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


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.

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.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

More Iggy. Or reasonable facsimile thereof.

More Iggy.

Oh, wait. No, it's more Ewan. This one is almost work safe, if the sound's down low, but it has about 13,000 times the emotion of yesterday's. I wonder why that's safer? Topic for another day, I suppose.

I do love Velvet Goldmine. It's a difficult movie, because it's structured a oddly. But once you've seen it, of course, you can re-construct it in your head and the order on-screen doesn't matter.

Here's most of the original Iggy song. No video, however.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Hat Full Of Mayhem

There's a song on the first Stooges album called 'we will fall' that's billed as a ten minute tone poem. It's kind of atypical for the Stooges (thank god). It is a poem – got that - and it's set against the background of someone chanting what sounds like "Oh, Sri Ram Jam, Jam Jar Door Jamb", although I'm sure that's not quite accurate. My pithy rock critic friend Estebanovitch [1], on first hearing this - and shortly before pressing the "next!" button - remarked: "Proving once again that Sanskrit is not the natural language of Rock 'n' Roll." Well, true. Natural language of SF, I think, but I'll allow it's not a one stop shop for all your punk rock needs.

I did listen to it again later, after he was out of the car. It's accompanied by one of those scrapy/drone instruments – a violin, a hurdy-gurdy, or perhaps a comb-and-toilet-paper – that are sadly underused in popular music. I hadn't realized it was actually a Hindu chant myself. I thought it was the Stooges' attempt to go one better than the Yardbirds and go gloriously wigged-out Gregorian. It has a certain Velvet Underground vibe, too.

It certainly worked as a mantra, or a macro as they call them now. After a few minutes I had a powerful urge to lower my head and run full-tilt into a brick wall. Usually Iggy Pop and Stooges songs have a much quicker and happier effect on me. They bypass the brain entirely and speak to something else. The id, possibly. It's impossible to hear the opening chords of 'now i wanna be your dog', 'TV Eye' or 'no fun' without feeling that same sick here-we-go feeling that you get shortly after you've [inadvertently] ingested a powerful drug and it's doing something untoward to your perception. That may be just me, but I don't think so. If they could distill this and bottle it, it would sell very well. Actually, they did. They're called Iggy Pop records.

I love Iggy Pop and the Stooges.

The above links are non-embedded videos or music. And glorious too, they are, so I encourage you to click them. For an embed, let's go to Velvet Goldmine – one of my favorite movies – and see Curt Wild performing 'TV Eye' in a thinly veiled pastiche of Iggy. Ewan McGregor has as different build to Iggy, hasn't he? And this being Ewan, you get to see all of his 'build', so this is extremely not work safe.

[1] I said, "pithy".

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Back Online.

Have you ever received a letter from the clap clinic? No, neither have I. That's because my father gave me great sex advice when I was growing up and I've followed it to the letter. [1] But if I had gotten such a letter, I suspect that somewhere in it, it would say something like, "You may have been exposed to a communicable disease. Please take this letter to your doctor or call us at . . . ".

Last week my computer got infected with something nasty. Windows Live OneCare didn't spot it being downloaded or find it on a routine sweep, but apparently it was serious enough for my Internet Provider to quarantine my computer by chucking it off the internet. My service provider's equivalent of the clap clinic letter (the only page my computer could reach by browser) said: "Welcome to xxx cable. This page tells you how to set up your new modem, or if you are a returning customer, how to set up your modem again." This failed to let me know that there was an actual problem on my computer. Consequently, I assumed the modem had failed and did nothing about it, except traipse files to everybody's computer using a USB stick for a week.

After approximately 13 hours on the phone with tech services, I was appraised of the real issue. We installed Webroot Spy Sweeper, it found the problem and kicked it off ye olde computer. The internet service provider magnanimously let me back on the net. And all the computers I've checked subsequently didn't catch anything from the USB stick. Only seven days later and I'm back online again and all smiles.

[1] He said, "Lyle, promise me you'll always give a false name and telephone number to your sexual contacts."

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Diseases and Conditions Section (with coffee)

I'm back at the internet café - It's actually a bookshop. I've eaten a Fiery Hot Buffalo Burger or something (buffalo not included), drunk a gallon of coffee and finally got the spot near the mains socket, known locally as El Primo Space. Instead of looking out at the railroad, this spot looks into the bookshop. I'm looking at the face-out books.

As you probably know, bookshops have two ways to file books. Ordinary, like books in a bookshelf, or face-out, with the front page facing you as you casually browse. Having your books face out is a big deal for an author, because people have about five times the chance of actually reading your name and title with a facing-out book than they do when just seeing the spines. I know of authors who go to bookshops and face their own books out. I know of authors who fart in the general direction of bold unruly authors who face their own books out.

The two books I can read from here are:

Pathophysiology made Incredibly Easy!


Crazy Sexy Cancer Tips

A couple of shelves away I can see Nutrition For Dummies, which explains why they've been selling me Fiery Hot Buffalo Burgers here.

I will leave it as an exercise to the reader as to who picked those to face out. The author the publisher, or the bookshop? Discuss.


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