Archive for January, 2011

Inane Thoughts: Diary of a Frustrated Writer

January 26, 2011

Er, ok, so I’ve been slacking recently on the blogging. Is this a New Year resolution gone awry? Have I lapsed into indolent apathy already, at such an early stage? Hopefully my return to the blogosphere will indicate that the answer to these questions is “er, hopefully not”.

I’ve always been told that, when it comes to writing, you should stick to what you know, which means that I will not write a lengthy blog on my utter distaste for the current coalition government, as there are enough articles and opinion pieces out there, far more informed than my own in this regard. Sufficed to say that whilst I am appalled at the further privatisation of the NHS, the seemingly unnecessarily swift cuts and a host of other issues, I am not surprised. This is a cabinet that features a veritable smorgasbord of twattishness, most noticeable in fat-tongued, dough-faced millionaire Gideon “George” Osborne.

And with that insult goes the moral high-ground.

*blows raspberry at moral high-ground*

All of which brings me round to one of my New Year resolutions that I have just broken in the previous couple of paragraphs: to be calmer in the face of that which I find distasteful. I have recently been reading the book ‘Them: Adventures With Extremists’ by Jon Ronson; a book that is well-worth a read if you get the chance. I spent a lot of my time reading the book in awe at his ability to remain calm whilst listening to the often shocking opinions of the people he was spending time with. I cannot imagine Melanie Philips remaining quite so calm in the face of opinions that she finds disagreeable. Then again, she would have fitted in well with the type of person that Ronson was following around, as she accused GCSE geography exams of turning cats into homosexuals and claiming that triangles are anti-semitic.

I would really like to be able to calmly ask questions when speaking to people with opinions that I believe are extreme; trying to get to the bottom of why they believe what they believe, as opposed to what I normally do, which is either to tut and crudely hector the person, denigrating their ridiculous opinions, or, if the person scares me, then I just pretend that I haven’t heard what they said, or I make inane and neutral statements such as: “hmmm, well you can’t be too careful”. At this point the scary person usually looks at me as though I am a simpleton and says very little else. In my head, this then makes the score 1-0 to the scary person, by dint of an own goal. I may feel less fearful of being punched in the face or mercilessly teased for being a sissy, but it also leaves me with a feeling of self-loathing. Perhaps this is an inate problem with thinking of arguments in terms of scores (damn you, school debates!). The worst-case scenario in these situations is when the banal stock phrase ends up making me sound as right-wing and idiotic as the scary person. Here is an example of this situation:

Scary man: “Did you know that paedophiles murder swans and use them in their sick games. They should all be executed using a spoon.”

Me: “Well, you can’t be too careful.”

Scary man: “Exactly.”

At this point I have realised that in the scary man’s eyes I have fervently agreed with his horrible, ill-thought-through statement. I then feel an even greater sense of self-loathing. All of which leaves me thinking: what would happen if I confront these opinions head on, don’t think of these situations in terms of scores, and I ask the person spouting these opinions why they believe what they are telling me that they believe?

Well devoted reader, if I can muster the courage, then I shall take on this journalistic feat and let you know the (almost certainly dire) consequences. With any luck the consequences will be entertaining and not involve any kind of maiming or, worse, name-calling.

Oh, there will also be another re-evaluation of an album from ten years ago coming very soon. I’m thinking Daft Punk’s ‘Discovery’.

Over and out.

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Inane Thoughts: Diary of a Frustrated Writer

January 15, 2011

To be truly understood, great art, literature or music should be assessed in its historical context. Of course, if it’s something released in your lifetime there will almost certainly be a personal context as to why you might love, hate or shrug at a particular work of art, a book, or a song or album. In the case of Radiohead and me, there is a huge amount of personal context. The first album that I can remember borrowing off of an older kid, listening to it on repeat and finally buying it, after realising that it was bad form to keep that which had been lent to you, was Radiohead’s ‘The Bends’ (the first album I actually bought was Guns ‘N’ Rose ‘Appetite For Destruction’ at the age of 9, but, quite reasonably, my parents thought some of the imagery in the centre fold of a sexually-assaulting robot was a little violent for a 9-year old).

Radiohead are one of the major bands, if not the major band, that shaped my listening patterns during my teenage years. Influenced by increasingly leftfield influences, they helped me delve into the sort of music that I would not necessarily have found at home. It was through Radiohead that I discovered Stereolab, Spiritualized, Boards of Canada, Neu!, Kraftwerk, Can, Aphex Twin, Autechre, Squarepusher, Broadcast, Miles Davis, Bjork and so many more. Although, I have to admit that in the cases of Miles Davis and Bjork, they mainly led me to stealing my parents copies of their albums.

I remember the day that Kid A came out. I remember the weeks of excitement that led up to its release, with wild speculation about what we’d all be hearing. It’s strange to think back on that as a time just before albums would be regularly leaked before release. Maybe it was just me, but I can’t remember anyone getting their hands on a version of Kid A before it was released, or indeed, any of the songs. All we had to go on as fans were some of the live versions of songs like ‘Motion Picture Soundtrack’ and ‘How To Disappear Completely’. There were no singles that preceded Kid A. In fact, I can’t remember there being a single released from the album at all. This was an album to be listened to all the way through. This is the last time I can remember having this feeling about an album; genuinely having no clue as to what would sounds would come out of my stereo when I put on the record.

I remember devouring all the reviews of Kid A in the music magazines. In particular, I remember reading a scathing one star review of the album in the now defunct magazine Melody Maker; I’d never disagreed with a review more vociferously. A popular opinion was that Radiohead (and in particular Thom Yorke) had made a deliberately obtuse and unlistenable record, in a fit of pique at their fame and success in the late 90’s, like some sort of musical dirty protest. Listening back to Kid A now it’s hard to know what the fuss was about. Songs like ‘Everything In It’s Right Place’, ‘The National Anthem’ and ‘Idioteque’ are live staples and it’s perfectly clear that there really were quite a lot of melodies on Kid A. It definitely didn’t sound like OK Computer, but the aesthetic was the same; Kid A was an album to be listened to all the way through. It was a complete entity.

Amnesiac came out only nine months after Kid A, but it already seemed like we were in a different era. Anyone with a decent internet connection had already downloaded half of the songs from the album by the time it came out. The band had decided to release actual singles. Some of this gave the impression that Amnesiac was a selection of inferior off-cuts from Kid A (the inclusion of an alternative version of ‘Morning Bell’ did little to dispel this view). On its release, much of the music press gave it the flippant and pejorative title, ‘Kid B’. Listening back to it now, this not only hugely over-simplifies the album, it’s just plain wrong: Amnesiac was meant to be an album on its own merits. It certainly doesn’t flow as an album in the same way that Kid A did, but this is so much more than a collection of off-cuts and b-sides.

As opening track ‘Packt Like Sardines In A Crushd Tin Box’ kicks in, all pulsating beats and hypnotic bass-line, I remember just how fresh this sounded to me when it came out. It may not sound so fresh anymore (rock bands flirting with electronica is positively the norm these days), but it still sounds as arresting as the day I first heard it. From the off, this album featured some of Thom Yorke’s most paranoid, sometimes aggressive lyrics: “I’m a reasonable man, get off my case”. In contrast, second track, ‘Pyramid Song’ was the sort of song that fans might have expected in a follow-up to OK Computer, all lush orchestration and towering beauty. It’s an epic song of the sort that shows just how far Radiohead were ahead of their contemporary stadium bands (and still are). To put it into context, can you genuinely imagine Coldplay or Kings of Leon writing songs as nuanced and lovely as this?

The Blair-baiting ‘You And Whose Army?’ was a perfect encapsulation of the paranoia inherent in Yorke’s lyrics at the time. It’s also a fragile and beautiful song, that segues perfectly into the rockier middle section of the album, kicking off with the riff-led ‘I Might Be Wrong’, followed by ‘Knives Out’; probably the most straight-forward song on Kid A or Amnesiac. Knives Out also once again showcased the disconcerting darkly-comic, violent imagery that Yorke was dipping into: “So knives out/Cook him up/Squash his head/Put him in the pot”. Next up there’s the disquieting, slowed-down version of ‘Morning Bell’ that more than stands up to the Kid A version, fitting in perfectly with the feel of Amnesiac. Finally there’s ‘Dollars & Cents’, which takes up where ‘The National Anthem’ left off, all jittery beats and Jonny Greenwood’s interrupting orchestral arrangements. However, unlike in ‘The National Anthem’, you can actually understand what Yorke is singing. The violent imagery is in stark contrast to the elliptical word-collages of Kid A: “We are the dollars and cents/We’re gonna crack your little skulls”.

The album certainly has its left-field moments, probably more left-field than those in Kid A. ‘Pull/Pulk Revolving Doors’ wouldn’t seem out of place on a Boards of Canada album, though it does seem further proof that Radiohead were were never quite as good at pure electronica as the bands that they admired. There’s a cold beauty in ‘Hunting Bears’ and, along with the glacial, disconcerting ‘Like Spinning Plates’ (which was bettered by the live version on ‘I Might Be Wrong’), these two songs seem like the perfect lead up to final track, ‘Life In A Glasshouse’.

Life In A Glasshouse is the one track from Amnesiac that wasn’t recorded during the Kid A sessions. For years Radiohead had talked about the way that jazz had influenced their recording style, particularly the influence of Miles Davis’ ‘Bitches Brew’ on OK Computer. Life In A Glasshouse was the most obviously jazz-influenced song, albeit influenced by New Orleans jazz, as opposed to the more experimental jazz of Miles Davis. It was recorded with Humphrey Lyttleton and his band (and for those wondering, yes, that is the Humphrey Lyttleton, long-time presenter of ‘I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue’ and general all-round good guy). It’s an absolutely incredible song. It’s gorgeous, elegiac, unsettling, neurotic; a perfect microcosm of what Radiohead had become.

It also seems to presage the paranoia of the post-9/11 war on terror era, with the concomitant infringements on civil liberties and fear-mongering from world leaders and the media alike (“once again, we are hungry for a lynching”). The chorus of the song is, for me, the most perfect distillation of the sort of world-weary paranoia that would come to be the hallmark of the internet-led culture of the 00’s (well that and very SHOUTY people calling each other names, generally being cretinous and probably a little bit racist on Have Your Say forums):

Well of course I’d like to sit around and chat/Well of course I’d like to stay and chew the fat… but someone’s listening in“.

Amnesiac was accused at the time of being disjointed; a mish-mash of influences and styles. From the pulsating electronica of ‘Packt Like Sardines In a Crushd Tin Box’, to the swooning piano led majesty of ‘Pyramid Song’, to the Smiths-influenced guitar play in ‘Knives Out’, the aggressive rock of ‘I Might Be Wrong’, to the paranoiac jazz of ‘Life In A Glasshouse’, Amnesiac is a smorgasbord of ideas. However, in 2011, with groups like LCD Soundsystem making a career out of this sort of album, it no longer seems such an oddity. It was Amnesiac, not Kid A, that became the blueprint for Radiohead’s next couple of albums and possibly for the next decade of indie music.

When asked at the end of 2009 what my favourite album of the 00’s was, I plumped for Kid A. I haven’t changed my opinion, but it seems to me that Kid A was actually the last great 20th Century album, that just happened to be released in the 00’s. It was Amnesiac that pointed to where music was going.

Inane Ramblings: Diary of a Frustrated Writer

January 13, 2011

O-Town's dream girl

Do doo do doo do dee dooo, do dee do doo, do dee do doo doo doooo…

It appears I’ve become the heir to Tony Hart’s throne, as my inane ramblings on the misogynistic fantasies of O-Town has led to Marc, 34 ¾, sending me his interpretation of O-Town’s magical word-visions. I believe those are the remains of Salma Hayek, following her organ harvesting, to the left hand side of the picture.

She looks like the sort of woman who should be hunting down Kenneth ‘Giving A Bad Name To Cretins’ Tong. If you haven’t heard of Mr Tong and his recent fame on Twitter; rather than talking at length about him and making myself apoplectic with rage, I shall direct you to the full-length interview of him by the lovely Johann Hari, which is at: www.johannhari.com. It provides a link to the shorter interview, which may be necessary for some background on the execrable Mr Tong. I implore you to read the full version, if you can stand to, through the bubbling rage. I had to stop several times so as to bang my head on my desk, in an attempt make the stupid go away.

In the next couple of days I’ll be taking a look back at Radiohead’s ‘Amnesiac’. It’ll take me back to seeing Radiohead perform at South Park in Oxford, with support from Supergrass, Beck, Sigur Ros and Humphrey Lyttleton, which is one of my most memorable gigs, yet the album still lives in my memory as the ‘forgotten’ sister album of the much-lauded ‘Kid A’. I’m really looking forward to revisiting this album.

Inane Thoughts: Diary of a Frustrated Writer

January 11, 2011

Following yesterday’s blog my intrigue about the album O-Town, by the boy-band O-Town, got the better of me and I began reading the lyrics to this unheard album. I now think Danan and Brent not only had a hand in the tracklisting, but that they have actually have written these lyrics. Either that or they were the result of a glitch in a lyric generator that has been programmed using the words: “sensitive”, “sexy”, “Backstreet Boys”, “insipid” and “ooooh, sex”.

The first half of the album consists of the sort of lyrics that a Zoo-magazine-reading teenage boy might come up with, or a burgeoning sex pest. An example of this comes in the song ‘Six Seconds’, which is ostensibly about how often the average man/idiot thinks about sex, but is also by an amazing coincidence the same length of time that it takes a member of O-Town to achieve climax. Here is a sample lyric from this ‘song’:

Every six seconds or less
Preoccupation with the opposite sex
And you’re the one I blame
For making me go crazy

I think the most worrying line is the “you’re the one I blame” line, which is the sort of excuse that the Daily Mail would use to excuse men who sexually assault girls wearing skimpy clothing. The narrator goes on to say that he’d like this girl to be “sponging all over me”, which given the alternative use of the word “sponge” is an even more disgusting turn of phrase than it first seems. Finally the narrator ends up repeating the lines:

I cannot concentrate on anything
But this urge I have inside
Every six seconds
Every six seconds
Until you give me some

I think even the Nuts-reading-teenage-sex-pest might have looked back on these lines and taken a sharp breath. By this point I’ve begun to see this album as a piece of Warholian conceptual art, based around pushing the boundaries of the sort of lyrics that can acceptably be marketed at teenage girls if they are accompanied by vacuous music. These lyrics sound like the thoughts that a leering old man might have, if he were allowed to inhabit the body of a 14 year old boy, or had taken an overdose of viagra.

Another song on this first half of the album is a 21st century update on the teen-masturbation-movie, Weird Science, in which two teenagers create a woman to do appalling things to, in a daring exploration of the ethics of whether or not programming a robot to have sex with you makes it a consensual act. The song in question is called ‘Liquid Dreams’, which is obviously meant to be an elliptical reference to wet dreams, but actually ends up making it sound more like it’s a song about wetting the bed.

The main lyric goes thus:

Now this hot girl (hot), she’s not your average girl

She’s a morpherotic dream from a magazine

And she’s so fine (damn) designed to blow your mind

She’s a dominatrix super-model beauty queen

I dream about a girl who’s a mix of Destiny’s Child,

Just a little touch of Madonna’s wild style,

With Janet Jackson’s smile, throw in a body like Jennifer

You’ve got the star of my liquid dreams

Angelina’s lips to kiss in the dark

Underneath Cindy C’s beauty mark

When it comes to the test well Tyra’s the best

And Salma Hayek brings the rest

Now, leaving aside the obvious misogynistic undertones of the song, let’s just address the picture that they’ve painted with these words. The girl in question is a mix of Destiny’s Child (I assume this is a sort of tapestry weaved from of all of the members who’ve ever been in Destiny’s Child, but without any specifics it’s difficult to know what they have in mind), on top of this she has a touch of Madonna’s wild style, probably her conical bra, as well as Janet Jackson’s smile, which wipes out at least one part of the Destiny’s Child mixture. Next up they “throw in” (this about sums up their attitude to women) the body of ‘Jennifer’. First, I assume this is Jennifer Lopez, but it could be anyone from Jennifer Aniston to Jennifer Hudson, who have varying body-shapes and make it difficult to picture what they are thinking of (probably a good thing). Secondly, with the all-encompassing word ‘body’, they’ve pretty much used up the majority of the Destiny’s Child mix.

If they’d stopped at this point we’d now have Janet Jackson’s smile, an undefined Jennifer’s body and, if we don’t count the head as part of the body, the ears, eyes, nose, cheeks, chin, forehead, hair and skull of various members of Destiny’s Child. However, they don’t stop at this point, oh no, they go on (and on).

Next up we have Angelina’s lips (though creepily only to kiss in the dark), which insinuates that either Janet Jackson’s smile is separate to her lips, or that their dream woman has two mouths. Whether it is indeed one or two mouths, at least one full mouth will be obscured by some massive version of Cindy Crawford’s beauty mark, which may explain why they want to kiss in the dark.

Next they explain that “when it comes to the test” that “Tyra’s the best”. Now, I don’t know what ‘test’ is a euphemism for and I don’t wish to know, so I’ll ignore this and pretend they’re talking about Tyra Banks’ ability in examinations. They don’t specify what sort of examination she is the best at though and I’m starting to wonder whether O-Town are collectively any good at painting pictures with their words. In fact I’m beginning to think that O-Town’s words might be an ill-thought through embarrassment to the English language.

Finally, Salma Hayek brings the “rest”. Given that Destiny’s Child have the ears, eyes, nose, cheeks, chin, forehead, hair and skull, Janet Jackson the smile, Angelina Jolie the lips, Cindy Crawford an giant obscuring mark, ‘Jennifer’ the body and Tyra the ability to pass an exam, I really cannot see what Salma Hayek has left to bring to the table. Perhaps she brings the internal organs. I’ve heard her pancreas is rather titillating.

Later on in the song they attempt to address the fact that they might be focusing a little too heavily on the physical attributes of this monstrous woman and add the line: “Looks ain’t everything she’s got the sweetest personality/Like Halle B”. This of course makes all of their previous sexist leering fine, although some pedants and blowhards might say that they haven’t exactly redressed the balance, but what do they know eh?. ‘Sweet’ is enough for these boys, thankyou very much.

The sensitive souls of O-Town don’t stop there at revealing their extenstive sensitive side, there’s a whole second half of the album with which to further extrapolate their tenderness.

As an example of this ‘sensitive’ half of the album, I give you the beginning of the song ‘Sensitive’:

Sensitive

Who says a man’s not supposed to be?

Sensitive (I’m sensitive)

First up, I like that the last bit is in parentheses. It sounds like the sort of thing that should be whispered by a backing group, just to make it clear that in case you didn’t get what they were trying to say, it is definitely they who are sensitive.

The chorus then goes on:

I never hear you laugh

I never see you cry

Never heard you say you need a love like mine

See I’ve given you everything that’s inside

But you need to fill me up

‘Cos you’re not playing with the flame

Girl you won’t get burned

You know that’s not the kind of thing I do

It’s a mysterious lyric. The narrator has never heard this woman that he’s a-wooing laugh or cry. Questions quickly arise: is she a sociopath incapable of emotion; perhaps she’s a mute unable to vocalise these extremes of emotion; or perhaps the narrator has not actually met this girl, or spent time in her presence, but simply stares at her through her bedroom window from a nearby tree (more consistent with their previous output).

Given these possibilities it’s not surprising that she has specifically not said “I need a love like yours”. If she has heard any of the narrator’s other songs then she should be wary. She probably believes that the kind of love that he will be offering to her will be a bit weird: particularly if she’s heard the preceding track ‘Love Should Be A Crime’, which should lead her to the conclusion that she definitely doesn’t want to go around accepting O-Town’s definition of what love is, given they seem to believe that it’s some kind of criminal act (again, this is consistent with their previously discussed output)

The narrator then goes on to state that he’s given the girl in question everything that’s inside him, which makes it even more unsurprising that she doesn’t want his love, as I’m pretty sure that posting a collection of your excreted bodily fluids to a girl actually is a crime.

The narrator does, howver, go on to point out there is a redeeming feature of O-Town’s rather odd man-collective wooing – they don’t literally burn girls, as this is “not the kind of thing” they do. If I were giving them the benefit of the doubt I’d say this might be a metaphor, but given the laboured nature of the line, I have deduced that they are making the promise, quite literally, that they won’t burn her, which thus makes them sensitive. It certainly puts them one up on Danny Dyer.

I would go on to discuss songs like ‘The Painter’, in which they say that they can’t paint, sculpt or act (?!) adequately enough to describe a girl’s “bluer than blue” eyes, but they can sing them to her using their words. Words like “your eyes are bluer than blue”. Step aside Keats, piss off Yeats, go fuck yourself Rimbaud, O-Town rule the poetry in this town.

I will point out that I have only read these lyrics from various websites and have not listened to the songs. In fact, I don’t think I want to listen to the actual ‘music’, as it may spoil my view of this album as conceptual art.

Inane Thoughts: Diary Of A Frustrated Writer

January 10, 2011

Okay, so I’ve been lazy when it comes to writing my blog for the last few days. This is not because I ran out of ideas, honest. In fact I’ve been working on a running off/on/off theme for the coming months: re-evaluations of albums released in the 00s. I did think of re-evaluating one per week, coinciding exactly with the week in which it was released ten years ago. Then I looked at the album releases in January 2001. I don’t own, nor have I ever heard O-Town’s eponymous debut, Jennifer Lopez’s ‘J.Lo’, Daz Dillinger & J.T. The Bigga Figga’s ‘From Long Beach 2 Fillmoe’, or Black Label Society’s ‘Alcohol Fueled Brewtality’ (see what they did there? Yes, that’s right, the misspelt ‘fuelled’).

I’m certain that my record collection is much-the-poorer for these omissions, but having not evaluated them in the first place, I did feel that re-evaluating them might prove difficult. Obviously I was distraught. The track listing for O-Town’s album is particularly intriguing. They sound like the sort of songs that would appear on a collaboration between David Brent and Paul Danan. Songs off the album include: ‘Liquid Dreams’; ‘Every Six Seconds’; ‘Sexiest Woman Alive’; ‘Love Should Be A Crime’; ‘All Or Nothing’; ‘Sensitive’; ‘The Painter’. The first few songs are from the first half of the album, which I assume was the ‘sexy’ half. The second half, beginning with ‘Sensitive’ is, I assume, meant to show the boys in a more caring light, whereby they are ‘Sensitive’ and, like, paint stuff and, like, shit, yeah?

In the end, despite my intrigue at O-Town’s artistic output, my initial plan had to be abandoned. I then decided that I would stick close to the plan, but instead of picking an album from exactly ten years ago to the nearest week, I would just re-evaluate albums from across the year in 2001, picking them at random from my collection. Please feel free to make suggestions to me of albums that I should look back on. To start with I will begin with the first album that I actually own from the Wikipedia ‘2001 in music’ page:

Stephen Malkmus – Stephen Malkmus

First up, I have an admission to make: the only Pavement album that I bought at the time it came out was ‘Terror Twilight’. On top of this, I only bought the album because I was obsessed with Radiohead and I’d read in NME that Jonny Greenwood featured on two of the tracks. However, it only took one listen before I fell head-over-heels in love with Pavement – in particular Stephen Malkmus’ wordplay. I spent my entire next week’s wages on their entire back catalogue, giving myself a full day to listen to each album a few times through. I wanted to tell everyone I knew about them and sing their praises, but I only managed to persuade a couple of my friends of their greatness. This made me like them even more – as a 16 year old in Wokingham there were few people around that seemed to be on the same wavelength as me. Along with Pulp, Pavement made me realise that there might be a glorious inner sanctum for weirdo bookish music geeks like me. The lyrics to Box Elder absolutely blew me away and perfectly summed up what Pavement meant to me: “Was a distant voice/That made me make a choice/That I had to get the fuck out of this town.” It seemed like Stephen Malkmus was that distant voice.

I then went on to miss their last gig at Brixton Academy. I was furious with myself. When Stephen Malkmus’ first solo album came out I was pant-wettingly excited. By this point I’d acquainted myself with the history of Pavement; I knew every song and I knew that Malkmus considered Pavement to be like handcuffs he needed to escape from. For some reason I was hoping that this meant that his first album would be a return to the freewheelin’ melee of Wowee Zowee, with long, seemingly spontaneous guitar riffs. What I got was an album of incredibly structured songs. I remember being a little disappointed at the time, in particular thinking that although Pavement lyrics were ostensibly about nothing, there always made me feel something; the songs on ‘Stephen Malkmus’ seemed to simply be empty, that there was something missing. I also remember thinking that the album was great fun for a brief period of time, but it’s funny that the emptiness is the overriding feeling that lingers.

It’s strange listening to it again now. I’ve probably not listened to it since I started university, whereas Pavement albums are rarely off my stereo’s radar. I’m already reassessing my memories of this album. There are little details in the album that I must have missed or ignored the first time: the flute that insinuates itself into the rock dirge of ‘Black Book’; the knowing goofiness of the background sounds of ‘Phantasies’; the shattering-of-the-romanticism-about-pirates storyline of ‘The Hook’ (“We had no wooden legs/Or steel hooks/We had no black eye patches/Or a starving cook/We were just killers with the cold eyes of a sailor“). Then there’s the glorious shrug of a storyline in ‘Jenny & The Ess Dog’, where the relationship between a rich girl and her older boyfriend slowly breaks apart when she goes to college.

It never occurred to me until now that Malkmus had never really done ‘stories’ with Pavement. The details in this song are absolutely glorious: “Kiss when they listen/To ‘Brothers In Arms’/And if there’s something wrong with this/They don’t see the harm/In joining their forces and singing along“. There’s still a subtle misanthropy (of course there’s something wrong in listening to Brothers In Arms), but there’s also the sense that Malkmus understands the need in a relationship to build a world of your very own around you, no matter how ridiculous it seems to you when you look back on it.

There are also moments that remind me of why I was disappointed with the album: the MOR of ‘Discretion Grove’ and the emptiness of ‘Jo-Jo’s Jacket’ (a song about Yul Brenner seems like the sort of unfunny revivalism I’d expect from one of those pointless flashbacks in a Family Guy episode), but on the whole I think I’ve been harsh on this album. At the time I wanted another ‘Wowee Zowee’ or ‘Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain’, so that I wouldn’t feel that I’d missed out again. With this in mind, I was always going to be disappointed. It doesn’t do much new, but it’s a little gem of an album. I don’t think I’ll leave it another seven years before listening to it.

Inane Thoughts: Diary of a Frustrated Writer

January 4, 2011

To start off I’d like to thank everyone for the positive comments about my short story. It’s genuinely heart-warming to know that you’ve taken the time out of your day to read the story and to let me know that you liked it. This may be because there is no “dislike” or “am ambivalent to” button on Facebook. Now I just need to finish the longer-than-a-paragraph short story that I’ve been working on for about a month.

I finished the beginning and end of this story after a few hours, but this only comprises about 3,000 words. I have a nagging feeling that, as much as I’d like to break free of the structural restrictions of the traditional beginning-middle-end structure in the large majority of literature, I feel that this should not be used as an excuse for indolence. Not having a linear structure does not mean that you just don’t write words. Call me a quaint traditionalist, but it seems to be that the middle tends to be a rather crucial element in any story, whether or not it is linear. For instance, I would imagine that if you stood up at a funeral and said: “Hello, we are here to remember Dave Simpson. Dave was born in Dunstable Hospital in 1954, then sometime later, quite recently in fact, he died in Papua New Guinea”, you would not go on to be a popular figure at the wake. People might, in fact, be rather furious at you. Nor can I claim to be from the Flaubertian school of perfectionism, claiming that I am taking my time because I am looking for ‘le mot juste’ – this would seem both hugely hubristic and plain wrong. I am not Gustave Flaubert. I’d be lucky to be Gus Hedges (yeah, that’s right, I’m dropping slightly anachronistic Drop The Dead Donkey references).

So, in summary, I should probably quit writing this blog about not writing my short story and, well, write my short story. Although before this I should probably eat some lunch and then wait a while before leaving the office where I do my actual job. Not actually simply waiting though, I will of course shuffle some papers around my desk and type furious at my keyboard, tutting.

Inane Thoughts: Diary of a Frustrated Writer

January 2, 2011

Today I have spent much of the evening trying to write a story of exactly 100 words. This is because my girlfriend’s parents informed me of a competition currently running in the Reader’s Digest to write a story of exactly 100 words. I doubt I would have set myself this absurd task, but the challenge immediately appealed to me. It reminded me of a challenge that the Guardian set several famous writers, based on Ernest Hemingway’s six-word story, which he once said was his best work: “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.”

It does seem an odd challenge for the Reader’s Digest to present to its readers, it not being a magazine known for its association with imaginative literature, but more for its omnipresence in surgery waiting rooms and my grandparents’ bookshelves, alongside the Maeve Binchy books. However, I decided to take the idea on as both a personal challenge and a way to kick-start my long held up short-story writing ambitions. Either that, or it’s another way to not write a proper short story, along with this blog.

Since taking on this task it’s been an incredibly frustrating evening. I have run the gamut of emotions from anger to self-pity to hubris and relief at having typed exactly 100 words. Then I re-read what I had written, upon which I was returned to anger and self-pity. I deleted what I had written and then rocked back and forth in the foetal position for a while, feeling futile. This “foetile” moment was the low ebb. I picked myself off the floor and imagined montage music starting up. I went back to my laptop, convinced that I was going to rock the socks off of this challenge. Finally, after pretending to type to the sound of Eye of the Tiger, I decided to actually type some words. An hour later I finally had a 100 word story. It wasn’t great, it wasn’t at all funny, but on the plus side I didn’t want to delete it. It was there, staring back at me and I felt a modicum of pride. So, in the spirit of the New Year and the spirit of sharing I have decided to include it here. Any constructive criticism would be much appreciated, but please be kind, as I don’t want to have to go foetal again. Happy New Year everyone!

On the first Saturday of every other month at precisely 2p.m. Ian Culverdale would enter his local hairdresser’s. Ian would always sit in the same seat in the waiting room and wait to be called for. Upon being called for Ian would always say the same thing: “wash and cut, please Mr Carruthers”. Mr Carruthers always asked Ian to call him Roger, but Ian always soundlessly waved away this suggestion. Ian liked to have his hair cut in silence. Ian sat down in the same chair he always sat in: “My wife died, Roger. I don’t know what to do”.