Saturday, December 29, 2007

Led Zeppelin at the 02

Since December 11th, when I started watching the videos of Led Zeppelin at the 02, I've been feeling guilty about my statement in my review of the biography Magus Musician Man where I said: "Both of the magus books in this series of reviews so far have concerned ...rebirth ...in this case Page from a very complex, beautiful and accomplished young man into quite an ordinary man."

That night, I think Page showed very clearly that he's anything but ordinary. I don't know what he was doing on his seven-year lay-off from live playing, but it didn't involve losing his fire. He played his heart out, risky, edgy, fast and daring, like it always was.

So I take that back.

New Year present:

Here is a list of YouTube videos of all the songs Led Zeppelin played at the 02 at the reunion on December 10th, in order. If you want a DVD of the night, save these to your hard disc using www.keepvid.com or your preferred downloader, and burn them to DVD using http://www.dvdflick.net/ . (You have to set it to burn, it doesn't install itself that way.)Alternatively, convert them to AVI files with Super http://www.erightsoft.com/SUPER.html and then burn them to a DVD.

http://youtube.com/watch?v=cpAJMQ0qLys
http://youtube.com/watch?v=rsHcUwtw5H0
http://youtube.com/watch?v=V-pznBtKoVw
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wc-8YyE7aT0&NR=1
http://youtube.com/watch?v=Fz2ozo0gXcY
http://youtube.com/watch?v=stwh2wEhMK8
http://youtube.com/watch?v=UO1PfQMQyUY
http://youtube.com/watch?v=-x497E89zAI
http://youtube.com/watch?v=qLfpiUoeiXc&feature=related
http://youtube.com/watch?v=FYQJ3ZFR-48
http://youtube.com/watch?v=iKHiJ1KK-hg
http://youtube.com/watch?v=lPz11pyX4Ic
http://youtube.com/watch?v=53EFw3SE1O0
http://youtube.com/watch?v=-KmqiUSX1jw&feature=related
http://youtube.com/watch?v=uqJ1hLT1tlA&feature=related
http://youtube.com/watch?v=vXwyT6nKpLs
http://youtube.com/watch?v=SE_azOraU34
http://youtube.com/watch?v=2yeuUmBOacg

After party clip:
http://youtube.com/watch?v=PfGTjWeZRyA

Friday, December 28, 2007

Be Here Now

The Little Grey Fella in my car spontaneously decided to play Pink Floyd's Echoes today.

You know, the one that starts with "Plink~~~!" It's a piece of music I probably first heard 35 years ago, and I know it well. It has no surprises. (Unlike Careful With That Axe, Eugene, which made me jump out of my skin recently when the Little Grey Fella played it. I'd forgotten about the scream.) Since I heard it so often as a student, the states of mind I was in then are easily recalled when I hear it now.

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I was driving along the easy bit of the Ortega Highway, heading back home after a fairly quiet day. There's a repeated figure in the first part of Echoes that sounds just like a Stingray moves – the lyrics say something is 'willowing across the sand' – and we're told that everything is 'green and submarine'. Naturally within a few moments I was following the Ray as it willomied through the rippled green, and a couple of minutes after that, I was trying out being Steve Irwin's widow for size. Would I scream and kick my heels for months in mourning, or would I bravely start up some sort of wildlife protection trust fund as he'd no doubt expect me to do?

At that point, brake lights flashed in front of me, and 'I' arrived back in the car to take charge of various controls. No danger at all – the person in front of me must have been some sort of a tourist, only doing 55 on a two-lane highway that has a mere smattering of deaths each year, and he was braking before each corner because he couldn’t see around it, the amateur. All I had to do was make sure I stayed at a safe distance.

But it did remind me that people often say, "I was so preoccupied, I don't even remember how I got home". And so today I can say, "I do remember how I got home. Somebody else was driving while I was swimming with Stingrays. And Manta Rays. And being Steve Irwin's widow."

When I was young – about the same time I first heard Echoes, or maybe even earlier – I went to a series of lectures on Eastern Philosophy. One thing they were particularly keen to teach me was that people rarely live in the moment, and tend to spend each minute somewhere else. They tried to instill in me a discipline to live for each moment as it comes and resist the temptation to drift off. When the brake lights flashed today, I realized that I can no longer remember why this was so all-fired important. I mean, have you seen the moment? This is no place to live! It's sparsely furnished, consisting as it does of sensory inputs which are deliberately pruned back to almost nothing before they reach the brain. When the remaining impulses do reach the brain, it ignores most of them and makes some other ones up. If they were encouraging me to have some sort of authentic experience, living in the moment hardly counts. The outside world is illusory both from a philosophical and a physical point of view. If you want a rich and fulfilling experience, one you've made up yourself in the comfort of your own mind is always going to be a better fit than whatever happens to be going on outside.

Of course it always helps if you have the sort of music playing that can get you there within a few notes, something physically easy for your body to do, and of course some brake lights to flash before you get the to scary night-time eerie bit in the middle.

Note: I had to stop writing this for five minutes to find out why "willomied" sounded like a better word for it than "willowed". It's because "willowed" does not exist as a verb, but "willomied" is the Douglas Adams word for that type of movement, as seen here. This type of distraction is a drawback of my type of imagination.

Other note: I reserve the right to change my mind and say that one you've made up yourself in the comfort of your own mind isn't always going to be better, as the fancy takes me.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

LOL Coxhill

It's probably been done, but if not, here's today's LOL Lol Coxhill.

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At World's End (That's what the kids call it now?)

I finally watched Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End today.

What a lot of noise, explosions, bodies, plotting and seafood that was! It was 'very big', said STB, the man of the house. And it was indeed very big. Not very good, but certainly overwhelming. I couldn't help thinking the whole enterprise must have taken lots and lots of cocaine. I can't think of any other way that the writers could have convinced themselves that they could bring a whole audience along for such a long, winding and frankly weirdly perverted ride unless they were completely up their own arses in a way that's not normally achieved without coke. It's just… presumptuous… to think you can get away with all that. It would be nice to say they did get away with it and all the clever expense reports necessary to hide the blow was worth it, but I don't think they did. I noticed, and so did many of the reviews I read when it first came out.

Also, it was very complicated. There's a theory that the word processor has ruined the novel, because it allows people to perfect a paragraph, polish it to a precious glowing gem as it's held still in front of you with Microsoft's own word-dopping wax, but encouraging you to lose sight of any strands longer than one page, which therefore remain ragged and loose. Apparently the combination of word processing and offline editing has done the same to movies – at least to this one. Each individual shot(of ten seconds or so) is brilliant. Any three or four of them are wonderful. When you start to add up a few tens, they are simply confusing. As a whole, the movie doesn't make sense by itself. You need a whiteboard with six colors, or Microsoft Project, or maybe a dab hand with Excel to chart out who promised who what and whether they got it or not and how many people betrayed them on the way there. Although I like a movie I can discuss afterwards, I'm not so keen on a movie for which I have to write a cause-and-effect fishbone diagram before I can even visualize its overall structure.

Loved the usual things. Jack Sparrow – gorgeous, cowardly and logorrheic. Davy Jones' expressive face and bizarre Scottish accent. (Wouldn't someone called Davy Jones be Welsh?) The beautiful Tia Dalma, here becoming the 50 ft Woman and then coming down with a bad case of crabs, poor thing. Captain Barbossa's very masterful rule of his boat. The CGI was impeccable – I gave up looking for it and assumed everything was real after a while. Less brain strain. Keith Richards, easily taking over his couple of scenes without actually doing anything, which I guess is what charisma is all about.

Was horrified by the horrible things – the sea-change of the crew on The Flying Dutchman literally gives me the creeps. The number of people blown up, impaled, decapitated and/or delimbed was higher than any 'action' movie I can think of. God only knows how this gets a PG-13 rating. The visual bits that recalled other movies annoyed me rather than came across as homages. The weapons-unloaded-from-apparently-unarmed-person's-clothing scene, recalling Mad Max 3, and the whole unnecessary "Big Trouble in Little China" Singapore subplot being the worst offenders in my eyes.

Overall, quite a spectacle but not one I'd call a great movie. Yes, I will watch it again. Probably when I get the six different colored pens for my whiteboard so I can chart it.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Muscle Memory

A few weeks ago, in On Writing I mentioned that I'd taken up playing the guitar again, after a hiatus of thirty-five years or so. I said that alas, the much vaunted 'muscle memory' hadn't lasted the full three and a half decades and I was starting from scratch.

That might not be entirely true. When I learned as a teenager, I was taught classical guitar – all fingerpicking. I never used a pick. This time, I went to a guitar class where we began with strumming using a pick and we never really put it down. But I found it rather difficult to use – like picking something up with your hands closed, a deliberately handicapped way to go about something. Whenever I was asked to do something complicated (like play notes on two strings without about a minute's thought between them) I dropped the pick and used my fingers. Now, after a few months, I'm far faster, and far more accurate, with my fingers than with the pick. In fact, if I make myself use the pick I sometimes miss the guitar entirely and accidentally hit the 'on' switch on the TV remote control and wake up about an hour later watching a Sci-Fi Channel special about men and women with 2007-era looks and Southern Californian ethical values defeating giant dinosaurs, giant spiders, giant lizards or giant sharks. You have to admit that shows a definite lack of accuracy. And although it gets better slowly, my first three fingers get better much more quickly.

I can't prove that it's 'muscle memory' – that my fingers 'remember' the way they were taught before. It's equally likely that I was hard-wired for fingerpicking from the start and it won't matter how long I spend on either technique or which order I learned in. There's no way to test the hypothesis because I would have had to split myself in two just before I learned the first time, and that might prove to be a difficult experiment to do.

But it's interesting, is all.

Monday, December 24, 2007

May Your Days Be Merry and Bright!

Merry Yuletide and a Happy New Year from me!

A Merry Christmas from Marc Bolan and T. Rex as well!



And for traditionalists, here's the one from Bing Crosby. He wears more flamboyant costumes than Marc. Who knew?

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Joe Strummer

Joe Strummer died five years ago. It's hard to believe that someone who provided the soundtrack to my twenties is dead, though it happens to us all eventually. London Calling was probably the most played album on my friends' turntables for years - occasionally even a Deep Hippy friend would take off Caravan or Matching Mole and put on I'm All Lost in the Supermarket or Rudie Can't fail.

I tried to see The Clash several times. I was at Victoria Park for the Rock Against Racism Gig, and I have a vaguer memory of my view being blocked by large, leather-jacketed men a couple of years older than me at an indoor gig somewhere. At least two other attempts didn't work because The Clash canceled. All in all I felt safer listening to them at home.

We used to have quite a lot of conversations like the one which begins this clip.


And this is what they sounded like.



RIP, Joe.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Led Zeppelin at the 02 (again)

I may have promised not to do any more of this, I forget, but this is too good to pass up. Here is BigWill57's video edit of Led Zeppelin's Stairway to Heaven at the 02. It uses one good sound source and many of the available (phone)camera angles.



Anyone want to do the rest of the set? And yes, Warner, I will buy the official DVD when/if it comes out. I may buy more than one! It was that good!

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Oh noes, as they say in High School.

What the-!

I was R rated only the other day. Time to break out the thesaurus.

cash advance

Your android replica is playing up again...

When it comes to the transgressive, loving a Dalek is about as far out as you can get. Yet it happens; Mick Farren commented on the most recent girl to fall for one, Kylie Minogue, here. And I've mentioned it before on this blog.



But they say the largest sex organ is the brain, and consequently the place most robots make inroads into your house and your fantasies is not the way Diktor did, but the way Eliza did way back in 1966.

Russian robots are cuddling up to online johns and cooing at them until they hand over their e-wallets. It's amazing people fall for this trick from real life women, never mind artificial intelligences. But they do.

And this news report from CNET shows how good they are at it, too.

A program that can mimic online flirtation and then extract personal information from its unsuspecting conversation partners is making the rounds in Russian chat forums, according to security software firm PC Tools.
The artificial intelligence of CyberLover's automated chats is good enough that victims have a tough time distinguishing the "bot" from a real potential suitor, PC Tools said. The software can work quickly too, establishing up to 10 relationships in 30 minutes, PC Tools said. It compiles a report on every person it meets complete with name, contact information, and photos.
"As a tool that can be used by hackers to conduct identity fraud, CyberLover demonstrates an unprecedented level of social engineering," PC Tools senior malware analyst Sergei Shevchenko said in a statement.

It's been speculated that this type of AI can be so successful, it's one that's very likely to escape and go feral in the net. They do say that pornography drives technology. Odd to think that our pornography might also actually be our descendents, one day. Of course, they'll be seducing each other by then. I imagine most of us will be digging for roots with sharpened sticks and wondering if the rain god will love us this year.

Title from Hawkind's Spirit of the Age.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Twas Brillig...

Killing civilians always gets bad press – The Americans still mention the British Boston Massacre of March 1770, with its five dead, as a deep wound on the national psyche. Israeli soldiers often seem to manage to hit a child. 1972's Bloody Sunday, when the British army fired on civil rights protesters in Ireland, left 13 unarmed people, 6 of them kids, dead.

This type of unwelcome publicity means that the armed forces of the world are on the lookout for something that will force subjects to obey their masters, but won't produce any photo opportunities for human rights activists. They thought they'd scored a massive hit recently when someone at Raytheon [1] developed a sort of microwave-oven-at-a-distance effect that heats up the skin, causing, it says here, pain. But not the killing thing, or the blood, or the kids draped over their weeping dad's arms with their heads lolling too far back to be merely sleeping. Just "intolerable" pain, after which the targeted person will run away from the beam - because, of course, people are always free to run in any direction they choose in riot situations.

It's called the Active Denial System, because "Heat Ray" is something bad from War of the Worlds, and we wouldn't want that image burned appearing in our minds. It's described as

a non lethal, counter-personnel directed energy non-lethal weapon which can be used against human targets at distances beyond the effective range of small arms. ADS projects a focused millimeter wave energy beam which induces intolerable heating sensation on an adversary's skin and cause that individual to be repelled without injury.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket
Brillig, the time when you begin
broiling things for dinner. From
Alice in Wonderland.

The army wants it for Iraq; the public is said to be "squeamish" about it. Articles mention its possible misuse as torture. I think the public is probably squeamish about it because they don't want it turned on them. I know I am; I can imagine a day when the LAPD decides to "actively deny" a public square to the public by non-lethally broiling its own citizenry. In fact, I can imagine them doing it tomorrow if they got hold of a Heat Ray tonight.

It turns out that the "squeamish" public might have the right idea. "Non-lethality" sounds too good to be true, and it is too good to be true. The death ray, sorry, ADS, has to be calibrated for the distance to its target and also, presumably, for the amount of water vapor in the way that might dissipate the energy. I can imagine that in an armored vehicle, with limited visibility, small arms fire outside and the possibility that someone is rigging up a bomb under the truck right now, an operator might make a hasty decision about which buttons to press, and end up grilling somebody.

It turns out it's worse than that. According to a report in The Guardian, the operator can boil someone during a relatively stress-free testing exercise. In a report called "US military in denial over pain ray - Concern over the safety of a crowd control system in tests sparks fears about its use in operational situations" The Guardian says:

Earlier that day it had been used successfully at 75% power level and three-second duration. According to the report: "ADS Operator P4 set power to 100% for four-second duration, so as to be effective at the longer range." A problem prevented the test from taking place - the system's magnet requires supercooling and can be temperamental in hot weather. …
Unfortunately, the crew forgot to change the settings. …
The description of the injuries has been censored from the report: all we can see is that they are covered by 11 numbered points. An Air Force statement says: "the injury was classified as a second degree burn," a type characterised by blistering. Local newspapers reported that the airman suffered burns on both legs and spent two days in the Joseph M Still Burn Centre in Augusta, Georgia. The official report puts the injury cost at $17,748.


Generally speaking, I'm against the death penalty because I think, all ethical considerations aside, voluntarily giving your government the right to kill you is a bad move. I'm also against my government spending money on Death Rays to keep me out of public places.


[1] If the name of your company sounds like an Evil Overlord from Flash Gordon, you're already doomed, really.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Bumper Book of Fun Redux

Whenever I used to lie around in front of the electric fire demanding more amusement out of the three channels of British TV, my Dad used to berate me with tales of the good old days. "We used to make our own entertainment!" he'd say, and demonstrate by making toys out of matchboxes and rubber bands, or cotton reels and string, or magnets and cigarette pack silver paper.

I was always glad I didn't live in the good old days. They sounded shite. I think the time I realized that the bright glow on the horizon must be the dawning of the Future was the day I got my first Walkman. I loved that thing. Imagine -you could take ninety minutes of music with you wherever you went! (My Dad was a speaker technician in his younger days. The entertainment center in our first council house had a speaker (one - mono, remember) that was three feet high with the baffle built out of six-inch thick poured concrete. It was a great speaker. The Walkman was more portable.)

Just so you know I'm not making that up, here's a picture of concrete speakers from G. A. Brigg's Stereo Handbook of 1959. They're prettier than ours, which was really just... concrete.

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Unfortunately, according to a study by Nokia, in the new future (the one that's in the future), we'll be making our own entertainment. Damn and blast!

Of course, since various things have happened in the meantime, it's possible that this entertainment will involve Nero and downloads and YouTube mashups and MIDI and all that good stuff rather than cotton balls and string. (Although my Dad was great at growing a crystal garden in Waterglass. Fun, scientific and breathtakingly beautiful and no doubt completely illegal these days as it involved chemicals.)

Of the 9000 people surveyed in the Future Laboratory study a staggering 39% watch TV on the internet, - 46% regularly use an instant messenger program and 29% regularly blog.

The way the company views Circular Entertainment working is that someone shares video footage they shot on their mobile phone from a night out with a friend, that friend takes that footage and adds an MP3 file, then passes it to another friend. That friend edits the footage by adding some photographs and passes it on to another friend and so on. The content keeps circulating between friends.


That really sounds like lots of fun, doesn't it?

Hopefully it'll be better when the non-straights take it up. As William Gibson once said, "The street finds its own uses for things." He wasn't talking about Coronation Street.

The Song Remains the Same

The audience-shot footage from Led Zeppelin's gig at the 02 is now back on YouTube, Google Videos and Dailymotion.

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Apparently an overzealous underling issued the DMCA takedowns. Or that's what it says here.

Antony Bruno of Billboard.biz reports that a third-party vendor hired to issue takedown notices on sites like YouTube has taken responsibility for the removal of LED ZEPPELIN concert footage taken during the band's historic reunion.

Sources involved in the situation earlier in the day said the takedown notices came at the behest of the band and its handlers. However, by late Wednesday, the company Grayzone issued a statement acknowledging their involvement and apologizing for their mistake.

Whether this means the footage will reappear on the site is unclear. While Grayzone acknowledges the error, there's no telling whether either the band or its management will prefer to keep the footage off YouTube even if it didn't initiate the takedown notices.

According to Telegraph.co.uk, video footage of LED ZEPPELIN's triumphant reunion concert on Monday night has become an online hit watched by half a million people.

Within hours of the band leaving the stage at London's O2 Arena, footage shot with mobile phones was posted onto YouTube.

Just over 24 hours later, a 10-minute clip of the band performing possibly their most famous track, "Stairway to Heaven", had been viewed by almost 500,000 people.

A shorter clip of them performing "Good Times Bad Times" had been viewed by more than 250,000 people.


Of course I didn't bother to save any URLs so I can't put them here. If anyone gives me a list, I'll edit the post to include them. Until then, you can watch or download them from my 4shared drive or search on YouTube etc. with the usual suspect keywords.

To use a 4shared drive:
Click on the file you want and it opens up another window. You can watch the video in that window or download it from the window. The download button only opens up after about thirty seconds, so if you don't see one at first, don't panic.

When you have an .flv file on your hard drive, you need a player to watch it. If you don't have one installed there's a free one at www.keepvid.com. Just follow the instructions on that page for downloading it.

If I'm missing any good ones let me know and I'll copy and upload them.


I'm going to go back now and edit the old posts and remove the rant about Warner. Happy watching!

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Once and Future Kings

In which I berate the WaPo.



The media have adored the Led Zeppelin reunion – it's been non-stop coverage for three months now. Not all the people kissing up to them for the papers can be actual Led Zeppelin fans. Percentage wise, it's just not possible. They're bandwagon jumping. They are people who now believe they always were Led Zeppelin fans.

It's reminiscent of Ronald Reagan's death – many people of newspaper-puff-piece writing age at the time of his death abhorred Reagan when he was president, but when he died, they sensed a sniffly-group-hug moment. Bring the country together and all that. Everyone united in saying what a great guy he'd been. A former boss of mine, who had been countercultural way back in the day said as she sneered at the obituaries, "I never realized I loved the old bastard until these articles told me how much I did."

Similarly, Led Zeppelin is a godsend for the old media. The newspapers are completely unable to find their footing in the steep scree-slope of modern culture. The youth of today, with its iPods and time-shifted TV programs and everybody renting DVDs instead of going to the theater en masse like a pack of lemmings, is even more unfathomable than the average youth of yesteryear. How do you find an angle that cuts across all these groups? Where is the line through the dot-plot of tastes that resolves and perhaps explains the variation we see? Nobody knows. There are no big bands, and you can't fake one up with the Tin Pan Alley tricks that worked so well in the middle years of last century. The kids have a choice, and have decided to exercise it. (Come to think of it, telling them to exercise a choice may drive them all into conformity – the media should try that instead.)

It's a gift from heaven then, to have a previously-assembled world-class band handy, hiding behind the curtain, ready to spring out at the moment of maximum chaos and unite everybody. Led Zeppelin to the rescue. For internal reasons, they have been in hibernation for almost thirty years, snoozing like King Arthur until their country needed them. They have failed to tarnish their legend by doing anything weird to the back catalogue, publically doing anything deeply stupid, releasing any crap Christmas singles, selling any digital product whatsoever, authoring any official biographies or making any more films or documentaries. They are technically still the biggest band in the world. They have press clippings from 72 – 73 to prove it!

The time is right, they poke their little pink noses out of their longbarrow to sniff at the spring air and the papers go wild. A ready-made. A true Blue Peter "Here's one I made earlier" biggest rock band in the world, cooling beside the oven in a fashionable baking tray at a time when no fancy-schmancy chef could possibly cook up a new one in front of us.

It's a wet dream for the papers. Not so much for the fans, who already have all the Zeppelin "product" they need and don't really want 25 year-old smackhead celebrities pretending to have always dug them, or the Washington Post – the bloody Washington Post, man – saying things about them like: "All notions of rock idolatry aside, it has now become obvious that Page is simply not human. He is some kind of formless shape-shifter, channeling darker forces as he languidly glides across the stage, his visage made all the more eerie by the shock of white hair that flows to his shoulders."

I mean, get a grip. You should be reporting on Iraq or something. I do the fangirling around here. Me, not the Washington Post. You're stealing my lines.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Led Zeppelin at the 02 - 2



Slim pickings still - an ITV newsreport

Led Zeppelin at the 02

I'm overjoyed and I wasn't even there.

Here, have a picture.


(Click for larger picture)

Doesn't Jimmy look gorgeous? Just say yes. That's what the comments section is for.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Lucius Malfoy at Large

The world's largest picture of Jason Isaacs as Lucius Malfoy.

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That was just a thumbnail - I can't carry big pictures here.
The large picture can be found here.
Warning: It's really large.

Doesn't he have lovely eyes? Malfoy is such a sweetie.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

On writing.

I've started taking guitar lessons recently. A bit late, you might think, but it's better late than never. And anyway, I did have a brief fling with playing the guitar back when I was fourteen or so, so I'm not starting from scratch. I was pretty much starting from scratch, though, because I remembered all the theory but had absolutely no way of applying it. Lots of people will tell you about permanence of muscle memory; my muscles apparently got over it and started going steady with something else (hello Scheidegger Ten Finger Touch Typing Course) many years ago and didn't look back.

In the past I've also taken writing lessons. That's something else I've done for a while too – I started writing Science Fiction when I was six. So I've met writers and guitarists, and writing teachers and guitar teachers, and I've discovered they are very different people.

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(The picture is of Robert Plant playing Jimmy Page's guitar at the sound check, Hiroshima, 1979-09-27. Photo by Koh Hasebe.)

I have to say that getting the calluses back was the second most painful thing I've ever had to do, too. It was worse than waking up from the anesthetic before they started the pain control that time after my cancer op, but was nowhere near as bad as breaking one of my toes on the furniture a couple of years ago. That hurt. In fact the bloody toe hurt more than the time I broke my finger when the fiberglass hood of my Corvette slammed shut on my hand. I'm actually surprised I still have fingers after that. And my finger didn't hurt too much, either, until the fact that the idiot emergency room doctor missed the fracture meant that it didn't heal and then it really started to hurt about a week later. Anyway, I digress. What I mean to say is that I'm not really that much of a wimp, but rubbing your fingertips on cheese-wire for an hour a day is a shabby way to treat them.

Of course, they've forgotten about it now, due to their poor muscle memory. I can still type with the calluses, too, but I can no longer turn pages in a book. Anyway, that's probably a topic for another day. (And it's not a hint for a Kindle for Christmas.)

Now, your writers don't seem to like writers. The writing courses I took were a couple of Adult Ed ten-hour classes, and it both cases the minor-league writer teaching it spent the entire time telling us that it's hard to get published, editors hate you, you'll fail immediately and constantly and the very first words of your cover letter will suck so much that editors will single them out to share on their blogs about how stupid writers are. Then the next week you hand in your homework and the teacher tells you you'll never make it. (Though by this time the sting is wearing off.)

I've met non-teaching writers too, particularly at the Worldcon. The professional writers on the panels have their books in front of them and occasionally, whatever the subject of the panel, make remarks to each other about how successfully they've put any writers in the audience off submitting anything to anybody. There's also always one panel there where professional editors read out gems from their slush pile and everyone laughs. The savvier editors pick out sex scenes, because even an ok sex scene sounds thoroughly stupid when read out by someone who is feeling more sarcastic than sexy. A few of these torrid passages and the audience is laughing like drains with the editors and wondering how they put up with having to deal with writers all the time. Poor things!

On the net, blogs cover the subject of why you shouldn't ever write anything. You can buy demotivational calendars and t-shirts to help you stop writing. Ex-writers tell you how happy they are to not be writing. Agents publish things about how life would be great if they didn't have to meet writers. [1]

Now, how about guitar players?

My guitar teachers wanted to teach me how to play and have never yet said I'm not going to be famous. It's possible that's because they know I haven't actually made the assumption I will be famous, but there is an amazing sense of relaxation induced by having a teacher who wants you to be as good as you can be, rather than spending half the lesson telling you all about how you'll never be as good as an editor wants you to be.

Also, although I haven't played it for many years, I've had my guitar in its case just sitting around the house since I was a kid (minus a few years it spent with a friend of mine). So I can tell you that regular guitar players, on seeing your guitar, exhibit one or more of the following behaviors:

• They want to play your guitar
• They want you to play your guitar
• They want to get their guitar and the two of you can play guitar together
• They want to talk about what songs you know
• They want to teach you how to play other songs
• They want to lend you their guitar
• They want to lend you their electric guitar
• And their amp
• And their effects pedals
• They want you to come to their parties so everybody can play guitar.

When I first started learning, back in the approximately 14 year-old days, I used to go to a jazz club with my mum and dad every couple of weeks. In those days I knew my electric guitars fairly well – even girls have a bit of the trainspotter gene in them – and I asked the (awesome, I recall) guitarist in the house band there once about his battered Stratocaster. He told me its serial number, which was so low it made my jaw drop, then handed it to me and asked if I wanted to play it. In the club, between sets. At fourteen.

Yay for guitarists.

(By the way, if you missed the punchline there because you switched your brain off in outrage that a 14 year old was hanging around a club where people, like, drink beer and play jazz and stuff, then you're either much younger than I am or American, or both. And I pity you.)

Now, I realize some of this difference is due to the nature of music versus writing. Knowing the standards is the criterion for basic guitar playing. Your new friends probably know Smells Like Teen Spirit and Hotel California and House of the Rising Sun, not just to listen to, but to play. On the other hand, at least currently and in the West, originality is the major criterion for writing fiction.

So you aren't going to get a conversation like this:

Person at a party: Hey, you write? Are you familiar with War and Peace? In English? I've been working on the middle section a lot recently. Let's go write. If you handle the paragraph breaks I'll show you these adverb inversions I found.
Me: Cool!

And some of the difference is due to the indivisible nature of writing. You can't write in harmony.[2] But the image of a writer as a skivvy-clad loner nursing a bottle of scotch while piƱata-ing their muse until the words tumble out in a broken heap can only explain that one small part. It doesn't explain the attitude to other writers, or the weird way that everyone assumes you want to be J.K. Rowling, and that furthermore, you deserve to be put back firmly in your place for even looking like you might. Do they think writing is a zero-sum game where only a few can be winners so it's in their best interests to nobble the competition? Could be – the people who are *for* Creative Commons licenses are generally *not* the people I discuss above.

At least, I'm fairly sure that guitarists don't go to conventions of music listeners and the guitarist-panelists talk about the time they went to somebody's house and asked them to play a song and the beginner played House of the Rising Sun hahahaha, and then the audience all laugh like drains at the loserness. How dare he think he's going to be Stevie Ray Vaughan! Loser!



[1] Note: I exempt everybody on Live Journal, some people on Yahoogroups and the regulars of rec.arts.sf.composition from all the negative comments about writers.

[2] Though now I've thought of the concept I might try.


Edited to update a link and remove the t shirt link.

The Song Remains The Same (DVD 2007)

I got my copy of the remastered The Song Remains The Same.

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I'm suited, as they say where I come from. I got the Extra Special Completely Fabulous DVD Packeroonie or something, which means I got two disks, a free T-shirt (which I haven't opened yet – might be wonderful), a bunch of reproduction lobby cards and some other paper tat in an E-Z-Looz-'Em ™ slippery cardboard package without a lid, some other pieces of cardboard, a mail in thing for a poster which I've lost already. And NO LINER NOTES. You only get liner notes with the Semi-Deluxe Partly Fabulous DVD Pack-a-go-go. So I have no idea what the band or the editor thought about the release. Presumably at some point I'll find the liner notes on line and know what I'm looking at.

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The movie itself is entirely unaltered from the previous release. I've discussed it before in detail here, and I don't see any reason to change my mind about it. You get the movie as before, but with a vastly improved concert sound in Dolby 5.1. (There are significant cuts and minor changes in the music as well, but they are too boring to go into unless you're a complete anorak, and if you are you wouldn't be reading this blog for the answers anyway.) The extras are in the menus, so let the menus play rather than diving for the go button screaming (my normal reaction to DVD menus).

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Since I wrote the original review, I've seen a quite a bit of search engine traffic to the site asking what Robert Plant's fantasy sequence was all about. Luckily for you guys, Robert addresses this in an interview on the second disk. He says, "You planned out how you would like to… in my own case, how I really saw what I was doing, on another level altogether, you know, the journey, the fact that there were pitfalls, trials, tribulations and elations and the end should never ever be in sight." I believe this is what they call a Plantism (or a Plantation). That's how he speaks. I hope it helps.

The second disk is the gem, of course. I've seen the film. But the second disk is where the new material comes in. There's newsreel footage of the robbery, the aforementioned interview with Plant and manager Peter Grant, a news report on the record breaking Tampa gig that I was going to skip until someone told me it had rare footage of the band onstage in it (and it does), the original theatrical trailer, a radio promo spot by the earnest and slightly boring Cameron Crowe which I skipped, and then – the moment you've been waiting for – the extra songs.

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The new live songs are Over The Hills and Far Away, Misty Mountain Hop, The Ocean and Celebration Day. And these are worth every penny I paid for the deluxe disk. Celebration Day alone may have been worth it, for Page's hummingbird moon-and-stars stage costume, his little knee-wobble shimmy and some beauteous film of Plant and Page together. The footage in TSRTS is cobbled together from various Madison Square Garden nights and some stuff re-shot on a Shepperton soundstage later for close ups. The new songs, particularly OTHAFA, suffer a bit more in this regard than the original songs on the movie, so much so that in places even I can tell that shots are not matching. But watching good quality live Led Zeppelin is watching live Led Zeppelin – it's always worth it.

Soundtrack
There was some directorial copyright which means that every frame of the theatrical release was untouchable. This has led to a couple of editing decisions that I wouldn't have made, but ok. The upshot of it is that the movie has not been touched; the soundtrack of the movie has been extensively edited by Kevin Shirley to make it sound 'better' – more modern, anyway. This is good. The CD of the soundtrack (sold separately) *is* the songs from the soundtrack. This means that wherever the music was cut to fit the scenes on the screen, that cut appears on the CD. The previous soundtrack CD did not have these cuts. I'm not an expert on the soundtrack, never having heard it previously, but I have heard enough people talking about it to gather that it is not an improvement to have the music cut as though the film was playing on the screen when the film is not, in fact, playing on the screen. Therefore, if I were you, I'd buy the older version of the soundtrack if you're going to buy a CD at all. Not as modern and punchy, but certainly better in terms of musical continuity.

Official Website. (Includes video of Rock & Roll)

Modern Guitar's Review.

Interview with Kevin Shirley in Modern Guitar.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Test your musical skills

Test your musical skills in six minutes!

This test of pitch perception, tone-deafness and rhythm perception doesn't give you the answer in terms of Which Star Wars Character You Are or What Your Porn Name Is - in fact it's a bit boring. It doesn't even give you the html so you can post your score and boast at all your friends. No, Jake Mandell is a srs cat.

srs cat

I am currently a medical student at UMass. I have a musical background, having composed several electronic music albums under my own name. I formerly worked in Berlin, Germany, for Native Instruments, and was involved with the Reaktor and Absynth instruments. On the medical side of things, I am interested in using radiological technologies, such as anatomical and functional MRI, to investigate musical perception.

But after slogging through his test you'll actually know if you are any good at hearing and remembering different pitches and rhythms.


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^



HA!!!!11!!

Yes, I took a screenshot. I boast.

Selected Dylan Interviews

A follow up from the Dylan_Taxi interview I mentioned here.

Here is New York Entertainment's roundup of The Ten Most Incomprehensible Dylan Interviews of All Time.

Sample, from 1961:

In one of his first-ever interviews, a pre-fame Dylan was not yet very good at lying to journalists:
Dylan: Yeah, well, I was in the carnival when I was about 13 — all kinds of shows.
CBS: Where'd you go?
Dylan: All around the Midwest, uh, Gallup, New Mexico, Aptos, Texas, and then … lived in, Gallup, New Mexico and …
CBS: How old were you?
Dylan: Uh, about 7, 8, something like that.


Far out.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Tell Me Sweet Little Lies

It appears that printing the entire text of a myth, and then telling you sometime later that it is false, is a crap way of dispelling myths. The information has already been repeated, and is now in your mind. The "false" tag doesn't stay attached to the text.

It also turns out that the above is the regular, government approved, way of dispelling myths. This newspaper article in the Philadelphia Inquirer tells us the (probably obvious) outcome of this process.

People believe all kinds of crap.

The conventional response to myths and urban legends is to counter bad information with accurate information. But the new psychological studies show that denials and clarifications, for all their intuitive appeal, can paradoxically contribute to the resiliency of popular myths.

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently issued a flyer to combat myths about the flu vaccine. It recited various commonly held views, and labeled them "true" or "false." Among those identified as false were statements such as "the side effects are worse than the flu" and "only older people need flu vaccine."


When University of Michigan social psychologist Norbert Schwarz had volunteers read the CDC flyer, however, he found that, within 30 minutes, older people misremembered 28 percent of the false statements as true. Three days later, they remembered 40 percent of the myths as factual.


I'm not surprised.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Music Videos and Genre Criticism

A couple of blogs to plug:

Mick Farren Posts All The Music Fit To Link: Doc40 has a new blog-like thing called DOCTUBE, in which he's posting great YouTube tracks. It's at DOCTUBE.

SF Diplomat: I tried reading this before earlier this year and it just slid right off my consciousness. I found it again by accident when I was looking up a film review and was mightily impressed. I don't think I've changed much; I think Jonathan McCalmont has. The very early posts seem rather timid and shallow (compared with himself, today), and often seemed to result in him getting into fights with other BNFs (Big Name Fen, for those of you who don't speak Fannish). He seems to have stopped all of that, though of course past performance is no guarantee of future return.

McCalmont writes genre and mainstream criticism, he says. It's mostly genre. I read about the last fifty entries over a couple of days and will definitely be tuning in for more. He seems to be able to get right at the heart of a film or a book and dissect it in such a way I can see how it works. And I love that. It's the biologist in me, I suppose. SF Diplomat is here.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Rock is Deader than Dead

Rock is Deader than Dead. So said Marilyn Manson.

Build a new god
To medicate and to ape
Sell us ersatz
Dressed up and real fake
Anything to belong
Anything to belong
Rock is deader than dead
Shock is all in your head

I wrote a little while ago about the unnatural persistence of old rock music. These zombie tracks are treasure trove for those of us, including me, who are perfectly happy with our dumpster-diving lifestyle. But their sheer number means they're a brake on those young 'uns who think they have something new to say. Something I read recently something says this does not matter. If it's really new, it will require a new way to say it.

In Helix, a Speculative Fiction magazine, yesterday, I read a thesis by John Barnes about SF - apparenlty also deader than dead - and why it died at the right time. In it, Barnes gives us a quick home test for dead genres:

A genre is alive if new works can change the genre fundamentally (e.g. the way that, say, the Campbell Astounding of the 1940s did science fiction, Showboat and Oklahoma! changed the musical, or Hammett and Chandler changed the mystery), and not if the reaction instead is to say, "Well, that's not really in the genre." A genre is alive if it is consumed by people who passionately want to see what comes next, and not if it is consumed the way people consume string quartets, Proust, or Shakespeare. … A genre is alive if innovations are debated, fought over, copied, and re-adapted …. It is no longer alive if new tropes and strategies are nearly always treated as one-time stunts or experiments.

This seems like as good a smell-test as any. Looking at rock music today, do you think anyone can come along and wrench it into another direction now? Or has it run its developmental course and reached its adult and almost certainly senescent stage?

Barnes's reasoning for the existence of an actual lifespan for a genre is interesting, though I wasn't convinced of its universality:

And it [science fiction] is a genre that flourished among mostly English-speaking, mostly middle-class, mostly Caucasian readers from the late 20's to the early 90's of the last century — in other words, for about seventy years.

There is nothing unusual about that figure; if you look at genres that have flourished in the past (and faded since), most of the good stuff, the stuff that is remembered long after the genre fades, falls within a span of about seventy years.


Once, about a thousand years ago, I read something in a science fiction story. It said that if you want a successful scam, you have to come up with a new angle. And if all the angles have been covered, then you must come up with a new spin on an old angle. I would say that science fiction and rock music are probably at the stage of finding new spins on old angles. But in these days of niche marketing and long tails, you can argue that a new spin on an old angle is sufficient to meet the criteria Barnes gives for the genesis of a new genre, which he describes as follows:

Their deaths are built in at their origins (like other living things). At some time, just prior to the formation of the genre, there is some sort of hole in the culture, some subject the culture can't think about well, or reconcile itself to. It might be rhythm and exuberant sexuality (as with rock'n'roll). It might be the plain feelings of ordinary people, unmediated by formal analysis and classical references (as with the early Romantic poets). It doesn't matter what it is nearly as much as it matters that somewhere, there's something culturally important that the culture doesn't have a way to talk about.

If a new spin on an old angle plugs the hole in the culture, then the old angle is still alive, ne?

I can remember when Waiting For The Next Big Thing ™ was itself the Big Thing. Broadly speaking, we'd divide popular music into decades. You could quibble about the actual start year, but for the purposes of argument, call it fifty-seven, sixty-seven, seventy-seven and eighty-seven – Rock&Roll, Psychedelia/Prog, Punk and Hip-Hop. Then the big seventh waves stopped rolling in. Ninety-Seven – no major shift there. 2007 – it's the end of November and I haven't noticed anything yet. (Then again, I don't think I've listened to any music generated this year yet.)

I'm still listening to rock, because there really isn't much else that actually makes me feel good that's readily available. Of course, that may be because I've reached adulthood and am beginning senescence myself.

Barnes's article is a good (shortish) read, for both Science Fiction fans and rock fans, even though I took it with a grain of salt.

Friday, November 23, 2007

She's Not There.

I'm Not There, Todd Haynes' new film, a 'biopic' of Bob Dylan, is out. Leaving aside for a moment what a 'biopic' is – is it like biowarfare or a biohazard? – it sounds from the reviews to be at least as complicated as Velvet Goldmine. Six different actors playing six different people who are not quite Bob Dylan star in iconic scenes from Bobby's life. One of the actors is Cate Blanchett, who is apparently female. (One of the others is black, of course.)

I'm all for females playing male roles – I would have loved to have played Iggy Pop in a 'biopic' if I'd been asked when I was within fifteen percent of the right body fat – so this movie is going right on the rental list. (I don't go out much.)

I'm foreseeing one problem, however, which is that I don't actually know any iconic scenes from Bobby's life. I might have a bit of a struggle fitting the funhouse mirror versions back into the linear narrative later on. It wasn't a problem with Velvet Goldmine, which, although difficult, was right out of my grab-bag of iconic moments. Almost a checklist of them, in fact. And I only know about 30% of Dylan's music. Maybe less. Yeah, I missed out. Sue me.

Here's Cate Blanchett in a taxi in a scene from the movie.



Just for comparison, here's the real Bob Dylan in a real taxi from real life. He's drunk and getting taken apart by John Lennon's (rather rusty) razor wit.



It was tough to be one of Lennon's heroes on a day when you didn't quite measure up to his expectations.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Aha!

We changed most of the bulbs in our creaky old house (i.e. 37 year-old house; this is the US) for compact fluorescents a few months ago.

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The so-called 'instant on' compact fluorescents take about a second and a half to switch on. They're 'instant on' because they don't slowly lighten up from stygian gloom to actinic glare over the course of fifteen minutes like the older type. But the 'instant' part is not strictly true.

Now it doesn't, cosmically speaking, matter if it takes a bulb over a second from lightswitch to illumination. But after several months it still brings me up short. Physically, I'm fine with it. I've learned to hit the switch, stand still for a second, and then walk into the room as the light comes up. Psychically, it's still disconcerting.

The word for knowledge or grokking is 'illumination'. For some time, way back before I was born, the usual symbol for that moment of instant understanding is the light bulb flicking on. The pronunciation is related to light-switches too. We say something has 'clicked'. To go through the house and 'click' and not have the lightbulb obey instantly still jars something inside.

There are murmurings - now reaching a low roar - that incandescents will soon be banned. My iguanas won't like that - they use almost a kilowatt of light as heating during the day. The fluorescents, even 'instant on' ones, won't supply heat. (We have solar power, so don't bother writing in about what a wasteful git I am. And on really sunny days we cut out the middle man and put the iguanas directly under the sun and switch their heat lamps off.) The house wiring won't like that either. The mains is pretty lumpy inside here and it's eating the fluorescents for breakfast.

Disposing of the dead bulbs is always fun. As they are considered hazardous waste because of their mercury content, we have to drive them to the dump where men in chemical hazard suits carefully lift them from the back of our car with gloved hands and then unbundle them from their poisonous content by some secret method to which we are not privy.

I'm hoping something with LEDs will happen soon and I won't have to worry about the mercury thing.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Three books with the word "magus" in the title. Part III: Magus Musician Man

"Jimmy Page: Magus, Musician, Man An Unauthorized Biography" by George Case. It's a book about Jimmy Page! I paid full price for this one.

Note the punctuation on the title page. The front cover has no commas, or indeed any other punctuation. I suspect this was an artistic decision, in order to avoid an outbreak of measles on an otherwise cool flat black cover. One problem with this approach is that I read it as "Magus musician man", which sounds like a Mike Nesmith song title to me, and on some occasions, I've misread it as "Magoo's musician man", which brings even worse images to mind.



















Not that the images inside are unpleasant – in fact, it contains some of the most beautiful photos of Jimmy Page I've ever seen, and I've seen hundreds. Its high production values do stand out – the great cover, great photos, good typesetting and remarkably well-formed (or at least well-edited) prose for a fan-written book. Case's overall structure and paragraph-to-paragraph editing work very well. I have one quibble with him, because I couldn't prove I've read it all the way through otherwise, and that's his use of 'said-bookisms'. Many of the quotes from Page are finished with tags like "he spoke", "he revealed", "he recognized", "he remarked" and "he confessed". By the end of the book I was grinding my teeth. "He said" is adequate for a quotation from another source, and as it's an entirely invisible phrase, it's almost required usage in a book-length collection of quotes.

Which leads me on to the major limitation of this book: The author had no access to the subject, and the entire book is therefore based on the author's knowledge of music and his review of thousands of articles, videos and recorded works by the artist. Case seems more than usually trustworthy, but he does use very short quotes and occasionally welds together, inside the same set of quotation marks, two quotes on (ostensibly) the same subject from different interviews. I think this is very dangerous. I know I use varying definitions of the same word when I speak over the course of a few minutes, never mind over the course of 47 years. You have to trust Case to be absolutely sure that Jimmy is talking about the exact same thing in both instances, because you don't get any context. (And I don't. Everyone makes mistakes, particularly when they're sifting quotes after putting a framework together in their minds.) Even single-origin quotes bother me, because they can be used to back up any thesis by careful selection. Once again, 47 or so years of quotes add up to a large body of spoken words – selection bias can easily occur, even if the biographer does not intend to distort a person's meaning.

As just one example, Case quotes something that supports his belief that during the 1977 tour, Page was strung out. "The good Doctor Badgley was said to have asked Page about some Quaaludes missing from his medical valise – "Accusing me? Who the fuck does he think is paying his salary?" the guitarist shot back." (p. 151) (The reference is to Dave Lewis, Led Zeppelin, The Tight but Loose Files – Celebration II, 2003.) But another source I've read states, "In commenting on an incident where some quaaludes were missing from infamous tour doctor Larry Badgley's bag, Jimmy said, "I don't know who the doctor thinks he is, asking me if I took his drugs, especially now, when this is the first time I've been healthy in years."" (Attributed to 'Creem' Magazine writer Jaan Uhelszki.) Now, I'm not saying that Case is wrong – just that life is complicated.

What I particularly like about the book – apart from the pictures – is Case's brief and tidy musical explanations. He seems to have a good idea why each Led Zeppelin song worked as well as it did, and have a knack for getting that across to people like me who can barely strum a guitar. He does tend to use a bit of jargon but each term – EQ, DI – is followed by a one sentence explanation that will ensure you can find it on teh intarwebs if you're interested.

Case is a conscientious documenter, moving from Page's youth, early touring and studio work, through a detailed curriculum vitae of Led Zeppelin, and through the solo years subsequent to that. He does seem to linger a bit over the ohmygoshoccultmagicwhatgives aspect, but less so than the other books I've read. (I read the sensational ones because I like sensation – there's my selection bias.) Then again, he couldn't have called it Magus Musician Man if he hadn't gone into the Crowley thing – and I wouldn't be talking about it here if the book had been called Jimmy Page: Musician Man. He's brief with the groupie history but very focused on drugs. He seems to want to be fair to Page's family life, but since Page is schtum on the subject, he has nothing to go on. He covers Page's charity work, OBE and latter days up to the end of 2006.

So what is Page's story, assuming that he is really 'there' under the sketch created by artful re-arrangements of his words? It's a fairly typical one. Immeasurably talented young boy, loves Elvis (or rather Scotty Moore), joins a band, finds fame and fortune, does a spectacular amount of sex and drugs, cleans up just before death sets in, then becomes a family man and elder statesman, floating amongst the richocracy as stately as a galleon, bearing an OBE and adored by legions of fans (e.g. me).

Both of the magus books in this series of reviews so far have concerned death and rebirth – of base metals into gold, of Urfe into an initiate, and in this case Page from a very complex, beautiful and accomplished young man into quite an ordinary man. [**Note] Rock music in general does seem to produce this progression, this reversal of the Monomyth, a journey downhill. The Monomyth concerns a proto-hero who is called by the gods themselves to undergo an extraordinary adventure, who succeeds and brings a boon back to his people. The typical rock course is from a proto-hero who is called by the gods themselves to undergo an extraordinary adventure, and who becomes an ordinary bloke called by his wife from down the pub at closing time.

I think the public likes it this way, and that's one reason why we watch and cheer from the sidelines, consuming a million VH1 specials and tell-all paperbacks. Hollywood loves to focus on the Campbellian heroes, saving their universe from the forces of chaos and risking the loss of their humanity in the process. But in rock, it seems, many people like to see someone gorgeous attempt to steal fire from the gods, get almost there; then come back, marry the girl next door and start going to local council meetings.

Bathos, baby, bathos.

Rating: If you have about $18 and you adore Jimmy Page, this is the magus book you need on your shelves.

[**Note] Edit to add. I've changed my mind about the ordinary thing. For an updated comment and video proof, see the post for 29th December HERE.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Three books With The Word "Magus" in the Title: Part II: The Magus (A Different One)

Part II: The Magus, or Celestial Intelligencer, by Francis Barrett.

Subtitled A Complete System of Occult Philosophy, this one is not a novel. I got this one in a used-book shop in our local library for $1, which was a bargain. Hey, it's a Complete System of Occult Philosophy! For a buck!

This one fascinated me and I read it with thorough enjoyment. If you don't enjoy reading about how to make the Philosopher's Stone out of those things from toads heads and piles of dung, or how to conjure Saturday's demons, and more specifically if you don't like Neil Stephenson, then it's probably not a book for you.

My edition is a reprint with an awesomely sixties-colored cover, a sort of avocado green. It's in that familiar style of facsimile reprints that Dover uses – I can't remember what it's called – but this one was published by University Books in 1967. It is not the same edition as the Amazon one above in the link. This one doesn't have f's for s's and is consequently much easier on the eyes. Francis Barrett published the original in 1801.

The table of contents gives three books inside as The Science of Natural Magic, which includes Alchymy; Talismanic Magic, or the Constellatory Practice; and Magnetism, including Cabalistical or Ceremonial Magic. There's no resetting the page numbers between the first part and the second part, and the front cover only mentions two books.

Natural Magic includes all the sorts of bollocks you'd expect, like how to use Hare's Fat to pull a thorn, or the explanation that the hairs of a menstruous woman, put under dung, will breed serpents.

Talismanic Magic discusses the stars and their correspondences, like the numbers and colors associated with them. It also gives the method of deriving the magickal seals (talismans) themselves from number tables (which it gives) and wraps it up very prettily with descriptions. There are a lot of illustrations.

Magnetism and Cabalistic Magic describes what most of us Dennis Wheatley/Hammer Horror fans think of as magic, or Magick – how to conjure things like familiar spirits using circles, pentacles, and swords. (And how to get rid of them again.) In order to get there, it has a great digression into the Cabala. Assuming you've done all that – learned Hebrew, studied the Cabala figured out all these relationships, learned the names of God and the angels and memorized all the other ancillary information, you're ready to start fasting, purifying, meditating and finally to do some magick. The illos here are very nice too, including some drawings of demons that look like ordinary people down the pub, except with more bat-wings than average. There's a couple of cautionary tales in here about what happens if you don't get this correct, and I particularly liked the story of the guy who summoned something in someone else's house and got killed. When the others returned, wanting to destroy the evidence, they made the hapless spirit animate the dead man's body and walk it a long distance away and leave it there. Clever, I thought. Barrett says it most likely isn't true.

Reviews on Amazon from people who may or may not know what they are talking about suggest that you should skip this, as it is a rip-off of Agrippa's Three Books of Occult Philosophy. Unless you find that in a library book sale instead, I wouldn't. It's $26 from Amazon. Mind you, that in itself is fascinating, since this was genuinely occult (i.e. hidden) knowledge not long ago. Now you can order it with 1-Click®. Another work they recommend is Crowley's 777, if you're going to study Cabala; that's on the shelf next to this and so I can reveal it doesn't have such pretty illustrations. It's more likely to be accurate, though, as Crowley really did believe in experimentation, whereas I suspect Barrett believed everything he was told.

What is most appealing about The Magus is the era in which it was put together. 1801 was a little late for studying Hebrew simply because it is the language of God and mankind before the fall and therefore contains all truths, or for assuming that the planets are running on some sort of cosmic roller-coaster track. The foreword puts this down to the Gothic revival sweeping Britain at the time, when all things medieval seemed so much more true and fundamental than things which were scientific. The practical Scotsmen, northerners and Cornishmen building iron bridges and railways and heavier-than-water ships at that time must have produced quite a backlash; I suppose they should be proud of themselves. We see this denial also in the Gothic novels such as Frankenstein so popular at that time, and work of the romantic poets.

The difference between the type of man who can look, without irony, for stones in toads' heads, and the type of man who uses experimentation and seeks out "a complete system" like some premature ISO standards board, is normally so great that Barrett's book is an exercise in cognitive dissonance. In fact, it reads like a modern Steampunk work, or more precisely, like the postcyberpunk novels of Neil Stephenson. As you may recall, Stephenson's early book Snow Crash was about computer viruses and Sumerian gods; A Diamond Age was a Victorian novel featuring nanotechnology. Although I have never actually managed to get more than 100 pages into any of Stephenson's subsequent doorstoppers, I have read enough to know that entire paragraphs of them are not dissimilar from this book.

See if you can tell which is which:

"So, when you think about the spoon, is your mind manipulating the spoon?"
"No. The spoon is unaffected, no matter what I think about it."
"Because our minds cannot manipulate physical objects – cup, saucer, spoon – instead they manipulate symbols of them, which are stored in the mind…now, you yourself helped Lord Chester devise the Philosophical Language, whose chief virtue is that it assigns all things in the world positions in certain tables – positions that can be encoded by numbers." (…)
"Suppose the number three represents a chicken, and the number twelve the rings of Saturn – what then is three times twelve?"
"Well, you can't just do it at random," Liebnitz said.

"The doctrines of mathematics are so necessary to and have such an affinity with magic, that they who profess it without them are quite out of the way …. For whatsoever things are, and are done in these inferior natural virtues, are all done and governed by number, weight, measure, harmony, motion and light, and all things which we see in these inferiors have root and foundation in them. … So there are made glasses (some concave, others of the form of a column) making the representations of things in the air seem like shadows at a distance."

Well, obviously the one with the funny multilayered science joke and the direct speech is Neil Stephenson (from Quicksilver). The one with the angels is Barrett. But they're drawing water from the same well. Stephenson is making wine with his water, and Barrett is spreading cholera with his.

If you can find it for a buck, here's your magus for your bookshelf, right here.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Three books With The Word "Magus" in the Title: Part I: The Magus

I know that many people have looked at their bookshelves and said to themselves, "What my collection really needs is a book with the word "magus" in the title to really round it off. But - " (they think) "- can someone please recommend me one, because I surely don't know where to start!"

You're in luck. I have three books with the word "magus" in the title in my estimable book collection, and I read them all recently so I could bring you thrilling, hands-on reviews!


The first book on my shelf with the word "magus" in the title is "The Magus" by John Fowles. I get the impression John Fowles is a clever bloke who is highly renowned by what my usual group of friends call mundanes. (I believe the rest of the world calls them literary types.). He won a prize for "The French Lieutenant's Woman", which was made into a popular movie. That film made me decide never to read a John Fowles book. I could not stand the title. It's the sort of title I wouldn't even poke with a stick to see if it's dead. However, when I started my "read 'em and most likely weep" magus-reading project, I realized I would have to put my feelings about the Woman Who Had a French Lieutenant (see, isn't that a better title?) to one side, bite the bullet as it were and get on with it.

It took me seven weeks to read The Magus all the way through. It's a 'can't pick it up' book. This edition is only 604 pages – I read the original edition, although there's some sort of Special Director's Cut edition of it also on the shelves in my house – but every page was a hard slog. Each one was remarkably similar to the last one and contained so much whining on the part of the narrator that I couldn't take him in doses larger than about three pages.

I eventually buckled down to it because the waiter at the Argentine restaurant in Valencia – the one who looked like a Satyr – made a remark about the book that meant I felt compelled to finish. (He was the waiter who alarmed me when I first got talking to him since at that time I was reading Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (long book, short read) and the Satyr said he'd grown up with Harry: the first book had come out when he was in 5th grade. This made this apparent adult (the waiter, and for that matter Harry) young enough to be my son.) Of course, my stint in Valencia is long over, now, and so I'll probably never get back there to tell him I finished it.

Warning: Major spoilers below.

The Magus is ostensibly about A Man With A Meaningful Name, Urfe, and his
whiningrelationship with women. After various bruising encounters with the female of the species, he goes to be a teacher on a remote island in Greece. He meets a strange man, Conchis, who introduces him to another woman. She may be a spirit, or an amnesiac, or a 'schizophrenic' (split personality), or an actress, or a twin. Conchis, the woman/women and a few other characters who may also be actors, go through an elaborate charade, using many layers of deception and revelation, to loosen Urfe's grip on reality, break down his personality and initiate him into something or other vaguely magical-orderish that remains irksomely unexplained at the end of the book.

I will guess that Fowles thought of Conchis while contemplating the idea of Aleister Crowley on Cefalu, a magus in his island abbey, wrecking the egos of spiritual seekers who get caught up in his sphere of influence in order to make something greater out of them. I did spot the name Crowley once, but it was so sudden and unlikely in its context it seemed to me that it was overlooked during editing and he had planned to substitute something else. Then again, I was skipping entire paragraphs by that point.

Whatever. Crowley himself wrote a book touching on the same theme, which was rather more compelling, and it includes free instruction in Thelema, which you certainly don't get from Fowles. Crowley's book is called Diary of a Drug Fiend. There are actually a fair number of death/rebirth as initiate novels around. If that's what you're after I'd recommend Illuminatus! which hit all my sweet spots and entertained me mightily, although it's probably a bit dated. If you want something more, I'd recommend the astonishing A Scanner Darkly by Philip K Dick, in which a young man's personality is ablated to nothing, leaving *him* too attenuated to be devastated, but leaving the reader quite wrecked enough on his behalf. Why this happens and whether anybody wins in the end, I won't say, as I have no intention of spoiling *that* book.

People have often told me that men and women are different inside; that men do not brood. If there is a troubled relationship, I'm told, it doesn't occur to men to think about why that may be or if things could have been different. If they look troubled during these times, they say, it's because they've run out of beer, or there's no football on the TV. I've never wholeheartedly subscribed to that view, and this book certainly blows it out of the water. The narrator obsesses like a teenage girl over his perceived errors with the opposite sex from the first page all the way through the last. It's like a soap opera only with longer words and the occasional passage in Greek.

The Magus is the sort of book you'll like if you like this sort of book. I don't. I saw enough web pages saying it was "gripping" or a "powerful experience" to see that I'm in the minority though. If you still want a copy, you can have mine . . .

Synopsis here.

Next: Another book with "magus" in the title!

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Glastonbury (DVD) 2006

"Glastonbury", Julien Temple's 2006 documentary of the Glastonbury Festival of Contemporary Performing Arts.

I've wanted to go to Glastonbury ever since I was too young to afford the amazingly attractive triple album of the second festival from 1971 – featuring Hawkwind, Marc Bolan, David Bowie, the Pink Fairies and a host of others. There have been 25 festivals there since. I never did get to go. This week I rented the movie of what I've missed.

It really wasn't what I expected, and it took me a little time to get in sync with what is really a chain of two hours of images linked by a slight narrative – the words of the organizer of the festivals, Michael Eavis. He comes across as one of those wonderful Britons who has spent countless hours – years – bringing ordinary people what they want, but whom you never expect to get a gong from Her Maj. She proved me wrong. He got a CBE this year. Eavis was inspired by Led Zeppelin's open air appearance at Bath Festival in 1970. He developed a desire to host his own festival, and put on his first one, called the Pilton Festival, at the same site in 1970. You won't find any such facts in this film. It really isn't set up to disseminate facts, but to deliver a champagne-pop of color and sound instead.

The short clips are edited together without identification, so you will see footage of the original Glastonbury Fayre pyramid of 1971 next to a modern scaffolding; Woodstock-era hippies toking up in 1970-era tie-died cotton-based clothing and 21st century men in carbon-fiber costumes, cell-phones on their hips. You'll see Travelers welding their cars into a Carhenge and an acrobat tumbling and dancing in a hoop under a glowing hot-air balloon ten meters above the audience. You'll see can-can dancers; naked crowds surfing in half a meter of English mud; nude men dancing inside floating bubbles and Joe Strummer attacking the camera with a mike stand, apparently believing it to be a proxy for the CCTV Surveillance Society outside the barrier fence of Glastonbury. Fire-twirlers, dinosaurs, an incredible variety of hash delivery systems, over a million tents. Hundreds of ordinary people talking, or in some cases attempting to form words, about their feelings regarding the festival and other festival goers. Pulp, the Scissor Sisters, Velvet Underground; many others.

For the first hour, I was fairly convinced I'd been to Glastonbury in the late seventies/early eighties, but then Eavis started talking about Stonehenge and how that was the festival that attracted the less well-off and the poorly-behaved. Then I remembered; yes, it was Stonehenge I'd been to. There is a section on the fortunes of the Travelers, the unruly caravan of people who roamed Britain for many years, at first settling for the summer at Stonehenge and then later allowed by the remarkably laid-back Eavis to graze at Glastonbury. Most of the generations of people I recognized, but if you don't know your tipi people from your Travelers from Hippies and punks, you may well have no clue which century some of the footage is from.

There's so much material in this movie that I was overwhelmed by the sheer color, noise, speed and variety of things that are fun and yet can still be done in those dense crowds of up to 300,000. With that amount of visual stimulation, it almost seems like the music is afterthought in the film. But in fact there's plenty here, ranging from Melanie, being Melanie, through Bjork, being Bjork, to a latter-day David Bowie, now looking like an asteroid belt-dwelling Dickensian shifty character, singing 'Heroes' to a hundred thousand upturned faces.

It's a bit long for my tastes, and there is a rather British focus on toilets, but it's well worth a Netflix.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Upcoming Zeppelin DVD News

The remastered DVD of The Song Remains the Same is out on the 20th of November, along with the remastered soundtrack CD.

I haven't mentioned it because I haven't got it yet. I described the movie, The Song Remains the Same, here and a little bit more here.

The remastered movie version is on order, and I'll describe it when I get it. If you can't wait to hear the soundtrack, you can hear it on XM radio. There's a Zeppelin channel. It has the newly remastered tracks from Mothership and TSRTS playing right now! I have not been listening to it myself but a more avid fan than myself has been, and he proclaimed it Pro-Tooled into perfection, which thinks less musically interesting than the last iteration.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Festivals of Light

Happy Diwali!

Driving away the darkness of winter is a common festival at this time of year. Diwali is one. In England, November the 5th is Bonfire Night. Growing up in Yorkshire in the Sixties, we always had a bonfire. It involved us kids finding pieces of wood wherever we could – for me, that usually meant floorboards from abandoned houses, old pianos and planks from disused (or at least unguarded) garden sheds – and piling them up in a roughly conical shape about 12 feet high, usually in a garden, but on abandoned land if a big party was planned. Then our gang would post pickets, because, of course, it may be a bonfire to us, but to everyone else it was a source of pieces of wood for their own bonfire. Where I grew up, stealing wood was called scrumping. Scrumping normally refers to stealing apples from someone else's orchard, another favored autumnal activity.

Having built a bonfire, we would then make a guy by stuffing a pair of trousers and a shirt, adding a pillow head and a scary mask for a face. We would take the guy around on a pram and use it to demand money with menaces from passers-by. The money went to buying fireworks. The guy would end up on the bonfire, burned with the wood.

The local custom was to bake parkin and make bonfire toffee. We'd also roast potatoes in the fire, but I don't know if that was a tradition, or if it was just an excuse to eat roast potatoes.

My parents, who were neither hippies nor Wicca, explained to me that the bonfire tradition was a carryover from Samhain bonfires, traditionally held on October 31st. Despite having had little justification for existing under Christianity, the urge to light fires had not gone away, and people had seized on the plot to blow up parliament as a good excuse. The tradition of burning unwanted things from last year – or evil spirits, or both - in the bonfire continued, but they were given the name 'guy'. Not being either hippies or Wicca, my parents didn't say Samhain. They said "Halloween bonfires". They may have mentioned Celts. I forget. The sixties were a long time ago.

Recently I've been told that I've been participating in a murderous anti-Catholic frenzy, a tradition 402 years old, based on my country's bloodthirsty reaction to Guy Fawkes, a terrorist - or freedom fighter - who tried to do away with the entire bigoted government of England in one big gunpowder-filled bang.

Now, to be fair to this viewpoint, we did call the manikin we burned the "guy". We did know the first two lines of the rhyme "Remember, remember, the 5th of November, gunpowder, treason and plot". But no-one I knew could have reliably told you which denomination of Christianity Guy Fawkes had professed, or indeed could have given two shits about him and his plot, except that most of us wished he'd succeeded (on general blowing-stuff-up principles) or wished he'd come back and try again (during the Thatcher years).

Far from advocating Catholic-hanging, the song most of us sang at bonfires went like this:

Build a bonfire
Build a bonfire
Put the teachers on the top
Put the dinner ladies round the bottom
And burn the stinking lot

However, I feel retroactively guilty. I apologize for the offence I caused by wanting to build fires in Autumn when I was like, nine, and I will take care to admonish my younger self if I see her. I hope the fact that I'd never heard a single anti-Catholic sentiment expressed at a bonfire in twelve years of going to them is some comfort to you.

I have never seen articles vilifying bonfire night like the ones I saw this year. Last year's were milder, and going back more than a handful of years, I don't think I even saw it mentioned at all. I did poll all the English people I came across since I heard about this, though, and the results were mixed.

Anti-Catholic celebration: 50% (N=1)
Never heard of any Catholic connection with bonfire night: 50% (N=1)

There aren't many English people around here to ask . . .

In case you're wondering, I did also break down those results by religion of respondent.

Anti-Catholic celebration: 100% of Catholic respondents (N=1)
Never heard of any Catholic connection with bonfire night: 100% of Protestant respondents (N=1)


Now, why has the Oughties seen such a revival of the idea that bonfire night is about hatin' on Catholics? I think the second comment in the Making Light thread, followed by the amusingly irony-impaired third comment, tells us all we need to know. They concern the "heady days of religious bigotry. . . when every single crime ever committed by a Catholic was . . . cause to condemn the religion as a threat."

I believe there is tremendous pressure to use bonfire night as a Lesson For Us All in the futility and medievalness of religious intolerance, despite the fact that the shoe hardly fits. When you need a lesson in a hurry, anything will do.

Sod that. Bonfire Night is about eating Bonfire Toffee, burning off the old year, and watching the sparks fly into the deepening, darkening Autumn night.

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