Friday, 31 December 2010

Monday, 27 December 2010

I read some books this year

Of those books, these were the ones I most enjoyed.

Adam Thirlwell, The Delighted States (aka Miss Herbert)

An absorbing, unusual treatise on translation and the notion of literary style. Mr Sterne (the other, more successful one) features prominently.

Dan Rhodes, Little Hands Clapping

Rhodes takes his charming, darkly humourous style to a new level in this contemporary fairy tale. As in Rhodes' earlier book, Timoleon Vieta Come Home, the narrative is fragmented into smaller, short-story-esque pieces, but whereas the average "novel in stories" is loose and often unsatisfying, Little Hands Clapping is cohesive and develops a genuine momentum. It is also frequently hilarious.

Mervyn Peake, Titus Groan

I read this as a teenager and enjoyed it; reading it this year I couldn't help wondering what, exactly, my sixteen-year-old self got out of it. My thirty-one-year-old self loved the hell out of its meandering narrative, the absurd yet strangely endearing characters, the dense - oh, so dense! - prose. I usually struggle with weighty, Dickensian prose (exhibit A: Dickens) but not once did I feel frustrated or bored by this book. Truly a reading experience unlike any other.

JG Farrell, The Siege of Krishnapur

Like The French Lieutenant's Woman, The Siege of Krishnapur is a historical novel that offers an unashamedly wry, modern perspective on its subject, in this case the 1857 Sepoy Mutiny. It was interesting to read this after reading Titus Groan, because Farrell creates a world as vivid and bizarre as Peake's, the difference being that Farrell's world is based on historical fact. Witty, satirical, and full of tragic action, The Siege of Krishnapur is one of the best historical novels I have read.

John Williams, Stoner

William Stoner, scion of dirt-poor Missouri farmers, attends university to study for an agriculture degree, but finds himself drawn to literature and embarks upon an academic career. Stuff happens. More stuff, slightly more interesting than the other stuff, happens. The end.

Flip synopsis aside, Stoner is a quiet masterpiece. In plain, albeit occasionally fussy prose, Williams charts the life and times of his everyman protagonist and I couldn't help but be drawn in.
The relatively minor upheavals of his life take on great significance - as do, I suppose, the minor upheavals of all of our lives.

Josephine Rowe, How a Moth Becomes a Boat

Sweet, poetic short stories, infused with melancholy.

Thomas Bernhard, The Loser

Bernhard was one of my finds of the year. The Loser, like all of Bernhard's work, is in the form of an extended monologue, without paragraph breaks, in which the narrator tells his story and/or vents his spleen. Sounds like hard work, but if you give in to Bernhard's idiosyncrasies it is utterly gripping.

Tony O'Neill, Sick City

Pure pulp as far as story and characters go, but amazingly well written, funny, shocking. Manages to provide outlandish satire of Hollywood and the therapy industry while refusing to varnish - or, for that matter, to condemn - the sheer scummy awfulness of life as a drug-user.

Willy Vlautin, Lean On Pete

A beautiful story about a lost, lonely young man and the horse he befriends.

Patrik Ourednik, Europeana

Playful, disturbing, ironic catalogue of 20th C European horrors and banalities.

Grace Krilanovich, The Orange Eats Creeps

I read this book but I feel like I never finished it. How often does that happen? This thing is still gnawing at me, and I know I will return to it. Fucking surreal grunge/vampire/teenage hobo novel that will blow your bits off.

Marcy Dermansky, Bad Marie

Read this in two breathless sittings. Dermansky channels the cool brilliance of Patricia Highsmith.

Samuel Beckett, Molloy

My first Beckett. Brilliant, and not nearly as difficult as I expected.

Rachel B Glaser, Pee On Water

I read a fair bit of American "indie" fiction this year. There's a lot of good stuff, a lot more bad stuff (to be expected, cf. Sturgeon's Law), and the occasional slice of greatness. Rachel Glaser's stories are "odd' and "offbeat" in the accepted manner, but they feel more thought out and necessary than most. Apart from anything else, Glaser can write like a muthatrucker.

Alison Bechdel, Fun Home

Funny and sad graphic novel about the author's relationship with her closeted gay father. A lot better than that description indicates.

Francis Wheen, Strange Days Indeed

When it comes to unearthing the absurdities and idiocies of recent political history, Mr Wheen knows his beans. Strange Days Indeed focuses on the Seventies in all their paranoid glory. Eye-opening and always entertaining.

David Finkel, The Good Soldiers

An embedded account of US soldiers in Iraq, written with style and a sure narrative sense. Not exactly cheery reading, but hard to put down.

Saturday, 18 December 2010

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

It always bothered me that the ALF theme song didn't have lyrics

Until now!

For those who want to sing along:

ALF ALF ALF!
He's an alien from outer space
But don't be frightened
He's not the kind of alien that will lay
Eggs in your oesophagus
He's more cute and cuddly
And can be adapated
Into all kinds of consumer products
Very few shows
Have storylines in which the protagonist
Attempts to eat a cat
There was that episode of A Country Practice
When Cookie cooked up Matron's Sloan's chihuahua
And fed it to Bob Hatfield
ALF!

Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Movember concludes

$770 raised for men's health, a lot of fun had, a lot of dodgy photos taken. To celebrate, I present the 2010 Movember Memorial Gif!

(courtesy of @shovel)

Monday, 15 November 2010

Movember update


Today marks the halfway point of the Movember, and my 'tache is coming along nicely. So far I have raised $575, well beyond my expectations. If you would like to donate some cash - all of which goes towards the fight against prostate cancer and depression - you can do so at my Movember profile.

I've been having fun charting my progress through photos of various degrees of wackiness, all of which are viewable at my profile. Today I asked the ever-brilliant dogpossum if she wouldn't mind interpreting some of the photos in cartoon form. The results, which I am really pleased with, are below.

Sunday, 31 October 2010

Monday, 25 October 2010

Low blows

I went to the Low gig at the Forum last week, then I wrote this review the next morning while hungover because I am so rock 'n' roll it hurts.

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

"You can be a bloke and care. You are not your moustache."

Over at The Enthusiast you can read me in conversation with Mel Campbell about Movember, depression, gendered awareness campaigns, the dangers of tokenism, and related matters.

Movember is less than two weeks away, so if you would like to sponsor me please visit my profile page.

Saturday, 16 October 2010

Friday, 8 October 2010

Citizen journalism

A truck got stuck in the city today. Luckily I was there to document it using my trusty/shoddy phone camera.


The truck was freed soon after, its trailer somewhat worse for wear. As for the driver, well, despite his embarrassment he's vowed to (ahem) "keep on truckin'".

Here's Tom with the weather.

Friday, 1 October 2010

Movember

This coming November I am participating in the annual Movember campaign. If you don't know:
Each year Movember is responsible for the sprouting of moustaches on thousands of men’s faces in Australia and around the world, with the sole aim of raising vital funds and awareness for men’s health, specifically prostate cancer and depression in men.

Men sporting Movember moustaches, known as Mo Bros, become walking, talking billboards for the 30 days of November and through their actions and words raise awareness by prompting private and public conversation around the often ignored issue of men’s health.

About Movember
I'm always up for a bit of socially-sanctioned scruffiness and the causes are well worth getting behind. I feel particularly strongly about depression, having struggled with major depression since my teens. Movember is an opportunity not only to raise funds, but to discuss depression, prostate disease and other men's health issues, and encourage men to speak about their problems, get themselves checked out, and improve their own lives and the lives of their families.

Before

Now for the hard word. I'm aiming to raise at least $300, which works out at $10 for each day of 'tache growth. If you have a few spare dollars, head over to my Movember homepage and flip me some coin. Questions and encouragement (and, I suppose, mindless abuse) can be left on that page, or here at the blog, or email me at tchoward(at)optusnet.com.au

After?

Friday, 24 September 2010

Show and tell

Today we went to the Royal Melbourne Show, where the country meets - and shits on - the city. The Show is not a good place for those with a misanthropic disposition as it tends to attract a wide variety of unpleasant people who tend to obscure the fact that the majority of Show-goers are probably all right people who just want to have a bit of old-fashioned overpriced fun. Four months ago I couldn't have handled it; today I just went with the flow. Even when I saw a school-age kid in full view of his gurning parents slap a piglet to wake it up I couldn't bring myself to condemn humanity outright. This may or may not be progress.

The animals are very nice to look at, and there's little misplaced sentiment, eg. outside one of the sheep zones there was a life-size profile of a sheep with labels on it explaining where different cuts of sheep-related meat come from. So that's refreshing. One senses a certain friction between the largely suburban visitors and the country-based exhibitors, based no doubt on misconceptions and stereotypes like all city people think meat grows in plastic wrappers and all country people chew hay and like Lee Kernaghan. The Show is a great opportunity for city people to see that country folk are generally top blokes and sheilas who very rarely chew hay and/or listen to Lee Kernaghan and for country folk to see that city people are generally just as awful a bunch of pig-punching fuckwits as they've always believed.

Much has changed at the Showgrounds since I last attended. They've pulled things down and put other things up, pavilions and the like. There is even a new Ferris wheel, which was a bit of a shock as the old Ferris wheel was the site of a particularly memorable pash and breast-feel (over the clothes) during my teen years, and I assume others have similar memories, although probably not of pashing and feeling (over the clothes) the same girl. For all the changes, however, the fundamental elements of the show survive: fun, copious animal poo, and carnies gouging the fuck out of people's wallets at every turn.

On the train back to the city I was standing against the door and a woman got on and set a pet carrier at my feet. I could see feathers inside and I asked the woman if it was a bird. "No," she said with derision, "it's a hen!" Then a young woman got on with her boyfriend and another young man and she knelt down to talk to the hen, which was freaked out by the movement of the train and was trying to peck through the top of the carrier. The young woman had a stuffed horse which she was using to "talk" to the hen, which further distressed the hen. Then the train rocked and the back of the woman's head brushed against my crotch but she didn't move or seem to think there was anything wrong with her position vis-a-vis a stranger's crotchal zone. Then - then! - the young woman's boyfriend took a photo of the young woman and the stuffed horse and the hen and I'm guessing MY CROTCH for how could it be otherwise given the relative positions of young woman, hen, crotch, et al. The boyfriend and the other boy went and sat down (to look at the photo of my crotch?) while the young woman remained where she was crouched over my right foot with the back of her head hovering around my fly. This sounds like the start of a letter to Penthouse Forum but I was not aroused, I was extremely uncomfortable, especially when I realised that she wasn't squatting as I had previously thought but was in fact seated on something, but what, oh my god was it my foot? I thought about wiggling my foot but then considered that if the woman was sitting on my foot then wiggling said foot would probably raise more questions than it would answer. So I spent the rest of the journey feeling rigid and tense but not in a good way you filthy people, and when we got to Southern Cross station it turned out she was sitting on a small upturned tub or bucket but even then she was so keen to maintain her proximity to my "special area" that I had to ask her to move so I could get out of the train. It was utterly bizarre and sort of the perfect ending to a day at the Show or any day really.

I have said some of this already on twitter but this is really the kind of stuff I want to be sure to get down, for posterity.

Thursday, 23 September 2010

Spring break!

I have the next five days off, including Grand Final day, which is the first Grand Final day I will have spent not working since I was fourteen or fifteen. Not that I'm going to actually watch the Grand Final, but still.

What else is happening? I got a new computer - a Macbook Pro - which is marvelous. My trusty, reliable-despite-Windows'-vagaries six-year-old PC has been turfed into the car hole, there to spend its retirement nattering with spiders and knitting itself a nice mouse cover. The new Mac is hypnotic in its speed and class and brightness and I have been glued to it for the past fortnight. In the long term I can see it being invaluable as a writing tool but for the moment I'm too busy watching youtube and swearing at iTunes to write much.

I haven't been reading Franzen or any of the Booker books, although I have ordered the Tom McCarthy. I still have my Metronome edition of McCarthy's first novel, Remainder, although sadly it is a bit creased from having been passed around among my friends. A shame because there is a (signed) "near fine" Metronome edition listed on Abebooks for $1000+. Anyway, at least I get to be a pretentious knob and say I knew of him way back when.

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

Assange

Julian Assange
Has got a big wang
At least that's what I've read on the internet

Monday, 13 September 2010

Domestic dialogue

"What? You'd like a Dalek orgasm? Ejaculate! EJACULATE!"

"I said tonight's dinner was like a garlic orgasm."

Sunday, 12 September 2010

Zipfinger

I have started a Tumblr for photos, quotations and so on. I will continue posting more substantial (snort) stuff at the present blog when the mood strikes.

My, there are a lot of naked people on Tumblr.

Update 26/9: Yeah, so I got bored with this after about 48 hours. As you were.

Sunday, 5 September 2010

True story

After my aunt died we discovered that she was seventeen cats tied together.

Friday, 3 September 2010

Crapp

I am pleased to announce that This Machine Kills Purists is now available as an app designed exclusively for the Ericsson T28.

Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Birthday

So it has been brought to my attention by myself that today marks this blog's first birthday. Not sure it's worth celebrating too much, as the blog has generally been rubbish, although there have been a few decent posts, and there was one time when a post tickled the internet's fancy which was nice.

I'm good, how are you?

Sunday, 22 August 2010

Input

This week's cultural consumption, as if you care.

Reading: AM/PM, Amelia Gray; Light Boxes, Shane Jones; Short Letter, Long Farewell, Peter Handke

Listening: Pixies; Iggy Pop; MGMT; Thurston Moore; Martin Newell

Watching: Breaking Bad S3; Inception (2010)

Friday, 20 August 2010

Watered down

TimT has alerted me to the bizarre fact that if you have a "blogspot"-hosted blog you probably have a creepy eschatological Christian "blogpot" mirror. For example.

Speaking of the end times, tomorrow is election day. I'm not going to editorialise other than to say that on tv tonight I saw Abbott in a bar ordering "a shandy of light with about sixty percent lemonade."

Tuesday, 27 July 2010

Democracy doesn't work

Ten News at Five is for my money the funniest show on tv, but even its long history of ramshackle earnestness, linguistic incompetence and cross-promotional hackery couldn't prepare me for a story I saw on last night's bulletin. The producers, clearly desperate to find a fresh angle on the tedious election campaign we are all, press corps and public alike, presently enduring, had sent a reporter to canvass the opinions of residents in two average Australian streets. Average? Perhaps not, for you see the two streets were named Gillard Street and Abbott Street. Ten's criterion for prime time punditry is clear: do you live in a street that shares the name of one of the candidates for Prime Minister? Yes? Then here's your soapbox, have at it.

Residents of both streets - all evidently white and aged 40+ - agreed that Sunday night's "debate" was "a tame affair". One Abbott Street resident said he preferred the PM's performance. The man was immediately and forcibly evicted. To make matters even more confusing, one Abbott Street man was named named Des Streete. God help us if he ever runs for PM.

Ten reporter Eddy Meyer referred to Gillard and Abbott streets as "key streets", although "key" to what he didn't say. Anchorman Mal Waldon didn't elaborate either: he was keen to get on with the serious business of interviewing Adam from MasterChef.

Monday, 19 July 2010

A chronic societal ache

In a (typically great) Mountain*7 review of the Folk Against Facism comp, Matt ponders "That pall of ignorance
that seems to have become something of the norm in this country – all that smug Clarkson Littlejohn halfwittedness that seeps into things, where everything seems to be the product of middle-aged men who TELL IT LIKE IT IS, people who remain free of nuance and misunderstand pretty much everything. Whether it’s intentional or otherwise is pretty much a moot point, if you act the part for long enough and you become that part. The question seems to be: how do you battle such an ominous creeping vapidity and apathy?

Sunday, 27 June 2010

Rock and roll high school

Whoever it was that declared the teenage years “the best years of your life” was presumably a freak of nature who had emerged fully mature from his mother’s birth canal in time to celebrate his twenty-first, marry into money and take up a remunerative position with a European bank. Nobody who has endured the abject misery of teenagerhood, enlivened only by episodes of furtive masturbation, substance abuse and ritual humiliation in the schoolyard, could formulate such an expression.

For all I know today’s sixteen- and seventeen-year-olds ameliorate their crushing ennui by huffing Glen 20 – that would explain myspace’s aesthetic – but in my day (says the grizzled elder, clutching at his creaking lower vertebrae) we stuck it to the man – and his eardrums – by forming bands. At least that’s what my friends and I did. There were other kids at our school who made the best of a bad decade by being popular, having sex (often with people other than themselves) and graduating into the welcoming arms of top universities. I’m sure they’re all really miserable now, though.

My band was called Crumb, nominally after the artist Robert Crumb, with whom I was familiar thanks to Terry Zwigoff’s eye-opening 1994 documentary. The name was later (and rather unfortunately) changed to Kull Wahad, an Arabic-derived expression found in Frank Herbert’s novel Dune that Herbert translates as “I am profoundly stirred”. To be honest I suspect we were, if anything, profoundly stoned. At the time I didn’t know that there had already been a raft of Dune-inspired music, most of it French or German in origin, and most of it sharing our project’s pretentiousness and lack of popular appeal.

The original Crumb line-up was myself (guitar, vocals - as opposed to "singing"), Andy (drums) and Mike (bass). Mike bought his bass specifically so he could join in with Andy and I; after two rehearsals we unceremoniously dumped him in favour of another friend, Andrew, whose spider-like dexterity and commitment to actually learning how to play his instrument made him a formidable recruit.

Although as a matter of principle I despised Eddie Van Halen and everything he stood for – whatever that might be: chicks and whammy bars, I guess – I was nonetheless inspired by his example. In an interview I read in some guitar-wanker magazine, Eddie revealed that his astonishing fretboard technique developed through diligent practice, day after day, year after year. I attempted to follow his example, but no matter how hard I practiced I never seemed to move beyond a certain basic facility.

Not that it mattered: Crumb’s music was built around simple power chord progressions, and the style of any particular song was usually stolen wholesale from whatever band I was listening to at the time. Our songs had titles, but were just as often referred to by their inspiration. There was “the Helmet Song” and “the Archers of Loaf Song” and (somewhat shamefully) “the Korn song”. We were nothing if not eclectic, writing Wire-esque scorchers one day, moody prog instrumentals the next, jaunty novelty tunes inspired by Simpsons quotations the day after that.

My parents were tolerant of my musical career. Most of our rehearsals, or “jams”, as we called them with musicianly fervour, were held at our house. The neighbours occasionally complained about having their Saturday mornings interrupted by our feedback-soaked performances of two-thirds of “Smells Like Teen Spirit” (I couldn’t play the solo), but fuck them, right? Rock on, etc.

The one and only time my parents sat down and listened to our songs – on tape, mind; they dared not enter the room when we played live – they were underwhelmed. “It’s a bit… bassy,” Dad said. “The songs all sound very similar.” I explained that I had played them instrumental versions, lacking the key vocal element. “I hope your lyrics aren’t full of swear words,” Mum said. “No,” I said, keen to defend my art. “I mean, there are some swear words, but mostly my lyrics are about girls and society and… and The Simpsons.” There was an uncomfortable silence after which my parents thanked me for sharing my music. “You’re obviously quite passionate about it,” Dad said. It was never mentioned again.

Crumb/Kull Wahad never played any proper gigs, not least because I couldn’t sing and play guitar simultaneously. I couldn’t really sing or play guitar independently either, which may have been why Andy and Andrew formed a side-project with a proper guitarist named Miles, for a series of backyard gigs. As the band dwindled into non-existence, I used Andy’s four-track tape recorder to lay down a series of solo tracks, none of which went on to become quirky hit singles on JJJ in the manner of Beck’s “Loser”.

I remember telling my parents that I didn’t want to go to uni straight after high school, that I wanted to take a year off to “focus on my music”. Kind-hearted, Glen Campbell-enjoying folks that they are, I doubt they laughed themselves to sleep that night, but they would have been well within their rights to do so. I was a shocking muso and never would have gotten anywhere. On the other hand, I haven’t gotten anywhere anyway. Perhaps it’s time to get the band together again, for one last shot at the big time.

Friday, 18 June 2010

Friday, 11 June 2010

We care a lot

We care a lot - about disasters, fires, floods and killer wheeze
We care a lot - about the BP oil that's bubbling in the sea
We care a lot - about Matt Preston and the food that someone cooked
We care a lot - about the time, baby, clock, talking clock!

Yeah!

It's a dirty job but someone's gotta do it

We care a lot - about the Gagas and the Biebers and the Gleeks
We care a lot - about some charmless crap dressed up with bad 3D
We care a lot - about the crotch of the alternative PM
We care a lot - about you people 'cause we're everybody's friend

Yeah!

It's a dirty job but someone's gotta do it

We care a lot - about the iPad iTunes iPod and iMac
We care a lot - about the peddlers of that Apple-logo crack
We care a lot - about you people
We care a lot - about your stuff
We care a lot - about your fucking iPhone
Gee you've got it rough

We care a lot - about the Twilight saga: will it ever die?
We care a lot - about Bruckheimer 'cause there's less than meets the eye
We care a lot - about our future falling in the plop
We care a lot - about you people, yeah you bet we care a lot


Yeah!

Well, its a dirty job but someone's gotta do it
And it's a dirty post but someone's gotta write it

Sunday, 30 May 2010

Things I learned at last night's Autechre gig

* Supporting DJs are ok up to a point, but wear out their welcome after 1.5+ hours, especially when you're not drunk, stoned or even mildly sugar high.

* You can dance to Autechre, or at least you can dance in the same room as Autechre.

* The Autechre audience contains persons who are among the most obnoxious I have encountered in sixteen years of attending gigs.

* People will take mobile phone photos of the stage even when the lighting consists of nothing more than four LEDs and the luminous Apple logos on the band's laptops.

* The seduction of scruffy hipster by youthful Goth is conducted via an intricate ritual of rhythmic pouting, covert crotch fondling and (on the hipster's part) confused and intimidated scowling.

* Kram from Spiderbait is everywhere.

* Pack the Hi Fi Bar with (mostly) male (mostly) nerds and it resembles nothing so much as a minimum security prison for hackers and minor sex offenders.

* Autechre pretty much rule. I already knew that, though.

Friday, 28 May 2010

Childish

In one of the funniest, sharpest pieces I have read this year, Tony Martin rages against the pompous, self-pitying plaints of some bestselling authors:
Why can’t these writers simply be happy with the vast sums of money they earn every year? You don’t hear McDonald’s complaining that they haven’t been awarded three Michelin hats for their latest Bacon Burger DeLuxe. Readers of ‘airport novels’ don’t give a toss about critics or awards, so why should their authors?
American crime writer Lee Child comes across as especially conceited:
Child, on a roll, then declared that literary authors ‘know, in their heart, that we could write their books but they cannot write our books,’ adding that ‘I could write a Martin Amis book. It would take me about three weeks, it would sell about 3000 copies like he sells. And they are jealous of that skill.’
Read the whole thing here.

Friday, 21 May 2010

Louchébem

Mike Lynch's fine, funny series of Viriconium-inspired vignettes have made my week. Start here, then continue reading here, here and here.

Monday, 17 May 2010

Reference

I'm at the beginning of something that is, at least for the time being, heavily influenced by the following:

Dan Rhodes
Underwater Moonlight, The Soft Boys
The Siege of Krishnapur, J.G. Farrell
Titus Groan, Mervyn Peake
"25 O'Clock" and "What In the World?", The Dukes of Stratosphear
"Fearless", Pink Floyd
Théoden's court in The Two Towers, at least the vague memory I have of it.
"Sweet Talk", The New Pornographers
Blake Butler: "I think there’s a big ques­tion in writ­ing where people think it should take you a really long time, and it should be this labor of love and take you five years to write. Well, how many books took a week to write? Sure there can be flaws in that book, but I also think cap­tur­ing a cer­tain time in your mind, and get­ting it out in a cer­tain period has as much value as labor­ing over it, as long as it’s worth­while in the end to the reader or as an object."

Monday, 10 May 2010

Denis Johnson

wants to sell you a tractor.

Sunday, 9 May 2010

Caribbean Gardens

Caribbean Gardens is a market and "fun" park in Scoresby. The last time I visited the Gardens was about twenty years ago: I distinctly recall (successfully) badgering my Mum to buy me a block-mounted Star Trek: The Next Generation poster. We made a return visit this morning and I was quick to note that the passing of time had changed the Gardens barely a whit. Minor - very minor - superficial improvements aside, it's the same mix of cheap-and-not-so-cheerful rides (a chairlift, a miniature train driven by a surly teenager in Oakleys, a "jungle cruise" on the man-made lake), play equipment (including, bizarrely, two decommissioned tanks), and overpriced tat.

The market was as I remembered. Some of the stalls were in exactly the same location as twenty years ago, and many seemed to have exactly the same stock as they did then. Only the ephemera of pop culture indicated the passage of the years: instead of AC/DC patches and Van Halen silk screen wallhangings there are 50 Cent t-shirts and Ed Hardy jackets, presumably fake but no less nauseating than the real thing. Likewise the toy stalls, where Ben 10, Bratz and the like have replaced the (again, presumably fake) Transformers and Ninja Turtle figurines I used to covet as a child.

At first I found the market fascinating but eventually the grinding awfulness of it all wore me down. There are plenty of stalls selling useful stuff - food, pet supplies, home-made clothing and accessories. But for every one of these stalls there are five selling knock-off shoes, obnoxious/offensive t-shirts, bongs, "ornamental" weapons, wretched and in some cases quite possibly illegal toys, etc.

















What little girl wouldn't want to play dress-ups with their Fantasy Sheila? According to the box, "We are you of friend let us bring you the happiness."

















"Smoking paraphernalia" is popular, doubtless only for its kitsch value...

















Children are never too young to start wielding swords.



















































These pointy "ornaments" were displayed behind a glass screen, upon which was affixed an indignant note arguing for the validity of decorative weaponry as a hobby. Can't say I was convinced, but I wasn't about to start a debate.

















Bi Bi Loveable and Swellish Baby vie for your childrens' affections - and their souls!






















"THEY ALL MET TOGETHER IN HEAVEN"

















This cheeky toy computer wants to learn English: will you accept the challenge?

Wednesday, 5 May 2010

I invented a joke

It involves extracting the lexical unit "twit" from the word "Twitter" and employing said unit in such a way as to pass judgment upon the mentality and intelligence of the users of said social networking service.

Persons wishing to use this hilarious and original joke must apply in writing to the usual address.

Wednesday, 28 April 2010

Maxwell Smart sings Harry Belafonte















"A beautiful bunch of ripe bananas/Hides the deadly black tarantula!"









"..."















"Would you believe a punnet of strawberries concealing an irate daddy longlegs?"









"..."















"How about some mandarin peel next to a ladybird with PMT?"

Tuesday, 27 April 2010

Björn

More creepy pj-related soft pron from Peter Alexander.





















An homage to this monstrosity, perhaps?

Sunday, 25 April 2010

It's raining, let's kiss

New 8tracks mix featuring: Cocteau Twins; Holy Fuck; Gang of Four; HEALTH; Saint Etienne; Field Music; Mission of Burma; Galaxie 500; Joy Division

Listen.

Input

Reading: Anthropology, Dan Rhodes; Timoleon Vieta Come Home, Dan Rhodes

Watching: I'm Alan Partridge S2; Spaced S1; Doctor Who S1; Star Trek: TNG S1

Listening: Richmond Fontaine; Cocteau Twins; Field Music; New Pornographers; Gang of Four; Roxy Music; Horseback

Maxwell Smart sings Simon & Garfunkel















"Look around/Leaves are brown/There's a patch of snow on the ground"









"..."















"Would you believe a bunch of sticks sitting next to a puddle of rainwater?"









"..."















"How about a glass of water with a dead mosquito floating in it?"

Friday, 23 April 2010

Confluence of the annoying

Michael Moore has made a feature documentary about the Manic Street Preachers. Meanwhile, Ben Folds is working on an album with Nick Hornby.

We can only hope that the latter is a soundtrack to the former.

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

20 to 1

Tonight on 20 to 1 they were counting down the twenty best mass murders of television show casts. The clips of the mass murders were introduced by Bert Newton and there were a lot of funny reaction shots by the various celebrity commentators. You could tell some of them were there because it was part of their contract with the network, but others were there to build their profile and maybe get a job on Postcards or something and they really gave it their all. Sometimes the celebrity commentators combined their reactions with witty put-downs about the murdered television show casts, but I can't remember any of them. Anyway, the best mass murders of television show casts as voted by the producers of 20 to 1 were:

20. The hanging, drawing and quartering of the cast of The Partridge Family.
19. The immersion in near-freezing cold water of the cast of The Scarecrow and Mrs King.
18. The dynamiting of the cast of Friends.
17. The electrocution of the cast of Survivor: Pearl Islands.
16. The decapitation of the cast of Police Rescue.
15. The trampling by buffalo of the cast of Steptoe and Son.
14. The garroting of the cast of Hey Hey, It's Saturday.
13. The poisoning with arsenic of the cast of The Six Million Dollar Man.
12. The asphyxiation of the cast of The Footy Show.
11. The running over with a monster truck of the cast of Patrol Boat.
10. The drowning of the cast of Gilligan's Island.
9. The strangulation by pythons of the cast of Matlock.
8. The consumption by rabid rats of the cast of Battlestar Galactica (original series).
7. The mass suicide of the cast of Rafferty's Rules.
6. The ritual disembowelment of the cast of Double Dare.
5. The burying alive of the cast of Macgyver.
4. The running over with an eighteen wheel truck of the cast of Bewitched.
3. The firebombing of the cast of Perfect Strangers.
2. The throwing to the lions of the cast of Seventh Heaven.

Then Bert put on a solemn voice and announced the very best mass murder of a television show cast: the mass murder of the cast of 20 to 1. A montage was shown of men in HAZCHEM suits throwing deadly acid over the unsuspecting celebrity commentators.

There were a lot of funny reaction shots.

Sunday, 18 April 2010

Completely mad

Adam Ford is offering downloads of his new collection of short fiction, Heroes and Civilians, FOR FREE!

Likewise, the second issue of the super excellent crime fiction zine Crimefactory is available FOR FREE!

At these prices stocks can't last! Except of course they can because they are infinite.

Input

Watching: Doctor Who (started watching the 2005 Eccleston series and the new Matt Smith series that debuted on ABC tonight; more, possibly, on this later); Extras Christmas Special; Burn After Reading (2008)

Reading: Not much other than a few stories from The Penguin Book of Vampire Stories (a longtime favourite).

Listening: Joy Division; Mission of Burma; Holy Fuck; Horseback

Friday, 16 April 2010

Writing about comedy is like yodelling about cabinetmaking

My review of Charlie Pickering's Melbourne International Comedy Festival show is up at The Enthusiast. I'm a bit bashful about this review because Pickering's was the only MICF show I saw this year, and in fact I'm pretty sure I haven't attended any MICF shows since about 2005. In other words, I am writing from a vantage point of sublime ignorance. Not for the first time, I might add, chortle chortle.

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

Fokker

You and me, Biggles, ain't nothin' but mammals/So lets do it while we're flying in your Sopwith Camel

Sunday, 11 April 2010

Input

Reading: Yellow Blue Tibia, Adam Roberts; Today I Wrote Nothing, Daniil Kharms

Listening: Galaxie 500; Ikonika; Gang of Four; Holy Fuck; Mission of Burma; Joy Division; The Jesus and Mary Chain; Big Black; Saint Etienne

Saturday, 10 April 2010

All the leaves are brown, except the ones that aren't

On Looking Into Chapman's Homer a Second Time

I have overrated
This Grecian song
'Tis gripping enough
But a touch too long

John Keats, November 1816

User pays

"Let me tell you something for nothing," said Beryl. "The council will rue the day they designated this an off-lead park."

"I didn't catch that," said Joyce, "There was a fly in my ear."

"I'm sorry," said Beryl. "My offer to tell you something for nothing was a trial only, allowing you to access my observation a single time, on the occasion of its original broadcast. Would you like to subscribe to our on-demand service which will allow you to hear that particular something, as well as hundreds of other somethings, at any time you wish, twenty-four hours a day?"

"Uh?" said Joyce.

"Great!" said Beryl. "I'll just run you through the details. For only forty-five dollars a month, plus a one-time fifty dollar connection fee, you can access my inane thoughts on trivial matters at any time, day or night, seven days a week. The forty-five dollar per month plan provides free access to services during off-peak periods; access during peak periods is charged at the standard rate of sixty-two cents per inane observation. Fair use policy applies, and the inanity reseller retains the right to suspend access at any time. Do you agree to these terms, and to any subsequent terms the provider may introduce at any point even without your knowledge?"

"Ehm?" said Joyce.

"Great!" said Beryl. "Welcome to the Beryl's Inane Observation Family! As a reward we would like to give you ten dollars worth of Beryl Credit. This can be used to pass on any of my inanities to family or friends who have also signed up to our punitive twenty-four month plan!"

"Flergh?" said Joyce.

"Great!" said Beryl. "Please note that you may discontinue your service at any time, however doing so during the first six months of your contract will result in our removing one of your limbs. Discontinuation during the remaining eighteen months of your contract may incur penalties including, but not limited to, the firebombing of your place of residence, the injection of liquefied snail repellent into your grandchildrens' carotid arteries, and/or the placement of flaming bags of dog faeces on your doorstep."

"Agh?" said Joyce.

"Great! Please hold for a moment while I fill out this form... Ok! All done. Thank you for joining Beryl's Inane Observation Family. Please feel free to contact our extremely expensive and unreliable helpdesk at any time."

"Wha?" said Joyce.

"What?" said Beryl. "Oh, I was just saying, the council will rue the day they designated this an off-lead park..."

Friday, 9 April 2010

The old man

There is an old man who lives in my street. He wears a hat and soft leather shoes with zippers and braces to hold up his trousers. He drives an old Morris and owns a little white dog named Scotty.

The old man is very quiet. He keeps to himself but he is always polite. When I walk past with my baby, and he is in his driveway waxing his Morris, he will turn and lift his hat. I smile in reply. The old man never smiles, he just stares with his wet green eyes. This undermines his apparent friendliness somewhat, but I suppose it is just his way.

There are stories about the old man that I refuse to credit. Well, I flatter myself. I do not consider myself "above" gossip; rather, I prefer to ignore it, and if I cannot ignore it then to hope that it is not true. Accepting the stories as true, even approximately true, would require rather too much... rearrangement.

I do not know anything - not one thing - about the old man's past. Nor, I might add, does anybody else in this neighbourhood. People can say what they like about him because there is no contradictory evidence. We do not even know the sound of his voice.

People distrust surfaces. They want to know what is going on underneath, and if they cannot know then they will invent something to please their perversity. In all likelihood the old man who lives in my street is just that: an old man, and harmless with that. We mustn't judge people based on innuendo and hearsay.

I smile at the old man when I walk past with my baby. He turns and lifts his hat. When I get home I lift out my baby and hold him. He is so small, so vulnerable. In the silent house I begin to sing, softly, a lullaby to soothe my baby, and myself.

Thursday, 8 April 2010

Two Buks

My, like, double review of Howard Sounes' Charles Bukowski: Locked in the Arms of a Crazy Life and the new Buk collection The Pleasures of the Damned: Poems 1951-1993 is up at The Enthusiast. I am modestly pleased with how it turned out, so I hope you'll have a look.

Wednesday, 7 April 2010

Scooter and Trev

He reminded me of a guy I went to school with who had a wispy wanker's moustache and sweaty hands and who reckoned his dad had a "porn bunker" underneath his rumpus room containing porn so hot it had to be smuggled out of the Netherlands sewn into the trouser lining of morbidly obese desperadoes who were coerced by organised crime syndicates into acting as porn mules. Another glance and I realised it was him.

And this time he bloody saw me looking.

"Oh, Christ," I muttered, then I said, "Oh, Trev, it's you!"

Next thing his still-sweaty hand was shaking mine and I was examining his wispy mo' and his acne scars and the stupid fucking baseball cap he had shoved backwards on his head. How old was this guy? Thirty going on twelve?

"Scooter!" he said. Nobody called me Scooter anymore, not even my brother who was the one who ran over my left testicle with his scooter in the first place.

"Trev!" I wasn't feeling that exclamation mark. "How've you been?"

"Farkin'..." he began, and went on in that vein for a couple of minutes. He'd been "farkin' skatin'" but the "farkin' cops" had confiscated his board, "the cunts."

"Cool," I said. To fit in I tacked on a half-hearted, "farkin' cool."

"Yeah," he said, "nah."

He shuffled awkwardly and to be honest so did I. I almost felt ashamed of how straight-laced and mature I must have appeared in contrast to the overgrown teenage boy in front of me. It was as if Trev had aged but not matured, still sixteen inside that gangly, smelly body.

What common ground did we have? We could reminisce, but about what? The time some year nine boys flushed Trev's head down the toilet? The time he punched me in the face because he felt like punching somebody and I was closest? The time I inexplicably invited him to my house for dinner and afterward he told me my mum's cooking was "disgusting"? The revolting-even-for-a-teenage-boy masturbation habits he should have kept to himself but didn't?

I surreptitiously wiped my hand on my trouser leg.

"How are things with you?" Trev spat a shiny green dollar of mucas onto the footpath.

"Good," I said. "Good. Just, ah... working, and spending time with the family. That sort of shit."

I fucking hated myself for saying that, for trying to ingratiate myself with this person for whom I felt no affection, no respect, nothing whatsoever. At least Trev was unpretentious: he seemed ok with his foulness, seemed even to enjoy it.

There was another awkward silence. I motioned vaguely down the road.

"Well, better be off! Nice to see you again, Trev."

Again he grabbed my hand, shook it, held it tight. He had an impressive grip. Maybe his dad did have a porn bunker after all.

"See ya, Scooter," he said, lighting a poorly rolled cigarette.

Then he asked if I could "lend" him twenty dollars. I gave him five and without waiting for a response flagged a passing taxi.

As we drove off I gave Trev a genteel wave through the window. He held up my five dollar note and mouthed something. I can't be sure but I think he called me a motherfarker.

Monday, 5 April 2010

Read this book

You don't have to, of course, as viewing my blog post titles does not, as yet, constitute a legally binding obligation. But if you are looking for something to read, this is something you can read.


I will avoid saying too much about the story. The less said the better, not because there is a tedious whodunnit to solve or a twist ending, but because the book's pleasures are best discovered first hand. Rhodes has clearly put a lot of effort into the plot, but the book's other elements are not subservient to it, if that makes sense. The whole has the feeling of a fairy tale, only a fairy tale set in the modern - but not overly specific or "topical" - world. Rhodes' ability to shift between and combine sentiment and humour, pathos and razor-sharp satire, is astonishing. For instance, there is a section towards the end in which...

It is very difficult to write about a book without writing about it. That's why you need to read the book, so that we can discuss it.

Dan Rhodes is an insolent and curmudgeonly and charming figure who gives great interview and whose blog (written by unnamed contributors) takes his critics to task with relish. Rhodes is mates with TMKP favourite Simon Crump, so read him, read them both, and thank me later.

Greasy dudes with greasy guitars part 2: the 80s

New 8tracks mix featuring the greasy guitar rock stylings of: Mission of Burma; Big Black (Kraftwerk cover); Circle Jerks; Suicidal Tendencies; Naked Raygun; Volcano Suns; The Minutemen; Gun Club; Mudhoney (Sonic Youth cover).

Listen here.

See also: Greasy dudes with greasy guitars part 1: the 90s

The look of love

A bird shat in my eyes today, and you laughed, but now when you look in my eyes and see love how do you know it is love and not just bird shit?

Sunday, 4 April 2010

Your wife

She pleases me, your wife. I admire the way she wears her hair, often on her head but just as often dangling from an elbow or balanced on the tip of her nose. Her nose? Oh, don't get me started on your wife's nose! I have lost sleep to thoughts of that pitted sea cucumber let me tell you. I could rub that nose until asked to stop, probably even longer.

Your wife, she crosses her legs in a most singular manner: behind her head. I have seen her at the cinema, at a restaurant, at the wheel of her Ford Focus, ankles laced behind her occipital bone. I confess to picturing the tension, at that moment, in your wife's hamstrings, the pressure of the fabric of her trousers or track pants (your wife does not wear underwear in my imaginings) against her labia and related feminine parts.

She smiles, your wife, in two stages. First, her natural underbite thrusts forth her bottom jaw, her lower lip curls, and for a brief moment an array of scuffed incisors is revealed, glistening in their reservoir of saliva. Then the upper jaw comes into play, lurching forward to overtake its agile sibling, the pouting upper lip (bearing stubble, droplets of sweat) retreats, exposing large and (I like to think) fragrant incisors of various shapes and attitudes, as well as flashing hints of silver amalgam in the distant molars. One of your wife's front incisors appears to be dens invaginatus, a tooth within a tooth. In some cultures such teeth are believed to bring luck in crop farming and carnal love.

I do not mean to idealise her, your wife. I realise she has her foibles, including (if rumours are to be believed, which I am not convinced they are) a taste for poker machines, cask wine and men named Sandy. Your wife's personality can sometimes veer towards coarseness. I believe you are aware of these issues, as I am. Yet she pleases me, your wife. Hold on to her with all the strength you can divert to your tattooed biceps, my friend, because the second you let her go: she's mine.

Input

This week's conspicuous cultural consumption.

Listening: Guided By Voices; Mission of Burma; Boss Hog; Holy Fuck; Radiohead; Pixies; The Octopus Project; Galaxie 500.

Watching: Le dîner de cons (1998), having seen this I can now safely look down my nose at the forthcoming US remake, which labours under the title Dinner For Schmucks; a few episodes of 30 Rock S3.

Reading: Little Hands Clapping, Dan Rhodes.

Friday, 2 April 2010

An Easter Tale

Daddy came in from the backyard (why was he out there? did anybody think to question?) in a great hurry.

"Children, come quick!" he said. "I was outside just now and I saw a BIG BUNNY with a wicker BASKET and a WAISTCOAT and he was dropping THINGS on the ground!"

The children squealed with delight and raced out the door.

"What can you see?" asked Mummy, exchanging a conspiratorial glance with Daddy.

"Shiny things!" said five-year-old Billy.

"Fun!" said two-year-old Jenny.

It was true, or so it seemed: a big bunny had apparently come hopping through and left all sorts of exciting presents.

"Let's have an Easter hunt!" said Daddy.

The children wandered happily around picking up the Easter Bunny's gifts. Billy found two crowns of thorns lodged in the fronds of a fern tree; Jenny discovered a spear in the water feature.

"That's for side-sticking!" said Mummy.

"Whee!" said Jenny.

Billy came across eight enormous rusty nails nestled in the cubby house.

"Quick, Jenny!" he cried. "There must be a mallet somewhere!"

And so there was: in the dog's food bowl! The family laughed in unison at the Easter Bunny's mischievous wit.

Finally it seemed that they had found all of the Easter Bunny's surprises and the children were afflicted with discontent.

"I wonder if he left anything else," said Daddy in a sneaky sort of voice. "Where haven't we looked?"

"Billy, Jenny," said Mummy, "I notice you haven't looked on top of the compost heap behind the shed. Do you think there might be something there?"

Billy and Jenny giggled and raced behind the shed. There, at the crest of the compost heap, were two enormous wooden crosses. Billy and Jenny gasped.

"It's a...," said Jenny.

"Are we...?" said Billy.

"That's right kids," said Daddy. "It's time for one of our proudest family traditions: crucifixion!"

Later, as Billy and Jenny hung bleeding and semi-conscious on their crosses, a large rabbit with a waistcoat and a wicker basket hopped over the fence. He scattered chocolate eggs around the garden, sniffed the air, and was just about to hop over the fence when his skull was pierced by a spear.

"Dinner!" said Daddy, grinding the rabbit's face beneath his heel.

"This has been the best Easter ever!" said Mummy unwrapping an egg that the rabbit had left in the crook of a branch. It was dark chocolate: her favourite.

Thursday, 1 April 2010

Two encounters

1.

A youngish woman came into work to ask the time.

"Four!" she said. "It's too busy to be four!"

(Nevertheless, it was four.)

"Have you noticed that everything is getting busier? I don't like crowds. I don't like people."

As she left she farted. It sounded like somebody sneezing into a clarinet.

2.

An oldish man carrying reusable shopping bags approached me in the street.

"Jeez, Doncaster's only about a hundred yards from here!"

I joined him in gazing upon the white tower of Doncaster Shoppo on its hilltop at least two kilometres away.

"Jeez," he said again and swished his shopping bags through the air.

The man had surgical wounds on his face and scalp. Perhaps they had taken out something that was killing him, and perhaps that wasn't all they took.

Sunday, 28 March 2010

Input

Reading: Boyhood, J.M. Coetzee; Little Hands Clapping, Dan Rhodes

Listening: System of a Down; Scuba; Joy Division; Dillinger Escape Plan; Kylesa; Belbury Poly; Mission of Burma; Jaga Jazzist; Autechre; Mordant Music

Watching: I'm Alan Partridge S2; Alice in Wonderland (2010); Une femme est une femme (1961); The Tale of Desperaux (2008); Finding Nemo (2003)

Monday, 22 March 2010

The new Lady Gaga clip

New 8tracks mix featuring The Chinaboise, The Ex, The Feelies, The Tall Dwarfs, The Stickmen, The Au Pairs, The Sausage, The Black Box Recorder. The mix. The end.

In which I divulge one of my paltry ambitions

I can't remember where, or when, but I read somebody - don't know who, probably a "pundit" - complaining that many of today's young writers lack the ambition to do anything more than write a sitcom. "The nerve!" I said, then for emphasis I said it again, this time as the Cowardly Lion from The Wizard of Oz: "The noive!" What, I wondered, was so bad about wanting to write a sitcom?

Granted there are loads of terrible sitcoms, but there are plenty of great ones too. I like a laugh, me, and while a list of my favourite shows would include such dramatic fare as The Sopranos and The Wire, most of the list would be sitcoms of one sort or another: The Simpsons, Seinfeld, The Office (UK), I'm Alan Partridge, Black Books, to name some of the more obvious examples.

A few years ago, a friend and I were going to co-write a sitcom in which a middle-class book group meeting in the basement of a community centre managed to survive a nuclear holocaust. The guiding principle was: there ain't nothing funnier than THE END OF THE WORLD AS WE KNOW IT! Also: mutants. Think First Tuesday Book Club meets The Road. Think Jennifer Byrne and Jason Steger and Marieke Hardy discussing the charms of the latest (and - an upside of Armageddon - last) Ian McEwan novel whilst scrounging for food, fighting off cannibals, and (in the movie spin-off) careening down the abandoned blacktop in a customised V8 Falcon, a la Max Rockatansky. Fuck-ing hilarious.

It was a great idea until we sobered up. Several years down the track I am once more thinking that writing a sitcom is something I'd like to try. So far I have: no concept, no setting, no characters, no jokes, no title, no ideas. Things can only get better.

Sunday, 21 March 2010

Input

Watching: Pierrot le fou (1965); Alice in Wonderland (2010); The Inbetweeners S02; I'm Alan Partridge S02

Listening: The Kilimanjaro Darkjazz Ensemble; Joy Division; Kammerflimmer Kollektief; Big Star (RIP Alex); Mission of Burma; Jaga Jazzist; Monster Magnet

Reading: Boyhood, J.M. Coetzee; Best European Fiction 2010, Aleksander Hemon (ed.)

Wednesday, 17 March 2010

C

It was 1988 and I was in Grade Four. We learned a lot about the First Fleet that year, the tall ships and short ships and hardships. We also learned about general aspects of eighteenth century sailing, such as the invention of the sextant (cue uncontrollable giggling from assembled nine-year-olds) and James Cook's use of sauerkraut as a prophylactic against scurvy.

Our teacher seemed particularly taken by the latter, and invited one of the mothers (possibly Mrs Schumacher) to demonstrate to the class the art of making sauerkraut. The concoction was stuffed inside a ceramic pot, wrapped in a tea towel and placed in a cupboard underneath the blackboard, there to ferment until ready to be eaten.

Weeks later, however, when the pot was retrieved and opened, it was discovered that the sauerkraut had attracted the wrong sort of bacteria and was in an advanced state of decomposition. The sauerkraut, along with the pot and tea towel, was thrown in the bin.

Within days the entire class was dead from scurvy.

Great moments in art history #4

















J.M.W. Turner, Who Farted?
(oil on canvas, 1834-1835)

Tuesday, 16 March 2010

Art FFS

"If they're artists, they may as well draw a cartoon on a wall of a man with dollar signs flowing from his fly. Because that's what's happening."

Vicious

He ate too much, drank too much, watched too much tv, downloaded too much pornography, produced too much pornography, owned too many pairs of night-vision goggles, read too many books about killers and deviants, listened to too much Wagner, collected too many moths with markings that looked too much like the grinning rictuses of human skulls, smoked too many cigarettes rolled using papers that looked too much like human skin especially the ones with what appeared to be remnants of tattoos on them, bought too many cleaning products and other household chemicals in bulk, bought too many shovels and lengths of rope, watched too much reality tv, and drank too much coffee because he was unhappy, and he was unhappy because he ate too much, drank too much, watched too much tv, downloaded too much pornography, produced too much pornography, owned too many pairs of night-vision goggles, read too many books about killers and deviants, listened to too much Wagner, collected too many moths with markings that looked too much like the grinning rictuses of human skulls, smoked too many cigarettes rolled using papers that looked too much like human skin especially the ones with what appeared to be remnants of tattoos on them, bought too many cleaning products and other household chemicals in bulk, bought too many shovels and lengths of rope, watched too much reality tv, and drank too much coffee.

Monday, 15 March 2010

Joe's story

Joe would never forget where he was when Steve Irwin died: at the controls of his experimental mechanised stingray deathbot.

Great moments in art history #3

















Caspar David Friedrich, Superman Forsakes His Fortress of Solitude For the Love of a Human Female
(oil on kryptonite, 1822-1824)

Sing, ping, wiggle or snatch

I don't know what it means but the all-new-old Hey, Hey, It's Saturday wants people who can do it for their Red Faces segment. Probably a fancy term for "lynching" or something.

(via)

Sunday, 14 March 2010

Input

Listening: Baroness; Joy Division; High On Fire; Shining; Stevie Wonder; Kylesa; Polar Bear; Animal Collective; Between the Buried and Me; Zu

Watching: The Men Who Stare At Goats (2009); Reprise (2006); episodes of 30 Rock and The Inbetweeners.

Reading: Charles Bukowski: Locked in the Arms of a Crazy Life, Mark Sounes; The Pleasures of the Damned: Poems, 1951-1993, Charles Bukowski

Friday, 12 March 2010

Rowdy

New 8tracks mix, featuring: Monster Magnet, Hey Colossus, Kylesa, Ephel Duath, Tool, High On Fire, Baroness, Dillinger Escape Plan, Strapping Young Lad. Listen.

Wednesday, 10 March 2010

Nostalgia

There is nothing like receiving an old-fashioned letter, a proper letter, beautifully written in pen and ink on high-grade stationery, hand-delivered by a cheerful postman in full ceremonial postman regalia, just like in older, more genteel times when correspondence was a personal, more meaningful activity, in contrast to the instant everything society we now inhabit, a letter sealed with wax inside a handsome beige envelope, to which is affixed a stamp featuring the profile of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, a letter written with deliberation and care, signed with a flourish, telling you that you are a cunt.

New review

I wrote a review of the Tim Lawrence's biography of Arthur Russell, Hold On to Your Dreams. You can read it here.

Sunday, 7 March 2010

Input

Reading: Hold On to Your Dreams, Tim Lawrence; Jules and Jim, Henri-Pierre Roché; Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, Pauline Kael

Listening: Autechre; Polar Bear; The JB's; Jaga Jazzist

Watching: The Inbetweeners S02; Valkyrie (2008); Up (2009); Bande à part (1964); Week End (1967); The Darjeeling Limited (2007); Jour de Fete (1949); Barcelona (1994)

Friday, 5 March 2010

Bullshit Hunger: A Manifesto (not a manifesto)

A fight, an actual physical fight, between Ian McEwan and David Shields would justify the existence of both men in a way that their fiction and non-fiction and general pronouncements on literature and the world at large do not. I'm envisaging body armour, broadswords, widow-makers, crossbows, tasers, lasers, phasers, bowie knives, Bowie films, water bombs filled with piss and bong water, chainsaws strapped to bloody stumps, bazookas at ten paces. I'm a sick fuck, me, and not at all interested in art.

Monday, 1 March 2010

Geoff Dyer: Venice and Varanasi

I am going to see Geoff Dyer speak next Monday at the Wheeler Centre, so I thought I'd post my review of his most recent book, Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi. The review was originally posted on a short-lived blog last year, which explains the first sentence.

Geoff Dyer's Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi is one of the best novels I have read in 2009. This comes as something of a surprise because I have tended to consider Dyer's novels to be of minor standing in his oeuvre. Paris Trance (1998), which I read recently, is perfectly enjoyable and often very funny, but has a perfunctory feel to it; what I've read of The Colour of Memory (1989) felt similarly lax. For the best of Dyer you have to go to the works that blend essayistic and observational non-fiction with Dyer's cavalier and habitual fictionalising: Out of Sheer Rage, But Beautiful, The Ongoing Moment, and so on.

That, at least, is what I would have said before I read Jeff/Death. The truth is that this pair of novellas - a "diptych" in Dyer's words; "A Novel" according to the cover - constitutes one of his best books. Aside from the simple fact that Dyer's writing is sharp and funny and all the rest, the key to the book's success is Dyer's attention to form. He is a very formally-conscious writer, perhaps unusually so for a mainstream English "literary" writer. But Beautiful, for instance, is a book about jazz, and jazz musicians, that is itself composed using jazz-esque notions of improvisation and quotation. Out of Sheer Rage, a book about trying to write a book about D.H. Lawrence, captures the frantic, digressive vitality of its ostensible subject in a way that a more formal study would lack. Paris Trance, by comparison, is a bog-standard comic novel that never attains any greater value than a certain superficial cleverness.

Jeff/Death is rather more interesting. The first novella, Jeff in Venice, is the tale of hack arts journalist Jeff Atman. (If your aptronym-senses are tingling give them a sugarcube - they're onto something.) In Venice to cover the Biennale, Atman finds friends (and plenty of frankly-described sex) with Laura, an American gallery attendant. Dyer is great at writing about connection, the conversational volleys and non-verbal positioning that conceals and propels the business of getting to know someone. Jeff and Laura fire off cannonades of witticisms and affectionate mockery in the manner of a screwball comedy duo. The Biennale parties are hilarious, and in typical style Dyer subverts the conventional wisdom that there's nothing new to say about Venice by writing about how there is nothing new to say about Venice.

Despite its general levity, Jeff in Venice ends on a note of quiet desolation, which sets the tone for the book's more sombre half, Death in Varanasi. Dyer shifts to the first-person viewpoint of an unnamed hack travel journalist, commissioned to write a newspaper piece about Varanasi. Once there, he finds himself unwilling - perhaps unable - to leave, strangely attracted by the eternal filth, cruelty and piety of the city.

This bleak - and often bleakly funny - story acts as a kind of distorted mirror image of Jeff in Venice. The analogies between Venice and Varanasi are present but never laboured; the characters and situations subtly evoke those of the Jeff section. Then there is the narrator: his similarity to Jeff is unmistakable but Dyer gives no overt sign that the two characters are the same man. The connection between the two is implicit, as is the connection between the two novellas. "A Novel" may be the publisher's preferred designation for Jeff/Death, but Dyer's "diptych" makes more sense. Dyer has said that he originally planned a more explicit integration of the novellas but decided to make the parts narratively discrete: "Instead of trying to make the narrative rope thicker and stronger, I'd just have these tiny, almost invisible filaments linking the sections, all these little echoes, chimes and rhymes."The two sections can actually be read circularly, creating a sustained loop of allusion and meaning. It is a brilliant conceit that enriches what is already an enjoyable, affecting book.

Oversteps

The new Autechre album, Oversteps, is beautiful in at least two ways. Sometimes it has a crisp, fresh feel, like - I don't know, what's a suitable journalistic simile? - like snowmelt trickling across the pebbled bed of a mountain stream in mid-winter, on a Saturday, about six a.m. At other times the beauty is sublime, like cresting a hillock to find nothing but a vertical chalkface and then rocks and spray and maybe a flock of some kind of carrion-eating seabirds circling expectantly. Facetious similes aside, the fact remains: Oversteps is beautiful.

I mock musical journalese, yet it is difficult to write about Ae's wordless, abstract, stylistically hermetic music. Most critics end up writing a lot of guff about factories and robots and "don't try dancing to this!" because we all know dancing is the only thing that doof doof crap is for. I'm being a lot more cynical than I set out to be. Sorry. But Oversteps is beautiful, and apparently there is no other way of saying that than to say it, and even then it is meaningless because it doesn't relate to anything. Beautiful how? Beautiful like... well, we've been down this deer-and-seabird-strewn path before.

The best, and probably only, thing to do is to just listen. Either it gets you in the guts or it doesn't. I have friends who are put off instrumental electronic music by the perceived lack of a sentient presence: to them it's just "computers talking". I don't believe this is true, but then I am not sure that I care. There is no sentience behind thunder, or a branch falling, or a fire crackling: the human ear and nerves and brain still conspire to be affected by these sounds. The human touch is great, fine, wonderful, but sometimes I want pure sound. I want the beauty of oblivion.

Purge

In anticipation of having less reading time this year, I am purging my rss reader of: personal blogs run by people I don't know in person or via twitter or other online association; book world chat/gossip sites, specifically anything focusing on "the future of publishing" or other publishing/media comings and goings; political blogs; photo blogs where each photo is a variation on a theme, eg. hats, not that I actually follow a blog dedicated to photos of hats, that's just a non-incriminating example; cooking blogs; blogs that I can't remember subscribing to in the first place; sundry other blogs and self-facilitating media nodes that I could really live without.

There are of course many exceptions in each category.

I promise I am not unsubscribing from your blog.

Sunday, 28 February 2010

Input

Reading: Hold On to Your Dreams, Tim Lawrence; Jude: Level 1, Julian Gough

Listening: Autechre; Jaga Jazzist; Parliament; Arthur Russell; Talking Heads; John Zorn

Watching: Shutter Island (2009); M. Hulot’s Holiday (1953); Metropolitan (1990); Breathless (1960)