Friday, February 27, 2009

Live Review: Ane Brun at the Union Chapel

To the Union Chapel in Highbury, and what must surely be the finest venue in London if you like your music semi-sacred. Candles, pews, high windows, stained glass: most bands or singers would seem embarrassingly racous and ramshackle in such a perfect place. Not so Ane Brun. Over the course of an enthralling evening, she and her amazing singers fill the air with songs of powerful beauty every bit as marvellous as the architecture.

After the Fleet Foxes snooze fest, one tiny part of my brain had heretically wondered just how entralling an experience a girl with a guitar could possibly be. That part of my brain has been placed in stocks for a week of ritual humiliation: this was perhaps the most bewitching gig I've been to since the first time I saw Jeff Buckley. The acoustics in this wonderful space are so good, Brun singing solo would have been joy enough. But she was in fact joined by a girl's best friends, her "Diamonds", three sirens that provided the spell-binding harmonies that elevated this experience into the realm of the magical. So well did Ane and the singers from Wales, Norway and Sweden combine, that Ane would regularly stop playing for whole sections of songs so that we might experience the nape-prickling joy of four interweaving a cappella voices, swelling and swooping across the pews. Each singer got a rapturous reception: at one point, Ane mentioned that she's tempted to just shut up and listen to them sing. Happily for us, she joins in.

What an exquisite instrument her voice is! It's a head voice, capable of almost operatic highs (the chorus of "Armour" has the prettiness of chamber music), of suddenly swelling emphases from the chest and of long sinuous melodies on a single breath ("Baby we were made of gold", that last word hovering over four bars, and the ornamented melody of "Ten Seconds" over the lines "You're just hanging around with yourself" are examples).

Brun's songs hew to the chillier minor keys, but they nearly always admit sudden shafts of radiance. The framework is provided by her guitar playing. Her technique seems tantalising simple at first: basic finger-picking over open-tunings (she only started to play guitar at 21, using tab books). And yet, from such an unadorned style, she constructs beguiling grids of sound that flicker with unexpected blues and ghostly grace notes; peculiar chords keep falling towards the tonic like a series of endlessly opening trapdoors. It's not dissimilar to José González' finger-style. But where he has the more rigid classical technique, Brun has that crucial sigh in her playing, a willingness to use the dissonant chord where needed.

She doesn't always play the guitar. The aforementioned "Armour" has Ane at the piano, banging out that song's wittily simple rhythm. One of the Diamonds takes the keys for "Don't Leave", which frees Ane to concentrate on singing this marvelous song, dropping almost to a whisper for the verses before letting rip with the "It won't do us no good" chorus (I absolutely love this verse: "I have no plan to be/anywhere else but here/or to become someone that leaves/I didn’t even know there was an exit here/darling, don’t you try/to capture me", followed by "I am here now/I’m right here by your side/I’ll lay my hand on the couch next to you/you can hold it if you would like to/it will do you good".

Brun says at one point "here's another song about heartbreak": that's her best songs in a nutshell. It's not that they're confessional songs in the mode of, say, Joni Mitchell's Blue. The identity of the Other is rarely sketched; all the songs are about an 'I' or a 'you' and employ sometimes elaborate metaphors, as well as a good measure of wit, to approach the subject of pain. "The Puzzle" is a good example. Comparing the attempt to put yourself together again to solving a jigsaw puzzle is maybe not the most dazzling metaphor ever conceived. But it's how the metaphor plays out that's so fresh: "Clearly the corners were an easy start/ that was when everyone was still helping me out/ when it was time to fill in the frames/ they left – they thought I ought/ to have gotten over you by then". That's pretty desolate in anyone's book*. Here's a more wistful version of the same emotion: "I was gonna love you till the end of all daytime/ and I was gonna keep all our secret signs and our lullabies/I was made to believe that our love would grow old/we were gonna live in a tree house and make babies/ and we were gonna bury our ex-lovers and their ghosts/baby we were made of gold" ("The Tree House Song"). It's not all Red House Painters-style wrist-slashing: "What am I going to do?/ I will drink a bottle of wine over you" is followed by the sly "for me/it is red or nothing". And how's this for meta: "My friend/ You left me in the end/ I can't believe I'm writing a song/ Where friend rhymes with end".

There are so many self-lacerating lyrics, it's enough to make you wish you were heartbroken, just so you could grap these songs to your heart like a salve. But all Northern Europeans can appreciate the yearning for yearly change in "Changing of the Seasons" (which I happen to think is her best song). An unnamed man wakes after the "the best sleep he'd ever met" with his lover. But he can't help but to wonder whether he's satisfied, whether someone else should "meet his hazy anticipating eyes". The chorus is his: "Restlessness is me/you see/it´s hard to be safe/it´s difficult to be happy". He muses that his disenchantment is linked to the seasons, "the relief of spring/intoxication of summer rain/the clearness of fall /how winter makes me reconsider it all". So far, so faintly self-pitying. What elevates the song is the final verse, where his dreams melt away: "then she awakes/reaches for the embrace/he decides not to worry about seasons again". By this point, I'm normally a warm puddle.

Although I first heard Ane's music in 2006, I've resisted writing about her before (and not just out of sheer laziness). I've never been quite sure I could describe music this intimate, this powerful without descending into purple prose of the worst kind— more love-letter than review. Also I was superstitious about letting too much light in. How idiotic. Anyway, that can't be helped now since, if the universe is a fair and just place, many more people will soon get to hear this beguiling singer, who then fall head over heels in their turn.

Come the end, after a duet with support act Teitur on "Rubber & Soul" (home to the startling lyric "In my dreams I'm on your floor/vomiting and defeated"), a brilliant new song written in America ("This is a tour song. Don't worry, there isn't a tour album next") that features the f-bomb (only sung by the Welsh singer; the rest are too nervous to sing it in a church), and a breathtaking version of "True Colours", Ane and her singers get a standing ovation; they look genuinely delighted. It won't be their last.

*With a suitably windswept video too:

All pictures courtesy of Anika in London. Thanks!

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Fleet Foxes @ Roundhouse, 24/2/2009

Off to the Roundhouse for the Fleet Foxes, with support from The Acorn.

Dear reader, I confess we were more than a bit bored: The Acorn's album Glory Hope Mountain, which is very much cut from the same cloth as Fleet Foxes and which seemed so rich and strange just a month or two ago, sounded... kinda dull, even though they played it pretty much note for note. The vocal melodies all seem to twist in the same melodic directions and, while they have wistful shapes, they fail to snag on the heart or mind. Not being able to hear the lyrics doesn't help. Meanwhile, tempos don't vary, choruses don't happen, and dozing keeps seeming the most productive option.

As for the Fleet Foxes, I couldn't help but thinking that this was just about the whitest gig I've ever been too, with the whitest music. You can get off, if that's your thing, on their richly stacked harmonies. But there's no propulsion or funk. No-one moves so much as a muscle. It's utterly sexless music. Now, only a lunatic goes to see Fleet Foxes expecting to get down. But it sure seemed a bit strange that the crowd were most animated during the between-song banter.  The preserved-in-aspic aspect of the music is only emphasised with acoustic covers of folk 'classics' from 1972. Get thee away from me, Mr Sandman, I don't want to sleep this early.

The music they play comes way too easily to these musicians, and that ultimately has a lulling affect, one reason why I find the album difficult to listen to in one go. You yearn for something to cut to the quick, to stop your heart. The only song we could remember immediately upon leaving was "Mykonos". Compare and contrast Bon Iver at the Empire some months back. Ostensibly similar (they all sit down to play their instruments, for heaven's sake), their songs sounded handed down from heaven, and at a price.

Still, chief Fox Robin Pecknold is only, like, 22, and this is only their first album, so I expect we'll get something amazing in due course. Hey, here's a suggestion: if Bon Iver can be influenced by D'Angelo, maybe FF can get themselves some soul of their own. Jamiroquai maybe?

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Review: U2 - No Line On The Horizon (2009)

An orthodoxy of sorts seems to have hardened among decent right-thinking folk about U2: let's call it the Pop paradigm (wait! Come back!) According to this view, 1997's Pop was a grotesque overreaching attempt to stay relevant, overblown in some places, half-finished in others. Was that an attempt at a techno song? "Discoteque": huh? This isn't the U2 we know and love. Pop has gone down in U2's history as the Tap--like turd full stopping the ironic carnival that started with Achtung Baby! and which gifted us such steadily diminishing returns as Zooropa and, heaven help us, Passengers. Too many giant lemons, not enough joshua trees. That this critical trashing was merrily aided and abetted by the band themselves, eager to tell anyone who'd listen how the album had to be rushed to market so that they could get on the road for the Popmart Tour and how everything in future would be Back to Basics, yes indeed. The job of best rock band in the world is vacant, said a penitent Bono, and we're reapplying. Their reputation was only fully rehabilitated with the triumphant All That You Can't Leave Behind and confirmed with How To Dismantle an Atomic Bomb. So goes the orthodoxy.

Of course, the trouble with orthodoxies is that they're too often balls. Pop is perhaps my favourite U2 album, the subsequent two albums being, to these ears, all but unlistenable (not least because the very best songs have been played to death on TV and adverts)*. Pop came out the same year as albums like OK ComputerLadies and Gentleman We Are Floating In Space  and, um, sundry other great records (OK, alright: I was referring to Attack of the Grey Lantern). I was working in a Virgin Megastore at the time, and would often play them over the PA (somehow, all that great music is inextricably linked in my memory with the comet that was visible throughout that summer.) Pop has some of their best songs: "Please", "Gone" (which comes with a very atypical Bono chorus: "Goodbye/You can keep your suit of lights/I'll be up with the sun/I'm not coming down": Bobbie Gillepsie would have been proud), "Wake Up Dead Man", "Discoteque", "Mofo". That some of the songs on Pop are somewhat sparse works in the record's favour: where the band's subsequent output tends towards bloated maximalism, all the joy and spontaneity crushed ruthlessly from the songs by an obsessive working and reworking, Pop's best songs sound conjured from thin air, alchemised by four guys who go way back just playing in a room. 

The last two records... actually I can't remember a great deal about the last two records, since I listened to them all the way through only a handful of times. They certainly seemed horriblenot an ounce of wit or playfulness, too many chants written explicitly for the stadium (don't U2 at their best sound like they're playing just for you, not a stadium; even if that is, in fact, what they're doing?) But precisely because I owe this damn band an enormous (yes) debt of gratitude, I imagine I'll always have to listen to whatever they put out between here and the day they stop. And so here's No Line On The Horizon. Are they redeemed?

Yes. More or less. This album has the band's best songs since Pop, even if there are a couple of now-obligatory mid-tempo clunkers. The lyrics stay mostly on the right side of embarrassing, Bono's still in fine voice, the songs about Africa are happily absent, the production from Lanois and Eno (listed as band members in the sleeve notes) is frequently amazing. The title track is a mysterious swamp of guitars and bass, Kings of Leon by way of the Glistening Chimes of Eno.** "Magnificent", despite its hostage-to-fortune title, is a triumph, actually, with a piping little keyboard hook in the chorus that's just swell; "Moment of Surrender" has some lovely unexpected  chords; "Stand-up Comedy" is blithely self-referential and "Unknown Caller"'s chorus is nicely odd. 

The best songs come last. "Fez" swirls coquettishly before deploying the big Edge chords, the single let's just say it at least makes sense on the album, and "Cedars of Lebanon" is another downbeat album closer much in the mold of "Love Is Blindness". So. If U2 are never quite going to get back to the restless spirit that created "Hold Me Thrill Me Kiss Me Kill Me" or "Lemon" or "Numb" or Zooropa's title track, then so be it. But this'll do.

*Though it's worth noting here that the band's tendency, since at least All That You Can't Leave Behind and the Best Ofs, for offensive clipping and too much loudness. I suspect that this album is no different: there are a number of songs where what should be the thrilling in-rush of Edge's guitar sounds no louder than what went before. You know you're in trouble when a supposedly quiet verse with no guitar is no quieter than the subsequent verse with guitar. Try "Until The End of the World" for an example of sane mastering: when Edge's guitar solo comes in, it sounds like the song suddenly enters a fourth dimension.

** Can someone call a band that please?

Friday, February 20, 2009

"Roger's Version" - John Updike

Roger's Version had been sitting unloved on our shelves for the better part of a year before it finally got read. I think I saw an extract in Hitchen's Portable Atheist and was immediately moved to buy the book. But it took Updike to die before I finally picked up the book. What a heartless bastard I am. Anyway, Roger's Version concerns a theology professor (and we get to hear a lot about theology) and his tussles with a student of computer animation (and we get to hear a lot about computer animation) concerning the younger man's belief that God is on the verge of being revealed by advances in astrophysics (and we get to hear a lot about etc). Less cerebrally, the student is sleeping with Roger's wife (although 'sleeping with' is precisely the kind of periphrasis Updike avoids: their couplings are described in unflinching detail).

While this is going on, Roger has made contact with his niece, some white trash living in the projects of this (as far as I can tell) unnamed city. And, while he tries and fails to persuade her to get schooling, he is also seduced by her to the extant he feels that he must protect her when she hits her child, risking his good name and that of the school of divinity to which he belongs in the process.

So, not a great deal of all that much happens. But there are some fabulous set pieces. Roger's inventorising the city in which he lives and the way it changes as he moves downtown; his first theological tête-à-tête with Dale (the conceit being that Roger has all but given up believing in God: "there are so few things which, contemplated, do not like flimsy trapdoors open under the weight of our attention into the bottomless pit below"); Dale's breakdown in front his computer's infinite fractals; and a marvelous scene at dinner-party where Roger's colleague casually dismantles Dale's argument from design.

There are brilliances on every page: Updike really does, in his phrase, "get it all in". I had earlier abandoned In The Beauty of the Lillies halfway through. That's going to have to go back on my to-read list; and then, it's time for Rabbit.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Let’s see the 'criticism' of Israel for what it really is

The new anti-semitism: essential reading from Howard Jacobson in The Indie.

A discriminatory, over-and-above hatred, inexplicable in its hysteria and virulence whatever justification is adduced for it; an unreasoning, deranged and as far as I can see irreversible revulsion that is poisoning everything we are supposed to believe in here – the free exchange of opinions, the clear-headedness of thinkers and teachers, the fine tracery of social interdependence we call community relations, modernity of outlook, tolerance, truth. You can taste the toxins on your tongue.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Zeitgeist Corner: Frank O'Hara

Dear reader, since you are an educated person of quite outstanding taste and learning, no doubt you are familiar with the poetical works of Frank O'Hara. I salute you and your greater commitment to self-improvement. Despite being a big fish in the poetry pond, O'Hara is news to me.

Oddly, this didn't stop O'Hara's writings being at the heart of two quite distinct creative works in this last week. The first of these was Zadie Smith's Speaking in Tongues, a spellbinding lecture she gave for the New York Review of Books (an audio version is available here). Her theme was voice and register, of the perils of moving from on to the other, and of authenticity. She described her own loss of a 'real' London voice as she tried on the voice of the academy, to Eliza Doolittle, a heroine who really suffered for her loss of voice, all the way up to Barack Obama. It's a bloody marvelous piece which should be read immediately. Here's a bit that chimes:

Voice adaptation is still the original British sin. Monitoring and exposing such citizens is a national pastime, as popular as sex scandals and libel cases. If you lean toward the Atlantic with your high-rising terminals you're a sell-out; if you pronounce borrowed European words in their original style—even if you try something as innocent as parmigiano for "parmesan"—you're a fraud. If you go (metaphorically speaking) down the British class scale, you've gone from Cockney to "mockney," and can expect a public tar and feathering; to go the other way is to perform an unforgivable act of class betrayal. Voices are meant to be unchanging and singular. There's no quicker way to insult an ex-pat Scotsman in London than to tell him he's lost his accent. We feel that our voices are who we are, and that to have more than one, or to use different versions of a voice for different occasions, represents, at best, a Janus-faced duplicity, and at worst, the loss of our very souls.

Whoever changes their voice takes on, in Britain, a queerly tragic dimension. They have betrayed that puzzling dictum "To thine own self be true," so often quoted approvingly as if it represented the wisdom of Shakespeare rather than the hot air of Polonius. " What's to become of me? What's to become of me?" wails Eliza Doolittle, realizing her middling dilemma. With a voice too posh for the flower girls and yet too redolent of the gutter for the ladies in Mrs. Higgins's drawing room.

The lecture's second half is about what Keats called (rather clunkily?) negative capability, the skill of being able to fully inhabit other voices as if they were your own, of "being in uncertainties, Mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason", a talent we venerate in writers but abhor in politicians. Smith reaches the tentative hope that Obama's obvious gifts as a writer won't inhibit him a man of action. And then we get this:

Being many-voiced may be a complicated gift for a president, but in poets it is a pure delight in need of neither defense nor explanation. Plato banished them from his uptight and annoying republic so long ago that they have lost all their anxiety. They are fancy-free.

"I am a Hittite in love with a horse," writes Frank O'Hara.

I don't know what blood's
in me I feel like an African prince I am a girl walking downstairs
in a red pleated dress with heels I am a champion taking a fall
I am a jockey with a sprained ass-hole I am the light mist
in which a face appears
and it is another face of blonde I am a baboon eating a banana
I am a dictator looking at his wife I am a doctor eating a child
and the child's mother smiling I am a Chinaman climbing a mountain
I am a child smelling his father's underwear I am an Indian
sleeping on a scalp
and my pony is stamping in
the birches,
and I've just caught sight of the
Niña, the Pinta and the Santa
What land is this, so free?

Frank O'Hara's republic is of the imagination, of course. It is the only land of perfect freedom. Presidents, as a breed, tend to dismiss this land, thinking it has nothing to teach them. If this new president turns out to be different, then writers will count their blessings, but with or without a president on board, writers should always count their blessings. A line of O'Hara's reminds us of this. It's carved on his gravestone. It reads: "Grace to be born and live as variously as possible."

Well, at this point, I was as bowled over as you can be in the lifts at Convent Garden station. This sounds like a poet I want to read more of, even if he's light-years from the tight little metrical constructions of a Larkin or an Auden or whoever: I do like a good poetical list, scansion be damned*.

And then, the first episode of Season Two of Mad Men (the absence of which I think explains our winter melancholy better than any putative lack of daylight). It was a sheer delight. I'm especially addicted to those moments when Don Draper looks into the middle distance and enunciates to his less-gifted flock some hitherto-unguessed-at principle of advertising. This week: "Why do men fly?" Do tell, Don! "They fly because they want to escape the city. They fly because they want to see a skirt that is one inch too high." *applause* (Next week: "What do men want? They don't to eat eggs. They want to go to work on them. Work something out won't you."

Anyway, the episode culminated in a Don voice-over, a reading from— yes, you're way ahead of me— Frank O'Hara's Meditations in an Emergency: "Now I am quietly waiting for/ the catastrophe of my personality/ to seem beautiful again/ and interesting, and modern".

Wow. Of course, since these things come in threes, my radar is now fully extended. I won't be at all surprised if today's winner of the 3:30 from Chepstow is called 'O'Hara's Paradox'

*Like Borge's certain Chinese encyclopaedia that divides animals into those: (a) belonging to the emperor, (b) embalmed, (c) tame, (d) sucking pigs, (e) sirens, (f) fabulous, (g) stray dogs, (h) included in the present classification, (i) frenzied, (j) innumerable, (k) drawn with a very fine camel-hair brush, (l) et cetera, (m) having just broken the water pitcher, (n) that from a long way off look like flies.

That's a list.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Darwin and Lincoln and Hornets and Bees

Couldn't get through the day without a tip of the hat to those two great emancipators, Charly Darwin and Abe Lincoln, who were both born on this day in 1809. Two connected items for your edification and delight.

Item 1: Orgel's second law: evolution is cleverer than you are. The European honeybee was introduced into Japan because of its high honey yield. But there is a local predator for whom honeybee grubs make a delicious snack for their voracious young. Scouting for bees, Vespa mandarinia or the Asian giant hornet, will leave a chemical mark on a ripe hive and then return with a raiding party of 30 or so individuals. When the raiders arrived, the bees are doomed: the hornet, five times bigger than a bee, rapidly makes bee-meat out the hapless invaders, scything through the nest at speed: one hornet can sever 40 bee heads a minute. So a small scouting party can annihilate a nest within a couple of hours: that's 30 hornets killing 30,000 bees.

Of course, this being natural selection, the story doesn't end there. When a hornet scout discovers a local hive, the Japanese honey bee is ready:

Secondly, general rejoicing chez my house at the news that gentleman essayist Adam Gopnik has published a new book. Entitled Angels and Ages, the book looks at Lincoln and Darwin's careers as writers and how their unique mastery of language meant their impact was that much richer and deeper than if they had simply been great men content to leave the speechifying or explicating to others. Read the first chapter; if the book's as good as Paris to the Moon or Through The Children's Gate, it should be a treat. How much of a treat? Well, Gopnik's quite marvelous essay on CS Lewis, with its ringing peroration in defence of the fantastic, is still the only piece of literary criticism that can moisten my eyes):

Poetry and fantasy aren’t stimulants to a deeper spiritual appetite; they are what we have to fill the appetite. The experience of magic conveyed by poetry, landscape, light, and ritual, is . . . an experience of magic conveyed by poetry, landscape, light, and ritual. To hope that the conveyance will turn out to bring another message, beyond itself, is the futile hope of the mystic. Fairy stories are not rich because they are true, and they lose none of their light because someone lit the candle. It is here that the atheist and the believer meet, exactly in the realm of made-up magic. Atheists need ghosts and kings and magical uncles and strange coincidences, living fairies and thriving Lilliputians, just as much as the believers do, to register their understanding that a narrow material world, unlit by imagination, is inadequate to our experience, much less to our hopes.

The religious believer finds consolation, and relief, too, in the world of magic exactly because it is at odds with the necessarily straitened and punitive morality of organized worship, even if the believer is, like Lewis, reluctant to admit it. The irrational images—the street lamp in the snow and the silver chair and the speaking horse—are as much an escape for the Christian imagination as for the rationalist, and we sense a deeper joy in Lewis’s prose as it escapes from the demands of Christian belief into the darker realm of magic. As for faith, well, a handful of images is as good as an armful of arguments, as the old apostles always knew.

If there's writing half as good in this new book, I'll be one delighted bunny.

Saul Bass head-shrink

Saul Bass, he of the awesome credit sequences for Hitchcock, Preminger et al, also designed book covers. Check out this psychology textbook. Could just have easily been a Kafka cover.

[More on the credit sequences here.]

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Elbow redux

More evidence that the licence fee would be a snip at half the price, Elbow performed all of the Seldom Seen Kid with the BBC Concert Orchestra. Listen to "Grounds for Divorce":

Check out the choir giving the terrace chanting some real welly. And how the guitar irruptions are thrillingly augmented by the string section. Oof...

The whole thing is available in the UK until Saturday.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Christian Bale: are we human?

Actually no (or should that be not? The Killers have permanently messed with my mind). Here's an audio of Christian Bale throwing a colossal wobbler.

Monday, February 02, 2009

Attenborough on Darwin

I'd been dreaming of a programme like Charles Darwin and the Tree of Life (BBC) for much of my life: something to tie together all those magisterial series, from Life on Earth to Planet Earth. But, for a prime-time BBC1 show, this was better than I could have hoped for. It was stunning, moving stuff, Attenborough at his twinkly authoritative best (and ably abetted by Steve Jones as the show's science consultant).

The programme sketched Darwin's journey from tyro naturalist stupified by the endless forms most beautiful he encountered on his voyages (his journal's thumbnail sketch of the tree of life appended with a tentative "I think") all the way to his statue's recent usurpation of great rival Richard Owen in the Natural History Museum. There were some terrific closely argued sequences (yes, but what about the eye? What about the gaps? What about the distribution of species? Let me explain, said David, filling in those gaps that baffled even Darwin) and, finally, a wonderful animated sequence limning the milestones on the journey of life, from the pre-Cambrian explosion to the evolution of man, refuting the biblical notion of our dominion over the earth and triumphantly putting us in our rightful place, as close to to great apes as lions are to tigers (cue slo-mo footage of the big cats and the humble house cat).

There was one but one way this show could have been improved, and that would have been a discussion of parasites (I know, I know: always with the parasites). Attenborough himself has talked about how he can't believe that a benevolent God would ever have decided that creating Loa Loa, a parasitic worm that lives in the Human Eyeball causing river blindness, was a good idea. It would, perhaps, have been slightly icky viewing for a Sunday evening; but there have been some awesome sequences in previous series: the fluke pulsing psychedelically in the eye of a snail from Trials of Life lives with me still (the image, not the fluke). Sadly I can't find the clip: why no-one would upload a 20 year-old clip of a humble snail suffering a nightmarish parasitical infestation is quite beyond me.