Friday, December 05, 2003

Blogwatch: in brief

Like quizzes? Well, a couple of bloggers out there are offering you the chance to test your knowledge and skill. At Troubled Diva, Mike is inviting you to guess which "recreational substance" has been ingested to inspire which blog posting; while at Popdizzy, you can try your hand at Nixon's AID$ Awareness Quiz.

More inspired (by genius, not by chemical substances) posts over at LondonMark - the sort of stuff to make me sick with envy. But, hey, what's new, you might well ask.

Stuck for Christmas presents? Never fear - Razorhead has the answer: bee nesting kits.

Congratulations to Anna on her successful graduation!

... And finally: Kenny is chronicling his valiant attempt at making his way through Thomas Pynchon's forbiddingly voluminous novel 'Mason And Dixon'. Come on, Kenny, keep it up! Perhaps you should have asked for sponsorship before embarking on this test of endurance, though? 2p a page?
Thoughts inspired by going to a wedding on Wednesday

1. Stevenage is a fucking hell-hole.

2. Wouldn't it be great to get absolutely wasted in a train station pub?

3. Nobody, but nobody, likes musak. It can rouse a murderous lust in even the most mild-mannered of people, and I am not the most mild-mannered of people to start with.
Get your hands off our singer, motherfucker

NME really is getting desperate for "news" these days: "Justin Hawkins almost arrested at JFK Airport.". Tomorrow: "Justin Hawkins almost picks his nose." Or, more likely still, "Justin Hawkins almost gives NME an interview."

Monday, December 01, 2003

A blast from the past

"My girlfriend says that I need help / My boyfriend says I'd be better off dead / I'm gonna get drunk / Come round and fuck you up / I'm gonna get drunk / Come round and fuck you up / And you can't help my life / But you can hide the knives." As the opening lyrics to an album go, they're quite arresting.

The song is 'Knives', the band is Therapy?, and the album is Troublegum. Released in 1994, it'll always be something of a classic for me, even though it disgusted the majority of the indie press by representing a rejection of the Big Black stylings of their "youth" in favour of Judas Priest. A record full of clean-cut dark-as-night pop-metal, it positively revels in its own pantomimic excess and the sort of wickedly misanthropic soundbites that look good on (black) T-shirts. As far as the critics were concerned, it didn't help that they chose to include a cover version of the sacred cow 'Isolation' (this, incidentally, was my introduction to the brilliance of Joy Division) and relations got much, much worse when they took on Husker Du's 'Diane' on Troublegum's drug-fuelled follow-up Infernal Love, turning it into an eerily epic yet rotten-to-the-core string-laden beast...

A succession of less accomplished albums followed that: Semi-Detached and then, having been dropped by their label A&M, Suicide Pact - You First. By this time, I'd lost interest, so 2001's Shameless and the news that they had a new LP out, High Anxiety, passed me by.

So it is quite bizarre to find myself, almost by accident, seeing them live for the very first time on a Saturday night at Rock City. Little seems to have changed since their heyday - Andy Cairns is still portly and still worryingly fond of his leather waistcoat, Michael McKeegan still evidently worships at the altar of Black Sabbath, and, even though the drummer has changed (again), there is still the unmistakeable whipcrack snare drum sound. New material is wisely kept to a premium - judging by the likes of 'Who Knows' and 'Nobody Here But Us', their best days are very firmly behind them and they're sensible to be concentrating on former glories. Having a pop at 'Heat' magazine and at Radiohead (who are busy playing the Nottingham Arena) from the stage is hardly today's news, either - mere mention of the latter reminds me of what I'm missing out on just being here.

But the opening salvo of 'Nowhere' and 'Teethgrinder' hits the spot at least, and there are plenty of other moments - 'Church Of Noise', 'Dancing With Manson', 'Stop It You're Killing Me', 'A Moment Of Clarity' - when I'm transported back to the dark days of teenagerdom when they really mattered to me. Times might change, my tastes might inevitably move on, but I'll always look on Therapy? (and Troublegum in particular) with affection. Plus, 'Potato Junkie' has one of the finest lyrical couplets of any song I know: "I'm bitter, I'm twisted / James Joyce is fucking my sister"...
Ticking over

Two matches in the space of a mere 39 hours could have spelt disaster, but thankfully we emerged pretty much unscathed in terms of results and injuries - one Wolves fan, however, was not so lucky.

First up, on Thursday night, was the visit of FC Basel to St James's Park. Having won the first leg 3-2 in Switzerland, we were fully expecting to progress into the third round - and, aside from a couple of dodgy moments including a goal ruled out very narrowly for offside, we managed it without too much trouble, winning 1-0 on the night thanks to an own goal from the unfortunate substitute Smiljanic. Shearer had a couple of good opportunities, and we retained possession for long periods, denying them the chance to get back into the tie. Solid and unspectacular it might have been, but let's not forget that Juventus, Liverpool and Celtic all failed to keep a clean sheet against Basel in the Champions' League last season.

Then, on Saturday lunchtime came Wolves, and our big chance to avenge the bitterly disappointing 3-2 defeat at Molineux in the FA Cup back in January, a game for which I was unfortunate enough to be present. It finished up 1-1 - a fair result. Despite having a great deal more class and quality, we didn't really deserve to nick it, and although Shearer hit the bar before Blake opened the scoring and we had a blatant penalty turned down late on, they also had several good chances, including a Gudjonssen free-kick that hit the post and a Camara header in the last minute that flicked off the top of the bar.

It was a game that was there for the winning, and we should really have done better - but it was overshadowed by the horrendous cock-up with the pre-match pyrotechnics display during which Wolves season-ticket holder Denise Butler was hit in the face by a firework., mockingly dismissive of all the pantomime surrounding a Wolves home game back in January, was even more scathing this time around:

"A staggering bit of small-club stupidity ended in someone getting seriously hurt at the Molineux on Saturday lunchtime.

While Police scour Gloucestershire for terrorists they should switch their attention to the Black Country backwater of Wolverhampton where some some idiot is still at large who insists on filling empty soup tins full of high explosive and firing them into crowds of people. Surely they must have some link to Al Qaeda?

The fact that the missile whistled past the ears of Alan Shearer before entering the lower tier of the Billy Wright stand makes it all the more scary - that could have been the end of our no.9's career (and TV replays later confirmed if anything that Woodgate - and referee Bennett - had an even luckier escape.)

Of course, for the woman who it hit just below the eye it's no less serious and it's to be hoped she sues the Dingles for their every last penny. A totally avoidable accident which will hopefully signal the end of these tin-pot clubs and their tin cans full of pyrotechnics - when will the people who run the game realise we don't want dancing girls, music after goals are scored, pyrotechnics or flashy scoreboards - just entertainment in the form of blokes kicking a ball around. That's all.

So much for professional organised displays, eh?
Telling tales

All the best anecdotes should start - as one did that I was told this weekend - with the phrase, "Well, I woke up with sick in my mouth..."
In the dark

I watched 'Donnie Darko' again the other day, and I'm now more determined than ever to avoid the director's commentary which accompanies the film in the DVD version. I simply don't want (someone else's) explanation. For me, picking and chewing over the "facts" of the film involves an unfortunate but necessary compromising of the imagination. Certain details become more immediately evident on re-watching (just as is the case with the Coen brothers' fabulous 'O Brother Where Art Thou', which I just had to see again on C4 last night), but even then the film still seems to exert a strange and undefinable power over the viewer. I'm inclined to think that the commentary would detract rather than add to my enjoyment. Has anyone seen it, and would disagree?

At root, perhaps, is the question of whether the opinion of the artist (whether it be author, musician, director or whatever) is any more valid than your own, as reader / listener / viewer. Often artists appear to be particularly bad judges of their own work, and only seem to offer their opinions as the means of controlling how it's interpreted and understood. The degree to which the meaning of a piece of art can be controlled by its creator is contentious, and part of me, when encountering an artist who seems determined to stress one particular meaning, is all the more inclined to resist this pressure and reject whatever they're trying to suggest (I'm not implying that this is what Richard Kelly is doing with his commentary for 'Donnie Darko', as I haven't seen it - this is in general terms). Once that piece of art is out there in the public domain it's out of the artist's control. But, of course, I'm sure I'd feel more sympathetic and precious about the way my work was being understood and interpreted if I found myself in that position, and this lack of artistic control shouldn't be seen to mean that people have complete license to interpret something in any way they want.

Incidentally, wouldn't it be great if the Gary Jules cover of 'Mad World' by Tears For Fears which closes the film so beautifully made it to the #1 spot for Christmas? Well, just as long as it's anything other than Cliff Richard. Or Blue. Or the Pop Idol mob. Or The Fast Food Rockers.
The twat in the hat

The last few days in my house have been torture. Why? Simple, really: my live-in landlord S has rediscovered his copy of Jamiroquai's Travelling Without Moving. Really, it's enough to make you hanker for the usual dross - Kajagoogoo, Lighthouse Family and tapes of the Top 40 recorded from Radio 1 in 1983...
Razorhead = razor-sharp

Finding himself bored out of his mind on Friday afternoon, Razorhead of Ulterior decided to spend some time rearranging the letters of the names of some of his favourite weblogs. A pursuit born out of boredom, sure - but, to be honest, I'm scared at quite how perceptive his suggestions for SWSL are. Not only does he point out that "Silent Words" is an anagram of "Wonder Lists", which just about sums up most of the content found here in an extraordinarily neat way; he also suggests another anagram, "Sworn Idlest", which is eminently suited to SWSL's author...

So be warned: those who read your blog might know you better than you know yourself.
Wot, no Edd the Duck?

Didn't see the first "fruits" of Andi Peters's makeover of 'Top Of The Pops' (it's called 'All New Top Of The Pops' now, don't you know?) myself, but there are plenty of bloggers out there who did. For a selection of rather less-than-favourable comments, take a peek at Casino Avenue, Cha Cha Cha and Diamond Geezer.
The interlude becomes permanent

As of the end of this week, The Yes / No Interlude is no more. But fear not - the imperious Lord Marmite has a new home, Amblongus.

Meanwhile, welcome to another couple of very fine blogs:

Diamond Geezer (recommended by everyone, ever)
Said The Gramophone (recommended by Matthew)

Unfortunately I wasn't present at this weekend's blogmeet in London, attended by (amongst others) Vaughan, Anna, Adrian and D. Sounds like a good time was had by all.
Shit, I forgot to set the video

From Teletext last night:

"ITV1, 00.45
Cheryl Baker seeks inner peace

Thursday, November 27, 2003

Welcome! Willkommen! Bienvenue!

New to the SWSL blogroll:

It's A Lot Like Life
Not A Blog
Orbyn Dot Com
Sevitz Dot Com

Lori, Chris, Robyn and Adrian - a warm welcome to SWSL Towers! Come on in, help yourselves to punch and cheese footballs, and make yourselves comfortable!
Feel good hits of the 27th November

1. 'You Talk Way Too Much' - The Strokes
2. 'Rock Your Body' - Justin Timberlake
3. 'Dirty Eyes (Sex Don't Sell)' - The Raveonettes
4. 'Waterloo' - Abba
5. 'Favours' - The Delgados
6. 'Enemies Friends' - Hope Of The States
7. 'Rip It Up' - Razorlight
8. 'Air' - Sparta
9. 'Today Is The Day!' - Yo La Tengo
10. 'West End Girls' - Pet Shop Boys
You WHAT?!!

adrian mutu eyebrow
the mullets wichita contest
duck hunting st bernard mike smith
trisha and the icarus line
pigtails and pernod

Hey buddies, you took a wrong turning somewhere back there.

Monday, November 24, 2003

Victory march

So, at long last, we've won something. The Rugby World Cup. And I'm not really sure how I feel about it.

Yes, I was nervous during extra time and when the final whistle went, of course I was pleased. But even then I hadn't really been able to get into the whole spirit of things, and I'd been relatively indifferent to our progress to the final.

I'm guessing it might have been something to do with the fact that we were favourites from the start. For a change, we were expected to win. In each of the knockout matches we just seemed to grind out victories with a kind of inevitability - even when we were behind and apparently up against it (as we were against Wales, France and Australia), the thought never crossed my mind that we (or, rather, the quite brilliant Jonny Wilkinson) wouldn't turn it around and go on to win. Part of the perverse thrill of supporting Newcastle is that we can lose just as handsomely as we can win - if we find ourselves a goal down or a goal up, that's no indication of how the game will finish. That unpredictability is what I felt was lacking, and perhaps why, for me at least, the excitement was too.

I'm also already sick of the jingoistic triumphalist whitewash across the media - it's even worse than the anguished post-mortem that would have droned on and on had we lost. Of course I'm sure the same would be true if we won the football World Cup - but then that's a sport I really care about.

So, in many ways the sporting result that gave me the most pleasure on Saturday wasn't the rugby at all, but Newcastle's comprehensive 3-0 defeat of Man City at St James's Park, a fine recovery after the 5-0 thrashing we suffered at Chelsea and a result which takes us up (temporarily, at least) to sixth in the table - not bad after a catastrophic start to the season. A clean sheet, two goals from the returning Shearer, the welcome appearance of two other lynchpins of the side (Woodgate and Dyer) and a torrid second half for that moneygrabbing traitor Distin - all in all, an excellent afternoon. Keegan's been waxing lyrical about Anelka for the last few months - nice to see Shearer remind him in no uncertain terms quite who's the best striker he's ever signed as a manager.
Price war

I've just finished Max Barry's 'Jennifer Government', which came highly recommended by Kenny of Parallax View - here's the SWSL verdict...

The novel is a satire about the corporatisation of the world (unsurprisingly, the publishers have slapped Naomi Klein's glowing recommendation of the book on the front cover - it answers the inevitable call for fiction which takes the likes of 'No Logo' and 'The Silent Takeover' as a starting point). Set in the not-too-distant future, Barry's novel depicts a world in which everyone bears their employer's name as their surname, in which the National Rifle Association is a paramilitary organisation, and in which even the Police have corporate affiliations. Corporations join forces, offering loyalty points to consumers who remain faithful to their particular conglomerate. The two super-corporations US Alliance and Team Advantage, driven by pure profit-lust, are prepared to launch military offensives against the other - this after Nike's marketing men hit on the idea of shooting teenagers with the aim of making their trainers more desirable. The eponymous heroine is a Government agent assigned the task of preventing things getting out of control.

There's plenty that can be said against 'Jennifer Government'. As there's little to admire in the way of style or craftsmanship, I read it as a novel of ideas, but despite the subject matter it comes across at times like a disappointingly no-brain thriller - a book like Ballard's 'Super-Cannes' trumps it on both fronts. Some of the touches are just too obvious and smug (the Nike executive who's impaled on the sharp swoosh doorhandle of a Nike Town store, for example), and the book comes to a saccharine neat everything-tied-up sort of ending in which Jennifer prevails and the "baddie" John Nike gets his comeuppance, discovering he isn't above the law after all.

Nevertheless, despite my reservations, as a fast-paced high-octane romp it's an engaging read - and, as a vision of the future, it is, I suspect, worringly accurate. Our world and the world of the book are not as far apart as some people might like to think.
Now you're talking my language

The series 'The Adventures Of English', presented by Melvin Bragg, might be tucked away in a late-night slot in the darkest corner of the ITV1 schedule, but then I suppose I should be thankful this sort of thing hasn't yet been squeezed out of the listings altogether. Last night's installment was a fascinating insight into the ways that English has been used as a colonialist and imperialist tool of cultural repression, patronisingly prescribed by the "civilised" for the "savages", and how a plurality of new Englishes have been spawned, flourishing and escaping the control of the imperialist authorities who imposed English upon the native peoples in the first place. Not only was it emphasised that language is always indissolubly associated with politics and power relations, but also that even "standard" British English is a hybrid and mutant language that has over the years adopted and absorbed words from other languages spoken all over the world. In other words, it was far more interesting and informative than 'Holiday Airport'.

Gentry Boeckel on his Top 10 Albums To Fall Asleep To - you'll probably not be surprised to know that Spiritualized, Low and Sigur Ros feature in the list...
Text message of the day

Received at 11.05pm on Saturday night, from an associate of mine familiar to most SWSL readers...

"Me been caramel sik al over brighton. Simon with seachange me talk shit, cant remember at freebut, on train hav taste of bile in throat. God 4giv me 4 wot ihavdun."

Credit also to Leon for the following:

"In line with your penchant for eavesdropping, i've just overheard a classic line: 'she's a bitch. She only phones me when her mobile is charged up.'"

Wednesday, November 19, 2003

Wot's Hot-To-Trot On The SWSL Stereo

The Strokes - Room On Fire

So, my thoughts - only about three months after everyone else in Blogworld had the brief affair with the album, stubbed out the post-coital fag and moved on to the next musical one-night stand. Well - it's The Strokes, isn't it? There are enigmatic and uneasy lyrics all over the place, choppy guitar patterns and pretty simple drum lines. Perhaps the reggae influence is more apparent than it is on Is This It, I'm not sure, and it's certainly a bit more aggressive in places. So far I've found it hard to get really excited about, having been subjected to all that absurd hype. But there's no doubting it's a very good album - they know how to craft a corking tune. A message, though, for those who think 'Under Control' is the best thing they've heard all year: get out more.

Explosions In The Sky - The Earth Is Not A Cold Dead Place

Like Nigel, I'm not sure whether the standard post-rock comparative touchstones of Mogwai and Godspeed! You Black Emperor do Explosions In The Sky any justice. There isn't the grandiosity or emotional and apocalyptic gloom familiar to Godspeed! fans; and they might only be a guitar / bass / drums fourpiece like Mogwai, but there's an extraordinary level of intricacy and complexity about the songs on this five-track album. Plus, as song titles like 'First Breath After Coma' and 'Six Days At The Bottom Of The Ocean' would suggest, they're a hell of a lot better at putting a name to the musical pictures they paint - you wouldn't catch them calling a song 'Secret Pint'.

(Thanks to Ian for showing me the light.)

The Raveonettes - Whip It On

Compared to this year's debut LP proper? Noisier, grubbier, blacker, more dead-eyed, less flush with love and lust. If Chain Gang Of Love is The Raveonettes' final answer to the mathematical quest to write a perfect set of pop songs, then Whip It On is them showing their workings - not the answer itself, but worthy of bonus marks anyway.

Yo La Tengo - 'Today Is The Day!' EP

I think I might at last be beginning to get Yo La Tengo. For ages the terms they're spoken about by the indielligensia had baffled me. Now the lead track of this EP might have helped me to understand. A reworked version of a song from their last LP Summer Sun, 'Today Is The Day!' is gloriously fuzzy - listening to it makes you feel like you've taken a load of tranquillisers and you're sinking into a warm bath. It also gives me the chance to mention Urusei Yatsura - incidentally, in connection with the post below, another fine Glaswegian band, only this time undervalued underachievers.

Razorlight - 'Rip It Up' (single)

If The Libertines listened to a lot of Television and were ever clean enough to record a song without everything going to pieces on tape (see Up The Bracket...), then it might well sound like this. In the meantime, I'll take Razorlight. And it doesn't bear thinking about what Bernard bloody Butler might do to Pete 'n' Carl.

Stellastarr* - 'Jenny' (single)

Alert! The following statement is akin to alt-rock heresy! But, as with Yo La Tengo, I've never quite understood what all the fuss about The Pixies was. After all, aside from a handful of classics early on, isn't their most acclaimed LP Doolittle rather weak? Yeah, OK, shoot me now. Anyway, the point is that Stellastarr* sound a lot like them, and to these ears it's not really that impressive. Although the single itself has the same sort of structure and sound as 'The Wagon' by Dinosaur Jr, it all seems a bit lifeless and, for reasons I can't explain (I mean, I'm a connoisseur of Kim Gordon's vocal "style"...), I can't abide Shawn Christensen's voice. Somehow live it didn't come across as being half so irritating.
Cultural abominations

Lately I've been wondering what the findings of the post-mortem into Newcastle / Gateshead's failure to be named 2008 European City of Culture are. The initial reaction when Liverpool was announced as the winner was "We were robbed". But then what can you expect from Scousers?

Joking aside, what is it that Newcastle and Gateshead lack in terms of culture and the arts? After all, when it comes to art, we can now boast the Baltic, one of the best exhibition spaces outside London, as well as the already well-established Laing Gallery, currently undergoing refurbishment to mark its centenary in April 2004. Next to the Baltic on the south bank of the Tyne, an impressive new concert hall is taking shape. The city is also home to the artily-oriented Tyneside Cinema and highly-respected poetry publishers Bloodaxe Books (well, they're based in Northumberland, but that's near enough...), and the RSC has had a residency in Newcastle at this time of year for the last 27 years. So what is it that's missing?

Simple - a real heritage of quality in the field of popular music. Liverpool, of course, have The Beatles, The Las, Echo And The Bunnymen, The Teardrop Explodes and, more recently, The Coral on their side. By contrast, the dearth of musical talent which Newcastle has foisted upon the rest of the country and indeed the world is absolutely shameful. The list reads like a Who's Who of almost unrelenting crapness: Dire Straits - you might well have a guilty soft spot for 'Money For Nothing', but the name says it all, really; Sting - ah, the irony of The Police releasing criminal records...; Prefab Sprout - bad, bad, bad; Venom - being namechecked in a Beastie Boys song does not a very bad black metal band a very good black metal band make; The Wildhearts - not a word of dissent from you on this one, Leon!; Lindisfarne - the horror! the horror!; and, worst of all, the fucking Lighthouse fucking Family. Add in Michelle Heaton of the predominantly useless Liberty X and Cheryl 'The Bruiser' Tweedy of Girls Aloud and it's enough to make you disown your roots and claim to be from Surrey.

All the more galling, then, that that hellhole down the road can throw up The Futureheads, a band so good they can even instantaneously erase the memory of Kenickie.

Look at other UK cities which have often been sneered at in the past in cultural terms, cities like Glasgow and Birmingham. We have the former to thank for making The Jesus & Mary Chain, Mogwai, The Delgados, Arab Strap and Primal Scream the bands they are / were, and the latter sired the likes of Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, Dexys Midnight Runners, Duran Duran, The Streets and, erm, UB40.

It's about time Newcastle contributed something positive to the world of music. Let's hope it's sooner rather than later.
Stringing us along

Did anyone else see the programme called 'Welcome To The 11th Dimension' on C4 on Sunday evening, all about string theory? Parallel worlds, branes, gravitrons - seriously mind-blowing shit. It's not surprising those who propound the theory aren't quite sure whether it's physics or philosophy. What made me dubious, though, is the way it seems to be able to explain several of the key mysteries of physics, including the Big Bang and the weakness of gravity - it all sounded as if these "boffins" (copyright The Sun) had sat down and written a lovely story which would make it all make sense. The crucial point is how do you actually verify this theory? How could you possibly test its hypotheses? As some of the interviewees conceded, it might all turn out to be a load of fantasy and nonsense. Intriguing fantasy and nonsense, all the same, though.
Quote of the day

From last night's repeated episode of 'The Armando Iannucci Show':

"So basically that's why I think Stonehenge is just a very very complicated ant-hill."

That particular show, on the theme of time, is stuffed full of brilliantly satirical and wickedly clever surrealism that makes you think his contribution to 'I'm Alan Partridge' and 'The Day Today' is undeservedly understated.

Friday, November 14, 2003

Leading a merry dance

Some of you may remember with fondness the irascible and inimitable Olav, whose blog It Makes No Difference routinely brightened but more often darkened (but in a good way) our days. If so, you may have been wondering what he's up to. Well, he's at the Times writing fantastic news stories like this for a living: Cossack solicitor gets 8 years for theft.
Ooops I did it again. And again.

Following those two unusually-serious-for-SWSL posts, an attempt at counterbalance: apparently Britney Spears has discovered the joys of intimate solitary self-indulgence (thanks to No Rock 'N' Roll Fun for the link). So, that explains new song 'Touch Of My Hand', then. Does it also explain the title of her new album, In The Zone?

This has also led me to speculate about where exactly this leaves Miss Aguilera. If I might be permitted to offer an analogy, it's all rather like the current state of British politics (no, hang on, bear with me on this one...): the further right that Tony and New "Labour" go, the less room there is for the Tories to manoeuvre, and they're squeezed into the margins. If Britney is now singing about wanking, how much further must Dirrty Christina go? Actually, it really doesn't bear thinking about - sorry I ever raised the thought.
The value of being heard

As regular readers probably know, and as friends almost certainly do, I'm an incorrigible people-watcher. I'm also an incorrigible ear-wigger, but in my defence it's often the case that I'm on a train or in some other fairly quiet public place and you just can't help becoming tuned in to a particularly loud voice raised over the top of others.

And so it was on Tuesday that I (and, I suspect, the rest of the train) overheard a woman striking up a conversation with the bloke opposite her. In fact, "conversation" would be a misleading term to use - she was actually talking at him for the best part of half an hour, receiving only the most minimal responses in return. She talked about everything from shopping in Derby to her fondness for Marks & Spencers cherry tomatoes, but it was with the brief but rather telling allusions to her medication and to the recent death of her mother that she reminded me of the characters from 'Talking Heads', Alan Bennett's wonderful series of monologues. Like them, she was evidently very lonely - desperate to talk to someone, and for someone to listen to her and her opinions. She also mentioned a pen pal in Southampton with whom she'd lost contact - my guess being that the lapse was not down to her.

So I sat stewing uncomfortably in the same feelings that Bennett's characters stir up - they're painful to listen to, pitiable (though Bennett succeeds in making you feel slightly appalled at the judgement and sense of superiority this necessarily involves) and pathetic (in the original sense of the word) and yet at the same time strangely heart-warming and peculiarly British. What must it be like, I wondered, to have no-one you can share your thoughts with? No-one you can voice your opinions to? No-one you can even babble inanities to? I think we all at times need the validation of having a listener, to prove and reaffirm our own self-worth - what must it be like not having anyone you can always count on for this?

But, it struck me, this is just what much blogging is about. Blogs are the equivalent of sitting on a train voicing your thoughts and opinions in the hope that someone might show an interest, listen and find some value in what you have to say. Whether it's arrogance or self-indulgence or whatever (and I always feel like I'm being accused of arrogance or self-indulgence whenever someone asks me why I write a blog), we feel the need to write, the need to say things.

Of course, many bloggers (including myself, at times) insist they're doing it for themselves, that it doesn't matter whether anyone else is reading or taking pleasure from it. But I suspect that, deep down, every blogger wants to know at least SOMEONE is reading. The comments box isn't so much put there by the thick-skinned blogger so that readers can express their own oppositional viewpoints or criticise the opinions they've read, but so that the blogger, in reality rather thin-skinned I think, can be gratified by evidence that their thoughts are not only being read but also being validated by positive comments. Regardless of what anyone says, I'm sure everyone feels at least slightly nettled by a negative comment, and it's gratifying to think that (overlaboured metaphor alert!) in the overcrowded and incredibly noisy train that is the web some people regularly choose to listen to your voice in preference to others.

I'll say quite categorically, too, that I'm very glad to have tuned in to all your voices in amongst the incessent bloggers' babble - by clicking on any of the blogs on my sidebar I can guarantee I'll be listening to a voice I want to hear. And what's quite exciting is the knowledge that there are so many more intelligent, witty, stylish voices out there I've not yet picked up on.

A postscript: I sometimes wonder if SWSL has a distinctive 'voice', in the same way that brilliant blogs like Little Red Boat, Troubled Diva, No Rock 'N' Roll Fun and Arpeggio do. Sometimes it strikes me that SWSL is a bit schizophrenic, skipping from match and gig reviews to books and politics and then to light-hearted trivia and inane and bilious opinion. What does anyone else think? I'd be interested to know. (Note shameless use of comments box for self-validation and vindication...)
Near-death experience

Am I scared of dying? I can talk about it, am fascinated by it, even laugh about it on occasion - but, well, yes, sometimes it strikes me that I'm fucking petrified of it, particularly because I don't hold any consolatory religious beliefs in any kind of afterlife. Every now and then I experience moments of horribly cliched and yet acute existential angst - this life I'm living is temporary, contingent, finite; and every single year, day, hour, second is unrecoverable once it's gone.

Last night I discovered that the younger brother of someone I know back home died in a car crash on 2nd November. His car left the road and ended up submerged in the River Wansbeck, but although he was freed from the vehicle by rescue services, he never regained consciousness and his injuries proved fatal.

I didn't know him, but the news hit me really quite hard.

One evening in November 1996, I was one of five people in a car travelling along the same stretch of road on the way back into Morpeth. Moving to overtake another vehicle, our car skidded on a patch of black ice, spinning one way and then the other across the oncoming lane despite the best efforts of the driver to control it. Everything went into slow motion (it might seem cliched, but it's true), and after spinning for what felt like a minute the car mounted the pavement backwards, crashed through a wooden fence and down a steep embankment where it came to rest against a tree. We had to climb out of the windows as the doors were jammed, and clamber back up the slope onto the pavement. It being the days before mobile phones, we had to stand and wait in the freezing cold silence, the headlights shining at a 45 degree angle up into the air, until help arrived in the form of a passing police car.

Miraculously, aside from very minor whiplash and a few cuts (branches from the trees had smashed the windows in, and we'd got covered in glass), none of us were injured. For days afterwards, I couldn't stop replaying it in my head and thinking about how phenomenally fortunate we'd been, for three reasons. Firstly, there happened to be no oncoming traffic - had there been, we would have been involved in a head-on collision, no doubt about it. Secondly, if the tree hadn't been there to stop the car dead, it would have rolled over at the bottom of the embankment, as it's pretty steep. Thirdly, had the accident happened a little further along the road - 100m maybe - we would have smashed through the fence and ended up in the river.

This guy was not so lucky. RIP.

On a personal level, there are two ways to respond. One would be my initial reaction last night - the thought "If I'd died in that crash seven years ago..." I think I've become a different person in that time. All the good times I've had since then, all that personal development and emotional growth, all the people I've met and come to love - they would all be nothing. For him, in his early twenties, all those possibilities have been denied.

The other way to respond, of course, is to move on from having morbid thoughts and instead see how this refocuses the way I look at my own life. I'm thankful for every minute I've had since that day, and for every experience, whether good or bad. Perhaps, as the old adage goes, you have to come closer to death to truly appreciate what it is to be alive. I only know that that's how I feel today: alive. And fortunate.

Wednesday, November 12, 2003

Blogwatch: in brief

It's been a while in coming, and I feel very lax at having failed to make a contribution, but Vaughan's list of 100 things about him, as compiled by his readers, is now online. There are some fantastic truths, half-truths, outright lies and outrageous fantasies in there, but my favourite has to be #64: "I do not exist between the hours of 3.00pm and 4.00pm on January 21 each year."

Mark has just got back from New York (that's NYC for all you hip young things out there) - read about his experiences of Central Park, the Empire State Building and nearly getting arrested by some macho jobsworth policeman on the subway.

Speculative theory of the day goes to Sarah, who notices the incredible coincidence between "President" Bush's visit to the UK and the date for the switching-on of Morpeth's Christmas lights. It all makes sense - after all, I'm sure he's just itching to press a button of some kind...

Meanwhile, two of SWSL's favourite bloggers have been detailing their recent adventures with characteristic wit, eloquence and panache: Invisible Stranger recounts his experience of buying porn - "Licensed sex shops are big business these days, welcoming in the pink overdraft with bright lights, potted palms and piped classical music, as well as tasteful displays of unfeasibly large things to put up your bottom"; while Anna has been having issues with the Devil's own chicken sandwich - "It's very quiet in this office. I'm terrified that the samwidge has blown my eardrums out and that I will fart and not know until all around me fall over."
Quote of the day

"Sex symbol in an eye patch? Buccaneers indeed."

Pete Doherty writing on the Libertines website, after Carl was hospitalised having smashed his head on a sink after drinking a bottle of whisky. Life's never dull, eh? That's why we love 'em.

Monday, November 10, 2003

Speak your brains

Yes! At last! Silent Words Speak Loudest is no longer the equivalent of me standing on a soapbox with a loudspeaker shouting my opinions / thoughts / frustrations / anger at anyone who'll listen. For, thanks to the wonderful London Mark, the site at long last has a comments facility.

Yes, YOU, my lovely reader, have been enfranchised, given a voice. So now it's up to YOU to use that voice and let me know what YOU think.

SWSL is going interactive on yo ass, baby! Enjoy it!
The story of their excess

"Ain't no wrong now, ain't no right / There's only pleasure and pain...". The hedonist's credo, according to Jane's Addiction - a band who know what they're talking about. A band that have fucked anything that moves and snorted or injected anything that doesn't, and lived to tell the tale.

Telling the tale is what they're here in Nottingham to do tonight, 13 years after they did it last.

In the absence of Eric Avery, new bassist Chris Chaney effortlessly eases into the fluid rhythm of 'Up The Beach'. He is joined by a mohicanned Stephen Perkins, visibly beaming behind his massive drumkit, delighted at the rapturous reception his legendary band are receiving. And then there's bona fide rock god Dave Navarro, hairy of face and still evidently afraid that wearing a T-shirt might cause a violent allergic reaction or else somehow impair his ability to play guitar.

As 'Up The Beach' fades out, Navarro strikes into 'Stop!', the first track from their monumental 1990 LP Ritual De Lo Habitual, and suddenly, rushing onto the stage with the cry of "Here we go!!!", is Perry Farrell. The place, and yours truly, goes apeshit.

Perry Farrell is without doubt the queerest straight man in rock. Clad in what can only be described as tight-fitting electrician's overalls, multicoloured striped T-shirt and diamond-effect-studded fingerless gloves, the Crown Prince of Flamboyance prances and preens around the stage with a flower between his teeth lapping up the adoration. Rather like Iggy Pop, despite years of abuse and debauchery he has retained a curiously sinuous physique. Between songs he swigs from a bottle of Jaegermeister and tells us that "insect sex is better than human sex, because there are more than two legs each, and lots of bright colours..." He's not of this earth.

Farrell knows that great rock 'n' roll, like most great art, is about sex and death. And that's why, at the heart of tonight's set, just after the classic shoplifters' anthem 'Been Caught Stealing', we get the epic 'Ted, Just Admit It', a song inspired by serial killer Ted Bundy which features the repeated lines "Sex is violence" and "Nothing's shocking".

As with Jim Morrison, though, Farrell's moments of lyrical genius are interspersed with a good quantity of pseudo-mystical bullshit which remains palatable only because he and his band are such a phenomenal and outlandish proposition musically and visually. In addition to the best of their past, we get the best of their present - the choicest cuts from this year's Strays LP, including 'The Riches', the title track and classic-in-the-making 'The Price I Pay'. Even 'Everybody's Friend', rather wet and crassly hippyish on record, comes over well. In fact, the set's only low point is the mystifying decision to play a feeble acoustic version of their roaring steroid-pumped comeback single 'Just Because' when ripping some heads off necks with the original would have seemed by far the best course of action.

When the steel drums of 'Jane Says' bring the set to an end, the whole band line up at the front of the stage to bow and take the applause together. The theatricality of the whole show is encapsulated right there - we know we've witnessed a PERFORMANCE. If there really is only pleasure and pain, then the world was a much more painful place without them.

(A footnote about support band Stellastarr* - because, inevitably, they are little more than a footnote on the night. Sensibly refusing to take to heart the poor response, attributable to the mismatch between themselves and those in front of whom they find themselves playing, they just get their heads down and beaver away industriously with their Pixies / Raveonettes / Breeders stuff. And it's to their credit - by the time they're finishing up, with recent single 'Jenny', I'm much more inclined to check them out on record than I was at first.)
Blue murder

If a week is a long time in politics, a few days is an aeon in the life of a Newcastle United supporter.

As recently as Thursday night we were celebrating an excellent 3-2 victory against Swiss outfit FC Basel in the first (away) leg of our UEFA Cup tie. Having been 1-0 and then 2-1 down, we showed real guts and determination to claw our way back against a side who, let’s not forget, were (alongside ourselves) the other surprise package of last season’s Champions’ League, progressing unexpectedly to the second group stage with some very impressive performances. Robert scored again, Bramble doubled his tally for the club and Ameobi grabbed the second half winner to swing the tie in our favour in advance of the home leg in three weeks’ time. All very pleasing.

And then in our very next match we turn in the most spiritless, gutless, spineless performance against Chelsea, a side ruthless enough to make us pay for it in spades. The 5-0 scoreline did not flatter our hosts – they were awesome, we were abysmal. Perhaps the writing was on the wall before the game even kicked off. Last season, in the days before Abramovich’s millions improved the side immeasurably, we lost the corresponding fixture 3-0. Chelsea fielded the same side that had so comprehensively destroyed Lazio on their own turf on Tuesday, while our one truly inspirational on-field talisman Shearer was ruled out shortly before kick-off with the flu, and (arguably) our other three best outfield players – Woodgate, Dyer and Bellamy – were all already sidelined with injury. Worse still, Sir Bobby had just been "named" (read "cursed") as Manager of the Month for October...

Once the game was underway, our cause wasn’t exactly helped by the awful decision to dismiss Andy O’Brien and award a penalty when Adrian Mutu waited until he got into the box to take a dive. The penalty tucked away by Lampard, the score was 3-0, we were down to ten men, and we were facing up to the fact that we had more than half the game left.

But neither the injury list, nor the strength of the opposition, nor an appalling refereeing decision can excuse the nature of the display. Aside perhaps from Aaron Hughes, no-one in a black and white shirt emerged from the match with a scrap of credit. We were outplayed, outclassed and outfought in every department, all over the pitch – simply not good enough. A match to forget in a hurry. Hopefully it’ll be the last time this season that we play so poorly.

It’ll also be the last time I ever say, with the score at 1-0: “Well, a 1-0 defeat wouldn’t be such a bad result given the circumstances”. With hindsight, it was of course inevitable that both the circumstances and the scoreline were about to take a dramatic turn for the worse…
Cruising for a bruising

Over at Raised By Chaffinches, Birdman has been sharing his experiences of being aboard the Aurora cruiseship. Apparently, the worst part wasn't the sickness-and-diarrhoea virus that struck down over 500 passengers, oh no - that'd be the presence of the "lovely" 'Wife Swap' couple from Bury, Barry and Michelle, both of whom should have been trussed up and chucked overboard with large stones in their pockets.
Feel good hits of the 10th November

1. 'Stop!' - Jane's Addiction
2. 'Chain Gang Of Love' - The Raveonettes
3. 'Do You Realize??' - The Flaming Lips
4. 'Save Us S.O.S.' - Hot Hot Heat
5. 'Take Me Out' - Franz Ferdinand
6. 'Sabotage' - Beastie Boys
7. 'Trouble' - Pink
8. 'Static In The Cities' - Hope Of The States
9. 'Nothing Compares 2 U' - Sinead O'Connor
10. 'Gay Bar' - Electric 6