Sunday, December 31, 2017

About 2017

Possibly because I wanted to blot out the increasing ghastliness of the real world, this was the year I rediscovered the joy of blogging, which in 2017 feels a bit like expressing a fondness for CB radio or meerschaum pipes. There’s a different vibe about it now; the happy little virtual posse that collected here a decade or so ago, some of whom have become real-life friends, is no more. Occasionally this feels like a private diary for my own amusement rather than The Conversation that Patroclus of blessed memory posited. Nevertheless, in the past two months I’ve posted more than I did in 2015 and 2016 combined, which must mean something or other.

Anyway, this is the last post of the year, so I guess that means the inevitable cultural best-of. My favourite book was Laurent Binet’s The 7th Function of Language, a postmodern caper about postmodernism and its adherents, many of whom are tormented with gleeful savagery in the course of a bizarre plot that begins with the death of Roland Barthes and then turns into something like The Da Vinci Code for people who’ve read far more books than is good for them. Binet endured a late challenge from Ryan O’Neill’s Their Brilliant Careers, a collection of deadpan potted biographies of Australian writers, all of whom are, the reader quickly deduces, are entirely invented; I was especially taken by the arch-plagiarist Frederick Stafford, author of Odysseus, Mrs Galloway and The Prodigious Gatsby. Fiction about people who exist; or non-fiction about people who don’t? Meh, I don’t have to choose because the O’Neill was either published last year (in Australia) or won’t be until next year (in the UK), so they can co-exist, defiantly elitist (if one believes that it’s elitist to appeal to readers with a pretty good grasp of the 20th-century literary canon) but with a delicious sense of silliness as well.

Elsewhere, the musical event of my year should have been Brian Wilson in concert in Hammersmith, although his evident discomfort and the decline in his vocal abilities made it feel more like a final gathering of the faithful to honour an elderly Pope than a gig per se. So let’s set that aside and give the gong to the Magnetic Fields for 50 Song Memoir; as the titles suggests, a year-by-year autobiography of the band’s leader, Stephin Merritt, spread across five discs. It doesn’t quite hit the astonishing heights of their 69 Love Songs, but, hey, what does? I did also enjoy the antics of Leo Pellegrino at the Mingus Prom, but I only saw it on telly so it probably doesn’t count.

In other categories, my favourite evening at the theatre was Patrick Marber’s revival of Tom Stoppard’s Travesties (more cerebral daftness for people who aren’t ashamed of knowing stuff) and in a gallery it was James Ensor at the Royal Academy. The TV adaptation of Decline and Fall was huge fun, especially the performance of Douglas Hodge as the reprehensible Grimes. (Moreover, it was on old-fashioned sit-up-and-beg on-at-a-certain-time telly, rather than Netflix or Amazon, so there.) And in the cinema? A dead heat between mother! and Paddington 2. There’s a double bill to be cherished.

But just as my finger hovers over the Publish button, I realise that everything I’ve selected was essentially the work of white men. Which isn’t a good look, is it? OK, here’s your job for today: if you can be bothered to find your way into Blogger’s arcane comment set-up, recommend something from 2017 that wasn’t made by someone who looks like me.

See you on the other side...

Friday, December 29, 2017

About editing

I’ve seen the editing process from both sides and I’ve been brutal and I’ve been brutalised. (It toughens you up for the reviews, they say.) But the annotated manuscript of the aborted book by tiresome alt-right troll Milo Yiannopoulos takes things to new levels. My favourite, albeit not the harshest: “The use of phrases like ‘two-faced backstabbing bitches’ diminishes your overall point.”

Thursday, December 28, 2017

About that four-storey phallus

The street artist Carolina Falkholt doubtless expected to provoke a reaction when she painted a large phallus on the outside of a building on New York’s Lower East Side, and she got it, much of it expressed as sincere worries for the tender sensibilities of children. (Just read some Freud, people.) But I was rather fond of the response of local resident Sal Balvo: “I’m walking down the street and I see a genital. That’s what I came to New York for.”

Friday, December 22, 2017

About Peaky Blinders

I’ve been in love with Peaky Blinders since it started; it’s the swagger, the postmodernism, the defiantly wrong music, the idea that someone awoke one day with the idea of mashing up Bugsy Malone and The Brothers, then stealing a shedload of tricks from Tarantino to paper over the cracks. But I’ve fallen out of love and it’s not for the reasons that others have cited regarding the just-finished fourth series (Arthur coming back from the dead, Alfie not coming back from the dead, Adrien Brody chewing the scenery almost as much as he chews that toothpick), but something else. The buggers have insulted my intelligence.

Here’s what went wrong. The Peaky Blinders, represented by cool-as-ice anti-hero Tommy Shelby and Brummie Boudicca Aunt Pol, are confronted by the Sicilian-American gangster Luca Changretta, who declares that if they don’t sign over all their assets, he will kill them. But the Blinders turn the tables, advising Changretta that other forces have been working against him while his back was turned:
Aunt Pol: We also contacted a businessman in Chicago. He’s also interested in moving into the liquor business in New York.
Which is fine as it stands. Peaky Blinders is a fiction with one toe in reality; Winston Churchill and other historical figures have made fleeting appearances. A little nod to historical gangsterism, a reference even to the US box set with which the show has most in common, Boardwalk Empire, does no harm at all. But we could’t leave it there, could we?
Tommy: His name is Alphonse Capone.
CLANG! Listen, anyone who watches an exchange between three dodgy dealers in the mid-1920s referring to a fourth person of equally dubious repute and doesn’t think “probably Capone”, probably doesn’t know who Capone is. It’s like a Hollywood version of Victorian Britain, with people saying things like, “Good Lord, that’s Mr Dickens (1812-1870), the celebrated author who wrote that book about an orphan, what was it called again?” “Oh, Oliver Twist, wasn’t it?” but worse because this is 2017 and we should be smarter than that by now, shouldn’t we? Tommy’s line is trying to be a clever nod/wink but in fact it’s a prompt to the mouth-breathers in the back row, the ones who go on Pointless and complain that “it was before my time” when any subject other than Premiership football comes up. I’m out.

The clothes are still nice, though. And Cyril’s a sound name for a dog.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

About Twitter

I first tweeted 11 years ago today, which means I’ve been using this much-maligned service almost as long as I’ve been blogging. Still the same self-pitying drivel.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

About art and its world

Howard Becker:
Wherever an art world exists, it defines the boundaries of acceptable art, recognizing those who produce the work it can assimilate as artists entitled to full membership, and denying membership and benefits to those whose work it cannot assimilate. 

Thursday, December 14, 2017

About Mastermind

If you’ve nothing better to do on January 5 at 8pm, BBC2 could prompt a wry smile or two. That is all.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

About reality (again)

Via the lovely Hegemony Jones: a heretofore obscure governmenty-type chap announces that Baudrillard is dead, we’re not in The Matrix and, er, that’s it. (I paraphrase.) He’ll do Nietzsche vs God next, but he’s having his tea right now.

Monday, December 11, 2017

About blogging (yet again)

Back in the glory days, the story was that blogging was going to destroy print media, provided the underpants gnomes could work out a way to monetise it. Imagine my surprise, when ambling through the WH Smith at Euston station...

Thursday, December 07, 2017

About not having a light

“Excuse me, mate, do you smoke?”

I’ll admit, I judged. She was painfully thin, with a sunken face, blotchy skin and all manner of nervous twitches. And we were just round the corner from a drop-in centre for people with substance abuse issues. But she’d done me no harm so I just assumed she wanted a light for the unlit cigarette hanging from her barely-there lips. So I said sorry, no, wondering whether she was then going to ask whether I had a couple of quid so she could get a bed for the night. Except...

“Oh, that’s a pity. It’s just I’ve got hold of a few hundred fags – don’t ask how – so I’m handing them out to people. Feeling generous. Maybe it’s a Christmas thing. Never mind, mate, you have a good day.”

Wednesday, December 06, 2017

About street art

I’ve been thinking about graffiti/street art lately, so was intrigued when Annie flagged this up, because it raises two interlocking questions; not just the inevitable “but is it art?” but also the equally pertinent “but is it street?”

Monday, December 04, 2017

About Forster

Sunday, December 03, 2017

About Flake

I’ve just found out that Jonathan Glazer, creator of Guinness ads, Radiohead promos and movies in which Scarlet Johanssen and/or Ray Winstone don’t wear very much, was once asked by those nice people at Cadbury’s to make a commercial for the Flake bar.

Flake - Jonathan Glazer from David Nichols on Vimeo.

But they didn’t like it.

Friday, December 01, 2017

About Derrida

Lifted from Kevin Jackson’s Facebook. Best. Marginalia. Ever.