Saturday, May 07, 2022

About OK Computer

I’m really not that miffed about Radio 4 doing an hour-long documentary about the definitive Everything Turned Into Tuesday album OK Computer and not asking me to contribute, despite the fact I’m one of just two people to have written a book about the LP (and mine was longer). Looking at the roster, there are plenty of other qualified voices they left out. That’s fine.

But did they have to broadcast it on my birthday?

PS: If anyone’s interested, the French Radiohead documentary I appeared in a few years back has resurfaced, and is available on YouTube for a limited period. 

Thursday, May 05, 2022

About bits of films

I'm a little baffled by the prospect of the entertainment Pulp Friction, which apparently offers all your favourite bits of Quentin Tarantino films, with cocktails to wash them down. Typical of modern culture, all bite-sized chunks, YouTube, TikTok, tiny attention spans, I grumble before staggering to the library to read a random 18th-century novel.

But what’s this? Sight and Sound lobs from its archives an article by the revered avant-garde film-maker Chris Marker, in which he just lists his favourite bits of films. The only difference is, no cocktails. And of course, the apparently-random-gobbets-of-stuff-I-like approach is pretty much what Georges Perec was about, so it must be OK, mustn't it?

Saturday, April 30, 2022

About GB News

In the New Statesman,  Stuart McGurk describes the first shambolic months of the TV channel GB News and the most startling moments come not when stuff goes wrong, but when the company tries to explain away the wrongness. When asked why it tried to go on air without most of the equipment that TV professionals would regard as necessary – indeed, without most of the professionals – the official line is:

GB News is an entirely different broadcasting model. We never set out to replicate the legacy infrastructure or roles of establishment broadcasters.

Yet again, the libertarian battle-cry of “disruption” is a less-than-convincing euphemism for amateurish incompetence. (Not coincidentally, my recent reading has been dominated by meditations on why modern society increasingly tolerates such abject mediocrity, for fear of being thought elitist, and how a surprising amount of this anti-elitist thought originates with the political right. See Frank Furedi, Where Have All The Intellectuals Gone?; Eliane Glaser, Elitism: A Progressive Defence; Ronan McDonald, The Death of the Critic.)

But how do we respond to this? Do we really have to bite our lips when confronted with crap, for fear of hurting the feelings of those who produce crap and/or those who buy it? Who’s a snowflake now?

PS: And a reminder that, yes, it comes from the left too. From a couple of years back, John Halle defends Kenny G, and implicitly all else that is “fundamentally unserious and beneath discussion.”

PPS: On similar lines, an old friend, Caroline Langston, ponders what you really need to get into college:

The admissions system today, I read somewhere, rewards not the “bright well-rounded kid” (abbreviated BWRK by admissions reviewers), but the “pointy” kid instead, by which is meant an outsize and distinctive feature—like innovating a patentable medical device, launching a business, or testifying before Congress. Three sports and extracurriculars are nowhere near enough.Conversely, in the absence of such achievements, one way to mitigate it is by being able to foreground an experience of personal disenfranchisement or suffering, and demonstrate how one has overcome it... This is a problem not just for college admissions but also for the nation’s intellectual culture—and literature—in general. Books, online culture, radio interviews, novels, podcasts, all of them swept up into one... Basically, it’s a darkling plain where ignorant armies of the nation’s Pointy Kids-in-Chief clash by night.

Tuesday, April 26, 2022

About punk

I’m intrigued by the premise of Punk Alley, an event taking place at the Southbank in June; it’s specifically for children aged 6+ and aims to “channel your inner anarchist”. Which either taps into the noble savage aesthetic of the original movement or completely misses the point - or, since this is part of the celebrations to mark the Queen's latest jubilee, is just a colossal piss-take.

From the archive: the Met Gala debacle; How to be Indie (for girls); and of course this...

Sunday, April 24, 2022

About reviews

Many years ago, I offered a (possibly tongue-in-cheek) defence of the journalist who wrote a review of a Black Crowes album, having listened only to the first track. The shocked response from the readers suggested they thought this might be an isolated incident.

Ah, the innocence. Dylan Jones, until last year the editor of GQ magazine, has revealed that his motoring correspondent had a similarly relaxed attitude to the process of reviewing a product:

When the cars were delivered to his house in Islington, the car company always made a note of the mileage, something that is standard practice. The mileage would also be noted when they came to pick them up again. And on more than one occasion — OK, on many, many, many occasions — the mileage was precisely the same. So I leave you to draw your own conclusions.

Who on earth was this conniving, fraudulent hack? You may well ask.

Monday, April 18, 2022

About Harrison Birtwistle

I can’t claim to have been a devotee of the late composer Harrison Birtwistle but I do recall the brouhaha that arose when his defiantly dissonant Panic was premiered in 1995 during the Last Night of the Proms, an occasion more usually graced by flag-waving singalongs. What I had forgotten is that the TV broadcast was fronted by the twinkly, urbane Richard Baker. Not even Stravinsky managed a stunt like that.

Tuesday, April 12, 2022

About being in the know

In the wake of a properly exciting Mastermind final, a thought-provoking article by a former contestant suggests that, when dealing with nature, facts should trump feelings; although...

There are fair reasons to mistrust knowledge and those who have it. It can be (and is) used to gatekeep, to exclude those who lack it – that is, those who lack the background, education or life circumstances necessary to have acquired it. More fundamentally, there are problems with competitive hierarchies of knowledge in which certain knowledge forms or learning traditions are privileged or elbowed out, with concomitant impacts on justice and representation across a host of sociopolitical variables (class, ethnicity, sex and culture among them). It can also be hard not to track the obvious connections – historical, cultural, though perhaps not inevitable – between identification, collection, colonialism and plunder.

...which is yet another nugget that might have slotted neatly into my dissertation. That said, is the fact that some people don’t know stuff a valid reason for nobody to know it? Or to know it, but keep quiet about the fact?

Monday, April 11, 2022

About Britpop (and after)

In my 2007 book about Radiohead (as seen in the finest charity shops) I identified a handful of albums that encapsulated their creators’ bleary-eyed response to the end of Britpop’s frenetic hedonism (and none of them were by Oasis, because Oasis didn’t have the wit to realise the party was over). And finally, in yet another documentary about the last gasp of Union-Jack-splattered guitars (and one that also relegated Oasis to a supporting role), Miranda Sawyer found les mot justes to define those records: “everything turned into Tuesday”.

Thursday, April 07, 2022

About food writing

Given my past career, this speaks volumes:

Wednesday, April 06, 2022

About reading

David Peace:
I was fortunate to be brought up in a house with a lot of books. My dad read David Storey and Stan Barstow, who came from where I came from, but also Chandler, Maigret, Camus, and more sports books than you’ve ever seen. There was Dewsbury market for comic books and secondhand books, and I can’t overstate the education you got from reading the NME between 1979 and 1985. A review of the Birthday Party would be talking about Dostoevsky; Mark E Smith, Nick Cave, Coil and Morrissey all talked about books, painting, other forms of music, and I just absorbed it all. You could be reading Beckett and Philip K Dick, watching the football and The Singing Detective, going to see a band and a Francis Bacon exhibition; almost every week you were hearing or reading something you’d never seen the like of before. I’m not sure that’s the case these days.
Maybe the cut-off came in the mid-1990s, when the likes of Oasis proclaimed themselves heirs to the mantle of indie greatness, but coupled it with a strand of (performative?) bibliophobia. And 20 years later, Noel Gallagher still seemed deeply suspicious of the whole idea of reading and writing books:
“…people who write and read and review books are f***ing putting themselves a tiny little bit above the rest of us who f***ing make records and write pathetic little songs for a living.”
It’s not an either-or scenario, and I wouldn’t presume that by not offering their fans a bespoke to-read list packed with dystopia and existential angst modern musicians are implicitly endorsing Gallagher’s philistinism. But it could be that they’re advised not to talk about it, at least not in the opinionated, evangelical tones of their 80s forebears.

Monday, April 04, 2022

About Jordan

I’ve always felt an uncomfortable empathy with the Rosencrantzes and Guildensterns of this world, those whose greatest claim to fame is their (often accidental) proximity to a bigger, brighter star. And as such, I mourn the magnificent Pamela Rooke, aka Jordan, whose snarling presence in press coverage of the Sex Pistols made the whole three-chords-now-start-a-band formula feel too much like hard work. You didn’t even need to pick up a guitar. You just needed to be.

Monday, March 28, 2022

About the ploughperson's lunch

A pub on Dartmoor has provoked what people are still intent on describing as “a Twitter storm” by labelling a plate of bread and cheese as a “ploughperson’s lunch”. It’s a reference to the people of any gender who till and tend the land in that lovely chunk of Devon but it has inevitably attracted the ire of the gammon massive. “Sorry guys, won’t be visiting a ‘woke’ pub for my lunch. Yes, there are lots of women farmers today and I salute them, but stop changing the past.” 

But what past? What we used to call a ploughman’s may have had its roots in the distant, bucolic past but The Ploughman’s Lunch as a pub staple only goes back as far as the 1950s when the Cheese Bureau sought a way to encourage consumption of their just-off-ration product. That said, since Brexit seems to have been a project of prosthetic nostalgia, luring us back to a decade that nobody remembers because it never happened, maybe that’s entirely appropriate.

Thursday, March 24, 2022

Saturday, March 12, 2022

About cultural capital

An academic study has determined that school visits to museums or theatres have no beneficial effect on GCSE results. They may of course “contribute to educational enjoyment” but, hey, who cares about that?

Sunday, March 06, 2022

About The Shark Is Broken

(I started writing this a month ago, when the show was still running, so it seemed relevant-ish. And then life intervened.)

Approaching the Ambassadors Theatre, where The Shark Is Broken is nearing the end of its run, you encounter the usual array of glowing accolades, artfully extracted from the critical slurry. One in particular stands out: “You don’t need to have seen the film.”

Which is, I guess, technically true. The play, about imagined interchanges between the three main actors during the filming of Jaws in 1974, operates a bit like Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead; the exciting stuff is happening somewhere else, so our focus is on the dreams and frustrations of people who aren’t really in control of their lives. And surely that’s something with which we can all identify, even if we haven’t seen Jaws, or for that matter Hamlet.

That said, it’s fairly clear that to fully appreciate the play, one needs at least a passing knowledge of the film and its context; not least to appreciate the piquancy of having the actor and co-writer, Ian Shaw, portraying his father, who played the shark hunter Quint, and died just four years after events depicted on stage. And the audience, it would seem, has far more than a passing knowledge. Not only do they chuckle sagely at in-jokes that hint towards the film’s sequel, and Spielberg’s next project, Close Encounters of the Third Kind; they actually sing along when the actors-as-actors replicate music from the film (‘Spanish Ladies’ and ‘Show Me The Way To Go Home’) and recite, word-for-word, Shaw-as-Shaw-as-Quint’s USS Indianapolis speech, which ends the play.

It’s a well-made, enjoyable show but ultimately, like so much happening in the West End, it relies immensely on the punters’ fondness for and familiarity with the source material. Effectively, it’s just another jukebox musical.

Saturday, February 19, 2022

About James Malone-Lee

I never knew the urologist Professor James Malone-Lee. But someone I knew many years ago did know him, which is why, by the wonders of Twitter algorithms, I saw this, an object lesson in level-headed understatement in the face of the inevitable. “...a little inconvenient” indeed. He died peacefully this morning.

Thursday, February 17, 2022

About the Bayeux Tapestry

I am intrigued by the tale of Mia Hansson, who has since 2016 occupied herself with creating a life-size replica of the Bayeux Tapestry, but can’t help but think of Borges’s Pierre Menard, who became the author of Don Quixote by writing it out. (And I wonder what sort of journalist could cover this story without once asking: “Why?”)

Saturday, February 12, 2022

About NFTs

I loathe and fear non-fungible tokens because I don’t really understand them, but that doesn’t mean I’m not right. (I have the same response to bitcoin, and I infer fuzzily that the two are somehow connected, but my ignorance ensures I don’t know how or why.) Anyway, I think this is probably a good joke, but maybe someone can explain why it isn’t.

PS: A friend on Twitter just linked NFTs with alcohol-free gin and I think she may be on to something...

Sunday, January 30, 2022

About Harry Potter

Another day, another scare story about that poorly-defined phantom of “wokeness” invading the dreaming spires. This time it’s the University of Chester, where, we are informed by the Mail, Telegraph and other doughty defenders of high culture, a trigger warning about “gender, race, sexuality, class and identity” was appended to Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. Not so, counters the university; it was a general warning, which also applies to the works of Philip Pullman and Suzanne Collins.

So that’s all right then. Unless you think it odd that undergraduates on an Eng Lit course should spend quite so long reading what are, essentially, books for kids. That said, I’m reading Frank Furedi’s Where Have All The Intellectuals Gone?, which points out that many undergraduates can go a year without reading a whole book. So maybe the Chester students’ workload is unusually rigorous.

Sunday, January 23, 2022

About best films

Leafing, as yer do, through 1952’s inaugural Sight and Sound Best Films List, the fun appears to be more in the chatter around the whole project than the list itself. 

One refrain, which I yell every time such a vote is taken, is that “the films one thought best (in the history of the cinema, etc.), were not necessarily the films one liked best.” Which I think is what distinguishes the two schools of list. People who vote for The Empire Strikes Back or The Shawshank Redemption in, say, an Empire  poll, do not acknowledge such a distinction; those who pick Vertigo or Tokyo Story in the Sight and Sound are painfully aware of it, although not all will own up to the dichotomy in their own aesthetic. And the complaints about 10 being an arbitrary number: “Why not 50? asked one contributor (sending in 15 choices). Why not 2½? suggested another.”

Which was presumably meant to be facetious, but it suggests another question: what’s the best half of a film, even if the other half disappoints?

Saturday, January 15, 2022

About Turner

Friday, January 14, 2022

About Phonogram

Late to the (Death Of A) Party as always, I read Phonogram: Rue Britannia, Kieron Gillen’s graphic novel that gives a dark fantasy to the glory days of Britpop, and a line leaps up that would have prompted a paragraph or several in my Radiohead book. First:

In those vacuum post-Britpop days that marked the end of the great British indie experiment (Birth: “Spiral Scratch EP”, the Buzzcocks, Death: “K”, Kula Shaker), there was space for all manner of leftist ideas to flourish.”

Gillen’s starting point is pretty much inarguable but in the book I suggested the patient survived the cod-psychedelia of K and staggered on until 1997/8, its terminal hangover depicted in the grooves of (take your pic), Blur by Blur, Ladies and Gentlemen... We Are Floating In Space by Spiritualized, Urban Hymns by The Verve, This Is Hardcore by Pulp (referenced on the cover of Phonogram) or, of course, OK Computer itself. And then Gillen reminds us:

The thing with Kenickie is that they, by the very nature of their existence, draw a line between all the enforced dichotomies modern pop. Seriousness is not the same as intelligence, no matter how many times virginal Radiohead fans reiterate it....

Tuesday, January 11, 2022

About ellipses...

 Zoe Williams:

If you trail off a text with “…”, this situates you right in the middle of generation X, but if you ask a younger acquaintance what is so wrong with ellipsis, you doubly age yourself, first by using ellipsis and second by knowing what it is called.

Wednesday, January 05, 2022

About farts

I am intrigued by the tale of TikTok star Stephanie Matto, who sold her farts in jars then claims to have ended up in hospital from over-indulgence in high-fibre foods. Not because of the product itself – that’s just a half-arsed (sorry) take on Piero Manzoni’s Künstlerscheisse – but because of her decision to sell non-fungible tokens of her bottom burps instead, proving once again that NFTs attain a level of conceptualist purity that would leave Duchamp gasping in admiration.

And while we’re on the subject of artists not averse to making a quick buck, this picture just popped up on Twitter, depicting a little soirée Warhol threw at the Factory for (among others) Quentin Crisp, Keith Haring and, uh, Marilyn. A dream dinner party for many – so why do they all look so bloody glum?

Saturday, January 01, 2022

About honours

I’ve long had a morbid obsession with the honours system, as manifested by the various baubles doled out twice a year or so in the name of the monarch. In one sense it’s entirely pointless and silly, but it gives so many hints as to how power and privilege operate in modern society, it can’t sensibly be ignored. This shows especially when we dig down into the particular gongs that particular individuals get. The actors Vanessa Redgrave and Joanna Lumley become dames; William Roache and June Brown, whose fame comes mainly from roles in long-running soap operas, get OBEs, several rungs down the ladder.

One award in particular fascinates; the CMG (Companion of the Most Distinguished Order of St Michael and St George) bestowed upon Daniel Craig as he vacates the role of James Bond. No disrespect intended to Craig himself, who deserves a nod as much as Lumley or Roache. But why this one in particular? It’s an honour generally given to diplomats and other senior government servants rather than actors and most significantly, it was given to Bond himself for his various homicidal and amatory exploits in the service of Queen and Country. Except that Bond is a fictional character and the award was given by his creator, Ian Fleming, rather than by a shadowy committee operating under the nominal authority of the Queen. Essentially, an award more usually given to people for doing a thing is here being given to someone for pretending to do a thing. 

And as I look down the rest of the list, I ask myself how many of the recipients – and not just the actors – fall into the latter category.