Wednesday, December 30, 2020

About self-Googling (one more time)

I’ve written before (here and here) about the strange back alleys into which self-Googling can take you. The problem seems to be that whole sites are based on data parsed from other sites, without a flesh-and-blood bullshit detector in the middle. I have no idea whether anyone but me has seen the page claiming that I was born in Chicago, and died in 2007, but it is there. (If a lie appears in the the digital forest and nobody reads it except its subject, might it just as well be true?)

Anyway, here’s a new one. Nobody knows what I weigh, which is a relief; but they have managed to calculate how rich I am, which comes as a pleasant surprise. It’s just a pity that I’m too dead to enjoy it.

Thursday, December 24, 2020

About Scrabble

Via The Urban Woo (retd). How to make your seasonal pastimes truly Zen, even if they have to be conducted virtually. Have as happy a time as the present hateful circumstances allow, with triple word scores aplenty for 2021.

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

About the Daily Mail


It feels as if a pattern is forming. Following on from recent posts (here and here) about Radio 4 programmes in which a state of not-knowing appears to be a desirable quality in presenters and/or guests, here’s yesterday’s Daily Mail. Rather than seeking to elucidate or evaluate complex restrictions for the benefit of its readers, the newspaper’s role now seems to be to share in their confusion, their ignorance, and even to make a virtue of it. And in this case, it’s about something rather more important than knowing a particular bit of violin music.

PS: Earlier thoughts about agnotology etc here and here.

Saturday, December 19, 2020

About Foucault

I’m a little surprised that a member of this most performatively anti-intellectual government of my lifetime might namecheck Foucault in a speech; less so that the hapless Liz Truss got him so egregiously, so spectacularly wrong.

Knowledge is not for knowing: knowledge is for cutting.

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

About The Lark Ascending

Tonight’s edition of BBC Radio 4’s arts/culture show Front Row was presented by Liv Little, who is black, female and 20-something and whose presence, one assumes, is intended at least partially to address the Corporation’s concerns about its own lack of diversity and increasing irrelevance to young people. Little managed the first segment, on the new Wonder Woman movie, perfectly well, and seemed equally confident moving on to discuss the 100th anniversary of Vaughan Williams’s The Lark Ascending with violinist Jennifer Pike. 

But then she did something rather unusual; she admitted that until she’d started to prepare for the show, she’d never listened to The Lark Ascending. Let’s be clear, this is not some obscure nugget by Hildegard of Bingen or Iannis Xenakis, unrecognisable and incomprehensible to anyone not steeped in the theory and lore of classical music. It’s the piece that’s regularly voted the nation’s favourite by listeners to the avowedly populist Classic FM. It’s a Favourite, a Standard, a Classical Greatest Hit.

In many ways, Little’s admission was refreshingly honest. I remember when Ned Sherrin presented Loose Ends on the same station, regularly flubbing his lines as he gave scripted introductions to bands of whom he’d clearly never heard, mispronouncing the names of genres of which he was equally ignorant, and giving the impression that he didn’t really care. I’m sure Little does care but, as she acknowledged, this lacuna in her own personal canon probably puts her in a minority among Radio 4 listeners. (That’s the ones who do currently listen, rather than the ones the BBC wants to listen.) And inevitably, if she didn’t know The Lark Ascending until a few days ago, those listeners might wonder what other gaps there could be in her portfolio of cultural capital.

I argued recently that presenters on Radio 4 shows such as In Our Time and You’re Dead To Me operate as spokespeople for the moderately informed listener, knowing enough about the subject to ask sensible questions, but happily deferring to the experts when things get serious. Little’s honesty raises a question, though; what’s the rationale for a presenter who knows less than the audience?

PS: Also from the BBC: Neil Brand’s delightful programme about TV music shows what can be done when presenter and interviewees alike actually know what they’re talking about; and then there’s Idris Elba interviewing Paul McCartney and the less said about that...

Sunday, December 13, 2020

About beginnings

Wednesday, December 09, 2020

About writing about music

The first proper book about music I read was Philip Norman’s Shout! And because it was the first, and because I was 13 years old, I accepted its analysis, that the recently deceased Lennon was the towering, tortured genius of the band, while McCartney was a thin-skinned prima donna writing plinky-plonky singalongs about sheepdogs and cross-dressing market traders for your mum and auntie. After a while, I began to realise that life and art were probably more complicated than that, especially when I read other books that didn’t necessarily followed Norman’s conventional “and then this happened” model of history. Among the most significant on my thinking and my own writing were Greil Marcus’s Lipstick Traces, which redefines punk rock in the context of Dada, Situationism and even the medieval Cathars; and then Peter Guralnick’s Sweet Soul Music, about the triumphs and tragedies of black musicians in the Southern states, against the backdrop of the political turbulence of the 60s and 70s. These books, and other, reinforced the idea that I hope informs my own writing: great art is always about more than itself. (Also, mainly thanks to Ian MacDonald’s Revolution in the Head, I came to realise that there was more depth to McCartney’s work than I’d realised, and that some of Lennon’s was a bit crap, really.)

So, with no slight intended to Norman’s work, I rather grew out of it, just as I’d grown out of Roald Dahl or CS Lewis (but retained a nostalgic fondness for them). And apparently Norman hasn’t taken such rejections lying down

In Britain, writing about rock music still isn’t really taken seriously – and, by and large, doesn’t deserve to be. In the US, by contrast, it’s taken far too seriously, with the earnest, plodding pair Greil Marcus and Peter Guralnick vying for supremacy in the field. To me, their combined surnames suggests a new verb, “to greilnick” – ie churn out leaden paragraphs overstuffed with show-offy facts, yet be unable to create a compelling narrative or convey character or atmosphere.

Poor Philip. Maybe the problem is that some of us are shallow enough to fall for the charm of those “show-offy facts”.

Monday, December 07, 2020

About statues

In the Telegraph, of all places, Cal Reveley-Calder deftly sidesteps the controversy over the imminent statue of Margaret Thatcher in Grantham by seizing on its most important aspect; as a piece of art, the statue itself is the worst possible thing, boring. As are most public statues, including that of Edward Colston

But statues like Jennings’s, so blandly figurative, shove their subjects onto the stage – look, she’s so important that we’ve carved her in stone! – and only permit you a binary view: you are in favour, or you aren’t... That binary, for statues, means “standing” or “coming down”. They last until they don’t, which is fair: “yes or no” is the only art criticism they deign to receive.

And in case you missed it, Colston’s statue has been replaced by something far more appropriate, and more enjoyable and, yes, better. 

Thursday, December 03, 2020

About Pessoa and Twitter

This morning, I was listening to BBC Radio 4’s In Our Time, about the Portuguese writer Fernando Pessoa, of whom I had only the sketchiest knowledge, and within a few minutes I immediately wanted to read everything he’d ever read, all at once, and borrow one of his hats as well. Then I made a fatal mistake – in my enthusiasm, I took to Twitter to alert everyone to the show, a shining example of why the BBC needs to be defended against all comers.

But it didn’t end there of course. While I was in Dorsey’s maw, I noticed that Gavin Williamson had done another very stupid thing, and had my say on that; and then went down another rabbit-hole about Julie Christie’s lipstick in Far From The Madding Crowd. And when I resurfaced, the Pessoa show was still on, but I’d rather lost the thread. So I went back to Twitter to whine about that.

To which one Danny Garlick responded:

And to be fair, before I started listening, I wouldn’t have got the joke. 

Tuesday, December 01, 2020

About Trump (please God for the last time)

A splendid essay by Matthew Walther on the appeal of Trump – it’s camp, daahling:
Trumpian aesthetics is a catch-all of the great artificial modes in Western art: rococo, Art Deco, vaporwave. It is above all anti-pastoral. (Like the denizens of Versailles, Trump can only encounter the natural world third or fourth-hand, in a tweet about the imminent signing of the 2018 farm bill embedded with a clip of him singing the Green Acres theme song at the Emmys.)
Also this, my favourite ever clip of the man, in which he pretends to have read a book: