Sunday, November 08, 2015

A birthday, of sorts

This blog shuffled into life 10 years ago today. The first post was inevitably a tad meta, but it also had room for Murakami, pencils and vodka. In fact, I wonder whether I should have called it Pencils and Vodka. 

I had the vague notion that the blog would be a record of what I was reading and watching and listening to, but it quickly took a detour. Still, just for old time’s sake...
I’ve just worked out how old I’ll be if this lasts another 10 years and I want to hide under the table...

Anyway, to mark the occasion in traditional style, here’s a tastefully saucy picture of Helen Mirren:

Tuesday, November 03, 2015

About Kenny G

The saxophonist Kenny G is simply horrid, from his banal, sugary smooooth jazz noodling to his nasty hair (and for a more cogent analysis of his musical, aesthetic and moral sins, do read this coruscating attack by Pat Metheny). But when I was alerted to the fact that he’s going to make an attempt on the world record for holding a single note (on a plane, for charity) I couldn’t help thinking that if some more credible musician were doing exactly the same thing, we’d be hailing it as a magnificent piece of performance art and it would probably end up being entered for the Turner Prize.

That said, his hair’s still ghastly.

Does this mean I’m blogging again?

Monday, September 28, 2015

About cover versions

There’s been lots of chin-stroking happening about Ryan Adams covering Taylor Swift’s album 1989 — see this article for a quick taster. Boiled down, the mood is that while Adams intended his versions to be a salute to Swift’s songwriting ability, some critics don’t take it that way. Why does a cheery female pop artist need the validation of a glum bloke with a guitar before she’s taken seriously? (At a tangent, this is similar to the argument that Jeremy Corbyn’s defenders offered when he gave all the top Shadow Cabinet jobs to men — the assumption that the Foreign Office is somehow more prestigious than Education is in itself gendered. Well, hmmm. 

The arguments do rather support my thesis that pop music is (maybe I mean should be) always less about music than it is about something else (gender, race, sexuality, teenage rebellion, whatever) because what’s at stake here is credibility. Earlier this month I was in Singapore (which is in itself a glossy cover version of a real city) and saw a performance by Postmodern Jukebox, an American ensemble that reworks modern pop tunes in a dizzying array of earlier styles. As the name suggests, there’s a mood of droll irony going on here, but the performers also appear to take a genuine joy in what they can do with the material — they’re working with it, not against it. 

So is that OK? I’m kind of guessing that Ms Swift, who appears to be a pretty level-headed woman, doesn’t really give a toss as long as she gets paid. Although some people seem to believe I think too much about these things...

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Banksy and Warney

I’m afraid I haven’t yet made the pilgrimage to Weston-super-Mare, the site of Banksy’s theme-park-with-a-difference, Dismaland. It sounds like an interesting and different experience but from the coverage so far it looks as if he’s borrowed rather a lot of ideas from conceptual provocateurs such as Jeff Koons (zzzzzz) and the Chapman Brothers (love them). To be fair, when I raised this yesterday, several of his defenders pointed out that Banksy has never pretended to be original.

What he does offer is the ability to grab attention in mainstream media where other contemporary artists can’t get a look-in (Hirst and Emin excepted, possibly). And of course the best way to do this is with bourgeois-bating outrage, with which Dismaland is liberally endowed, whether it’s a kitschy re-staging of the Diana crash or Punch and Judy with the male lead recast as Jimmy Savile.

Bad taste? Possibly. But Banksy wasn’t the only deployer of bad taste this week. There was also Project Harpoon, the self-defined “collaborative art project” that refashions images of larger women (without their consent) into proportions that are more acceptable to its creators. And then of course there’s the painting that spin-bowling legend Shane Warne has commissioned for his Melbourne home; featuring a barely clad Angelina Jolie among the throng. It’s horrific, obviously — but if it showed up in Dismaland, might we see it differently?

Saturday, August 01, 2015

Films I recently watched on a plane

When I started this blog, at a time when most of you were still in nappies, the idea was that I’d use it to write about what I was reading and watching and listening to. After a while, though, I got to the stage when I didn’t have time to write so much; but later still, I realised I wasn’t even making the time to read or watch or listen, so there’d be bugger all to write about anyway.

The only exception comes when I fly, which is the time I set aside to catch up on the films I really ought to have seen over the past few months; and since I’ve been flying more than normal lately, I’ve managed to catch a few films. But I still don’t have much time to write, so please regard these as rough notes rather than full-on reviews. You know, as if you care.

Pride (Matthew Warchus). Similar to Bend it Like Beckham (but with gay people and the miner’s strike instead of feminism, Asian parents and football), this is a movie with its heart in the right place and a script that’s so grindingly banal and obvious it could almost make you vote Tory. It’s not a spoiler alert to reveal that Bill Nighy’s character turns out at the end to be gay, because if you don’t guess that within 30 seconds you’re probably a bit dim.

Maps to the Stars (David Cronenberg) Mulholland Dr meets Magnolia, with passing references to The Shining and The Sixth Sense. Cronenberg takes the adage that you shouldn’t work with children and animals to the logical conclusion by trying to kill off all the children and animals. And Julianne Moore farts. I liked it. (By the way, KLM doesn’t censor its on-board entertainment, which in this case means there was a penis. I’m not sure the bloke in the seat next to me was ready for that.) 

Kingsman: The Secret Service (Matthew Vaughn). Somebody you don’t expect to die, dies. And somebody you don’t expect to be a baddy turns out to be a baddy. The suits are nice, though, and the extreme violence is quite amusing, especially the exploding heads at the end.

The Theory of Everything (James Marsh). All competently and sensitively done, but Eddie Redmayne’s turn as Stephen Hawking is the sort of barefaced, cynical, hey-look-at-my-disabled-face Oscar bait I thought we’d thrown out 20 years ago. And I still don’t really understand what a black hole is.

Birdman (Alexander González Iñárritu). Maybe I shouldn’t have been so sneery about Oscar bait, because this actually won the Best Picture gong and it’s utterly brilliant, with Michael Keaton  – as an actor famous for playing a superhero, attempting to resurrect his career – hovering on the crowded intersection between fantasy, madness, performance and the supernatural. But he doesn’t do a disabled face so he didn’t get a prize for himself. The ending actually left me gasping, which can be kind of embarrassing on a plane. Fortunately, this was a different flight, so the bloke who didn’t like the penis in Maps to the Stars wasn’t around to object.

PS: Oh, and in case you missed it, I wrote another thing about food in Bangkok.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

About semi-colons

You may have heard by now about the semi-colon campaign, which encourages people to get a tattoo of the punctuation mark in order to... well, I’m not sure really. It’s something to do with mental health  problems and/or addictions, and having a tattoo indicates that you’ve lived and/or overcome with these issues or you know someone who has or that you want to acknowledge that they exist. And apparently it’s a faith-based campaign, but that doesn’t mean that you have to have faith in anyone or anything. All of which seems to be so inclusive as to be near-meaningless, but at the same time, only a heartless shit could object to it. It’s like a permanent (or, in fact, semi-permanent, because that’s OK too, we’re told) version of the equal marriage stripes I was musing about a few days ago.

And I’m wary of it for much the same reason, annoyed by the notion that if I don’t get a tattoo I’m somehow dismissive or the troubles that some people live with, or that I’m holding myself up as a model of emotional equilibrium who’s never had a dark moment. (Yeah, right.) The funny thing is that I’d been pondering the idea of getting a tattoo, mainly because I’m 47. (Does a mid-life crisis count as a mental health issue within the terms of the semi-colon project? Discuss.) And I was also thinking that if I were to get inked, I might get a punctuation mark. But I would have gone for a question mark — and now I can’t because that might now be interpreted as some sort of sardonic slight against the good intentions of the semi-colon people. Wars have been waged over less.

Sunday, July 05, 2015

About not having cancer

So there was a lump. There’s always a lump first, isn’t there, when people blog about it? It was a small, slightly pointed lump on my forehead and I would have let it stay there, but then it started to hurt when anything brushed against it and then it started to bleed and I was sure it wasn’t anything particularly serious but you know, just to be sure, I went to the doctor. And the doctor said that it was almost totally certainly a wart (a filiform wart, in case you’re interested, so there’s a new word) and she could take it off there and then but afterwards, you know, just to be sure, she could send it to the lab, but only if I wanted. And I said, yeah, you know, just to be sure. So that’s what she did, took it off, sent it to the lab, just to be sure. And of course, I didn’t really think it was anything particularly serious and didn’t think very much about it at all. Except that I just received the e-mail from the lab telling me it was definitely a filiform wart and nothing else and so everything’s OK and it’s only then that I notice that nobody’s actually said the word “cancer” and suddenly it feels as if I’ve been holding my breath for the past few days without realising I was doing it. 

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

About not using those gay stripes on Facebook

If you’ve been in the vicinity of Facebook over the past few days, you've probably noticed that many people have taken advantage of a little gadget that enables them to overlay their profile images with rainbow stripes, to commemorate the Supreme Court’s decision last week to allow same-sex marriage in all 50 states of the union. Many of my friends, real and virtual, used it.

My immediate reaction was to do the same thing — after all, I support equal marriage, I think the SCOTUS decision is a good thing and I love seeing right-wing Republicans thrashing around in spasms of impotent, moronic fury. But then, as is so often the case, I started overthinking the whole phenomenon. What would I be communicating by tinting my profile? The fact that I’m a decent, egalitarian, non-homophobic, generally liberal, 21st-century sort of person? I’d hope that people already sort of get that already. (There was also the more mundane fact that I was away from my computer when I first noticed the rainbowing, and it would have been a lot of hassle to implement it on my crappy old phone and by the time I got back home I would have felt as if I was playing catch-up.)

But it was interesting seeing some of the reactions to my friends’ assumption of the spectrum. There was an element (jocular, I’m guessing) of “ooh, I thought there was something you weren’t telling us”. That’s harmless in itself but I suppose it’s just the benign end of the assumption that if you support gay rights in any form, that means you’re One Of Them, which sounds barmy but was certainly prevalent 30 years ago. And then I started considering that if people are making assumptions about those who announce their support for the SCOTUS decision in this way, are they also making assumptions about those of us who remain rainbowless? And so I felt like this:

It’s that tipping point where not wearing something – a poppy, a red ribbon, a red nose —can be taken as a statement in and of itself, even if you don’t mean anything by it. Am I by default a homophobe, an ally of the buffoon Scalia and his dimwit Supreme Court rightists? Or did I mean to buy a rainbow from the nice lady outside Waitrose but I only had a fiver and it would have looked weird to ask for change?

At least I don’t now have to contemplate the dilemma described by one of my Facebook friends:  “When is the politically correct time to return to a regular (rainbow-free) profile pic?”

PS: And yes, this is my first blog post in two months. What of it? I’ve been busy, doing stuff like this rundown of the best new restaurants in Bangkok. So there.