Thursday, 29 December 2011

On the fifth day of Christmas . . .

Salut les Copains box sets. Two volumes.

When I was young, really young, fifteen etc, my friend Mick Lee's sister who was eighteen and at Queen's Belfast was really into things French. And therefore so were we. We wore Newman cord jeans. And we read Salut les Copains magazine.

Years later, I discovered that Salut was the basis for The Face. At the time, though, we just thought it was a cool teen magazine.

It was only recently, though, that I learned that Salut les Copains was also a radio show. Someone pointed me in the direction of two four CD collections. I bought them. It's a fascinating world. French teenage 1960s pop, half-looking at the UK and the US, half-looking at its French self. So it's the echt Booker T and the MGs followed by a local version of The Lion Sleeps Tonight etc etc. Lots of Petula Clark. Lots of ye-ye. One of the sounds of my teenagehood. I file them next to my Rhino girl group collection which came in a hatbox - the campest thing ever manufactured.

PS When I looked up the hotlink for the box sets, I discovered that there is now a third set. So you know what to get me – and yourself – for next Christmas.

See you tomorrow . . .

Wednesday, 28 December 2011

On the fourth day of Christmas . . .

A train ride from Exeter to Totnes. It's the most wonderful journey, running down the Exe estuary then along the coast — right next to it, then up the Teign estuary. Less than thirty miles in all, I think. I'm entranced by it every time I take the train to (or from) Cornwall.

You start out in this wonderful calm, flat seaside place, then turn right on to a section where the train runs in and out of short tunnels, bang next to the sea, separating the towns/villages from the briny. In wet, wild weather, the waves break over the train. Finally, you head inland up through the most mild-mannered of riverscapes – a few bobbing boats, a wooded hillside on the far bank.

Everyone goes quiet for most of the journey.

Here is a small film of it. Warning: it's very amateur, far from the best film, with too many shots of the inside of the carriage and not including anything from the Exe estuary. It does, though, describe itself as a record of the second best rail journey in Britain. Which is the best, though, it doesn't say. Maybe St Erth to St Ives.

PS I also did a gorgeous train journey in Israel this year, taking the old, French-built line from Jerusalem down to the coast. The station is in some odd part of Jerusalem, the original station on the east (Palestinian) side of the old city having been closed for years. The first half hour of the journey is a slow meander down a narrow valley, crossing and recrossing the river. I guess it must have been the old historical route into the city. It's certainly not the quickest. On some of the corners, I reckon you could get out, pick some flowers and cut across in time to get back on the train again.

Till tomorrow . . .

Tuesday, 27 December 2011

On the third day of Christmas . . .

Bruce Davidson's Subway, a reissue of a 1986 original (by Steidl, reliably gorgeous photo and art books). A memory of a New York so different it's hard to realise it's only a couple of decades ago. Look at the graffitied subway cars and think: how come? well, how come and why did no-one remove it? it wasn't because they thought them beautiful . . . it was a kind of social stuckness, an inability to wrest control of the environment.

The more you look at the pictures, the more you realise how smart they are. Davidson is describing a world that he knows is terrifying. He got mugged doing it.

Like everyone else I know who knew the city in that time, it's hard not to feel, well, not nostalgia but a sense of change so sharp as to have its own pain. It was frightening, dirty, threatening, dysfunctional - particularly on the subway at 3.30 in the morning. Yet . . .

PS1 Below, you will find my interview with Davidson from earlier this year. You can download it as well as read it onscreen.

PS2 I also think it's highly likely that it will sell out, sooner rather than later, and therefore hold its value, maybe even increase. But more of investing in photobooks for fun and profit on another of the twelve days . . .
See you tomorrow . . . 


Monday, 26 December 2011

On the second day of Christmas . . . the partridge but not the tree

I know the bird thing is meant to be the first day of Christmas but somehow I got it in my head that the twelve days start on December 26. I was wrong, of course. 

(The truth - the embarrassing truth - is that I took that Boxing Day start from iTunes. That's when you start getting free stuff from iTunes that you might or might not want. Today is some Coldplay stuff. I've downloaded it and will listen to it, just as I listen to Coldplay stuff again and again - without ever being able to remember I've listened to it.)

So, let's say yesterday was the first of my twelve days and so I gave you a list of what I think you might want to listen to this season. And today . . .

That partridge. Pheasant, too. And woodcock even. Everyone should eat them. The perfect meal for these straightened times. Honestly. That's not just from a comfortable north London perspective.

I always liked to eat game but it's only recently that I realised just how cheap it is.  I was buying a couple of pheasants in the local farmers market (please, no correspondence about the absence of an apostrophe in farmers - that solution is as good as any). I saw I was only paying six quid or so for a brace - as we gamers choose to refer to a couple/pair/two. That is certainly cheaper than a decent chicken. I'm not talking organic, that's so much hogwash. But I am talking about a bird that hasn't been subjected to extreme rendition and then kept, for its thankfully all too short life, in avian Guantanamo.

Partridge are little pricier and woodcock even more. But still  . . . these are bargains. (Though not if you buy them in, say, St John's Wood High St where they stick the arm in and price them up to six quid each. My guess is they make in the region of four pounds fifty profit a bird. Nice region, to paraphrase De Niro in Midnight Run - or rather George Gallo who wrote the movie.)

So . . . high-protein, low-fat, free-range and cheap. To the purchaser, anyway. A friend of mine who 'shoots' tells me the 'real' cost of these birds is maybe thirty quid. That is what it costs 'guns' in 'syndicates' - love the gangster language, don't you.

Again then . . . not just good for you and the bird and cheap but also subsidised by the rich and gun-happy among us. Not just a trifecta but a quadrafecta. A quintafecta, if you reckon game tastes as great as I do. Even if you don't like game, you could always consider eating it as an act of class revenge. Take that, you wanker banker, you could say, as you slice off some nice rare pheasant breast or scoop some lentils out with your junipery partridge.

So, as Swift was kind of on the right track when he proposed eating children as a solution to the Irish famine, if he were around now I think he'd join me in suggesting a resolution to the current unemployment and obesity thing. Another paraphrase: qu'ils mangent du perdrix. 

Oh and sprats, too. You can feed a family of five on a kilo of those.

But, I hear you say, I don't know how to cook game. Here's the secret. There is no secret. You put the birds in a hot oven for half an hour. You take them out. Sure, you can do other stuff. Add salt and pepper and some herbage. Protect the breast with bacon or foil. Leave them to sit for five minutes. But that'll do. Heat, eat.

With? Lentils or barley. Same thing. Boil and drain will do. Add salt, pepper, fried onion, diced carrots/celery, thyme or other herbs, stock - even better. 

Sprats? Dust in flour. Fry in oil. Take out. Eat. Add lemon juice, paprika or dip in mayonnaise.

Food and recipes, that's  just what you need today of all days, right?

See you tomorrow.

Sunday, 25 December 2011

Songs for the day

Here are this year's seasonal songs — Hannukah as well as Xmas. If you are on my emailing list you will have received a link to download all the tracks from my Dropbox folder. If not, post a comment with your email address and I'll send you a link.

There will also be sleeve notes posted here sometime between now and the new year.

1 Silver Bells Doris Day

2 Frosty The Snowman Jan Garber Orchestra
3 Rudolph, The Red-Nosed Reindeer Mambo Billy May
4 On The Rooftop Gentleman Auction House
5 Must Be Santa Brave Combo
6 Merry Christmas Polka The Andrews Sisters
7 Boogie-Woogie Santa Claus Mabel Scott with Les Welch
8 Hey Santa Claus The Platters
9 Back Door Santa Clarence Carter
10 Please Come Home For Christmas Charles Brown
11 I Saw Three Ships Don Dixon
12 Silent Night The Miracles
13 Cold Dark Night Sam Phillips
14 Joy to the World Kate Rusby
15 Happy New Year Beverley
16 New Year's Eve Tom Waits
17 Last Christmas minuteman
18 The Chanukah Song Neil Diamond
19 Jesus was a Dreidel Spinner Jill Sobule
20 All I Want To Do Is Shag For Christmas The BellRays feat. Lisa Kekaula, Tony Fate and Bob Vennum
21 Jingle Bells Bing Crosby

PS If you want more Xmas etc songs, go here. My friend — well, friendly acquaintance — Bill Adler has done an Xmas CD (and before that, a tape) for years now. As a New York Jew, it was his way of making sense of his wife's mid-Western family Xmas celebration. This year, I'm particularly taken by Byron Lee and the Dragonaires' Winter Wonderland Reggay and Reuben Anderson's Christmas Time Again, both mid-1960s Jamaican. The second is on a wonderful green and yellow label — a proto Island Records one, I think.

Next up Starting tomorrow, Boxing Day, I will, as promised, be posting my twelve days of Christmas. Stuff I like. Presents I would have bought myself. Etc etc. First up, yes, that partridge in the song . . .

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Another career development

Having appointed myself the Premier League haircut reviewer (of which more soon), I decided not to stop there and give myself another reviewing job. My new beat? London (mostly) theatre audiences.

So much attention is paid to the play and the players but what about the payers?

Why not give them a review of their own? Marks out of ten, even.

And so to the Young Vic, the other night. The play? Something about a Dane, if I remember right. Couldn't make up his mind. Had problems with his dad. His mum, too. Oh, and his uncle.

Anyway, it was the end, more or less. I hope I'm not giving the game away when I tell you the Dane was dying. It's that kind of play. He was dying in the arms of his pal and his pal wasn't taking it well.

When, suddenly, there was the most terrible sound. The kind of thing you might expect an actorly actor to emote at the moment of death. Only it wasn't. It was a member of the audience.

He'd nodded off and now, at the final moment of the play, he'd started snoring. Well, not just snoring. The biggest, loudest, frighteningest noise. Like he was dying. His head fell back. The noise got louder. The actors paused. I was looking straight at them. They felt like laughing but knew they didn't dare so much as entertain the thought. They paused some more, in a kind of rictus of not-laughing. Then they wondered if he might be dying and, being actors, they thought: how will that play?

While they were considering an entry in their memoirs, I was wondering how quickly I could get it on to my blog. Or should I tweet it. Then I remembered Stephen Fry was in the audience and he'd probably tweeted it already.

The snorer's companion jiggered his arm. He kept snoring, ever louder. She shook him hard. His head fell forward. For a flash, the audience decided he was dead and waited for the shout: is there a doctor in the house? Or perhaps: is there a funeral director?

More terrible noises, fluttering arms movements and, eventually, a return to something like conscious - without, it seemed, his having any idea at all of what had just happened. He might not have died but his female companion looked mortified.

The actors took it up again. They didn't corpse. But one of them quickly became one. They both knew, though, that however good they'd been that night, the audience would not remember them but the man who almost snored himself to death.

Saturday, 3 December 2011

Bits & pieces, eight
When I finished my course, I also thought about what I would miss. One of the things that came straight to the front of my mind was coming out of Goodge St tube station early on Saturday mornings, always into an empty Tottenham Court Rd. 

Mostly, in my memory anyway, it was bright and sunny. I still can’t figure out why it was so meaningful to me. A promise of hope and potential, perhaps.

Whatever . . . it also made me think of this . . .

Friday, 2 December 2011

Bits & pieces, seven

Just a short note letting you know . . .

One I've redesigned this blog a little, giving all you lucky people a chance to buy my book – in a way that gives me a small kickback.

Two If you haven't learned this already directly from me, I have taken to tweeting and will be creating an alternative advent calendar by sending out a select (and hopefully offensive) fact from my book Filthy English every day till Christmas, at least. My intention is to send it around nine-thirty in the morning, just in time for you to read it on your way to the pithead (or office, perhaps) and retweet it to one of your many, many, many fellow twits. (Help me, please, have I got my terminology right there?)

Three I have added a tweet button here, plus more buttons that will enable you to follow this blog and get updates every time I post, instead of having to wait for my occasional reminders. Come on, you know that's what you've been waiting for.

Next (tomorrow) London WC1

Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Bits & pieces, six

When I finished my masters, I meant to write something about the Wynne Godley story — how he was appallingly treated by the analyst Masud Khan and how that scandal was dealt with by the psychoanalytic establishment and what meaning and resonance that story still has. But I didn't do, did I? So here is his obituary, which tells some of the story anyway. It's an important tale and there's more here.

PS In case you're wondering why one of those links takes you to a piece of ecclesiastical sculpture, it's because his head was the model for one of the figures.
Bits & pieces, five

Something (fairly) silly? (But perhaps don't bother if you have no interest at all in either football or childhood's bestest imaginative construction toy.)

Monday, 28 November 2011

Wonders of the modern world: what young(ish) people do with my (our) past

I was at a show last nightFlorian Lunaire. It was in a big room above a pub in Essex Rd. It was excellent, as it happens. (Apart from anything else, he has a song called Forever Young. I always approve of songs which share their title with another very famous but quite different song. I'm thinking of writing my own Roll Over, Beethoven — or Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band or Hit Me Baby, One More Time.)

But the show itself is not the point. The point is the music that was played before Florian went on. It was, as far as I could tell, old. When I say old, I mean old. I don't think I heard anything newer than the early 1980s — when not many other people in the room were even so much as born.

The tune I particularly noticed was Prince Buster's Madness. Now that is from 1963. At least. Maybe it's even older. It certainly sounds like it is. So it pretty much pre-dates the Beatles. I probably first heard it at the Tunbridge Wells club I spent nights at it in 1968 or so. They'd play lots of ska and bluebeat and soul. I'm sure that was one of them. But . . . it sounded old, even then.

And now they are playing at a show for today's young people. Which leads to all kinds of thoughts about nostalgia and its meaning for us. And its inconstant handmaiden, authenticity, too, of course. Which maybe I'll get into some time. But for now, just one thing . . .

I did the maths. That tune is, roughly, fifty years old. For me (and mine), an equivalent would be that when I was at the Tunbridge Wells club, the warm-up music would have been from World War One. Pack up your troubles in your old kit bag. It's a long, long way to Tipperary. My old man said follow the van and don't dilly dally. Boiled beef and carrots, that's the stuff to do you well. Any old iron, any old iron, any, any, any old iron. Etc etc. To a crowd of young men and women in Ben Sherman button-downs and French crops. Possibly not. Probably, in fact.

Sunday, 27 November 2011

Bits and pieces, four

When, last year, my old (in both meanings, at least) colleague, Murray Sayle died, I wrote a short memory of him — which I was then asked to read at his London memorial. I didn't think, though, to share any of his wonderful writing with you.

Recently, I found this piece by him — which I didn't even know about. It's a great short sample of his work. One of the smartest things you're likely to read about John Lennon and Yoko Ono.

I might post links to more of his work but, meantime, I'd say it's worth searching out these bits and pieces . . .

One His take on Bloody Sunday, effectively suppressed for thirty years or so. He was there on the spot and, much later, gave evidence to the enquiry. If his conclusions haven't been entirely vindicated, the piece still has resonance.

Two His take on Tiananmen Square. A quite different view of how many were killed and what the demonstrators were on about. An interesting perspective at this time of worldwide Square Dances.

Three His documentary about North Korea, done with the great photographer Elliot Erwitt.

Four His revisionist history of the Vietnam War — where he was a reporter.

Five His version of the atomic end to World War Two — which I helped with, in the smallest of ways, by editing the British version, for the Mail on Sunday's Night & Day, down from the New Yorker original.
murray sayle article
murray sayle article

Saturday, 26 November 2011

Bits & pieces, three

I bumped into someone I hadn't seen for a while the other day. He's an acquaintance, I guess, rather than a friend but I've known him a really long time so those things start to blur a bit.

Anyway, I hadn't seen him for long enough to be surprised when he told me had a two-and-a-half year old daughter. (He's not young, either.)

Her name? 'Clemmie,' he said, then added: 'Well, actually it's Chlamydia.' A beat. 'A memory of how her mother and I met.'

For once in my life, I was silent.

Maybe he was telling the truth. Maybe he was joking. I don't know.

I do know this, though. Years ago, he happened to mention he knew De Niro quite well. I didn't believe him, frankly.

Time passed. He called, late one Saturday. 'Bob's in town,' he said. 'Those two attractive young black women friends of yours . . .' Actually, he didn't say that. He used their names but that's private. The rest was true. His meaning was clear. So was Bob's, of course.

What do you mean? What are you thinking? Nothing happened. Of course, it didn't.

Which, in turn, reminds me of a moment at passport control at JFK in New York. I was with my daughter who was then thirteen or so and, in dress-style terms, passing through — there's no polite way to put this — her 2nd Avenue hooker period. A4 skirt. High stack heels. Boob tube top. Chewing pink bubblegum.

'May I have your wife's passport, too, sir,' said the passport official.

'That's not my wife. It's my daughter,' I said. 'What kind of man do you think I am?'

'We get all sorts here, sir,' he said.

Friday, 25 November 2011

Bits & pieces, two

Interviewer Were you a good violinist?

Interviewee I was very so so. And, that's giving me an edge.

The point of this bit (or piece) is, I guess, the identity of the interviewee. It's lyricist Hal David, worked with Burt Bacharach, mostly. Wrote these opening lines: 'Every day I wake up, before I put on my make-up . . .'

Now sing the interviewee's words to the tune of those lines from I Say A Little Prayer. They almost fit, don't they. Not exactly but close, in beats and rhythm.

The point? That the wondrous ability David had to write lyrics that sounded like real speech was, it seems, rooted in his own speech rhythms. That's why those lines from I Say A Little Prayer are so wonderful. No matter how often I hear them sung by Aretha Franklin (or Dionne Warwick/e), they always sound like she is finding that thought as she sings the words — that neat trick that only really on-the-money actors can do on a regular basis. I'd always thought that was mostly down to the singers. Now I think I'd have to say it was already there in the lines written.

PS If you hadn't guessed it by now, I'm working on something about pop music — not just lyrics but the whole deal. It's a big thing. I've got lots of stuff about lots of songs. And I'm trying out some of the thoughts etc here.

Next up Another bit (or piece) but not about music that time

Thursday, 24 November 2011

Bits & pieces, one

I have a file of notes of stuff and links I thought to put on this blog. Somehow, for various reasons, they don't always make it on. So I've decided to put them up, one a day, till I've run through them.

They're all brief. They're often stupid. Sometimes, they are no more than a link. And, by and large, I'm not giving context or explanation or analysis. I'm leaving that up to the space between your ears.

Think of it, perhaps, as an online version of Sir John Soane's Museum — an external manifestation of the stuff that floats around between my ears. It'll probably tell you more about me than mere fine writing ever could. Not that you might like what you find.

Anyway, whatever, I start with a quote which I found quoted by someone else. I forget who. The point, I guess, if there is one, is to figure out why I might feel the need to quote it.

Or just laugh.

So, here goes . . .

Fowler The Mathematics of Plato’s Academy. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Second Edition. 1999. 'Part of every literate person’s intellectual baggage, along with the second law of thermodynamics and the principles of relativity and indeterminacy, is some version of the story of the discovery of incommensurability by Pythagoras or the Pythagoreans…'

See you tomorrow . . .

Monday, 14 November 2011

A punk burial, slight return

After I posted the bit about Tom, I sent a link to a friend who immediately passed it on to Tom's brother Jimmy — who, of course, was in Lost Trios and actually performed the song. And Jimmy replied almost right away and here is his reply . . .

It's not true that Tom wrote the line "shove me in a plastic bag and leave me on the pay-ver-ment-ah" (not street). It could be true that he laid claim to it, but the lyrics for this particular song were penned by Bob "Bob" Harding. Tom did actually give me a line when I got stuck on a lyric for another Alberto song "Dead Meat" and he supplied "eat your sister by mistake".
All the best

Which leads to two possibilities . . .

One, my memory is faulty.

Two, Tom's was faulty, perhaps florid.

Take your choice
Chronicle of a punk death foretold

Reading an obituary of the pop writer Tom Hibbert (who I worked with and edited for a while), I found myself remembering a conversation with him.

His brother was in a band called Alberto Y Lost Trios Paranoias. In 1977, they released Snuff Rock, an EP of punk parodies — when barely any punk singles had actually come out. There was a track on the EP with a line about ‘when I’m dead, just put me in a plastic bag and leave me on the street’.

By way of doing that bonding thing we all do with people, I told Tom how funny that line was and how proud his brother should be of it.

‘That was my line,’ said Tom.

I didn’t remember that when he died. I didn’t go to his funeral — not close enough for that anymore. I do, though, wonder if anyone quoted it. And if he was telling the truth about its authorship.

Thursday, 10 November 2011

Haircuts of today, number three

Fashion is, of course,
the reverse of fish.

That is, while fish rot from the head down, fashion works the other way, from the bottom up to the head.

In this case, of course, that means Stan Kroenke. As Arsenal’s big boss (he owns the biggest hunk of shares), he has clearly been influenced by the fashion decisions of his ‘employees’. Certainly in the hairdressing department, anyway.

Or is it just me that reckons it’s a syrup?

Monday, 7 November 2011

Haircuts of today, number two

Well, actually, whatever it is, it’s not the number two of skinhead world. It’s true that it could be seen as a number two at the edges. And some have suggested that the middle section looks like a different kind of number two, left there by a passing flying bird.

I guess it could also be seen as some kind of mix of a flat-top and a Mohican. (Or is it a Mohawk? I get them mixed up.) In fact, I think it looks more like a landing strip — in the women’s beauty parlour sense. Maybe he had his wife/girlfriend’s beautician do it.

Two more things.

One I do wonder how much they talk about hair in football dressing rooms. Has it taken the place traditionally occupied in footballers’ empty afternoon by visits to snooker halls, turf accountants and, in the days before afternoon pub opening, drinkers?

Two Frimpong announced he intended to dye his hair pink if Arsenal beat Chelsea. But he doesn’t seem to have done so. Now, I’m no shakes when it comes to tweet’n’twittering but I did find a few things in that world.

* A message from, all people, Lord Sugar.Frimpong new hair style you should try @piersmorgan will suit you.’ No I can’t make sense of it, either. Then I don’t watch The Apprentice. Maybe it’s written in code.

* A picture of Frimpong with a pink stripe on his head, looking like one of his auntie’s slippers has flip-flopped on to. It looked like it might be a fake.

* A note from Frimpong26AFC — which I guess is the man himself. It says: ‘My mum said if i go pink she will disown me I’m really sorry i need somewhere to sleep can’t have me on the streets now can we.’

And I think, aaah, how sweet.

Next in this chain The big boss’s do. (Not the one you’re probably thinking of, though.)

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Haircuts of today, number one

It’s a job that needs doing. So, even though the pay’s not great, I’ve hired myself to do it. As of today, therefore, I am the Premier League Haircut (and Hair Extensions) Correspondent.

My credentials? Hours spent at Arsenal. No more than that really. Historically, Arsenal players have been well-known for their timidity when it comes to hairdressing. Presented with the choice between a barbers or boozer (or bookies), they would choose the latter for their haircut.

Tony Adams etc would, I think, only have gone near a hairdressing salon if they wanted to borrow some money from the wife. Okay, David Seaman was an exception, with that ponytail of his. I saw him (and his ponytail) close-up once. He was driving to the match, in his Aston Martin. And I must say he looked fine. I did, though, see him on TV last night. He was being a complete pundit. And the ponytail has gone. I said a prayer of remembrance.

These days, though, Arsenal players have taken to setting the pace in the hairdressing area. For a long time, my favourite has been Bacary Sagna’s. On the menu — ha, ha — of greasy spoons, there used to be a dish — ha, ha, again — called The Lot. It may still be there for all I know. Now I guess it’s called the Full English — or, as I saw in an upmarket(ish) Newlyn cafe, The Very Hungry Man’s Cornish Breakfast.

And I think that’s how Sagna got his do done. Asked what he wanted, by his barber (or hairdressing consultant, perhaps) what he wanted in the way of hair modification, he replied: ‘The lot.’

And so he got cornrows, plaits, extensions and colour — plus, most likely some other stuff you can’t see unless you’re really close. The lot. I found myself wondering where he has it done, how long it takes — and how much he pays. But I couldn’t find out, despite trawling the internet for, oh, seconds.

So now you know what to ask for next time you’re having your hair done. The lot. Or not.

Next up Emmanuel Frimpong’s hair: some history and an opinion

Next week I become Official Haircut Correspondent for the EU

Monday, 31 October 2011

Wonders of the modern world, number eleven, Bushey Park

Actually, the reality is more striking — by far — than this rather bad picture. It was a mid-late autumn afternoon in Bushey Park. I'd never been there before. Apart from anything else, I always thought Bushey Park was in Bushey — Watford-way, that is. But I found myself round Bushey Park way the other day and decided to walk to Teddington Station via the park — which seems to be vast.

There was a warning on the gate about how I couldn't go in there because there would be live guns firing. Then I realised that only applied to the weekend nights. Then I remembered something about there being too many deer in the park and how they needed to cull them. (And I, being me, wondered what their meat would taste like. And where you could buy it.)

But nothing prepared me for this. A stag with a full set of antlers, having an afternoon nap less than ten metres from the path. When I raised the camera to take the shot, it was even better, in fact. There was a bird wandering about all over the stag. I thought the deer was a corpse, in fact, till an ear twitched and the bird flew off.

I'm sure Bushey Park regulars are surprised at my surprise but, well, you don't expect to see this kind of thing in a London park. All kinds of other things, yes. Things which are illegal in many parts of the world, including inner London, yes. But a fully antlered stag, no.

For once, I feel innocent.

Saturday, 22 October 2011

Me and Philip Glass

More than twenty years ago, I found myself at Philip Glass’s house. Philip Glass, the composer, that is — though he wasn’t there. I was in New York for a piece about David Bowie.

He’d just started his Tin Machine venture and had given me pretty much the worst interview I’d ever had from a major pop star. He’d decided that Tin Machine was a band and that he was only a member of the band. Therefore, he wouldn’t do any more talking than the rest of the band. They, of course, had nothing of interest to say — and probably even realised they didn’t. He, while being one of the best interviewees in pop, came on like one of them — teenage, inarticulate, musicianly.

It’s a long time since I looked at the piece I eventually wrote but it’s possible that I used no more than half a dozen sentences from the interview.* The piece needed to be several thousand words long. It needed an appearance of depth, at least. So I had to think of a way to fill it out — hopefully with fat and flesh rather than padding.

The Tin Machine show was at a theatre on the Lower East Side. At that time, the area was at the most extreme of its paradoxes. Crack heads all over. Literally, you crunched as you walked the streets sprinkled with used crack vials. But also still the remains of the district’s previous incarnation as a first stop for eastern European immigrants. So there were still the hot bath places (shvitzes?) and kosher delis, both milk ones and those with jugs of schmaltz (chicken fat) on the table. And there were also what we would now call hipsters living there — some of whom had been there since the 1970s when it was just rough rather than dangerous and some who’d just moved in to take advantage of the cheap rents and thrills. Nor was it that long since the Tompkins Square riot — a tiny, weenie local rumble which acquired quite lunatically elevated mythic status.

So I figured I could write a piece about slumming and downtown and how David Bowie fitted into that and how Tin Machine was his own version of slumming — an artistic pretence. But then, of course, I’ve always liked artistic pretence, thought it’s often more honest — or rather, truthful — than a posture of honesty, which is so often just pretence. Anyway, I’m sure you get the idea.

Which is how I found myself in Philip Glass’s house. He lived in the very heart of the Lower East Side crackfields. A friend was a friend of his I called and, although, he wasn’t there, his wife graciously agreed to talk to me and invited me over for tea at her house. She told me about the area and what it was like and how she saw it. It was smart, of course, and far usable than anything David Bowie said. So I put it in the piece.

I knew I’d need to thank her, though — effectively. I’m sure I took a gift of some kind — a physical one, that is. But I can’t remember what it was. I do remember the other gift I took, though. It was a joke. About her husband. This is the joke:


Who’s there?


Who’s there?

Knock-knock, knock-knock.

Who’s there?

Knock-knock, knock-knock, knock-knock?

Knock-knock, knock-knock, knock-knock, who’s there?

Philip Glass.

A somewhat show-offy gag in some circles, true. But already an established winner in my tiny repertoire of jokes — I guess I only told them to people who knew who Philip Glass was and what his music was like. So I was worried his wife would have heard it before. But she hadn’t. And she loved it.

Now, the other day, I was listening to a Marc Maron podcast. One of his guests was Ira Glass, the NPR broadcaster, the one who does This American Life. I knew he was Philip Glass’s cousin but I’d forgotten that. He told a story about his wife drunk-dialling PG at 3am then forgetting about it entirely. Then he told the PG knock-knock joke. My PG knock-knock joke. And Marc Maron had never heard it. And he loved it. And the crowd loved it. And I decided — with no evidence apart from the fact that if a toppish-line comic like Marc Maron hadn’t heard it before, then not many other people in the US can have done — that Ira must, therefore, have got it from his cousin’s wife. Who got it from me.

I can’t even admit how pleased I felt.

* The PR was pissed off at me about this and, later, told me so. Much later, he phoned me to say he’d re-read the piece and re-thought it and realised that, under the circumstances, my piece was more than fair and, well, he was apologising. A gracious act. Not unusual among PRs in my experience, in fact. By and large, PRs were better behaved and more moral and more fun people than journalists — notably so, in the case of the upmarket dailies. That PR deserves a credit, by the way. His name is Alan Edwards.

Thursday, 6 October 2011

Steve and me

The death of Steve Jobs only just appeared in this morning’s papers and I’ve not read any of the obituaries or comments so I’ve no idea if I’m saying anything original or it’s already a cliché.

I’ll head straight to my conclusion. The fact is, I feel better for Steve Jobs’ death. Liberated, almost. Maybe now, I can escape Apple jail. Maybe I’m alone. Or maybe there are lots of us.

I’ll explain.

The first time I ever saw an Apple computer was sometime in the 1980s. I fell in love. It was in a producer friend’s home studio. It not only did the things I’d dreamed computers would do when I was a kid in thrall to Dan Dare and his future. It did them in a cool way I hadn’t even dreamed of. It was like Dan Dare had somehow had a side career in, say, a rock band.

Which, of course, was both kind of the truth about Apple. And kind of the shtick. (Which is, again, of course, where this story is eventually going.)

I decided right away that this was the computer I wanted. Till I could have one of these, I’d rather struggle on with my IBM Selectric — itself a dream machine, which made a noise like an assault rifle as you typed, turning the act of writing into a cousin of urban warfare. I still miss that noise.

(The machine itself is in a cupboard, along with its predecessor, an Olivetti Lettra 32, the portable choice of real war correspondents. Maybe I should have them buried with me. Or, as I want to be cremated, burned. I wonder if you’re allowed to do that.)

So I never bothered with Amstrads or shit like that. I waited till the price came down far enough for me to be able to afford one. Which, eventually, it did.

But, before that happened, Steve Jobs had already entered my life, revolutionised it even. I just happened to be around, in a position of relative responsibility, on the first magazine in the UK to move to Apples and what was then known as ‘full-page make-up’. It was, believe it or not, Punch, that repository — and butt — of old jokes.

So, overnight, I became something of an expert on Apples. That is, I was one page in the manual ahead of most everyone else. Soon, very soon, I was hired by The Guardian — mostly on account of this Rizla-thin skill — to help it reinvent itself for the 1990s. Difficult to believe as it may seem from this distance, but it had been hit hard the arrival of the Independent five years earlier — and still hadn’t figured out what to do. (This is not unusual at The Guardian. It is currently clearly foundering financially — dropping £30 million a year, while still paying its editor a few monkeys short of £500,000 — and pushing for accountability on executive salaries in other businesses.)

Anyway, as a result of this I became a true believer — an Applostle, perhaps. And, eventually, by semantic process, an Applostate, maybe.

As a fan, I proselytised for Apple, telling anyone who’d listen how superior an operating system it was to the clunk world of PCs. I also, for a while, had access to a NeXT machine — the test-bed for many of the great things that appeared on Apples, too, once Apple had brought Jobs back into the fold (and bought out NeXT).

Eventually, I stopped talking about it, coming to believe, I guess, that if people couldn’t see the difference with their own eyes, they certainly weren’t going to hear it through their ears. I never swayed from using Apples, though, even when the build-quality of their software tested my resolve to its limits.

Skulking around in the back of my mind, though, was something new, some kind of reserve. That was the real reason I became more reticent.

And the source of that reserve I realised was Steve Jobs — though that took even longer to realise. First of all, I became embarrassed at my own applosticity. An Apple computer was, after all, just another product. How could I have an emotional relationship to it? (I know, I know, that’s the story of modern capitalism but we all like to believe we’re different, don’t you.)

I started to see smugness and entitlement in Apple users — though never in myself, of course, ha, ha. Next, I read the court judgment on Apple vs Apple. It’s a fascinating piece. Long, though. Essentially, to my mind, the evidence all tilted the Beatles’ way. The Jobs lawyers presented a case of such casuistry that they could have as well been arguing over angels and pinheads. It was the kind of case I would have made up if I was having a laugh.

But they got away with it , for one simple reason. Or, rather, one simple person. Neil Aspinall — who ran the Beatles’ Apple. His evidence was such that there were only two plausible alternatives. One, he was a complete idiot. Two, he was pretending to be a complete idiot.

The judge — clearly a highly competent man — fell victim to the reverse Dunning-Kruger effect. That is, his own competence rendered him incapable of seeing others’ incompetence. He decided Aspinall was a liar rather than an idiot. The truth is, he was the latter. He had no idea of what was going on, no understanding of computers etc etc.

I was, though, more or less repulsed by the approach of Jobs’ lawyers. I know lawyers are meant to be devious etc but I just couldn’t stomach this for some reason— probably because it made me feel an idiot for ever having been a believer.

Then I went into an Apple store and, fuck it, it felt like church. If I ever do have to go into an Apple store, I have to breathe myself through the experience.

The last straw — see how emotion brings clichés to the fore of my brain — was seeing one of Jobs’ presentations. They were like — and here we go into the inexorable relationship between length of posting and likelihood of a Third Reich analogy — a Nuremberg rally. I sometimes think what I loathed most about the couple of the I watched was Steve Jobs clothes. That and the fact that — although he had made great computers — he seemed to be a quite loathsome human being, self-satisfied, arrogant etc etc. The fact that everyone there seemed to love it was even more distressing.

I guess that’s what happens when you fall out of love. You fall into hate. One projection replaces another.

Friday, 9 September 2011

Wonders of the modern world, ten . . . When dinosaurs roamed north London

Other places have gnomes in their front gardens. Primrose Hill has dinosaurs.

It reminded that the great ice age stopped at Finchley Road station. Honest. Back then, there was a great ice cliff, a couple of miles high – half way down where the platform is now, I think.

One day I’m going to walk that boundary — where the ice stopped and the dinosaurs began. (Okay, I may have got my pre-history a little messed up there. But . . .)

Which leads me back to Freud . . .

I hear that Lucien — sorry, Lucian — Freud’s nephew Matthew is moving into the area, following in his great-grandfather’s steps. Elsworthy Road was the psychoanalyst’s first home in exile. Matthew isn’t living there, though. From what I hear, he’s on the other side of the park. Not exactly where Sidney Bechet or Roger Fenton lived but not far. Nor from where Sylvia Path killed herself.

I think of Matthew Freud’s forebear, Edward Bernays. He was the son of the marriage between Sigmund’s sister and his wife’s brother. Vienna-born, Bernays emigrated with his parents, becoming a true New Yorker — a top-dollar pitchman, the PR rep for the Wilson government, Lucky Strike cigarettes and, later, anti-smoking campaigners.

He either did invent both the phrase ‘public relations’ (a replacement for the word ‘progaganda’, made unpalatable by German use of it in WW1) and the practice of public relations — or, by claiming he did, Bernays convinced everyone he actually did it, even if he didn’t. Now that’s what I call public relations, volume one.

Just the kind of thing that it looks like Matthew Freud’s in-laws could do with right now, I find myself thinking.

Thursday, 1 September 2011

Lucian Freud and me, part two

One Yes, I know I spelled Freud’s first name wrong in the previous posting. I realised that before I posted it but decided to leave it in because I always seem to spell it wrong. I don’t really know why.

It’s not that I don’t know I do it. The only possibilities I can think of are that it’s because I have the spelling stuck in my head from the singer John Lucien. Or even Jon Lucien. Or it’s just a — wait for it — Freudian slip.

Okay, but if it is a slip, what does it reveal? The only think I can think of is that I link his name not with its real, classical Roman forebear — the satirist Lucian, probably — but with that familial derivation of Lucien, from the Latin lucius. Which, suitably for a painter, comes from lux, Latin for light. Which leads to . . .

Two In the aftermath of Freud’s death, my local paper had a reminiscence from an ex-lover. (That’s the kind of gossip you have to put up with in your local paper if you live round my way.) She said that her name for him — others used it, too — was Lux.

Three I had a thought about Freud’s nudes — most of his recent work, after all. What is so unusual (and to my mind original) about Freud’s nudes is their almost complete disconnection from/with sexuality. And whether it’s honest enough to own up to it or not, a lot of nude painting is some kind or other of sexual desire.

Not Freud’s work, though. Which, given the way he carried on, is a bit odd. Worthy of remark even. A renowned real-life skirt-chaser who doesn’t even seem, in his painting, to lust after Kate Moss — who I have seen in person and she really is gorgeous.

So? So there is something plain and ordinary and quotidian about his nudes. They’re not nudes even, really. They’re nakeds. And what I thought is this: there is something about them that reminds me of simple basic photographs of ordinary people, naked — ie not pornography or its ten-bob cousin, erotica.

And I found myself thinking of WW2 camp photographs — the violent intrusions of Nazi pictures of camp inmates etc. How this was another degradation. And I found myself wondering if at some level, conscious or unconscious, the banal demoticness of Freud’s nudes/nakeds is, in part, a way of reclaiming ordinary naked humanity from the grip of Nazi violence.

Which, surely, must have had a place in his memory. He was born in 1922. Hitler came to power in January 1933. Freud saw the Reichstag born — and was ‘excited’ by it The same year, his family moved from Berlin to St John’s Wood. Five years later, in the wake of Kristallnacht (Germany) and the Anschluss (Austria), his grandfather and his family joined them. (He long refused to show his paintings in Berlin and to this day there has never been a show in Vienna.)

Given what then came to pass, he must certainly have seen in those Nazi photographs a future of his own that never came to pass. And by painting the way he did, he kind of stole those horrific images back and reclaimed them — or rather what they showed — for their rightful owners. Their subjects, that is. All of us, by extension, perhaps.

PS After I’d written this but also after I’d put up my first Lucian Freud post, I was contacted by someone I know a little — little enough, in fact, not to know that she’d been painted by Freud. She was pissed off at me for spelling the name wrong. I hope she’s unpissed by my explanation.

Some distraction?

One I was in Cornwall for a bit, caught the riots. See here . . .

Two 'My nose and ass/They're both big/I use hot sauce on my lox and bagels'

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

The liberation of Tripoli considered as a catwalk opportunity

All wars of whatever kind have always had a strong fashion element. Hence such things as: grunts decorating their helmets in Vietnam; the adoption of the keffiyah by both middle eastern terrorist/liberation movements and as a western university uniform; the occasional pop star falling into a pit of embarrassment and vacuity when challenged about their claim that the Nazis were 'cool'.

The Libyan uprising, though, seems to have taken war-fashion to a new level. I can't help myself noticing the dress code of the rebels.

With the advent of effective long-distance rifles in the mid 19th century, warriors abandoned their previous battlefield finery. Out went feather plumes, red jackets, striped trousers and - a personal favourite - the pelisse, a fur-trimmed jacket that cavalry men (there were few, if any cavalry women, I'm assured) wore slung over one shoulder but never actually put on. In came olive drab, sensible boots and jackets with lots and lots of useful pockets. The only time modern troops get to dress up properly is when guarding the Queen or the Pope or something.

The rebels have upended this completely. They go into battle dressed up as if for a night out on the passegiata. No worries that their blue and white hooped polo shirt might make a target for enemy snipers. No, they seem set on cutting a bella figura. They really do offer a full range of well-chosen sports wear for the would-be liberator. They've mostly gone for the white trainers option, too.

I particularly like watching out for the football shirts being worn. I've seen a lot of Barcelona ones but my favourite was a Manchester United away shirt — complete with number 10 and 'Owen' on the back. If football is war by other means, here war is football by other means.

I was left with a question, though: what about the regime forces? Where are their fashionistas?

Then last night I found myself watching Newsnight or somesuch and seeing old footage of Gadafi. I'd long cracked the gag that the way he dressed these days, it was hard to tell him apart from Carlos Santana — moustache plus loose, brown outfit and unusual head-covering (for male pattern baldness reasons, I suspect).

But I'd forgotten just what a fashionist he'd been over the years. He had his Michael Jackson phase — peaked cap and military tunic, lots of excessive gold frogging, dark glasses. And as I watched Newsnight, I saw him in his 1980s phase — pale blue trakkie. He looked like a Scouse scally on his way to a pre-Heysel Liverpool away match in Europe. (Or were Michael Jackson and the scallies copying Gadafi?)

So maybe the rebels realised that as, in the end, all military victories can only be successfully secured by concomitant social victories, therefore when going into battle the choice of shirt is at least as significant as NATO air support, maybe more.

Plato: When the texture of shirting fabric changes, so the walls of the city shake.

PS When my friend Paul published a big magazine article on the fashion aspect of terrorist groupings, he got into terrible trouble. Here's hoping.

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

The dietary requirements of the average north London rioter . . .

The smashing etc time reached to within a few hundred metres of my house, to Chalk Farm station. I was expecting more damage, I guess, but all I could see was broken fronts — all now guarded by calm policemen — on Evans cycles, Sainsbury's mini store and this, the local Domino's pizza.

Notice that the sushi place next door was left untouched. As was Marine Ices over the road. And even the Marathon kebab bar — though the some of the clientele there really wouldn't take kindly to their consumption patterns being disrupted.

So . . . just Domino's Pizza, please — the chosen dinner of rioters. Perhaps even now, in Ann Arbor, the owners are thinking of that as a slogan. You are, it was often said, what you eat.

PS1 I was there because there was an online call for people to help clear up this morning. It was needed, I'm pleased to say. It had already all been cleared up, by the council, I should imagine.

PS2 Perhaps I should have guessed that: I was woken up this morning by the council street-sweeper doing the kerb outside my house.

Monday, 8 August 2011

Art appreciation

One evening, two openings.

One, in Camden Town, near Mornington Crescent. Part of the London Street Photography Festival. Photos taken of people on buses — who didn’t know they were being photographed.

I think: Walker Evans taking secret pictures on the New York subway. I think: this would be illegal in France because of their privacy laws. I think: I shall take a photograph of the photographer with his photographs. He’s the blur, obviously. Time passes.

Two, in Kentish Town Road, at the Zabludowicz Collection.

I see a golden urinal and think: it’s nearly a century since R Mutt took the piss.

Eating and drinking reviews

Street Photography two bars, Ketel vodka (sponsor), either truly horrible special cocktails or neat on ice; nothing to eat.

Zabludowicz one bar, waiters and waitresses in black and white, wine, beer, espresso machine coffee; tea-cup sized portions of Polish-ish food (esp potatoes).

Sunday, 31 July 2011

Lucien Freud and me, part one

Not an a obituary or an assessment of the newly dead painter, just a recounting of an encounter. Well, one and a half encounters. Or maybe one and one-tenth.

I did once have a conversation with Lucien Freud. I can remember exactly nothing of what was said. I can, though, remember its tenor and ending. (I’m sure that says something about memory — both mine and in general. But this is not the time or place to consider that. I’ll maybe come back to it some time in the future. If I remember. Boom, boom.)

It was in the mid-1990s, in a then newly fashionable (in certain circles) bar/club/restaurant, Green Street in Mayfair. An alternative (of sorts) to the Groucho, it was — as you’d expect of somewhere favoured by Freud — a louche establishment. The chef was Peter Gordon, the pan-Asian gay New Zealander later in charge of the Sugar Club etc. Regulars included Toby Young, Jay Jopling and the whole YBA crowd.

One night, my friend Tim and myself found ourselves alone at the bar ordering a drink when Freud appeared next to us. I’d seen him there several times before. He’d put good energy into convincing another friend’s girlfriend to have lunch with him. I have two memories of what happened next, either of which might be true.

One, she agreed, he propositioned her, she was upset, her boyfriend was thrilled.

Two, she declined, her boyfriend (possibly knowing what was in store) persuaded her, she went to lunch, he suggested she pose for him (and propositioned her), she declined both offers, her boyfriend (probably thrilled by the prospect of a kind of post-modern troilism with Lucien Freud) was upset and tried to convince her to change her mind but failed.

I’d never stood so close to Freud or seen him outlined against a wall. He was tiny, I remember thinking. Astonishingly vulpine and beautifully suited. Exactly the kind of aged man you’d expect to be still propositioning young girls — he was then in his mid-seventies.

So Tim and Lucien and I talked a bit about whatever. Then the owner of the club emerged from somewhere, came over to us and greeted all three of us warmly. Then he said to Freud: ‘Lucien, I see you’ve met my friends Tim and Pete, a pair of the finest journalists in London.’

At which point, the laws of physics were ruptured. Freud disappeared in front of our eyes. He was there and then he was not there. There was no stage of transition. In the face of journalistic enquiry, he had, quite magically, de-substantiated. Why? Well, a general desire for distance from journalistic enquiry — bordering on distaste for journalism and journalists.

Oh, how conflicting it must have been for him to have enjoyed himself chatting to us then discovered we were the enemy. As it happens, neither of us had any designs beyond a chat and wouldn’t, I’m sure, have repeated anything in print — at the time, anyway.

He didn’t, of course, disappear from existence. I remember seeing him at the club, in fact. But we never had another chat.

The one-tenth of an encounter was not long after the first. It was outside the Cafe Rouge in Kensington on a Saturday lunchtime. I was eating with my friend Paul. Perhaps Freud was eatint there, too. All I remember was that he became upset about something. I have two memories of what it was, both probably false — another rejection by a young woman or a betting slip torn up and thrown down.

Whichever it was, what I do remember is that he launched himself into his car, a vintage Bentley, I think, of some distinctive colour — deep blue or perhaps powder blue. He span the wheel, u-turned in the face of oncoming traffic and disappeared up Kensington High St in the direction of Hyde Park.

This time, I didn’t see him again. Ever.

Next part two of me and Mr Freud

Monday, 25 July 2011

Hackety hack

Last autumn, an American friend, a US TV news man in London, told me I should read the New York Times article on what was going on at News International. You won’t believe it, he said. It’s really serious, much worse than I realised. You really should read it.

I didn’t. I kept meaning to. But I didn’t.

Then the other day, I did. My friend was right. I should have read it before. It tells the story clearly and directly and devastatingly without ever spoiling its pitch by joining the Guardian on its high horse cantering across the moral high ground.

Read it here. It’s long, really long, but worth it. In a fun way.

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Hackety hack

Last autumn, an American friend, a US TV news man in London, told me I should read the New York Times article on what was going on at News International. You won’t believe it, he said. It’s really serious, much worse than I realised. You really should read it.

I didn’t. I kept meaning to. But I didn’t.

Then the other day, I did. My friend was right. I should have read it before. It tells the story clearly and directly and devastatingly without ever spoiling its pitch by joining the Guardian on its high horse cantering across the moral high ground.

Read it here. It’s long, really long, but worth it. In a fun way.

And if that's not enough fun, try this. It's an NPR podcast of Joe Boyd (worked with Pink Floyd, produced Nick Drake, John Martyn, Fairport Convention etc etc) reading from his book. The book's worth reading, too.

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Things change . . .

It’s the cliché of anarchism (etc): if voting changed anything, they’d make it illegal.

Well, here is a good, clear of example of how voting changes . . . graphic design.

For something I was writing, I looked up government approaches to music education. Without realising it, I downloaded not, as I thought I had, two contemporary reports, but one produced under the current government and one under the former.

Here’s the old (new Labour) cover . . .

Here’s the new (coalition) cover . . .

Striking, no?

Old (new Labour) a large image, shot on 21mm (I think) lens, adding (rightly or wrongly) drama, with (as always in the last government’s publications) an ethnic minority (as per new Labour usual, a young ‘black’ person); a two-colour title, with the words unaligned (in builder’s terminology, ‘on the piss’); a subhead aiming at inclusion but begging a question (more music than what? more people than who?)

New (coalition) consciously sober title (it says what it does on its cover); conscious, perhaps archaic capitalisation (‘Government Response’ rather than the less stentorian ‘government response’); blue colour (an indication of coalition balance?); a seemingly pointless shadow rectangle with a grid pattern which perhaps hints at an underlying mathematical response to music (for better or worse)

It doesn’t stop at the cover, either, of course. The difference continues inside.

The new (coalition) document opens with a quote from Plato and includes this sentence: ‘Music is an enriching and valuable academic subject. Research evidence shows that a quality music education can improve self-confidence, behaviour and social skills, as well as improve academic attainment in areas such as numeracy, literacy and language.’

The old (new Labour) one aimed, among other things, ‘to develop a world-class workforce in music education’. Workforce, world-class — how quaint and early 21st century those words now seem. It included this statement from the then Arts Minister, Estelle Morris: ‘It's about everyone with a love of music coming together to create the soundtrack to young people's lives.’

Then love, everyone, soundtrack, coming together, young people.

Now research evidence, self-confidence, improve, academic subject, social skills, attainment, numeracy, literacy.

Plus ça change, plus ça change.

Plato (him, again) wrote: ‘Musical innovation is full of danger to the State, for when modes of music change, the laws of the State always change with them.’ And, it seems, vice versa.

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Wonders of the modern world, number nine

A sign of summer (and neighourhood ethnicity statistics). Some look for swallows. In my part of north London, I look for parking spaces. The other day, I was driving south on Gloucester Avenue towards Camden Town and realised I could have my pick of maybe twenty spaces – which means there are now more Americans living in my neighbourhood than even the number of whole house rebuilds going on would indicate.

When the roads become clear and the parking spaces start becoming become free and easy, then I know summer is really here. It means the Americans have begun leaving. ASL in St John's Wood has closed till September. The mothers have taken their children home across the Atlantic to their mothers for the summer – while their investment banker (mostly) husbands sweat a few more weeks alone in the city.

Where the cars go, though, I've no idea. Maybe they put them into storage for the summer. All I know is that it will all be even clearer by the end of next week, when all the private schools will have closed for the summer. Then, the traffic is so light, you could have a half-hour kip in the middle of St John's Wood High Street.

It's always a shock when I go to another bit of London in late July or August. There are cars on the street. And people. What's wrong with them? Don't they have second homes to go to?

Monday, 20 June 2011

What is so funny about (What’s so funny ’bout) Peace, Love and Understanding?

The other night, I went to see Nick Lowe play, at the Royal Festival Hall, as part of Ray Davies’ Meltdown thing. (The first time I saw Nick Lowe play was as one of Kippington Lodge in Tunbridge Wells Assembly Rooms — or perhaps the youth club hut in Sparrows Green.)

He played (What’s so funny ’bout) Peace, Love and Understanding. (That’s the ‘correct’ title, by the way. No question mark, apostrophised ‘about’, variable use of upper and lower case. I just checked the original album sleeve.)

Of course, he did. He’s always played it, in living memory anyway. I’ve heard him play it in all kinds of different ways and in different places in the set. That night, he played it in the middle of the show, throwing it away almost but also fitting his approach to it that night. With his small band, he cast it as a simple matter of a few coherent facts. It is a truth universally acknowledged . . .

It hasn’t always sat there in his set — or in other people’s. Though I can’t recall him ever using it a barnstorming finisher, others certainly have played it that way. It’s one of those songs which contains multitudes — or ways to sing it anyway.

There is, I’ve come to realise, a whole long story about its journey from a piece of irony in 1974 (or, more precisely, an honest statement/heartfelt plea masquerading as irony) to a rant in 1978 (Elvis Costello) to a money-spinner in the early 1990s (Curtis Stigers’ cover on the Bodyguard soundtrack) to Nick’s own quiet solo performances (prayer-like sometimes) to its emergence as a quite unironic anthem in 21st century America (a left-leaning thing in the wake of the Iraq invasion, in particular).

So . . . some listening and watching . . .

One Elvis Costello goes bluegrassy country. It’s the second song in a two-part medley.

Two Elvis Costello tears it up, on Independence Day. A Brit succouring Americans?

Three Elvis Costello brings on Nick Lowe — acoustically, in Tokyo.

Four Nick Lowe goes Latinate — putting the clave in Kimmel.

Five Elvis Costello’s floppy hands on a beach — the original single version of his.

Six Elvis Costello does it star-style, with a Dylan and a Deschanel, among others. And two drummers, a father and daughter pairing.

Seven Elvis Costello introduces a visionary version by the handsomest man in show business (and Nobel-prize possibility).

Eight Bruce Springsteen and friends, in New Jersey, I think. In wobble-vision, from the loge.

Nine Brinsley Schwarz, the original, sound-without-vision. Ironic or not?

Ten A Perfect Circle, an American band on a 2004 anti-war trip — with suitably antiphonic images.

PS1 If you didn’t get an email link to my Peace & Love Dropbox, filled with other and more versions, let me know, either by email or posting a comment.

PS2 The one version I haven’t been able to include anywhere is Bill Murray singing it in Lost in Translation. A favourite, for many reasons — not least the disappointment and distaste on Murray’s face when he failed to win the Oscar for his performance. Which he probably deserved to win — if any lineal link can ever be drawn between the words ‘deserve’ and ‘Oscar’. So if you’ve got an mp3 or somesuch of it, I’d be obliged.

PS3 Another take on peace, love and understanding, courtesy of Tom and his Bernelli.