Tuesday, August 19, 2014

It never rains in southern California

Who says it never rains in Southern California? Why, only this evening, it rained this much.

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It rained that much a couple of months ago too. And only last year, we had an actual downpour!

In case of imminent sonic destruction...

Some things, when added to any video, will make it better - trebuchets, cats, daleks, and of course Brian Blessed.

So Hawkwind have brought in Brian Blessed for the shouting track of Sonic Attack.

The 1973 original is one of my favorite tracks ever. Written by Michael Moorcock and shouted by Robert Calvert, it is one of the most sinister and heart-thumping pieces of space rock that could ever exist. In the case of imminent sonic destruction, Bob Calvert orders, it is imperative to "think only of yourselves" - you are statistically more likely to survive if you think only of yourselves. Hearing him intone that instruction during the hippiest of Acid Daze was quite something.

Brian Blessed brings a more, well, Brian Blessedy performance to the lyrics, and the rhythm's a bit watered down as well. I understand this is being released for charity - go, Team Badger - so everybody should go buy it and then go to YouTube and listen to the original, preferably while tripping.

Note: The first two lines are NSFW. The rest, being all violence and not s*x, are quite suitable for the workplace.

BTW, if you think the hippies protested too much[1] about things like sonic attacks, here is an LRAD (a sonic attack device) mounted on an armored truck being used against ordinary American townsfolk, in Ordinarysville, i.e. Ferguson, MO, on August 14th 2014.

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[1] Hahaha I make protest march joke,  but yes I do know what "protest" meant to the Shakester. Funnies come before good usage.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Fiesta season

It's summertime, and that means fiesta season.

In England, I used to get dragged to county fairs by my parents, who took a tentful of winemaking and beermaking equipment for sale to the assembled hordes. I don't really remember very much about them except they were very green - verdant, even - and quite genteel affairs. We were always on the lot next to a group of Tree Surgeons, who never turned up, so we had quite a big lot.  We used to spend a lot of time with the company of mole eliminators, who used to bring their own moles and a stout fence, and we'd bet on the time taken for the moles to dig under the fence and escape, leaving in their wake graceful, arcing mole runs surmounted with mole hills. Usually whoever got the pool timeslot for about 24 to 36 hours won. Every now and again, there'd be people with quail chicks, which are the fluffiest things on god's grey earth and a constant source of squee for me, and of course prize pigs, well-groomed bulls and blackface sheep.

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San Clemente Fiesta by STB

American county fairs have more of the "fair" aspect foregrounded. We went to the Orange County Fair on Thursday and the center was a circus-style midway so dense and loud that I got disoriented just walking along it, without going on the thing that flings people around on the end of a giant version of those executive chaos toys that rock around for a while before suddenly going on unpredictable swings and slingshot moves. (I didn't even see it at first. I just heard rapidly approaching and then rapidly retreating screams high above my head and eventually figured it out.)

The OC Fair does have a farm, of course, but it doesn't limit itself to pheasants, quail and nicely turned merino. There were vast quantities of yaks, camels, alpaca and their ilk along with the more usual pigs (labeled "swine"), and in one pen a collection of humans knitting and reading their phones. I don't think this was an exhibit, just a place for the volunteers to relax between sweeping out the bullpens. Since this is a long term installation at the fairgrounds, there were also crops, so now I know what brussels sprouts look like when they're growing.

Mostly, of course, the fair is about the food. The signature dish of the OC Fair is bacon-wrapped deep fried turkey leg (a bargain at $20) which we tried and was exactly what you'd expect. A skin-on turkey leg that had been nitrate cured (so the meat was deep purple in color), barbecued until it dried out and then deep fried until the bacon turned into little grey cinders around the thick piece of deep-fried string. Yum! We also tried fresh-squeezed lemonade ($6) and were told we couldn't have it with less sugar in it, because "the sugar is already in it" which made us doubt the "fresh-squeezed" part of the title, and a Bavarian Funnel Cake. For those who have never tried a funnel cake, it is dough (or batter, I guess) that is squeezed through a funnel (obvs) into hot oil so it makes a little deep-fried bird's nest and then served with custard, cream and chocolate sauce. The Bavarian version ($6:50 Edit: Nope, $10) is exactly that. Other variants include more-or-less-that with strawberries and more-or-less-that with caramel. I don't know if anyone has told Bavaria about this.

On Sunday, we went to the San Clemente Fiesta. I'd only ever heard of it from a Google-grabbed newspaper headline a week ago, but apparently it's the 61st annual, so we have had 25 other opportunities to go it and failed. Like the San Juan Capistrano one a couple of weeks ago, it's mostly a venue for thousands of chiropractors to come out and ply their trade, though there did seem to be a growing presence of flat bottles and Marines this year.

As at the SJC Swallows' Festival, the uniquely American art of setting fire to large pieces of meat was on display.

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This always reminds me of the bit in the Bible (1 Kings 18) where the priests of Baal try to burn an offering but Elijah's altar arrangement totally blows them away. (Literally.)

Saturday, August 02, 2014

Wikipedia corner - fascinating facts division

I came across this assertion this morning:

Cleopatra lived closer to the time of Star Wars than the time of the building of the pyramids.

Of course I dived over to Wikipedia, to find that Cleopatra lived until August 12th of 30 BC and the Great Pyramid was built  "over a 10 to 20-year period concluding around 2560 BC".

So, it's true. Cleopatra's reign was closer to Queen Elizabeth II's than to Khufu (who had the Great Pyramid built).

But the Wikipedia article on Khufu's pyramid is stuffed with facts more exciting than that one. Try this - it'll knock your socks off!
There have been varying scientific and alternative theories about the Great Pyramid's construction techniques. Most accepted construction hypotheses are based on the idea that it was built by moving huge stones from a quarry and dragging and lifting them into place.

Heck, really? Hard-hitting stuff!

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(This is obviously a picture of Djoser's pyramid (ca. 2650 BC, and therefore even older) but my pictures of the Great Pyramid aren't any good because it was a regular camera lens and the Great Pyramid is humongous.)

Monday, July 28, 2014

Jack White slays Pittsburgh

Jack White used Lillie Mae's violin bow to play his guitar during Ball and Biscuit at Pittsburgh on July 27th. Edit: The photo is by tour photog David Swanson.

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I can't find any footage of him using it on Yootoob, but a friend who was there described it as the caressing style, rather than the Dazed and Confused "smacking" style.

Until footage appears, here's Dead Leaves And The Dirty Ground and Hardest Button To Button from the same show.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Jack White's Vescovo video explained

Jack White fans will remember the Vescovo & Co Clinic for Contagious Diseases gig on July 2nd in London.  Third Man Records describes it this way

Last night at midnight in Central London, Jack White played a secret show in the basement of a disused office block, to fans clad entirely in powder blue medical gowns.
The event was a collaboration between Jack and the Punchdrunk Theatre Group who had temporarily transformed the space into the Vescovo & Co Clinic for contagious diseases, and had staffed this fake medical facility with dozens of their actors playing the roles of doctors, nurses and orderlies at the time of a disease outbreak. 
Drawing on the themes of Jack White's current album, 'Lazaretto', a term used to describe a quarantine island, the experience began with an elaborate online treasure hunt. A spoof medical infomercial from 1949 appeared in the archives of online medical resource The Wellcome Trust, which contained various obtuse clues that led Jack's superfans to a website belonging to the fake medical company, Vescovo & Company. Thousands of fans submitted their details to this website as part of an online screening for a contagious disease. A lucky few progressed through the screening process that lead to them receiving a telephone call from Punchdrunk actors inviting them to an out-of-hours appointment at the Vescovo Clinic. The clinic had been created for this one occasion by Punchdrunk Theatre across multiple floors of a disused building owned by The Vinyl Factory.
On arrival, fans were asked to change in to blue medical gowns before being subjected to a variety of treatments testing in a maze of medical rooms staffed by Punchdrunk actors. Chaos descended as an outbreak alarm was raised and terrified fans were herded into a smoke filled quarantine chamber. Finally a screen was dropped to reveal Jack and band in full medical uniform who proceeded to belt out a thirty minute set before Jack himself succumbed to the mysterious disease. The rock star fell to the ground in a fit of convulsions before being strapped to a stretcher and wheeled off to a waiting ambulance.
As the press release states, one of the items in the online treasure-hunt for clues on how to win attendance was "a spoof medical informercial...appeared in the archives of...the Wellcome Trust".

I wondered how a record company could get a spoof video into a medical resource library.

The infamous video.

The US musician Jack White (formerly of the White Stripes) recently launched a new album, ‘Lazaretto’. Lazaretto is also the name given to maritime quarantine stations typically in the Mediterranean with many being established during the time of Venetian mercantile domination. Some were associated with the slave trade and others with leper colonies.
He got in touch with the Wellcome Library through a production company, Nomad, about a secret gig he planned for fans on 2 July whilst on tour in the UK (just after he played at Glastonbury).Punchdrunk who produce immersive theatre were engaged to create a one-off event themed around the idea of a lazaretto and contagion.
The producers at Nomad had already selected one of our videos – How to Mask (above) – and re-edited it. They made the highly unusual request of asking us to ‘hide’ their video on our youtube channel. In the accompanying metadata we were provided with, there was a link to what turned out to be a ‘fake’ pharmaceutical company, Vescovo & Co, and people who navigated to this website were invited to register for unspecified medical experiments. After some discussion around the value of our contribution, we were keen to get involved in a project that used our content so creatively and we agreed to go ahead and host the new video called How to Stop Contagion part III, Vescovo & Co (1948).
Nomad agreed to let me attend the event.
So I guess the answer was: We got bribed by a chance to go to a Jack White/Punchdrunk happening.  And there was "some discussion around the value of our contribution", whatever that means.

The blog goes on to describe what a fun time they had.  They also embed the original film that was edited to form the Vescovo&Co video. I can't seem to embed it here, but it's worth a trip to their blog to see it and the rest of the write up.

Edit to add: It's hardly possible to use an ampersand on blogger without the html "amp:" appearing after it. I'll try to wipe it out but it will keep coming back.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

San Juan Capistrano Summer Night

Yesterday my city put on a little fun in the park. We had a Creedence Clearwater Revival band called Creedence Relived for entertainment. They were a fun band who had the hassle of dealing with people who were already wedged in their folding event-seats, and yet managed to achieve about a 15 to 20% dance rate by the end of the second set.

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Creedence Relived. The man on the right with the scrolls who looks like a town cryer is the town cryer.

It's odd how old this music sounds. I mean, it is old - CCR's heyday is before my time as a listener - but this sort of southern boogie is primevally old; it's in people's DNA now. It doesn't sound as though someone is playing it, more that it is leaking out of the cosmos on its own. I think everybody is born knowing the words to Proud Mary (hint: it's the "rolling on the river" one); Bad Moon Rising must be taught to everyone in the cradle by their mothers (STB described it as "a jolly little song if you don't listen to the words); and Susie Q sounds like a primal force, more like Zeus or Thor than something someone sat down and thunk up.  Still, the familiarity with the material didn't stop the audience from failing to complete their half of the sing-alongs.

We also had marvellous cream puffs by someone I've unfortunately forgotten, thingy burgers by someone I've unfortunately forgotten as well, and a whole park full of shills getting in on the act, including the famous Sectum Sempra Energy, who want to build a three-storey electrical substation approximately next door to me in a town which does not allow three-story buildings but apparently can't stop a utilities company from doing whatever it wants. In an effort to sway the populace, they were giving away beach balls and little flashlights with their logo on, or "outreach" as they called it. SJC's herd of chiropractors was out in force, adjusting people by the dozen. The Toll Roads were there - weird really. I mean the stables weren't there, or the ridgelines or the creek. But the roads made the trip, and handed out clever lie-flat emergency water bottles which I hope does not signal lack of faith in their product (which is otherwise branded as efficient transportation without the possibility of getting stranded in a dry desert). Elsewhere much coconut water was hawked, but I didn't see any salted caramels.

Mayor Allevato was there, looking tanned and well, along with Councillor someone or other, whose name I have unfortunately forgotten. No, I wasn't drinking. 

Success! My home grown pineapple

After only six years of hand-watering and personal care, my pineapple top has grown an entire new pineapple.

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It's a very small version of a variety that's currently $2.99 in the stores. So this is a great victory indeed.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Low flyby of military planes this morning in Orange County

Two warplanes flew over my house this morning. Twice, unless there were two separate flights of them. I hid under a desk for the first flight as I thought the world was ending, but shortly after the second flight I took this picture of a much higher altitude plane that seemed to be associated with the low-fly group.

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What is it? And what were the other planes? One friend suggests it was the Commemorative Air Force.

Minnesota would-be governor explains AIDS. It's caused by sperm.

The internets are a strange place. On the one hand, you can learn a lot from them. On the other hand,  it's rife with "facts" so erroneous that they make your eyes bleed. And, although I haven't set foot in a children's classroom in years, and I know teachers who will strenuously disagree with me, I get the very strong impression that American education is so fluffy that you can quite easily graduate high school without being able to tell the difference.

In this case, Mr Loudly Incorrect is Bob Frey, a candidate for Governor of Minnesota. At least I assume he finished high school.  His views, according to MinnPost:

"But when questioned about his position on social issues, Frey added that it “does certainly need to be addressed for what it is. It’s not about the gay agenda but about the science and the financial impact of that agenda. It’s more about sodomy than about pigeonholing a lifestyle.”

Frey then explained his view: “When you have egg and sperm that meet in conception, there’s an enzyme in the front that burns through the egg. The enzyme burns through so the DNA can enter the egg. If the sperm is deposited anally, it's the enzyme that causes the immune system to fail. That’s why the term is AIDS – acquired immunodeficiency syndrome.”"
His son Mike Frey said the same thing, when testifying before the MN House Civil Law Committee about Gay Marriage.

It's utter bullshit, of course, and anyway fails to explain why gays shouldn't get married, as I imagine if they couldn't get married they'd just go in for premarital sex. In fact, I think premarital gay sex may have been observed in some societies already.  So there aren't many benefits to preventing gay marriage on disease-prevention grounds.

Tracking this statement down a little further, I was directed to this page -Towleroad.  Here, the authors are debunking a group founded by yet another Minnesotan politician, Rep. Glenn Gruenhagen, which put out bizarre videos that make the entirely incorrect claim about anal sex, above, as well as a number of other equally peculiar ones. Weirdly, the video is entitled Sodomy, Health, Money, and HF-826,” which is to say it was produced to address a school anti-bullying bill that somehow can only be attacked by videos filled with endless descriptions of anal and oral sex.  (Full disclaimer: I have not read HF-826.)

Here's the video which makes the anal sex claim.  If you're short on time, start at 3:21.

Or just take my word for it that the stills below are from the video.
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It claims that the references are peer reviewed before publication.  There's only one reference in there – Judson et al's COMPARATIVE PREVALENCE RATES OF SEXUALLY TRANSMITTED DISEASES IN HETEROSEXUAL AND HOMOSEXUAL MEN Am. J. Epidemiol. (1980) 112 (6): 836-843

Note the date.  It's from 1980. HIV/AIDS was not known at the time. Even the early name for AIDS, Gay Related Immune Deficiency (GRID), was not in use before 1982.  Judson's paper, which according to that site has been cited only once, concerns the higher prevalence of syphilis and gonorrhea in homosexual men attending STD clinics compared with heterosexual men.   Other STDs had a lower incidence in gay men. The speculation on the cause?
"It is speculated that higher rates of gonorrhea and syphilis result from a larger mean number of sexual contacts, more potential sites of infection, and more hidden and asymptomatic disease, while the lower rates of the other STD result from a lesser susceptibility of anal mucosa to the causative agent(s) of NGU, herpes genitalis, and venereal warts or from a lack of pubic apposition (pediculosis pubis)."
Nothing about the sperm "burning" through the mucosa with its enzymes.  This is because that is not a peer reviewed fact. It is more along the lines of hooey.

Larry Burtoft's Setting The Record Straight, also mentioned, is a book. Not a peer-reviewed paper.

Sperm do have enzymes in a vessel at the top of their heads.  Called the acrosome, it contains hyaluronidase (the -ase ending to enzymes means "I eat it") to break through the egg-surrounding cumulus cells it comes into contact with (they are suspended in hyaluronic acid, sometimes known as "goo" as it functions by "gluing" cells together or lubricating things that should slide over each other), and acrosin, which dissolves the clear zone around the egg so that fusion can begin . However, in the vast majority of cases, the acrosome is only activated after the sperm swims in the uterine environment and meets the chemical signals coming from an egg.  Sperm are not born as armed nuclear warheads looking for mucosa to "burn through", or happily burrowing with gimlet-eyed ease through rectal skin that's tough enough to keep billions of fecal bacteria – some armed with hyaluronidase – out of your bloodstream.

Still, that's not the weirdest part about the video.  Anybody can fail to remember what a zona pellucida is (or lack the nous to look it up), but most people can ask "what if?" questions. Such as "In that case, why aren't women getting AIDS in their mouths in vast quantities?" and "What about heterosexual anal intercourse?" and  "Why aren't all female porn stars dying?" and "If it's just due to the membranes being thinner there, why don't we see AIDS cases going back thousands of years? and "What is this HIV thing we've heard about – are you saying it doesn't exist?' and "If sperms have little cell-dissolving bombs on their heads,  why don't all teenage boys have a permanent rash on their hands?

Do politicians have a duty to at least partly understand the world we live in, or is it our duty to kick out the ones that clearly don't have a clue? In this case, he hasn't a clue. Don't vote for him, for heaven's sake. 

9:37 pm edited for clarity.
10:45 edited because Minneapolis is not a state

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

The Bees buzz awhile: Chicken Payback

This is not new to anyone who listens to adverts in Britain, but I heard it for the first time yesterday in a movie called How to Lose Friends And Alienate People, which I watched because Netflix said I'd like it. (It said that because it has Simon Pegg in it.) Like many oughties movies, it has a carefully curated soundtrack ranging from the worst torch singers yea even unto Motorhead, but the only one that made me want to get up and dance (which would have been inappropriate in my living room during a rom-com) was Chicken Payback, by The Bees.

Like the one that goes Woo-hoo woo hoo! and is probably called Woo-hoo! in Tintin Quarantino movies, it's remarkably catchy. At first I could have sworn I'd heard it on Nuggets, or Boulders, or Pebbles, or possibly Gravel, but apparently not. It's not real freakbeat. But I'm relaxed about authenticity, as I've mentioned before, so here are the Bees with Chicken Payback.

Thursday, July 03, 2014

Jack White on Zane Lowe, 14-07-02 (audio file); follow up Vescovo show article

If you missed Jack White's appearance on Zane Lowe's show yesterday, it's up at the BBC site. But more importantly, it's up on YouTube, thanks to uploader Matthew and that won't age off the site (I hope). It's audio only, so there's just one nice picture to look at while it plays.

There's an interview with Jack first, and the performance is the last 45 minutes or so of this file.

Jack followed this up with a secret invite-only gig in a "contagious disease clinic" that featured a full immersive performance by the theatre group Punchdrunk.  It sounds thoroughly wonderful and I'm sorry I couldn't be there! (They did send me a consolation email with some nice pictures this morning, though.)

His record company, Third Man Records, described it this way:

Last night at midnight in Central London, Jack White played a secret show in the basement of a disused office block, to fans clad entirely in powder blue medical gowns.
The event was a collaboration between Jack and the Punchdrunk Theatre Group who had temporarily transformed the space into the Vescovo & CoClinic for contagious diseases, and had staffed this fake medical facility with dozens of their actors playing the roles of doctors, nurses and orderlies at the time of a disease outbreak. 
Drawing on the themes of Jack White's current album, 'Lazaretto', a term used to describe a quarantine island, the experience began with an elaborate online treasure hunt. A spoof medical infomercial from 1949 appeared in the archives of online medical resource The Wellcome Trust, which contained various obtuse clues that led Jack's superfans to a website belonging to the fake medical company, Vescovo & Company. Thousands of fans submitted their details to this website as part of an online screening for a contagious disease. A lucky few progressed through the screening process that lead to them receiving a telephone call from Punchdrunk actors inviting them to an out-of-hours appointment at the Vescovo Clinic. The clinic had been created for this one occasion by Punchdrunk Theatre across multiple floors of a disused building owned by The Vinyl Factory.

On arrival, fans were asked to change in to blue medical gowns before being subjected to a variety of treatments testing in a maze of medical rooms staffed by Punchdrunk actors. Chaos descended as an outbreak alarm was raised and terrified fans were herded into a smoke filled quarantine chamber. Finally a screen was dropped to reveal Jack and band in full medical uniform who proceeded to belt out a thirty minute set before Jack himself succumbed to the mysterious disease. The rock star fell to the ground in a fit of convulsions before being strapped to a stretcher and wheeled off to a waiting ambulance.

Completely missing the point personal note: I've worked with infectious disease (ID) doctors most of my working life and I've never heard them say "contagious disease" but what do I know? (Apparently it refers to diseases which are infectious on close contact - appropriate for a lazaretto, I suppose.)

He's done this kind of show in London before - Halloween at Shoreditch Church.

Tuesday, July 01, 2014

I won't shop at Hobby Lobby

I'm fed up with several recent events concerning the Supreme Court, so here's Maru sitting in a box. Really, he just sits in the box. But that's Maru!

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Review: Electric Eden: Unearthing Britain's Visionary Music by Rob Young (Book)

My parents were into folk music. They'd go to clubs that had young men standing around singing with their fingers in their ears. Their friends were all into it too; we'd go to the Yorkshire Dales or the Peak District; everyone would get drunk and challenge each other to races over Pen-y-Ghent and back, and then they'd sing folk songs.  I assumed that people had been singing the Derby Ram, Tam Lyn and going Morris Dancing for about a thousand years. 

So I picked up this thick book, Electric Eden, to find out a little bit more about British Folk music. It turns out I was wrong. There's nothing really authentic about people – folk – singing folk music, and nothing much more authentic about recording artists, like Pentangle or the Fairport Convention, singing folk music either. "Authentic" is a problematic word.

But that's all right, because it turns out authenticity doesn't matter. Although the book  subtitle is "visionary music" it's actually about "visionary spaces" – psychogeography – although I realized this only about half-way through. The reviews I've read seem to think Rob Young is writing about music – easy mistake to make, since he devotes literally hundreds of pages to discographies and track-by-track descriptions of folk music records. But on thinking back, I remembered the book started out with a journey, a trip through a real landscape, telling  the story of Vashti Bunyan, her man Robert and her horse Bess taking a vardo from England to the Isle of Skye on a two year journey starting in 1967.  Bunyan is not provably a relative of Paul Bunyan of Pilgrim's Progress fame, says Young, "but the name is richly evocative of quests in search of paradise." Bunyan, who disappeared for about forty years after this trip, is not the most obscure folk singer discussed in this gigantic tome. And she's certainly not the only one who set out, as we used to say, "to get our head together in the country".

Now, we all know that Hunter S Thompson was somewhere outside of Barstow on the edge of the desert when the drugs began to take hold – Bat Country – and Kraftwerk sang about how sie fahren, fahren, fahren auf der Autobahn, but as Young points out, unlike the US or Europe, Britain is not a place where the road trip is the thing itself. In the UK, "the British road is a road to the interior, of the imagination rather than a physical coverage of the distance. […]  All rambling efforts are focused on byways, lanes, hidden walks, undiscovered villages, forgotten churches, ruined walls and weathered stones […] There is the sense that one wants the landscape, and the history it contains all to oneself."

Accordingly, in between the exhaustive descriptions of almost every folk record made in Britain between about 1960 and 1974, there are the interludes where many of these people go to get their heads together in the country. My own favorite, covered briefly in the book, of course, is Robert Plant and Jimmy Page setting off to a cottage in Wales called Bron-yr-Aur, whereupon, on getting their heads together, they wrote Stairway to Heaven, among other things.  Getting heads together in the country dates back at least as far as the early 1900s, with composer John Ireland seeing fairies while walking among barrows and Neolithic sites, and his eventually settling in the Weald of West Sussex from where he could see the Chanctonbury Ring; through the Incredible String Band living in a cottage in Balmore and Glennconner, Scotland; through Donovan's purchase of three Scottish isles for a commune; through Graham Bond rehearsing a band called Magus with Carole Pegg in "a spine chilling country house in the middle of a wood"; through Paul McCartney relocating to the Mull of Kintyre, to anarcho-punk band Crass, who lived (and may still live) in a 'reality asylum' in Epping Forest.

Here a little matter of authenticity arises again. The British landscape is not unchanged from the time Stonehenge was built, or even the time when Tam Lyn was allowed back from Faeryland to live with his baby mama in the real world.

 In order to have a sufficiently robust country in which to get one's head together, one needs an acceptably idealized Britain. A widespread dream of "Britain" began at about the time of the Industrial Revolution, when the Commons were inclosed, and the men who had previously lived off of the Commons went to newtowns to work in their novel Dark Satanic Mills.  The banal reality of farm life was forgotten in favor of William Blake's Jerusalem, an altogether more stirring image of a green and pleasant land, one in which Jesus had walked, or at least Joseph of Arimathea had planted his staff at Glastonbury Tor where it grew into a mighty tree, and later a mighty music festival. It's a land of ley lines, megaliths, Silbury Hill and long barrows. The Romantic William Morris (a favorite of Jimmy Page) also hearkened back to this sort of British Dream Time, when Britain was perfect and the Grail Knights quested at the behest of a damsel, before Britain's industrial fall. A little later, J R R Tolkien, unhappy at the lack of purely English folklore, made up his own fictional landscape, pitting the very trees themselves against the steam boilers and pits of Saruman. Peter Pan's home, Neverland, plays a part and of course, Alice's adventures down the rabbit hole also redrew the maps of psychic England. The folk musicians in this book may live in Epping Forest or perform at the Stonehenge Festival, but they pass without even seeming to notice back and forth through Middle Earth, Wonderland and Blake's Jerusalem, as the fancy takes them.  Robert Plant sings of The Battle of Evermore, where the Ringwraiths arrive in black, though the setting otherwise suggests Anglo-Saxons skirmishing with Celts. 'Pon a hill, Tyrannosaurus Rex sing of the seal of seasons and kings and dwarfs, and quote from Tolkien.

What threw me initially was that the definition of psychogeography  originally specified an urban geography; it is tied in with the concept of our relationship with architecture. Will Self expanded the definition of Psychogeography in his book of the same name: he described it as "a meditation on the vexed relationship between psyche and space" and he chronicled walks not only in the standard grimy city locales of hipster psychogeography like London, New York and more London but also in the spaces between them. Yet the term does not readily stretch to landscape.  The leap came when I realized that Jerusalem, the Mad Hatter's Tea Party, Gondor and the Shire were builded here. They are architecture. Getting your head together in the country is getting your head together in a built environment, one of shared Brittanicity, if that's a word.

Young discusses a similar phenomenon of developing a shared, but inauthentic  (although by now I've given up caring about that word) history in a section on mysticism, where he points out that Alex Sanders' reinvention of modern witchcraft included a text called The Book of Shadows which had elements taken from Shakespeare's plays, Crowley, Yeats and a book by Charles Leland called Aradia.  It's a pastiche, but every modern witch, to be accepted, had to borrow an existing Book of Shadows and copy it in his/her own hand. The work was simultaneously individual and yet common to all. Earlier, Rob Young had made a relatively throwaway point that Morris Dancing is like a Cargo Cult, which puzzled me for a moment. And then I had to agree – it's people ("stealing from their own grandparents" rather than Native Americans or Indian sitar players, as Tinymixtapes said, rather peculiarly, in a review of the book) doing something they've seen done before, that used to work, even if it doesn't work now.  Getting your head together in the country is a Cargo Cult of its own. The Britain may not be "authentic" – it may even be Neverland – but the ritual has the intended effect. 

I couldn't imagine where this book would go after the early seventies, and it turned out neither could Rob Young, even with the benefit of his not writing it until the aughts.  There are still  folk musicians around – for example Billy Bragg – but Young isn't interested in the protest side of the genre. Instead, he goes down his own rabbit hole, into London Bridge station on the London Underground, to observe bands I've really never heard of (being out of the scene here in California) but who, on inspection, don't appear to have much truck with folk music whether produced authentically by the folk process or simply following in the tradition.

Ambient electronica and Acid House are mentioned and the recognizable names are Eno, Genesis P Orridge, Boards of Canada, Aphex Twin and The Orb. Benjamin Zephaniah reimagines Tam Lyn as an urban tale of immigration, a war refugee held tightly throughout a court appearance as his evil forms - such as pimp - are called up and dismissed and he becomes just a man again. Although the overarching project Young discusses is called The Imagined Village, it has a feel of real psychogeography, the fedora-wearing variety that spawns China Mieville books and people who think about Hawksmoor too much.

The road goes ever on, but the London Underground goes round in circles.

Reading a recent article by Will Self on Stonehenge one remark resonated: Self said that he normally got to Stonehenge by taking the A303.  This unusual intrusion of standard Brit car-speak (all British men love to discuss which A road and which B roads you should have taken to get where you are now, and tell you exactly why the one you took was wrong) into a conversation about a largely psychic construction struck me as hilarious but it makes a good short summation of Electric Eden.

I can't imagine many people will read every word of this book (except perhaps my old friend Roger) but you're guaranteed to get something out of it, whether it's a historical thread, a discussion of Third Ear Band, or a round-up of getting your head together in the country.


Saturday, June 28, 2014

Jack of Hearts - falling in love with rock stars

There's a very interesting article that went around the Jack White community recently, dug up for us by Kali Durga.

It's William Giraldi's Jack My Heart, published by the Oxford American on June 24. It's the story of a man's obsession with a rock star.

It's interesting because it goes into some detail about infatuation from a male-on-male perspective. I've never met a man who's confessed to any similar feelings. In my own experience, when completely caught up in a pop act, men, at least online, say things like this:

Larry: "We need a mix of a 1971-era Preening Rhinoceros where the Mellotron doesn't dominate Parry's lute as it did on Dread Pirate Roberts, the 1983 BootOleggo Nihon Co. vinyl bootleg of the second set of June 12th 1971. I already have Audience Source 2 in FLAC (thanks, Gary and Harry!). I'm looking for Audience Source 3 but can't afford Brobdingnagian Dreams, the silver from El Empresa Contrabando Japon├ęs on eBay, and I missed the vine that went around last year. Can anyone upload a copy for me and I'll mix the two using BuffaloDroppings 3.1.2.x  on my Ascaris to bring out the miked instruments?" 
Barry: "Yah, bro, I have Brobdingnagian Dreams, but it's the pressing with the violet-tinted farm midden on the cover, not the one with Parry wearing a tweed overcoat on a Vespa." 
Larry: "No good, that release was sourced from the SBD with overdubs from Audience Source 4."

"Parry did NOT use the HogHonker Geetar Octavio pedal with the modified rectifier during Rupert's Stiffle on the 14th August. He only used it for the first two shows that month, and then it was back to the WhammyFart Guitar Gizmo pedal until the tour break in August. "
Larry: "Remember the lime green vinyl pressing of Tabes Dorsalis Live at the Kunstwerks? The one with the run off groove inscribed by Mother Theresa in Latin and the cover hand-painted by Lady Gaga and only five were pressed and three of those were buried in solid gold boxes under the rocket launch pad concrete at Cape Canaveral and the..." 
Barry: "Yes, obviously, I know all about it. I wrote the 40 page history of the variant pressings for Tabes Rulez! Magazine last year." 
Larry: "Well, yesterday I was in Pittsburgh for a meeting of the International Society of Bores, and someone tipped me off to this tiny record shop in the barrio and on the wall was a copy of lime green TDLATKW! And the guy sold it to me for $500!" 
Gary: "Bah, that's nothing. Nothing! Last week I went one yard outside my house to a flea market that had just been set up by total coincidence and there was a wizened Italian organ grinder there. I gave him 5¢ and his monkey handed me a lime green TDLATKW. In a gold box. And the organ grinder gave me 3¢ change! And he played Preening Rhinoceros on his organ for me!"

It appears likely that this sort of obsession is one and the same with trainspotting and stamp collecting. But not William Giraldi. He was in love, L.U.V.  This is a man who is so verklempt that he does not dare actually set foot in Third Man Records, even though he knows Jack is not selling t shirts behind the counter. 

He uses the "a" word: Authenticity.

So this was beginning to get at the core of my obsession with the White Stripes: authenticity, yes, and artistic integrity, and making the imposters accountable. Jack and Meg recorded on eight-track analog tape. No computers, no digital malarkey, no synthetic tomfoolery or over-dubbing. Jack’s guitars were ages old and one had a hole in it, the one he swapped for at a pawn shop when he was a teen. They didn’t use a set list; every song of every show was spontaneous—an antidote to formula and fatigue—and frequently Jack stopped a song halfway in, raged into a different song, and then picked up where the first song left off.

Giraldi is a novelist and some sort of English teacher, and is prone to unusual adjectives. Women at concerts are "olden", "antique" and "senescent". Jack White is "epicine", twice.  

Here is a taste, from later on, when he has gotten far enough along the path to gain some hindsight:

I’d discovered my own artistic sensibility, my own method of artistic selfhood. Artists obsess over other artists, over the masters, because we want to be them, want their aptitude and cunning and force in the world. We want to touch our targets of veneration because we’d like to filch pocketfuls of their godliness with the wish of becoming gods ourselves. We obsess over what is doled to us in pieces but denied to us in total, but only until we gain the daring to achieve our own brand of mastery.

I guess that's the take-away message. It leaves me completely blank, and I'm hoping that this is a male/female thing and not that one of us is nuts.

Like pretty much anybody else, I'm prone to obsessions, or as Giraldi so generously allows, "If you’re a prepubescent lass with Bieber eyes, infatuation is fine." From 13 or so, I've had my things for pop stars and for movie characters. (Not movie stars so much: I get storytelling and so it's the characters that do it for me.) The 'prepubescence' has lasted quite a long time - until my senescence, in fact. But I've never waded deep enough to feel this riptide get a hold and drag me.


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