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 d├ętourned 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 d├ętournement, 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.

Saturday, August 24, 2019

About social media 1.0


When did social media really begin? If we can rise above the pedantry that suggests all media is essentially social (tall tales of mammoth hunting round the camp fire, anyone?) and assume that it has to involve the web in some shape or form, I’d place my own first involvement back in the very late 90s, with Guardian Talk. As far as I can recall, it began as a way to control comments on online articles; but after a while users were allowed to begin threads of their own, and a strange little virtual community developed, mainly concerned with arguing the toss over whatever was happening in the news, but also allowing little bits of life to bleed through. I discussed one of the more memorable episodes here. I drifted away as I became more committed to this blog and the weirdos and wastrels who happened upon it (you know who you are), and then as other, glossier, more successful products (you know who they are) arrived, I became even further distracted. I wrote for The Guardian’s Comment is Free (is that still a thing?) for a few years, but that was more on the standard journalism model, with a distinct separation of those above and below the dreaded line, although a few of us did our best to blur that distinction.

Guardian Talk died, suddenly and strangely, in 2011, but I was long gone by then. And I’d pretty much forgotten about it, until last week, something happened that prompted all sorts of memories. The Guardian (by which I mean in this instance the website, although any distinction between the various manifestations of the brand now seems unnecessarily pedantic) ran a piece by Adrian Chiles about catching up with some of his old teachers. It’s an odd article that doesn’t really seem to go anywhere, feeling like a half-formed idea rather than something ready for publication. But – possibly because of its sketchy, unfinished nature – it prompted a number of readers to pitch in with their own memories of teachers, good and bad. And, rather than doing what I should have been doing, I did the same:
I was lucky with my teachers (a few grisly exceptions, obviously) but the finest I had was a lugubrious, chain-smoking Glaswegian who got me into Joyce and Beckett and Burgess and all that good stuff, not through earnest, Dead-Poets-style breast-beating but by reading a bit and quietly asking, “What do we make of that, then?” I sent him an email when he retired, to thank him and let him know what I'd done with my life. He replied, “I‘m glad you stuck with words.” He died the following year. Thanks again, Campbell.
Now, most of these contributions stand alone, perhaps enhanced by a *like* or five. But mine, for whatever reason, drew a response from Ian Jack, former editor of the Independent on Sunday and Granta, who I know of but don’t know:
I think you must have been taught by my old friend Campbell Mackay, whose flat I shared in Glasgow long before he took the trail south and then west. I'm glad to hear he was a fine teacher, though I'm not at all surprised. He took it seriously.
And he was right. I found it both moving and a little unnerving that with so few specific details (there must have been dozens, maybe hundreds of Scottish teachers called Campbell over the years), Mr Mackay’s essence, a doleful Estragon through a nicotine haze, was so immediately identifiable to someone else who’d had the pleasure of knowing him. And I thought for a moment about how lovely social media can be if we let it, how it can build bridges, make friends, join up disconnected memories, maybe even for a moment bring the dead back among us; as well as spreading strife and hate and fake news and all that cal.

Then somebody else accused me of misunderstanding bloody Dead Poets Society and we were back to normal.

(Campbell would have got the reference in the photo up there: I hope a few others do as well.)

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

About Thatcher Wine

I was directed by Clair, who used to be The Urban Woo in the days when people spoke of a blogosphere without sniggering, to an article about one Thatcher Wine, who is responsible for Gwyneth Paltrow’s books. No, he doesn’t write them; he curates them. A brief snippet to give a flavour of what he does:
My invention for the book jacket means that someone can have the complete works of Jane Austen, but in a certain Pantone chip color that matches the rest of the room or with a custom image. People have invested in how their home looks: They chose the cabinets, the carpets, the paint, and the window coverings. Why settle for books that a publisher designed? Books can have as much style as anything else in the room.
Which does make me yearn just a tiny bit for the glory days of actresses who actually read stuff.


PS: And in a similar vein, this is doing the rounds...

Sunday, August 18, 2019

About cartoons

A couple of reminders that, even when words can be defanged – often these days by the tiresome canard of “fake news” – the image can still bite. First the great Art Spiegelman’s overview of the comic genre’s ability to speak grainy truth to power, given added resonance by the revelation that the current chairman of Marvel Comics found the whole piece just a little bit too truthful for comfort:
In today’s all too real world, Captain America’s most nefarious villain, the Red Skull, is alive on screen and an Orange Skull haunts America. International fascism again looms large (how quickly we humans forget – study these golden age comics hard, boys and girls!) and the dislocations that have followed the global economic meltdown of 2008 helped bring us to a point where the planet itself seems likely to melt down. Armageddon seems somehow plausible and we’re all turned into helpless children scared of forces grander than we can imagine, looking for respite and answers in superheroes flying across screens in our chapel of dreams.
And then this, from an old friend in Hong Kong:


Friday, August 16, 2019

About Dickens

A group of disaffected teens with terrible lives do not want to be studying Dickens and Shakespeare last thing on a Friday... We should be encouraging these pupils, not boring them half to death – why not study literature that is relevant to their lives?
(From an article today about the decline in popularity of English Literature A-level)
“She was brought here last night,” replied the old woman, “by the overseer’s order. She was found lying in the street. She had walked some distance, for her shoes were worn to pieces; but where she came from, or where she was going to, nobody knows.”
(Oliver Twist, Chapter One)
“You are to be in all things regulated and governed,” said the gentleman, “by fact. We hope to have, before long, a board of fact, composed of commissioners of fact, who will force the people to be a people of fact, and of nothing but fact. You must discard the word Fancy altogether. You have nothing to do with it. You are not to have, in any object of use or ornament, what would be a contradiction in fact. You don’t walk upon flowers in fact; you cannot be allowed to walk upon flowers in carpets. You don’t find that foreign birds and butterflies come and perch upon your crockery; you cannot be permitted to paint foreign birds and butterflies upon your crockery. You never meet with quadrupeds going up and down walls; you must not have quadrupeds represented upon walls. You must use,” said the gentleman, “for all these purposes, combinations and modifications (in primary colours) of mathematical figures which are susceptible of proof and demonstration. This is the new discovery. This is fact. This is taste.”
(Hard Times, Chapter Two)

Monday, August 12, 2019

About content


Benjamin Schwartz, The New Yorker.

PS: And in a slightly less refined mood, by Scribbly G:

Sunday, August 11, 2019

About Schoenberg

Justification for the continued existence of the BBC, and the licence fee, notwithstanding all its idiocies, in a single, silly sentence:


(Darren Henley and Sam Jackson, Classic FM: Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About Classical Music But Were Too Afraid To Ask, p. 149. And they say pretty much the same about John Cage.)

Friday, August 09, 2019

About memes

An interesting piece by Kathryn Watson about how memes actually happen; and, bouncing off Iain Macmillan’s Abbey Road cover, a reminder that they’ve been doing it for years. (Although how many of them have actually listened to the album, I wonder?)

Thursday, August 08, 2019

About the stubborn persistence of the analogue

Further to my baffled musings about stickers, I’ve been aware of a resurgence of communication that doesn’t quite challenge the digital hegemony, but wants to operate alongside it. I guess graffiti is one example; still obstinately analogue, but wanting to be photographed and shared as much as possible. And the serious creators always include their own Instagram tags. And then there’s something like this: whoever stuck it up hasn’t even bothered to use a laser printer or photocopier, and the jagged frills where the page has been torn from its spiral binding shout its wood pulp reality. But there’s no physical location given, or even a phone number; for any useful details, the analogue isn’t quite enough.

Thursday, August 01, 2019

About Scarlatti

I’ve mentioned before the work of Rutherford Chang, who recorded 100 different copies of the Beatles’s White Album on top of each other. And now someone’s done something similar with all 555 of Scarlatti’s harpsichord sonatas. The funny thing is, the massed Scarlatti sounds more like something the studio-era Beatles might have done than the massed Beatles does.