Saturday, May 31, 2008

Paul Morley on genres

Check out these unmissable docos on Radio 4, as Paul Morley interrogates the major players in some of the margins, hinterlands and outerzones of modern music. Last week, freak-folk. This week, post-punk, with contributions from Simon Reynolds, Robert Wyatt, Tim Friese-Green and Stuart Braithwaite from Mogwai. But why wouldn't Tim talk about Talk Talk?

Update: Radio 4? I meant Radio 2, obviously.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Damn: they found us

There was us thinking we were perfectly safe in our Hanwell redoubt. Little did we know...

More photos here.

Says she's gonna teach me how to swim

I do like this video. Spring magic? Drugged-up pagan psychedelia? It's Duran Duran for the freak-folk generation:

Ensepulchred within their crozzled hearts

News from what has the potential to be an awesome adaptation of one of the best books of the last decade, Cormac McCarthy's The Road. It stars Viggo Mortensen, who's yer basic go-to guy if grizzled intensity is called for . And there's a part for Michael Kenneth Williams, who you might know as the mighty Omar from The Wire. Heavens be praised! Not quite so happy about the idea that there's a "fleshed-out" part for Charlize Theron, who plays the wife. It's being made by the director of The Proposition, which was good but flawed (the voice-overs! The scenery-chewing English villain).

The Road is an absolute classic, a one-sitting read, and there's definitely a cinematic shape to the book — even if it is shockingly bleak. A film version would lose the quasi-biblical rhythm of the prose. On the other hand, the dialogue does a fair amount of the heavy lifting — think the conversation with the blind old man late in the book:

"What if I said that he's a god?" Ely replies: "I hope that's not true what you said because to be on the road with the last god would be a terrible thing so I hope it's not true." Ely suggests that it will be better when everybody has died. "Better for who?" asks the father. For everybody, says Ely, closing the scene with a rather lovely peroration, of the kind that gives this book its clear, deep sound: "When we're all gone at last then there'll be nobody here but death and his days will be numbered too. He'll be out in the road there with nothing to do and nobody to do it to. He'll say: where did everybody go? And that's how it will be. What's wrong with that?"

I'm rather less confident that Zak Snyder's going to pull off Watchmen, despite the attention to detail as evinced in his production blog. From a narrative point of view, it's just too nested, too self-recursive, and the ending is not exactly Hollywood gold. That said, 300 was vastly better than I'd been led to believe by critics who unaccountably found a movie of cartoonish slaughter and dubious ethnic stereotypes somehow offensive. Whatevs, Granpa:

Moore described the book as “unfilmable,” not least because of its narrative structure, with flashbacks, supplementary “research” and a comic-within-a-comic that serves to counterpoint events. In an interview with Amazon, Moore recounted his reaction to Terry Gilliam’s abortive 1989 attempt to turn “the War and Peace of graphic novels” into a film: “I had to tell [Gilliam] that I didn’t think it was filmable. I didn’t design it to show off the similarities between cinema and comics, which there are, but in my opinion are fairly unremarkable. It was designed to show off the things that comics could do that literature and cinema couldn’t.” In The Greatest Sci-Fi Movies Never Made, David Hughes quotes Gibbons making much the same point: “With a comic book the reader can back-track; you can reach page twenty and say, ‘Hey, that’s what that was all about on page three,’ and then nip back and have a look. We wanted to take advantage of that difference… We wanted to make a comic book that read as a straightforward story, but gradually you became aware that it had a symmetrical structure.”

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

I need to talk about we need to talk about Kevin

I finally got round to reading Lionel Shriver's We Need To Talk About Kevin.

First thoughts (excluding preambles such as, who calls their daughter Lionel?) are I'm annoyed I didn't read the damn thing sooner. As is so often the case, I buy vastly more books than I can read (Am I alone in this evil practice? Happily, no), and I bought this particular book over a year ago in Sydney, simply because it won the Orange Prize, which is good enough reason for me.

Anyway, after starting the book twice and being unable to get past the first two pages (more my fault than the book's), I finally persuaded Shana to read it. She loved it and wanted to talk about it. So I read it and my God if it isn't a brilliantly compulsive read.

17-year-old Kevin has slaughtered his fellow students and is now in prison. His mother, Eva, writes letters to her husband Franklin in an attempt to understand what made him do it. Was he driven to it by her inability to love him? Or was he simply born evil?

As we watch Kevin grow up and behave shockingly, we become the only other people in the universe who can see, along with Eva, the truth: that Kevin is a textbook sociopath... or is that just the self-justification of an unreliable narrator?

Shriver makes you turn the pages with that sort of righteous fury common to those novels or films where the protagonist is wrongly accused and can't prove their innocence; except in this case it's his guilt which she can't establish.

From forbidding beginning to appalled end, this is a wonderfully awful novel.

Shriver speaks to John Mullan about the book (but, as they say at the beginning, read the thing first)

More Bonny goodness

In honour of this man and his furious truth, I thought I'd post the following clip. I don't think I could wilfully underplay just how much that Friday's particular parade of reprobates, ne'erdowells and mediocrities stank up the Jools Holland that this clip's taken from.

But it all turned out alright in the end:

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Monday, May 12, 2008

Chelsea denied

Barney Ronay in The Guardian:

Credit to the losers as well. In the build-up Petr Cech had advanced the view that "history only remembers winners". Chelsea deserve a little better than this. This has been a wonderfully bloody-minded and cussed pursuit by a team with genuine steel, a quality it draws from its core of indomitable spirits in key positions. Under both Avram Grant and José Mourinho Chelsea might not have played with a consistently thrilling, gung-ho commitment to attack. But football would be a poorer, less satisfying business all round if there was no reward for this type of cussed, physically resilient, attritional brand of excellence. It's not supposed to be basketball.
And there's always Moscow.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Norm on The Great Fire

Reading Norm's post about Shirley Hazzard's The Great Fire, I'm forced to agree. That book has been pushed on me more than once by people who are, in all other respects, lucid, literate and sane. I've picked it up at least three times, determined to give it a fair go; but, every time, I've been defeated by its stylistic quirks.

Now I'm also no stickler for, let's say, lexical exactitude, so I'm not sure why this particular book enrages me so. A novel like the wonderful Fugitive Pieces also made me stop and re-read its lyrical sentences. But that was an intensely rewarding experience. With Great Fire, the quirks seem perilously close to being just mistakes. I'm quite sure they're not: she's an award-winning novelist, after all, and I'm very much not.

But take this sentence from the very first page (I quote from memory): "The platform faces faded into the expression of those that remain". Every time I prepare to lower myself into what I've been led to believe is the warm bath of the book's sensual poetry, I'm slapped about the chops with cold fish sentence like that. I can see what it means if peer at it closely; but the sentence was hardly worth reading once, let alone twice.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Clive James on Amy Winehouse

Typically sensationalist piece of piffle on C4 last night about Amy Winehouse. Most of what needs to be said gets said by Clive James:

When people say that you have a duty to your talent, they all too often mean that you have a duty to them. But they're misstating the case. The duty of the greatly talented is to life itself, because what they do is the consecration of life. I could end with something that Pavarotti once told me in his dressing room before I interviewed him. He wouldn't say it on air, for fear of sounding immodest. He said he knew his gift was from God. But perhaps a better ending would be what Philip Larkin said to the ghost of Sidney Bechet. "On me your voice falls as they say love should, like an enormous yes". Come on, kiddo. Give us a song.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

At our place in Greenford, there’s an exceptionally large garden, but it’s almost completely overgrown, having been abandoned for the better part of a decade. It’s strewn with molehills, anthills and knotty and ineradicable tufts of grass; and what used to be the vegetable patch is now just a tangled and impenetrable mass of brambles. Nevertheless, over the weekend, we managed to clear a few square feet of old patio. We can, we will, defeat nature! Failing that, a barbecue will do…

But all that rampant, ungovernable growth is impressive, even faintly scary. So, in honour of the “force that through the green fuse drives the flower”, here’s Song of the Earth, about monumental composer John Luther Adams.

And, talking of terrifying, here’s the Sacrificial Dance from Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring:

Wednesday, May 07, 2008


Why the haters are wrong about Mariah Carey:

But it is unfair to damn Carey for the sins of her lesser imitators or to judge her based on a set of musical values that she explicitly rejects. Emotion is not really the point of Carey's songs—not even when she's singing "Emotions."
Her music is first and foremost an expression of power and technical prowess. There is a place in pop for bombast, especially when it's coupled with virtuosity. I have learned to cherish Carey's singing for its brute force, blinding technique, and, yes, showboatiness—to place Mariah's vocal "runs" in the tradition of John Coltrane's "sheets of sound," the pummeling drumming of Led Zeppelin's John Bonham, and Eddie Van Halen's "Eruption" (aka the Magna Carta of shredding 1980s guitar solos).
Up to a point. Would you really want to listen to the melismatic equivalent of "Moby Dick" over and over again, like, forever?

Invisible Jukebox with Carl Craig

Tree of life continues to evolve:

God is just a Type 1 error. What's a type 1 error?

How much progress have pyschiatry and psychology really made?

The Onion: Researchers discover massive asshole in Blogosphere

Thursday, May 01, 2008


Extraordinary piece in the LRB by R.W. Johnson about the unfolding catastrophe in Zimbabwe.

Perhaps the most important thing about the election was that, because Mbeki and Mugabe had miscalculated so spectacularly, Zanu-PF was caught off-guard and for several days there was complete uncertainty. That period provided an aperture through which Zimbabweans could glimpse an alternative future – and many did. It was clear that, with a new democratic government, there would be immediate British and American help, quickly followed by the EU, the World Bank and IMF, with the emphasis on food aid and the restabilisation of the currency. One consequence would be that Zimbabwe would cease to be a client state of South Africa and instead become more generally dependent on developed country donors and investors. Doubtless, Mbeki and Mugabe would see this as a victory for neocolonialism, though one is bound to say that even if the prospect was described in those terms, ordinary Zimbabweans would happily vote for it.

Robert Downey Jr.

He was the best thing in Zodiac, which is saying something, and the best thing in A Scanner Darkly, which isn't. He's Robert Downey Jr. and he's a blinkin' genius. Christopher Orr in The New Republic gets it just right:

Is there any actor alive who takes more obvious delight in his line readings than Robert Downey Jr.? He is precise yet baroque, contemplating each word with casual bemusement as it leaves his mouth. Though he is one of modern cinema's fastest talkers, it's not because he's in a hurry to tell us anything. Rather, he seems to feel that once a remark has passed through his mind, it's already happened; uttering it aloud is almost an afterthought. It's a form of delivery at once self-deprecating and self-absorbed: Are his thoughts unworthy of being shared? Or are we just unworthy to hear them?