Saturday, January 15, 2022

About Turner

Friday, January 14, 2022

About Phonogram

Late to the (Death Of A) Party as always, I read Phonogram: Rue Britannia, Kieron Gillen’s graphic novel that gives a dark fantasy to the glory days of Britpop, and a line leaps up that would have prompted a paragraph or several in my Radiohead book. First:

In those vacuum post-Britpop days that marked the end of the great British indie experiment (Birth: “Spiral Scratch EP”, the Buzzcocks, Death: “K”, Kula Shaker), there was space for all manner of leftist ideas to flourish.”

Gillen’s starting point is pretty much inarguable but in the book I suggested the patient survived the cod-psychedelia of K and staggered on until 1997/8, its terminal hangover depicted in the grooves of (take your pic), Blur by Blur, Ladies and Gentlemen... We Are Floating In Space by Spiritualized, Urban Hymns by The Verve, This Is Hardcore by Pulp (referenced on the cover of Phonogram) or, of course, OK Computer itself. And then Gillen reminds us:

The thing with Kenickie is that they, by the very nature of their existence, draw a line between all the enforced dichotomies modern pop. Seriousness is not the same as intelligence, no matter how many times virginal Radiohead fans reiterate it....

Tuesday, January 11, 2022

About ellipses...

 Zoe Williams:

If you trail off a text with “…”, this situates you right in the middle of generation X, but if you ask a younger acquaintance what is so wrong with ellipsis, you doubly age yourself, first by using ellipsis and second by knowing what it is called.

Wednesday, January 05, 2022

About farts

I am intrigued by the tale of TikTok star Stephanie Matto, who sold her farts in jars then claims to have ended up in hospital from over-indulgence in high-fibre foods. Not because of the product itself – that’s just a half-arsed (sorry) take on Piero Manzoni’s Künstlerscheisse – but because of her decision to sell non-fungible tokens of her bottom burps instead, proving once again that NFTs attain a level of conceptualist purity that would leave Duchamp gasping in admiration.

And while we’re on the subject of artists not averse to making a quick buck, this picture just popped up on Twitter, depicting a little soirée Warhol threw at the Factory for (among others) Quentin Crisp, Keith Haring and, uh, Marilyn. A dream dinner party for many – so why do they all look so bloody glum?

Saturday, January 01, 2022

About honours

I’ve long had a morbid obsession with the honours system, as manifested by the various baubles doled out twice a year or so in the name of the monarch. In one sense it’s entirely pointless and silly, but it gives so many hints as to how power and privilege operate in modern society, it can’t sensibly be ignored. This shows especially when we dig down into the particular gongs that particular individuals get. The actors Vanessa Redgrave and Joanna Lumley become dames; William Roache and June Brown, whose fame comes mainly from roles in long-running soap operas, get OBEs, several rungs down the ladder.

One award in particular fascinates; the CMG (Companion of the Most Distinguished Order of St Michael and St George) bestowed upon Daniel Craig as he vacates the role of James Bond. No disrespect intended to Craig himself, who deserves a nod as much as Lumley or Roache. But why this one in particular? It’s an honour generally given to diplomats and other senior government servants rather than actors and most significantly, it was given to Bond himself for his various homicidal and amatory exploits in the service of Queen and Country. Except that Bond is a fictional character and the award was given by his creator, Ian Fleming, rather than by a shadowy committee operating under the nominal authority of the Queen. Essentially, an award more usually given to people for doing a thing is here being given to someone for pretending to do a thing. 

And as I look down the rest of the list, I ask myself how many of the recipients – and not just the actors – fall into the latter category.

Thursday, December 23, 2021

About dressing gowns

Ivan Goncharov, in one of the many 19th-century Russians novels I haven’t read, coined the word halatnost, most readily translated as “dressing-gown-ness”, to describe the sloppy idleness of the aristocrats of his time, a mode of existence that would come back to bite them a few decades on.

I wonder whether Jonathan Chew had Oblomov in mind when he appeared clad in such a garment during his trial for assaulting chief medical officer Chris Whitty. Although since the core of his defense appears to be “I feel like I’m innocent”; and his response to the judge’s criticism of his attitude was “What does cavalier mean?”, I rather suspect not.

Wednesday, December 22, 2021

About self-censorship

A slightly confusing poll from the BBC finds that 49% of us resort to “self-censorship” when interacting with people we’ve just met. I don’t know about you (and that’s partly the problem) but I find that figure remarkably low. If I don’t know someone well, there are all sorts of assumptions I can’t make, thresholds that can’t easily be stepped over, and not just to do with their views or mine on immigration or trans rights or Brexit. Most significantly, what is the extent of their cultural hinterland? If I make a passing reference to a Billy Wilder film or a book by Angela Carter or a B-side by Primal Scream, or use what linguists define as “high register” language, or will they stare at me blankly, or become uncomfortable? And if they’re interested in Formula One or Made In Chelsea or chemical engineering or Scottish country dancing, they’re presumably doing the same thing, wondering whether I’ll respond with confusion or disdain or fear. (All of the above, probably.) 

So we don’t go there, at least in the first few conversational parries. Almost instinctively, we tease our way past obstacles of social class and education and language and how many thousands of miles apart we were brought up towards a common ground of shared knowledge and preference and prejudice, until we find out that, yes, our interlocutor can quote pages of Witness For The Prosecution and/or believes Ayrton Senna's abilities have been overestimated because of his untimely end and then we become more comfortable and can speak more freely. It takes a while to get there, though and before then, we effectively censor ourselves. Except that 51% of us don’t, apparently.

PS: An example: a few years ago, I met a nice couple at a party (remember parties?) and, after a few glasses, I began regaling them, and anyone else in the vicinity, with my opinions about a singer/songwriter whose music, I suggested, was unaccountably popular. (“Not even interesting enough to be bad” was my verdict, I think, so you can probably guess the identity of said troubadour.) It was only later that I discovered they’d chosen said music as a highlight of their forthcoming wedding. I wasn’t cancelled, but it was a tad awkward, to say the least. I really should have self-censored, shouldn’t I?

Sunday, December 19, 2021

About the Daily Telegraph

In an effort to extricate myself from the bubble of liberal groupthink, and to maintain access to what I maintain are the best obituaries in the English-speaking world, I’ve subscribed for the past couple of years to the Daily Telegraph. But a joke’s a joke, and the paper’s increasingly unhinged tone over so-called “wokeness” (once Brexit was done, they desperately needed something else to keep their readers appropriately furious) has finally exhausted my patience. In common with all publications, the DT is desperately attempting to reach younger consumers but its letters and reader comments suggest they have yet to succeed. The comment below concerns last night’s final of Strictly Come Dancing but to be honest it might as well have been about the Beeching axe, or the Gallipoli debacle, or the 1832 Reform Act. Even the name sounds like a middle-ranking minister in the Eden administration. Thank you, and goodnight.