Saturday, January 30, 2021

Wednesday, January 27, 2021

About poetry

It is late and I am tired so regard this as a place holder; simply to note the news that Amanda Gorman, who became world famous a week ago for the poem she declaimed at Joe Biden’s inauguration has been signed not by a publishing house or record company or a university but by a modelling agency.

Sunday, January 24, 2021

About Chaucer


If the bloody Culture Wars do exist, it’s one of those conflicts where I wish both sides could lose.

Anyway, Leicester University, we are informed by, uh, the Daily Mail, has removed Chaucer from the English curriculum as part of a process of decolonising the curriculum. The Mail’s argument that this is a heinous outrage against Western civilisation might carry more weight if old Geoffrey’s works made regular appearances in its pages; if coverage of scholarly works about the Canterbury Tales or Troilus and Criseyde occasionally replaced the antics of Kim Kardashian or Cardi B or Amanda Holden. Funnily enough they don’t – except when they’re prompted to do so by the spectre of wokeness. (If they weren’t desperate to squeeze every ounce of ideological outrage of the Leicester story, would this piece by Ian Mortimer ever have been commissioned? Incidentally, I once got rather drunk with Dr Mortimer in a pub in – I think – Topsham, but that’s a tale for another day.)

In any case, this is nothing new. I studied English at undergraduate level in the late 1980s and even then, poor old Chaucer had been shoved out into the “optional extras” pile – alongside what the Mail still calls (in 2021) “such modish topics as race relations and feminism”

And inevitably it turns out that, when the Mail can actually be bothered to talk to someone from Leicester, Chaucer’s removal from the syllabus is less a case of ideological cancellation, more about offering “courses that match our students’ own interests and enthusiasms, as reflected in their own choices and feedback that we have been hearing”. In other words, responding to the same market forces to which the Mail slavishly adheres and to which it demands fealty from everyone else. Unless there’s another reason for the Kardashian stories.

Friday, January 22, 2021

About Bernie memes

So much of the tension that’s sprung up around both Trump and Brexit is cultural rather than explicitly political, revolving around assumptions (some of them justified) about what people think and do and know, and the extent to which those things place them on a binary divide. So I’m risking accusations of being a snooty, metropolitan elitist remoaner if I post my favourite of all the memes dealing with Bernie Sanders’s grouchy, bemittened appearance at Wednesday’s inauguration ceremony – simply because the most delicious thing about it is that Trump Won’t Get The Joke.

(If he’s reading this – maybe it’s raining on the golf course – full explanation here.)

Monday, January 18, 2021

About Phil Spector and Lana Clarkson

I’m seeing lots of simmering rage across social media that journalists are getting the balance wrong in their coverage of the death of Phil Spector, or maybe just put things in the wrong order; he was a convicted murderer, they argue, who also produced some records.

Clearly, he was a profoundly damaged monster, even before he killed Lana Clarkson; the evidence of his wife Ronnie, and numerous others who crossed his path over the years, would back that up. But the fact is that the reason we are even acknowledging his death is not for his crimes, but because of his music, because he was at the desk for ‘Da Doo Ron Ron‘ and ‘River Deep, Mountain High’ and ‘Imagine’. If he were a moderately successful double glazing salesman who killed someone, we wouldn’t be having this conversation. And I entirely sympathise with those who want to commemorate Clarkson’s life rather than Spector’s; but – in pure news terms, to those who didn’t know her – the most notable thing about that life is that it was ended by Spector. 

PS: Thoughtful contribution from Sarah Ditum.

Friday, January 15, 2021

About sea shanties

Sea shanties are suddenly in the news, apparently because somebody started performing them on TikTok. But it’s telling that many of those detailing the phenomenon in the news media feel the most pressing need is not to explain what TikTok is, but what sea shanties are...

Tuesday, January 05, 2021

About The Album

I argued in my book about Radiohead that OK Computer, for all its manifold innovations, represents the last entry in the canon of rock albums. This isn’t because people aren’t making good music any more, but because in the post-Napster universe the notion of a fixed, finite selection of tunes in a predetermined (by someone other than the listener) order now feels unnecessarily restrictive – and I was writing this in the mid-Noughties, way before Spotify. I might have been a little premature in my analysis but in the New York Times Jon Caramanica seems belatedly to have come over to my way of thinking. (He also suggests the future might be TikTok, which has infuriated a whole load of rock purists on Twitter and elsewhere but that’s what music journalists are for these days, right?) Anyway, he says:

As awful as it sounds, an album is simply a data dump now. That doesn’t mean that some artists won’t continue to aim to be auteurs of the form — say, Taylor Swift or Adele — but the minute albums hit streaming services, they are sliced and diced and the songs are relegated to playlist slots, and everything after that is a crap shoot. The truth is that albums worked as a medium only because everyone was a captive. When you look back at your favorite older albums now, I’m sure you see the weak spots that you’d happily have programmed out if you had the technology then. Now you do. I wouldn’t be surprised if the next generation of pop stars finds ways to never release an “album” again — they’ll just drip music out, one automated-brain-chip-download at a time.

I’ll put a fiver on One Automated-Brain-Chip-Download At A Time (Sweet Jesus) being the title of the next Radiohead album. Not that anyone will care, obviously. 

Saturday, January 02, 2021

About Brexit

An image to encapsulate our glorious future free from the nasty, pungent shackles of the EU: from the Buy British For Brexit Facebook group. Happy New Year, everyone.