Thursday, October 29, 2015

Short story: Nereid

I have a new story, Nereid, up for anyone to read at my Livejournal.

The story looks at some scenes in the life of a rich, famous rock star and the supernatural being who pursues him.  I'm putting it up for Halloween, but his Nereid is not very scary - unless you're afraid of being drowned, which he is. She's not truly evil, either, merely implacable and very, very focused on him.

When I first put this tale out readers said, "She's addiction, isn't she?" and I said yes, probably. Is she addiction to drugs, though, or to fame and fortune? Or - perhaps she really is just a beautiful mermaid who knows exactly where he lives and how to find him.

You can read Nereid here. 

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Psychedelic Britannia - BBC 4 2015 (review)

This BBC production says it is about psychedelia and the reinvention of pop in the mid to late sixties - in Britannia.

I'm in the middle of writing a novel about a top-flight English folk-rock band that went to get its head together in the countryside, and so any docos about the phenomenon are obviously going to be of interest.

Psychedelic Britannia is available here for a month. Hurry hurry hurry!

Featuring a large number of performance snippets and plentiful quotes from people who were there, it's a well-crafted, well-supported but not particularly deep look at psychedelia. Its thesis is that British pop, I guess in the form of the British Invasion (it doesn't state) was blues and R&B based and could not really be considered British, but in the mid sixties, psychedelia superseded it and was home-grown enough to be an original artform. This leap is signaled by a clip of The Yardbirds playing with Gregorian Chants on Still I'm Sad.

They cut to Ginger Baker talking about jazz and about forming The Cream...jazz? And after a fairly compelling bit about Pink Floyd, the Oxford countryside and the Wind In the Willows ambience that inspired Syd Barrett, they're off to talk with Soft Machine who idolized John Coltrane and played jazz.  Then off to the Incredible String Band who apparently took their inspiration from Morocco, but apart from that, y'know, all British.

Apart from the inability to avoid jazz, the programme makes a good fist of its thesis.  The Hippies (they avoid that word) idolized the dreamy riverbanks and trippy rabbit holes of children's books, it claims, because their childhood was fucked up by WWII. I can see that being true, and it's the first time a doco has ever made me remotely sympathetic to British hippies and their gnomes. [1] It's amusing that they cut from Alice In Wonderland to someone describing the descent down the dark steep stairs to the UFO club without anyone making the connection with a rabbit hole.

It covers the period where bands stopped singing baby baby and instead sang about Sunshine Superman and Strawberry Fields very well - the music stopped being transatlantic, as someone put it.  Lyrics became about British landscapes and actual stories from childhood - Arnold Layne, See Emily Play. There's obligatory coverage of the 14 Hour Technicolor Dream, including a short scene of Cockney mods not enjoying themselves which I've never seen before.  The programme's take is that taking LSD is the central tenet of psychedelia but I don't think it really makes the case for it. Everybody did take LSD, but apart from a few lyrics about hearing the grass grow and so forth, I'm not sure it had that much impact.

Joe Boyd is interviewed and we hear similar takes to his White Bicycles (which I reviewed here). Steve Howe, Arthur Brown,  the irrepressible Twink,  Barry Miles, Gary Brooker and half a dozen others also feature. They speak of the flight to the natural, the countryside, the Cecil Sharp, Vaughan Williams view of life, updated. The wonders of nature, Vashti Bunyan hearing about Donovan's private islands near Skye, setting off in a vardo, hoping to bring about a community and yet hoping to keep traveling at the same time, a tension you can hear in rock lyrics again and again. She imagines a world without electricity, without running water, a simple way of life...which, without trying to be rude, is probably why we didn't hear from her for thirty five years after she set off.  I'm all for the simple life but it does need to have a wi fi connection.

The scene peaked in 1967 and was gone by 1970. Increased police harassment and a growing realization that thinking really hard about a peaceful, child-like world wasn't really going to bring it about were significant factors in its demise.  Unrest in Ulster, Grosvenor Square and the National Front are name-checked as contributory causes.  All in all, a flash in the pan. A very colorful one, but a misfire nevertheless.

[1] Well, apart from Tyrannosaurus Rex, not in this programme, who can sing about gnomes all they want.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Dreams we gottem

For presidential hopefuls, simpler language resonates
Trump tops GOP field while talking to voters at fourth-grade level
I'm surprised by this, though: The article quotes Paul J.J. Payack, president of Global Language Monitor, which apparently "analyzes trends and language" as saying, “Good communication is good communication. . . . ‘I’ve got a Dream,’ all those great speeches are nice, and direct. They use words people understand. They give a big message, but they’re not grandiose.”

When I first came to the US, 30 years ago, almost no-one said "I've got [a thing]." They said, "I have [a thing]." It was diagnostic of British English versus American English. I've noticed "I've got" becoming more popular among American speakers over the years and it's now unremarkable. But, of course, Dr. King didn't say, "I've got a dream," he said "I have a dream," like a normal American of the time period. 

In fact, with a thing like a dream, which you "have" by imagining it, rather than by possessing it, "have" makes more sense than "got".  You'd certainly say "I had a dream last night" rather than "I had gotten a dream last night."  (Or "I had got a dream last night", since British English speakers don't conjugate "got".)

It's really strange to see an expert in communication translate such a famous line into a modern idiom so unconsciously. Either that, or he wasn't talking about Martin Luther King but referring to the song from Tangled (2010) which uses the modern phrase!

Another chimera in the news: man 'fails' paternity test

A little bugbear of mine: Chimeras.

A man is in the news today as a chimeric human because he 'failed a paternity test'. On further investigation, it turned out that the genetic makeup of his sperm producing cells is different from the genetic makeup of his blood producing cells, so a genetic test on his blood does not match the genetics of his offspring.

The man is not actually a monster

So far so obvious - lots of people are chimeras, for example, all women who have ever been pregnant. Fetal cells circulate in the mother's blood, settle down and become part of the mother. (Because this rarely impacts criminal identification or personhood ethics, it's not seen as important, and is called microchimerism.) But lots of fathers (and other people) are chimeras, because two embryos fused in their mother's womb to become one person. What riles me - my bugbear - is that they refer to this man's "dead twin", and "unborn twin", that he "absorbed the genes of his twin, who died early in the pregnancy."

"It is thought cells from a miscarried sibling were absorbed by the man while he was in the womb"
The Independent (Italics my own)

This is all codified anti-choice propaganda. It's important to the media that it pushes the idea that each person has "unique genes" and that a single cell "becomes a person" the minute (or rather the several hours) that sperm and egg fuse and become a cell with a new genetic makeup.

It's nonsense. Lots of pregnancies start out as multiples, and in some cases two different embryos become one, as in this man's case. Lots of pregnancies start out as single embryos that split, making identical twins, or more rarely, identical triplets. No one says that identical twins have only one soul between them, or only make up one person between them. Why would you say that one person "died" if two embryos become one? Only for propaganda purposes.

Telling this man "your twin died" could devastate him. In fact, both sets of cells were born, and he's both of them. And it's perfectly normal.

Happy St. Crispin's Day!

Today is the 600th anniversary of the Battle of Agincourt.

Kenneth Branagh and the legendary Brian Blessed rouse the ragged band of Englishmen to victory against the French.

Or Laurence Olivier, in a production that looks like it takes place in Disneyland, giving you little hope for the speech until Olivier, natch, pulls it off spectacularly.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Kabocha squash dismemberment

How irritating. These are the last two kabocha squash from my garden. They were outside on the tiles waiting to become dinner. The - presumed - raccoon has bitten a careful hole in both, scooped out all the seeds and eaten the inside of the seeds.

If he'd waited, I would have eaten the orange flesh and thrown the seeds on the compost heap. Then we'd both have had some.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Only Lovers Left Alive (dir. Jim Jarmusch) 2013 (review)

I’m a bit late catching up with the 2013 Jim Jarmusch movie Only Lovers Left Alive, but now that I’ve found it, it’s replaced my perennial go-to romantic film Velvet Goldmine as the standard for films about eternal lovers.

Ex-rock star Adam – he’s 500, but looks 30 – and the older Eve – 3000, who looks somewhere between 40 and 2500 – are married but live separately. Eve lives in Tangier, surrounded by piles upon piles of books, where she can regularly meet her friend Kit Marlowe, who has settled in this historically literary Moroccan city to ‘scratch out’ more plays and live with his current protégé, Bilal.  Adam lives in a Detroit Victorian home, in a part of the city that has returned to nature. He lives in America’s musical heartland, but his only neighbors are coyotes and the occasional skunk. 

Adam and Eve. To his credit, the filmmaker seems to realize that's an old fiction chestnut and goes beyond.

He’s a musician, and a determinedly analog one.  The film opens with him relaxing with a lute and his home is a paradise of reel-to-reels, wave-generators, tube amplifiers and record players stacked up to the ceilings.  He puts on the 45 of Wanda Jackson’s Funnel of Love and we see that he and Eve have a psychic connection; from Tangier she can tell he is sinking into ennui. It’s happened before.  He despises zombies (humans) and their lack of imagination, their non-acceptance of their own brilliant scientists, their lack of ecological stewardship and the creeping, but unexplained ‘contamination’ that’s driven the vampires away from most supplies of human blood. (All three get their fixes from hospital supplies of nice, clean O negative. Adam disguises himself as a ‘doctor’ – called Dr Faust first, Dr Caligari the second time we see him - to infiltrate the hospital. Marlowe also obtains his and Eve's blood from a hospital. He doesn’t say how, but it’s hinted that all things are available, in Tangier.)

Wanda Jackson. At first I thought it must be the Cramps version, but no, it's the 45 played at 33.

Eve calls Adam on her iPhone – her Apple, get it? – and Adam answers on his old fashioned telephone handset with a cord, which he hooks up to a cathode ray tube TV in order to Skype with her.  She agrees to come see him, though travel, even at night, is debilitating for their kind.

Meanwhile, Ian, his eager but gormless roadie/hanger on, brings him some goodies he’s scored: a 1959 Supro (Adam sights along its neck to check for straightness like a pro), a “weird” Hagstrom, a Gretsch Chet Atkins 6120 with double-cutaway and an early sixties Silvertone with the amp built into the guitar case.  We get our first joke:  As Adam respectfully looks over the Gretsch, he mentions he saw Eddie Cochran play one of those...but it had been modified - the front pickup was a Gibson P-90.  “You saw Eddie Cochran play?” Ian asks incredulously. Cochran died in 1960. “Yeah,” Adam replies, thinking quickly, “On YouTube.”  There’s no chance, of course, that Adam watches YouTube.  There are a lot of jokes, all delivered so deadpan that at first I didn’t realize how funny the movie is.

Eve comes over, and while he’s out picking up more blood, she discovers he has a revolver with a single wooden bullet.  Distraught, she tries to bring him out of his existential malaise and they go for a drive, at night, obviously, through deserted Detroit. The vacant lots, the faded glory, the stately procession of sights – the Michigan Theater, the Packard plant - all build the feeling of long lives flowing towards some sort of enforced change.

Hastening this, Eve’s “little sister” – (“Is she a blood relative?” “Well, blood was involved.”), an apparently Millennial (she can’t be much more than 85), vacuous, LA-dwelling bundle of energy, unsophistication and raw need blasts into their lives (without even waiting to be invited over the threshold!), wrecks everything and is ultimately unceremoniously thrown out. Adam and Eve flee to Tangier, where they find Marlowe is sick from contaminated blood, though he manages to summon the energy for one more dig at Shakespeare. Marlowe wrote all his plays, of course.

Eve, Adam, Little Sister Ava and gormless Ian. 

Drained from travel, without a supply of clean blood, they listen to a Lebanese singer in a local café and contemplate their options.  Adam finds time for another bon mot – no, he doesn’t wish fame on the singer; she’s too good for that.

Starving, they sit on a bench as the cock crows.  A pair of lovers walk by and embrace by a wall. Adam and Eve can drink the couple’s blood or die when the sun comes up. They make their choice, and the film fades to black.

Tom Hiddleston and Tilda Swinton are perfect for this film. He’s dark, snake-hipped, high-cheekboned and a perfect high-register RP English speaker. He handles humor, particularly where the younger sister is concerned, with understated physical action. Swinton is blonde to the point of translucency, with eyes the size of saucers, a mane of hair uncombed since about 360 BCE and a cut-glass upper class accent.  They flawlessly portray lovers who have been together so long they don’t need to be in close contact, and who have their undying love of art and science in common.

Other reviews seem to think of them as hipsters – effortlessly cool. I didn’t see it that way. True, they were into your favorite artist before he was popular, but that’s because they’re over 500 years old. They knew Shakespeare. Adam remembers Byron as a bit of an ass.  I saw their eclectic tastes as having brewed slowly. One trusted way to play electric guitar, lute and oud well is to practice. And if you practice for a few hundred years you’re going to be very good. If you’ve read everybody in every language, more than once, your taste in authors will be wide-ranging.  And yes, they name-drop Jack White, a hipster fave, but I got the impression that’s because Jack is one of them – they were excited to drive by his old house, but note neither of them suggests finding his current house for a visit, just as they keep away from ‘the others’.

Ultimately I see the movie as a meditation on love, on art, but also on the phenomenon of middle-aged people trying to come to terms with the changes in their city, the world, the newfangled fashions and technology, and above all the lack of artistic sophistication that (the film suggests) characterizes the Youth of Today.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Cyanotype t-shirt printing - Dodge and Burn

Recently, I mentioned my envy at those who got to go to Nashville, and have Third Man Records make them a limited edition 'dodge and burn' t shirt using the cyanotype method.

Luckily, cyanotype is just about the easiest way to print a t-shirt, so I made my own!

I used the powdered cyanotype chemicals - looking at Third Man's video, I think they used the liquid version, which is probably easier (less weighing out cyanide in the kitchen involved). The liquid is part number 07-0091 from same dealers.

I used it exactly as in the instructions (PDF), but with both dichromate contrast enhancer and a hydrogen peroxide oxidizer/darkener bath. (I probably only needed the latter.) It only took a four minute exposure in full sun here in So Cal in early October, but probably much longer in winter in most places (so do a test on an old sheet before using an expensive blank t shirt). 

My test sheet was a drawing I had to do in my sketching class. Yes, it's a copy, but it's my drawing if you know what I mean. 

For the negative, I used the picture on the Best Buy CD box, enlarged, contrast enhanced and with the "W" removed in photoshop. I reversed the image and laser printed it on an overhead transparency sheet. (Special stock these days - Apollo CG 7060.) 

I'll order a bunch more t shirts and do some other negatives. (Before anyone asks, Third Man would no doubt frown on me making a lot of copies of their limited edition item, so I won't be doing any more.)

A screenshot from Third Man's video showing their process - the negative sheet is being pulled away from the exposed cloth (it's not blue at this point in the process):

A photo (ganked from Facebook) of an original, genuine t shirt from Third Man. (The image is slightly larger and much less saturated than mine.)

Friday, October 09, 2015

The Dead Weather - Lose the Right live performance and Alison's lyric-writing technique

The fourth and final - I almost wrote fourth and vinyl there - Dead Weather technique video and live performance is up today. They chose Billboard for the honor, and Billboard reciprocated by spelling Mosshart incorrectly in the URL and getting the bass player's name wrong. It's okay, we all know who you are, Jack Lawrence!

As in the previous three, the article isn't very informative but the video is.  In it, we hear that Alison writes lyrics while driving, as in actually writes on a piece of paper while driving, which sounds dangerous to me. She won't listen to her own voice on tape - odd for a famous singer - so she won't record the lyrics, so I politely suggest she buys a voice-to-text app. It will have all those funny errors robots make when they listen to the spoken word, but that'll just make the lyrics even more interesting.  (I think her spoken voice is lovely - she has a perfect accent and just enough grainy tenor to make it gritty.)

Nice car too. There's also an appearance by a Brake Hedgehog (the best kind) and several rather pushy mannequins. The featured song is Lose The Right.

Wednesday, October 07, 2015

Crimson and Clover by Juli Page Morgan (book review)

Juli Page Morgan’s debut novel Crimson and Clover is reissued this week in a brand new, updated edition!

It’s unusual for me to pluck a book off the shelves that’s marketed as “Romance”, but this one is special – it takes place in my favorite era, my favorite place and stars my favorite people – rockers. So I snapped it up.

From Birmingham, Alabama, by way of Haight Ashbury, Katie travels to Swinging London for rock’n’roll, British accents and bacon. She meets rock singer Adam, but soon realizes her mistake – her real passion is for dark-haired lead guitarist Jay Carey. Katie and Jay fall in love, but Jay’s career involves long weeks on the road, where rock’n’roll’s natural companions, sex and drugs, always beckon. And Katie has a secret that’s she sure will drive Jay away if she reveals it – and the secret is one which, if they stay together long enough, he’s bound to learn.

I loved this story, at first for the obvious reasons (Ladbroke Grove, rock music, late sixties) and as I read on, I loved it for other reasons as well. For a start, although Katie is described as wanting a June Cleaver, white-picket-fence family life, she’s no pushover when she encounters the rock stars and their tough managers and road managers. She maintains her own vision as she lives and works among them. And one reason why I normally avoid things shelved in Romance is that I can’t stand the stress of three hundred pages of true lovers being kept apart by step-mothers, angry aunties, finicky fortune-inheriting rules, sadistic lords of the manor, World War II and all the other conflicts writers use to keep couples apart until the Big Ending. In many of these stories I feel the writer wanted to tell the story of How Frodo Got To Destroy the Ring After Three Book’s Worth Of Set-Backs rather than an actual romance. None of that in Crimson and Clover; the pair find each other quickly and satisfyingly, and tension arises naturally from the plot revelations. Given all that could come between them, can Katie really keep Jay Carey?

I think we’ve all seen those movies where Michael York, with his cut-glass accent and wearing a suit with a white carnation in the jacket pocket, has to interact for some manufactured reason with a Freak (played, if we’re lucky by Twink, if we’re not lucky (and we usually aren’t lucky) played by a toffee-nosed RADA graduate in a paisley blouse and fright wig) who says Hey Man and Groovy a lot and eventually persuades ‘uptight’ Basil to wear flares (bell bottoms) and trip out on pot in a Soho basement filled with writhing mini-skirted dolly birds and atonal music by a band probably called The Chocolate Teapot. This is not the book of that movie. As a Led Zeppelin fan, Juli has fully explored the late sixties and early seventies. As a DJ, Juli has met and mingled with real rock stars of various kinds and flavors. She understands (and more importantly, can get down on the page) the power and intensity of rock music and the intervening hours and days of monotony that accompany it – traveling on the road, staying in hotel rooms, bickering with band-mates, managers and wives – and uses the contrast to drive the plot and build well-rounded, fully human characters.  

Disclosure – I’m a friend of Juli’s, in that internet way where we’ve known each other for ages and yet have never met in real life. We bonded on a Led Zeppelin message board (of course) and shared our mutual appreciation of Ladbroke Grove, the late sixties and long-haired rock guitarists – all of which are featured in Crimson and Clover as well as in my own stories.

Read Chapter One of Crimson and Clover here.

Find Crimson and Clover at:  Amazon | Smashwords | iTunes | Barnes & Noble | Kobo | All Romance


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