Friday, March 12, 2004

Japan's people

You know what? I like to think I have my finger on the pulse. I really do. But then certain things conspire to wreck this little fantasy and reveal that in fact I'm about as in touch with The Now as Jeremy Clarkson is with his feminine side.

Case in point: 'Lost In Translation'. EVERYONE saw this ages ago - it's been skinned, gutted and thoroughly dissected on blogs all over the place. Me? Well, I saw it for the first time on Tuesday night. And so here, just for all you nostalgia freaks out there who like a good reminiscence, is what I thunk of it.

It's a very, very good film. The cinematography is wonderful, it features two superb performances from Bill Murray and Scarlett Johanssen and there are some brilliant scenes - particularly, for me, the karaoke party and the ending.

(Are you sensing a 'but' on its way? Very perceptive of you...)

But I get the impression it thinks it's better than it actually is. Or, at least, it's not quite the masterpiece it's been made out to be. For a slow-moving film in which nothing much happens, it seemed to me curiously rushed at a couple of points (not sure if I could pinpoint those moments, though), and as a similar movie about a particular feeling more than anything else - or feelings plural, of dislocation, displacement, disillusionment - I'd rate 'About Schmidt' more highly. Plus I was inclined to be perverse and a touch cynical about the accompanying music - of course I LOVED hearing My Bloody Valentine and The Jesus & Mary Chain through cinema speakers, but including those two bands on the soundtrack is an easy way to score Brownie points with me, and I'm sorry Sofia but I won't let you blind me to your film's occasional and slight weaknesses that cheaply...

Still, it goes without saying that it's leagues better than the standard multiplex fodder.

(Incidentally, an embarrassing fact I'll share with you: when I was younger - oh, much, much younger, kneehigh-to-a-grasshopper sort of age - I didn't believe there was such a place as Kyoto. Oh no. I thought that was just people misspelling Tokyo...)
Excuse me for laughing...

... but how exactly did we run out 4-1 winners in tonight's UEFA Cup tie first leg match against Real Mallorca?

Last week, celebrating the outrageous good fortune that ensured we progressed in the competition at the expense of Norwegian outfit Valerenga, I described watching our performance as being "about as enjoyable as systematically and methodically having each of your knuckles smashed with a hammer". Unbelievably, this time around, in the first half, we were EVEN WORSE, managing just one attempt on goal and at one point retaining just 38% of the possession, horrendous for a home match. We were clueless in midfield, getting no joy up front and clumsy in defence. Samuel Eto'o spurned several decent opportunities to put the visitors ahead but somehow we went in 0-0 at the break.

Sod's law, then, that after a stern half-time talking-to from Sir Bobby, we came out, started playing the better football and then promptly fell behind, Speed guilty of cocking up badly twice in the build-up.

But we didn't let that setback get us down, and managed to turn things around completely with a four goal blast in the space of less than 20 minutes. Bellamy levelled it up, before Robert, listless and lacklustre in the first half, came to life - first of all he sent in a corner for Shearer to head in, then he fired in a swerving 35 yard free-kick (and nearly repeated the feat a few minutes later), and then, following the dismissal of Mallorca's left back for a second bookable offence, his free-kick was volleyed in by Bramble. If only he could do it for 90 minutes, and for several matches in a row...

The scoreline was one neither team deserved. But we're certainly not complaining. Instead we should be counting our blessings, and looking forward to getting a decent result in the away leg in two weeks' time and taking a step nearer the big prize. Somehow, though, I suspect we're going to get found out, and then it could be messy...
Resurrection man

Since the demise towards the end of last year of a certain blog which, ahem, made no difference, the blogosphere has been a nice, clean, white-picket-fence, kids-playing-outdoors-without-fear kinda place. But all that is about to change - it's back, reincarnated as Excuse Me For Laughing, packed full with as much bitterness, wit, cynicism and - of course - rooting around in the dustbins of pop culture as you could possibly hope for. After the sort of unpleasantness that left the evil mastermind and SWSL associate behind the previous blog metaphorically nailed to a cross, he has decided to remain anonymous this time around.

So, what's with all these comebacks - Anna, Kenny, Mike and now He Who Cannot Be Named? In the run-up to Easter, is it some kind of bizarre blogland tribute to Our Lord Jesus Christ?
Child's play

Nick Southall recalls his Top 10 Songs I Loved To Dance To At The School Disco (Aged 12). In my experience school discos began with all the boys clustered together in one darkened corner of the room and all the girls in another. After a while the odd brave soul would make a furtive pilgrimage to the Mecca that was the drinks and sweets table to part with a share of the £2 they'd been entrusted with. Of course, by the end of the night the dancefloor was packed with hyperactive E-numbered-up sprites, all inhibitions and reservations about the opposite sex washed away by the gallons of Coke that had been collectively consumed.

Tuesday, March 09, 2004

Just what the doctor ordered

From Sonic Youth's official website comes news that warms the SWSL cockles nicely: their new LP Sonic Youth Nurse will be appearing in June. The tracklisting is as follows:

'New Hampshire'
'Paper Cup Exit'
'I Love You Golden Blue'
'Peace Attack'
'Pattern Recognition'
'Unmade Bed'
'Dripping Dream'
'Mariah Carey And The Arthur Doyle Hand Creme'
'Stones'
'Dude Ranch Nurse'

There are countless wonderful things about Sonic Youth, but perhaps the most wonderful is the sheer sense of the unknown and unpredictable that you have when putting a new album of theirs into your stereo and pressing play for the first time. They refuse to stand still, always moving on and evolving restlessly. Sure, sometimes they revisit similar territory, but no album is quite the same as any other that has gone before. The follow-up to the resolutely "out-there" NYC Ghosts & Flowers, 2002's marvellous Murray Street marked an unexpected return to the "classic" stylings of the late 80s / early 90s material. Which direction they'll go on this latest LP is anyone's guess - and therein lies their irresistible attraction.
When I am king, you will be first against the wall

#2: Geri Halliwell

Why?: For a multitude of sins, but perhaps most prominently her belief that her meagre little existence - pathetic, vapid and limpet-like up to this point in time, and as it no doubt will be for as long as she has the undeserved good fortune to stay alive - is worthy of commemoration by not one but TWO fucking autobiographies.

Imagined famous last words to firing squad: "If I turn sideways I can make myself invisible and you'll miss - oh, no, hang on, I NEED you to be able to see me, I'll waste away and die if I can't feed off your gaze. Plus, even if I turn sideways my massive head will still be an easy target..." BANG!
"Curly-Wurlys? Remember them?"

(Shameless self-promotion alert.)

Over the course of this week I'll be coming over all Stuart Maconie and Kate Thornton by joining up with a cast of many to make brief contributions to Stylus's I Love 1990, the first in a series of features. And before you lump it together with all those space-filling TV shows (cheap nostalgia, infantile regression blah blah blah), let me point out one major difference: it's NOT SHIT.

Monday, March 08, 2004

Howay the lads! And lasses!

For a while there I thought it was just me, Sarah and LondonMark out there in the blogosphere who had any affiliations to the North-East, and more particularly Newcastle. But at last, thanks to BykerSink, whose excellent blog It's Wrong To Wish On Space Hardware is itself a valued new addition to my blogroll, I've been introduced to several other Geordie blogs:

Black Dove
The Head Of Catboy
Incredible
Jaymaster
Look At This...

Click, read, enjoy.
It's not every day...

... that you go to a house party and wind up chatting to a bloke who's got Mark 'Barney' Greenway, lead singer of Brummie grindcore godfathers Napalm Death and occasional contributor to Kerrang!, moving into his house this week.
Quote of the day

"Put yourself into the characters shoes. See how they feel. Take a walk in them. But don't put on a character's shoes when you're already wearing the shoes of another character. They won't fit, and you can't produce truly scary, visionary work when your feet hurt. This is why I wear loose-fitting cowboy boots or leather slip-ons."

Sound advice on writing Terrifying Telly taken from this article by Garth Marenghi, star of C4's 'Garth Marenghi's Darkplace'. Inspired stuff.
Feel good hits of the 8th March

1. 'Up Against The Wall Motherfuckers' - The Icarus Line
2. 'Toxic' - Britney Spears
3. 'Michael' - Franz Ferdinand
4. 'Desert Song No 2' - Sophia
5. 'More Or Less' - Screaming Trees
6. 'There She Goes' - The Las
7. 'Come Together' - Spiritualized
8. 'Date With The Night' - Yeah Yeah Yeahs
9. 'The Recluse' - Cursive
10. 'Why Bother?' - Weezer

Thursday, March 04, 2004

Quote of the day

"Good riddance! I'm still pissed through celebrating!"

Ron 'Chopper' Harris on Ken Bates's departure from Chelsea.
"To begin at the beginning..."

At first Dylan Thomas's 'play for voices' 'Under Milk Wood' seemed far removed from the sort of things I've been reading recently, especially Amis's 'Money'. Though there is a similar delight in the playful manipulation of language, the colourful characters appear straightforwardly comic, treated with fondness and not distanced disgust, and the evocative lyricism of the opening, as the town of Llaregyb sleeps, is wonderful. But gradually Thomas has the characters reveal their darker sides and inner secrets, most being obsessed with past or hoped-for sexual encounters - though Mr Pugh fantasises about murdering his nagging wife and avidly reads 'Lives Of The Great Poisoners', telling her it's called 'Lives Of The Great Saints'. My only disappointment is that Thomas died before having the chance to make any revisions, a sense of the play's unfinishedness coming from the abruptness of the conclusion.

It's not hard to see what The Coral have found so inspiring about 'Under Milk Wood' - the dissatisfied and ultimately suicidal daydreamer Bill McCai, for instance, owes a lot to Thomas's style of characterisation. Similarly, the amusing eccentricities and rather more murky preoccupations of the inhabitants of Llaregyb appear as something of an influential precursor to the likes of 'The League Of Gentlemen' - even to the extent that there is uncertainty over the precise nature and origins of Butcher Beynon's meat. Hilary Briss is not without his predecessors, it seems.
Fortune favours the fucking useless

Oh the joys of being a Newcastle fan. Watching last night's 3-1 victory over Valerenga in the UEFA Cup was about as enjoyable as systematically and methodically having each of your knuckles smashed with a hammer.

We were absolutely woeful in the first half - there's no other way to describe it. The decision to award us a free-kick for Valerenga keeper Bolthof handling outside the area was one of the worst I've ever seen, but Shearer showed no mercy with his strike which went through Bolthof's hands - but from then on we were under constant pressure, inviting a supposedly inferior side to attack us at every opportunity, even going so far as to present them with the ball and the necessary space to manoeuvre. Woodgate looked rusty and failed to calm and marshall the defence as he usually does, and I lost count of the number of headers that Bramble misjudged. Though Given brilliantly tipped a Gashi shot onto the bar, it was only a matter of time before they scored, central defender Hagen volleying in completely unmarked from a corner.

Mercifully the second half performance showed signs of improvement, though half-time substitute Ameobi had Bolthof to thank for another blunder that allowed his shot to creep in and restore an undeserved lead. It wasn't until the final minute that Jenas beat the offside trap to produce his one telling contribution of another aimless display and set up Ameobi for the clincher as Valerenga ran out of steam.

This lunchtime's draw has paired us with Spanish outfit Real Mallorca. It could certainly have been worse for us, with Mallorca currently lying fourth from bottom in La Liga - but they have a couple of very dangerous strikers in Samuel Eto'o and Andrea Delibasic, the latter having already helped inflict a painful and costly defeat on us this season with Partizan Belgrade. If we play as badly again in the home leg which takes place a week today, we'll get taken apart.
Blogwatch: in brief

It's the return of the old guard! Anna's back, and so's Kenny - his arm's on the mend and he's been spending his recovery time immersing himself in 6Music. Meanwhile, it's only a matter of time before Mike's archives quiz is completed and he returns to the fray. All is right with the world!

If it's political comment you're after, look no further than Amblongus which features (amongst other things) lots of fascinating observations and thoughts from an Englishman in Texas as the race for the US presidency grinds into first gear.

On his blog Hold My Life Mark has posted a link to the website for Maritime, a new band featuring Davey von Bohlen and Dan Didier (both ex Promise Ring) alongside Eric Axelson (ex Dismemberment Plan). They've got an LP ready to roll which will be appearing on DeSoto soon. Out of the ashes...

Meanwhile, Largehearted Boy links to a great interview with Alan Sparhawk of Low, in which he describes what his band does as "playing with the air": "It's basically when you're at a show and it feels like there's such a deep and interesting aural texture that it's almost as if you're seeing the air around you being manipulated and massaged and transformed. That's what we tend to go for." There's also an astute comment from Mark Kozelek: "Thirty years ago, with stuff like Watergate and Vietnam happening, Simon & Garfunkel sold out 18,000-capacity halls. And now, again, it's wartime, and the digital age - it's a noisy, crazy time. I think that people now more than ever need to experience quiet for a couple of hours when they go out." Sparhawk reveals that Low have a new album coming out this year, and that it's likely to surprise a few people - watch this space.

And finally... Thanks to Not A Blog I can point you in the direction of Beer In The Evening, a massive database of pubs and bars around the UK to which readers can add their comments and criticisms. You can spend hours looking up all of your favourite watering holes from around the country. A worthy celebration of the noble art of drinking.
Love thy neighbour? Nah

If you fancy proving that Kevin's theory is right, and that Louder really does = Better, then you might very well be interested in Ian Mathers's Top Ten Songs To Play When You Want To Keep Your Neighbours Awake. In addition to the usual suspects (Mogwai, Big Black, The Stooges), the likes of Flying Saucer Attack and even Kate Bush make an appearance.

Monday, March 01, 2004

When I am king, you will be first against the wall

Welcome to the SWSL Shitlist. In what should become a new regular series, the focus will fall upon those who, if they took a bullet to the head, would be doing the whole of humanity a great favour...

#1: Rebekah Wade

Why?: As editor of the News Of The World, she assumed the mantle of Witchfinder General in the paper's infamous and grossly irresponsible "naming and shaming" paedophile campaign. As editor of The Sun, she has condoned blatant racism and homophobia in the pages of the best-selling and most influential newspaper in the country. Plus she's married to Ross fucking Kemp.

Imagined famous last words: "I've got the power to mobilise a whole army of bigoted men in white vans! You'll never get away with this..." BANG!
The unkempt will inherit the earth

Congratulations to Peter Jackson - no, not for scooping 11 Oscars for 'Lord Of The Rings', but for looking even more aesthetically out of place than Michael Moore did last year and brilliantly lowering the tone of the whole ceremony. In the pictures of the event, amidst all the glitz, glamour and razzmatazz, Jackson looks like a particularly dishevelled tramp who's just stumbled into the middle of proceedings having woken up in a dustbin, his fingers gripped tightly round a bottle of gin. He could have topped it off, though, by taking a piss on the red carpet.
Dying for a laugh

Of course, I had better things to do with my Sunday evening than wait up to see a load of plastic-faced film industry wankers slapping each other's backs and licking each other's arses. Instead, I found a way of making 'Midsomer Murders' more interesting - get drunk in front of the TV with a few friends, have a sweepstake on who the murderer is and then sit back and enjoy as the plot twists, turns and performs awkward pirouettes to the excitement and frustration of everyone involved. One point to note: it doesn't help your chances of emerging victorious if your chosen suspect is hit over the head with a heavy object and then set on fire midway through the programme.
Quote of the day

"It's the decaffeinization of Starbucks that troubles me, the replacement of the mighty stimulant coffee by those domed vats of oversweetened, creamy gloop. 'Do you want whipped cream on that?' There's some kind of infantilization going on here, a return to the teat."

As a coffee-obsessive, can I just say a big amen to that, Lord Marmite?
How to shoot yourself in the foot in spectacular style

Never let it be said that the Newcastle team is packed full of overpaid, underenthusiastic, egotistical, illiterate thugs. They’re merely overpaid, underenthusiastic, egotistical and thuggish. To accuse them of illiteracy would be to ignore their perfectly-on-cue reading of the script towards the end of Sunday's game against Portsmouth.

For a third successive away match in the Premiership we were leading 1-0 with less than five minutes to go, only for a catastrophic lapse of concentration to hand the opposition an equaliser on a plate – and this time, of course, the gleeful scorer was our very own Lomano Tresor Lua Lua, inexplicably allowed to play against us under the terms of his loan deal and only too happy to get the chance to stick two fingers up at Bobby whose decision it was to loan him out in the first place. Sanity is in chronically short supply at St James’s Park these days. Lua Lua's customary celebrations seem to have riled some Newcastle fans, but ultimately he appears to have been rejected by the club and was only doing the job he's on the South Coast to do, presumably with Robson's blessing - it's the club at whom we should be feeling aggrieved.

They say that the mark of a great team is winning even when you play badly (see Chelsea against Man City on Saturday, for an example). We are not a great team – whether in those terms, or in any others you care to name. The 1-0 victory which I was very foolishly anticipating as the clock neared the 90 minute mark would have concealed several glaring deficiencies again – the incredible ineptness of our defensive play and the utter uselessness of the returning Bowyer, amongst other things.

There were, it has to be said, three positive things to come out of another afternoon of disappointment. Firstly, Bellamy grabbed his fourth goal in as many games since his comeback from injury – shame he’s the only player in a black and white shirt in anything approaching form at the moment. Secondly, we avoided defeat again. Thirdly, after the weekend’s results we remain in the much-coveted fourth place.

But all this really is clutching at straws. We deserved nothing at all from the game, but as it is we managed to throw away another vital two points, no doubt to the delight (but not necessarily the surprise) of Liverpool and Charlton, both of whom squandered points themselves. The manner of the self-inflicted wound no doubt provided a great deal of amusement, too.

If we were to get Woodgate back, and replace the current lethargy and arrogant complacency rife throughout the side with determination and endeavour, we would be capable of capitalising on our fortuitous position and putting together a decent run of results that would secure the Champions League spot. At the moment, though, we look hopelessly lacklustre and undeserving of Champions League football, and intent on making sure the race for fourth remains exciting right to the death. How very fucking generous and noble of us.

Thank fuck the 29th February only comes round once every four years.
"Oooh, this one's for a green cheese!"

I happened to switch over to Five's 'Back To Reality' on Friday night to see James Hewitt, Rik Waller and company gathered around playing 'Trivial Pursuits'. Who would have thought that bunch of empty-headed tossers would have such a firm grasp of irony?
Is it just me...

...or is the new Outkast single really shit? The less said about Libertine Pete Doherty's latest effort 'For Lovers' the better, too.

Saturday, February 28, 2004

Quote of the day

"I am from a generation that is very artefact oriented. For me, holding a record, the graphics, the cover, the liner notes, the spending time, has as much relevance to it as the music. I don't understand the Internet and the urge to download."

The thoughts of an anonymous record shop owner, as quoted on No Matter What You Heard - comments which struck a real chord with me.

It's been lamented everywhere that the skill behind structuring the tracks of a record into an arresting order is one which is going to disappear as the popularity of downloading and burning individual tracks grows, and the iPod phenomenon continues to spread. Personally, when I get a burned copy of an album it just doesn't feel complete, like the real (often overpriced) thing - even when the artwork and liner notes are nothing special, they still complete the package. When it comes to music, I'm definitely "artefact oriented" - not least because (Luddite that I am) I like to have music in tangible form, but also because (as Kevin has commented on NMWYH) searching out CDs demands the (albeit enjoyable) investment of time. Downloading might open the way for exposure to a whole host of new bands you wouldn't otherwise have ever heard, but if that's all you did it would take the pleasurable effort out of accumulating a record collection.

On the subject of cover art / packaging, what are your personal favourites? In terms of packaging, off the top of my head I really like the hologram-effect ridged case of Tool's Aenima (the inlay booklet for Lateralus is cool too), and the Constellation label can usually be relied on for excellent attention to detail - the latest A Silver Mt Zion LP is particularly good. Any Radiohead album (particularly the last three) without the artwork and inlay booklet just wouldn't be the same.
Required reading

Last night I saw the Reduced Shakespeare Company's production 'All The Great Books' at the Birmingham Hippodrome - triumphantly daft and populist but not in itself much more than an hour and a half's worth of decent japesome entertainment. The show takes the form of a crash course in the novel, with the audience cast in the part of a remedial class who desperately need to get a grasp of the material to pass exams.

From a personal point of view, for a comic performance it was surprisingly worrying - because it brought home the unforgiveable gaps in my knowledge. I left not with tears still running down my cheeks (as some did) but feeling rather ashamed, and equally determined to plug those gaps. My reading needs to step up a gear.

On a related note, I've added (at long last) a set of author links to my sidebar - thanks to Glamorama for some of the URLs. Incidentally, Ballard afficionado Mike has posted some thoughts on his latest book 'Millenium People' - well worth a read.

Books and reading habits have also been the subject for discussion for Invisible Stranger, who (amongst other things) laments Martin Amis's recent loss of form.
Absence makes the heart grow fonder

Over on Troubled Diva, Mike's set a mammoth quiz about his blog archives with the promise that if every question is answered correctly he'll return to the blogging fold. Go on, hold him to it - he's obviously itching to start writing again.

Best post of the week: LondonMark's LondonMark X Guide to post-date "back home for a cup of coffee" etiquette.

Thursday, February 26, 2004

This is an Oslo

Yet another away draw, and again it could and should have been so much better.

This time Norwegian outfit Valerenga provided the opposition in the first leg of our UEFA Cup tie. Having grown in confidence throughout the first half, we went in at the break 1-0 up thanks to a superb Bellamy volley, his third in three games since returning from injury. It looked like we were set up to go on and win comfortably, even without the likes of Shearer, Robert and Dyer, who were all rested.

But then Valerenga came out and really stepped up a gear, and suddenly we couldn't cope, the back line looking jittery as usual when put under pressure and only some last-ditch challenges preserving the lead. The equaliser was coming, though, and they certainly deserved it when it arrived. The rest of the match was fairly even, both sides wasting further chances to win it.

The sad fact is that we were unable to beat a side that only narrowly avoided relegation from the Norwegian top flight last season, and who hadn't played a competitive match since the end of the domestic season last November. Even taking our rested players into account, we could and should have done much better.

Still, to look through rose-tinted spectacles for a moment, the pitch was terrible, and at least we didn't lose and came away with an away goal and a platform to build on next Wednesday. A far cry from some of the Champions League performances of last season, though.
"I have always felt I should be an amputee"

The internet really is a weird place, and this article is the most bizarre thing I've come across in some time. It's all about a phenomenon which has been labelled 'apotemnophilia' - the condition of being attracted to the idea of being an amputee. Some people actually go through with surgery in order to fulfil their desires. So, going out on a limb or just armless fun? Either way, it costs an arm and a leg. OK, enough...

(Thanks (?!) to Steve for bringing this to my attention.)
Get into the groove

A couple of gems over at Stylus at the moment: Dom Passantino takes a look at his favourite Half Man Half Biscuit lyrics - my favourite has to be the snippet from 'The Light At The End Of The Tunnel (Is The Light Of An Oncoming Train)'; and Andrew Unterberger takes a hatchet to The Rapture's Echoes LP - the loss of 'Open Up Your Heart' and 'Love Is All' would upset me, but perhaps it would be for the best.
You WHAT?!!

A selection of recent referral subjects for which readers have alighted on SWSL:

star wars parody sunderland
j low twat
hare krishna campaign watford
paul durkin needs a proper smack
gay men in mud leather and sludge
beyonce farted while singing live

Oh dear.

Tuesday, February 24, 2004

Smog on the Tyne

Saturday's win over the Smoggies might have been tight and scarcely deserved, but right now it's the points that matter - especially after our recent run of throwing away victories on the road. That said, we'll have to improve on this sort of performance to stay in fourth place, and to stay in the UEFA Cup.

The victory owed quite a lot to luck, as we equalised Zenden's first-half opener through a tap-in by Bellamy which followed a horrendous cock-up between Ehiogu and Schwarzer, and then scored a decisive second through Shearer when Southgate made just enough contact with Darren Ambrose to warrant the award of a spot kick. Even then, we had to hang on as the Smoggies were denied a late equaliser by an offside flag - and given the current confusion over the laws of the game, it could easily (and infuriatingly) have been given.

I for one was relieved (above anything) to send Steve Maclaren and his big red face back down the A19 with nowt, but there are problems that need sorting out sooner rather than later. Dyer needs to buck up his ideas again - quite simply, Gary Speed is being forced to do far too much just to stem the tide in central midfield. The Woodgate-less defence again looked shaky, too - fuck knows how we've gone 15 games since conceding more than a single goal (though the last time we did, we did so in style, going down 5-0 to Chelsea). They're all decent players individually, but lack the cohesion and confidence that Woodgate seems to inspire in them.

So, a fortuitous rather than a hard-fought win, I think, especially considering the Smoggies last away trip yielded three points at Old Trafford. If we're going to hang on to fourth place, we need to have the stomach for the fight - and at the moment I'm not entirely convinced we've got it.

Inspector Sands will, I'm sure, be disappointed but not surprised to learn that I was celebrating Brad Friedel's unexpected last minute equaliser for Blackburn against his beloved Charlton with almost as much zeal as our own result - only for substitute Claus Jensen to pop up and do his best to spoil our, and Friedel's, day. Something tells me this one's going to the wire.

A special mention too of the Sunderland fans who spoilt the minute's silence in memory of John Charles before the Mackems' game at Cardiff by singing anti-Welsh songs. Well done lads, your lack of respect only galvanised Cardiff's determination to give you a sound thrashing: Peter Thorne has been quoted in the Western Mail as saying, "I looked over at their fans and thought to myself, 'We're gonna really turn you lot over'." A 4-0 drubbing was then duly administered. The Cardiff supporters taunting their Mackem counterparts towards the end of the match with chants of "Are you Scotland in disguise?" was a nice touch, too.
Feel good hits of the 24th February

1. 'That Great Love Sound' - The Raveonettes
2. 'One Caveat' - Qhixldekx
3. 'Needle In A Haystack' - The Velvelettes
4. 'Six Barrelled Shotgun' - Black Rebel Motorcycle Club
5. 'Teenage Riot' - Sonic Youth
6. 'Negasonic Teenage Warhead' - Monster Magnet
7. 'Toxic' - Britney Spears
8. 'Two Librans' - The Fall
9. 'Overload' - Sugababes
10. 'Miss Jackson' - Outkast
Quote of the day

"The power of accurate observation is often called cynicism by those who don't have it." - George Bernard Shaw

(Courtesy of Blogged.)

Wednesday, February 18, 2004

Blogwatch: in brief

As expected, there's a detailed minute-by-minute review of the Brits on No Rock 'N' Roll Fun, but other bloggers have also passed comment on proceedings. Vaughan, for instance, grumbles about the fact that the whole shebang made him feel his age: "These days, I'm the sort of person who would probably tell a gangsta rapper that it's actually spelt 'gangster', and advise him that he would have learned to spell properly if only he had stayed at school rather than hanging out in the hood with his homies".

He also has some choice words about the Duran Duran hit medley he was so looking forward to: "All I could hear was the sound of shiny, glistening '80s pop being made over - or done over in a pub car park, to be more accurate - into a lumbering rawk noise".

Meanwhile...

Anna's away for a while, but is updating with some Little Red Boat highlights - most recently, her attempt at writing children's fiction.

Jon introduces readers of his Rogue Semiotics blog to the quite horrifically dire poetry of Lib Dem MP Paul Marsden.

Good luck to Invisible Stranger, who is hoping to get himself a free lunch.

And finally... No new posts on Parallax View for some time now. Hope your arm is on the mend, Kenny - I for one am missing ya.
It's official: music is getting good again!

Alexis Petridis from Saturday's Guardian on Franz Ferdinand and Scissors Sisters, shining beacons amidst a sea of chart shite. I wonder how many such articles Mr Petridis has written in his time - there's an awful lot of cheery optimism in there. Fantastic as they are, I'm not sure that Franz Ferdinand possess truly messianic appeal, and the message that art rock will save us all is rather hard to swallow.
Burn, baby, burn

A request by the manufacturer of 'haemorrhoid relief products' to use Johnny Cash's 'Ring Of Fire' in an advert has struck a bum note with Cash's daughter.
Quote of the day

From The World, Backwards:

"I don’t want to pretend that I’ve been waiting all my life to work in some job that a robot could do just as well, I don’t want to say a bright 'Good Morning' to my co-workers and discuss the weekend’s Telly and the state of the housing market. I don’t want to listen to Virgin Radio. I don’t want to listen to anything where the DJ spends more time telling you about which minor celebrities they were drinking with last night and how wacky wacky wack they all were than playing music. I don’t want to see or hear another advert, ever. They make me pukey. I don’t want to help anybody make a profit.

I don’t want to listen to the opinions of people who just get on with it. I don’t want to hear another word from anybody who thinks the way we live now is acceptable. I certainly don’t want to hear anything from idiots who like bad art for stupid reasons. I don’t want to be told it’s not worth wasting energy getting angry. If you can’t be angry about the empty stupidness you live amongst then you just add to it all. The crushing weight of well-fed cattle who stay self-satisfied right up to the moment that the bolt-gun spears their skulls.
"

Monday, February 16, 2004

Sympathy for the devil

Martin Amis's 'Money' is at the same time a brilliant and deeply disturbing read. As a portrayal of the excesses of its central protagonist John Self, a vain and hedonistic would-be film director with an insatiable appetite for food, booze and pornography, the book is a wicked jet-black satire on the virulent greed of the 1980s London and New York of Thatcher and Reagan, far more searing in its power than Tom Wolfe's 'The Bonfire Of The Vanities'. But what often makes reading 'Money' such an unsettling experience is also what sets it apart from similar fictional critiques.

Self is not only the novel's central character but also its narrator. Everything is filtered through his consciousness, the reader left unsure of the reliability of his word. The fact that it is a first-person narrative allows Self to recount his adventures and misadventures in his own voice. For the most part he comes across as a loveable rogue not too dissimilar to Kingsley Amis's Jim Dixon, who uses his sly charm to put an amusing and self-deprecatory gloss on his personal misdemeanours:

"My travelling-clock told me eight fifteen. I leapt out of bed feeling full of fight, really tiptop, apart from the sweats, the jerks, the shivers, a pronounced dizziness - and a sensation, hard to describe and harder to bear, that I had missed my stop on the shuttle and was somehow due yesterday at the next planet but one."

"In the next booth I caught a quarter's worth of film with a sylvan setting: the romantic interest of the piece focused on the love that flowers between a girl and a donkey. There she was, smiling, as she prepared to go down on this beast of burden. Ay! The donkey didn't look too thrilled about it either."

"I had three handjobs yesterday. None was easy. Sometimes you really have to buckle down to it, as you do with all forms of exercise. It's simply a question of willpower. Anyone who's got the balls to stand there and tell me that a handjob isn't exercise just doesn't know what he's talking about. I almost had a heart-attack during number three."

"Morning came, and I got up... That doesn't sound particularly interesting or difficult, now does it? I bet you do it all the time. Listen, though - I had a problem here. For instance, I was lying face-down under a hedge or bush or some blighted shrub in a soaked allotment full of nettles, crushed cigarette packets, used condoms and empty beercans. It was quite an appropriate place for me to be born again, which is what it felt like."

Not only are such passages laugh-out-loud funny (and the value of 'Money' as a profoundly comic work shouldn't be understated), they also serve to seduce the reader into a fondness for a character who, if presented more objectively by a third-person narrator, might come across as a degenerate, self-destructive and conceited waster with precious few redeeming features. Having beguiled his way into the reader's affections, Self seems to relish the opportunity to cosy up to him or her, using direct address and maintaining the same jovial and chummy tone of friend to friend at all times, with results which are on occasion brutally striking:

"I've hit women. Yes, I know, I know: it isn't cool. Funnily enough, it's hard to do, in a sense. Have YOU ever done it? Girls, ladies, have you ever copped one? It's hard. It's quite a step, particularly the first time. After that, though, it just gets easier and easier. After a while, hitting women is like rolling off a log."

"So then I tried to rape her. In all honesty I have to confess that it wasn't a very distinguished effort. I'm new at this and generally out of shape. For instance, I wasted a lot of time attempting to control her hands. Obviously the proper way to rape girls is to get the leg question sorted out and take the odd slap in the face as part of the deal. Here's another tip: undress before the action starts."

Moments like these aren't simply about cheap shock value: rather, they suddenly alert the reader to the fact that they've been duped, unwittingly drawn in to Self's world to the extent that they now find themselves implicated, complicit in his narrative confession and, by extension, in the events themselves. As a reader you might reject his rape advice, but you can't quite shake the feeling that by condoning and exonerating his thoughts and actions before this you've somehow encouraged him into the belief that, as a trusted confidante, you might be receptive to his suggestions. The instinctive reaction is one of disgust (perhaps, appropriately enough, self-disgust), but even here in the offhand casualness of Self's admissions there is an appalling kind of comedy.

These issues of sympathy and revulsion are at the centre of Amis's novel. At one point Self openly confesses his need for the reader's sympathy, and yet it is highly debatable whether he ever actually gets it. 'Money' resolutely refuses to conform to the standard demands of the tabloid literary critic and the default expectations of the majority of the reading public - there is no wholly sympathetic character, there is no-one with whom the reader can "identify" and empathise, possessed by the conviction that he or she "understands" them and their thoughts, feelings or motivations. Books like 'Money' resist this sort of facile approach that impedes any other response, and that is perhaps what makes it particularly unsettling.

The author himself steps into the novel, invited by Self to rewrite the script for the prospective film. More than simply a clever and fashionable bit of postmodern window-dressing, this metafictional device is used to make a serious point. The Martin Amis character reflects on a couple of occasions about the nature of novel-writing and in the process offers some telling comments on what 'Money' is about and how to read it:

"'Is there a moral philosophy of fiction? When I create a character and put him or her through certain ordeals, what am I up to - morally? Am I accountable.'"

"'The distance between author and narrator corresponds to the degree to which the author finds the narrator wicked, deluded, pitiful or ridiculous.'"

In a beautifully comic touch, the bored Self interrupts the Amis character, unaware of his status as a fictional creation and thus of the relevance of such musings to his own situation. This concern with the responsibility or otherwise of an author for his or her characters recalls a similar metafictional passage in John Fowles's 'The French Lieutenant's Woman', and also with a brief piece on Bret Easton Ellis which appears in Will Self's volume of journalism 'Junk Mail'. In novels like 'Money' and 'American Psycho' a sense of distance between author and narrator is essential for the satire to work; but all too often the two are confused, and the author consequently found guilty of the crimes perpetrated by the characters or implicitly endorsed by the narrator. Of course, this is unforgiveable as it denies the imaginative and creative aspect of fiction. In 'Money' Amis drives a wedge between author and narrator and also forces the reader to contemplate and reconsider the way he or she has approached the novel.

A superbly written book, 'Money' is provocative in all the right ways.

(Thanks to Loaf for the recommendation.)
"Have you ever heard of a great punk band from the 80s called The Shaven Cocks? Great!"

How galling it must be for all the rest. I mean, if the limited edition it's-not-really-their-third-album Nightfreak And The Sons Of Becker really is The Coral dicking about and not really taking things seriously, then they're an even more special band than I've previously given them credit for.

What on first listen seems an uneven 28 minute long hotpotch of half-finished ideas soon reveals its true worth as very nearly the equal of the two albums to have gone before. Though there perhaps isn't the killer single that both The Coral and Magic And Medicine possessed ('Dreaming Of You' and 'Pass It On' respectively), what you have to realise is that there are enough genius ideas here, whether half-finished or otherwise, to make other bands very jealous indeed.

In musical terms, as the album title might suggest there's a latent psychosis lurking in some songs ('I Forgot My Name', 'Auntie's Operation', 'Migraine') and a sinister gloom hanging heavy over others ('Song Of The Corn', 'Keep Me Company'). But, perhaps surprisingly, tracks like 'Venom Cable' and 'Sorrow Or The Song' lollop along with a loosely funky gait, blessed with lithe and fluid basslines, and 'Grey Harpoon' even sounds like a stab at mainstream r'n'b influenced pop. All pointers for what is to come, I hope.

Lyrically they're as charmingly daft as ever - fans of tracks like 'Simon Diamond' and 'Talking Gypsy Market Blues' won't be disappointed. Witness the following: "She'll want your sympathy / She'll never let you be / Sniffing at your food / Before it's even chewed" ('Auntie's Operation') and "Doctor doctor, tearing my hair out / Doctor doctor what's it all about? / I feel nervous and I'm feeling sick / My body's shaking and I'm shitting bricks" ('Migraine').

Without doubt the most ceaselessly inventive and artistically restless band we've got. Thankfully that aesthetic restlessness also manifests itself in the desire to keep writing, recording and releasing gems of records.

The Coral are also influencing my reading habits - having just finished Amis's 'Money', I was going to move on to 'Filth' by Irvine Welsh, but decided it might be wise to take a break from the dirty rotten scoundrels and spend some time with Dylan Thomas's 'Under Milk Wood' instead.
Feel good hits of the 16th February

1. 'I Forgot My Name' - The Coral
2. 'Jacqueline' - Franz Ferdinand
3. 'Take Me Somewhere Nice' - Mogwai
4. 'Who's The One' - Wheat
5. 'Perfect Lines' - The Promise Ring
6. '88-92-96' - Six By Seven
7. 'The Diamond Sea' - Sonic Youth
8. 'Roadrunner' - Jonathan Richman And The Modern Lovers
9. 'She Don't Use Jelly' - The Flaming Lips
10. 'Cat Claw' - The Kills