Sunday, December 26, 2010

Apathy for the devil - a 70s memoir (review)

I just finished reading Apathy for the devil, the autobiography of Nick Kent. In fact, I enjoyed it so much I read it twice through in one sitting.
Buying this book was a no brainer for me. I was head-over-heels in love with Nick Kent during his first few years at the NME – I mean, look at the cover picture of this book. Wouldn't you fall in love with the man?

In my defense, I was fourteen years old. And that's what I went for back then. Kent knows how he looked – he describes himself time and time again in the book as "like a girl" or "effeminate" or "androgynous" and estimates he won the 1970s prize for being called a pouf (faggot) by strangers in public. Oddly enough, he wasn't a pouf, but his looks were perfect for the times. In 1972, Glam Rock had just been invented, Kent was in the London musicians' orbit, the NME needed to get writers on board who could double the youth circulation within 12 weeks, and bingo! Mr. Kent became a shining example of being in the right place at the right time. Just as my own musical taste was developing – mostly a chimerical mashup of Led Zeppelin and Marc Bolan, with a side order of the Stones, Captain Beefheart, Roxy Music, Iggy Pop, David Bowie, the MC5, Can, and so forth, most of whom Nick Kent managed to interview or write about within a short few months of arriving at the paper – the NME metastasized into an organ that delivered information on my kind of music. Or perhaps it told me what to listen to. I don't remember it being that way around – I don't think it had much sympathy for Marc Bolan, for instance – but in the pre-internet, pre-torrent days the very best you could do was wait for the NME (and Sounds, and Melody Maker) to reach the newsagents each week and scour it to find out what was happening.
I love reading what people write. I put it that way because I don't really read much literature – Kent, who went to university and struggled with Chaucer (Canterbury Tales is like a bad Carry On script written by a halfwit, he says) and Milton, has me beat there – and I can really do without poetry, but journalism and opinion writing really float my boat. Other crushes included two other NME scribes, Charles Shaar Murray and Mick Farren, and from there I didn't branch out much. I loved Steven Wells (Seething Wells) for instance, but I think he was an NME writer off-and-on too. There's something I get out of a good description of a situation or a description of a thought or emotion that I can't get out of anything else in life, and when you love music, it's natural to gravitate to those who have access to musicians and music that's unavailable to you.
Kent had it better than me. About eight years older than I am, he remembers growing up in a world where you could get a student grant, buy affordable records and see the greatest rock bands the world has ever known in sub-2,000-seater auditoriums for a few quid. I had the grant and could afford a few records, but the Stones and the Who were struggling, the Beatles were long gone and the Stooges, the MC5, and the rest of the panoply were sidelined by drugs, drug busts or other problems. Nick Kent chronicles how this all happened, how the decade started out so promising (albeit with Performance and Gimme Shelter its first big rock-related movies, harbingers of what was to come) and then slid into mighty suckage.
But wait, you say, did not punk rock come along and save us all from the dinosaurs and their coke habits? Well, Kent has an angle on that too. He was a friend of Malcolm McLaren's, a (short lived) Sex Pistol and a man who played with the Damned pre-them becoming the actual Damned, so he was as well-positioned to observe punk as he had been to hang out with Keith Richards and Iggy Pop. It turns out he was not a fan of the punk scene and the punk scene was really, really not a fan of Nick Kent. He was attacked by Sid Vicious with a bike chain, and many wannabees over the next few years attempted to finish the job. Besides, by this time he was a full-blown heroin addict, living in squats and spending his entire income on either heroin itself or other drugs to go with it for their additive or calming effects. His path crossed that of Sid Vicious and Nancy Spungen a few times in assorted nasty drug dens, and Sid apologized for his attack - and Kent accepted.
In a way, this is the classic rock story – fame, fortune, drugs, rock-bottom, redemption and reflection – except told by a rock journalist instead of a rock musician. I love those stories and I love Kent's story at least as much as I enjoyed recently reading Keith Richards' autobiography, Life, which I've forgotten to post about here. I've seen a couple of bad or so-so reviews of this book, none of which have anything substantial to say, and basically boil down to "who is Nick Kent and why does he think he's all that?" To which I can only reply, people who write autobiographies do tend to showcase their own story. Nick Kent was demonstrably there as all the things that made the seventies The Seventies unfolded, and he puts it all down in the book. He got caught up in very bad drugs and writes about that too, but makes it very, very plain that so did pretty much everybody else, and the effects on the music scene, whether it was American Punk, American singer-songwriter music, English classic rock or English Punk, were profound and devastating.
Now Kent had something besides androgynous good looks and a backstage pass, and so it's good to note that his phenomenal writing is almost back to its early-seventies glory, straining and soaring against the entire dark ages of music journalism (© Tony Palmer). There are metaphors and similes in this book that made me laugh out loud. He manages to work in several classic lyrics and many rock references without going out of his way to set them up, including the wonderful feat of quoting a Spinal Tap lyric as a description of one of his hard-won lessons on life. "You know where you stand in a hell hole."
On the other hand, there are several passages that sound as though he was dictating into Dragon Naturally Speaking and never went back to clean up the sentences in writing. "This quaint spectacle were known as Tyrannosaurus Rex and they quickly came to enjoy the patronage of… John Peel", he writes. This quaint spectacle were? I know transatlantic travel completely screws up a writer's ability to tell whether a group is a singular noun or a plural noun, but that's too much. Later he tells us that he had been afraid of full penetrative sex with a woman as a young teen, "because so many of my school-going cronies had gotten their girlfriends pregnant." Once at college he says, "[b]ut I'd finally escaped that sorry fate and was now free to make up for lost time". But, my brain kept telling me, you can't be sure you've finally escaped the sorry fate of getting a girl pregnant when you are 19 years old. You're in the middle of that predicament for the next 60 years or so. "Fate" is the wrong word to use here. There are several sentences that take the form, "a thin young man with long Pre-Raphaelite hair called John May", which lead you to wonder what the man was called and why the name of his hair was more important. And in relating the otherwise hilarious story of man-mountain Led Zeppelin manager Peter Grant once accidentally sitting on Elvis Presley's father, who was unfortunate enough to be quietly occupying a chair Grant wanted to sit in, he writes that it might not be true as, "Grant could have broken every bone in the poor man's body if he'd descended on him from behind." And I'm sure someone the size of Grant could have, except in this case, of course, he would have descended on him from in front, not from behind.
And weirdly, at one point Kent says that he came up with the term that defined the rock aristocracy in the seventies, "wastedly elegant". No, you didn't Nick, FFS. The term you came up with was "elegantly wasted". I know, I was there in the seventies.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Abbey Road Cam

The Abbey Road zebra crossing, made famous on the cover of the Beatles Abbey Road album, is under constant surveillance by the Abbey Road Cam.

I'm told the crossing has moved since the iconic album cover, but the shot is still mesmerizing -mostly due to the traffic sounds, which are soothing in an ambient fashion. And the crows cawing above the traffic add a slightly aggressive counterpoint to the composition.

Live webcam Here.

Abbey Road is now a listed historic site in Britain, an unusual honor for a landmark which is not a building.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

San Juan Capistrano flood: When the levee breaks...

I hadn't realized the extent of the damage to the creek walls in San Juan Capistrano when I posted about the breach yesterday. Both sides are out; and the creek there is above the street level, making the creek walls a levee rather than a channel. If the levee breaks, then Led Zeppelin have told me what comes next.

Photo by GORDON TOKUMATSU and JULIE BRAYTON from NBC Los Angeles , who go on to say that 400 people have been asked to evacuate the low lying areas.

(You can click on the picture in the original NBC story for an enlarged view.)

Weather (not dead): SJC Floods

They say it never rains in Southern California. Actually it rains about every five years or so. And then it does it with a vengeance. I woke up about six this morning to pump out my backyard. I was just in time.

See the pool equipment, which is usually found outside of a pool? Well, this morning it was about eight inches underwater. The pool itself had grown to encompass my entire yard, the drains being too overloaded to get the water out as fast as it was coming down. The pool could only take so much runoff before it overflowed. The water was at the foot of the french windows and just about to come inside.

My work place, which is up the Ortega Highway, was cut off all day, the road being closed due to mudslides and subsidence in both the western and eastern directions.

In San Juan Capistrano town, the creek didn't overflow, but did its usual trick. The creek walls are lined with huge concrete slabs. If the flow gets strong enough to start to eat away at the joins, it can get right behind the slab and just peel it off the wall and into the creek like peeling away a soaked label on a bottle. Once the concrete is gone, the soft dirt behind it is hollowed out in no time.

This is the creekbed just by the post office, a few hundred yards from City Hall.

Here's a close up of the damage done once the slabs were torn off.

And that's just a couple of days rain! By late afternoon workers had amassed a huge pile of boulders ready to be dumped into the breach, which will at least break up the flow and stop the creek eating the post office. Not to mention the city hall, which is where the emergency evacuation supplies are kept. Perhaps we need to keep them on higher ground? But not so high as to be on the Ortega Highway, the national unreachable wilderness highway?

Monday, December 20, 2010

Do It Like a Man

I first heard Do It Like A Dude by Jessie J a few weeks ago on the radio, and it's been stuck in my mind ever since. It has that same insistent trick of wriggling under the skin that Cameo's Word Up had lo those many years ago. I know that makes it sound like one of those tropical worms you have to wind out of your body on a stick, but...but I guess that's exactly what it's like.

When we first listened, the inestimable STB opined that she was unlikely to be able to do it like a dude, or for that matter, do it like any gender, without benefit of Auto Tune. This certainly seems to be the case with the single, but there's a video of an 'acoustic' version here, which shows that apart from not being able to say "motherfucker" without wilting, she's actually pretty good at teh chanteys.

Not that I had my fingers crossed that it would be the British Christmas Number One. I had my hopes pinned on Cage Against the Machine's 4'33" for that - a complex joke involving trying to keep X-Factor winners off the Christmas number one spot (last successfully attempted by Rage Against the Machine) by re-recording John Cage's famous composition 4'33", four minutes and thirty three seconds of incidental sounds as the musician sits in front of his instrument and the audience waits. (Most often described as four minutes and thirty three seconds of silence - it's not; the instruments are silent, but not the performance.) Alas, CATM lost out to X-Factor this Christmas, so I will play Jessie J instead - or perhaps just have a few moments of silence with CATM.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Sunday Octopus

Kali Durga sent me this octopus gif (via I Can Has Cheezburger)

Their ability to change color so rapidly fascinates me[1].

[1]The octopus, not Kali, who is a nice blue color.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Captain Beefheart, 1941 - 2010

Entertainment Weekly is reporting that Don Van Vliet died today, from complications of multiple sclerosis.

So sorry to hear that. Captain Beefheart was one of the few musicians who managed to wrench me out of my rockist little rut and teach me something about the unlimited joys of music.

And that's about as conventional as he ever got.

My condolences to his family. RIP.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Merry Christmas from the Met.

The Metropolitan Police are known as "The Filth" in London. That's not a hippy or commie thing or anything. Londoners have called them that for a long time. They do their best to live up to it, too.

However, the politicians side with their enforcers, of course.

I wonder if that tweet was true, yesterday, that was all over the net? The one that quoted David Cameron, the Prime Minister, talking about the student days of himself and Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London, back in 1986, when they weren't, yet. "Things got a bit out of hand. We smashed the place up and Boris set fire to the toilets” David Cameron, Oxford, 1986.″

Hmmm. Was he a leftie, or just an entitled toff? I think I know the answer to that.

How about America, since I live here now?

Elizabeth Edwards died this week, the estranged wife of Senator John Edwards, one-time Democratic Presidential nominee. She was the liberal one of the family, apparently pro-choice, in favor of gay rights and against the Iraq war.

This made Elizabeth Edwards so "hard-left" and 'communist" she didn't mention Jehovah in her parting statement!
You all know that I have been sustained throughout my life by three saving graces—my family, my friends, and a faith in the power of resilience and hope. These graces have carried me through difficult times and they have brought more joy to the good times than I ever could have imagined.
Apparently this makes her a special kind of ultra-Lefty.
Clearly Elizabeth Edwards wants to put her faith in something, be it hope or strength or anything. But not God. I wonder if it's just bitterness, that's she's been forsaken by more than just her estranged husband --- that's she's been forsaken by Him. And imagine if she'd have become First Lady. Americans generally expect outward expressions of faith in our presidents, Christian faith especially, and thus in our First Ladies as well. The Democratic base obviously doesn't care, as we can see in the "wow factor" expressed by the author at the American Prospect. Being anti-religion is cool, so Edwards' non-theological theology gets props from the neo-communists. Still, at her death bed and giving what most folks are calling a final goodbye, Elizabeth Edwards couldn't find it somewhere down deep to ask for His blessings as she prepares for the hereafter? I guess that nihilism I've been discussing reaches up higher into the hard-left precincts than I thought.

That's from Donald Douglas, who appears to be a bit of a knob-end. Let's find something a bit more sympathetic to her.

Ah, CNN's description of the funeral an obiturary-lite. What do we have here?
In addition to the eulogies....another friend, Glenn Bergenfield spoke, remembering when Elizabeth Edwards told staffers about her cancer. According to Bergenfield, she rubbed their backs as they sat on the couch, then turned to them and told them they had on awful shoes, and outlet shopping was necessary, right then and there.

Aw. Shopping makes it all better. How Hard Left.

Someone so far out of mainstream America that she couldn't quite thank god while dying of cancer, was defined by the actions of her son (famously dying) and husband (famously unfaithful) and had an opinion on fashionable footwear and the power of shopping. The Left is well-positioned in this country, I'd say.

(I don't want to dump on Mrs. Edwards personally. This is entirely aimed at the people who lionized and vilified her, and their choice of words.)

Friday, December 10, 2010

London's Burning (again)

Student protests in London yesterday - again - as the government voted to triple the tuition fee for university students, one of the things Nick Clegg (below) said he wouldn't do. But that was before it was a condition of him having power over the hordes. Not the first campaign pledge ever broken.

But it does seem to have struck a nerve. Young students are on the march for the first time in years, and good for them. Many of them, in the news reports, seemed a little shell-shocked that the police didn't smile and hand out cocoa, but instead beat them up and "kettled" them, a British term for crowding protesters inside fences out in the open for sufficient hours for them to freeze, or their bladders to burst or their insulin to run out, or whatever it otherwise takes to shut them up, and then letting the survivors out when it's too late to take the last tube train home. In the meantime, the Met used their usual tactics, like pulling someone out of a wheelchair and dragging him on the ground for being 'too close to the police horses'. (I read somewhere that some of them had brought olive oil to reduce the police horses' traction. Must have been boy scouts; always prepared. Apparently ball bearings work well during a cavalry charge on an asphalt road. Just sayin'.)

(c) Google

In order to avoid the worst of the beatings and kettlings, the students organized a Google Map update rota that showed, more or less in real time, where the major horses, truncheons and Black Mariahs were, the golfing four on the A308, below, being a team of riot cops. From what I hear this didn't work particularly well, but it's a start and I'm sure the next one will be even better.

(c) Google

Violence begats violence, and a bunch of sixth-formers and pimply first-years who probably never had an anti-establishment thought in their lives are now radicalized, and indeed, some of them chanced upon Chuck and Cam, the Prince of Wales and his wife, heir to the British throne, in an unarmored Rolls-Royce. They paint bombed it and shouted "Off with their heads!" at the prince. I'm almost sorry for poor Charlie. He's nearly a non-combatant in the class war as he's so far up on the top edge (and mentally so far from reality) I'm surprised he still has a corporeal entity that can be transported in a roller. Anyway, the crowd didn't follow through with their threat. The policemen who were supposed to be escorting the roller are thinking about what went wrong right now, and were, according to the news reports, a little cagey about whether they were authorized to fire on the protesters. Now THAT would have made headlines. England's own Bloody Sunday or Kent State.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

US to Host World Press Freedom Day

It's been an interesting couple of weeks. Coming back from Dulles Airport, I was pornoscanned by the TSA. This is a device that, among other things, takes an image of your vulva and shows it to some guy hidden a few feet away. If he gets a nice shot of your vulva (and your breasts, or if male, your glans penis and testicles) he says "Clear!" into the headphones of the government employee who has just taught you how to stand to have your genitals photographed (with hands up in the air, slightly together, in the international gesture of "I surrender"), and you can get on a flight.

If it doesn't take a good picture of your vulva, you are directed somewhere else so that someone can finger your labia instead. That happened to this woman, who was wearing a cloth sanitary towel. Since the pornoscanner-personing dude was unable to get a good look at her genitals, she was directed to someone else who felt them instead. She wasn't happy. A lot of people aren't happy. The litany of people who have been groped, or had their children groped, or been asked to remove their post-cancer reconstruction breast prosthetic, or take off their artificial limb, or cut off their nipple ring with pliers, or been "patted down" (had their genitals felt) while in a wheel chair is growing. All to get on a plane, when any terrorist has to know that it's easier to take down a cargo plane, if all you want to do is take down a plane.

I went to the gym for the first time in months. I've had a bad knee and slobbed around rather than exercising. When I got there, they asked for my fingerprint. My fingerprint - to get in my $10 a month gym!

Today, Britain arrested Julian Assange, the public face of WikiLeaks. There was an international warrant out for him, based on outstanding charges in Sweden that have nothing to do with the "leaks". He was remanded in custody (not allowed to post bail). At the gym I listened to Bill O'Reilly crowing that his goose was as good as cooked, as once he was extradited to Sweden, that country would gladly extradite him to the United States to face charges. Not that he's been charged with anything in the states. There have been calls for him to be murdered, though. And calls to try him for treason. (Tip: you can't charge a foreign national with treason. They actually know that, but are presumably unable to think of a country outside of the US that has English speaking blonds in it. The world, as you know, is divided into Murricans and brown guys who either hate our freedom or want to take our jobs, or both.)

Steve Audio, December 6th (I can't get the site to give me a permalink, so that will scroll down the page) has a roundup of the various calls for Assange's prosecution, and the companies that have cut him off under pressure (in PayPal's case, caving after receiving orders from the government and confiscating the money as well).

The New York Times checked the cables they published with the US government to ensure they were harmless before publishing.

And after all that, boingboing tells me that the US is to host the next World Press Freedom Day.

Congratulations, America! It couldn't happen to a freer country!

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Class Act

This Australian article says that British people are obsessed with class and incorrectly perceive class mobility to be low.
As economist Peter Bauer put it in a pamphlet 30 years ago, British intellectuals have "class on the brain". So, nowadays, do British politicians. In the last three years of the Labour government, three official reports were commissioned on class inequality. They all concluded that Britain is an unfair society where lower-class children are blocked from realising their potential.
But the writer is having none of it.

I recently published a review of what the evidence on social mobility actually tells us. I found that movement in Britain is extensive, both up and down.

If we divide the population into a professional-managerial class at the top, a manual working class at the bottom, and an intermediate class in between, more than half the population is in a different social class from the one it was born into. One third of professional-managerial people come from manual worker backgrounds, and one in seven sons born to professional-managerial fathers end up as manual workers.

It's strange to see such a description of 'class'. Of course a manual laborer's son can become a doctor (or could; I doubt if he could afford the tuition fees now), but he can't change his class. I was the first person in my family to go to university and become, as the writer would probably see it "middle class", but the fact is a good portion of the middle class families I encountered quite cheerfully explained to me that I was actually a working class oik - and always would be. "I hope you never again bring over the girl with the accent", one upper-middle matron told her son, my then-boyfriend.

So I came to America where they I believed they have no clue about this sort of thing. It turns out it's just because they can't rank my accent and give me a default class status. The LA Times, in an article on income equality, recently said,

One of the distinctive features of the Great Compression, as described in the book, was that "an investment banker went to Andover and Princeton, while a newspaper person went to Central High and Rutgers. But now the financiers and the writers both are likely to have gone to Andover and Princeton. The student who graduated from Harvard cum laude makes $85,000 a year as a think tank fellow, while the schlump she wouldn't even talk to in gym class makes $34 million as a bond trader or TV producer."

Yes, that sounds familiar - the schlump she wouldn't even talk to in gym class. Except in England, you wouldn't even be in the same gym class.

Jack White invents new paradigm, promises hellfire

(As mentioned by Mike in comments.)

Third Man Records recently announced they'd be selling limited edition colored vinyls of some White Stripes records or other (I don't know the details and, actually, don't care). The day before they were due to go on sale at Third Man's only outlet, in Nashville, the record company put five of them up for sale on eBay. Bidding quickly got to the $500 or so level. The announcement of the auction was made on the paid fanclub website The Vault, and tweeted to fans who subscribe to the feed.

Jack White jumped into The Vault chatroom to defend his exciting new business model, and Antiquiet has done a wonderful job of cutting out all the usual chatroom crap and presenting his words in context here.

He begins with the less than cheery greeting "see you in hell", which was also the sign-off to the eBay listings. It's nice to see a pop star who can quote Han Solo. His argument was that placing them on eBay himself takes the wind out of the flippers' sails. (Many Nashville locals go to the opening day of these limited editions, pay $20 and 'flip' them - list them on eBay the same day.)

He muddied things up a little by talking about the eBay price "setting the price" for the ordinary sale of the record - though of course the eBay price of five rare albums is not the actual value of 300 rare albums bought by locals with zero travel and shipping costs to cover. Many people were left with the impression that the eBay price would be the retail price at the store the next day.

Oh well. It doesn't bother me and for the three grand or so Jack makes out of it, I doubt if it's feathering his nest so much. But it did invoke a major shitstorm from fans who felt otherwise - not so much in the chatroom, but on the comments thread on The Vault's listing of the auction. After all, they'd been roused by tweet to go to the (paid access) website and then found nothing but an announcement that five of 'our' (fans') limited edition records were being sold off to collectors - and told "see you in hell" for their troubles. Major angst ensued. After a while, someone joined the comments thread using Jack White's account and posted an amazing rant that one blog described as,

quickly devolv[ing] into the Four Loko-fueled ramblings of the drunk dude outside your bodega.

"You act like we bury [records] in tunnels in Vietnam for Gods sakes!" said Jack White.

"Uh, not really," said fans, putting on their headphones and discreetly crossing the street.

What all of the blogs who reported this seem to have missed is that the rant was from Jack's account but was signed "the staff at Third Man Records". And it doesn't sound like Jack either.

Here is the major part of it, because it's jolly entertaining.

Posted by trucks on 11.29.2010 at 04:22 PM Well I think it's official this is my last Vault experience. Really nothing on here worth paying for anymore. Think you get something special with a message, but it's really just a link to fan exploitation. fan exploitation? really? if you don't want it, DONT BUY IT. and if you do want it, don't act like you DON'T want it. get in line like anyone else, hunt for it like anyone else. you act like we bury them in tunnels in vietnam for god sakes, you can get one randomly in the mail if your lucky, in line at a store if you're lucky, in your hometown if you're lucky, etc. who is guaranteed a rare hard to find record? only vault members and their quarterly subscriptions. there's luck in every other version. Posted by surfingelectrod on 11.29.2010 at 05:07 PM Fuck you, Third Man. really? you think we deserve that? would you like us to just stop making limited edition records? you would go so far as to say fuck you to us? for what? we didn't do anything to you but give you what you want. you're a vault member obviously, for what reason? limited records you can't get elsewhere? would you kindly send us those records back so we can sell them to some other fan who didn't get to have them? don't want a split colored limited edition record? then guess what? don't buy one. don't want them to be expensive? then guess what? don't WANT them. it's you and others wanting them that dictates the price and the entire nature of the idea. make no mistake, we could make twenty thousand split color whatevers for you, and they'll be worth 20 bucks, and you'll pay 20 bucks for them, and you'll never talk about them, desire them, hunt to find them, etc. why should ebay flippers, who are not real fans, dictate the price, make all the profit (taken from the artist and the label) and take the records out of the hands of real fans. there's a guy who waits in a black suv down the block from third man who hires homeless people to go buy him tri colors when they are on sale. doesn't even get out of his car. should he be charged ten bucks or two hundred? don't be spoiled, don't insult people who are trying to give you what you want. last quarter every vault member got a black and blue live record. a record you're only supposed to get if you ACTUALLY GO to a live show at third man. are you pissed about that? we've done giveaways, contests, auctions, etc. a lot of different ways for vault members to get first crack at limited records when we don't have to. we do it because by being a member you're supposedly making a statement that you're a real fan who wants the music, and to be involved in collecting rare and interesting vinyl. from some of these comments i take it that a lot of you would like this to be all digital, available to anyone on amazon dot com, anytime. boring, lifeless, lazy, and redundant. don't get mad at third man for giving you exactly what you've asked for. and seriously stop all of the whining, because what you communicate to us is that all of the trouble we go to isn't worth it because nothing we do will make you happy. we'll try to do back rubs door to door when we get a chance. sincerely the staff at third man records [1]
Oh, poor widdle record company! Fans hurt its ickle feelings.

Actually I would like music to be available to anyone on Amazon... and it's never hurt any other pop singers. As for easily available music being "boring, lifeless, lazy and redundant", that's so true. Here's a clip of Jack White playing his favorite record. He's almost in tears as he listens to it, and I bet that's because it's the limited-to-15-copies triple-decker tri-color Japanese pressing with the blue, white and black plastic cover that folds into a clockwork-powered Tesla Coil and the Eskimo scrimshaw for "strength" hand-carved into the run-out groove by the artist himself.

Oh, wait, it's not. It's a black vinyl pressing of the popular release with the regular cover. Is Jack (or is the record - I can't tell whether the Third Man commenter meant to skewer the buyer or the product) boring, lifeless, lazy and redundant in this clip? If not, why not? Might Son House have been onto something here?

I especially liked "don't get mad at third man for giving you exactly what you've asked for" in the next sentence to "nothing we do will make you happy". Clearly logic isn't this person's strong point...if it's exactly what we asked for, we'd be happy, wouldn't we?

The postscript to all of this is even weirder - or it's spin control. According to a poster on one of the (free) fan message boards, as one person was lining up outside the record store the next day, Ben Swank of Third Man Records explained, "it was just an experiment gone wrong. They were hoping that people would not bid them very high and the price would be set low. Then a bunch of douchebags created fake accounts and bid the auctions up." He said that they would "just offer second chance offers to legitimate bidders."

Whatever he said while handing out hot chocolate to freezing fans then, he's unapologetic in the Grauniad this morning. "The industry is constantly changing. I can't believe it's taken 15 years for a label to start selling its own releases on eBay (even in limited numbers). We're going to continue doing it. We're also going to continue all the contests, giveaways, pop-up shops, random mail orders, subscription services and manufacturing of insane new vinyl products and any other ridiculous idea that strikes our fancy. Why? Because we're American. And American's do crazy shit for capitalism. See you in hell."

Getting a bit tired of "see you in hell" now. A little glint of anger from Han Solo was kind of sexy, but three times in three days from a record company is like having your knuckles sandpapered. And it's Americans, FFS. Plural.

[1] I'm claiming fair use. Swank knows where to find me if he wants it taken down.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010


There's been a bit of a kerfuffle over the Wikileaks thing, hasn't there? Weeks of advance warning about how terrible it's all going to be and how the entire planet will self-destruct if anyone (outside of the three million people who already had access) got to read the leaked 'cables'. (Are they really 'cables'? Do we still have those?)

When they finally get here, we find they are the equivalent of YouTube comments by diplomats and just about as earth-shattering. Some countries don't get along. Sometimes, in order to get their own way, people say one thing and do another. The Royal Family smells of elderberries. That kind of thing.

In fact, Dull Cables Are Dull, so much so that there almost seems something fishy about it. I was expecting the Conspiracy Freaks who write to me on a daily basis to start saying Wikileaks is a disinformation campaign approximately tomorrow, but I was wrong. There was a link in my email on Tuesday morning. I just hadn't gotten around to opening it.

Wiki-Leaks Serves Israeli Agenda of Demonizing Iran

(Of course, mentioning Israel is the diagnostic sign of a conspiracy theorist. But still, the guy has some good points.)

So, thanks to Wiki-leaks, the unlikely darling of the mainstream media, the world is being informed that the 'enemy' in Afghanistan is growing stronger, Pakistan and Iran are to blame, and brave US troops are engaged in 'reconstruction' there!

But Pakistan and the Taliban are not the main target of disinformation in these documents. As more documents are released, it becomes clear that, sitting square in the bulls-eye, is Iran.[...] Only in their wildest dreams could the war-mongers in Washington and Tel Aviv have wished for a more on-message leak of 'secret information'.
Is there no one in the alternative news community that can see this for what it is? North Korea supplying missiles to Iran to attack Europe?! Right when the US and Israel are involved in a protracted effort to demonize Iran to the world and the US has an aircraft carrier sitting off the Korean Coast!? Is all of this meant to be so obvious, or did my reading of 'psychological operations for dummies' gift me with amazing insight into how political propaganda really works?

The person who sent the link to me pointed out that last week, the Department of Homeland Security shut down the domain names of about 70 file-sharing websites, without warrants or court orders. They just grabbed the sites and took them down. If Wikileaks was an actual threat, they'd have taken that site down too. Assange had been crowing for a while that this release was coming up, and the government walked around wringing its hands about it. They didn't shut it down, so what does that suggest?

(I note it is now shut down, however.)

And if the several million 'cables' are actually true, unaltered and unfiltered...well, whenever the American government wants to curtail its citizens' freedoms, such as by following us around cyberspace, tapping our phones or peering at our naked bodies in airports, there's always a herd of people who swallow their cud in order to say, "If you haven't done anything wrong you don't have anything to worry about!"

Hear that, Obama and ruling class chums? If you haven't done anything wrong, you've no need to worry.

Monday, November 22, 2010

The Friendly Skies

I'm back in Washington, D.C. again. Although I worried myself sick to point of throwing up about porno-scanners and enhanced pat-downs, my admin's decision for me to fly out of Long Beach airport on Jet Blue meant that I had the opportunity to
a)Observe a 1950s terminal in person
b)Have the friendliest baggage check I've ever had, including one of the TSA staff chuckling at my red bag next to my red computer and saying, "I think I've guessed your favorite color."
c)Amble across the tarmac like a sixties celeb to the sky stairs.
d)Try to hump my baggage up sky stairs which are actually stairs you have to climb, despite a really bad knee, trick hip and generally decrepit body. (I guess if your definition of carry-on luggage is "luggage the passenger can carry, upstairs if necessary, and place in the overhead cabin" then maybe I didn't have carry-on luggage at all and I should just give up flying.)

JetBlue seem more human than many airlines. At the terminal (yes, my flight was delayed), the JetBlue guy called for someone to check in.
"Yao Ling, Yao Ling, to the middle desk area please."

Nothing happened. Five minutes later:

"Yao Ling, Yao Ling to the middle desk area. I promise it's nothing bad."

And the captain made some sort of joke on the way, too.

I'm not looking forward to the flight back, from a tight-arsed port like Dulles, but we'll see. I've read many a horror story about the TSA, but I flew out from there only three weeks ago. Let's see if they've turned into Nazis since then.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Above and Beyond: Earth from orbit

This is what our home looks like from above.

It's claustrophobic, isn't it, floating so close to all that choking water vapor? It's a start though. If you can get that far out of the well, you can get nice clean colonies in space. One day.

Lead in his pencil

Dalton Ghetti is an artist who carves pencil lead into miniature sculptures. [link dead, alas]

Lovely stuff.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

The Dead Weather, Halloween 2009

Breathtaking video of their Shoreditch 2009 performance. No idea how this got onto the interwebs or whether there's more, but for all Jack White and Dead Weather fans, this performance of Treat Me Like Your Mother is a real big deal.

Monday, November 15, 2010

We choose to go to the moon and do the other thing...

Driving home this evening I was listening to Radio One's Zane Lowe, who had discovered the new king of hip hop, the savior of rap. Sorry, I've forgotten who that was, but I'm sure I'll be reminded in short order. The first track he played was, in the words of Hitchhikers' Guide to the Galaxy, "needlessly messianic" but fairly catchy, and was introduced by a long sample of one of the most inspiring speeches of the 20th Century, the "We choose to go to the moon" speech.

Which Zane Lowe, with an awed shiver in his voice, described as "Nixon's moon speech".

Not quite, but it does throw out a number of ideas for an alternative history. The speech in question is from 1962, and is JFK's...which I thought everyone knew but you can't take things for granted these days.

(You can watch the awe-inspiring full speech here.)

Remarkable stuff. I can't imagine a modern president - Obama included - who could speak of progress and science and exploration as a great endeavor we should undertake because we have a calling. I'd be surprised if a modern president could pull off a halting speech inspiring the rebuilding of a crumbling bridge. Speeches about how we have to take our clothes off in front of strangers in order to avoid being massacred by beardies living in caves, we got 'em.

I miss the 20th Century.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Back to Washington

Today my boss's boss's boss, on a conference call, said, "We're asleep at the switch and the competition are eating our lunch."

Wise words.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Air and Space Museum

Flying back from Washington proved to be quite fun too. Mostly due to the easy vodka. It had never occurred to me ask the stewardesses (or whatever they're called now) "I'd like two vodkas and orange please". I assumed you'd have to buy things one by one, like in a real bar. So a million kudos to the drunk in front of me on the trip out from SNA to DFW last Friday afternoon who taught me otherwise (by example).

We'd spent the previous day at the Air and Space Museum, so we went to the Steven F Udvar-Hazy Center on the way back to Dulles. This is where the Smithsonian stashes all the aircraft that are too large to go into the Hair and Face Museum on the National Mall.

It's huge. I've seen a Concord(e) of course (yawn) and an SR-71 Blackbird (more yawns) too, and a great deal of the others, but Udvar-Hazy holds the ace of all times - a space shuttle.

My god was it big and impressive. It was more like an ocean liner than a plane and dwarfed the other space craft there and in the Mall without even trying. This is a Gemini Capsule; this is an Apollo Capsule; hello up there (cranes neck), you must be a Space fucking Shuttle.

It sort of embodies American superiority. "Hi Russia! Hi China! What did you do on your holidays? Well that's nice. I did THIS!" [Whips out a Space Shuttle.]

Then I was back to the airport to endure the usual. Shoes off! Laptops out! Who knows why they go through this crap. It's not to make us more safe - the idea that the security theater at the airports makes us safer is simply risible. I guess it's better to be seen to do something than to do nothing, even if 'something' is expensive, intrusive and disruptive and achieves bugger all. It is, after all, something.

No one should believe the latest 'terror scare'. Flock-sprayed printer cartridges with some sort of printed circuit glued on the outside? It's even more amateurish than the last three or four underwear and shoe scares. It's amateurish enough that I don't even believe the government orchestrated it, as I think even the American government could mock something up that was a little more believable. But you have to admit, it was convenient for it to happen just a couple of days before the elections. Vote For Fear!

Meanwhile, FedEx doesn't actually fly planes from Yemen. And isn't it weird that the Brits said the printer cartridges tested harmless, until the Yanks demanded that they weren't? None of this story hangs together. All we have here is a demand to be afraid, be very afraid, with nothing to back that up. And of course, the fact that a cargo plane (of dubious factuality) contained a bomb (of lead azide, I read somewhere, which would take a second device to actually burn) means that passengers on non-cargo planes will now be required to have a pornoscan (if the airport is so equipped) or a 'thorough' (read 'ball-squeezing') pat down if no scanners are available.

"The mail bomb threat prompted DHS to roll out additional security measures at passenger airports. An "unpredictable mix" of security layers for passengers were implemented, TSA announced, including explosives detectors, bomb sniffing dogs and additional pat downs."

Because you know, vague and unlikely threats to cargo always mean each individual human being on a passenger flight needs to submit to search. Under those circumstances, you should give up your constitutional rights against unlawful search or seizure. It makes COMPLETE SENSE.

They say the bomb could have been activated by wi-fi. Seems unlikely, there's not a lot of wi-fi in the sky. Pressure, altitude, timer, garage door opener, car door fob, GPS motion sensor...much more likely. Except there's no evidence the "bomb" had any of those on board. Anyway, it was a fake bomb. .

I've read a shitload of message board posts about this in the last few days. Many say that the Fourth Amendment is kind of not needed and could be done away with. That having pictures of your naked body examined by strangers is reasonable, and you should just get over it. It's not really a strip search since you don't strip (someone actually said this). Anyone who doesn't want to go through that, and isn't overjoyed by the alternative, a squeeze-frisk, must have something to hide.

Yeah, I do have a different alternative. There are people from that demographic trying to kill Americans. To reduce that, personally, I'd go for not killing people's families with drones, and not occupying other people's countries. I think that would be significantly cheaper and as a bonus would stop teh brown people developing red masks of blood vengeance as they survey the scattered limbs of their families, blood of their daughters soaking into the dry dust of their devastated houses. Call me a big silly if you like, but I sometimes wonder if blowing the fuck out of a family with a missile doesn't make the surviving family members wonder exactly how much they love the US.

Maybe I just have my head in the clouds.

Monday, November 01, 2010

Halloween in Baltimore

With a trip to Washington DC under my belt, it was time to head for Baltimore, home of Edgar Allan Poe, for a trip around the crypts and a some short story readings.

On the way there, we visited the American Visionary Art Museum. Definitely worth a visit, if you're there. It mainly focuses on work by people who don't really see things the same way as other people. Some of them are religiously inspired, and some are just...different. I forget the PC term.

The temporary exhibit was on the theme, "What Makes Us Smile?" What mostly made *us* laugh were the Whoopee Cushions that went off whenever someone sat on a particular bench. Adults mostly did it by accident, being able to read the name on the cushions but failing to do so and getting embarrassed, and kids mostly did it deliberately because they love fart jokes. Apart from that, most people wandered around doing things like looking at pictures of Alfred E. Neumann or reading jokes by Jon Stewart with a scholarly air of absorption. My friend Kali was laughing at the jokes, and when I pointed out to her that no-one else was, because a MUSEUM IS SERIOUS BUSINESS GODDAMMIT it only made her laugh more.

Then we ate too much (a recurring theme on my trips with Kali Durga) and went to Westminster Hall and Burying Ground for the Annual Halloween Tour. Westminster Hall is a suitably twisted burying place for Poe. The original graveyard was in operation from 1786 (and contains a number of veterans of both the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812). When a church was needed, in order to avoid disturbing the remains, the church was designed to be built on stilts. The graves are still there, complete with headstones, underneath it. Not only that, but there are above-ground crypts both underneath it and around it. (The church was completed in 1852.)

Poe is not underneath the church - he died too late for that, in 1849. His original grave was unmarked, but as interest in his stories grew, his remains were disinterred and moved to a more prominent spot, and given a large marker.

The Halloween tour included the inevitable Toccata and Fugue in D Minor on the organ (pictured above - those are the decorative fake pipes, the real pipes occupying much more space behind them), trips around the crypts (none of which were lying broken open with bones strewn around, disappointingly. I'd even have lived without seeing gnaw marks if there had been a bit of strewing), cider and popcorn, and a recitation of The Telltale Heart by a dead ringer for Tom Baker, The Doctor, both in looks and performance. Excellent portrayal of nutcasery by a fine local actor whose name I did not catch.

Milk Run

As we milled around the National Mall during the Million Moderate March, the fancy took me for a hot dog, and for some reason I believed I'd be able to get one in the Hirshhorn Museum. This turned out to be an incorrect assumption but since rallying with moderates (and Zombies) was getting tiring we took to the subterranean gallery of the museum and looked at the Color Forms exhibits.

One of them, Milk Run, was in a special room and came with instructions, which I didn't bother to read, and so was soon walking down a completely dark corridor and round two sharp bends that cut off any light at all from outside. (I ran into the wall on the second bend.) After that, I staggered forward for a while towards a pale glow, hand trailing the wall and feeling for every footstep in case there was a step up or down in front of me. I'd been doing that when someone behind me hissed, "Hey, you people are *in* the exhibit. Come back here." And someone else giggled, "It's like watching zombies stagger around."

I made it back, with considerable help, to the bench from which you are actually supposed to observe the pink glow. As our eyes gradually dark-adapted over twenty minutes or so, the slight sensation of light turned into a deep red rectangle that seemed to hang in mid-air, white highlights to one side of it and a feeling of a frame hanging in a different plane so that it did not enclose the work, but rather set it off as an accent.

It was an impressive piece of art. Pictures don't do it justice, since you're not in the dark, but here is one, FWIW. But much more impressive was watching the next wave of non-dark-adapted zombies arrive, and then the next and the next. Each time there was a 'thunk' as at least one of every party walked into the wall in the corridor, and then the strange stagger, similar across all but always different, as the new arrival, completely in the dark, tried to orient themselves using the faint glow. At the back, with our adapted eyes, we could now see them very clearly, silhouetted against the artwork. Some staggered and tried to get out through the light source of the piece. Some felt along the wall. Some had read the instructions and had some idea there was a bench at the back and just needed encouragement. One couple kissed and I briefly entertained the idea we were in for a very naughty shadow play, but they got bored and staggered out after a while. A few hopeless sad cases used their cell phone lights, which of course risked burning our retinas so we shouted at them.

STB said, "You can do this in art. If this was a science experiment you'd never get the IRB to okay doing this to people."

Good fun.

And I managed to get a hot dog from a vendor outside afterwards.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Rally to Restore Sanity

I spent Friday flying during a terror alert. For some reason or other, it was the easiest and most pleasant pair of flights I've had in years. Limo to the airport (I splashed out), two hours waiting for a flight while I watched OMG TERROR WE'RE DOOMED ARREST ALL THE BROWN PEOPLE reports on the airport monitors, then whisked on to planes where I was able to consume $56 of vodka due to the ease with which credit card transactions now go down on flights. No food - food seems to be verboten on flights these days. I asked for some at some point and was offered a cookie or potato chips for some large number of dollars. These aren't actually food in my book, so I just drank the equivalent in vodka instead.

I was on my way to the Million Moderate March in Washington. I got into Dulles at midnight thirty (as advertised) and snored until about 9 am. We got up and headed slowly for the Springfield Metro station and realized, all of a sudden, that this thing was big and we were in for a special day.

The crowds at the Metro were out of the door. It literally took 40 minutes to buy a ticket. And this is way out in Springfield. Getting out of the Metro again at L'Enfant was like trying to evacuate a facility. It took more than thirty minutes to get from the platform to the bottom of the (non functional as usual) escalators and start making phone calls. Most of which got dropped due the sheer number of cellular callers in the area. Despite all this, we did manage to meet up with our third person, and walked into The National Mall.

Which was like walking into a free festival. There were hundreds of thousands of people there. Professional estimates seem to center around 215,000. That's the size of one to two days of the really big festivals in the West. Think New Year's Eve in Times Square or Trafalgar Square. Packed with no room to move. We couldn't actually see the stage, or even the Jumbotrons, from where we were further down The Mall. Apparently they'd set up for 60K rather than 215K, so we were well out the viewing area. But it didn't really matter that we couldn't see the official stuff. The rally goers were such fun, with their costumes and clever signs, that the thrill of the day was being with other like-minded people, not watching Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert.

Ozzy and Yusuf Islam and the O'Jays dueled (trieled?) Peace Train and Crazy Train and Love Train. Colbert argued to Keep Fear Alive. Jon Stewart argued (mildly and sensibly) for moderation. Good times (and funnel cakes with sugar and whipped cream) were had by all.

On a serious note: I'm all for moderation, in the sense of not screaming at opponents, or lying to support my cause, or spinning wildly to make my side look good. In that I supported the march and Jon Stewart and enjoyed the day. But I want to point out that I'm not for 'moderation' in the sense of compromise. Republicans have succeeded in bringing the Overton Window far enough over that to be a 'moderate' is to be a patsy.

Happy well-fed squirrel on the National Mall

Thursday, October 28, 2010

I Voted

I voted.
Of course, when I boasted about it, everybody I saw said they'd voted too. The outcome of the election must be like Schroedinger's Cat - the fate only to be determined when we open the box.

I voted today because my absentee ballot hadn't arrived and I won't be home on Tuesday. The helpful lady at the County registrar's office said I should just come up and fill in a ballot. I did. I turned up, said, "Hi, I'm me," filled in my name and address on a form and got given my ballot, which I filled in, put in an envelope and signed the outside.

Nobody asked me to prove I'm me. No driver's license, no nothing. I get that any intimidation at the polls is a bad thing know, when you get on an airplane to the next city you almost have to hand in all four of your grandparents' birth certificates and a DNA sample, but when I voted who I wanted in government today I didn't even have to flash my ID.

Now, good question - why won't I be home on Tuesday to vote? Well, because I'm going on Jon Stewart's Million Moderate March, that's why. Yes, I'm going to Washington DC to march on the government. In the name of not making waves.

I marched on Grosvenor Square in London a few times in the past, I have to say, and not in the interests of the status quo (although I always enjoyed Paper Plane). Someone asked me what I'd do on Saturday and I thought about it and said, "Well, I probably won't be throwing ball bearings under the police horses' hooves."

And I won't. I'll be going to the Smithsonian and seeing a couple of art galleries, and we have a Halloween night lined up. I'm not sure whether to be ashamed or proud of the changes I've made since I was a young adult. For what it's worth, I was listening to Zane Lowe's program on BBC Radio 1 about the Kings of Leon today, and one point emphatically made was that the father of the Followills was a Pentecostal Fire and Brimstone preacher...who used to be an acid-dropping hippy.

It's hard to get my head around a hippy who then became a traditionalist whose sons became rock and rollers (which I'll tentatively believe is hippy). I may have mislaid the hippy ideals that informed my childhood, but at least I'm not a revivalist preacher. (And Kings of Leon sounded quite nice on the program.)

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

20th Century Boy

Time for a critical reappraisal...oh, all right. I mean it's just time to listen to it again. T. Rex's 20th Century Boy, a great piece composed entirely of pop hooks and rock riffs like a stone porcupine. I heard it again recently when the PowerPop blog said, "Marc Bolan's critical reassessment pretty much began when this obscure T-Rex b-side started showing up on the tube. And with good reason - - it's an absolutely killer rock'n'roll track."

Which is all, y'know, true, except it's not an obscure b-side. It's an a-side that went to number 3 in the UK charts.

Anyway, here it is, featuring Brad Pitt and some equally gorgeous woman in a 1990 Levi's commercial. Shame Marky-babes wasn't around to profit from the attention.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Ari Up, RIP

Ari Up of the Slits is dead. I'm a bit late with that, so it's not news. She died on October 20th, 2010 at age 48, which is too young for anyone.

Let me tell you a bit about The Slits. First, I'll tell you a bit about me. Growing up, rock music seemed to be a progression (no prog pun intended). It started, as far as I could tell, with people playing washboards and tea-chest bass, and went on to Wipe Out and Louie Louie, and the Beatles went from I Wanna Hold Your Hand to Paul Buckmaster string arrangements. We went from You Really Got Me to Queen II, from three chords to carefully splicing tape of literally a thousand sounds into one track. Music went from Chris Montez' Let's Dance to Yes.

Yes. They were prog and had Mellotrons and suspended chords.

I actually bought Yes records. Listening to them - and listening to the other prog bands of the day back then, one thought predominated. It was, "How can anyone coming into music today surpass this? It's pretty fucking clever. No new band can ever have more Mellotrons or Moogs than this. No one can know more augmented or suspended chords. Where can we, and I mean this sincerely, where can we go after this?"

And no, the answer wasn't Ari Up, at least not at first. Just as I arrived at university in 1976, I started hearing about the Ramones, and shortly afterwards the Sex Pistols. These guys played three chord rock, very loud, very fast and would, one learned, be quite happy to wipe their asses on Rick Wakeman's glittery cape. I listened, and it was refreshing.

Instead of trying to beat the current dinosaurs at their own game, to be more clever, to be better musicians and have more gear, the Punk bands did what nature does, which is, when in doubt, go for neoteny. The fully-featured adult body of a metazoan is hard to improve or beat, so nature instead works on the embryonic form, where small tweaks lead to large changes in the adult. It's impossible to restructure and improve on Tales From The Topographic Oceans to come up with The Next Big Thing, but it's relatively easy to re-engineer Be-Bop-A-Lula or Johnny B. Goode - and come up with a great pop track that leads to riots among the youth and general happiness.

Which is what the Sex Pistols did. I saw them, and the Ramones, and the Clash and all the other Punk bands of the era as hacking off 20 years of twigs from Briar Rose's hedge, and leading us back to the main trunk, rock and roll. The light this pruning let in was dazzling. What I hadn't seen at first was the gender biases inherent in that assumption. To get back to Scotty Moore or Cliff Gallup from Steve Howe or Robert Fripp was an amazing leap that energized me no end.

But it was The Slits that showed me that even the females, even the birds, the chicks, could play rock music and mean it. In an era when Blondie had male instrumentalists, and the exemplary bassist was Jah Wobble (despite the example of Tina Weymouth), The Slits were the ones who put it out there that women could rock. And their take on it, the queasy, slippery dub where they excelled, which would never, ever need a Mellotron to progress.

And so I salute Ari Up. Thanks for the music and thanks for the wrench you gave the dopey, major-oriented music of 1979. I wouldn't be the person I am without you.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Half Price Drinks with Mick Farren

We drove up to what one SF-dweller of my acquaintance called the Seventh Circle of Hell yesterday - otherwise known as LA. The major reason for the excursion was the imminent emigration of my mate Mick Farren, who is heading back to Blighty. However, he promises he will keep up with his blog and his live performances from his new digs in Brighton.

Mick Farren

The Citadel, an Assyrian outlet on the I-5

We ambled up the I5 at such a leisurely rate (stopping at a CPK for a Thai Pizza or two, plus starters) that we only got to our first destination, the Museum of Jurassic Technology, a couple of hours before it closed for the day. I hadn't been for a few years, and it's expanded greatly, with some major new displays which I can only describe as 'of the kind that the MJT is famous for'. You really have to, like, go, to get the flavor of it. They now have a tea room, in which I had some very nice tea from a samovar, served by a young lady who appeared and disappeared mysteriously behind a curtain and in some respects resembled some of the exhibits. Outside the tea room we particularly admired the oil paintings of the heroic canines of the Soviet space program.

LA from the freeway

In the shop I bought a musical box operated by a punched roll, like a player piano, except that the rolls are blank and it's sold with a hand punch, so you can make your own music. I also got the first non-diabetes inducing set of rubber stamps I've seen in quite some time, the Pictorial Webster's set, with snails and shells and seahorses and swallows and stags and some things that don't only begin with S.

Historic Route 66 - in LA, it's festooned with poles like an R Crumb cartoon

On to the bar, then, to see Mick. He was already well-lubricated and quite a supporting cast had gathered, so we talked extensively to him and to a few new people. As a parting gift, he'd brought along a table-full of his own books which we could pick up and he'd sign, so now I have a collection of them. I should have thought to bring along my copy of Give The Anarchist a Cigarette, but it didn't occur to me he'd be signing. We all then had a nice piece of cake and shared a fond farewell. Most of my friends are electric. I rarely saw Mick in real life, so a few extra thousand miles won't make a significant difference...but still it's sad when someone leaves. Though not, of course, for them.

Afterwards, STB and I followed the disembodied voice of his Android to the Viet Noodle Bar, where I had fish noodle soup and, from their extensive collection of books, a good read of several Oscar Wilde stories, which I will now rip off. I also got to listen to a bunch of conservatives at the end of the communal table struggling to understand sexual harassment, as defined by liberals. One of them had noticed that liberals were in favor of sexual freedom and was completely stumped by Anita Hill's testimony against Clarence Thomas. The person appeared to be grappling with the concept that, if Clarence Thomas was talking about sex to Anita Hill, that was a liberated and liberal and sort of left-wingy thing to be doing, wasn't it? So what was the problem?

Well, it works like this. If someone in a position of power over you makes sexual remarks in the workplace, the implication is that you will not do well at work unless you go along with that person- which in some cases means giving sexual favors to stay employed. This is a bad thing. Even if a person who is only a peer makes sexually charged remarks - or for instance puts up a nude calendar - that can lead to what the law calls a Hostile Work Environment. Outside the work place, yeah, liberals are pretty much in favor of sex. That people can get to fifty or so in California without knowing these basics is either a sad indictment of Liberals, who haven't explained it, or a sad indictment of Republicans, who are stupid. Or both, I guess.

But the noodles were nice.

On the way back down south we saw the closing fireworks of Disneyland, which start around 9:30 pm. We were laughing about something we'd heard, that some residents had clubbed together to complain to Disneyland about the noise (as if they hadn't known about the noise when they moved in!) and pulled off on Ball to get gas.

Gas Station Disney fireworks

Man those fireworks sounded like WWII. Loud as all get out. I think the residents may have a case. Pretty though.

And so to Orange County and bed.


(Removed original Half Price Drinks as the link broke and substituted a 2009 version.)

Monday, October 18, 2010

Busking, 2010

People tell me the past was just like the present, but with less Hello Kitty and fewer Facebook status updates. I can buy that.

But I have to admit to a slight thrill as I watch these musicians, Atomic Tom, sing their song Take Me Out on the subway.

Yes, playing all their instruments on iPhones is different and new. Now you don't only not need to buy a guitar, you don't even need to make a diddly bow in a cow pasture to get into the act. Jack White may not approve of their solution, but it's a nice video of a bunch of kids making music out of the first thing that comes to hand.

(Caveat: possible iPhone product placement viral ad - who could tell?)

Sunday, October 10, 2010


I went out to a scrapbooking supply sale today. No, I haven't lost my mind. A friend at work recommended the warehouse sale on the grounds that a bunch of stuff would be sold off below cost.

Now, I've never actually 'scrapbooked' as in made a scrapbook album according to the generally accepted rules. I've made an altered book, in which I've replaced references to, and pages of, forensic science with pictures and animations, texts and maps that relate to the Dead Weather's first album, Horehound, or to their first tour.

But making a good altered book depends on knowing what embellishments, tags and stamps are out there, so I went to this sale. I had a ball. The costs really were low, and there were grab-bags that promised "over $100 value - just $10", one of which I bought. As I was classifying it this evening, though, it occurred to me that 75% will be thrown out, leaving me with a bare positive margin. (Unless, of course, I can negotiate a s swap.) The backgrounds and alphabets and beads are beautiful, but there are the annoying other 'themes' I'll never use. "I do." "My mother's the best." "Under the Sea." "It's a Girl!"

I guess I'll put all those into the garage sale box. In the meantime this has taught me something. Not everyone is like me. In fact, most women in Orange County are thinking about kids, marriage and how great their parents and alma mater are.

My company, for reasons best known to it, in what is otherwise a belt-tightening time, chose to have the Senior Leadership Team, including me, assessed by a personality profile (so far so common) which they are then following up with a two-hour interview by a licensed psychotherapist in order to discuss the results. What am I going to say to this guy - paid for by my company, not me? Am I going to ask him for help and advice? I don't think so. He's a minion of my boss. I'm going to keep very quiet about health, stress, alcohol and all the other performance factors one might name. And hope he goes away.

And this is where the scrapbook sale came in useful. Now I know that the pages I habitually discard are the 'normal' ones, the ones I should emphasize. When Mr. oops I mean Dr. Psychotherapy gets on the line, I'm going to talk to him about marriage, how great my parents are, what a blessing infant boys (and girls) are and what I did at my High School Prom. (I didn't go to a High School Prom, but he may not know that.)

That was worth $35, wasn't it? And the backgrounds are actually useful.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Listening in the car

Traveling Riverside Blues, Robert Johnson

I've been listening to Son House. I have mp3s in the car so as I ease out into the traffic into the 113 degree heat or the threatening rain (today) I can listen to the music of someone who recorded 80 years ago.

I was always a Robert Johnson fan myself. It was dee rigger, when I grew up in Britain in the seventies, to be an owner of a copy of King of the Delta Blues Singers volumes one and two, and although it took me a while to achieve it, I was eventually one of those. So I've lived with Robert Johnson for 35 years.

Son House, Clarksdale Blues. (I'm trying to avoid Death Letter and Grinnin' In Your Face, as I assume those are already known)

I'm reading a book, which I should have done before my recent trip to Clarksdale, about the blues. It was written in the nineties and bemoans a couple of times that no-one now records in the tradition of Son House. The book (which was written in the Robert Cray days) seemed a little bereft about it. They'd be glad to know, I'm sure, that the Son House tradition is being thoroughly followed up on by one outstanding blues guitarist and vocalist.

Later in that movie, It Might Get Loud, Jack White explains how all the gimmicks he employed in the White Stripes were to disguise the fact a couple of white Detroiters were playing blues music.

But people like what they like, and 35 years of listening to Robert Johnson has biased me. Son House's forte is his passion - and his lightly disguised struggle between carnal cravings and spirituality. But there's something about his music - for instance the fact that I heard most of those songs played by Lead Belly a long time ago, and I consider Lead Belly a folkie - that puts him behind Robert Johnson in my mind. And Robert Johnson's lyrics are a country mile ahead of any of his contemporaries.

I may have been unduly influenced by Nik Cohn's admiration of the line in If I Had Possession Over Judgment Day, but you have to admit that Son House's line about whiskey and women wouldn't let him pray is overshadowed by Robert Johnson's line about how, if he had possession over judgment day, "the woman I've been loving wouldn't have no right to pray."

No right to pray! And Johnson comes out with these gems all the time. Even the iPod generation can surely feel the frustration of "Stones in my Passway".

When Johnson sings:

a woman I know
took from my best friend
some joker get lucky
steal her back again
he better come on
in my kitchen
it's goin' to be rainin' outdoors
well she's gone
I know she won't come back
I took the last nickel
out of her nation sack
you better come on
in my kitchen
well, it's goin' to be rainin' outdoors

...You know you're not listening to regular delta blues lyrics. And when it comes to Hellhound on My Trail,

I got to keep moving, I got to keep moving
Blues falling down like hail, blues falling down like hail
Mmm, blues falling down like hail, blues falling down like hail
And the day keeps on remindin' me, there's a hellhound on my trail

Or Dust My Broom, or Cross Road Blues. Or try Terraplane Blues, or the Stones-covered Love in Vain. People love Terraplane, because of the car/girl metaphor later explored by Led Zeppelin in Trampled Underfoot, or for that matter 'squeeze my lemon' from his Traveling Riverside Blues that ended up in a Zeppelin song.

Led Zeppelin's Traveling Riverside Blues, my favorite song in all the world.


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