Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Has it really been 20 years, 7 months and 27 days since my last post? Jeez, time flies when you're having a(nother) nervous breakdown.

When you have reason to be gazing out of a 2nd floor window in Soho at about 2 a.m. one Wednesday morning, you can see some interesting sights. Like a man and a woman in a doorway, the neon sign above them casting a sickly pool of yellow light at their feet. The man is late twenties, shirt, smart trousers, the crumpled look of an office drone after a mildly raucous work do.

Only he's scoring smack off the woman - at least I think it's smack, I'm no expert - and he's counting out £20 notes while she goes about her business with the tin foil and the lighter. I don't think they know each other but there's a touching sense of collusion in the way they glance round together at the occasional passing car. The transaction completed, they scatter, out of my field of vision. But that's ok. Soon a guy in the street is showing another guy the contents of a plastic bag, and there's more cash being flashed.

This is all too titillating for someone raised in a village in Essex where the most exciting thing that ever happened was The Crystal Maze being filmed in an aircraft hangar up the road.

From the safety of the 2nd floor early yesterday morning, I watched people I would never want to meet doing things I would never want to do, wallowing in the thrill of my seedy, uncut voyeurism. Now, at 1.30am, I wonder if they're out there again. Many miles from Soho, I'm missing them. And missing the person who was beside me in the peeping hour.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Work displacement activities part 29. Posting pointless lists on my blog.
Today: the top 10 most-played songs on my iPod since approx August 2005:

1. "Immune to Emotion" - Ariel Pink (42 plays)
2. "Credit" - Ariel Pink (29)
=3. "Gnidjougouya" - Amadou and Mariam (26)
=3. "A Song From Under the Floorboards" - Magazine (26)
=3. "To Forgive" - Smashing Pumpkins (26)
=6. "It's Now Or Never" - El Vez (25)
=6. "Lay It On" - Wormhole (25)
=8. "Every Night I Die at Miyagis" - Ariel Pink (24)
=8. "High Fives" - Four Tet (24)
=8. "Victor Should Have Been a Jazz Musician" - Grace Jones (24)
This made me weep with laughter: the excellent, elegant Giles Smith writing in the Times last week...

"It would be no exaggeration to say that recent events have somewhat overtaken ITV’s Luton Airport.

Filmed at the start of the summer, this gentle docu-soap about daily life in and around the check-in desks of a typical British air terminus appears to depict a golden era of travel in which passengers in manageable numbers flow relatively smoothly towards on-schedule flights. No one is commanded to leave their copy of The Da Vinci Code in a specially provided dump-bin, nor consume their babies’ carrot and turnip purée to prove that it won’ t blow up.

It was a big moment in this week’s episode when someone accidentally triggered a fire alarm. If only. Maybe the producers would consider preparing a DVD version of the series in sepia.
The waves of nostalgia started to come even more thickly when the programme showed the England football team passing through Luton on their way to Germany for the 2006 World Cup finals. Ah, the piercing memories, the aching innocence of those times. David Beckham leant out of the pilot’s window and waved the flag of St George above a sign reading “Pride of the Nation” — an unthinkable liberty, given what we now know.

Also, this was back in the days when you could take Wayne Rooney on a British Airways Airbus A320 without having to place him in a clear plastic bag. Days when inessential items of hand luggage, such as Theo Walcott, weren’t automatically taken off you at the gate. Days when Sven-Göran Eriksson could turn up at the airport without guilt, even though his journey wasn’t strictly necessary.

And then there were the onlookers, thronging the airport fence, their faces, fascinatingly from another era, shiny with anticipation and the thrill of it all. People whooped at the sight of the team bus, happy to catch even a glimpse of these outgoing heroes and to share with them this sense of being on the brink of greatness. It couldn’t have looked more like archive footage if every bystander had been in a trilby and smoking.

I tried to explain to some nearby youngsters. “You see, children, back then there was a real feeling in the land that this England side was capable of going all the way in the World Cup and bringing home the trophy for the first time in 40 years.” But they weren’t listening. They were too busy wondering why Rio Ferdinand hadn’t been required to stow his iPod in the hold. In any case, bring home a big metal trophy on an aeroplane? As if.

Eddie Jordan’s Bad Boy Racers on Five is, by contrast, set in an unmistakeable present. The former Formula One team boss has got seven weeks to straighten out eight young offenders with a penchant for car crime. One of the eight appears to be so freshly in trouble that the producers have been obliged, without explanation, to pixelate his face.

At least, I’m assuming the producers did it. It’s possible, of course, that the lad in question is a worrying example of a whole new breed of self- pixelating car criminal, set to make police work even harder than it already is.

In the opening episode, Jordan got his charges to demonstrate their car-jacking skills, which were formidable. They weren’t so hot, however, when it came to the more acceptable task of changing wheels using conventional tools. Jordan proposes channelling the offenders’ energies into a formal education in car mechanics, rendering them “ready for the world of work”, while offering as an incentive the opportunity to do up and race a banger.

Teachers and social workers may well have thought of similar strategies, but most likely they weren’t as rich or as famous as Jordan and didn’t come with the backing of a national television channel — factors that may give his project an edge. Jordan clearly has prodigious energy and a galvanising manner, too. Maybe he could do something about the airports.

Meanwhile, on Sky Sports News, Andy van der Meyde, the luckless Everton winger, was appealing for the return of his dog, which appears to have been nabbed, along with a couple of cars and some other items of his personal property, by burglars. Not Jordan’s boys, we hope.

It struck one that there might be a useful function for the rolling news channel, especially during the slow days of summer, as a kind of community noticeboard for sportspeople — somewhere they can post a message when something goes missing, say, or when they are on the lookout for a replacement door seal for a discontinued oven, or some such. We leave that idea with the team."

Dingwalls, London, 24 September 1997
This was it: the best gig I've ever seen. The Fall were on fire, and the crowd weren't far behind them. There was a tangible air of menace, mostly coming from the stage, where Mark E. Smith was antagonising the band - dragging the guitarist around by the neck of his instrument, or slamming his palms down on the keys to impede the keyboard player's efforts. I can't remember another gig where it felt so plausible that anything on earth could happen. The dancer Michael Clark popped up on stage, throwing chairs around. The band tore into a churning version of "Big New Prinz". Someone said a few days later they'd heard I started a punch-up at the front of the stage, a rumour that I have done my damnedest to keep alive.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

2. REM
Hammersmith Odeon, London, May 1989
Hard now to find a live pic of Stipe with hair. Not visible, which is probably for the best, is the plaited pony-tail that he wore on this tour. REM was the first band I saw to really command the stage, to make a gig into a show; the slightly boxy suit worn by Stipe suggests they took their cue here from Talking Heads. It was a jubilant mix of theatricality (Stipe bashing out a beat on a metal chair as he sang Gang of Four's "We Live As We Dream, Alone" a capella) and fierce, sweaty, just-this-side-of-corny rock'n'roll. I was 17 and had lost my cherry a few weeks earlier, so was in an understandably excitable mood.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Wembley Stadium, London, July 1990
She's never been this good, touring her best album (Like a Prayer), dominating the stage like a true diva while showing off a pottymouth that had tattooed sailors on shore leave fainting around my ankles (or was that a dream?) I was there with someone fun. We brought a picnic, stayed all day, and ooh-ed and aah-ed at every costume change.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Wembley Arena, London, 20 July 1991
The first of twenty Morrissey shows that I've been to in the last fifteen years and, inevitably, the most thrilling. I was squeezed against the crash barrier, almost as close to the hem of his garment as you are now to your computer screen. I'd lived with, and through, his music for so long before that day that it was a surprise to find that he actually existed.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Rote Sonne club, Munich, May 2006
There were about 25 people in the audience, but they should each count themselves lucky, and one day boast to their grandchildren about having been there. This was more euphoric, inspired, ramshackle and intense than I dreamed it would be. Three months on, words still fail me; I just know I'm not the same person that I was before this gig.

Cambridge Corn Exchange, 1995
I've never seen a more harmonious combination of support act and headliner. Tricky had only just penetrated everyone's record collections with Maxinquaye; PJ Harvey was at the height of her powers with To Bring You My Love. He was brooding and sexy and menacing; she was brooding and sexy and, er, menacing - but in entirely different ways. It looks now like a perfect snapshot of where mid-1990s British pop was at. But at the time it was just a killer gig.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

May 1996, King Tut's Wah Wah Hut, Glasgow
I was obsessed with this band for many years. I'll never forget standing a few feet away from them in this cramped, sweaty venue, hearing the songs that were previously confined to my Walkman and my bedroom now being bashed out with raw, snarling energy. I followed them on all but one of the dates of this tour. Though admittedly there were only three shows: it was a short tour. Still, I was there again, a few days later, to see them in Bristol.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Reading Festival, August 2004
Another unexpected conversion. Two people making an almighty racket, clearly treating it all as a 'performance' complete with costumes, wisecracks and props, like the freaky dentistry lamp angled over the drum-kit (not shown). I munched my chips and gave in to the music. I was happy.

Some theatre in Paris, April 1998
What to do on your last night in Paris? Catch A Clockwork Orange, still withdrawn in Britain at that point, or get tout tickets for Massive Attack? The right choice was made. The final song ("Group 4") went on and on, up and up, louder and louder, and I never wanted it to stop. I don't even like Massive Attack that much. That's how good it was.
I've become temporarily bored with thinking about Woody Allen, so I'm interrupting the Woody Allen all-time top 5 to bring you, by no popular demand whatsoever...


Fleadh Festival, Finsbury Park, London, June 1995

Her hair had grown a bit, her voice was richer and she had learned to make her anger soulful instead of self-righteous. Also she looked like she was having a blast. She easily walked away with the day.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Too much writing, eyes frazzled, brain melting, must rest... In the mean time here are some choice quotes from my favourite book/film critic, Adam Mars-Jones:

He describes beautifully the beginning of every Bond film as “That hallowed piece of montage in which the viewer is shot by Bond while unwisely attempting to hide in a spiral sea shell.”

“Melvyn Bragg is a very busy man and it's impressive that he's made time to write Crossing the Lines, bringing his tally of novels to 20. It isn't altogether clear, though, that he's found the time to read it.”

“The Coen brothers are very knowing, but what is it that they know?” [Fargo]

“Nothing hurls a writer into stupidity more rapidly than the desire to be thought wise.” [reviewing The Zahir by Paulo Coelho] [this line hits home!]

Priest can only really be recommended to people who have never heard the phrases ‘piss off’ and ‘out of my diocese’ in the same sentence, and are anxious to rectify the omission.”

“It gleams in front of Oliver Stone like the Grail: an area of artistic activity where exaggeration and distortion - just what he does best - are not dismissed or deprecated but positively required. Now if he could just get into that racket, there would be no holding him. The racket here is the satire racket, and Natural Born Killers is what he imagines a satire to be... If [he] is imaginatively engaged by the lives of Native Americans, he should certainly make a film about that. What he should not do is borrow their supposed mysticism, separated from their history and modern living conditions, and use it to jazz up his wretched world view, as he does not only here but in The Doors. It's bad enough having your people massacred and your ancestral lands confiscated, without having some film director wear your belief systems round his dumb neck like so much funky ethnic jewellery.”

We interrupt this all-time top five Woody Allen countdown to bring you Freddie Ljungberg in the days before someone told him that he could be the next Beckham if he shaved his head, greased himself up, stripped down to his Calvins and struck a variety of corny porno (corno? porny?) poses last seen in Vulcan circa 1991. It didn't work. He was nicer before his agent/manager/PR explained to him the meaning (and financial potential) of 'gay icon'. I mean, just look at this snap - red hair! Who has red hair except for foreign exchange students? It's so cute, so unknowing. Freddie was much hotter when he didn't realise how hot he was.
My all-time top five Woody Allen movies just because...

3. Sweet and Lowdown (1999)
A hard one - to watch, and to include on the list. Everything else in my top five was a dead cert. For me, Sweet and Lowdown slugs it out with Annie Hall. I know why S&L wins out. Annie Hall is perfect. Dated in some ways, starchy in others, but perfect. S&L is a film you can argue with, and over, but despite its niggling flaws, it has a core that is tough and true. Maybe it's just because of Sean Penn and Samantha Morton. Yeah, "just".

So much here is divine. Zhao Fei's cinematography: the colours sizzle, the images seem to burn on the retina (next he made the thoroughly ugly Small Time Crooks look edible). How dotty to put John Waters as Emmet's agent. The rising tide of Penn's hairdo, the squint of his piggy eyes, the lips that keep puckering and pursing like they're being manipulated by an invisible drawstring. Those snappy suits that look sort of tawdry on him. Both of them in the birthday present scene; you could sob just thinking about it. Everything is dwarfed by the moment when Emmet meets up with Hattie again on the boardwalk and Allen keeps the camera fixed on him as he learns how her life has turned out. Ouch.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

My all-time top five Woody Allen movies just because...

4. Manhattan Murder Mystery (1993)
The acronym for Allen's first post-scandal picture says it all - MMM. This is one to gorge on. Reunited with Brickman for the first time since Manhattan fourteen years earlier, and with Keaton landing her first Allen lead since that same film (though she had an effervescent cameo in Radio Days), this was Allen experiencing a new lease of life. Which was odd, as it was partly a make-do patchwork of odds and ends - the plot had been part of the original Annie Hall screenplay, and Keaton replaced Mia Farrow at the last minute. But there's little in Allen's work that's so zesty and footloose.

I love the rumpled joy in the Allen/Keaton partnership, the man-eating sexiness of Angelica Huston, Alan Alda all excitable in his comfy pullovers, the unusually upbeat perspective on middle-age, the priceless scene where they're splicing together the ransom tape. I also love the opening song and the closing gag. Allen always underrates his own films, especially his comedies. He's got no idea. This is worth 50 Septembers, 100 Match Points.
My all-time top five Woody Allen movies just because...

5. Sleeper (1973)
Two of the films in my five are co-written with Marshall Brickman, as crucial a collaborator in Allen's work as Diane Keaton, Mia Farrow, Zhao Fei or Gordon Willis. The comedy is authentically demented, while the science-fiction production design is plain eerie. Diane Keaton has never been more cuckoo, and Allen's slapstick tendencies (rarely his most sure-footed moments) are distilled beautifully in the giant banana-peel gag. I love it for the retro view of the future, Joel Schumacher's costumes, the Orgasmatron, Allen's Blanche DuBois impression, his perky jazz score and the fact that it was the first movie of his that I saw, age 11, on late-night TV. I reeled off the gags at school, and people looked at me like I was an alien, except for one cool teacher - she knew, man.
Random things I like, pts 1 / 2

1. When couples stop you in the street and ask if you'd mind taking a photo of them. Any couple that asks this gets automatic points for sweetness - not everyone is so brazen about their affection for one another, and it displays a real buoyancy not just to want to be snapped together, but to invite a stranger (ok, me) briefly into your closed circle to perform that duty for you. I think that's the bit I like best: being included in them. One of the pair (usually the guy if it's a straight couple) shows you which button to press, then they arrange themselves, smiling with varying degrees of self-consciousness, and you become briefly privy to their rituals of intimacy.

But I hate the bit where you give the camera back. Then it's over. I'd like instead to volunteer to accompany them for the rest of their day, photographing them as they walk, talk, eat, gaze at landmarks with that all-purpose air of amused curiosity with which tourists greet the unfamiliar. I wouldn't be intrusive - I could sit across the street while they have lunch, using the zoom to catch them unawares, or take up pre-arranged vantage points along their planned route. Jeez, this is a great idea - like having your own personal press photographer. Someone could really make some money out of this. Not me, though. I'd do it for kicks.

One photo doesn't seem enough for me. But I'm always glad to be asked. Perhaps I, and others like me, should wear some kind of badge indicating a willingness to perform this function. We could carry portfolios of our past work. References from those we have snapped.

2. Checking Pseuds' Corner in Private Eye, or newspaper corrections columns, to find writers singled out whom I don't like, and over whom I can experience some momentary and utterly pointless moral superiority. It's nothing close to an obsession. And the buzz I get from it is so mild, it scarcely even qualfies as schadenfreude. Yet still my eye is drawn there.

"Why? What's the significance? I. Don't. Know."
[Pee Wee's Big Adventure]

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Screw the anonymity. I say if you're going to blog, be bald about it. So here I am. Now if you see me in the street, you'll be able to say 'Hey, man, what you posted on the 19th was bullshit!' or throw things at me. Sure, this pic was taken about 30 years ago, but I haven't changed that much. I'm still likely to have food in my hand, and to point at you when I'm talking.