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.