Monday, July 30, 2007

The Deep Questions

I'm traveling again – same place – and tonight I went to a TGI Friday's, which stands for "Thank God It's Friday."

It's Monday.

The waitress left me alone for a few minutes and then came up and dropped the big one. "Do you know what you want yet?"

Wait staff always ask the existential questions. I don't know if they teach them this in wait school – I don't even know if there is such a thing as wait school – but they really know how to get under the skin and twist the knife. I thought I knew what I want, but when asked flat out like that, I found I didn't. It seems I've really been choosing what appears to be available to me from a limited palette of opportunities rather than actually determining my true will and going flat out for that. I've no real idea how I ended up where I am today, and although it's not a bad place, it's not really a place I "wanted" by any stretch of the imagination. It's just where I meandered over the course of several seasons. You don't really expect to be faced with quite such a personal revelation at a place that serves deep fried macaroni and cheese. Then again, where would the right place be?

I had to give her an answer though, so I plumped for loaded potato skins and Oriental Chicken Balsamic Lime Vinaigrette Garden Greens salad. Garden greens? Never mind.

Many times waitresses have asked me another puzzler. "Can I get you anything else?" Well, can they? I don't know. Are they asking, or are they offering? Can they show me that I'm everywhere and get me home for tea?

Probably the worst one they hit me with, shortly after I came over here, was the relatively common, "How is everything?"

That left me open mouthed the first time I heard it. At the time I was still struggling with the simpler questions, like "Why is everything?" I'd been asking myself that since I was a little kid. I've got that one nailed, now[1], but whenever they ask me how everything is, I feel I'm being asked to take the advanced exam even though I've only completed the beginner class. Sometimes I can grope for an answer but it still has a lot of handwaving in it. The waiters just leave, shaking their heads. Eventually I'll come through with it, assuming I don't eat too much deep fried string cheese.

[1] "Because I said so."

Friday, July 27, 2007

O Urizel

I've been taking care of business up north – up north is also in Southern California, but a foreign land to me. It even sounds exotic: Valencia, north of LA. I drove up at six yesterday and missed most of the traffic, but I knew coming back down in the afternoon would be a different proposition, three hours or more to drive the ninety miles home. Instead I waited until almost eight, after the worst of the rush hour, to drive back and was rewarded with that most uncanny of LA experiences, the empty freeway.

For music, I was at the mercy of iPoddy thing Little Grey Fella on shuffle. I set out south on the I5 at such a rate that I only occasionally remembered to look at the speedometer and slow down to seventy five – and I kept up that pace even as the road curved around Hollywood, where I don't believe I've ever gotten much over thirty miles an hour before. Outstanding conditions for it too – it's traveling south, but the road magically does not face the setting sun, so the Hollywood hills were bathed in that golden light that attracted filmmakers to the area, that perfect Magic Hour glow where the whole world looks ready to put on its high heel sneakers and step out for a memorable night. A large moon hung in the sky ahead of me. Black Sabbath's Snowblind was on the LGF as I pass the aptly named Sunset, still having to watch my speed to keep from going too fast. Overdriving the conditions, in fact, as the I5 in LA really isn't engineered for speed. It still has its 30s bridges and white houses hidden in wooded copses at the side, putting the Chandleresque in a mashup with the mundane modern as the street lights and billboards come to fluorescent life in the dying evening glow.

Sensing what's next, the LGF switches to Robert Fripp's Under Heavy Manners so I can sing along with David Byrne as he recites "Remain in hell, without despair, O Urizel!" to accompany the transition into LA proper. And then it drops the bomb and I have no choice but to listen to the dirge of Sandy Denny's voice, all 48 hours, 37 minutes and 27 seconds (subjective) of A Sailor's Life from Unhalfbricking, that siren drone and that fucking fiddle as I navigate that Soto Street interchange and get back on to the 5, knowing the song's motorway death history and its relentless unforgiving desperate-nails-on-the-underside-of-a-coffin-lid minor key wail. It's the sound I'll hear when I'm chained in hell, for sure, and what will make the unending torment worse is the knowledge that somewhere nearby another damned soul will be screaming for relief from some music I actually like and wanting for a pleasant hour with Fairport Convention like a dying man in the desert hallucinates the pleasures of cool streams. Luckily the LGF got confused after that and played Snowblind again. What a relief to hear cheerful music once more, like having a drowned corpse lifted off your chest after a night in a shipwreck.

By then it was night and I was still going too fast on an unfamiliar road in the dark. I'm a 405 sort of girl, never liked the 5 if I had the choice. Short, though. I was home in South Orange County within 75 minutes. Not bad; but I may reset the LGF before I go back up north again next week.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Colonel Tavington, in a nutshell.

At the risk of rendering this blog positively poisonous with dripping testosterone, I'm going to put in a plug for this Colonel Tavington Fanvid. It's made from the best bits of the Mel Gibson movie The Patriot, and by best bits I mean all the bits that Colonel Tavington appears in.

It's by BlackCat1307 and is called, appropriately enough, So Naughty.

Tavington, as all connoisseurs of Bad Guys know – or will eventually know, if I have anything to do with it – was a previous incarnation of Jason Isaacs, the man behind luscious Lucius Malfoy. Tavington is supposedly just as eevil – I think he's supposed to be irredeemably amoral – but due to a miscalculation by the scriptwriter (or more likely some clever blue pencillings by a besotted scriptgirl), he eventually arrived on celluloid with a backstory justification for his actions and sufficient ongoing goads from his sneery superiors to appear as the wronged party. Jason Isaacs brings a great hairstyle, fabulous poise, regal looks and all-around stylishness to a man I suppose was originally designed to twirl his mustaches and get people to throw gum wrappers at the screen.

There's a wonderful review of the movie here at Doc M's Silver Whistle site:
Will just snapping into action and cutting loose with sabre in one hand, pistol in the other, while looking magnificently Byronic: hair streaming to his shoulders, and chest delectably bare... ("A sweet disorder in the dress...")
Marg said she couldn't believe they'd intentionally given what she called "such an obvious titillation scene" or "droolfest" to the nominal villain... (Snurk!).
You'd think they wanted the whole female contingent of the audience to switch sides, wouldn't you? First, he looks gorgeous, then he buckles a good swash, then he gets damaged, and we all want to nurse him back to health. (Well, I suppose the Heath Ledger fans don't *g*)!

Be warned that when it comes to the American Revolution, Doc M – like many Tavington fans – is not afraid to cheer for the redcoats, particularly since the 'good guy' is played by Mel Gibson, and he admits to slicing up his enemies into small pieces whilst still alive before sending the bits sorted into piles back to their families. (I am not making this up.) Normally when I mention a YouTube video I say something about how it's fine to do so because it won't hurt the sales of the full-length DVD. In this case, I can let on that in my opinion all the bits of The Patriot one really needs to see are in the video. The only reason to watch the full DVD is to find out why so many people hate Mel Gibson's character so much.

If this brings out in you a surge of patriotism and a desire to tell me about Banastre Tarleton, no need. I already know all about Ban (as I call him). He was a little sweetie in many respects, but his highly fictionalized counterpart William Tavington is the one who stole my heart.

Monday, July 23, 2007

The Song Remains the Same (DVD) – Led Zeppelin

The Song Remains the Same (DVD) – Led Zeppelin

Edit to add: The new 2007 remastered DVD is out. I discuss that here.

In which I describe more what plays in my head than what shows on screen.
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You are at a rock & roll concert, and this is what you see: a slight black-draped figure stands before the insignificant profile of a Theremin, his chest heaving from earlier exertions. He reaches towards it to draw out a sound that the ear instantly determines is unnatural - not made by voice or instrument. Gesturing at it like Frater Snape in a mannered magical duel, he beams orgasm waves from its slim antenna into the man behind him, who writhes and moans in response. He glances back, and when he confirms the man is under his command, he flashes his meat puppet a wide grin, eighty percent schoolboy and twenty percent pure Evil Overlord. He keeps his pick in his hand and his guitar slung within easy reach behind him but he concentrates on his baroque sonic espresso machine, dancing like Rumpelstiltskin as confetti fall on the stage about them both. It's Led Zeppelin.

I went to the premiere of TSRTS in London in November 1976. It was one of the highlights of my young life. A few days before it showed, Zeppelin announced that there would be two simultaneous premieres. That was one of the pissingoffiest moments of my young life. On the night, Led Zeppelin themselves filed in from the back and waved at us in approved rock-god-like fashion. We waved back, and then they departed, either for the other premiere or for a few beers. I was happy again.

TSRTS is primarily concert footage of Led Zeppelin's 1973 American tour, in particular the shows at Madison Square Gardens. The whole film was shelved for three years, until continuing problems inside Led Zeppelin made touring difficult. In order to have product out, the cans were dusted off, the film augmented and it was released three years after it was shot.

There’s been a lot of bollocks talked about The Song Remains the Same, mostly by hypothetically pro-Zeppelin anoraks falling over themselves to say that here Jimmy Page is sometimes sloppy or over-reaching, or that Robert Plant is off-key. The wank is most noticeable when they trade the tokens of a true geek, a list of places and dates and notes that were ‘better', as if it were possible to assemble a perfect Led Zeppelin concert from an Ikea-like kit inside one's own mind and enjoy that instead. The worst feature of TSRTS – and here I agree with common knowledge – is the insertion of 'fantasy sequences' generated by the band members. It's been alleged they are in there to cover up gaps in the concert footage – the film used for the movie was selected because it was the only coverage available, not because it was the best – and if that's true, there are some parts where I think that putting a "technical difficulties" card up on the screen for a few minutes might have been better option. But mayhap I am too harsh.

The movie begins inside the first fantasy sequence, and at the showing I attended it confused the living shit out of me. It's a parody of a mob rubout, featuring Peter Grant and Richard Cole (the manager and the road manager, of whom I had never heard). Predictably, I spent the rest of the movie wondering if the band was 'in danger' and the gangsters would reappear again. It's a dumb start to a movie about the Led Zeppelin experience.

Within this mob sequence we see the band at home receiving notices that they are booked to appear at a concert. It's a gimmick, but we've never seen much else about this band's private lives, so it's a document of sorts. The band prided themselves on being squires, lairds and gentlemen farmers and the images are of beautiful children, rolling Welsh hills, sheep, prize bulls, Sussex riversides, and a barely street-legal dragster driven down t'pub by Bonham on the way for a pint or eighteen. Cut to the band's plane landing and the first genuine images of the movie as Jimmy Page trudges down to the Pittsburgh tarmac [1], coughing in the summer evening smog of Jet-A and leaded gas fumes from the copious seventies-era American cars parked in a haphazard pile up around the logoized private plane. A screaming motorcade of police cars accompanies the band's limos to the gig.

With an economy not to be repeated later on, the film moves straight on to the performance. Led Zeppelin open with the barnstormer Rock & Roll. It's a good choice of opener; it's their most undifferentiated track and one that requires no warm up. When you press the electric start button it springs up like a Jack in the Box on Viagra, the amps at 11, the attack level at DEFCON 2, the drumbeat somewhere in the microwave frequencies, and it drives on relentlessly for four lethally zealous minutes. In professional hands – which they have – it can't fail. It doesn't entirely overcome its muddy mix and dry, tired audience but it's better than the other choices.

Page is in black adorned with silver moon and stars, Robert in a blouse and what may be jeans or may just be a light application of woad; both the camera angles and the tight clothing dare you to stare until you work out whether or not he's circumcised. Both men have masses of long hair. Plant's is a lion's mane and Page's hair is a vision of soft black curls. His studied beauty is a contrast to the natural, earthy and aptly-named Plant, and this contrast paradoxically intensifies as the night wears on and Page's hair, soaked in sweat, reverts to ringlets. The rhythm section, John Paul Jones on bass and John Bonham on drums, are slightly sparkly but generally stay in the background and the camera shuns them. The stage lights are bright at first; perhaps trying to avoid the night-vision look of other seventies films like Pennebaker's Ziggy Stardust. Both the sound mix and the lights improve as time goes on. At the outset it's difficult to see why the film coverage had to be patched. There appear to be at least seventeen cameras in use, twelve on Plant's crotch and five on Page's fingers, so you’d think nothing important could have slipped through the cracks.

Then we're into the set proper: A few riffs from Bring It On Home segueing into Black Dog, the quintessential Zeppelin track. The profound dynamics and tricky timing, the riffing interleaved with quiet, the song's foreground and background constantly switching, form a typically Pageian Necker Cube sonic construction. It soars and dives, exactly unlike a lead balloon. It's a vigorous contrast to the aural Spam of the opener.

Unbelievably, the editor decides to spill the film's momentum, taking us backstage to listen to the gorgeous but incomprehensible Robert Plant talk about . . . stuff . . . and to watch backstage traffic in a seriously unsightly dressing room for a long moment, and then we're right back on stage for the standout of the set: Since I've Been Loving You. This rendition scales heights even the album track never attempted. It's British blues at its finest, a country mile away from the Immediate-label leaden trad blues of the sixties. In Zeppelin's hands the blues done suffered, I mean hath suffered, a sea change into something rich and strange. Page is fast – people think he's just heavy, but he's fast – and the guitar runs here are like collectible medallions of rock music. Page's multiple solos are impressionist in nature. He paints a thousand dots of sound to suggest a picture of radiant beauty. Describing music is always a dance of inexactitude. I thought of the words "flurries" – fast but wimpy, and "blizzard" – which has the right connotations of blinding and overwhelming, but rejected both as too insubstantial. I settled on the image that was Homer Simpson's most feared weapon: "You'll release the dogs? Or the bees? Or the dogs with bees in their mouths and when they bark they shoot bees at you?" When Page's guitar barks, a furious hornet swarm shoots straight for you, apparently imbued with volition and heft. It can make you burn, it can make you sting. In a rare example of Proper Film Making, the camera cuts to reaction shots – a stunned young security guard and then a pretty young woman in a shawl smiling in innocent delight at Plant's accompanying vocals. This one is a keeper.

No Quarter cannot match the previous song, but it is dull only by comparison with the shining star it follows. I had a slight brow-furrow at the Spinal Tappiness of Plant looming through banks of dry ice mist, but it plays out well in the end. Although its structure is based on keyboards, and there are wonderful moments from Page, Jones and Bonham (particularly Page's final solo, which is enough to stop your breath) it's Plant's lyrics and vocals that tie it together. Plant has never "sung lyrics over" a song – he's an instrumentalist himself. The vocals are part of the composition, as integral as the guitar or bass, a fundamental ingredient. He owns No Quarter, although it's JPJ's fantasy sequence that it accompanies.

For no good reason, the editing then takes us offstage again to really shed lift from the airship; this is where we learn a Zeppelin can stall like a heavier-than-air craft and almost succumb to a deadly flat spin. We get to listen to Peter Grant chewing out a luckless concessionaire in his finest Anglo-Saxon, bringing the fully negative vibes of seventies New York into the movie and setting up a shoes-are-dropping-all-around atmosphere that dogs the film. (The editing was finished at a low point in the band's history, so perhaps they'd been down so long it seemed like up to them.) The film picks up again with The Song Remains The Same, another classic of light and shade. It heralds the first appearance of the famous double neck guitar. (Talking of necks, this is must-see cinema for lovers of men's necks and chins. Both Page and Plant are collarless – shirtless in fact – and shot from below. The stage lights bring out the best in their sweat-shining bone structure.) This song is the setting for the Robert Plant fantasy sequence, which is about as ambitious as Foundation and Empire, and perforce has to continue into the next piece, The Rain Song. As Page swiftly moves from chords on the twelve-string to fingerpicking on the six-string, he drops his guitar pick on the stage. Later, he takes his pick out of his mouth. No wonder we all believe Page sold his soul to the devil. It's magic! At the end of the back-to-back songs someone throws a couple of doobies onstage for Plant. He picks them up and throws them to the back for later.
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That marks one of the last actual "songs" that Led Zeppelin plays in this film. Now we come to the part of the program that is pure Zeppelin, the part that abandons Rock & Roll as an outworn modality. Zeppelin took risks with their music that no contemporary band dared to do. It's been savaged as self-indulgent, this loss of structure, this refusal to conform to AABB versifying and 12-bar progressions. It isn't. (Well, ok, it often isn't. Or at least sometimes isn't.) Dazed and Confused is first. This started out many years ago as a regular song first aired by a folkie, Jake Holmes, his acoustic guitar spiraling into a wavebreak of manic electric scream. In Page's hands it begins with furious but restrained electric guitar and the break becomes a tsunami of crippling sonic attack. From the start the audience members are at their most vulnerable, quite entrained, and the hypnotic riff saws away at their holdfasts. You can discern how Zeppelin got their reputation for dealing with dark forces. The doom-laden guitar-and-bass figure studies evil all the time, and Page and Plant together shriek like men slipping into a hellbound antlion trap, scrabbling for a footing and stretching out desperate hands to the unconcerned walking on level ground above. The interplay borders on telepathic; Plant and Page may as well be one creature. Bonham and Jones stick close together and use the time-honored mystery communication of a bassist and drummer. At one point there's a flash of humor between them as JPJ mouths, "oops" at the drummer and they both crack up. (I didn't catch what the error was; something that only telepathic rhythm sections can pick up.) Bonham goes back to his drums and hits out the next break automatically, like a distracted production line worker.

Ultimately, Led Zeppelin sounds like no one on Earth. This isn't Rock & Roll. (It ain't genocide, either.) It owes little to Jerry Lee Lewis or to Elvis. If you hadn't heard this before in its calmer incarnation on record, hadn't heard it as it evolved over the years, it wouldn't be recognized as rock music, just as a hyrax and an elephant have nothing in common but their ancestry. To drive home this strangeness, Page brings out the bow. The camera is in the right place to capture both his hands and his deep concentration. This isn't (yet) a gimmick to him. It's an exploration. But Page is also a classy showman, easily bringing the audience along for the ride. He canes the guitar, swift punishment blows, stretching the bow high the air after each stroke as if it were an antenna to disseminate the aural consequences of the beating. He does this eight times, facing the four compass points in two passes, an obsessive-compulsive's threatdown. He ramps it up, rail-gun shots of quarry blast-sirens one after another, a chorus of Pythia's ravings, interstitial clicks and scuttles evoking the specter of unseen mandibles in a profoundly dark cave. The organic bow, the active agency, is shredded, inevitably losing the battle against the passive metal strings. And as the sounds they produce together become not-music, we see Jimmy Page's fantasy sequence.

When the journey is over, Page quickly pulls his guitar pick from between his teeth where he kept it for safekeeping (having had his hands full with bow and guitar) and his traditional electric guitar crashes back in at a double-fine 35 mph over the speed limit, unleashing all the pent up tension of the overwrought band and hysterical fans. It also unleashes a famous Jimmy Page drool. With the guitar pick in his mouth for the whole seven minutes of the bow sequence, Page must have been salivating like a gagged sub. Hands free to do what he must, he accelerates the band from 0 to 60 in seconds and brakes just as recklessly. The imperturbable Bonham and Jones follow his unvoiced lead. He downshifts and corners, a black Corvette with race suspension, throttling into a blistering solo, dancing a ghost dervish caper like a triumphant god trampling underfoot the skulls of demons. Plant and the band, unbelievably, keep up with him. At the end, Robert Plant simply says, "Jimmy Page, electric guitar."

Stairway to Heaven's next. It's good. You don't need anyone to describe STH to you. If you've heard it too much in the past, give it five years' rest and listen with new ears. Its gentle spirituality spreads an aloe salve over raw flesh lacerated by the pit viper dynamics of Dazed and Confused. But if it's spirituality you want to see, you, unlike the cameraman, might prefer to keep your eyes above Robert's shoulder level. His features are angelic but his sprayed-on jeans and the cyan glow of his hairy, sweating chest wager against him changing the road *he's* on any time soon. Page, who rarely gives guitar-face, lets slip a little emotion in the solo. It's Stairway, and like a spin on a Tibetan prayer wheel, every time it's heard a little bit of darkness is erased from the world. Then, for Moby Dick, the band nip offstage to have a fag and leave Bonham to thunder away, accompanied only by his fantasy sequence. For me any interest in a drum solo is in watching how the drummer does it. Since I can't watch Bonham drumming, I tune out until the band troop back onstage.

Now the Song of Hope is out of the way, the band's natural downer emotions again show on the surface like a rainbow of gasoline on water. The offstage inserts are overwhelmingly of longhaired kids separated from their pack and taken by nightstick-bearing guards into rooms locked behind them, or stoned kids thrown out half naked onto the street. On stage, Zeppelin play the soaring, genuinely heavy Heartbreaker, and what must be gaps in the underlying footage begin to appear on screen. The song fades in and out over the whoops of police sirens in New York and stock shots of Times Square. Spinning bales of newsprint stop to reveal a headline: The band has been robbed of their takings, more than two hundred thousand dollars.

Urban sounds fade again to allow a rather shoddy rendition of the Whole Lotta Love riff to foreground in the mix. Like Dazed and Confused but more so, this Zeppelin anthem has come untied from its moorings and now drifts, pretty and massive but rudderless, over the teenage wastelands. As the mind-numbing drive of the introduction ends, the song turns into an exploration of psychic entanglement. Instead of the bow, Jimmy has his Theremin, and in the form of Robert Plant he also has the only man on Earth who can compete with the chilling instrument in a half-human hybrid call and response. To ‘play’ a Theremin you must violate its non-physical essence with your body, and its reaction to the hole you are tearing in its electromagnetic framework is to produce pure tones modulated by the shape you assume. How he 'plays' Robert Plant and gets those tones from him – well, that’s a good question, but Page does it, drawing the sounds from him as if tearing a hole in his psyche too, bypassing any conscious volition on the part of the singer. He dances; Robert postures. It’s an interaction between two men that I’ve never seen before or since. Confetti like post-apocalyptic ash drifts around them, but they are oblivious.

Robert, recovered from his psychic bondage, winds up his oldies spring to splurge forth Boogie Mama. I do wish he hadn't. The power of the extended songs comes from the tension that screws more and more tightly until it is instantaneously released in a flash of gamma rays as the song resolves back to the basic riff. With the song extended indefinitely, the tension drains away. At times the band sounds like a Camden winebar blues band on half-price drinks night, proud of its authenticity and yet adding nothing. (But they do it fantastically well, it must be said.) It appears the cameramen gave up by this point. The incomplete film is slowed down, speeded up, treated with effects and even then doesn't stretch through the whole song – John Paul Jones' shirts change over the course of a few shots as film from different nights is spliced in. [2] Eventually, the Whole Lotta Love riff roars back in like a runaway freight train, and thunderflashes blind the audience, triggering mass hysteria.

That's it; the band leaves the stage - to be told, no doubt, that the takings for the show have been stolen.

About those fantasy sequences: Not one of the band is a budding screenwriter, and the lack of writing, rehearsal and special effects conspire to doom all of them. Grant's gangster hit is at least funny. The fake blood is played for laughs. John Paul Jones sticks to things he can do – ride a horse, play an organ – and although it adds up to nothing, it's not bad. Bonham also sticks to things he can do – drive dragsters, show prize bulls and love his wife – so the lack of plot hardly matters. But it hardly rewards watching on its own merits. They are, as the band has said, expensive home movies.

Robert's historical romance is unbelievably ambitious, and that sets it up for failure. He's a Celtic warrior, landing in a boat and doing . . . stuff. . . a classic moistened bint hands him a holy sword and he sets off to do . . . other stuff . . . . He finds an Amanita muscaria and nibbles on it, which I guess means that the rest is hallucination. Or not, I don't know. Anyway, he soon has a horse (not sure how) and a trained attack hawk (ditto) and gets into a fight with Bad Guys guarding a castle. He dispatches them and saves(?) a generic blonde damsel with severely plucked eyebrows and a vacuous look who possibly symbolizes a pure ideal. He sticks his sword up in the sand and broods for a while. I forget what happens in the end. Robert is so photogenic that he could just sit and do a crossword and we'd want to watch him, all long blond tossed curls and hawkeyed tribal intensity. Instead, he rides his horse into a marsh, where it stumbles, and he fights several people without benefit of screen-fighting training, so he looks like a beginning re-enactor: great sheepskins, poor footwork. Not his fault, I'm sure, but not a shining example of cinematic exploration either.

Jimmy keeps it simple, acting the role of a seeker after truth, evidently determined to reach The Hermit of the Tarot (which appeared on the cover of the 4th album). Jimmy climbs a steep mountain and, on reaching the top, stretches out to touch the hermit's staff. The hermit is revealed to be Jimmy Page himself, impossibly ancient and yet still unborn. The hermit sets down his lantern and swings his now refulgent staff like a lightsaber. (Yes, I know the movie came out before Star Wars.) As a concept, it's easy enough to follow, if you're big on symbolism or magic and particularly on credulity, and as a dramatization it works. It's marred by the fact that aging/deaging special effects were in the dark ages and concentration on the message is difficult when one is reminded so emphatically of the medium that carries it. Another distraction in the piece is seeing the ethereally light and invariably fashion-clad Page wearing hobnail boots. On Jimmy Page, it seems like cross-dressing.

Watching the relationship between Page and Plant brings out wonder in me. I've seen guitarists use tape loops before, and heard the structure the machine imposes on music, as they play along with the predetermined sequence of sounds sent back to them. I've never seen a band, before or since, which had a singer and instrumentalist who understood each other well enough to make that concept flexible, that far from the mechanical response of the tape machine. If one of the respected, cool composers of modern music had developed the theremin, the Robert Plant and the bowed guitar, he would have been lauded as a genius developer of new paradigms. Since Page found them first, they are regarded as just Led Zeppelin, old dinosaurs mostly famous for their debauchery and trousers. [3] Page couldn't win, it seems.

Give the movie a(nother) listen.

[1]Wikipedia entry

[2]The Garden Tapes

[3] Rolling Stone 40th Anniversary Edition: Led Zeppelin Sex Gods: Led Zeppelin Packaged Sex-literally. Their obscenely tight trousers left noting to the imagination, and their unbuttoned shirts showcased their hairy chests. Even their flowing manes were a sign of virility. […] At the height of their success and excess in 1973, Zeppelin posed in front of the Starship, their private plane cum playground. Nut hugging jeans? Check. Bare chests? Check. King of the world stance? They invented it.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

'Scuse me. . .

Looking at my photo up there reminds me that it's time I had another picture taken. That's pretty old. It was taken on the top of a hill overlooking Lake Elsinore, the day I went parachute jumping.

As is usually the case in these adventures, it was a thing where a bunch of friends all wanted to do something, so we all headed off to a little airport near Elsinore to do a tandem parachute jump. "Tandem" means you have a man on your back the whole time. The whole taking-a-man-strapped-to-your-back-when-parachuting thing seems like an extreme exercise in redundancy but when it comes to fail-safe devices, one which has a strong interest in staying alive is highly recommended.

After a long lecture about how to parachute jump, with particular attention on why we had to remember to open our parachutes at the right altitude, and during which we were videotaped 'voluntarily' renouncing any rights we had under California law, we climbed into an ancient plane, had men strapped to our backs and then got ready to jump. I was first; I don't know why, but that meant I got to look out of the hole in the bottom of the plane for quite a long time before the pilot cleared us to jump. It was a long way to the ground, too. We jumped, and at that point I realized that the long lecture had actually missed out something vitally important. It was this: parachute jumping on TV looks kind of silent and peaceful, you and the birds up there with nothing to touch you. This turned out to be an illusion. You're actually falling at around a hundred twenty five miles an hour, which means that the wind is whipping past you in the same way it does on a motorbike, if not more so. It's loud, it's cold, it stings the cheeks, and it makes your clothes strangely uncomfortable, as if they had all decided they suddenly had somewhere else they preferred to be. I wish somebody had told me about it beforehand as, clearly, I lack the imagination to have thought of it myself. Now you know, if you go.

Once I got used to the fact that it was exactly like being on a motorbike, except with no bike and a man strapped to my back, it was mildly interesting. Like the newly-created whale in Douglas Adams' Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, I was fascinated by the ground that seemed eager to meet me. In fact, if I'd remembered the whale's thoughts before I jumped, I would have had a much better idea of what was going to happen.
And hey, what's about this whistling roaring sound going past what I'm suddenly going to call my head? Perhaps I can call that ... wind! Is that a good name? It'll do ... perhaps I can find a better name for it later when I've found out what it's for. It must be something very important because there certainly seems to be a hell of a lot of it. […] And wow! Hey! What's this thing suddenly coming towards me very fast? Very very fast. So big and flat and round, it needs a big wide sounding name like ... ow ... ound ... round ... ground! That's it! That's a good name - ground!
Just as I began to wonder, like the whale, if the ground would be friends with me, I felt an idiot tapping on my shoulder. It startled me – I'd forgotten I had a man strapped to my back – and it took me a moment to remember why he was tapping on my shoulder. It was because I'd forgotten to open my parachute. I did so, and the experience changed rather abruptly from motorcycling to flying. This bit was quite nice, because I could swoop a bit and rock from side to side and enjoy the view of lovely Perris airport.

Flying has to be a universal fantasy, and I can't deny that this bit was fun, even with a man strapped to my back. If I were twenty years younger and very rich, I might even consider sports parachuting as a hobby. Alas, this phase quickly came to an end, and then I was faced with the prospect of landing on the ground with a man on my back, which I did with English-oak-like rigidity. At the time, I could easily leg-press double my weight, which was handy because that day, I landed at well over twice my usual weight.

I have a thing about not falling over. Dropping and rolling is not in my physical vocabulary, even in a case like this, when it might have been of some use. I just landed on my feet with studied nonchalance. I think I surprised the man on my back.

Once I'd got him off my back, I went for a microlite flight. That was quite interesting too. I sat beside the pilot, hedge-hopping, thinking what a jolly good time I was having and watching the ground go by twenty or thirty feet below. Eventually he cracked and asked, "Aren't you enjoying yourself?"
"Of course," I said, irritated that he'd broken the spell.
"It's just, usually, you know, people say, 'Whoo!' and stuff."
I considered saying "Whoo!" – and stuff – but thought better of it. Leave it to the Americans to actually reveal their emotions. Brits tend not to be so demonstrative.

Quite an interesting day, in retrospect. If I do anything fun again one day, I'll be sure to take another photograph of me.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

American Graffiti

The Cerne Abbas giant is at least 400 years old.
The Homer Simpson giant is advertising a movie.
The Grauniad's take is here.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

British deny biowarfare in Basra

Apparently, British forces did not release man-eating badgers into the area around Basra base.

BBC News has the story. "UK military spokesman Major Mike Shearer said: "We can categorically state that we have not released man-eating badgers into the area."

Shame really. "Release the badgers!" sounds like a very British war cry.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Really Useful Tips

I often post on message boards, and I've noticed that newer posters on the internet don't always know some simple tricks finding out information on pictures or saving the pictures they produce or find. Three came up recently, so to spread the joy, here are some simple techniques. They're for Windows machines. There may be easier ways of doing these things, but they tend to involve buying something extra.

1. I found this picture on the web/ Someone sent me a picture from the web. Who is in the picture? When was it taken?
2. Someone sent me this funny file. Ha ha. (Or maybe they sent you an MP3 of their great band.) There's no links on the page they sent me so how can I find out if there's more at this website?
3. I got a high score on this game but no one will believe me because there are no embedding instructions and I don't know how to email a picture of my screen. How will I impress me mates? Or, this photo has right-click disabled so how can I rip it off, pretend it's mine and get thrown off my ISP? (Second scenario not recommended.)

1. I found this picture on the web/ Someone sent me a picture from the web. Who is in the picture? When was it taken?

A quick way to find out something about a picture you've found online is to right-click it and select "save as". The default name Windows offers you is the name the previous person saved it under. If the previous person called it "Me and Hillary Clinton, 2006," or something else useful you're home free.

If they didn't, save the file to somewhere you can find it to get rid of it later (like the Desktop), and right click the icon (not the picture, its icon) and select properties. Is there anything under "Summary"?

No? (Well, at least now you know to fill in the summary on pictures you put on the internet so you can recognize them later.) Open it with Microsoft Office Picture Manager (it comes free with Windows) and look under File – Properties. There's information there on the camera that was used to take the picture and some other stuff that might be useful.

No? Then copy the File Name exactly, e.g.


and paste it into Google Images.

That fooled you, didn't it? It isn't an iguana! I don't know what they all are, but it just illustrates that Google Images looks for the filename (possibly among other things) when searching.

If Google Images doesn't find it, try Google web search.

If that doesn't work, write to the poster and ask. (Alternatively you can do this step first, but you'll feel silly if he replies, "It's me and Hillary Clinton in 2006, you moron.")

2. Someone sent me this funny file. Ha ha. (Or maybe they sent you an MP3 of their great band.) There's no links on the page they sent me so how can I find out if there's more at this website?

A lot of people keep personal websites with no good index or links between them. If there are no links on the page you're looking at, cut down the URL to the page under it.

Let's say you were given this URL (I'm making it up. There aren't any URLs beginning with hxxp://)


You thought that "lilypad.html" was a really interesting page and want to see if there are any more gems on the site.

Take off the end of the URL - lilypad.html - and have a look at the page called wildwood. If there's nothing of interest there, cut it down to


You'll probably see an index of some sort there. If it says the server refuses your request, give in. (Or be considered a hacker.)

3. I got a high score on this game but no one will believe me because there are no embedding instructions and I don't know how to email a picture of my screen. How will I impress me mates? Or, this photo has right-click disabled so how can I rip it off, pretend it's mine and get thrown off my ISP? (Second scenario not recommended.)

Put the part of the screen you want to keep on top of all the other windows, so it shows clearly.

Hit Shift-Printscreen

Open All Programs – Accessories – Paint.

Control-V to paste the picture of your screen into Paint

Use the top right hand square tool to draw around the part of your screen you want to keep. (Beware because having a picture of your screen on your screen leads to dizziness and disorientation.)

Ctrl-C to put that square's worth of data into the Clipboard.

File-new to open a blank Paint picture. (It may ask you if you want to save the previous picture. Say yes until you're sure you know what you're doing. After that, say no.)

Ctrl-V to paste the square's worth of data into a new picture.

Save the picture and email it to your best friend.

(He or she will probably hate you because a Paint bitmap file is huge, but saving it as anything else is for the intermediate class next semester. Oh, all right, here goes: save it as a .jpg. It's part of the dropdown menu on the "save as" screen.)

This is a picture of a bit of Paint's own interface saved by this method. The square crop tool is the top right one. Don't get confused and press it. It's just a picture of a tool.

I cut and pasted the rose in there from a website. It isn't mine. It's a lovely rose but I don't own it.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Paris in Bloom

Anyway, talking of spoilers, this might be one. I was watching Troy last night on video and finally realized how camp it actually was. After a while I was genuinely expecting Elizabeth Taylor to float gracefully into view.

I had seen it at the theater, but at the time its principal aspect was its size. I tend to sit at the front. Movies with a lot of crowd or battle scenes in them look big, a bit like watching real crowds crossing busy intersections, rather than like movies, so the usual requirements for plot, meaning, etc. tend to drop off proportionally to the increase in the number of extras (or CGI extras). Troy was really big.

Anyway, (here comes the spoiler bit), as I'm sure you know, the young Trojan prince Paris runs off with Menelaus' wife Helen and goes back to Troy, where his dad, Priam, and his older brother Hector get saddled with the job of repelling a bunch of pissed Greeks looking to get Helen back.

Paris, it quickly turns out, is more of a lover than a fighter, a man with an unfilmic tendency to hide behind his big brother's legs when it comes to dueling angry husbands. For some inadequately explored reason everyone in the film seems not to mind various complete lapses of honor like this one, and so he, Paris, is left alive while Hector is the one who gets kilt by an overly philosophical Achilles, who gets to spout a bunch of world-weary-cop lines that seem to have squeezed out of the joints of a neighboring movie and gotten picked up on the sandals of the anti-heroes of this one.

Anyway, later on, Hector is dead, Helen is leaning on her wimpy prince's shoulder, the Greeks are without, developing new, never before seen forms of whoop-ass with which to douse the Trojans, and Paris groans something about how terrible it all is, what with the Prince of Troy being dead and all, and Helen leans over and coos, "Never mind. I'll always have Paris."

Well, no, actually she didn't, but she should have.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Animal Crackers

I don't usually put 90's vids here but this time I can't help myself.

Remember in Fight Club, when the narrator is asked to imagine his totem animal, and he inadvertently imagines that hilarious penguin? Well, here's a totem animal meme.

Someone sent me the link to Nine Inch Nails' Closer as an idea for a character study for a story. The video itself is very powerful indeed (and NOT work safe). The sheer bent savagery of some of the images are suitably entertaining, even more so as Trent Reznor himself seems to be such a little sweetie. (Especially when tied up.) Didn't I see that whirling pig's head on an SRL video once?

But the major amusement value for me came from the audience interaction part. Every now and again, Reznor sings, "I want to f---- you like an animal." When he does, think about the funniest animal you know, and substitute the mental image for the video image.

My animal was the giraffe, always good for LULZ. I owe me a new keyboard, as they say on internet.

Windows into Wikipedia

– the talk page cure for conspiracy theories

Another teapot-size row erupted over Wikipedia again yesterday. I thought I'd add this note to the Conspiracy thread. A noted Science Fiction writer, Fred Saberhagen, died recently. (RIP, Fred) and another noted Science Fiction writer, John Scalzi (him again!) tried to get Fred's Wikipedia entry updated. But the Wiki editors were not about to take someone's word for it, even if the word was backed up by a report on the SF writers' union page. Wank ensued.

In case you think Wikipedia and Scalzi just don't get along, and that's how come he's mentioned twice on here in a week, here's a couple of other incidents in Science Fiction where the SF writers, editors and BNFs have gone toe-to-toe with Wikipedia. You don't need to read them all the way through; the whole pages are tl;dr of the driest kind. These "talk" pages back up any Wikipedia entry and these kinds of nerdy arguments go on for any controversial topic.

Up for deletion - James D. Nicoll's entry.

An attack site? - Making Light blog.

Do you really think that Google – or the Military-Industrial Complex, or even the Illuminati - could force one of the pages backed by these arguments to read the way they want it to read? Pull the other one.

Now, nomenclature. When a row erupts in fandom, it's called Wank. Wank is the teetering heap of fan reaction to a controversial posting vaguely related (or even strongly related) to a show, comic, book, or other artifact of culture. Fandom_Wank is the journal of record for wank, at least the sort on Live Journal, which does seem to be pretty wanky. (Though it doesn't hold a candle to Usenet, of course.) I can't say F_W searches out wank. Generally, it's a property of wank that it becomes obvious to observers without them having to look under any rocks. F_W's motto is: Self-aggrandizing posturing. Fannish absurdities. Circular ego-stroking. Endless flamewars. Pseudointellectual definitions.

Clearly, the Wikipedia chat pages are full of some breed of wank, but the arguments are not about fandom. They're about real life. Truth, justice and the American Way.

What then, should Wikipedia wank be called?

Sunday, July 01, 2007

I don't know, you naughty boy. I've never zeppled.

Having just joined a Led Zeppelin message board (since I don't have enough to do), I've been catching up on my Zeppalia. That meant buying the 1976 movie The Song Remains The Same.

When I saw it the first time, I wasn't very impressed. It seems much more impressive with a little maturity on its shoulders. I'll write about it later. For now, here's a bit that takes my breath away.

Dazed and Confused's famous guitar performance commences with Jimmy Page bowing the strings, wringing a sepulchural chorus of protest from the guitar. As that reaches its end, for a touch of theatricality (which is surprisingly effective musically) he slaps the bow down hard on the strings, a cobra-fast strike that produces a squeal of protest. There is an echo effect, so the yelp comes back a split second later. For that second sound, Jimmy brandishes the bow in the air. The additive effect of his many strikes/salutes during the solo makes for a spellbinding piece of cinema.

The hair of the bow is shredded by the end of it; I'm surprised he didn't break the stick over the guitar at some point. You have to see it in motion and hear the soundtrack to appreciate it, so I can't show it here.

Instead here's a short sequence from the beginning. At the first strike, a puff of rosin jumps into the air as the bow is lifted.

Click on the thumbnail for a larger picture.

The camera really was in the right place at the right time to get the optical effects centered the way they are over the guitarist.

"Did You Ever Hear The One About Last Year?

It was all a lie."

I like conspiracy theories. I used to hang out in conspiracy groups and listen to the sound of the bats' wings flapping in the gloom above. I have a few pet ones – the "NASA did so NOT land a man on the moon" conspiracy always figures high in my estimation, and I had a brief fling with the "holograms of airplanes in the sky coincided with bombs in the basement to bring down the World Trade Center Towers" theory.

What attracted me to these in particular was the sheer number of people who would have to be in the know and yet have not subsequently blabbed to their wives or sold their story to the Weekly World News. You can always count on a few stony SAS men or Marine generals not to talk to the press, but I found it thrilling that people could spin up a theory that relies on a thousand low-paid NASA engineers not to crack or some huge outfit with previously unknown holography techniques not to try to sell their distant-life-size-airplane-conjuring gear to the Rolling Stones or U2 as a tour gimmick.

My interest in conspiratoria flagged mightily after the success of The Da Vinci Code, however. If a hoary old chestnut like that could become a best-seller, I figured, then pretty much everyone must know every conspiracy theory out there. As time goes on, I'm learning that this isn't the case, but joy is slow in returning in listening to nutballs explain that da gubmint is apparently stuffed with antichrists and/or dupes of the New World Order who can simultaneously lie to everyone about the legality of taxation, the legitimacy of the Federal Reserve, and the multiplicity of Illuminati symbols in Washington DC.

You'll note that those are all very American conspiracies. Today I found evidence of a British conspiracy theory. John Scalzi, the SF writer, blogger and online-offer of occasional advice to writers, found an article in the Guardian that he really, really didn't like. The article, by Ben Myers, was about doing research on the internet. It concluded that it was easy, and yet not the answer to everything. Words were typed about Wikipedia. I commented on Scalzi's blog about the article. I didn't find it particularly enlightening myself.

But the comments to the article were another matter. Here's the portions I found interesting.

574871 "The fact that Googling a topic consistently throws up Wikipedia as the 1st or 2nd site on the list is frankly worrying. Is there some kind of deal between Google and Wikipedia that we don't yet know about?"

576120 "I have worked with computers for over 25 years. I know that 1 kilobyte is and always has been precisely 1024 bytes (and 1 megabyte is 1024 kilobytes, etc.). I was also aware that in order to overstate their products, the media storeage industry has for some time been exagerating the capacity of their products by pretending that the figure is 1000 (so, a DVD-R capable of storing around 4,700,000,000 bytes is wrongly described as "4.7Gb" rather than the actual "under 4.4Gb"). When a Grauniad journalist made this mistake in a recent article, I was quick to correct him. He responded by pointing me towards the Wikipedia article ... which is pure lies and propaganda by the media storeage industry! … [A]nd the vested interest bodies are clearly paying people to spread the lie as widely as possible. If such a mundane but clear-cut fact can be distorted and wrongly redefined by powerful vested interest, what hope is there for the more controversial and marginal, but which is nevertheless fact?

576636 "The big CO2 emitters support think tanks which use web sites to spread misinformation. This is a rare example of a conspiracy for which there is strong evidence… The reason why this is frightening is that it demonstrates that it is now possible for the super-rich to invest money in misinformation and spread it more efficiently than in the past."

Is this a new conspiracy theory that I've missed? That "They" own the Internet and are changing the information on it to suit Their Own Purposes?

Having read some of the arguments between Wikipedia contributors and editors, I personally feel that you couldn't buy any of them off with a trip to Phuket or even a pony (though a new IPhone might work) and anyway there's thousands of them. Wikipedia contributors are like termites, except ornerier. If they write something and someone else tries to muscle in and change a word, it's like the fight between the two dolled-up iguanas in "The Lost World".

I can't imagine any distributed network like Wikipedia falling to a single enemy. It would have to have more money than God.

Update: I just looked up Wikipedia on Google (or possibly vice versa) and apparently they do have more money than God.

Title: Lyrics from the Black Crowes "A Conspiracy".
ETA: another post on the subject.


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