Tuesday, August 23, 2016

The Road to Park Hill Bridge

This Grauniad article on love and disappointment the northern steel-making city of Sheffield - not far from where I was born - is heart-wrenching. I think it sufficiently details the reasons why I don't live there right now.

The remark about brides who live on the upper floors of the high-rise apartment blocks taking the freight elevator on their wedding day so as not to crush their "frocks" in the cramped passenger elevator made me wince with recognition - and a strong memory of those elevators, with stinking stains down the walls from crotch height and the dull, cobwebby fluorescent light in the ceiling behind its vandal-proof (but not graffiti-proof) plastic panel.
The overall tone of the article was a bit too "it's grim up north" for me. I'm used to being from the Kentucky or Alabama of the UK but after 12 years living in London where people assumed I keep coal in the bath and gave me all the respect that stereotype engenders, it was eye-opening to move to the US where suddenly I'm in the top tier because I have a "British" accent. It isn't *that* grim. We have Hebden Bridge. And the Dales.
Why do Southerners assume Northerners keep coal in the bath? I've never known. Orwell mentions it in The Road To Wigan Pier. 
"Moreover the pithead baths, where they exist, are paid for wholly or partly by the miners themselves, out of the Miners’ Welfare Fund. Sometimes the colliery company subscribes, sometimes the Fund bears the whole cost. But doubtless even at this late date the old ladies in Brighton boarding-houses are saying that ‘if you give those miners baths they only use them to keep coal in’."

The Daily Telegraph was still giggling about it in 2008 in a book review. 
"Jenni Murray would like you to know that she keeps a very clean toilet - you could eat your dinner off it. Eating your dinner off toilets seems to be one of those strange northern customs, like keeping coal in the bath, that has never caught on down south."
Fuck off, Torygraph. 
The Guardian's story about Sheffield's Park Hill Bridge at least is grounded in reality, even if the reality is as gritty as the ash-heaps behind the steel mills.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Trolls, Trawling and Usenet

On Facebook we were talking about trolls, and trolling. As far as I can tell, the definition of "troll" today is "person I disagree with on the internet". As an example, if someone says, "I can't vote for Hillary because she'll get us into WWIII," it's likely to attract the simple dismissal, "Go away, troll." 

But it wasn't always thus.

Before the Netscape browser was released in December 1994 - call it 1995 - the World Wide Web (the www that often appears at the beginning of website's URLs, like this one above your screen right now: www.blogger. com) didn't actually exist in any meaningful fashion. I know, it's unthinkable, but it's true. So what did people do without Facebook?

We actually had something that was at least as good, though it was without graphics (pictures) except in certain cordoned-off areas. (Just as well, since we were all on Dial-Up and downloading pictures (binaries) could take all night.)

This was a text-based network called Usenet.

I'm not going to write a scholarly appraisal of Usenet, mostly because if I do, thousands of oldbies will pour out of the woodwork to say why I'm wrong. So this is a personal memoir. In a nutshell, Usenet was a hierarchy of messageboards that you read and posted to with a type of proto-browser called a newsreader. If you were lucky, you had a "threaded" newsreader. Academics had their own superior (in their eyes) newsreaders and other people normally obtained a "news client" to be their newsreader. With your newsreader, you would "subscribe" to a "newsgroup" and it would show you the messages that were there already in a "threaded" fashion. This meant that they didn't come out in chronological order, but in a hierarchy.


If you're wondering how, prior to the WWW existing, and without using email, the newsgroup messages got from where they were written all the way to your computer and back, all I can say is it's clever and complicated but can be done, just as the ancients obviously did build pyramids, even if they didn't have JCBs.

The overall organization of the newsgroups was hierarchical, and you specified what you wanted to "subscribe" to by calling out to its sort-of-Linnean full name. There were, according to Wikipedia, 20,000 active newsgroups and over 100,000 created groups. One of my favorites was alt.folklore.urban, which was "alt" (i.e. alternative, not centrally organized), concerned with folklore; and the sort of folklore it was concerned with was urban, as in the Jan Harold Brunvand books. Talk.origins was another, a talk group (i.e. heated discussion) about evolution, which spent many a long hour talking with those who held other views.

I joined well after Usenet had escaped the confines of Academe and become popular (after an upheaval called The Great Renaming) in 1987, and just before the world-shaking judder called The September That Never Ended in 1993. I was a happy poster in those days, using my real name and real email address in messages and never really seeing any trouble or even any animosity, not even in the group about evolution. (Ah, the good old days.) But one day someone on alt.folklore.urban told me I'd been "trolled". I'd never heard the word. He (I assume it was a he) replied that the word meant someone had been trolling to see if he could catch someone, like a fish, and I'd been caught. I'd never heard of that either. "You mean, trawling?" No, he said, trolling, and he explained how fishermen troll for fish. After that the scales (sorry) fell from my eyes, and I could see the trolling going on in front of me. The full phrase was "trolling for newbies" as the Old Hats were too experienced to rise to the bait, but new people were more eager to teach people the ropes and took a lot longer to realize they were on a hook. A troll who could signal to the Old Hats that he (usually a he) was trolling by some subtle wording in the inquiry (or in the headers), and yet still catch a newbie, was a hero. People then told the newbie, "YHBT" which the latter would have to tediously work out (no Googling then) meant You Have Been Trolled. They'd often add, "HTH" - Hope This Helps and "HAND" - Have a Nice Day. There is literally no limit to the number of times it raises a laugh when someone introduces themselves and says they're from Austria and a troll asks them whether the koalas are cuddly there. The first person then tries to tell the clueless American (who already knows full well) that Austria and Australia are two different countries. The clueless American appears to be confused and asks follow up questions. Hilarity ensues.

AFU developed and perfected the art of trolling. Snopes, a valued Old Hat of the group, certainly did his fair share, which may seem odd as Snopes' website now is a fortress of fact in a battlefield of lies. It all seemed like such a good idea at the time.

Maybe I wasn't the only person who'd never fished, because often the trollers were often referred to as trolls, and people talked about them as trolls, not fishermen; that they lived under bridges, ate goats and so forth. Since the one thing a troll craved was a reaction, "Don't feed the trolls" was a mantra; it was quite in your power to simply ignore them. A troll might (and often did) post a message to alt.folklore.urban saying that glass in old windows was thicker at the bottom because "glass is a liquid and flows" and the afu folk would have to bite their collective lips not to respond, because they felt they'd proved this was not true to everyone's satisfaction and rising to the bait would just waste everybody's time as they went through the whole rigmarole of trying to convince someone who was probably just an alumni with a fake name trying to rile people up anyway. The oldbies might find themselves rising to the bait rather than let others assume they did not have a satisfactory come-back. The newbies would obviously rise to the bait because they were in the happy fog of the newly-converted. "Glass Flows" threads could go on for months.

And that's where things could turn ugly. Clever trolls who know what the facts are but feign obtuseness are irritating after a while, and a preponderance of them can easily tilt the conversation into dark waters. But worse than that, mean and abusive trolls soon appeared, and were far more destructive, as they didn't just feed on innocents rising to the bait; they enjoyed driving people away from otherwise happy groups. Some of the techniques that arose around the beginning of the World Wide Web in 95 necessitated pretty much every public space to have moderators, and by the time Twitter rolled around, people being driven off the internet, doxxed, or even driven to attempt suicide, became a commonplace. Asking fake-clueless follow-up questions became the marginally-hostile sealioning.

Troll these days has a very nasty connotation. Wikipedia says,

"Two studies published in 2013 and 2014 have found that people who are identified as trolls tend to have dark personality traits and show signs of sadism, antisocial behavior,psychopathy, and machiavellianism. The 2013 study suggested that there are a number of similarities between anti-social and flame trolling activities and the 2014 study suggested that the noxious personality characteristics known as the "dark triad of personality" should be investigated in the analysis of trolling, and concluded that trolling appears "to be an Internet manifestation of everyday sadism."

Among a lot of other stuff.

But it started when people on newsgroups like alt.folklore.urban would post something like, "According to Gene Roddenberry, Captain James T. Kirk's middle name is Timothy," crosspost it to the entire rec.arts.startrek newsgroup hierarchy, then sit back and watch the feathers fly. 

They were better days.

[1] That's not Usenet, it's SFF.net. But I don't have a threaded newsreader to display the former. It's a good illustration of what threading looks like.
[2] Usenet still exists. I refer to it in the past tense, but it's still there and doing its thing.

Friday, June 17, 2016

I'm not a prepper, but...

...you know that thing where they say that we're all three days away from complete loss of civilization?

It's more like 45 minutes.

My water has been out since Tuesday - burst pipe in the slab, so I've only been switching the water on at the mains for an hour a day, to shower and do the dishes and so forth.

My electric went out for no good reason at about four pm today. (The reason given is that they can't keep the lights on when it's hot because they've run out of gas because they had that big gas leak that put a hundred thousand tons of methane into the air early this year, and apparently they need gas to make electricity, but they don't actually care enough about either to ensure the supply to customers.) On the radio today, they said, ominously, "Rolling blackouts are coming if you don't conserve the 'letrit!" but there was a clear implication they meant Sunday and Monday, not "in the next two hours".

With the electric went the wifi, fairly obviously, but less obviously it also took out the mobile network. DON'T ASK ME WHY*

I imagine the gas was still on - they're not THAT short - but it only powers the heater and the water heater, and the water's off, and it's 95 degrees today. (It's the start of a heatwave; 110 expected in the next few days, which is unheard of in these parts.) And I do have a barbecue grill, assuming I want to eat grilled ground beef, grilled brussels sprouts and grilled sugar snap peas, which is all I have in the fridge, which I couldn't open because I didn't want to let the 95 degrees into it and risk ruining all the food.

I'm currently binge-watching Supernatural, but obviously I couldn't continue doing that. I knew I should have gotten a Spectral TV that runs on ectoplasm and demon blood, but alas mine's electric. And anyway, Netflix is on the Interwebs, which is on the other side of the non-functioning wifi.
The picture I was going to use as a reference. It's Jack White as an extra in a movie called The Rosary Murders.

I couldn't spend time painting the picture I wanted to paint, because the reference picture is on my One Drive, which is also on the other side of the wifi from my laptop. And even if it wasn't, the printer doesn't run on demon blood either, and I obv can't keep the screen lit for too long as the battery won't last long enough. And eventually the daylight will go on the painting, as well.

I couldn't continue to write the story I'm in the middle of. The notes are on One Note, which is - surprise! - on the laptop, but the actual words of the story are on another machine, which is on a UPS, but computers today being what they are (greedhogs) the UPS was already out of power by the time I thought of it and went to get a flash drive.

I could have read a book - it's almost the longest day, so technically I could read until 8pm. In practice, I didn't want to. One other thing I actually could have done is practice a PowerPoint presentation I need to give next week, but as you can imagine, buckling down to actual work was not on the cards. (Now that the power's back on I'm thinking of all the things I could have done with it and planning to put those improvements off until about five minutes before I'm due to give the talk.)

After about 15 minutes I couldn't stand it any longer and decided to go to the gym for a shower. The last time I drove in a power outage, every traffic light in Orange County was off and I got trapped in Mission Viejo (nasty!) and spent five hours in a traffic jam.  I forgot about that, and forged ahead. I spent a few minutes trying to remember how to get out of a garage door when the power's out. Then had to try to remember how to set the alarm when the power's out.  It's over 100 degrees in the garage. No insulation in there.

Anyway, got to the gym in good time. Only half the traffic lights were out this time! Unfortunately, the gym also has no power. My one chance of a shower today recedes. Off to Vons, which does have power. And plenty of ice. I buy ice. The last time the power was out it was for eleven hours, and both freezers got to the slushy stage. I'm not a picky eater but I don't want to do that too often. And I buy ice cream, because. As I leave, the person-wanting-money-of-the-day at the exit wishes me a happy Friday. I can't think of an answer in time. (I suppose "Thank You!" would have done, but it wasn't coming to me at that moment.) At the car, I remember what's at home - 95 degrees, no aircon, smoke in the air from the recent brush fire, no wifi, no mobile, no printer, no Netflix, no Facebook. I turn round, go back into Vons and buy a HUGE bottle of wine. "Forgot the most important thing, eh?" says the checker. I mumble something about planning for the power to be out all evening. The line behind me gasps. They have no idea the power's out over half the town. How could they? You can't even phone out of the black hole it's become.

The PWMOTD wishes me a happy Friday as I walk back to the car, and offers me an opportunity to help the homeless, which I decline to take as I never know if these guys are legit or not.  I get home and try the garage door opener. No dice; the power is still out. I begin heaving the two giant bags of ice - one for the chest freezer, one to keep the kitchen fridge cold, into the house, followed by the ice cream and wine.

As I lift the surprisingly large ice to the surprisingly tiny gap between the jammed-in foods in the ice box and wrench it from side to side to clear a space, there comes that shaking-a-dewar musical rattle that fridges make when the compressor comes on. It gets lighter in the kitchen. Yes, the power is back on.  The UPS says "beep, beep", the computer says "bingly bong!" The fifty decibel background hum of the house reasserts itself.

Oh good. Maybe I should have waited instead of assuming this would last all night.

I will still drink the wine.

Tomorrow I will back up all files to each computer and write a Plan to keep only the latest version on each one and ...oh gods no I won't. That's beyond the power of mortal men and I'm sure nobody has come up with an app for it yet. I'll keep old magazines on hand with interesting pictures in them for reference pictures. I'll practice opening the garage door, find out where the candles are while it's still light, and maybe buy matches. (Lighting candles off a barbecue grill is difficult; I did it once.) I'll fill the tank - they always suggest you keep it full - and maybe even check the tires. I'll keep all my devices charged 100% so they're ready for bug out.

At least I've got plenty of ice.

*According to a nexpert, the phone takes a few minutes to stop trying the wifi network and go it alone. A power cycle would speed it up. 

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Brush fire season has started

...even though we still have heavy June Gloom.

We had a bit of a fire in San Juan Capistrano, between the megachurch-that-has-the-100-foot-Three-Wise-Men-at-Christmas and the creek. Perhaps that's Laguna Niguel, who could possibly know? At the time I passed it, there was a little bit of remaining smoke to the north and an open fire to the south.

Apparently it's out now and no Wise Men were damaged.

(There's a slide show in OC Register article here.)

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

George Berger: The Story of Crass (2008 book, review)

This was an easy read, a mostly linear story of a relatively uncomplicated band.

Crass were the archetypal anarcho-punks of the late seventies and early 80s, representing in my opinion, the forces that developed punks from Bowie-inspired teens to angry, anti-Thatcher, pro-union adults.

If the book is correct, Crass managed to incorporate a few problematic elements. They were founded by an upper-middle class hippie, introducing the sort of snake-in-Eden auto-schismatic effect that seems to occur in the origin stories of so many otherwise benignant movements. They pissed off the ordinary London squat-dwelling punks by attempting to placate skinheads. They were of the opinion that you could raise consciousnesses by one-on-one post-gig talking sessions that, as you can imagine, used up one Crass member per person targeted for hours on end.

Their hearts (and dogma) were in the right place, however, and the book quotes long passages from Penny Rimbaud's pamphlets that really brought back to me the anger and despair of those early Thatcher days. Remember the Falklands War? This book does! The marches, the strikes, the atmosphere that lead to Rock Against Racism?

It doesn't discuss the music much, and when it does, it makes it sound borderline unlistenable, which is doing it a major disservice. Because, obviously, Crass's music is TOTALLY unlistenable.

This passage resonated with me.

It's not hard to see how this could happen: Britain still harboured a macho culture wherein 'queer bashing' was still a socially acceptable pastime in many areas. For every kid that was enlightened when David Bowie put his arm around Mick Ronson whilst performing on Top Of The Pops, there was a whole gang who denounced him as a 'poof'.

Punk itself had gone from being a decidedly non-macho, gay and woman friendly movement to a place where men strutted around in big boots, leather jackets and Mohicans in a barely related parody of what they thought punk was originally about.

I bought tickets to see The Clash three times. The first time, they cancelled. The second, I forget. (Probably cancelled.) The third time, they played, but I was behind a wall of giant guys in leathers and boots and all I could see was their logos painted on the backs of their leather jackets. So in point of fact I've never actually 'seen The Clash live' even though I have been in the venue when they were playing. I feel I've lived this part of the punk story, at least.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Star Wars Ring Theory (Mike Klimo)


Well, this is a hell of a theory. I used to hear all the Star Wars theories because I was on all the Star Wars theorizers' groups - but they are on Yahoo, and nobody goes there any more. (And not because it's too crowded.) So I came to Star Wars Ring Theory a little late. 

You have to read it to really get the full impact of it, and it's 8 chapters long. I had to put it aside until I had an hour to read it, and even so I was getting punchy by the end and will have to read it again. But in a nutshell, he says that the prequels match the original series almost scene by scene, but not in a straightforward order. They form a ring, with the middle two inverted against each other. (It's called a chiasmus, which I'm familiar with from genetics - and it's fascinatingly so!) All those points where you think, hang on, hasn't someone else had a hand chopped off? Or, wait, is that the third time somebody's had a bad feeling about this? Or, didn't the last one open on a shot of a giant space vehicle approaching a planet from above, not below? And so on, and so on... They all fit together in a complex pattern, which he explains and illustrates with screen shots that make you wonder why you didn't think of this yourself. 

One of my theories (what is mine) is every sufficiently large text is like the Bible, by which I mean that if you have a big enough corpus - Lord of the Rings, or Shakespeare, or Harry Potter - there is enough STUFF in there to make any random theory sound good because you can always find something that matches your thesis. I mean, I’ve read Shakespeare and the Goddess of Complete Being. I’ve read The White Goddess. I’ve read the Golden Bough. I started reading this in the same light, but he managed to convince me that there’s a single path through all of the films that makes sense as a ring/crossing over structure. 

One sticking point for me was the discussion of good versus evil in the Star Wars universe as I'd gotten used to thinking of evil as a privation of good, a la St. Augustine, rather than a thing in itself. This theory seems to involve evil as a separate and equal force in the...er, Force. But if so, why does bringing balance to the Force involve the death of ALL the Sith but only SOME of the Jedi? That was always my sticking point with it, but he brings out several quotes from Lucas that not only support this view but actually state it in so many words. Yeah, I have to read it again.
What do you think?

Sunday, March 20, 2016

David Bowie: The Prettiest Star

I was tagged by my friend Dan to post a Bowie song a day for seven days. This is day seven. Unfortunately for the chain letter effect, I don’t know any more Bowie fans to pass this on to for the next seven days. Anyone want to step up?

Ok, you knew this was coming.
This track isn’t *about* Marc Bolan – it just features him on guitar. According to standard Bowie lore, the “Prettiest Star” herself is Angie Bowie, back in those halcyon days when Angie was his girlfriend and both Bowie and Bolan were graduating from being hippies – fabulous clothes from Granny Takes a Trip, all the right friends in Ladbroke Grove, all the right gigs at UFO and Middle Earth – to full-fledged swans, all the satin and tat and cool visible to all but paddling like motherfuckers out of sight below the water, trying to get ahead.

The track was released as a single, a follow up to Space Oddity and it appears Bowie thought it would soar away. In fact it fell back to earth with a thud, selling (it says on Wikipedia) 800 copies. It’s remarkable that people we regard as natural stars like David Bowie struggled so hard for so long. The old adage attributed to Edison that “genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration” certainly applies to popular music, though I’m sure Bowie would never perspire. “Glow”, perhaps, but not perspire.
Bowie redid the track shortly afterwards with Mick Ronson on guitar, though Marc’s chiming Beard-of-Stars guitar figures were deemed matchless and were re-played as is. The video above obviously isn’t that one, because I have my biases. It’s the original 1970 single cut. (I hope.)

David Bowie: Queen Bitch

In case I don't get round to Day seven of Seven Days of Bowie for a while, Dan, here's a stopgap. I came across it in Suzi Ronson's feed.
I have a theory about Rock and Roll. Here it is, the theory what is mine.
All rock and roll is by and about four men who have 10,000 watts of amplification,150,000 watts of lighting, 6 ex-con roadies-cum-heavies led a manager with ties to the Mafia, 5,000,000 record-buying fans supporting them from behind and 5,000 screaming, fanatical fans in front of them...and they're belting out a song putting down a nameless 16 year old girl who dissed them after school like ten years ago.
Many kudos for Bowie for riffing on that trope and seriously subverting it in Queen Bitch.

(I have to link to the Facebook post as the specific video is not available outside Facebook. If you don't like Facebook, and many don't, there are other versions available on YouTube.)

Video link
Posted by The Crazy Ones: The Mad Rock&Roll History on Wednesday, August 26, 2015

David Bowie: Memory of a Free Festival

I was tagged by my Facebook friend Dan to post a Bowie song a day for seven days. It's after midnight, but pretending for a moment it isn't, this is day six. 
I wanted to pick one of the singer-songwriter early songs and had a furious argument with myself over which one. David Bowie is probably the only person who fits the late-sixties/ early-seventies singer-songwriter mold that I can stand. I can cheerfully hate all the others, whether they're critically acclaimed or otherwise. From Giblets O'Sullivan through Joni Mitchell to Fat Reg from Pinner, I've switched them all off in mid-spate and walked out dreaming of proper music. Music with metal in it. 

But David Bowie, despite the lack of feedback and stratospherically-high stacks of Marshall amps on the backline, manages to hold my attention.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Web bloat woes

Reading the interwebs on a laptop is a miserable experience anymore.

I assume the pages have been optimized for reading on a phone screen (portrait orientation) which along with the gigantic amounts of cruft each page loads means there's almost no actual
information per page.

Screen capture from today

In the screen capture, there are 79 - seventy-nine - words of news story and about an acre of other stuff. It's not that most of the real estate is taken over by pointless stock photos (a problem on many other sites). In this case there's part of a real photo, two or three sidebars of other available content, a social media sharing widget that I can't work out how to minimize, a pop-up link to the video I skipped watching in case I want to share it with others (I don't, and I don't know how to get rid of the pop-up) and a banner along the top advertising yet more content, but this time in categories instead of titles. 

And I dread to think what it'd look like without AdBlocker switched on!

79 words per page. I think I was doing better than that with Compuserve in 1989.  Simply scrolling down enough screens to get the gist of the news story is wearing out my left-click mouse button. 


Eh, this one's even worse. 

No words in the news article visible for three screens down. 

Friday, March 18, 2016

David Bowie: Lady Stardust


I was tagged by my friend Dan on Facebook to post a David Bowie song a day for seven days. This is day five.
It's difficult to recommend a track from Ziggy Stardust. The album has reached such a saturation level that everyone has heard it, and worse, for the majority of Pop Pickers today, the album has literally always existed. It was released in 1972, and so for anyone under 43, it's part of the bedrock of society along with Mickey Mouse and the internal combustion engine. Some albums can escape this fate by being obscure - if I recommended J’ai Mal Au Dents from The Faust Tapes (1973), I could assume the vast majority of people have not heard it. But Ziggy Stardust is not a diamond from the hot and dark mine tunnels of ancient rock, a la Nuggets. It’s more like a large city limits sign on the Highway to Hell.

But it was once new. No punter had ever heard it before. Albums back then dropped with a couple of weeks notice, signaled only by hyperbolic wodges of text in the inkies (the weekly rock papers in England) either calling them out as better than the best thing ever or useless slabs of ruined wax by no-hopers who should just give up and go home. Yes, Bowie had played a few Ziggy gigs here and there, but you couldn’t watch them on YouTube, nor where there video cameras that could fit in your satin split-knee loon pants.

Which is a long-winded way of saying that when it was released, I had heard it was good (no one knew it was revolutionary until later) but I didn’t have the faintest idea what, exactly, was good about it. I’d be here all day if I gave an account of my reactions to it, so lets just concentrate on this one track. Lady Stardust. 

I don’t recall previously ever hearing a songwriter sing about himself in the third person. Star, the following track, is in the first person (“I could make a wild transformation as a rock and roll star.”) Lady Stardust is sung from the point of view a watcher. “Lady Stardust sang his songs of darkness and dismay.”

(It didn’t help that I assumed Lady Stardust was Ziggy’s girlfriend. Don’t laugh. I had *heard* of gay people and I knew rather more gay slang than most of my cohort, but for some reason the (no pun intended) straight reading fixed itself firmly in my brain and I imagined Lady Stardust (a combination of Elkie Brooks and Tina Turner) on the stage belting out Ziggy’s lyrics. (Ziggy himself being, obvs, the guitarist.))

It’s impossible to not believe the narrator is actually at the show and recounting what he’s seeing in real time - as though he was a video camera in loon pants. Even once I’d put two and two together and made one, so that the people who are staring “at the makeup on his face” are staring at Lady Stardust, not at her guitarist, the picture remains clear. I can almost remember seeing the boy in the bright blue jeans jump up on the stage, because the image is so bright it might as well be one of my own memories. And the way the narrator’s singing, it’s almost a lament. You surmise that something bad has already happened and Lady Stardust is not going to enjoy his fame for long, even if, as the narrator exaggerates for effect, the song seemed to go on forever. And that’s what special about this track. The words are plain and photorealistically descriptive; the melody is disconsolate and dejected, superficially because he cannot admit his love of the singer, but underneath it seems to be because the man he sees on stage does not really exist. He’s a projected image that will shortly disappear, perhaps lingering a while like the phosphor dot in the center of old TV screens as they were turned off.

Or not. There are other interpretations. One popular theory is that the song is about Marc Bolan (and you know how I love Marc Bolan). I can imagine Bowie thinking of Marc as a queen, but it doesn’t quite fit. His songs aren’t about darkness and disgrace, for one. For another, I don’t see Bowie looking at Bolan and thinking “animal grace”. If it is about Marc, the prediction still came true eventually, a little while after Ziggy’s own demise.

David Bowie: The Width Of A Circle

No interwebs today so this will have to be short. I was tagged by Dan on Facebook to post a David Bowie track a day for 7 days. This is day 4 (I think). 

This one seized my mind as about the filthiest track it would be possible to ever get past Mary Whitehouse. Today I'm not sure if it is about a sexual encounter or about a trip to The Chapel Perilous, though I suppose it could be about both. 

I hope it's the former as it sounds so much more memorable than today's ideal of "Netflix And Chill". We should all have it like this occasionally. 

This is the live version though frankly I prefer the unadorned album version - it's rawer. Enjoy.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

David Bowie: Standing Next To You

I was tagged by my friend Dan on Facebook to post a David Bowie track each day for seven days. This is day 3.

Everyone who knows me knows that I’m a Marc Bolan fan. I’ve been a fan since about the time I bought Electric Warrior hot off the presses back in 1971.

Marc, who had always wanted to be famous – he wanted to be the biggest thing since the Tyrannosaurus rex, he said, at least according to Jackie magazine – took to fame like a duck to water. In doing so, he alienated just about everyone he had grown up with, or who had helped him along the way. He famously stopped speaking to John Peel, a special friend who had supported him since the early days at the Middle Earth Club, when Peel did not consider one of his new pop singles worthy of his (determinedly non-pop oriented) evening radio show. Fellow DJ Whispering Bob Harris did not get cold-shouldered, but as best I can recall, he came to feel no need to continue speaking to the world famous object of T. Rextasy, as he’d become arrogant and needy. I didn’t really notice from down here in fandom, though I did notice in the movie Born To Boogie, Marc wears a t shirt with his face on it while standing in front of a larger than life-size cardboard cut-out of himself. 

His friend David Bowie also started to baulk at his pushiness. I remember reading a pull quote from Bowie, in 1972, that Marc was “prissy and fey and engrossed in his own image”, which at the time struck me as funny – Bowie was nothing if not fey and engrossed in somebody’s image, though I’ve never thought of him as prissy. That led to a minor high-schooler’s dilemma for me. Keep on liking David Bowie and sort of betray Marc Bolan’s trust, or drop Bowie? The latter, obviously, was the correct immature way to go, so I took it. 

I wasn’t one of Marc’s friends, but it did dawn on me after a considerable time that the Boppin’ Elf was not the sunny, dimpled hippy of his earlier incarnation, and even I eventually stopped buying T. Rex records in 1973, between Tanx in January 1973 and Zinc Alloy in February 1974. Ironically, not much later than that, everyone else started liking Marc again. He’d come through his own coke-and-red-wine addiction and gotten seriously into punk; and punk admired him back. He got his own TV show in Summer 1977, which he used to feature himself (natch – the show was even called “Marc”) and a few punk bands. Then, eventually, in September 1977, he featured David Bowie, back on his friends list once again. Bowie sang “Heroes” and looked quite fabulous.

The show was taped on the 7th September, and went out on 28th September. By the time it aired, Marc was dead, killed in a car crash. His second stab at fame was not to be. Since I’d stopped listening to him years earlier I wasn’t aware of his TV show, or of his revival amongst the punks until later. 

For his last live TV appearance, Marc and Bowie rehearsed a song called Standing Next To You together and then played it live on stage. About half-way through the song, Marc fell off the stage and the camera caught Bowie laughing at him. Although it was taped for broadcast later, the live gaffe was used in the show, when it finally aired, and played over the credits. It’s always been one of life’s little ironies that Marc’s last TV appearance is of him fucking up, but it’s wonderful that he was back to playing with one of his old mates, David Bowie.

The partial song as aired is on the second video, but you can hear the whole song (sound recording, with visuals added later) in the first link of them rehearsing. It’s clearly a Bolan song – who else would write that riff? Or that hook? – but it’s great to see Bowie smiling and working on playing his guitar here. 

Rehearsal of Standing Next To You

Highlights of the show as aired, with David Bowie singing Heroes, among other things. The new song starts at 6’ 10” in.

David Bowie: Heroes/Helden


I was tagged by my friend Dan to post a David Bowie song a day for seven days. This is day 2. 

This song has been around the block a few times and may be too well-known for some people. It wasn't a hit when it was first released, but it had so many versions, and was played live so often, that it became a legend in its own lunchtime. A cult hit by dint of hard work, maybe. 

I liked it from the get-go, mainly for its mood. It has some of the elements of Big Melancholy, a type of song that's usually too much for me - makes me feel too sad - but, straining and soaring against the dark ages of rock music ((c) Tony Palmer), it comes to a super positive conclusion. We CAN be heroes, but just for one day. 

I guess my thought process was: "Well, that's the best you can expect, innit. Who doesn't want to be Frodo or Paul Muad'dib or the Beastmaster, or whomever, and the time limit is a good thing, because then you can go back to huddling with your friends in solidarity, and not have to die or go to The West or generally become a demi-god, which is let's face it, a lonely profession."

And this is the German version, as played on the titular car radio of "Radio On", a deep film about deep things from a deep era that I also loved back then. German's usually a mild, quiet, sentimental language, but Bowie, god bless him, manages to bring the histrionics to it nevertheless. "Ich, Ich bin ein Konig, und du, du Konigin!" is so filled with hope and longing and anticip...ation and so forth that it completely rules, except the line about dolphins eclipses it in yearning majesty even though, lets face it, when you read it cold on the page, it's just a line about some dolphins. 

David Bowie makes it magic.

David Bowie: Sound And Vision


I was nominated by my friend Dan on Facebook to post a David Bowie song each day for seven days.
I don't have an extensive collection of Bowie deep cuts, so some of these are going to be old faves - but ones that mean something special to me. 

First up is Sound and Vision from the album Low.

It starts with a heavily-treated snare drum announcement - rat-tat..tat! and goes into a long instrumental introduction that struck me as perfectly worked out, like a song in the round, in that you could listen to it forever and it would always lead back into itself in such a way that there is no part where you could imagine getting off the ride. And I didn’t - when it first came out, after each listening I lifted the tone arm and dropped it again and again back at the start. There’s the bass playing - and that fine guitar - and that...thing...that takes the place of a crash cymbal with its unusual and yet perfect sound - tfff! and the two times Bowie’s voice seems to wake up to its (electric blue) surroundings with that delighted sigh - ah ah! and Mary Hopkin comes in as the (moon)colored girl who goes doo-doo-doo, and then, finally, Bowie comes in on an unexpectedly low register to tell us that he’s holed up in his room, waiting for the gift of sound and vision. Before you have time to wonder why he thinks he doesn’t already have it, he’s out of here, and it’s time to drop the needle at the start and begin it again. 

Having said that, I’m not sure you can hear much of that on a Youtube rip. Unless you have it on vinyl or CD, it’s probably best just to think of it as a nice choon. A lot of its iconic quality comes from its situation in its own milieu, in any case. The seventies, English world of Chris Petit’s Radio On movie, with the Man Who Fell To Earth similarly playing with film grammar, the fact that I was away from home for the first time, living in the Halls of Residence at university. Listening to Sound and Vision again, I can feel that time again, smell it and almost touch it. 


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