Friday, October 08, 2004

Blogwatch

A warm welcome to the SWSL blogroll to Fractionals, the brainchild of Stylus stalwart Ian Mathers, and Secret Knowledge Of Backroads, the work of someone who, like him and me, is currently raving about Sons & Daughters.

Congratulations to He Who Cannot Be Named on finishing his book after much blood, sweat and tears. There's more of the same to come in the editing process though...

Forget Googlism, the current pastime du jour in the blogosphere seems to be doodlism. Mike's taken part in the Guild Of Ghostwriters Doodle-Blog Guest Fortnight (you can see his fantastically surreal and self-deprecating comic strip contribution here). Meanwhile, as part of The Big Draw, Jonathan spent his Sunday afternoon sketching Manchester Town Hall and getting it put on a T-shirt. (While you're over at Crinklybee, don't miss Jonathan's brilliant Life Story As Told In Bumps And Bruises.)

Elsewhere:

Jonny B has added an 'About' section to his blog, in which he assuages any fears that he might in fact be David Baddiel;

Martin's posted a new poem, 'Which Of Course I Don't' - "Too far away / to see but not far enough away to ignore, / something is happening to someone. / You really ought to live life to the full";

Nick has been to see Embrace again, this time in Bristol, and shares my disgust at Carling venues;

Alex has been to see the first full-length offering from Warp's new film division, 'Dead Man's Shoes' - "One of the best films of the year, then, but absolutely not for the faint hearted";

Neil writes about the paranoia of losing touch with people, something I can certainly identify with - "what's so wrong with wanting to hold on to the people you meet in life that aren't utter cunts?";

Ken reviews Grant Morrison's graphic novel 'The Filth' - "Morrison successfully brings the surreal paranoia of William Burroughs and Philip K Dick into the present day with a gritty, visceral bang";

and Simon has a few typically waspish and sharp comments about the Destiny's Child / McDonalds love-in and the news that the next Westlife LP will be an album of Rat Pack covers called Let Us Be Frank - "It's like the sea scouts trying to be Hell's Angels".

And finally... Invisible Stranger is appalled and aggrieved at being called "sweet". Look, some of us never even get the opportunity to be appalled and aggrieved at being called "sweet"...
Feel good hits of the 8th October

1. 'La Lune' - Sons & Daughters
2. 'Dare' - The Wedding Present
3. 'Big Sleep' - The Icarus Line
4. 'Battle' - Qhixldekx
5. 'Woodwork' - Cave In
6. 'Millionaire' - Kelis feat Andre 3000
7. 'Blinded By The Lights' - The Streets
8. 'Miss Jackson' - Outkast
9. 'Two Timing Touch And Broken Bones' - The Hives
10. 'American Idiot' - Green Day

Yes, yes, I know - that last one is a guilty pleasure, but it really does sound like the prime 'Day of youth, even if it's played by blokes pushing towards forty.

Nice to see the care and consideration that's been put into the radio editing of Andre 3000's rap on the Kelis single - when "bitches" means female dogs, that's fine, but when it's used as a derogatory term for ladies, it's covered over with woofing noises. Genius.
Slaughtering the sacred cows

Ever felt disgusted that certain overrated bands are considered completely beyond reproach? The contributors to 'Kill Your Idols', a new book edited by Jim DeRogatis, take issue with everyone from The Sex Pistols to The Beatles and The Beach Boys. Critical savagery always makes for fascinating reading, even if you don't necessarily agree with it. I should look out for a copy.

(Thanks to Bob for the link.)

Elsewhere: Anthony Miccio pens an open letter to Travis Morrison in defence of his first solo outing Travistan and lists his Top Ten Rocket From The Crypt Songs That Reference Animals - brilliant, brilliant band, whose latest two efforts (Group Sounds and Live From Camp X-Ray) I'm ashamed to say I haven't given anywhere near as much time as they deserve.

Tuesday, October 05, 2004

What is it all but words?

Ever wondered where the expressions "the real McCoy" or "warts and all" come from? If so, then Melvyn Bragg's 'The Adventure Of English' is for you.

The book details the history of the English language from its origins in Friesland in the Netherlands, through its growth and spread to America, Australia and India and throughout the world, right up to the development of new varieties of English as a consequence of the internet and mobile phone technology. Calling this history an "adventure" might seem a bit preposterous, but it really does read like a ripping good yarn, packed with fascinating trivia and anecdotes.

The book could so easily have been a dry and fusty scholarly work, but, although Bragg does call on the views of academics and linguists and incorporates a wealth of factual information, he never loses sight of his broad general readership. Part of what makes this book so enjoyable is the way that it is infused with the author's personality, with his infectious enthusiasm and passion for his subject.

It never quite becomes a romanticised eulogy, though. Bragg doesn't ignore the historical connections between language and imperialist power, and neither does he seize the opportunity to rail against "inferior" or slovenly varieties of English in the manner of a Daily Mail or Daily Telegraph columnist, instead celebrating English's rich diversity and the continual developments and offshoots which mark it out as a healthy and vital language.

What emerges as English's most impressive quality is the way that over the centuries it has come into contact time and again with other tongues, but has remained sufficiently resilient not to be wiped out, mainly by absorbing vast numbers of new words into its vocabulary rather than by obstinately refusing to engage with the languages of foreign lands.

Highly recommended for anyone with a love of language - or for anyone who delights in tasty etymological titbits.
Know Your Enemy #51

"So, all in all, given the novel's inconclusive worldview; dreadful plot; unbelievable characters and nasty whiff of pretentiousness, Douglas Coupland's book about loneliness really does smell of wee and catfood. No matter how friendless you are, there will always be something more worthwhile to do than reading 'Eleanor Rigby' and even Coupland completists should save their money 'til it comes out in paperback."

Kenny is none too impressed by Douglas Coupland's latest literary offering.

Saturday, October 02, 2004

"Chaos City"?

I may not be a resident of Nottingham anymore, but I can still get indignant on behalf of those who still live there.

This sort of article - from the Mirror, but it could just as easily have appeared somewhere else - really makes me angry, depicting the city as it does as some kind of horrific lawless bedlam.

Well, contrary to what you might have read, walking through Nottingham on a Friday or Saturday night is not like taking a stroll through a Hieronymous Bosch painting. True, the pubs and clubs in and around Market Square can be described as lively, and those who frequent them are often drunk and rowdy - but to tar everyone with this brush, or to denounce the whole city on this basis, is unforgivable.

I'm not denying that drink causes innumerable problems, or that the local police force are stretched to their very limit by the task of keeping everything under control, something Chief Constable Steve Green takes every opportunity to point out.

But what annoys me is that, thanks to articles like this, drunkenness and violence have become synonymous with Nottingham, to such an extent that the city has been made notorious, to the detriment of everything else it has to offer. These problems are experienced in towns and cities up and down the country. Why has Nottingham somehow been made into a scapegoat?

What's even more disgraceful is the sort of sloppy journalism which implies some kind of connection between the city's drink culture and its problem with rising gun crime. Shootings are on the increase, yes, but it's all gang- and drug-related. Quite simply, if you're not involved and you don't do anything stupid, you're in absolutely no danger.

And where do they find these talking heads, resident in Nottingham and only too eager to spout off about how hellish it is? I know of no-one who's left or even considered leaving because of it becoming a dangerous, violent and ugly place to live. It's only dangerous if you deliberately or foolishly place yourself in danger - like any other city.

(Thanks to Upton Lark for the link.)
Know Your Enemy #50

"Marrying a young, blond, one-legged starfucker twelve hours after burying your hero-philanthropist wife was a good one too, mate. Go fuck yourself, McCartney. You deserve worse than that, but such dread is unattainable on this earth. We can only hope Satan delivers the goods to Sir Paul in Hell, where knighthoods carry no currency."

Mike Seely on Paul McCartney in this article about the Ten Most Hated Men In Rock.

(Thanks to Pete for the link.)

Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Blogwatch

Yes, after a week's holiday it's back, lassooing and rounding up some of the best recent posts in the blogosphere...

But first, may I direct you to Nottingham poet Martin Stannard's new Proper Blog, Exaltations & Difficulties? (Thanks to Mike for the link.)

Congratulations are most definitely in order for Phill of Danger! High Postage, who finished a fantastic 21st in the British Open Mini Golf Championships. You can read about his road to glory, including the merciless crushing of a nine-year-old's hopes - Day 1 is here and Day 2 is here.

Elsewhere: Mish offers an informative guide to the etiquette of kissing - "An ‘air kiss’ is a version of the ‘Hollywood Kiss’ with absolutely no contact whatsoever. It is used by women at weddings with large hats, fag-hags who hate each other and between myself and rivals";

Robin explains how Olympic spirit infected the family - "The last echoes of the Olympics have been slowly fading away over here, reappearing for one last time on Sat evening when Jake stuck a stick in the barbecue and ran round the garden holding it aloft like a sacred flame, giving his mother a panic attack over burns to the boy, sparks in the undergrowth leading to a second Fire of London, prosecution under the Clean Air Acts, and stepping in cat poo in the half dark"

Our Man In Hanoi has paid his first visit to a Vietnamese tailor - "You track up and down the street and then you have to do the deal and they advise you on how much material for me. This seemed to consist of reminding me on a regular basis just how big I am. Yes, yes. Thank you. I know";

Matthew has witnessed what sounds like an extraordinary Fiery Furnaces gig, even by their own eccentric standards - "Rather than simply playing alternate arrangements and medleys of the songs as they had before, the new set chops up the songs and recombines them" - or perhaps that's just what they were doing at Stealth last month;

and Marshall takes it upon himself to answer some of the questions songwriters pose - "2. Burt Bacharach - 'Do you know the way to San Jose?' As it happens Burt, I do. It only took a few moments of my time to check google for 'directions to San Jose' and I was inundated by a variety of answers for you. Personally I'd fly into San Francisco airport, rent a car and head towards I-880 to get me out of the city, then head south simply following the signs".

And finally... If Jonny B is to be believed, there's a serious problem in rural Norfolk with kids sniffing cheese. Not that I'm suggesting he is to be believed, mind you, but last time I was in the Norfolk area I did notice a teenager with no septum wandering about with a glazed expression on his face and orange remnants clinging to his nostril...
The sound is all around

Over on Stylus, where they're celebrating the work of Brian Eno, William B Swygart acclaims the new strings-less LP from The Delgados, Universal Audio, as the best release of the week: "It all sounds nice enough to start with, but as you hear it more and more you love it more and more, the simple charms showing themselves to be more and more complicated but no less delightful. It’s like they’re taking on the world left-handed and winning by a landslide".

Elsewhere, Ian Mathers delivers a lukewarm verdict on Interpol's sophomore offering Antics: "This feels like Interpol-by-the-numbers, and if the band never produces anything with the spiky, restless genius of Turn On The Bright Lights again that will be a true pity".

Rub your hands together, Selectadisc staff: what with these two albums plus newies from Nick Cave, Sparta and The Radio Dept all seductively whispering "Buymebuymebuyme" into my ear, it's only a matter of time before I come a-calling...

Monday, September 27, 2004

The whole hideous inverted childhood

Lengthy train journeys can be extraordinarily depressing.

I’m not talking about cramped seating, delays, changes which involve switching platforms in impossibly quick time. All irritating, yes, but not depressing.

Not depressing like those excruciatingly painful occasions when a fellow passenger, travelling alone and encouraged by an exchange of social pleasantries, spills out all the bloody guts of their life. It floods out and, whether willingly or unwillingly, you find yourself plunged in deep, unsure of what to say or do.

But why do we feel awkward in that situation? Is it an embarrassment we experience by proxy, an embarrassment they’re oblivious to, an embarrassment we’re lending them as well as a sympathetic ear? Or is that squirming utterly self-centred? Aren’t we at least in part thinking, “Why me? Why do I have to endure this?” The result is a sense of sadness tinged with self-disgust.

Today’s journey was worse than most, but in a different way.

I was sat next to an old woman and her daughter-in-law, returning home from a wedding in Dundee. The son was driving all their luggage back while they got the train – the logic being that the old woman would be able to travel in more comfort and have easy access to a toilet. Unused to rail travel – or indeed to long journeys of any sort – she was naturally concerned and nervous, particularly about the possible theft of her wheelchair which couldn’t be stowed in any of the luggage racks and which was thus out of view.

I had to sit there for the best part of two hours witnessing what amounted to psychological abuse. The daughter-in-law trivialised all her concerns, relentlessly patronised her, bossed her about like she was a stupid child, met every one of her reminiscences with careless indifference or, more often, maliciously barbed challenges calculated to undermine her and call into question her memory.

As if having to have a chaperone wasn’t undignified enough, the old woman had to endure being stripped of all her remaining dignity in this very public way.

And, worst of all, the daughter-in-law had the audacity to drop continual if subtle reminders of how “kind” and “thoughtful” she’d been in offering accompaniment.

It made me think of Larkin’s ‘The Old Fools’, of the tone of spiteful disgust at the elderly. As the poem unfolds, it becomes clear that this disgust arises at least partly from the terrified acknowledgement of the middle-aged poet that this is how we will all end up – something of which this horrid bitch seemed oblivious. When she reaches that age, may she be bullied and patronised to death.

Admittedly I’m an incorrigible earwigger, but it wasn’t as if that mattered – there it was, going on in my face, and within easy earshot of numerous passengers.

But no-one interrupted or said anything. And, though I answered a few inquiries in passing, neither did I.

Result: sadness and disgust.

Sometimes people appal me. Sometimes I appal me.
Short but not sweet

As Ian Rankin explains in the introduction to ‘Beggars Banquet’, the reason why there aren’t many short stories featuring his booze-sodden copper Rebus is because he generally tends to write them in between the novels “as a way of getting the good Inspector out of my system for a while”.

Appropriately enough, then, that most of these stories are tasty little morsels not sufficiently substantial to satisfy a real hunger but snacks you can eat between meals (novels, if you’re not following the horribly stretched metaphor) which not only don’t spoil your appetite but actually whet it.

The difficulty is that the crime fiction genre, of which Rankin is an undisputed master, conventionally depends upon a series of twists and turns, leading the reader down unexpected avenues, and the short story form only really allows for a single twist – even though, in the cases of tales like ‘Someone Got To Eddie’ and ‘The Wider Scheme’, the twists are admittedly good ones, deftly handled so as to be unforeseen and yet seemingly inevitable in hindsight.

At the same time, and despite efforts to evaluate these stories on their own merits, I can’t help but be coloured in my judgements by having only recently read Irvine Welsh’s ‘Filth’. Compared to that, Rankin’s depiction of the darker side of Edinburgh and his occasionally wayward hero feel a bit lightweight. It’s as though ‘The Falls’ has been the pathway drug to ‘Filth’, and now I can’t quite go back to the softer stuff.

As a result, perhaps the best piece in the collection is ‘Glimmer’, which Rankin confesses is him seizing upon “the chance to create a mythology around one of my favourite Rolling Stones songs” (‘Sympathy For The Devil’). It’s a vivid glimpse of late 60s hedonism and the death of the hippy dream through the drug-glazed eyes of a journalist hanging around with the Stones with the supposed intention of writing an article. The subject matter might be outside his usual range, but that doesn’t stop him from writing brutally about brutality: “They’d threatened to cut off your eyelids. That was the way things were now”…

Lean and trim, the stories of ‘Beggars Banquet’ are a decent and very easily digestible introduction to what Rankin is all about.

(Note to self: must read more short stories.)
’Hero’ worship

Films which feature what friends might refer to as “death-defying kung-fu moves” are not usually the sort to get my juices flowing, and so, having not seen ‘Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon’, my enjoyment of ‘Hero’ was all the more unexpected.

In these post-LOTR times, when film-makers think they can make up for a poor script, an absence of plot and a dearth of decent acting performances by bludgeoning audiences with CGI, it’s no surprise that movies like ‘Hero’ are meeting with approval in Hollywood.

But make no mistake, it’s light years ahead of the big-budget rabble, stunningly sumptuous in sonic as well as visual terms. What initially appears a one-dimensional plot soon blossoms into something gripping, and though some will inevitably gripe about the need to follow subtitles, the dialogue is minimal and doesn’t distract attention from the incredible cinematography.

The perfect marriage of action and art?
Feel good hits of the 27th September: Hiatus special

1. 'Untitled' - Interpol
2. 'Never Understand' - The Jesus & Mary Chain
3. 'Out Of Routine' - Idlewild
4. 'Blinded By The Lights' - The Streets
5. 'On A Plain' - Nirvana
6. 'Schteeve' - Yourcodenameis:milo
7. 'Don't Ever Think' - The Zutons
8. 'Hand In Glove' - The Smiths
9. 'Everlong' - Foo Fighters
10. 'The End Of You' - Sleater-Kinney
11. 'Y Control' - Yeah Yeah Yeahs
12. 'The Rat' - The Walkmen
13. 'Seaside' - The Ordinary Boys
14. 'Riot Radio' - The Dead 60s
15. 'Helicopter' - Bloc Party
You WHAT?!!

shins that show evil words
pat sharpe scale models
jesus was a vampire
spice girls bad back
lycra straitjackets
lesbo fortune telling

Not here, my friends, not here...

Thursday, September 16, 2004

The end is nigh

On Saturday, I leave Nottingham after seven years of happy residence.

Yesterday a friend suggested I should look on it as the beginning of a new era, but at the moment I can't help but see it as the end of an old one, and a golden one at that. For the last few days I've been mooning around the place, suffering from what must be a near-fatal dose of sentimentality. I'm too attached, too nervous about change, to be able to look forwards.

How to solve this problem? Easy - pickle myself in lager.

The last hurrah includes another George's meet-up with Mike, Mish and Nixon amongst others, and then a massive boozy blow-out tomorrow winding up in the legendary Irish by which time I'll hopefully be unable to see.

Amidst all the upheaval, SWSL is likely to be something of a ghost town for the next week or so. See you on the other side (of the Midlands).
Hounds of hate

For me, the most appalling thing about yesterday's pro-hunt protest wasn't the "invasion" of the House of Commons by a bunch of ill-dressed loons - "men in T-shirts apprehended by men in tights", as one MP quipped.

Neither was it the mob violence. (Us left-leaners are used to having our arguments ignored amidst condemnation of the actions of a minority of protestors hell-bent on causing trouble, so it's nice to see the shoe on the other foot now - let's see what the organisers have to say...)

Neither was it the response of an embattled and baton-wielding police force. (Watching the news, I was surprised not to hear any bloodied and howling protesters shouting, "Why don't you go and catch the real criminals?")

No, it was the interview with a woman in full tweed clobber perched on a horse whose justification for hunting was that her and her family go out every Saturday between September and April, and what would they do if it was banned? "What better way to spend time with the family?", she reasoned. Words fail me.

Incidentally, the incidents of bottle- and coin-throwing (50p's rather than 2p's, I imagine...) make them no better than your average football hooligan.

(To read Inspector Sands's similarly unsympathetic thoughts, click here.)
Sad to see you go

Johnny Ramone RIP. You can't stop the rock.
Is it just me...

... or was the second half of Tuesday's episode of 'Six Feet Under' not the most intense half-hour of TV this year? By the end I was left feeling as brutalised as David was by his attacker / kidnapper Jake. Incredible stuff, as always.

Monday, September 13, 2004

Toddling along merrily

Exactly two years ago today Silent Words Speak Loudest was born.

Since then it has very gradually (I think) become toilet-trained and learnt how to crawl and then walk, but it remains something of a sickly child in the company of its more well-nourished and well-adjusted web brethren (see sidebar under 'Blogs'). Perhaps it'll grow up to be strong and healthy, and its dreams of being an astronaut or lorry driver will come true. Or perhaps not.

Whatever the future holds, thank you for your help and support in bringing it up thus far.
Primal scream

PJ HARVEY, BIRMINGHAM ACADEMY, 11TH SEPTEMBER 2004

If anyone wasn't aware of the fact that Ms Harvey left her delicate and sombre period behind some time ago, then they are as soon as '50ft Queenie', a song that truly deserves the title 'blast from the past', roars out of the amps. Clearly prisoners are not to be taken tonight.

The set - which, compared to her Glasto showing, is remarkably light on material from her most recent outing Uh Huh Her (only 'Who The Fuck?', 'Shame' and the marvellous single 'The Letter') - bears the imprint of the company she's been keeping lately, Josh Homme and Mark Lanegan, in its rawness and general aggression.

Resplendent as ever in yellow, and singing with the same sumptuously rich voice live as on record, she's flanked by a bounding straggle-haired guitarist straight out of Black Rebel Motorcycle Club and a lanky bassist who seems to have got lost on the way to an audition for a Damned covers band, while long-time collaborator Rob Ellis pounds the skins.

Disappointments are few, but if my companion's main gripe is her ignoring his repeated pleas for 'Down By The Water', then mine is her decision to reappear for a second single-song encore rather than to leave a fantastically strident 'Big Exit' as just that - her big exit.

More than anything, though, the night reminds me of the gaping holes in my record collection which need to be plugged. Selectadisc, here I come...

Note to the Birmingham Academy: Maybe it's just me, but I don't expect to have to wait fully half an hour to buy some shit and stupidly overpriced lager, thereby being forced to "enjoy" the first five songs of the headline act with my back to the stage, especially when the gig ticket has cost the best part of £20. You twats.
Don't believe all you read

On Saturday I finally got to see the face behind the hand, the face of Telford's most pre-eminent blogger. Yes, I met up with the real Dead Ken.

I hope he doesn't mind if I undermine his carefully-cultivated web self-image, but...

Don't believe all that self-deprecating nonsense he's posted over at Parallax View, or, for that matter, any of the self-deprecating comments that routinely appear on the site - he's a lovely chap, and great company. But if he can apologise for "the dribbling, drooling idiocy that is the live! interactive! Dead Kenny experience", then I can thank him for indulging me in my alcoholically-lubricated rantings and ravings about everything from Birmingham to The Stone Roses.

All this real rather than virtual interaction with bloggers is starting to become quite addictive.
"Got a devil's haircut in my mind"

The latest installment of Stylus's I Love The 1990s series - this time, 1996 - featuring contributions from He Only Lives Twice and yours truly.

Part One: Beck, 'Dilbert', Bone Thugs 'N' Harmony, 'Fargo', Mentos adverts
Part Two: MTV2, Rage Against The Machine, 'Romeo + Juliet', The Fugees, 'Scream'
Part Three: 'Swingers', Tamagotchis, Busta Rhymes, Jackie Chan vs Chuck Norris, No Doubt
Part Four: the Macarena, 'Space Jam', Garbage, Playstation vs N64, 'Trainspotting'

Other Stylus goodness: Andrew Unterberger does his level best to convince us to reappraise the merits of nu-metal, whilst Ian Mathers is enraptured by the new Low B-sides and rarities box set A Lifetime Of Temporary Relief - "There’s a reason Low are known as a band who often write about Christian issues, but not as a Christian band. They’re not recruiting, they’re searching. Once you begin looking at the issues raised in Low’s music as questions asked and not dogmas received, the band opens up and you can focus on the gorgeousness of music without any guilt."
Quotes of the day

"Three years since the terrible events of 11 September 2001. And what have we learned since then? Years ago, there was an argument about whether terrorists were merely freedom fighters. Now we now what terrorism really is - an act of violence against America, or an act of violence which isn't funded by Americans."

Inspector Sands on terrorism.

"Seeing 'Teenage Riot' live was like touching the face of God and feeling a pleasant electric shock surge through you; hitting those memory centres untouched since years of prior discovery."

He Who Cannot Be Named on Sonic Youth at the Brixton Academy.

"The last in-depth conversation I had with him was about cheese, and I know for a fact he knows nothing about cheese."

Noel Gallagher on Liam on 'Friday Night With Jonathan Ross'.