Thursday, December 28, 2006

Papers, please

Life as an American proceeds apace.

I got my voter registration card in the mail yesterday. I'm supposed to sign it (I think; there's a space for a signature but it doesn't tell me to sign it) and then produce it for a nactual election. It's a postcard. I almost didn't even bring it into the house, preparing to can it with the CAR-RT SORT junkmail before I realized what it was. There's no chance at all I'll be able to find it on election day.

I also applied for a US passport yesterday. I queued^W lined up at the Post Office for approximately an hour and handed over $157 for the passport. I should have it in three weeks, it says here. The bad news is that my hard-won naturalization certificate accompanies the application on its travels. As well as that (my most essential piece of documentation) the application has my social security number, mother's maiden name, mother's place of birth, dad's name and dad's place of birth. It's not the sort of thing you want out in the wild, even in the capable (and $30 fee receiving) hands of the US Postal Service. If the passport ever arrives, I will then go to Foreign Parts just because I can.

Since I changed jobs recently, I have also had to apply for COBRA health insurance, sound out new health insurance, do some things with the 401K retirement fund (still not sure what exactly to do with some other related things), and work out whether to excercise the minimal share options my last firm gave me, which were underwater until approximately the day I left and then shot up in price to almost double in three weeks and are now worth buying. (Do the investors know something about me I don't know?)

At the new firm I have also spent approximately 20 hours (of their time, luckily) finding out about and filling in forms for:
1. Access to the property I work at
2. Access to the property where my boss works
3. Vehicular access to the local property
4. Vehicular parking rights to one tiny parking lot (I've already
gotten a ticket for parking in the wrong parking lot) on the local property
5. Access to (my boss's) local computer system
6. VPN access to my computer files while on the road
7. Access to the local laboratory information system (LIS)
8. Access to the local information system document control
9. Access to the local information system data servers
10. Access to the LIS at my boss's site
11. Access to the other LIS at my boss's site
12. The email system of the company overall (by a stroke of sheer luck, this is not divided into locations)
13. Internet access (can't live without that, can we?)

All of these required a separate form and permissions from a different person. One of them involved getting a form and a 20 page explanation of how to fill it in from a Word document tab that is on the local-local computer system, which you will have noted immediately is something to which I do not have access. Luckily I had friends in the next cubicle with email.

The one thing that took the most time? Registering for, logging onto and entering data into the web-based expense report system. It took almost as long as the business trip (driving up to see my boss).

Snakes on a Plate!

I live in Southern California so I'm always on the lookout for foolproof earthquake detectors. There's one described on the Channel NewsAsia website today:

"SNAKES ON A (TECTONIC) PLATE! BEIJING – Forget the quake experts. How are the snakes behaving? Two days after tremors in Taiwan knocked the digital world off its axis, state media revealed China has come up with its own system to predict the next big one. In it, snakes take centrestage. "Of all the creatures on Earth, snakes are perhaps the most sensitive to earthquakes," said Mr Jiang Weisong, director of the earthquake bureau in Nanning, southern China. He claimed that they could sense an earthquake 120 km away, three to five days before it happens. "When an earthquake is about to occur, snakes will move out of their nests, even in the cold of winter," he said. "If the earthquake is a big one, the snakes will even smash into walls while trying to escape." So, the bureau now monitors snakes at local snake farms via a 24-hour video feed linked to an Internet connection."

How it works, I guess, is, if the picture of the snakes disappears, that means the cable's out, and that means there's earthquake damage heading your way.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Future Tense

From Detroitblog, a page about the prairie reclaiming, of all things, central Detroit.

I saw it mentioned on Bruce Sterling's blog.

I have seen footage of this phenomenon before and my memory, known to its fans as Google Desktop Search, tells me that it was shown in a video about the life of William Gibson. It doesn't tell me the name of the video but my other memory depository, Big Google Itself (for it is he), suggests it must have been No Maps For These Territories.

The film says something about deer wandering the streets, I believe. It also says, rather cleverly, that the Union Bank's building is still in Detroit but the bank itself migrated to cyberspace.

James Nicoll also said yesterday that Japan's population actually declined last year. I am apparently now living in the future, which is nice. I knew I'd get there one day.

I would still like to have a flying car but I think I left that in my other future.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Big Sparks

Really, really big sparks. The lightning stroke is especially wowsome.

This page of Bert Hickman Teslamania site shows what happens when electricity really gets out of hand. I usually think of electric as being well-behaved stuff that hangs around in wires and doesn't do anything out of the ordinary unless I do something plain stupid to it first. I am not correct in this assumption.

This page reminds me that electricity is actually made out of magic, and although some people know enough about things like capacitance, loading and "three phase" to stuff it into the wires in the first place, electricity's nature is more akin to demons and chupacabras than ordinary stuff.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Amateur - Lasse Gjertsen

I posted a couple of months ago about Jimmy Page's editing on Led Zeppelin videos, how according to one dedicated fan, Eddie Edwards, Page took the best parts of several shows and edited them into a perfect idealized Led Zeppelin concert. Gjertsen's video is that concept taken to the extreme. (Yes, I thought it was already at its extreme too. Apparently not.)

I found this mentioned on Mick Farren's blog. The video shows what happens if you can't play drums or piano, but you are technically fabulous enough to take a video of you playing every beat and note and then edit the single clips into a coherent musical piece. It's funny, clever and very musical. I'm now a fan.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Free at Last

No, not another Free review.

Today I became an American citizen.

I took the oath this afternoon. They gave me a certificate and a little flag.

I registered as a voter on the way out of the ceremony, too.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Again with the legs of granite.

After a quick poll I decided most people don't associate the "despair" with the broken statue. If you want to get emotional over broken granite legs, here's the poem for you: - Horace Smith's sonnet (inspired by the same news article that inspired Shelley)

"On a Stupendous Leg of Granite":

In Egypt's sandy silence, all alone,
Stands a gigantic Leg, which far off throws
The only shadow that the Desart knows:--
"I am great OZYMANDIAS," saith the stone,
"The King of Kings; this mighty City shows
"The wonders of my hand." -- The City's gone, --
Nought but the Leg remaining to disclose
The site of this forgotten Babylon.
We wonder,-- and some Hunter may express
Wonder like ours, when thro' the wilderness --
Where London stood, holding the Wolf in chase,
He meets some fragment huge, and stops to guess
What powerful but unrecorded race
Once dwelt in that annihilated place.

I like the reference to a vanished London.

Then again it's easy to see why people quote the Shelley poem more often than Smith's one.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Ozymandias vs. New York

Here is an evocative article about the New York State Pavilion of the 1964 World's Fair.

"Once there were elevators gliding up the sides of the towers to reveal a city unfolding; now they are rusted in mid-rise. Once there were stairwells winding within those towers; now they are rotted through. The call for a better tomorrow, for “Peace Through Understanding,” is answered by the flutter and coo of its hidden inhabitants."

Apparently the 1960s future is rusting as fast as the Gernsback Continuum did before it. I've visited plenty of space-age ruins in my time, but not this one. I've put it on the list.

Having said that, it has literally never occurred to me that a traveler would look upon Ozymandias' colossal wreck and despair because it was broken. At least, I assume that's what the writer means here when he says: "But the more years that go by, the more the structure becomes New York’s own “colossal wreck,” begging, as Shelley wrote in “Ozymandias,” that we look upon it and despair."

Here's the sonnet to which he is referring:

I met a traveler from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert...Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;
And on the pedestal these words appear:'
My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!'
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.
— Percy Bysshe Shelley, 1817

I've always thought that the power generated by the poem comes from the fact that time, the great leveler, has freed us from any need to despair. Ozymandias, with his frown, and wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command, and his granite stand-in of same have together gone the way of all flesh, and apparently of all stone too. Hooray, good riddance, happy days are here again, etc.

But others are apparently despairing at the decay, at the hand of time itself. I feel as though I've been caught out in a blatant lack of imagination. Call myself a writer? I clearly don't understand how other people think at all. And I've even been to the Ramesseum, looked on the colossal wrecks, and, if not actually despaired, at least felt a little tinge of regret and a whimper of existential angst that such strong statues were broken and scattered over the ground.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Birthday fun

As part of my endless search for great teeth, I was sent back to the X-Ray people again today. They made me fill out a card with my name, date of birth, address, whether I'm allergic to dentists and all that sort of stuff.

I handed it in to the receptionist and she brought it back a little later saying she couldn't read the month of my birthdate. Was it a four or a six? I said it was a four, and "You should have that in your records - I've been here before."

She said, "Yes, but I need this information as of today."

I told her my birthday hadn't changed since the last time I visited.

I think she thought I was a sarcastic meanie.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Put Some Prose On It!

NaNoWriMo doesn't suit me. Large numbers of words are failing to fall like spangles from my cursor as I type.

Only a few mouse clicks over is YouTube, which is getting some slack-jawed attention, and of course I fall into the "research" trap of getting forty links deep into something and waking out of my reverie with a startlement. It turns out that hypertext is exactly like the kids' game of "Telephone". The first person whispers something meaningful to the next person, who passes on what they hear to the third person and so forth. By the time the sixth person shouts out loud what they have heard, it bears no resemblance to the phrase the first person coined. Similarly, if you "research" using hypertext you can be absolutely sure that the result of the initial Google (ptui!) search is on topic, but the link you click inside that first reference is only tangentially related, and the link you follow in that second document is something of overriding interest that is no relation whatsoever to your search. By the time you've found yourself compelled to read something via a link in the third document, you are simply cat vacuuming. On the upside, you become well read very quickly.

As for NaNoWriMo itself, I find that when I'm forced to write at a certain time without any inspiration, I tend to write something plodding:
I did this. Then I did that. Then I did another thing.
Even more often, I have to clean up the sentences for the school-kid English abuse that gets in when the Inner Editor is off having a coffee. (The first premise of NaNoWriMo is that Inner Ed gets sent out of the house while you're writing. This speeds things up but is not always conducive to writing well.) The sentences often start out like this:
I did this, actually. Really the other would have been better. Although I eventually finished the third thing. Though I couldn't do that at first really.
Once I subtract all the uses of "though", "although", "really", "but" and "actually" my daily word-count goes down by about fifty per cent.

The plodding prose isn't necessarily worthless. It needs zip, pizzazz and vigor. Until I buy a copy of Writer's Zip, Pizzazz and Vigor Master (Only $299.99 and comes with a FREE shareware program of a 1988 Frogger clone), I have to do it myself, by standing above the first draft text and manually shaking spangles on to it from a great height. It works quite well, but is annoying, like having to edit your secretary's work because she keeps using run on sentences in business letters or something. (I have to do that during the day and I don't want to become my own secretary AND my own editor, unless I get paid more.)

Larding the goose with the appropriate clever bits reminds me of Free. (Almost everything does.) The books on the band say that after the basic track was laid down, the band members would ask Kossoff to "put some guitar on it". He hated that, apparently thinking that there was more to playing guitar than being told to go in after everybody else and "put some on it". Then again, there's probably no quicker way to absolute ridicule than letting three male British teenagers know that you think of yourself as an artist, so maybe he should just have shut up.

And maybe I should too. For the record, I wrote this in one pass, didn't "put any spangles on it" and I haven't removed a single instance of "although", "though", "really", "but" or "actually". That only seems to happen during NaNoWriMo. Yes, I am going to add this to my daily word count even though it isn't part of the 'novel' I'm supposedly writing.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Free - All Right Now

I've mentioned about five times now why everyone needs to buy this Free DVD, so I don't feel guilty about putting a link to one of the performances here. This is All Right Now from the Isle of Wight movie. I'm linking to it as it was mentioned in a comment to my review of John Martyn's Live at Leeds.

This edit has a lot less of Kossoff and his famous facial expressions than the classic edit (available on the DVD), but whenever the classic edit gets on to YouTube, it gets taken down again. I dunno why. If you search YouTube regularly you might find it. It usually has the letter "S" in the top right corner.

Meanwhile, you'll just have to make do with this low-Kossoff version. Or buy the Free DVD as previously hinted. The bit to watch of course, is the guitar solo. Ignore the hairy with the mikestand. At least for today.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Halloween Jack O'Lantern

Here's something really scary - a genetically modified pumpkin expressing Drosophila genes (the mad scientist's favorite fruit fly).

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Have you felt down the back of the sofa?

They played "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" over the PA at the bar today. That song must be twenty years old now.

I asked STB "Do you think he's found it since then, but they're still playing the song? Perhaps he should issue some sort of song-related cancelbot to take the copies out of circulation."

STB said, "We should just release a counter song called, "Well, Where Did You Last See It?""

Friday, October 27, 2006

Stoned Fruit: Kossoff Live at Leeds

I was lucky enough to see Paul Kossoff play shortly before he died. People who saw him play after he died seem to agree he wasn't at his best then. Worse, he didn't get chance to recover completely. Only a few months after that, he died again, permanently this time. I saw him February, 1975, playing with John Martyn's band. I went the same night as John Martyn recorded his set for the Live at Leeds album, though I didn't know that was about to happen. Since the subsequent release was a limited mail order album, I didn't get to hear it until it was re-issued on CD. The re-release, unlike the vinyl release, has "added bonus tracks" featuring his guest guitarist, Paul Kossoff.

I went to the gig with a school-friend, arriving there early, since school looses at four. The evening started out weirdly enough. As we approached the Leeds University buildings a couple came up to us and the man asked (in a strange southern accent) where some building was.

"Excuse me – where do I find the [mumble] building? Wait, do you understand me? I don't speak Yorkshire. What's the Yorkshire for 'excuse me'?"

"Tyke," said my friend. "The dialect's called Yorkshire Tyke. You say, 'Si tha 'ere.'" (Literally, "see you, here.")

The man was excited. "Hey!" he called to his friend, who was gazing blankly into space with her arms folded like an arms-foldy StarGazy Pie fish, "Yorkshire dialect for 'Excuse me' is 'Kythera'!"

I have no idea what his association was with Kythera (if indeed that's what he said – it sure sounded like it). His friend didn't seem impressed and they wandered off in search of the building I've since forgotten. We went on to the concert hall.

When we got closer to the auditorium, I could hear the loudest and most perfect sound ever made. It wasn't the loudest sound ever heard where I was, outside the building, of course, otherwise, inside the building it would be louder than the loudest sound ever heard, maybe even as loud as the sun or something really loud like that. It was pretty damn loud though. It was a sound check, the instrument being checked was the guitar, and it was evidently Paul Kossoff playing. The music was beautiful, haunting and plaintive without being incomplete – the word plaintive always suggests to me that something is missing; this wasn't missing anything. It was perfect. It sounded like a swan-song, the sound that's made when you put everything into the present because there will be no time in the future. It literally stopped me in my tracks. I stood stock still, listening.

"Probably just a roadie," said my friend, whose name I believe is in the dictionary under "cynical" to this day. After a while my feet unglued and I walked on, thinking I'd hear more later that evening. I was wrong.

While I was wasting time with Ms. Sarcasm, according to Uncut Magazine, Paul Kossoff was out getting himself beaten up for trying it on with someone's bird. [1] According to this report, John Martyn took up cudgels on his friend's behalf, but on finding out Kossoff was the perpetrator, he became less than sympathetic and finished the job himself. I don't know if this had any effect on either of their subsequent performances.

At the appointed time, we went inside. I have to admit that I wasn't a big John Martyn fan. I'd heard the two tracks Solid Air and I'd Rather Be The Devil many times on the late night radio shows and liked them well enough; but anything else I'd heard struck me as being too folkie. Folk music always conjured up the image of equal parts my parents (who were folkies once upon a time) and hippies, who were, well, hippies. Overall, that's not a pretty picture. Also, I thought John Martyn was a bit of a man's man. Not that I have anything against men's men per se. It's just that there's nothing there for me. Nothing to admire or imitate, no opening for me to get inside and look around, or even think about possessing. A man's man to me is something striking on the horizon that I've never been tempted to investigate further, like a termite mound or a pissoir. Good luck to him, but we're not on the same track.

During this tour, Kossoff did not come on stage until the encore. I didn't know that before I went. So I sat through the first part of the set listening to things I normally avoided, like double bass, jazz breaks and John Martyn's guitar playing, which if you haven't heard it, at the time was frequently transformed from electro-acoustic folkie chordage to hypnotic-clouds-of-glory by his use of an Echoplex. It's the sort of sound that Frippertronics would make if Robert Fripp had visited the Earth and knew the ways of its inhabitants, a device to build on a rhythm until it seems to unroll another dimension and bounce off down it in an impossible yet somehow just right direction.

Since I don't remember much of the show, I listened to the CD while writing this. Unfair of me; it was a live performance and as such was really intended to be ephemeral, I think, by all who were there. (In mitigation, it was Martyn himself who released Live at Leeds on record. I didn't make him do it.) Martyn sounds much better on the CD than I remembered from the show or from the radio. His voice on I'd Rather Be The Devil studies so much evil all the time, and, like the devil himself, is full of passion and misdirected love. It tempts you past the banal misogyny of the Skip James lyric into the liquid music. The Echoplexed guitar evokes mermaids fucking, flashes of silver scales and flip of hip, breaching tails and ripple-banded caressing hands, rolling tumbling curves of slick bodies flowing together, slipstreaming, arcs of long platinum hair flinging sunlight-bright spray, fine droplets scattering strobed rainbows in foss-misted air. And that's just the first verse. And, although my well-known love of jazz double bass borders on irrational hatred, there's still something very lovely about Danny Thompson's sound in that band. He's seductive enough to make you forget for minutes at a time that you'd rather rip your own head off and eat it than listen to acoustic bass for a moment longer. Quite an achievement. The set was definitely worth the pound or so I paid to get in.

The Muselectric blogger suggests that Kossoff may be playing the solo on the unnaturally prolonged Outside In. I don't think so; I don't remember him being on stage that early on. More tellingly it doesn't sound like his technique, his guitar or his tone. The solo sounds like someone who has never played a rock guitar solo before, whereas Kossoff that night sounded more like someone who had mostly forgotten how to play a rock guitar solo. It's different, believe me. There's also too much fuzztone, too little sustain and no vibrato at all, and chords Kossoff plays as block chords are played as arpeggios.

The audience was a bit boisterous and I think I wasn't the only one waiting for Kossoff to come on. Before he finally appeared, Martyn said on-mic that he had had to bribe Kossoff to appear by giving him a bottle of Crème de Menthe. At the time, I thought Martyn was a common drunk giving a fragile junkie a bottle of liquor out of laddishness. I realize now that Martyn had probably spent the day dealing with a man he has since said would "bite your ankles" to get out from under your supervision to score. Crème de Menthe probably sounded like a reasonable compromise under the circumstances. Nowadays I'd also see Crème de Menthe-drinking as a sign that Kossoff was very ill; no-one can drink a whole bottle of something as sweetly sticky as Crème de Menthe – it must have about a pound of sugar per bottle – unless there's something wrong with their metabolism.

Anyway, for the encores, the band came back on and Kossoff appeared with his guitar and his bottle of vile mouthwash-flavored liquor. The crowd bayed a little. He looked like a lion; I bet I'm not the first to say that. He had that scowl he developed at that age, which I think was from substance abuse causing the muscles of his scalp to droop, not due to any particular outbreak of bad temper. In fact he smiled a lot, though it seemed a mirthless sort of smile. Of the music, I mostly remember being disappointed that nothing he played matched the magic I'd heard at the soundcheck.

He played on three or four songs, and three are on "Live at Leeds – and more". The first one on the CD (I don't remember the order live), I'm So Much In Love With You, is the worst. It's a slow blues, in the mold of "Since I've Been Loving You", and it starts with one of the guitarists quickly retuning his guitar as he plays, which initially sounds like a flub and expectations drop into in the basement like pigeon shit down a liftshaft. And indeed, Kossoff is sloppy here, easily eclipsing the sloppiest Jimmy Page outings ever. Martyn sings it as though he was singing Summertime; he has jazz down all right, but he doesn't really have the blues. I take that back; he can sing a little Delta, but the Chicago sound escapes him. The rhythm section sounds poleaxed, as though they've found themselves in a horrible nightmare where they have to back a Tuvan kargyraa star without any rehearsal.

One issue facing Kossoff was the extreme loudness of his playing. He can't hide any mistakes because the amps are turned up to 11, so the slightest touch of a finger on a string, or even a tap on the body of the guitar, sounds like one of Zeus's thunderbolts landing. There's a legend that only Kossoff could play Kossoff's guitar; that it refused to play for anyone else, producing only feedback. Listening to this, it's easy to believe it. It's clearly a difficult beast to tame. You only have to do something clumsy a couple of times at that volume to alert everyone. And he does.

The other two songs, 'Clutches' and 'Mailman', are played well enough that you can hear the old Kossoff. The songs aren't great, but it would be tough to single out Kossoff as the cause. The whole ensemble seems to lurch into an amateur blues mode and comes over like a poor Savoy Brown cover band. The band wasn't exactly funky previously, but in the encore they swing like a rusty WC chain. The drummer, who had displayed the diamond-hard, digitally-precise timekeeping of a sundial during the first part of the set, develops issues over tempo in the encores, and mislays the number of bars in a 12-bar blues at the end of Mailman. The band weren't offstage long enough to get as loaded as they all sound during the encore. Perhaps they figured if you can't beat 'im, join 'im. Perhaps folk-rock musicians developed the first transmissible drunk-virus and they'd caught a dose off their itinerant rock-star friend. Who knows?

Even off-form, playing with a pseudo-bar band, you can still hear the feel that made Paul Kossoff such a contender. It's not the technique, because he doesn't have a lot of that left here and it still sounds the same. It's an intangible, a drop of magic, a demonstration that he means it and isn't going through the motions. He really does give his soul. Who could do that every day and not become attenuated, worn through, parceled out? It's no wonder he didn't last long. It reminds me of Janis Joplin: "Have another little piece of my heart now; you know you got it if it makes you feel good." (And boy does that make me feel guilty.) Eventually it's all used up; there's nothing left to give and he had to go away.

If only he'd stayed sober that night, and played the way we all knew he could. Instead I heard the Canned-Heat-on-'luudes version and that was my live fix of Paul Kossoff. I'm glad I saw him the once, though if I had a time machine I'd certainly go back to an earlier time and pick up some even fonder memories.

My main regret is not trying to get inside at the sound check. I could have blagged my way inside. So why not? Because I was a typical teenager; poor impulse control, easily led by my peers and with an inability to think of the long term consequences of my actions. Accordingly, without a second thought I followed my cynical friend away from the hall and I have regretted it ever since.

Here's a tip for anybody who is still sixteen. If you're in a similar situation, go in and say hi. Offer to have his baby. You might never have the opportunity again. Take the plums. Eat the peach. In fact, have heaping helpings of all stoned fruit known to mankind, and may your god go with you.

[1] The link to Simon Waldman's site recalling the Uncut piece died, but luckily the Uncut piece appeared on the web in all its er, uncut glory.  It is quite a tale, too. (Blog edited 08/26/202)

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Story of mine now online - "Alien" novelization

Simon Sellars, at the excellent Ballard-focused website Ballardian, has republished one of my pieces, "David Cronenberg's Alien: Novelization by J. G. Ballard". This originally appeared in Interzone in 1993. You can read it here, in the pastiche section.

Truth in advertising note: This is a story by me, Lyle Hopwood, written in a mash-up of Cronenberg's and Ballard's style. It isn't some sort of real-life lost film script. Enjoy!

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Battlestar Galactica - Exodus

Cool to see that atmospheric maneuver from Adama in the Galactica. It looked "real". There were several moments that I had my heart in my mouth - wondering if that was it for the Galactica when Adama said, "It's been an honor." Grieving with Tigh.

We got the space battles all right. They reminded me of Batty's reminiscences in Blade Runner: "I've seen things you people wouldn't believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tanhauser gate." Well, now I believe you saw them, Roy.

And it's a good thing Starbuck didn't take my advice to strangle Kasey, fry her and feed her to Leoben, isn't it?

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

NaNoWriMo - write it yourself novel month

November is NaNoWriMo month. That's when people sign up to write a novel in one month. It's eminently doable; thousands of people do it every year. The results aren't always much good, but they are novels, and since they have 50,000 words in them they can be edited into shape without the angst of having to write and edit at the same time.

The editing is what tends to cripple writers. The inner editor gets to work on your first sentence and by the time that's polished up three months later you've lost interest in the other 89,980 words you have still to write. The NaNoWriMo people liken it to bicycling uphill with a rhino in a trailer behind you. Leave the rhino at home and get up the hill; with NaNoWriMo, you put more than half of the words you need down on paper and then stop to think.

But don't take my word for it. The NaNoWriMo website is at and it will give you all the details. How to sign up, how to contact others in the same boat, how to post your progress, how to get your novel counted as finished at the end of the month, and how to boast about it to all of your friends.

Getting a character out of the house

From Usenet, Oct. 18th 2006 (David Powell): For all the talk of nuclear weapons in Iran, if France goes Islamist in the next 20 years, the new government will not want for atomic capability, including submarines carrying ICBMs. Also, once again, a lot of the regular muslim people who want normal lives will be done the dirty by the new gov't too.

East Lancashire Blog: In Islamabad, Pakistan’s capital – a beautiful place, wide streets, lovely buildings, a bit like Paris - and also in the bustling forward looking city Lahore, I never saw any woman fully veiled. When I mentioned this, and asked how is it at home in Blackburn I see so many women in full burkas, but here in a truly Islamic country I don’t? Well, they said: “We as a country have moved on, but some of the religious leaders feel they have lost power, so have gone out to immigrant settlements in your country re-establishing themselves.”

This seems simple enough; I need a reason to move a major character in a story from her original home to a foreign one. I had her down as being expelled when the regime changed in her original country, like a White Mughal. But that just left her homeless and uprooted without adding anything to the plot. With something like the above, I have a plot driver ready-wound to toss into the book. Whether she's a Manchurian, a sleeper or an active infiltrator, I can decide later. I suspect I'll need her to be preoccupied with other stuff, so it'll probably decide itself.

Surrendering in song

I have a character for a story. He needs to give up control, and he mustn't be a wimp . . .

Yesterday, in the car, the MP3 player selected what must be the ultimate giving up and letting go song, one that celebrates surrender with an erotic intensity. No moping from this character – he's ready to embrace the moment and let it take him where it will. The song is Zoo Station; the line that gives me the charge is "I'm ready to let go of the steering wheel. I'm ready. Ready for what's next." The track is loud and driving, and Bono is giving away all autonomy, giving himself entirely over to fate. He sounds exhilarated. He hasn't given up; on the contrary, he's put fate in charge. That's what I wanted, a model for abdication as a positive act rather than an act of cowardice. He does sound ready; he's accepted everything it might bring. Letting go might bring fulfillment, more likely pain and disfigurement; he's ready. No more to say or do, now – he's ready. "It's alright", as he says.

Plus, the track is a real driver, no pun intended – it can take you anywhere, like the Zoo Station train itself. It has an unbelievably powerful drum beat and one of the best drum sounds I can remember hearing (what is that cowbell-sound like someone beating on a a slaughterhouse shackle-chain with a hammer?). It starts with a blazing attack of the most over-amplified guitar ever, rivaling the legendary Brian Gamage and the Spikes' first single. I love it when you can hear the guitarist's finger slip along the strings, and this track makes a banquet of what is usually a secret snack. Bono, without histrionics, sounds ready and I don't mean ready to do the dishes. There's no regret in his voice; his decision to let someone else take control comes over loud and clear.

When I first heard it, I thought about sex. I thought about what it means to give up control of your own body to another. I thought rather more about what it means to be the one who is handed that control, and how you feel at getting such a gift. A couple of examples came up later that didn't have so much of a sense of personal disclosure.

A week or so ago I was coming down with a cold. I said to a coworker, "I think I'm getting your cold. But there's nothing I can do about it."
He flashed a truly evil grin. "You can embrace it!" he said.
"Embrace a cold?"
"Sure. It's inevitable. It's gonna happen. Take it all. It's like when you're at the top of a roller-coaster and you know you're going all the way down. Throw your hands in the air and scream. Embrace it!"

Many years ago, I was talking to a friend who was describing his favorite way of taking speed. He'd put the white powder into a cigarette paper, screw the top to make a little twist out of it, and swallow it.
"But you don't know anything about it," I said. "You can't know what it is, how strong it is, how much it's going to affect you – and now it's too late because you've swallowed it and there's no way to back out!"
"I know," he said. "Isn't it great?"

I am certainly not this character but it's a joy to hear role models for him. Now I need one for another character with a similar flaw, but much darker.

Friday, October 13, 2006


Someone asked me what all the references to Torchwood meant in the new Doctor Who series. I said I didn't know but it was an anagram of Doctor Who.

He said, "It can't be an anagram of DR WHO because there's COTO left over."

Adventures in body modification, part II

Alas, the dentist didn't go for the hot glue solution, so I have to wear retainers or face the consequences. They could come in handy if I have an unexpected boxing match.

Myteeth look much better for the orthodontistry, though I hadn't realized quite how the lower front teeth would move. (They moved like a curved sword being drawn from a scabbard; the tops of the teeth moved but the lower portion had no apparent movement relative to the jaw). So now I am staring at everyone's teeth to see if they look like that too.

Next: Implanted mirroshades or something cool like that.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Keep going about the Google thing.

Why don't I like Google?

Because they seem to be giving the impression they not only own the whole internet, but also (and more teeth-grindingly irritating to me) give the distinctly incorrect impression that they own Usenet.

Putting a cover sheet on War And Peace with your name on it isn't exactly lying that you wrote it . . . it's just a cover sheet, isn't it? It's the same inside as it always was. Making Google's search engine a cover sheet for the entire internet was equally harmless. Except that for millions of people who have never seen any other cover sheet as they open their browser, it really gives the impression that Google wrote the book, not just the index. It gets my goat.

Usenet has an even longer tradition. It's not part of the internet, though I'm not going to bore you with its history. (You can of course . . . ha ha ha . . . look up its history using Google's fine search tool.) Usually one accesses Usenet with a newsreader. You read other people's posts from a window that displays them in a hierarchy, and you send posts to Usenet groups via the newsreading software in a manner just like email. There are tens of thousands of text-only groups and thousands of binary groups with rips, pictures and of course vast quantities of porn and spam.

Google decided to make Usenet accessible through the internet, and put a newsreader-type interface on its front page, called "Google Groups". It was a poor newsreader, not compliant with the standards of Usenet, which meant that people accessing Usenet through Google were forever making mistakes in presentation and quoting style. Since Google did not automatically point new people to the news.announce.newusers group, people did not know basic posting etiquette, or even that there was such a thing. It caused quite a bit of bad feeling.

And – notice – "Google Groups"? As though the groups belonged to Google. Arg.

But that's not the worst thing Google did.

Usenet posts are by nature transient. You are having a conversation with many, perhaps hundreds, of people, and the conversations are "threaded" which is to say that the message you reply to appears above yours, and replies to your posts go below in a format that is fairly easily understandable. Or at least understandable when you use a proper newsreader and your posts are being answered the same day you send them. Most Usenet posts are like coffee-break conversation, in writing. Someone says something, you react to it, the subject changes, you react to that and then break is over. Sometimes the next day, if you recall the remark at all, you might think, "Did I say that? That's not what I really think!" But it was in response to a specific comment by someone else, not a Manifesto, and anyway, everyone's already forgotten the conversation.

On Usenet, if you said something profound, or if the conversation dug up some meaningful info, the group would often produce a FAQ, or an FAQ as they call it over here, a Frequently Asked Questions file. Someone would take charge of re-posting it regularly to keep the meaningful comments in circulation. The ephemeral conversations swam in circles beside the FAQs, like penguins around ice-floes.

But many years ago, someone decided that it would be fun to archive every single post to Usenet, just because they could. That archive was called DejaNews. Most people never heard of it and it was just a vague shadowy James Bond villain in the background of Usenet life. Then Google bought DejaNews. Then Google put a web interface on Usenet and called it Google Groups.

The result is that posts that people thought were transient coffee-break conversation pieces in 1993 (or any other subsequent years) are now available again through Google Groups. The threading is broken, or at least incomplete, and so it's difficult to reconstruct who the hell the person was replying to, but the remark is still there.

I got smart and started using pseudonyms once I learned about DejaNews, but I just looked and I found a couple of incomprehensible posts with my name on them that I can't remember writing from '93 and '94. I've never owned any antirrhinums or any Kenwood equipment, so they may not be me, but anyway I can safely say:

1. If I did post them, I've changed my mind
2. I was drunk, your honor
3. The guy up-thread egged me on and I was just lying to wind him up

I find this searchability sinister. I didn't know I was being recorded. Most people on Usenet didn't. Seeing posts you probably didn't intend to be your last word on the subject, written 13 years ago, available for people to reply to today, is a misapplication of Usenet. I would prefer it to go away, so I could have a non-anonymous conversation in peace with my friends again.

But it won't, so I'm just going to seethe at Google instead.

Marginally useful note: If you don't want to have to defend to the death, in 30 years time, some intolerant remark you made out of frustration because some poster was annoying you one night, look into the X-No-Archive: Yes header. In theory, this tells honest companies not to archive your Usenet post. Dishonest companies, the sort who might sell your posts to a private detective, or to your boss, or to your health insurance company, mind you, may or may not honor it. At least it'll keep casuals from looking you up.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

YouTube, again already

Oh, noes! Google is buying YouTube.

I suspect that DRM will be brought in and YouTube as I knew it will become a thing of the past. If you have favorites at YouTube and you suspect they will be made to go away due to copyright issues, it would be wrong of me to suggest that you download them to your hard disk to keep them and download a player to watch them. So don't go to and do that, ok?

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Adventures in Audio Editing

I came across a couple of interesting pages recently, both of which rely on a close analysis of audio files. They are very different and very heroic in different ways. One is a study of Armstrong's first words on the moon. The other is a study of every, and I mean every, audio edit Jimmy Page made in constructing the sound files for "live" Led Zeppelin videos.

Peter Shann Ford's analysis of Armstrong's words is here. (Be warned - it's graphics-intensive and takes a while to load. ) He concludes that Armstrong did say, "One small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind," and the sleuthing he had to do track down that first inaudible "a" is fascinating.

Eddie Edwards' The Garden Tapes is a website dedicated to deconstructing the final audio files for Led Zeppelin DVDs and working out where each part came from in the original concerts. The original concerts ran over several nights and rather than taking the best example of each song from the several examples available, Page takes the best example of each word and each note from the several available to him. Unlike Shann Ford, Edwards doesn't show his working, but it's a heck of an achievement.

Eddie Edwards on The Song Remains The Same's Black Dog: "This riff is from the 29th, as is almost all of "Black Dog". This is an incomplete version, of course, with a substantial section cut from the middle of the song. After the "ah-ah" call and response, as we expect the "Hey baby, oh baby, pretty baby" section, we are instead taken straight to the guitar solo that closes the piece. This gives a rather unbalanced feel to the song, although the brilliance of the guitar work and the spectacularly exciting stage act soon make us forget that. Still on the 29th, then, until near the very end of the song. After the return to the riff and the "beginning of the ending", there are two big chords (C and D) - these, and the last 15 seconds of mayhem, are from the 27th." He continues: "Now on to the album. This is a bit more complicated."

Peter Shann Ford on "Electronic Evidence and Physiological Reasoning Identifying the Elusive Vowel "a" in Neil Armstrong’s Statement on First Stepping onto the Lunar Surface.": "[A] comparison with the phrase "for a man" shows the clear presence of an additional sound wave between "for" and "man" in the phrase "for a man" and the absence of any such sound wave between "for" and "mankind"."

When Pagey used to say that he was "still mixing" tapes for the DVDs I thought he meant he was spending a lot of time getting the sound balance right. Silly me. I was so 20th Century. Now I know better.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Battlestar Galactica's Back!

And it's getting a 94% rating on Metacritic.

There was a lot to like about the opening episode but I also found a certain amount to whine about also. Which one shall I write about? Wait, I know!

First off, where's my big-ass explosions? 40,000 of the remaining humans are planetside in tents, and only approximately 5 people and their pet rock remain on a Battlestar, so space battles were thin on the ground. So to speak.

Secondly, I did think that the episode had a lot of metaphorical people with megaphones wandering around the set pointing out the Real Life Parallels You Should Pay Attention To. One was noisily explaining that suicide bombers are people Just Like Us who see no other way forward. Another was following the occupying power's representatives around pointing at things like detainees and prisoner beatings and yelling about how the people being occupied don't always appreciate the favor they're being given. One was loudly revealing that one side's terrorist is the other side's insurgent. Well, as Han Solo once said, I'm glad we have you here to tell us these things, professor. The director used every technique except Word's marching ants to highlight them. (However, a witness for another point of view, the San Jose Mercury, said, "The references slide in with considerable subtlety, with the show's writers making the startling assumption that their audience will 'get it.'" Oh. OK.)

Cavils (haha) aside, this was a stirring season opener. It set up new conflicts that I really want to see unfold, and it continues asking the big questions about the meaning of being human, family relationships, reproduction and religion. I'll be tuning in for the rest of the season.

BTW: If I were Kara, I'd kill that little thing Leoben brought her. It's obviously not her child (wrong age) and seems suspiciously pre-programmed for that hurt/comfort bonding scenario it just put them through. Sounds like a Cylon to me. Given Kara's previous history I'm surprised she didn't feed it down the garbage disposal as soon as Leoben left the room. And, since she's so clever, why doesn't she just pith Leoban instead of killing him? If he dies he resurrects within hours. If she scrambles his spinal cord at the neck she can keep him alive for a week. That should be long enough to escape.

The scoop's all here (Probably. It requires Flash to open and I don't do that, so it's anybody's guess. It used to be a pretty good site, with lots of information. It might be worth it.)

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Important Newsflash: Written Word Now Available Online

If someone gives me 20 pages of anything to read - pretty much anything in English, whatever the subject, I can skim it in less than two minutes and decide whether I want to read it. If I do decide to read it, I already know where the major points are and can pay special attention to them. If I make a mistake and read a part too fast I can flick back to the unclear section as soon as I know I need it, in just a fraction of a second, re-read it and then find my previous place. It's not quite that easy on a screen, but there's usually a "find" tool that will get me back to it in a couple of keystrokes.

It's a great system. It's one of the major strengths of the written word. The modern world is built on this feature of text. I know I'm not the only one who reads like this.

Recorded speech doesn't work that way. It takes as long to listen to it as it took to say, and if you lose your place you have to think fairly hard to get back to the point where you lost track. In many cases, you just can't. It's gone forever. (I can't tell you how often I've reached out to my car radio to hit the "replay the last 30 seconds again" button only to find there isn't one - It is only available on my PVR.)

So why is so much of what's Out There (on the Interwebs) in Podcast-like form these days? Someone recommended September 26th's Uplifting Thoughts on this Blog, TED (Technology Entertainment Design). I clicked there and it's a 20 minute interview with some guy. Do I have 20 minutes? No. Will I remember to click it again when I'm doing the washing or showering the lizards? Hardly. Can I load it into some form of zippy iPoddy thing to listen to in the car? Probably, if I had one and if I had ten minutes to do all the stuff to get the interview in there.

Although I'm sure some would argue that a Nactual Recording Of The VIP's Voice has extra archive/historical value, I suspect people use recorded material on the web just because they can nowadays, and also because they don't have the time to transcribe it into written form to make it accessible to people like me.

Just for me, then, can I recommend people to use transcription software to post a simultaneous text file of the interview? It probably won't be a very good transcription, but I'm used to reading uncorrected OCR errors and they don't slow me down. If I got to a stage where I wanted clarification, it would mean I was hooked. If I were hooked I'd listen to the whole interview.

And you could put paying banner ads above the text! <---Incentive!

It's just occurred to me I could have had it playing in the background while I wrote this rant. Too late now. My suggestion still stands.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Dancing Teeth

If you're not American, you might not know that many Americans sleep every night with one or two big chunks of plastic wedged in their mouths.

I certainly didn't know. A few months ago, I decided to hell with my British teeth, have them straightened. So I wore braces for six months. After the teeth were all nicely lined up and gleaming (I felt like Monty Python's Conrad Poohs and His Dancing Teeth while this was happening), the braces were ready to come off.

"So," said the orthodontist, "now we fit your retainers."

"Retainers?" I gasped, thinking of Old Scrotum, wrinkled retainer of Rawlinson End.

Retainers turn out to be pieces of plastic molded around your teeth. Sticking the mold back onto your teeth encourages them to stay in the same alignment as the day they were molded. I'd never heard of this. Perhaps small American children learn about them the same time they learn of the tooth fairy, but to me it was new. I assumed that moving the teeth and letting the bone reform behind them was permanent. It's not. If you don't wear the retainers, the teeth all skulk briskly back whence they came and you are out several thousand dollars. (Plus all the emotional investment you put into wearing metal cages over your teeth for years.)

The net result is that most people who have worn braces wear retainers, usually for 24 hours a day the first few months and then only at night for the next umpteen years. I checked with a sampling of adult people I know (e.g. my dental hygienist) and they all admitted, yep, I still wear retainers at night. (Sample size: N=5) So next time you imagine an American starlet abed in her Victoria's Secret nightie, remember to imagine additionally that she is wearing a gumshield like Mike Tyson as she sweetly dreams.

I'm not settling for it, so I'm going to suggest an alternative to my orthodontist – hot glue. You might say I'm not an expert, but I've had teeth for almost five decades (though not always the same teeth), so I know something about them. He can hot glue them into position and I can sleep unencumbered by something resembling a pro-football mouth guard. And I'm not going to ask anybody else if they wear retainers because I don't think I want to know about it.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Music to Watch

YouTube has revolutionized the way I waste time. I can find the rarest video clips after minimal searching.

For instance, is your life incomplete without seeing the video of The Pretty Things (and their goat) singing Come See Me? It's here. The rare "full make up version" of The Rolling Stones' Jumpin' Jack Flash is there too.

Not only do you get videos, but the viewers' comments are a joy to read. Some go for MST3K material and others are informative. One, writing about JJF, above, says "you can hear 2 electric guitars, a fat humbucker sound that must be Keef's Gibson and a thin, bright Fender Telecaster that must be Brian… " All this and educational too.

YouTube can be hard to navigate. Searching a video site for an ambiguous term like "Pretty Things" could pull up some strange results. The trick I use is to find a user who is interested in the same things I am and subscribe to his/her videos. Searching within that list will pull up other things I'm interested in, and once I've clicked on one, a list of related videos displays to the right of the one I'm watching. If you click on the Pretty Things link above, it currently pulls up six more Pretty Things videos. You can also find users of like mind by choosing a comment and clicking on the commenter's name. He or she may be an uploader or have promising favorites to look at.

This is where the Time Sink aspect of YouTube comes in. Every vid you watch gives another list – up to thousands – of related links. Videos, despite much improved technology, still run in real-time. If it's a five minute song, it takes five minutes to watch. If you watch twelve (and it's hardly possible to watch fewer in a sitting, in my opinion), there goes an hour.

Once you've found them, to prevent them escaping again, click on "save to favorites" and that puts them in your account. You can put together playlists that will play in a programmed sequence. (Despite the name, this doesn't save the video to your hard disk. You need to have a fast internet connection whenever you're using YouTube.)

YouTube is at

PS – I am not an employee of YouTube and they didn't pay me to say any of this.

Friday, September 29, 2006

Happy Birthday, Marc Bolan!

Happy Birthday to Marc Bolan, born September 30th, 1947.

He would have been 59.

This is his story, according to my impeccable source, the Jackie comic strip The Magic of Marc (in four parts, 1972). One day young Marc is ill in bed when his mother brings him a book about dinosaurs. Marc immediately knows that one day he will be as big as T. Rex. By nine years old, he is practicing Elvis moves in front of the mirror with a guitar, which he cannot yet play.

His parents give the restless Marc some freedom and at 16 he goes to Paris and meets a wizard who teaches him magic and prophesies that there will be a star in Marc's future. Marc appears on Ready Steady Go, with Jimi Hendrix pictured hanging around backstage, as he prepares for his shot at stardom. But it was not to be! There is a setback! The backing band is out of tune and out of sync, and the demoralized young Bolan goes home. But meanwhile, in a pirate ship three miles offshore – to the rescue! It's John Peel with his Perfumed Garden Show, playing Marc's new waxing Hippy Gumbo. John introduces Marc to the Middle Earth club, Marc finds Steve Took, and Tyrannosaurus Rex is born. "We'll be the biggest thing to hit the music scene!"

In the summer of 1967, Tyrannosaurus Rex are playing in Hyde Park, hippies are rapt, and his manager introduces him to his secretary, June. For a split second, apparently, time stands still. From that moment Marc and June are inseparable. After their wedding, Marc meets Micky Finn and in 1970 we see Marc and June feeding swans in the park. Marc says, "If Ride a White Swan doesn't make it, I'm packing it all in."

The rest is history, or at least I hope it is as I never bought part four of The Magic of Marc, and now it's a little too late.

We do know that Marc Bolan, who died on September 16th, 1977 after a car driven by his girlfriend (not June) crashed into a tree, had never driven a car himself, because, according to Jackie, he had a nasty spill from a scooter on his way to Brighton in the early sixties and vowed never to do so.

In fact, I do know a bit more about Bolan than I read in Jackie 34 years ago. One thing that strikes me is that the early records, glossed over by Jackie's barrow-boy-to-pop-phenom account, were remarkably well-produced. They weren't much good, mind you, but they had excellent production values. Bolan, despite his appearance, was always a canny businessman not a long-haired, drug-addled hippie, and he evidently knew how to find the best producers. He recorded under several names and the results, while disturbingly weird, had sound, arrangements and backing that were the best Tin Pan Alley had to offer. I say weird because no amount of Cliff Richard or Billy Fury-style production can begin to cover the eccentricities of Bolan's voice. He was evidently never going to be a pop star on Tin Pan Alley terms, but that mustn't have occurred to him. Eventually he just changed the terms and in doing so trashed the Tin Pan Alley system. Simple once you've thought of it.

Ride a White Swan was a hit, and there were many more after that. Bolan was my first crush. I saw him live once and I still have all the singles. Truck On, as I believe I am supposed to say at this time, Tyke.

Shopping (The movie, not the activity)


DVD 1996, starring Jude Law, Sean Bean, Jon Pertwee and of course Jason Isaacs (for about ninety seconds, and the reason I rented it in the first place).

Once, in the late seventies, when I was a student, I was minding my own business in my East London flat when a local girl, approximately eleven years old knocked on the door. She was with a friend of ten or so. She said, "Do you mind if I break into your flatmate's car? My friend wants to learn how to do it." I later found out her friend was a late starter. Most of them started TDA ('taking and driving away' – stealing cars) at nine, with wooden blocks on their shoes so they could reach the pedals.

I was reminded of her when I watched "Shopping" last night. She must have grown up – or at least got bigger - and made this movie. That would explain everything about it. It would, for instance, explain why it's set in an (unnamed) town that is about 0.01% worse than the real-life London and therefore is set in an unlivable sink of depravity without a single redeeming reason shown why anyone without brain-damage would want to live within fifty miles of its borders. The tale about the wooden blocks on the car-thieves' shoes is told verbatim in the film.

I actually liked the movie. I'm really not sure why it seems to get such negative reviews. It's the classic love story, two doomed lovers who find that the forces arraigned against them are overwhelming, but they love and lose anyway, two moths beating their charred wings together in the candle flame.

The movie begins with Jude Law's character, who is called Tommy or Vinnie or Tony or Billy or something like that, in gaol on his release day. Jude Law is very young in this and is impossibly, luminously beautiful. His girlfriend meets him outside in her old car. First business – to "trade in" the car for a new one, by ramming a BMW at a light and stealing it when the driver gets out to take the details. From there on, our loving couple go to a back-street drag race, indulge in the titular 'shopping' by ram-raiding, lure policemen into traps, live in a caravan filled with knick-knacks and various prominently displayed badges of poverty, and meet their friends at Raves and penny arcades by the always-ebbing, never-flowing muddy river.

Something is bound to go wrong with this life of innocence, of course, and it does in the form of Sean Pertwee, as Billy or Tommy or Vinnie or Jimmy or something. Mascara'd and luminously beautiful in his own more twitchy and twisted way, Sean's character does all the same things, but he does them for grown-up reasons – he wants to make enough money to live on. The two hunter-gatherer adolescent lovers and the capitalist grown-up are competing for the same resources (shop windows), and a show-down is inevitable. On the journey we meet Sean Bean as Stevie or Billy or Vinnie or Tommy or something, "Mr Big" of this particular unlivable town, and even Sean is almost-tending-towards-luminous-and-beautiful, what with a well-groomed high-class shining, er, mullet, and perfectly composed Mr. Biggelicious features. The policemen are not going to give up the chase either. Our hero and his girlfriend agree to One Last Job before moving on to a new life, and you know how an OLJ is going to play out in a romantic crime movie. . .

There is quite a bit of humor, but you have to be fast on your feet to catch it, and for those who like such a thing, a very fetching piece of erotic knife play with Sean "Johnny Depp's twitching got nothing on mine, baby" Pertwee wielding a straight razor.

Although the movie's closest cousin may be "The Last Minute" – a British movie about life in the interstices between the places normal people live, the movie's overall feel reminds me of a grittier "Absolute Beginners", a saturated-color documentary of a fantasy London. Some of the shots are breathtaking. The exteriors of the club called the Plaza, and one of the stores, the Alaska, are literally shining examples of the finest British indie fantasy movie genre. The establishing shots of the train graveyard show a wonderland, and one shot where Jude Law is watching a police car burn from inside his own vehicle and he powers the window down, lowering a panel of reflected flames to reveal his face, is astonishing.

Some of the feel of the movie is deliriously *off*, as though the director had never met a working-class person and was going by a description in a badly-translated travel book, say one by a provincial Dutchman. One of the young hoods shouts, "Booyakasha!" and another on his way out "shopping" shouts, "Let's do crime!" Billy and Tommy share accents that are partly public school and partly Cockney. The nightclub scenes look a little bit like they were recreated from a memory of a movie like "Blade" or "Batman" rather than by someone who has actually been to a Rave. Tommy or Billy, whichever is the grown-up one, roughs people up in a genteel, hesitant manner that suggests he's worried about his hands, and one thug looks much as though he learned his look from Vyvyan in "The Young Ones". This gives some of the action the feel of a school play, which bearing in mind the overall level of violence and unremitting lack of moral focus, is actually quite a useful balancing tool.

What else? Marianne Faithfull, sixties beauty and early heroin casualty, makes a very brief appearance as . . . an ex-beauty who looks like she once almost died of heroin addiction. Oh, and Jason Isaacs is in it for about ninety seconds. It is without doubt the worst piece of acting I have ever seen Isaacs commit. It's an embarrassment and I'm sure the director would have left it on the cutting room floor if there had been any other coverage at all for the plot point that Jason's character was there to present. Isaacs wears a baseball cap, evil rug-fluff stubble, and chews gum so artificially-enthusiastically that you want to pinch his cheeks hard to make him drop it like you would a dog that was chewing a wasp. His lines are delivered in a dreadful fake-Cockney and his body-language would disgrace the aforementioned school play. All in all, nothing worth seeing for an Isaacs fan in this one at all.

Overall I like it. You'd probably hate it. But this is what Netflix is for, ne?

Edit: Only five years later, I learn that "Let's do crimes!" is a quote from Repo Man.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Marc Bolan: Born to Boogie

It will be Marc Bolan's birthday on the 30th. Or rather, it would have been his birthday, if things were different. He died September 16th, 1977, 29 years ago. He was born on September 30, 1947. He would have been 59. I can't imagine him being 59, but dying just before your 30th birthday seems a harsh way to avoid old age.

(Left: the back of the "Bolan" book.)

Last year, the DVD of the T. Rex movie Born to Boogie was finally released on DVD. It contains concert footage from 1972 with 'fantasy sequences' intercut between them. Like The Song Remains the Same, the fantasy sequences are a key insight into the characters of the stars featured in the concert footage. The disc also contains the whole concert without interludes and a whole previous concert from the same day – same songs, different audience and emphasis.

Born to Boogie opens with Marc standing in front of a giant cardboard cut-out of himself, wearing a t-shirt of himself – and getting away with it. Classic, really. I expected it to be far too late on, thirty three years too late, to recapture the feelings I had (of when I loved the prettiest star). But the few cynical elements within me got beaten down like a Wembley Pool commissionaire within a couple of minutes and after that, I was firmly and happily ensconced in 1972.

I really don't remember the film Born to Boogie. I must have seen it; I can't imagine missing out on it. I'd seen T. Rex live a year earlier and much of my life at the time was caught up in collecting pictures and finding articles on Marc Bolan. The fantasy sequences rang a bell, though not a very loud or tuneful one, but the music sequences seemed completely new to me. And what sequences they are. I was surprised by how happy Marc looked. How healthy, how relaxed. How young. It was like falling through a timewarp and finding the past not only earlier, but also a better place to be. Almost like someone had gone back and swept it and aired the beds for us. I'd like to talk to those girls in the audience; I wonder if any of them recognize themselves? Did it take them back, too, to a better time? Is it more comfortable now going to then than it was living back then? Or is it just me?

I didn't remember how much the band rocked live, either. After more than thirty years of just listening to the records, I'd convinced myself that they weren't all that much live. Wrong. They are tight, with a first-class rhythm section and Bolan's unique brand of rhythm guitar and lead fills adding up to a band that could have wiped the floor with any of the contemporary pop bands. Was this really the same band I'd seen looking glum and confused on the Musikladen set? Looked like a different timestream all together. By the time we got to the jam on Get It On, the band was positively heavy.

Marc is an elfin treasure. His spoken voice still gives me chills. His face is as pretty, as clear and guileless, as it is possible to imagine. And Mickey Finn, looking good enough to eat. A mass of raven hair, cheekbones and graceful motion. I'd forgotten how beautiful he was. And I'd definitely forgotten how essential his conga playing was. The girls in the audience too, seem to be part of this odd alternative history where everyone is beautiful and happy. They were so well dressed, so smiling, so into the music. And – I looked because I've lived in America for the last twenty years and people keep telling me that English people have bad teeth – their teeth are so clean and white and straight. Loved it when they went wild at the little bit of vocal ecstasy in Spaceball Ricochet or at "I wanna suck ya!" in Jeepster. And Baby Strange. Aren't they a bit young to appreciate some of these lines? Part of me hopes they are, part of me remembers quite clearly what I already knew at that age, in that era. Part of me back then would have died of happiness if I'd noticed Marc lick the unruly droopy microphone to make it stand up again. I swear, I would. Almost died when I saw it just now, in fact.

Hard to imagine Bolan as a vampire, though. He'd laugh and ruin the mood. Vampires and people who watch the Seal of Seasons play in the surf don't really mix, in my experience. Anyway, after the Tea Party sequence with Mickey Finn playing the worst table-mannered Man of Blood ever, I probably don't want to think about vampires at all.

Excellent photography. Clear as a bell, all angles covered. Lighting perfect for film, though that white floodlight must have been intensely annoying to people who were watching the concert live. And the sound remix is beyond superb. It's almost uncannily clear. It doesn't even sound live. Another piece of that better-now-than-it-was-then alternative history. Not that I'm complaining. Wait, are those really the words to Spaceball Ricochet? Oh, well, it's a long song. "Golden nose slim, golden nose slim. I nose where you bin." I've never got that pun before. Thirty three years in the making. Quite funny. Wish I'd been swifter as a teen. I probably missed a lot of stuff like that.

Of the fantasy sequences, I have to nominate Electric Wind as my favorite. The segue into A wop bop a loo bop a lop bam bam is just intense. Brings you up and takes you down and treats you like a king. Suddenly you're there – and now, suddenly you're then, too. And then a quick wipe followed by a treat and a half – the legendary Reg Dwight, seen here not sucking. Imagine. That and the rest of the studio set with Elton on the ivories is priceless. His black ensemble, his healthy look, the power and the physicality he brings to playing the piano. Rockin' his great heart out like the Big Bopper. Love the way he bares his teeth at Marc nestled inside his baby grand. The editing on Children of the Revolution is first rate too. Is the first time Ringo has ever been more sober than his friends? Maybe that's the key.

And where do you get a miniature zebra for a bunch of rock stars who need one in a hurry, anyway?

I have that "Bolan" book the kids are holding as they file out of the Wembley Pool Arena. It's a Melody Maker production. Poor MM. Always wanted us to like serious musicians, like, oh, I dunno. Jazz. Emerson Lake and Palmer. People who knew how to play a diminished ninth. But they had to make serious and yet strangely lightweight tomes about teenyboppers instead, written by old Beats and card-carrying journos slumming with fourteen year-old groovers who don't know a time signature from an autograph.

Got to love this set.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Free - Forever Free DVD

I'm delighted to see this on sale. I've been waiting for a properly researched and well-put together Free retrospective on DVD. This one has David Clayton, the biographer who wrote Heavy Load, as a consultant, and the attention to detail shows. This is a definite buy for anyone with an interest in early '70s rock or blues.

There are two discs, one with pretty much all TV studio footage of Free and some other items, and a second disc with the entire set of Isle of Wight footage and all available audio. The second disc includes material from various camera angles, so if you don't like the original edit and you have lots of patience you can mess with it. The Isle of Wight show is awesome, and it's a real charge to have this available in cleaned-up form. The band do a stripped-down set of their most crowd-pleasing songs, which was probably necessary as they were playing Sunday breakfast time. That's actually an advantage for us at home; the light's great in the morning (though it does encourage one persistent lunatic to continuously flash a mirror at the stage) and the band, possibly cowed by a crowd of over half a million, pulls in and plays a tight, energetic set. One only wishes that the film-makers had filmed the encore.

Disc one starts with the legendary Beat Club footage. Beat Club was a German TV show which specialized in 1970 visuals effects like colorful trails and wobbly psychedelic blobs that overlaid the picture. All Right Now is almost completely obscured by clouds, as one might have phrased it at the time. As far as I can tell, Beat Club never provided an audience, but they did provide Orange amplifiers, possibly because they needed less video processing to be eye-wateringly ostentatious on screen. The first session comprises Mr Big, and the second session Fire and Water and All Right Now. Despite the lack of audience, the band seem happy enough playing to each other. Paul Rodgers keeps his eyes closed and sings to himself; this doesn't stop him putting on a fine, heartfelt performance. The camera work is good, and for those studying the instrument techniques, there are plenty of well-lit close-ups.

Lyle's Fashion Note: For Mr Big, Paul Kossoff has a horrible beard and PR is clean shaven. For the other two, PR sports the beard and PK is his normal lovely self. Kossoff, apparently more fashion conscious than I would have given him credit for, wears orange tops both times, cleverly matching the amps' 1970 color-space and intensity. Paul Rodgers switches from white perve-breeks of an almost inhuman tightness in MB to a far less alarming pair of dark red trousers for the second set.

The Granada Doing Their Thing show is the stand-out. This British TV program has an audience (albeit one which on the whole looks as though it had been seeking a quiet place to chew its cud and was surprised to find itself faced with a full-tilt blues-rock group), and it displays a refreshing lack of psychedelic effects. It also has Orange amps, but they appear to belong to Juicy Lucy. Free's equipment is in front of theirs, in regulation black. Accordingly, SK, sitting at the back with the Orange amps, is the only one wearing a matching top and the rest of them, like the amps, have reverted to type, including the wearing of infeasibly tight trousers by their front man, who here opens his eyes and sings to the audience. The band look very happy to be playing together, smiling and reacting to each other's signals.

The tracks are Ride on Pony, Mr Big (again), Songs of Yesterday, I'll Be Creepin' and All Right Now (again). All's right in the beard world, too, with PR wearing his shaggy black one and PK clean shaven. All of the songs in the set are worth watching over and over again (I already have). Mr Big kicks ass, but All Right Now is the one for guitarists to watch. Instead of the usual familiar staccato riff, for some reason PK decides to hint at the chords that stand silently behind the riff but are usually left out, turning the rhythm upside down and providing any would-be Keith Richards listening with material to develop at least three more riffs on their own. (His solo here is disorganized, as the same sort of thing applies. That's rock'n'roll.) There's enough energy in this closer to wake up some of the audience members to a relatively rousing baa-ram-ewe ovation.

The picture and camera-work are outstanding. There are some nasty flares on bright reflections and microphony (horizontal-bands of sound-on-vision) on one camera, but it comes across as cute, a visual marker that the camera, like the amp, is pre solid-state, and They Don't Make 'Em Like That Any More.

There's plenty of other material on the DVD. A very nice Stealer with Koss busting some classic moves. A Top of the Pops performance which is good looking, but clearly not the band's cuppa tea. My Brother Jake, which I've never been able to stand. OMFG how I hate that song. It sounds like The Hollies on Quaaludes. The best looking track, however, is a VHS-derived All Right Now of unknown provenance (it might tell me on the insert but the insert is so brown, wiggly-fonted and authentically hippy-looking that I can't read it) featuring the entire band looking like real rock stars, shot from below, under great stage lighting, with their long hair combed and a blessed lack of weird-beard experimentation. I don't know if it's the traditional rock'n'roll lights or the fuzzy and warm VHS quality, but PK and PR look like the Plant and Page analogues they could have been if things were only slightly different. They look great together.

There are several sets of interviews with PR, AF and SK, and some interviews with Simon Kossoff, Paul's brother. There is also a long sequence of live footage shot by Simon Kossoff, which doesn't have any sound but, hey, this is a completist disc, so it's all there and make of it what you will. Of the interviews, I will confine myself to saying that Simon Kirke has won the aging gracefully event, and is currently gorgeous (and witty). There are a couple of tributes to Kossoff, including some great stills. There's a short piece of film from Simon Kossoff showing his brother and his dad (David Kossoff) eating fish 'n' chips, a lovely piece of film that works as the inverse of Edward Hopper's Nighthawks, a brief look at two connected people eating in a diner, doubly poignant when one reflects how PK died, insecure and lonely, a few years later. (Lyle's etiquette note: PK holds his knife like a pen. Bad guitar god!)

I've tried not to gush too much about Kossoff's guitar playing here. He's at his peak in this period and it's all a treat to hear. Consider the miraculous way his rhythm playing sounds to be there even when he's dropped the majority of it for the solo. His solos are justly famous and none of this footage disappoints in that regard. But I can't spend too much time saying how great he is, as the one thing that jumps out during this DVD is that the whole band is great; each one of them is way above proficient. It's unbelievable that all four could just meet more or less by accident and all be so good. What a shame it didn't last!

Note October 1, 2006 - the new DVD player did indeed cure it. . The comment below is obsolete.

Technical notes: It's probably mean of me to carp about this since I bought a UK disc on and I'm trying to play it on US equipment. When the official US release takes place it may be considerably improved. But, the package says that the disc is Region 0 and NTSC so I expected it to play on unmodified equipment. However, my US DVD player had issues with the menu of disc 2, and is very reluctant to play disc 1 without freezing. Of the computers in the house, one will play the discs using Power DVD but not Windows Media Player, and the other one won't touch it with Power DVD and it plays with only an updated (v11) Windows Media Player. I'm upgrading the house DVD player shortly. Hopefully that will cure it.

Out Of The House For a Couple of Days


I’m surprised I’ve been to Sacramento often enough to start to dislike it. I can barely remember being here before, but I have, several times. Somebody put the State government here, which I would say was an error, but who knew? And at least it’s out of the way. Where that all falls down is, I have to go see the government sometimes.

I realized I was in the right, or more exactly, wrong, airport after I got downstairs from the international airport-glitz of the terminal into the ground transport area which features, as I’m sure you all know, giant sculptures made out of thousands of pieces of luggage stuck together. The overall effect – abandoned baggage in a windswept dry cold hangar in a plain in the middle of nowhere – adds up to a certain hick-horror-story ambience that is right out of a teaser for an X-Files episode. Who’s to say the long-vanished owners didn’t make the right decision?

Checking into the hotel was a study in the art of marketing the Sacramento way. The receptionist, who appeared bonded to the hotel like a House Elf (“I was here when it was an apartment building,” she said), offered me the choice between “a small room with a queen bed or a really, really large room with two twin beds”. Since I’m an honorary American, I chose the one that was too big for my needs and which had a whole extra bed I’d not be using. “Since you put it that way, I’ll have the really, really large room,” were my exact words, in fact. Dobby seemed to think this was hilarious. Tired, I managed by some equally witty sleight of verbiage to avoid being dragooned into the program of classical music which was underway in a downstairs cavern. Instead I paced around in the enormous room and tried to work out whether it would be worthwhile to switch on the almost invisibly distant TV.

In the event, I decided to go out for a meal. There wasn’t a lot going on; at first I thought that it was because I’d been banished to the boonies of the capitol because this was a cheapo state government trip, but it turned out I was only a few hundred yards from Sacramento Convention Center (motto: We’re Closed!) and the fine array of remora-like foodstuff-vendors in attendance. Unfortunately, they were closed too. I settled on the Something Or Other (probably Capitol, they all are) Grill. As I walked in, an over eager waitress knocked a stand of leaflets over on me. “The scary thing is, Shell’s *your* waitress”, said a cheerful maitre d’. “I’ll keep my legs tucked well under the table,” I allowed, which produced more gales of laughter. Apparently I’m a born comedienne.

I did get some evening entertainment to replace the classical music. I began to listen to the two diners next to me. They had an interesting conversation about job-lot bomber jackets before the waitress came over to spill things on them.
“I want a steak pink, what is that called?”
“Rare? Medium rare?”
“Is medium rare cold?”
“Medium rare is warm.”
“Pink and warm?”
“Yes, sir,” said Shell.
“Are you sure you’re talking about steak?” said number two.

Their dinner conversation, with occasional detours into mass-bomber jacket purchase and other pyramid schemes, went like this:
“Why do you want raw steak?”
“It’s not raw, it’s rare.”
“It’s not cooked.”
“It is cooked. It’s just not cooked hot. If you cook it hot, it destroys the structure of the meat.”
Long pause.
“This is sourdough. You know what it is with sourdough? You don’t want to know why they call it sourdough.”
“I *don’t* want to know why they call it sourdough.”
“I’m going to tell you why they call it sourdough. They call it sourdough because, when they get the dough, they leave it to rise, and rise and rise, and rise until it . . . “
“Until it don’t rise no more?”
“No, until it’s sour. Because it’s gone off, see. They leave it to go sour, which is like rotten. Sourdough is like rotten dough.”
“Sourdough, huh.”
“It’s like cabbage.”
“In what way?”
“Cabbage is just rotten lettuce.”
“Rotten lettuce, huh.”
“Yes. No, I mean. Sauerkraut is rotten cabbage. That’s it. They leave the cabbage to go rotten.”
“Sauerkraut, huh.”
“Here’s the Merlot.”
“You know why wine is good for you?”
“Why is wine good for me?”
“It’s the grapes. In the skin, it’s good for you. They have Tantric Acid in the skin.”
“Tantric Acid, huh?”
“S’good for you.”

The next day, back at Sac International, (even the name seems rather wrinkled and baggy), I found I had made airline booking mistake category one. All business airline bookings are errors in either category number one or number two. Number two, of course, is arriving with only twenty minutes to spare and not having enough time to put your shoes back on and rush for the gate before the plane pulls away. Category number two, my most frequent error because I’m such a wet weed, is ending up with three hours to kill at the damn airport. Today we had the delight that our meeting had finished an hour early, so I had four hours to kill at Sacramento International.

Once through the several checks, I found myself in the Sac paradise I remembered so well. Only four hours to kill, and the usual generous spread of restaurants to eat at. Trouble is, I’d eaten at most of them over the years, and already knew what was available. I’d eaten a pizza at the Capitol Grill, and already knew they came frozen from the pizza parlor next door, so that killed two birds with one stone. Manchu’s Wok didn’t sound like food. Eventually I settled on the First Down, or some other sports bar name. I’d eaten there before too, and while it had been vile, it had been edible. I plumped for 50 Yard Line Chili, or somesuch, which was ‘served’ in a bowl made by hollowing out a sourdough loaf and throwing away the inside. So that’s what they do with the sourdough after it’s risen and risen until it don’t rise no more! It’s a disposable plate for chili!

Of course the plane was delayed, so I had plenty of time to watch CNN on the airport monitors. I did get out my laptop to play a DVD, but as I unfolded it, a little old lady opposite me said, “With you people it’s all work, work, work!” so I felt like some sort of cheat and typed this instead.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Blues-Godzillas Menace Sunderland Locarno!

Free was my favorite band for a long time in the early seventies. I was born at the wrong time for classic-rock credibility, so I managed to miss out on seeing them live in real reality. I did see Paul Kossoff much later, which is another story, but I regret missing out on Free. This week, a retrospective DVD was released with all the existing studio and Isle of Wight footage on it, all pristine and restored and in some cases from several camera angles.

There was a big surprise for me in the videos: Kossoff's sheer physicality. On stage he is never still. He plays guitar with his whole body, swaying and rocking and stomping – and screaming, head thrown back as he leans against 200 watts of Marshall stacks. Of course I'd be screaming if I were leaning against Marshall stacks too, but that'd be because the outrageous volume would make my kidneys bleed. With Kossoff it appears to be more feeling the mood than actual pain. Watching him do it is a plain joy.

It was Kossoff's birthday last week (September 14th). I'd just finished an SF story dedicated to him (not actually about him, though, Free fans) and mailed it off to a British magazine. In the run up to writing the story I'd listened to every Free track I had. I am currently soaked in Free music and a very nice feeling it is too.

For me the best album is the first, "Tons of Sobs", which is so raw that it jumps if you sneak up on it and poke it in the vinyl. There's not much actual production going on by the producer, as far as I can tell, but the band has twice the presence of most young blues bands, so that more than makes up for it. Most of the compositions are original, based on strong bass riffs that just don't quit. There's some acoustic numbers, even, but nothing like most of 68's blues-rock output, which seemed to suffer from a Great Folk Scare hangover of fire-breathing pink-elephant proportions. Free clearly never got caught in that stampede and failed to cover any totally crap English folk songs, including not covering Greensleeves, and especially not covering Dobson's Morning Dew, for which I am truly grateful. Instead, for standards they go for the serious blues.

I've seen a review somewhere that said the teenage Free were perhaps too young to be taken seriously singing grizzled old blues bar standards like "Goin' Down Slow", but I think it's tailor made for teenagers. What 18 year old doesn't think he's past his peak and dying? I think it was even a theme in Adrian Mole. It sounds somehow very English, and very fine indeed. And talking of the blues, the concentration of hormones in the band at that age was sufficient to generate the Testosterone Event Horizon, only beyond which does playing a song like Albert King's "The Hunter" seem like a good idea.

"The Hunter" has to be the crassest song ever written and Free tackle it as though they intend to wrest the Crass Crown from the then-current owner, Crassula McCrass, winner of the 1967 Crassest in Class Competition. The song is about hunting down pretty little women with a loaded Love Gun and the music, unbelievably, almost manages to match the lyrics in caveman rockist stomp. The track starts out with a guitar-and-drums full-frontal assault that roars in like black bomber berserkers out for dripping scalps, and throughout the song the band genuinely sound as though they are charging recklessly forward like a herd of hungry Godzillas. (Five foot six inch, hairy, eighteen year old white British Godzillas, mind you, which now I'm old makes them seem cute rather than sexually threatening.) There isn't anything from that time period to touch it. The big three albums of 68-69 (Terry Reid's Terry Reid, Led Zeppelin's Led Zeppelin and Jeff Beck's Truth) couldn't get near that level of sheer attack. It's not at all clear to me why Free didn't win the British hard rock race that started then.

I surely do love that whole album. Even the cover, which seems to invent heavy metal covers all on its ownsome.

Led Zeppelin and almost everyone else covered "The Hunter" at about the same time, in fact, with similar but less high-octane results. Led Zep themselves even penned a top-three entry in the crass women-hunting genre, Whole Lotta Love. But Paul Rodgers, evidently taking as some sort of a challenge the fact that the crassest song ever written was already out there, wrote several songs of like sentiment – "The Stealer" ("I said 'Hey good lookin', you're comin' with me,") and "I'll Be Creepin'" ("You can change your address; you won't get far,") and of course "All Right Now" ("Maybe she's in need of a kiss.") I think All Right Now takes the (king) biscuit (time) away from Whole Lotta Love, there, but YMMV as they say.

I know you've heard "All Right Now". You can't have missed it, and your brain is probably humming it all right now. Oops. What you may not remember is the structure. The song starts off with guitar and drums alone, and then the vocal comes in, for the first verse. It isn't until the chorus that the bass guitar joins in. Only when you hear it do you realize it wasn't there before; the bass drum was doing its job. When it does join in, it's a typical Andy Fraser bass run, not exactly hiding its light under a bushel. It disappears for the next verse, and Free is back to a two-piece with a vocalist. That two instruments alone can more than keep your interest is remarkable. For the middle eight, the piano joins in and provides the rhythm playing for the guitar solo. I don't have to describe the solo, which must be the most played one in the world (save perhaps Stairway), and certainly the most imitated. It starts low, builds to high and loud and seems to provide a commentary rather than an instrumental. Kossoff's guitar actually speaks. You can almost work out the words. When Rodgers sings the girl's disgusted line, "Love? Lord above!" the guitar restates her words by saying something. . . wry. Something very expressive. Something Yiddish. Wait, I got it! The guitar says, "Putz!"

All three Free crass contenders featured excellent riffs, classic bass, the best rock drumming ever put down and some of the most soulful, accomplished vocals you can imagine. I never played them for any of my friends because all of them were feminists and I'd have been thrown out of the yoghurt-weaving club if I was caught listening to lyrics about being ambushed in the shadows and given what's in store. (This little secret of mine got more complicated in the eighties when I bought a Zodiac Mindwarp album ("Kiss the barrel baby, meet your god.") At that point even the male feminists gave up on me. I'm just so unreconstructed.)

As with many things about the early seventies, it's a shame Free's not around now. The biggest loss is the little lion Kossoff himself, dead now for thirty years. I hope he had a nice 56th birthday, wherever he is.


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