Friday, June 26, 2009

He’s out of my life

You see, I’m in two minds about Michael Jackson. Of course, he was a genius, despite everything. So what I really wanted to do was to find a copy of the NME cover that ran after Elvis died, when they used a pic of him in his ducktailed, knock-kneed, 1956 glory with the legend: “REMEMBER HIM THIS WAY”, acknowledging that he was so much more than the bloated Vegas abomination.

But I couldn’t find the cover, and anyway it would probably have just looked stupid and insulting if I stuck a shot of ‘I Want You Back’ or ‘Wanna Be Starting Something’-era Jacko in the middle of it. And of course there was all the other stuff as well. If we’re really going to look back on his life, we need to include this as well:

Thursday, June 25, 2009


I was going to say something about how sad I am that Slaminsky’s chucked in the towel, but then I thought, hey, it’s her call, it’s not like she’s dead or anything.

Then I found out that Steven Wells (aka Seething Wells/Swells/Susan Williams) had lost his three-year battle with cancer.

I never met Swells. I did occasionally exchange e-mails, and once had a bit of a phone barney with him. (I called him a plagiarist; he called me a whinger; we both agreed that the idea of reviving the musical Hair in the 1990s was an affront to good taste.)

But at the same time, I knew him intimately, first because of my teenage obsession with performance poetry; and later because for several years he was the cleverest, funniest writer in the NME, in that late-80s/early 90s phase when it was past its best but still the best thing going. What was great about him was that even if you disagreed utterly with what he said (he loathed the Smiths, and I’m sure it was he who argued that Sonia had made a greater contribution to pop history than Morrissey ever could), he was still more readable that a dozen hacks who just regurgitated your own prejudices and served them back to you. Which is why, presumably, there was no longer a place for him at the NME, and he plied his trade instead at The Guardian, the Philadelphia Weekly and online spaces such as Quietus (where this gorgeous pisstake of Radiohead comes from).

He died on Tuesday, the same day that the editor of the NME was appointed to take over at Top Gear magazine. Little more needs to be said. (Although Betty says it.)

PS: Everett’s collated some of the many tributes; another from Akira the Don; and here’s the man himself on sport and blogging and stuff.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Laid out

Can’t for the life of me remember where I found this, and it was only two days ago. I feel like one of those respectable ladies who enters the menopause and starts nicking evaporated milk from Fortnum & Mason. Anyway, if it belongs to anyone, please yell, and I’ll acknowledge, and get my medication changed. And give the evaporated milk back.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Green graffiti

It seems as if I’m running some kind of anti-Banksy campaign here, and I’m really not; he’s fab, and so are the Art Hate guys. We cannot live on polite watercolours alone. But images from Tehran such as this

and these and these (at the excellent FryingPanFire blog) rather put received notions of rebellion and criminality into some kind of perspective.

PS: That said, here’s more evidence that Banksy’s outlaw brand has eaten itself.

Saturday, June 20, 2009


It probably entirely contradicts everything I was saying last week about the faux subversion of Banksy’s Bristol event, because this is just as hypey and adolescent, but National Art Hate Week does strike me as being a rather amusing wheeze.

PS: The word I was striving for with regard to the Banksy gig: authenticitude.

Friday, June 19, 2009


Snippet from an encounter with Jonathan Meades. Why eat if you aren’t hungry, asks the interviewer, Hermione Eyre.

“Why did Borges buy books after he was blind?”

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Dead links to dead trees

Some bits and pieces, connected only by their location on the cusp of cyber and meat:
The Times wins the right to unmask police blogger Nightjack, a move that seems to serve no purpose than allowing old media to remind the blogosphere who’s boss. The whole thing makes me exceedingly angry; fortunately, Chicken Yogurt is clear-headed enough to point out the essential hypocrisy of The Times’s position.

On similar lines, tight-collared reactionary Simon Heffer in the Telegraph spews extraordinary quantities of nonsense about the rubbishness of Facebook, never once questioning the privilege that accords him a platform.

Graphic design student Rob Matthews prints off 437 articles from Wikipedia and turns them into a book. “It makes people laugh,” says Matthews, “which is good.”

Ann Kirschner tackles the format question that’s got publishing in knots, by consuming Dickens as book, audiobook, Kindle and iPhone.

Everett True offers a quantitative comparison between blogs now and fanzines then.

The whole Iranian hoo-ha raises a number of questions about politics and technology, not least the question of whether we perceive the result to be unjust because Twitter users are more likely to be Moussavi supporters. However, Harvard academic Jonathan Zittrain makes a wider point about this most misunderstood medium, and why it is so successful at times of civic upheaval: “The qualities that make Twitter seem inane and half-baked are what make it so powerful.”

PS: More on the Nightjack case from Paperhouse, Anton Vowl and Girl With A One-Track Mind, who suffered similar indignities at the hands of Rupert’s catamites, and also ties the whole grubby affair up with what's occurring in Tehran.

PPS: And the bloggers, inevitably, strike back.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Really spraying something

(I don’t normally do requests, but my dad asked me what I thought about Banksy’s new show. To be more precise, he instructed me to do a blog post about Banksy’s new show.)

I think it was Marcel Duchamp (and if it wasn’t, it was surely someone who was thinking along the same lines as Duchamp, or at least someone who had Duchamp’s postcards on the wall) who came up with the two best justifications of conceptual art as A*R*T per se. One was “It’s art because I call it art.” And the other was “It's art because it’s in a gallery.”

This is why I was always a little resistant to the charms of the Young British Artists; it wasn’t that their stuff was bad as such; it was just that Marcel had done most of it before. The only aspect over and above Duchamp that the Sensation generation offered (Did I ever tell you I was at the preview? The wine was frightful, darlings!) was a very 90s focus on celebrity and money; which Warhol had done anyway, 30 years previously.

But Banksy was different. He didn’t justify his art as art, because he didn’t justify anything, because he wasn’t there. And he didn’t put it in a gallery. The whole point of it was that it wasn’t in a gallery. It didn’t just ask “is it art?” It asked questions about public space, about ownership, about offence, about subversion and surveillance, about us and them.

It couldn’t last of course. He had to go into galleries, because that’s what artists do, and the celebrity and the money may have had a part in it as well. Oh well. But there’s something a little desperate about the hype surrounding his current show at the Bristol City Museum; the whole preposterous story that the council wasn’t told about it until the eve of the opening is just silly. The show would have been a huge success anyway; this smacks not of Duchamp, but of that old fraud Dali.

The thing is, Banksy’s been out-Banksy-ed. Conor Casby, the artist who put unauthorised, unflattering portraits of the Irish prime minister into two Dublin art galleries, Just Did It, which is surely closer to the graffitist model that propelled Mr Gunningham to fame. And closer to Duchamp as well, and the questions he raised: it’s art because it’s in an art gallery; but should it be?

Friday, June 12, 2009

Sunburn Death Cult

I love teh interwebnets and blonks an’ t’ing, but it’s so hard to keep up. Once I thought Cats That Look Like Hitler was as good as it got. Then I discovered Awkward Family Photographs, and the kitlers seemed like sooooo three months ago. And now, Everett renders awkphos a bit meh, as he directs us to...

Goths in Hot Weather

Tuesday, June 09, 2009


If, like me, you’ve been made quite angry by the current financial crisis, without properly understanding it, take a while (it’s rather long, I’m afraid) to read this. It’s mainly about the Royal Bank of Scotland, Fred Goodwin and all that; but also touches on Lehman, AIG, Northern Rock, HBOS and all the other companies that you know sort of arsed up somehow, but you’d get a bit fuzzy if someone asked you for the precise details.

Oddly, it‘s not in the FT or the Economist; it’s in the London Review of Books. And it’s not by a financial journalist, but by John Lanchester, who I know best for some elegantly cruel novels that combine elements of Kazuo Ishiguro and Roald Dahl; the cool misanthropy does ooze through here as well.

Once you’ve read it (and, I reiterate, it’s by no means short - well over 10,000 words, I reckon - maybe make a pot of tea and a plate of ginger nuts first), you should understand the crisis a little better. However, you will also be a hell of a lot angrier.

Monday, June 08, 2009

Nazi punks fox off

Something to cheer you up on what, for many of us, is a rather glum day. I think it’s a parable about the joys of a multi-racial, pan-cultural, mongrel society, and how silly it is to be scared of difference. Or maybe not. Whatever, it’s bloody *F*O*R*E*I*G*N*, which should be enough to annoy those people who deserve to be annoyed:

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Rivers of blah

A long while back, probably around the time I was writing strongly worded letters to The Independent about their reviewers’ abysmal taste in sturdy footwear, I worked for the PUSH University Guides. One of my bright ideas was to write to hundreds of famous people (this was before celebrities were invented) to ask if they had any anecdotes, advice or sardonic one-liners about their time in higher education.

For some reason, one of the people I contacted was Enoch Powell. Why I thought that yer average A-level student might be interested in the reminiscences of a right-wing politician whose greatest (in)fame had arisen a quarter-century before, I’m not sure. But in due course, a communication was forthcoming from his Eaton Square eyrie, manual typewriter, notepaper not A4, pale blue to match his scary eyes. He let it be known that looking back at his time at Cambridge in the early 1930s, he regretted not having availed himself more of the social life; and he wished me to pass this on to our readers.

I immediately fashioned an image of the young Powell, an awkward, provincial, lower-middle-class youth, thrust into the lush, louche decadence of Cambridge; on a Saturday night, in his room, ploughing through Thucyides and Pliny while beautiful, confident, gilded aristocrats drink and flirt and smoke and cavort in the quads and fountains, their joys filtering through his window. And he wanted to join them, even for half an hour, but he knew he never could. For all the harm he’d done to race relations and social cohesion, from then on, I felt rather sorry for him. Even as I read the text of his notorious Rivers of Blood speech, he seemed less like a wannabe dictator, more like the butler in Ishiguro’s The Remains of the Day, fatally unable to make that crucial human connection; hugely intelligent, but entirely lacking in understanding.

And on vaguely related matters, however cheesed off you are with the gimps and chancers who pretend to run this country, please don’t vote for the BNP today. The reason they can’t make a human connection is that they’re subhuman.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009


I’m often uneasy about those sites that giggle at Chinglish and Thinglish and Japlish and so on, mainly because a site consisting of hapless Anglo attempts to get to grips with foreign tongues would be just as funny: see here for an example.

So please think of the following not as a laughing-at-comic-foreigner thing; but as an example of how a tangential relationship to language creates something that could be the blurb for a Philip K Dick novel, or an abstract of an address to a symposium on the metaphysics of urban life, or maybe even the writing on the back of a pack of rice crackers:
Inheritor of the rice cracker expert and under philosophy of being Tasty Healthy Rice Snack Leader, we want our classic and innovative Japanese rice crackers and chips to enter “borderless world” so we develop our products continuously to appeal to a younger, more casual generation. Though the rice snacks are products of culture yet ours are subtle blend of East and West taste.