Tuesday, March 21, 2017

About Girlz Wetter

I’ve been sorting through a whole load of storage crates over the past few weeks, some of which have been undisturbed for 13 years or more. Inevitably some of the contents prompt a certain sting of nostalgia: in a few cases I can recall the precise circumstances in which I acquired a particular book or record, or wrote or drew something. But I’m also coming across things that push no buttons whatsoever, even if I feel they ought to.

One such example is this copy of the fanzine Girlz Wetter. Although maybe calling it a fanzine is to overstate its significance. It’s a single A4 sheet of pink paper, folded into a pamphlet tiny enough to fit in your wallet. There’s a review of a gig by the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, an interview with Jef Steartfield of Plan A (me neither) and a rather NSFW 14-point “Guide to Being a Groupie”. And that’s your lot, as the back cover announces in no uncertain terms.

The thing is, I have no memory of how I came into possession of this piece. At first I assumed I must have got hold of it in about 1997/8, when I spent a lot of time on the Camden gig circuit: it was hidden amidst a pile of compilation CDs from that era, boasting tracks by the likes of Dweeb, Midget and The Bigger The God. But the Yeah Yeah Yeahs reference pitches it forwards, to 2001 at the earliest.

What’s interesting about that is that by then it would already have been something of a throwback, as the early rumblings of blogging and social media started to encroach of the turf of print zines. And what’s more, it makes no attempt to perform even those limited gestures of social interaction that print can offer. There’s no information about who the author may be, not even a pseudonym; no contact details, not even a good old analogue PO Box; it’s just there, in your face, make of it what you will. It’s entirely devoid of context, whether in itself or in terms of my own memories. And there’s something rather magnificent about that. I’d be intrigued to know who created it, but at the same time, I quite like the state of ignorance in which I find myself.

Monday, March 13, 2017

About Nazis


Big flip chart with a graph headed “VIEWING FIGURES” and a line pointing down.

Tony (Commissioning Editor): So, Simon, as you can see, what we really need is a blockbuster to lure them back.

Simon (Producer): Hmm. What sort of thing did you have in mind, Tony?

Tony: Well, what’s really getting them excited is Nazis. Swastikas over Buckingham Palace. SS marching down Fifth Avenue. That sort of thing.

Simon: Hmmm. OK, Tony, this is just off the top of my head... but what about a series that shows what would have happened if the Nazis lost the war?

Tony: Lost the war? Bloody hell, Simon, that’s so insane it’s almost brilliant. Tell me more.

Simon: Right, bear with me. Germany invades Poland and quickly takes over most of Europe. But Britain manages to hold out, Hitler overreaches by invading Russia, the Americans join the Allies after Pearl Harbour and following years of carnage and deprivation, with millions of people dying, the Nazi threat is finally vanquished.

Tony: Woah. This is blowing my mind, Simon. So what happens to Hitler?

Simon: OK, get this. Hitler dies. He. Dies. I haven’t thought of the details. Maybe he could shoot himself. In his bunker. Goebbels and some of the others do the same. But most of them are executed. One or two could escape to Argentina — which gives us a potential sequel.

Tony: But isn’t this going to offend people? Insulting the reputations of the brave hypothetical British resistance who didn’t sacrifice their lives to defeat the non-existent invaders?

Simon: I think we should take the risk, Tony. I see a closing montage of ravaged cities and concentration camps, a stern warning to viewers about the dangers of racist demagogues and a reminder that European nations should work together in peace and harmony...

(He tails off. Uncomfortable silence.)

Tony: Simon, you do realise that people like these shows because deep down they wish the Nazis had won after all?

Simon: Yeah, I guess you’re right. OK, shall we do the other thing?

Tony: Yes, OK, let’s do that instead. It’s less risky. Move back the News at Ten for an utterly inept and unfunny chat-show that everyone will take the piss out of on Twitter. Is Walliams free?

Monday, March 06, 2017

About American Gothic and the perils of familiarity

And so to the Royal Academy for America after the Fall: Painting in the 1930s. Or, let’s be honest, to see one painting, Grant Wood’s American Gothic, which as any file kno depicts the artist’s sister and the artist’s dentist, dolled up as bloody miserable farmers. And so there’s a fluctuating knotlet of gawpers around this one painting and by the time you edge your way between an elbow and a buttock to see it, a sense of disappointment is on the cards. Especially because a far better, more memorable and disturbing picture by Wood, Daughters of Revolution, is on the opposite wall, getting none of the love.

It reminds me of when I first went to the Louvre, at the age of 13. Obviously I took a peep at the Mona bloody Lisa, because that’s what you do, and I reacted the way everybody else does, remarking on how small and brown it is, and going off to look at the Davids instead, because they’re more fun (even if Napoleon is basically Hitler with a better tailor). And, just a few weeks ago, finally getting to see Lord Leighton’s Flaming June in situ at the artist’s gaff near Holland Park, on a brief respite from its Puerto Rican exile. Yes, yes, it’s a nice enough painting and it’s definitely fun to see it displayed exactly as it would have been in Leighton’s studio, but again it’s some of the other, less familiar images, such as Twixt Hope and Fear, with its subject’s bold, almost accusatory gaze, that catch the imagination.

So what’s my bloody problem? Why can’t I respond with appropriate reverence to something that’s widely hailed as a masterpiece? Is it just that I’m already bored with its very ubiquity, its status as a tea towel, a fridge magnet, a meme? Am I so hungry for new sensations that when I go to a gallery I demand to be surprised? And yet, if American Gothic hadn’t been in the exhibition, I probably wouldn’t have gone. Maybe that’s the deal; big ticket paintings act as a sort of aesthetic loss leader, getting in punters whose imagination is instead grabbed by something else.

Or is it just me?