Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Sternal notch

This is all I have to say about the Stern report.

Global warming, schmobal warming. I'm more worried about plain chocolate HobNobs.

Monday, October 30, 2006

For a minute there I lost myself

Yay. All done. I just sent the manuscript to the publisher. Let's see what they make of my attempts to link OK Computer with Barthes, Deleuze, Plato, Kafka, Blake, Gary Numan, Bret Easton Ellis, Albert Camus, the Eagles, Yoko Ono, Jeff Bridges, Czech dissidents, the collapse of the Thai baht and, uh, Snakes On A Plane.

It's already available for pre-order here and here. That's right, the cover was all done and dusted before they saw a word of text. Which can, of course, lead to confusion, as Jim Crace describes in the story of Useless America, his novel that never was, except in the murky backwaters of the Amazon, where passing fancies and misheard phone calls go to die.

Friday, October 27, 2006

You become naked

Had it up to here, not just with Radiohead, but with the two albums generally held to be the main influences on OK Computer, namely Bitches Brew by Miles Davis and The Beatles by The Beatles (aka 'The White Album', although if you need me to tell you that, you probably won't be very interested in the rest of the post).

Now, the Miles thing I've never really got. I've always preferred Dizzy Gillespie and Chet Baker as trumpeters; and Bitches Brew is when he just degenerated into wanky jazz-rock-funk bollocks, although John McLaughlin's guitar playing has its moments. But the White Album has been in my all-time Top 10 for years, so I hope I haven't yet exhausted its wonky charms.

I think the problem is that it's so big and diverse and all over the shop that it just gets overwhelming, like a hyperactive St Bernard puppy. Which leads us neatly to today's game: not an original one by any means, but one that's endlessly diverting (for slightly damaged people staring into the abyss of middle age, at least). George Martin has said on more than one occasion that The Beatles would have made a fantastic single album. Your mission, if you accept it, is to trim down the 30-track expanse of vinyl into a neat, 7-a-side effort. Keep in mind the political necessities of the era (rough balance between Lennon and McCartney, and something to keep Harrison happy). Smartarse points will be deducted for including 'Happy Birthday, Mike Love' and similar Rishikesh offcuts. (That's you I'm talking to, Swipe.)

To get the ball rolling, here's my effort:

Side one
Why Don't We Do It In The Road?
Glass Onion
I Will
While My Guitar Gently Weeps
I'm So Tired
Back In The USSR
Happiness Is A Warm Gun

Side two
Revolution #1
Don't Pass Me By
Dear Prudence
Martha My Dear
Long Long Long
Revolution #9

And two postscripts: CiF piece on the Surrealist subtext of Kylie Minogue's underwear, although somebody's added a standfirst that gives away the punchline, thank you very much; and the news that next month Bangkok will be hosting a conference called Slag in Asia.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Land of smiles

CiF piece on how Thailand's PM wants everyone to be happy (although they edited out my description of Ayn Rand as a "fruitcake"); Nicky Wire on the legacy of C86; Stewart Lee, on last weeks News Quiz defined blogging as: "pornography and descriptions of going to the shops". And, in Bjorn Turmann's novel The Karaoke World of Cortous Haire, I find this:

"You're getting the hang of this expat life. Always find out what other expats are doing, so you'll have more to talk about in the bar when your life becomes truly frustrating and miserable."


Monday, October 23, 2006

Gas gas gas

Pleasant weekend on the relatively-unspoiled-but-not-for-long Koh Chang (Elephant Island). Mostly spent eating, reading, dozing, although some gentle sea kayaking assuaged any indolence-related guilt. Along the dirt roads, it seems that every other shop has a neat display of whisky bottles outside, with a hand-scrawled sign saying "30 baht" (43p to you, guv). Closer inspection reveals that it's not booze, which is cheap, but not that cheap. It's ready-measured portions of petrol for the motorbikes that are the main form of transport around here. In any other country, such a display would be asking for trouble: all you need is a few tampons and a Zippo and you've got yourself a nice little arsenal of Molotov cocktails. Welcome to Thailand, the country where they just can't be arsed to riot.

On Saturday night, I tried to teach Small Boo to play pool which, since I've played it about once, is a bit like Stevie Wonder offering flying lessons to David Blunkett.

SB: This shot's difficult. I think my arms are too short.

TF: Do you need a rest?

SB: I'm not tired. It's just my arms are too short.

UPDATE: "She could also have saved money by choosing 'hard-class' train seats." Another way to get to Koh Chang.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Dumb and dumbing down

Having appeared on several quiz shows, I know how memory starts to melt under the studio lights. Small Boo delights in reminding me that it was the Jackson 5 who sang on Stevie Wonder's 'You Haven't Done Nothing', and that sharks are cartilaginous (two facts that succumbed to on-air Footman brainfarts).

So I was inclined to be sympathetic to Simon Curtis when I read that he'd scored a record one point in his specialist round on Mastermind. I'll admit to an involuntary sniff of derision when I saw that he'd chosen The Films Of Jim Carrey as his subject, but what the hell, knowledge is knowledge, yeah? At least he's not like one of those pneumatic C-listers who choose subjects like Those Shoes That Courtney Cox Was Wearing In That Episode Of Friends That Was On Last Night, Or Was It The Night Before? And Carrey's actually made about three decent films, which is pretty good going for a mainstream Hollywood star. And then I read Mr Curtis's explanation for what went wrong:

"I like Jim Carrey films but I think the mistake I made was not watching them again. John Humphrys ended up asking me about things in the movies rather than simply black-and-white facts so I was stumped."

So... the problem was... let me get my head round this... the problem was that you decided to answer questions about The Films Of Jim Carrey, but didn't bother to watch any of The Films Of Jim Carrey, so when Humphrys asked you about The Films Of Jim Carrey, it all went horribly wrong. And what are these "things in the movie" (presumably plot details, lines of dialogue, character names and so on) if they're not "black-and-white facts"? It's a quiz show, not a forum for postmodernist japery.

What's disturbing is that Curtis managed to make it to the semi-final. He won the first round thanks to his knowledge of The Jam, a feat that, presumably, he managed without listening to any of the records. He just read a couple of old Smash Hits interviews and looked at a picture of Bruce Foxton for a few minutes.

Also... Small Boo once said of me: "He can write about anything except golf." HA!

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Why I love the BBC

On this morning's Today programme, during a discussion about the environmental impact of low-cost air travel, one guest called another one a "quasi-mercantilist".

You don't get that on Virgin.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Publish and be sold

Following my recent misunderstanding with Simon Reynolds, I'm wary of second-guessing the weird cogitations that publishers go through when they amend British books for the American market. So I will simply record an objective fact, and open the floor to the rest of you as we search for the big "WHY?" Daniel Kalder's book about his travels around the less-known bits and pieces of the former Soviet Union, was called Lost Cosmonaut: Travels to the Republics That Tourism Forgot when it was published by Faber in the UK earlier this year. When Scribner brought it out in the States, they kept the title, but gave it a new subtitle: Observations of an Anti-Tourist. (The new cover's also less good, but that's another story.)

So what's the point of that? Exactly how is the new title supposed to have the bibliophiles of Buffalo and Boulder rushing to the tills, when they might have dropped anything bearing the first title with a distaste previously reserved for a text message from Mark Foley? Anyone care to hazard a guess?

Also: Nick Cave [quietly, to Beth Orton]: Who are Busted?

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Pilot error

CiF piece on the recent pitcher/building interface in NYC.

Well trained

Your assistance is required. My father, a fine, upstanding fellow and a core member of Harry Redknapp's advisory panel, wants to track down a record he remembers from the days before he had a beard. It's probably from between the wars, and was essentially a narrative about railway journeys, including French ones. The best bit was that the storyteller provided his own, vocal sound effects (eg "diddy dah, diddy dah, diddy diddy dah"). It would have been played on Children's Hour and the like. Of course, he might be hallucinating the whole thing, but the last time I looked, that was St Bruno Flake in his pipe, with no extras.

It would have been a 78 rpm disc at the time, but he'd be happy to have it in any format, including download. Any ideas? I suspect there's a pint or two waiting behind the bar of the Brewer's Arms in Horndean for anyone who can point him in the right direction.

Thanking you in anticipation,

Yours sincerely,


Tuesday, October 10, 2006

80s revival

I don't usually do politics here, so if you want a reasoned, geopolitical analysis, please go elsewhere. But a few thoughts strike me about the news that North Korea has nukes.

1. When I was a teenager, I used to wear a CND badge, even go on occasional marches. "Ah, but if we didn't have nuclear weapons," said older, wiser, more expensively dressed people, "we'd be at the mercy of the countries that do." Could it not be that Kim Jong-il has been reading old speeches by Thatcher and Reagan and everybody else who poured scorn on unilateralism a quarter-century ago? Could it not be that, like any leader, whether loony dictator (which he is) or altruistic friend of the people, he's just protecting his strategic interests? Well, people, this is the multilateralism that was the bedrock of Western defence strategy throughout the 1980s. Mutually Assured Destruction, they called it back then. You like?

2. George W Bush, in his 2002 State of the Union address, identified North Korea as part of an "axis of evil". Wouldn't it have been terribly embarrassing if the US invaded another country on the basis of WMDs that it didn't have? Surely Kim, like Ahmadinejad of Iran, is only trying to live up to his advertising?

3. The North Koreans have been entirely open in their nuclear plans. They withdrew from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. They said they were going to develop nuclear weapons; they then said they were going to test one. They did it. Compare this with the Israelis, who still won't admit that they've got them.

4. Can someone come up with an objective, globally applicable criterion for deciding which countries are allowed to possess nuclear weapons, and which aren't? "He's the kind of guy that Dick Cheney might pick as a hunting buddy" isn't good enough, although it is appropriately ambiguous.

None of this is a defence of the Stalinist hellhole that is North Korea, or its mad dwarf of a leader. I don't want North Korea to have nuclear weapons. It's a bad thing. But seriously, once all the indignation and neocon willy-waving has cooled down, what are you going to do about it? To bomb Pyongyang now would either provoke World War III; or prove that all the arguments that underpinned the Cold War, and the geopolitical status quo thereafter, are less substantial and convincing than Kim Jong-il's Eraserhead hair.

PS: Rather more informed comment from Dan Plesch in The Guardian and Richard Lloyd Parry in The Times.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Let your backbone slip

You know what's it's like when some whining old fart grumbles on about how tedious modern music (or cinema, or fiction, or politics) is, and how much better it was 40 years ago? Infuriating, isn't it, that people should place a buffed-up version of their own youth at the heart of some kind of pop canon, denying the validity of any subsequent innovation, any development that doesn't correlate with their own narcissism? Grumpy, up-its-own-arse, baby-boomer bollocks.

And then you watch this;

and bugger me, the old farts are right after all. If it ever got better than this, I wasn't invited.

Something for the weekend. Play loud. Kick off your shoes. Tear the roof off.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

This is not an extension

A sign at Bangkok's main immigration office:


Also: now the coup is old news, I'm driven to writing about chess and, uh, other stuff; someone who still things that bloggers belong between quotation marks; and thanks to Helen for sending this diversion for film buffs. Groucho Marx for Rhett Butler, anyone?

Sunday, October 01, 2006

You and whose army?

My head hurts. This morning, I read an essay by Joseph Tate in which he applies the rhizomatic techniques of Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari (bear with me) to Radiohead's Hail To The Thief album.

I should have read Tate's essay before; I've referred to several of the other pieces in the collection he edited, but I've been trying to steer clear of the overtly critical/theoretical stuff while I write my own book about OK Computer. I'm not, after all, supposed to be writing for a specialised, academic audience; I'm writing for Radiohead fans, who are (one imagines), a bit smarter than Oasis fans, but aren't necessarily given to ploughing through tomes of French philosophy of an evening. I've been content to chuck the occasional teasing tapas of Barthes and Foucault into the footnotes, but that's it.

Anyway, I realised that what I'd been doing, unwittingly (not having read any Deleuze myself, but does that make me a bad person?) is applying exactly these techniques when writing about OK Computer. Brief detour for clarification - "rhizome", in a cultural or philosophical sense, refers to an academic method using many and various entry and exit points. It's opposed to an arborescent (treelike) set-up, which involves hierarchy and a fixed canon of sources. Those of you with GCSE biology will realise that the opposed concepts are metaphors drawn from differing models of plant growth: a rhizome is an underground stem from which shoots and roots poke out in all directions; a tree tends to grow upwards and outwards. Rhizomatic cultural phenomena include flashmobs and critical mass cycling events. Wikipedia is somewhere in the same timezone, although it's clearly become a victim of its own success, and less of an intellectual free-for-all.

As I mentioned a few weeks ago, I'm having huge fun pulling in cultural references from every crevice of my memory and dropping them into the Radiohead mix to see what might happen: recent provocateurs have included John Donne, JG Ballard, the 1997 Asian financial crisis, Lynne Truss, Metallica and mortgage contracts. But now, I realise, what I'm doing is Deleuzian. Or even quasi-Deleuzian, which is better. Marvellous, I think, now I can make the book as up-its-own-arse as I like, on the basis that in doing so I'm being non-hierarchical and therefore accessible and therefore readable. Bollocks, I then think, almost immediately:

a) If I carry on like this, about three people will buy my book, and;

b) I'm meant to deliver the manuscript in six weeks, and if I start pebbledashing it with fresh semiotic shale now, it might just be ready in time to celebrate Sir Thomas Yorke's 50 Years In Showbiz.

In the state of mind that PG Wodehouse defined as "not exactly gruntled", I traipsed off to meet our old buddies James and Jeab for lunch, serenaded by the fabulous New Orleans trumpeter Leroy Jones. Also present was James's tai chi teacher, a veteran anarchist of the Kropotkin variety, who was arrested at Grosvenor Square in 1968.

He does a lot of work with Bangkok's slum dwellers, especially those with HIV/AIDS, and he had an interesting angle on our recent local difficulties here in Bangkok. While no fan of Thaksin (the deposed PM, currently enjoying an extended holiday in London), he said that he was the first Thai politician to acknowledge that the poor existed. Much of this was opportunistic; he offered short-term fixes to buy their votes, and wasn't genuinely interested in improving their lot. But the simple fact that he addressed the concerns of people at the bottom of the heap stirred them out of their apathy; for the first time, they paid attention to what was going on in the wider political and social sphere, because they now realised that it affected them. Although my new acquaintance (I won't name him - the situation is still sensitive enough for the 'wrong' opinion to provoke the interest of the authorities) wasn't sure what form this attention might take, the simple fact that this huge mass of people had woken up was interesting enough. Thaksin had summoned a rhizomatic genie out of the lamp; he wanted to spur Thai people on to become members of the consumer society, but the phenomenon could have gone in any one of a hundred directions, with all sorts of political and other forces pushing it here and there.

I started to feel a little uneasy. Only a few days before, I'd written an article offering a cautious welcome to the coup. Now, I realised that while the generals had undoubtedly rid Thailand of a corrupt and self-serving leader, they'd also rammed the cork back in the Deleuzian bottle. What Thaksin had offered to the poor was not necessarily hope, but possibility; the possibility of bypassing the karmic inevitability of their lot, their preordained role on the outside of Bangkok's gleaming new shopping malls, not even daring to look in. Maybe those other people, the ones who'd been making all those bleaty noises about democracy and the will of the people, had a point after all. Thaksin (inadvertently) provided the possibility of Thai society becoming ginger or asparagus or a fern, with all the options that might offer; under new management, it was back to being a tree, and a tall, straight one at that.

And I came home, and found that the generals had been true to their word, and (as had been rumoured for a few days) they had relinquished power within 14 days. To another general. And then I Googled for a bit (another function that feels pretty damn rhizomatic, but isn't really) and found this fascinating article explaining why Deleuze and Guattari have become so popular in that haven of anarchists and egalitarians, the Israeli Defence Forces.

And the only question that formed in my mind was this: would I have this pounding headache if I'd decided to write about Oasis instead?