Work Of Genius. Ask me what my favourite movies are, The Wild Bunch is gonna be in there, maybe Top 10, certainly Top 20. But five or six viewings in a lifetime is nothing, given that I watch Ghostbusters half a dozen times every year, or - thanks to Film4's ridiculously narrow selection of movies - that I seem to find myself sat in front of The Day After Tomorrow pretty much once a fortnight. So which has had the greater IMPACT on me? On my...subconscious? The Wild Bunch, or Ghostbusters? And the reality is, you gotta go Ghostbusters. I'm talking not about those movies which you consider to be the greatest works of art, (ie, The Wild Bunch), but simply those movies of which you have never tired, have spent the most time in the company of, and which are therefore hot-wired to your soul. The movies about which you can honestly say, without trying to be hip : "To really understand me, you've really gotta know..." I'll be updating my list on here as and when the inspiration takes me, and I'm gonna begin today by talkin' 'bout...

.1. Shaft (1971, Dir. Gordon Parks)

Yeah, odd one, right? I dunno. I dont suppose that it's a remarkable movie on any level really, except perhaps for the soundtrack, which - while it was undeniably very influential - I actually think is kinda overrated. But there's a quality to 'Shaft' I really enjoy, something I find really watchable. So what's 'watchable'? Well...I like Richard Roundtree's super-cool, but never cliched, performance, and I like the the clothes, and gang boss Bumpy Jonas' sweet office decor, and how the whole affair is sorta low-budget and...well, I guess the word would have to be funky. I like the pace of the thing, a steady pimp-rolling mid-tempo pace, punctuated by flashes of sudden violence. I like the fact that Bumpy is played by some cat called Moses Gunn, which is the coolest name I've ever heard, and have always fantasised about starting a band called The Moses Gunn. The jokes are monumentally lame, but otherwise the script is tight and punchy. I dig bad-ass- with-a-social-conscience Ben Buford, and his outlaw gang of grim, angry-young Panthers. And while I'm certainly interested in this period of the 20th Century, and undoubtedly share the regular white-liberal-long hair romantic fascination with the Black Power movement, I don't even think that's what appeals primarily here...I mean, if I really wanted to get a fix of genuine Black Power By Any Means Necessary socio-history, I could spend my days watching Bobby Seale documentaries or Sweet Sweetback's Bad Asssss Song or whatever, which I don't. It's damning the movie with faint praise to say that I just find it comfortably undemanding, but I mean that sincerely and as a compliment. It ticks a lot of boxes, and does so without shouting about it. Can you dig it? Right on.

Wednesday, 14 January 2009

In The Bleak Midwinter

"In the bleak midwinter
Frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron,
Water like a stone;
Snow had fallen,
Snow on snow,
Snow on snow,
In the bleak midwinter,
Long ago."

There was a poll taken over Christmas - I forget a poll of whom...Radio 2 listeners maybe? - asking people to name their favourite Christmas song, and I - along with most people I spoke to about it - expressed no small amount of incredulity at what we considered to be a surprising and undeserving Number One: Christina Rossetti's 'In The Bleak Midwinter.' Indeed, my actual response was almost certainly something like:

" 'In The Bleak Midwinter?' What the hell kind of wrongheaded kill-joy pretentiousness pushed that to Number One? Hey guys - ever heard of Slade?"

But I absolutely retract this opinion now, based on the fact that I never really gave the song itself much thought when forming this 'opinion', aside from sort of half-remembering it as old, probably a bit dull and slow, and not as good as "All I Want For Christmas Is You" by Mariah Carey. I have since fallen totally in love with it.

While taking a 'Blowing The Cobwebs Away' Walk in the North Yorkshire countryside after Christmas, strolling through as frosty a scene as I have ever encountered, I found the lyrics of 'In The Bleak Midwinter' turning around in my head, and within a few minutes and a few false-starts as we tried to get the words right, me and my girlfriend were singing it together as we jumped stiles and streams, the icy imagery perfectly describing the stunning crystallised landscape.

Rossetti's words in this first verse now stand as some of my favourite lyrics to any song. I've always enjoyed simple, stock images in lyrics...I like clarity, brevity in lyrics, ideas expressed with economy, have always liked blues and gospel lyrics filled with religious iconography. What I love about Rossetti's lyric here is that the solidness, the firmness of the images perfectly reflects the subject matter, this frozen, still landscape.

"Earth stood hard as iron,
Water like a stone"

Earth like iron, water like stone. I love that. Not a syllable wasted. Everything that is to be expressed has been, and in the most elegantly simple manner. It's perfect.

I love equally the lines that follow:

"Snow had fallen,
Snow on snow,
Snow on snow"'re describing snow, right? Lots of snow. It has snowed, then it has snowed again, and again, and now there are many layers of snow, each the same as the last. So how do you describe this? Some florid icing-cake metaphor? Something about the earth being draped in a blanket? Forget it. Rossetti goes for pure stark minimalism, repeating the word snow five times, mimicking the snow and the minimalist appearance of the landscape itself, the words piling up on top of one another on the page. It is hypnotic, it is precise, and it is a wonderful marriage of structure and image. What else needs to be said?

Allied with Gustav Holst's arrangement, 'In The Bleak Midwinter' is a spectacular piece of work, and without doubt the very finest of Christmas carols. I hope to sing it on many winter walks to come.

Tuesday, 13 January 2009

Richard Dawkins Is The Opium Of The People

Just thought I'd contribute to the debate surrounding this campaign with the following observation: this campaign is a hopelessly self-satisfied, smirky Dave Gorman-y type gap year stunt, preaching to the happily un-converted, dealing with a complex issue in a pointlessly unhelpful manner, and I'm just as offended by it, in fact more offended by it, than I am by finger-wagging Christian messages, which at least use an entertaining vocabulary and have snappier slogans. Would suggest that atheists take a leaf out of their own heathen book, and - as they're probably right about the whole No God thing - stop worrying and enjoy their lives. Shame on anybody who has found this campaign funny or impressive on any level. Yuk.

Monday, 5 January 2009

Nixon, Watergate, Robert Redford & All The President's Men

So I'm pretty much spending all my free time at the moment obsessing about Watergate and Nixon's 'Final Days' at the White House. I'm a fun guy. I read Bob Woodward & Carl Bernstein's 'All The President's Men' over the Summer, understood I guess maybe 75% of it at a push, but dug the whole thing and thought it was a heck of a piece of writing. It's a complicated business, right? I've just finished watching the movie, which is, lets be straight, an awesome piece of cinema. If only for Robert Redford's sweet tan suits. I don't know what the received wisdom is on this, but for my dollar, Redford kicks Hoffman's ass in this movie. I guess he maybe has the easier ride of it. Hoffman has to be all ticky and quirky. All Hoffman-y. Redford gets to Captain America. My Mum has been a huge Redford fan pretty much her whole life, and I gotta say he's shaping up as one of my faves too. I just caught 'The Candidate'(1972) for the second or third time on telly, and he's exceptionally cool in that. And I watched Quiz Show (1994) again recently - essential viewing in the wake of all the television phone-in scandals - which Redford directed, and that's a hell of a movie too.

"I thought we were gonna get television. The truth is...television is gonna get us."

So to sum up: Robert Redford Is Cool.

In other Obsessing About Nixon news, I'm halfway through David Frost's recollections of his 1977 interviews with the Ex-Prez - Frost/Nixon - which is fascinating, and I'll be watching the recently released DVD of those shows...later this week sometime. The movie with Michael Sheen is meant to be pretty neat too, isn't it?

Sunday, 4 January 2009


Sonic Youth + The Luv'd Ones + The Shop Assistants + like, early Ride or Lush or whatever + uh...The Shangri Las... =Vivian Girls
How hip are these girls? C86 indie...shoegaze...90s US slacker rock...girl groups...they tick a lot of boxes, right? I'm rarely cool enough to have heard about any genuinely hip new band, let alone one that I actually like, so was very excited to have stumbled across this lot. After some cursory Googling, I've learnt they're from NYC, and have a sort of surly NYC attitude. The whole package, then.

Friday, 2 January 2009

My 15 Point January Survival Plan

.1. Barack Obama: Audacity Of Hope (Book)
.2. Frost / Nixon: Watergate (DVD)
.3. Seinfeld: Season 8 (DVD)
.4. Black turtle neck sweaters
.5. Babysham, Bombay Mix and other assorted festive leftovers
.6. Alan Moore & Dave Gibbons: 'Watchmen' (Graphic Novel)
.7. Matt Helders: 'Late Night Tales' (CD)
.8. The 9/11 Commission Report (Book)
.9. Alex Ross - 'The Rest Is Noise' (Book)
.10. Judy Garland: Judy At Carnegie Hall (CD)
.11. All The Presidents Men (DVD)
.12. Old copies of Mojo Magazine I've dug out from the loft
.13. Making a horrible racket on my Stylophone
.14. Albert King: King Of The Blues Guitar (LP)
.15. Austerity

Thursday, 1 January 2009

Why I Don't Get The Whole Charlie Brooker Thing

Given that there appears to be an internet-wide consensus that this guy is Like Really Good And Junk, I know I'm gonna annoy a lot of people with the following post...but here goes.

Why I Dont Get The Whole Charlie Brooker Thing

Brooker-roos dig Charlie because He Cares So Much About Stuff That Sucks, And He Totally Tells It Like It Is And Shit. The main thing Charlie really cares about is The Telly, and he made his name writing splenetic, twisted broadsides on the subject. The Brooker persona is of a man consumed by the digital age, driven to a fevered, almost hallucinatory delirium by rolling news and reality TV. He is wired, A Man On The Edge. This 'gonzo' approach to Watching Telly is at the heart of my failure to 'get' Brooker.

.1. If the 'joke' is how disproportionate his rage is in relation to the subject matter, like 'excessively passionate television criticism is inherently ridiculous because television does not matter enough to justify it', then it is a joke ultimately undermined by the fact that he has spent ten or more years writing television criticism. The parody is flawed. For the joke to work, Charlie must genuinely question the value of passionate television criticism, and if he does genuinely question the value of passionate television criticism, after a decade of producing ironically passionate television criticism I would suggest that maybe his point would be more forcibly made by just writing unironically about something he really does think is worth writing passionately about. Anything. History. Politics. That would be a brave thing to do.

.2. Alternatively, we take the gonzo shtick at face-value, and buy the idea that this guy is a dangerous insomniac loon wired 24/7 to the boob-tube. Again, I consider this to be fundamentally flawed. Gonzo is defined by interaction with the story. Watching television is defined by a lack of interaction with the story. It is the most passive, un-inolving pass time possible. You cannot be gonzo sat at home on the sofa watching telly. Or maybe you can, it's just that it's a spectacularly lame, watered-down sort of gonzo-ism, and the subject matter doesn't warrant the response, which just makes it weird. (If the gonzoness is parodic, refer back to my first point).

Either way, I find myself shrugging.

However wrongheaded I find his shtick, Brooker is undoubtedly a very talented writer. A standard of Brooker's style is the Darkly Comic Flight Of Fancy, wherein a popular mainstream television scenario is distorted into a nightmarish fantasia of disturbing sex and violence, with satirical consequences. I guess how much you dig this depends on how many times you wanna read about a fictional episode of Jeremy Kyle which ends with the host masturbating a smack-addled chimp or something, and how many times you think it's worth Brooker making the point that, "Hey, Telly Is Already Sicker And Crazier Than Anything I Come Up With Here, Right? You Think This Shit Is Weird And Twisted? You Wanna Be Offended By The Orgy Of Fucked-Up-Ness I've Imagined? If You Really Wanna Be Offended, Take A Look At The Insidious, Vacuous Amorality Endemic In The Real TV Schedules! That Shit's REALLY Fucked-Up! I'm Just Holding Up A Mirror, Buddy!"

Charlie now has the opportunity to make this point over and over again On Television, where he hosts a weekly clips show about the State Of Television. Brooker is a doughy, Mr Potato Head sorta looking dude who rocks an as-standard Kermode BBC culture critic quiff, and is an entirely charmless, almost relentlessly sneery, joy-sucking on-screen presence, whose every on-screen second undermines whatever criticism of telly he is making at that moment because he's such an unengaging presenter and he's presenting such an underwhelming show.

Anyway, my point here is just that I think Brooker's shtick is just sort of pretentious, superior and misguided. If he really wanted to piss off the Nathan Barleys of this world, he coulda just spent his time writing about how he likes Friends, or Westlife, or anything else The Alternative Mainstream, Radiohead fans, to whom Brooker is a bone fide hero, has decided isn't cool. But he couldn't do that, because his tastes are naturally pretentious and know-better. So if he has concerns about the mentality of his fan-base, if he is increasingly aware of the the depressing fact that he is essentially enjoyed by people who like Banksy and for precisely the same reasons, then he only has himself to blame. He has not been able to distance himself from that Banksy worshipping culture, and the reason he has not been able to distance himself from that culture is because there are fundamentals of his work which are sympathetic with that culture. What Brooker offers now is the hum-drummest of hum-drummery - a misanthropic old dude pointing out that a lot of mainstream popular culture is dumb and damaging, but Heroes is pretty good. Who needs it?

I'd be keen to hear what Charlie fans think of all this, 'cos I know he's a well respected writer, and I really feel like I'm missing something here.