Friday, September 20, 2019

About Mad

I never really got swept up in the general enthusiasm about Mad magazine, which has suffered the fate of so many print titles. But I was impressed with this 1978 edition; apparently they pre-empted the whole Adbusters/culture jamming thing by several years, even if the main objection was aesthetic rather than political.

Monday, September 16, 2019

About Trump

Re-reading Mystery Train, in which Marcus dared to reframe the mythology of American popular music – and wider culture – in explicitly literary terms, the careers of musicians and politicians alike compared to Huckleberry Finn and Captain Ahab and Jay Gatsby. He’s particularly cutting about a man who was, at that time, the personification of political venality and vulgarity, Lyndon Baines Johnson.

But even LBJ might have had a vague idea who Huck and Ahab and Jay were, what they meant. What, asks New York Times TV critic James Poniewozik, of a man who hasn’t even read the books he pretended to write, a veritable President for a post-literate age?
Mr. Trump has been playing himself instinctually as a character since the 1980s; it’s allowed him to maintain a profile even through bankruptcies and humiliations. But it’s also why, on the rare occasions he’s had to publicly attempt a role contrary to his nature — calling for healing from a script after a mass shooting, for instance — he sounds as stagey and inauthentic as an unrehearsed amateur doing a sitcom cameo.

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

About books, again

Following on from the Thatcher Wine horrorshow, I was in Waterstones in Gower Street yesterday and saw, on a tabletop laden with books as slim and pretty as a posse of wannabe fashion models, this sign:

Which annoyed me a bit. Of course, it could be justified as a bit of stealth marketing, selling books to non-bookish people on an aesthetic basis, and, hey, maybe a few of them may absent-mindedly pick them up and read them. But would such people be in a bookshop – specifically a bookshop in the heart of the University of London – in the first place?

I calmed down a little when I turned 90 degrees to face the delectable wall of orange and cream below, all the Evelyn Waughs and Angus Wilsons you can eat at a fiver a pop. (The pale blue Pelicans were round the corner.) But then I noticed that these are being marketed not as second-hand books, but as “Vintage” Penguins and I’ve got a horrible feeling they’re also being shifted as design accessories first, books second. And yes, I accept that anything that helps to keep proper walk-in bookshops viable has to be a good thing. And yes, I’ve lost count of the books I own that I’ll probably never get round to reading. (The Japanese word for this is “tsundoku”) And yes, by taking a photo of the old Penguins like a bloody tourist, I’m further enabling the fetishisation of design and appearance over content.

But it’s my blog and I’ll whine if I want to. And now my degree’s over I can get back to reading what I bloody well want, so I bought a remaindered copy of the most recent edition of Greil Marcus’s Mystery Train, the book proper of which is just 168 pages long, but has enough notes and discographies and indexes and similar geeky stuff to take the whole package well past the 400 mark. Will it make my bookshelf look good though?

Monday, September 09, 2019

About mobility

An excellent radio documentary by Byron Vincent about how social mobility isn’t necessarily all it’s cracked up to be. Two snippets:
So off you pop to uni and you do your degree but it’s not just accountancy you learn, you learn to eat quinoa and feign an interest in Murakami; you learn about passive aggression and that you’re not allowed to punch middle-class people, even if they’re being proper knobheads...
These strange hybrids, no longer proper working-class but not middle-class either, anomalies, sat around mashing Frazzles into our avocados and apportioning Jungian archetypes to the contestants on Love Island.
And on the same lines, look at this lovely interview with a very young Dennis Potter.

Sunday, September 08, 2019

About the dissertation

For the past couple of years I have been studying for an MA in Cultural and Critical Studies, which is essentially a slightly more coherent version of this blog. And now, having completed my dissertation, I am not. What have I learned? That Foucault is far funnier than I ever gave him credit for, that Adorno definitely isn’t, that nobody except me loves Baudrillard any more and that ultimately the human race as we know it is doomed and we’ll all be reduced to a small pile of ones and zeros by the year 2100.

Saturday, August 31, 2019

About Radiohead, yet again

“What did you do in the culture wars, Timmy?”

“I sat around with a bunch of other middle-aged men and failed to say anything useful about Radiohead.”

PS: And hey, look, there’s even a poster...

Thursday, August 29, 2019

About prorogation

Jamie Reid’s 1977 image of the Queen has gone from iconoclastic to iconic and back again; inevitably for the work of an old Situationist, it’s been détourned and/or recuperated more times than I’ve had hot safety pins. Here’s this morning’s edition of Spanish paper ABC:

To be honest, I don’t know what the classic punk and/or Situationist position on Brexit would have been; probably squatting in the middle, lobbing paving slabs at both sides. John(ny) Rotten/Lydon has reinvented himself as a Faragiste but apparently hasn’t always been that way inclined. And this article by Padraig Reidy (which also hijacks the essence of that 1977 image) points out how the “potential H-bomb” has been reclaimed as an emblem of hope against Brexit by her mortal foes, the liberal chattering classes. It’s another flavour of détournement, I suppose, but a polite one.

Also, not big, not clever from Mark Thomas, but funny:

PS: Coincidentally, someone has catalogued a letter I wrote to Select magazine (gulp) a quarter of a century ago.

Monday, August 26, 2019

About the NME

The NME is still a thing, apparently, and it still has an editor, one Charlotte Gunn. Discussing the decision of the title to expand its live offering, whatever that means, she says, “Really, I just want NME to help get people together to have a nice time listening to great music, because isn’t that what it's all about?”

Actually, I always thought what NME was supposed to be all about was tearing people apart.

PS: And if you really want a good old wallow in the nostalgia mines, check out this lovely little film about punk and Letraset.