Brian Micklethwait's Blog
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- Wedding photography (4): Preparations
- Bookshops as Amazon showrooms
- Reflections on a strange coincidence involving an Android app and a malfunctioning bus stop sign
- Feynman Diagrams on the Feynman van
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- Wedding photography (3): Technology as sculpture
- And another posting from my smartphone
- Posted from my new smartphone
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- Wedding photography (2): Signs
- Wedding photography (1): The superbness of the weather
- A Fleet Street lunch
- So painters also used to “take” pictures
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Category archive: Pop music
It is now Monday afternoon, but the end of my Thursday Odyssey is hardly yet in site.
My next stop was at Gramex, where second hand classical CDs are on sale, in particular abundance during the last week or two, as it happens.
The BBC is making a big fuss of LPs just now. Fair enough. LPs had a huge influence on the music being created at the time. Pop music was transformed, for a while, by the album, as was Pop Art, the album cover being a new arena for graphic fun and games of all kinds. Remember all those concept albums?
I just about do, but for me, Pop etc. was a parallel universe. I never disliked it, in fact I admired and admire it very much, and I like occasional pop tracks hugely. Pop is hugely better than recent “classical”, classical being basically a museum now. But despite all that, then as now, I still preferred and prefer classical, and for all but a few vinyl-obsessed classicists, the LP was never more than a means of reproduction, a window to look out at the classical garden, and a very ropey one at that what with all the clicks and scratches, particularly during your favourite bits. Classical music was a going concern long before recordings of any kind existed, and classical LP graphics never amounted to much more than pictures of the musicians, fancy ye-olde typography and/or kitschy chocolate box type landscapes. So when classical LPs were replaced by classical CDs, little was lost and a universe of distraction-free clarity was gained. CDs, certainly classical CDs, after a brief interlude of euphoric demand-driven bonanza profits, quickly got cheaper than LPs if you knew anything about how to buy them, on account of them being so much cheaper to make and distribute.
At first, people thought CDs would eventually disintegrate, but actually what was disintegrating was the CD players. CDs last for ever, provided you are minimally careful. Certainly mine all have, the only problem CDs being the ones that were scratched when I bought them. Crucial to the cheapness of CDs is that you can buy them second hand with reasonable confidence. On Amazon, sellers are terrified of a bad rating, and in shops, you can search out scratches for yourself. Often a shop will let you buy and try, and return if it is too much of a mess. Often what looks like a mess plays just fine. (The trick is to realise that scratches often don’t matter, provided they point towards the middle, as it were. The ones that go with the groove, sideways, because they seriously interrupt the one stream of digital stuff, are the killers.)
So for me, classical CDs were love at first sound. I keep wondering if I may soon stop buying them, but the sort I continue to buy, second-hand at Gramex or (more recently) from Amazon, continue to drift downwards in price.
Here is what I bought at Gramex on Thursday:
I paid only eight quid for those. And the one on the left is a double, which I have been looking for cheap for quite a while. Look for them on Amazon, here and here, and you discover (today anyway) that you would have to pay more like thirty quid for those. Plus, there is no postage to pay if you buy them in Gramex, like there is with Amazon. The cheaper the stuff you like to buy, the more that matters.
Which, along with the exercise I get from going there, is why I keep returning to Gramex. Boss Roger Hewland knows exactly what he is doing. He knows all about Amazon, and regularly checks prices there so as to go below them. He buys big collections for about one quid per CD, often within a minute of looking at them. He then piles them high, sells them cheap, and turns over his stock fast. He knows that getting four quid for something he sells in two days is a better deal for him than getting a tenner, but a month later. And he charges more like one quid for less desirable CDs, just to get rid of them and to make it worthwhile for his regulars to keep on visiting.
More and more regular shops won’t or can’t think like this, and in the face of online selling are just folding their tents, to be replaced by gift shops, restaurants and coffee shops. The latter two being what I did next.
First I went to Marie’s Thai Restaurant, a minute away along Lower Marsh from Gramex, and had my regular chicken and cashoo nuts with rice and a glass of orange juice, and then killed some more time in a Cafe Nero, while continuing to read about Tamerlane, in a book I recently bought for four quid in a remainder shop. He was born. He deceived. He tortured. He slaughtered. He conquered. He died. His vast empire immediately fell apart amidst further slaughter. What a pointless monster. Read about all that and tell me there’s no such thing as progress.
Coffee shops do puzzle me a bit, though. How to do they pay their rent? The morning and lunchtime rushes I suppose, which I avoid.
I don’t always do cats here on Fridays, but I often do. For me they signify the fundamental point of this blog, which is to entertain, and in particular to entertain me, rather than just to be serious and political about everything. There is more to life than the fact, if fact it be, that the politicians are making a mess of everything. So it was that, when on my recent trip to France, I kept half an eye open for cats.
Another thing I found myself snapping was motorbikes. The French really seem to love their motorbikes, perhaps because their roads are longer and emptier than they are in Britain.
So imagine my delight when, wandering around the centre of Quimper of an evening, I came across this:
And I wasn’t the only one who felt that this was suitable material for digitalised immortality:
My favourite snap of a fellow digital photographer in Cat-on-Harley action being this one:
Was the cat in any way disconcerted by all this attention? On the contrary:
The cat loved it.
Here, I hope you will agree, is the appropriate song, sung by one of the all time great French sex kittens. (I actually have this on CD.)
Some months ago I began reading The Rest is Noise by Alex Ross, which is a blow by blow account of twentieth century classical music. Reading and greatly enjoying.
Trouble is, it’s a very big book, even in paperback, which makes it not-ideal for carrying around London, travelling being one of the main ways I read books. (No internet to distract.) So, despite liking this book a lot, I now realise that I stopped reading it and that I switched to a succession of other equally enticing volumes that were not so big. I am only now back with it, having resumed at a time when I was at home, but de-internetted by new computer turmoil.
On page 317, Ross says something I have long thought, but never myself put into written down words, or even said out loud very much:
Hollywood may have been hazardous territory for composers, but they at least felt wanted there, as they never did in American concert halls. The shift to talkies had created a mania for continuous sound. Just as actors in screwball comedies had to talk a mile a minute, composers were called upon to underline every gesture and emphasize every emotion. An actress could hardly serve a cup of coffee without having fifty Max Steiner strings swoop in to assist her. ("What that awful music does,” Bette Davis once said to Gore Vidal, “is erase the actor’s performance, note by note.")
Well said, Bette.
But things improved. Ross continues:
Early movie scores had a purely illustrative function, which composers called “Mickey-Mousing”: if a British frigate sails into the frame, “Rule, Britannia” plays. Later, composers introduced techniques of musical distancing and irony, along the lines of Sergei Eisenstein’s counterpointing of image and sound. Music could be used to reveal a hidden psychological subtext, ...
Indeed. There then follows an admiring description of the music written for The Grapes of Wrath by Aaron Copland. Very influential, says Ross.
This soundtrack-composer-usurping-the-actors style of movie music only completely died out in the sixties and seventies, when they started using pop music for soundtracks, music with an insistent beat of its own which is quite unable to supply this kind of detailed and non-rhythmic “help” for actors. What a relief that was. Suddenly the actors were revealed as able to act perfectly well without such help. Every so often, I watch an old movie on the telly, starring someone like Doris Day, and suddenly we are back with that awful oh-look-she’s-adjusting-her-hat, she’s-a-bit-sad, ooh-now-Rock-Hudson-has-just-cheered-her-up style of movie musical accompaniment. I realise now that Doris Day was perhaps not a completely god-awful film actress with all the subtlety of a container ship trying to win a round-the-harbour speedboat race. It was just that the people writing, directing, editing and musically accompanying Doris Day’s performances were all tasteless idiots.
Another reason I am now reading The Rest is Noise is that I recently attended a lecture given by Ross at the British Library. The lecture rather outstayed its welcome, for me. Ross had about twenty interesting minutes worth of stuff to say about descending base lines as a way of signalling sorrowfulness in sorrowful songs, but took an hour to say it. Nevertheless, the point was a good one and there were many delightful musical illustrations, my favourite being when he played “Hit the Road Jack”.
Afterwards, having already read and liked some of the earlier Alex Ross book, I bought a signed copy of the latest one. But, not having finished reading the previous book, I wanted to do that first.
No welcomes outstayed in either of these books, or not so far. Almost every page of them contains stuff just as worthy of blogvertisement as the above bit that I happened to choose. And if, when you are reading a book, you fancy a break, you can have one. Lectures happen in lecture time. Books can be read in your own time.
Except that in this cat-themed promotion of the latest “fragrance for women” - Purr - being pushed this Christmas by pop songstress Katy Perry, nobody makes use of this obvious pun, because now a perfume is always a “fragrance”. About fifty years ago, or whenever it was, they had a meeting, and decided that from now on it wasn’t “scent” or “perfume”, but “frangrance”. At first people sniggered. Pull the other one. But now, “fragrance” is a normal word, used by normal people:
That’s my dimly lit photo of a poster for this in the Tube. Better version of the same picture here.
Time was when this kind of thing was a “stage” in a pop career. First you sang songs. Then after about a decade, you decided you weren’t getting any younger, had babies to pay for, had financial frauds to recover from, husbands to buy off, and decided to launch a range of nickers or “fragrance” or some such thing, to enable you to go on living in the manner that you were now accustomed to. Now, the fragrance angle seems to be part of it from the start.
County cricket blogging warning. Blogging about county cricket force four to six, imminent:
Paul Sheldon, the Surrey chief executive, has criticised the ‘frenetic’ schedule in this season’s Friend Provident t20 and has called for a reduced Twenty20 competition to be fit into a four-week window next year.
According to Cricinfo, Surrey are now playing against Middlesex even as I blog, in the early evening, and are then scheduled to start their next game in Cardiff tomorrow at 1am. Well, that’s what 01:00 local time and 00:00 GMT means, isn’t it? It has to mean 1pm, and 12:00 GMT, but perhaps Sheldon has been working to this schedule, in which case no wonder he thinks things are a bit frenetic. To say nothing of spectator unfriendly.
[FRIDAY MORNING: This has now been corrected. The match begins not at 1pm, which would also have been pretty frenetic, travelwise, but at 6.30pm. Was there a riot at 1am this morning when play failed to begin? Somehow I doubt it.]
But that’s a mere typo. Something far stranger than that happened in another recent t20 game, one between Northants and Yorkshire on July 2nd, as this slightly-shrunk-to-fit screensave shows:
If there is just one ball left in a limited overs game, and the batting side has to score twelve runs to avoid losing and one more than that to win, what’s the one thing you absolutely must not do? Correct. You mustn’t bowl a no ball. Bowl any other sort of crap ball so long as it’s legal, and the batsman can hit it out of the ground and for that matter out of the county, but the batsman can only get six runs no matter how far and how magnificently he hits it, the game is over and the bowling side wins.
But look what Richard Pyrah did. And Boje hit it for six, and could then have won the match for Northants had he hit the next and genuinely final ball for six also. As it was he hit the last ball for a mere four and it was a tie, snatched by Pyrah from the jaws of victory and handed to Yorkshire on a plate.
Quoth Cricinfo about Pyrah:
Richard Pyrah is batting allrounder who has carved a niche for himself with some steady performances in one-day cricket. His Championship efforts have been less sparkling, ...
Lucky for him he’s a batting allrounder, or that moment of madness could have cost him his entire career. It still might:
It will be interesting to see if the Yorkshire cricket history books will be kind enough to judge Richard Pyrah as simply unfortunate. But the 27-year-old all-rounder earned himself a place in Yorkshire folklore by conceding 12 off the final ball of a Twenty20 match to hand Northamptonshire a tie.
This Cricinfo report of the game, in particular its headline, gives Nicky Boje the credit for this circumstance, mentioning Pyrah’s astonishing blunder only in passing. Yet, excellent though Boje’s slogging was, it was Pyrah who did the truly remarkable thing here, not Boje. If an England footballer had done anything as inept as this during the World Cup, it would have been been front page news, and he would be notorious for ever.
This guy explains how well Pyrah has bowled in other games, and points out that it was a no ball on height rather than because he overstepped the line.
So how the hell is that a no ball? He hit it for six. A no ball for height is if it is too high to hit, isn’t it?
And Yorkshire fans who boo Richard Pyrah are not Yorkshire fans at all.
Pyrah vs Northants home 4-0-19-1 (won)
Pyrah vs Lancs 3.1-0-11-2 (won)
Pyrah vs Leics 4-0-19-2 (won)
Pyrah vs Notts 4-0-17-1 (won)
As a defence of Pyrah’s future career, that’s fine, but I’m afraid it doesn’t excuse the no ball. Pyrah either does know the rules or should have. Obeying them was all he had to do. Anyone could have done this. I could have done this. Boje’s treatment of my ball would have slightly worsened the earth orbit debris problem, but it would not have been a no ball and Yorkshire would have won. As we bloggers say: epic fail.
These guys at Betfair are right on the money, their money:
unbelievable knocked the commentary off with 13 needed of one ball or whatever it was waiting for my profit can’t believe what happened
How much did that bloke lose, I wonder?
It goes to show you never can tell.
Lynn, whose blog is a cornucopia of links to fun stuff and a true shrine to the proposition that your blog is whatever you want it to be, always seems to include copious links to felinity, and I particular recommend link number 2 in this posting, to here, my favourite of the pictures there being this:
The cat is singing a song to itself, called “Three lions on a wall”. Don’t worry if you don’t get this.
But I also clicked on bridge on the right, and found my way to a whole new treasure trove of bridgery, of which my favourite, one of these (although pictures keep being added so you may need to go back another page now), was this, which is in Moscow:
Never seen that before.
Too many of these bridge photos have been very obviously photoshopped, in a (deeply misguided) style of photo post-production all its own. This involves ludicrously unconvincing and garish colours and clouds that are absurdly sculpted and detailed, and I hate it, hate it, hate it. In the days when most of us didn’t know how this was done, okay. Tasteless and ghastly, but okay. But now, what does this prove, other than that you have no taste? Such fakery makes what to start with may have been quite decent snaps look like those tacky backlit pictures you see in cheap Chinese and Indian restaurants, only far worse. But, in among such photo-ghastliness are to found many fine snaps, which look like they look pretty much exactly like what they are of, like the one above. Plus there is the fact that a great bridge horribly photoed can then be chased up and seen in nice photos.
“Pixhaus”, which is where these snaps are, is now moving to a new platform, exclamation mark, for which you have to register, blah blah. So if you feel as I do about such stuff, look now, or for ever not go there again.
I probably wouldn’t be mentioning them, but for the fact that their name is so very appropriate to describe the photos I took of them.
It happened as I wandered south through Leicester Square on my way to my favourite eatery in London, the West End Kitchen in Panton Street, past the WhateverItIs Cinema, where there was a small celebrity-type scrimmage of onlookers. I joined them.
At first I was attracted by this spectacle:
So, who or what had these Real Photographers assembled to photo? The answer was not long in arriving. Four blokes:
Going by the signs all over the front door of the cinema, I assumed that these men were some or all of the pop group Blur. And so, when I got home and looked at what I had (my camera’s eyesight being a lot better than mine), it proved. At first I thought that Blur lead vocalist Damon Albarn had been replaced for the evening - surely not permanently? - by TV chef and Sainsbury food flogger Jamie Oliver. That’s certainly who the one in the hat looks like in the picture on the right there. But further analysis of my other even blurrier Blur pictures convinced me that it really was Albarn, just with more ginger hair and more hatness than usual.
I really should have followed the example of the Real Photographers, and used a bit of flash, at least some of the time. For a better celebrity snap by me, see this, from way back. I do love daylight.
The only proper mention on the www that I have so far found concerning the above eventlet is this pre-announcement:
Tomorrow, january 14th, will take place the red carpet premiere at London’s Leicester Square. All four members of the band are expected to attend this event.
The red carpet premier, that is to say, of a movie about Blur. That’s from a fan-blog in honour of the one in the duffel coat, Graham Coxon, who is a guitarist, and who left Blur in 2002.
Photoed by me in a charity shop, this afternoon:
Bizarre. And what does it say under the bit where it says: “THE SHA MEN”?
Says Alan Campbell “Cams” of the Isle of Arran, Scotland, that being his real name, in his Amazon review of this record:
It has aged well and I would say that this album in particular of the Shamen’s has earned a place in musical history. It was groundbreaking stuff at the time, a sort of pre-techno, pre-industrial mix of music that was very refreshing at the time.
For those more familiar with the Ebeneezer Goode era of the Shamen, I would recommend this if only to see where they were coming from; and what is a raspberry infundibulum anyway?
What indeed? All that Google tells us is that it is in one of the lyrics on “In Gorbachev We Trust”, by The Shamen, which gets us nowhere.
0 of 2 people found that, which was written in September 2002, helpful. So, now that’s 1 of 3.
I remember writing a letter to an American lady friend during the eighties, in which I said that I too trusted in Gorbachev, to bring the USSR crashing down in ruins. More exactly, what I think I said was that although Gorbachev is, on balance, probably not a CIA agent, if he is a CIA agent, then he is doing a superb job and should carry on doing exactly what he is already doing because it is working an absolute treat.
I am slowly reading through The Rest Is Noise by Alex Ross. Slowly, because this is too big a book to be lugging around on my travels in London, and my travels in London are when I do a lot of my reading. To any readers wanting to know more than they know now about twentieth century classical music and the people who composed it, I heartily recommend it. It requires no knowledge of musical notation or musical jargon to read, for one of the most notable features of the Ross achievement is that he is able to write descriptively about music, which is, as anyone who has tried will know, very hard to do well.
I am now at the chapter on Weimar Berlin, Mahagonny, etc.. The previous chapter featured Sibelius, and here are a couple of good quotes to illustrate how well-written, entertaining and informative this book is.
First, here is Ross explaining how the almost instant public admiration, and not just in Finland, that greeted Sibelius contrasted with critical suspicion (p. 175 of my paperback edition):
Mainstream audiences may lag behind the intellectual classes in appreciating the more adventurous composers, but sometimes they are quicker to perceive the value of music that the politicians of style fail to comprehend. Nicolas Slonimsky once put together a delightful book tided Lexicon of Musical Invective, anthologizing wrongheaded music criticism in which now canonical masterpieces were compared to feline caterwauling, barnyard noises, and so on. Slonimsky should also have written a Lexicon of Musical Condescension, gathering high-minded essays in which now canonical masterpieces were dismissed as kitsch, with a long section reserved for Sibelius.
The fourth Sibelius’ symphony is more shockingly modernistic than his earlier works, and here Ross describes the Finnish reaction to that (p. 180):
When the Fourth Symphony had its first performance, in April 1911, Finnish audiences were taken aback. “People avoided our eyes, shook their heads,” Aino Sibelius recalled. “Their smiles were embarrassed, furtive or ironic. Not many people came backstage to the artists’ room to pay their respects.” This was a Skandalkonzert in Scandinavian style, a riot of silence.
Aino being his wife.
Finally, a quote from Sibelius himself. Sibelius was famously fond of alcohol, and also smoked a lot, but despite it all he lived to the age of ninety-one. Sibelius described this thus (p. 191):
“ All the doctors who wanted to forbid me to smoke and to drink are dead.”
The Rest is Noise has merits too numerous to list, but one in particular, for me, stands out, which is that Ross is always aware of what was going on in the popular culture at the times he describes, and especially of course in popular music. Another thing I like is that he is always aware of the wider historical setting in general. I am not just learning more about twentieth century music by reading this book. I am learning more about the twentieth century.
On the left, the logo of the Libertarian Alliance, a bit fuzzy because it’s a long time I’ve had much to do with it, and it seldom now gets to be that big, ...
... and on the right, the newly minted logo of Linkin Park, a popular music combo from, I believe, California USA, although I could be mistaken about that. I am not a devotee.
I rootled around on the internet for some clue as to their political stance, until I could no longer stand the din that accompanied many of my researches. So far as I can tell, they are capitalists, but of the sort who are happy to echo the iconography of much nastier and more anti-capitalist people. They have a reassuringly vast collection of merchandise for sale, adorned with their pseudo-revolutionary iconography, which you can obtain by parting with money. My favourite is this.
Rock and roll will never die. That’s how it seems now. Although I daresay it will actually die with the rock and roll generation, i.e. mine. But I’m watching an old geezer clip and chat documentary on BBC2 TV where one of the possible sources of rock and roll’s early energy in the late fifties has just been touched upon. Someone said: they believed their parents and reckoned rock and roll would soon be over, so they really had to give it all they had right now or they’d miss the boat.
Interesting. As with those Jews in Vienna in 1938, in fact as with most people making history, or having it made all over them, they didn’t know at the time what we know now.
I hate the weather in London just now, especially the humidity. I have a Pifco plastic fan on the go in my kitchen, but all it does is blow hot air from one part of the kitchen to another. Which is not nice.
I’m watching Never Mind The Buzz Cocks, which I greatly enjoy. (I can remember the original Buzz Cocks.) Simon Amstell is funny. Apparently Lethal Bizzel (sp?), who is guesting on tonight’s show, is a rap singer, and he once called Conservative Party Leader David Cameron a doughnut. Why? Because he (Cameron) was blamin’ like black musicians for like what de kids like were doin’ on de street ‘n’ stuff. Yes, said Amstell, how dare he accuse rap artists of glamourising violence and crime. What a ridiculous accusation. “You should have shot him!” Arf arf.
What else can I tell you? What crumbs from the media banquet that you didn’t notice first time around, can I rescue from the floor and serve you again? In truth, nothing occurs. Most of television is a vast desert of “reality” TV and idiot competitions, which, unlike Buzz Cocks, people are mostly taking seriously. But I see no sense in going on about this. The popular electronically contrived and distributed culture of the twenty first century is so abundant that there is surely no excuse for attending to anything you don’t like, and then moaning about it, unless you actually like doing that, as many do of course. When there were only two channels, both showing documentaries about cheese (small prize for the film alluded to there), then such complaining was very reasonable. But when there are hundreds of channels, you find yourself (I find myself) grateful that so much of it seems like shit and you don’t have to watch it. Seriously, when I look through the Radio Times and I see absolutely nothing I want to watch, I say to myself: “Great, there’s absolutely nothing I want to watch. I have the evening to myself. I can read a book or compose deathless prose. Life is good.” Plus nowadays, if there is something you want to watch, you can record it, put it on a DVD, and watch it later. You still don’t have to actually watch anything, this evening. Isn’t that great? I think so. We all have our individual ways of responding to the multi-media cornucopia. That’s mine. By the way, it’s not Bizzel, it’s Bizzle.
From the weather, on the other hand, there is, for as long as it lasts like this, no escape.
I’ve not done much photoing in recent weeks, apart from in France (and I keep meaning to stick up some of those, sorry about that). Of the local snaps I’ve taken, this is probably my favourite, which I took my local Blockbuster:
It’s the slogan at the bottom that I like. You think you’re hip, happening and cutting edge and all, and then they advertise your latest collection of tunes by saying they’d be be perfect for dads.
There’s an amazing collection of Russian cheerleader photos, here.
The one on the right is so good, they stuck it up twice. I was trying to work out what it reminded me of, and then I had it. It’s this excellent retro-styled pop video by Christina Aguilera. (Following this recent posting, I should say that if you click on that, there will be noise.)
It isn’t just the hats. It’s what they’re doing with their hands and wrists and knees. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Russian cheerleader boss (and I bet they’re scary people) had seen that video.
Perhaps I should have a “better late than never” category. This posting, for instance, was put up by my friend Julian Taylor on May 23rd, but I do like it:
Can’t afford to make your own music video? Simple. Perform your video in front of some of the 13 million CCTV “security” cameras available in England and then file a Freedom of Information request to get the footage back, which is exactly what a band called The Get Out Clause did. Unable to hire a production crew for a standard music video, they performed their music in front of 80 of the 13 million CCTV “security” cameras available in England, including one on a bus, then filed an FoI request and used a computer to stitch it all together.
Now okay, Julian didn’t do the clever bit. The Get Out Clause did that. But how else would a (mostly) pop-indifferent person like me hear about such things if my friends didn’t pass on the news on their blogs? Sadly the video at Julian’s no longer plays, but I assume that the mere music is - unless anyone says otherwise and probably even then - relentlessly dreary and derivative, in the manner of most badly dressed, politically aware, play your own instruments, sub-Coldplay, screw Girls Aloud - well, no, not screw, just “to hell with” – semi-pop. But they deserve a hit anyway because of the video production method.
Yes, I was right. You can watch and listen by going here.