Sunday, 13 January 2019

HOLIDAY

Sorry, but I am turfing out old fragments of writing. After Robert Walser - you almost certainly haven't heard of this great writer, so don't fucking pretend you have - here is a very short story called Holiday.



I am an alien. It is the closest translation I can find. I am not from another planet. You people seem rather fascinated by planets. They are not, or not exactly, what you think they are. I think that the closest translation which relates to my being – and translation is everything, by the way – is that I am from another dimension.
Take a favourite object, something that means a great deal to you. Something that belonged to a parent. An old book from childhood. A toy, a jewel, a painting or photograph. Three-dimensional objects are better for you, by the way. You only seem to have three dimensions.
Put the object down on a table or similar. Light it well. Look at it intently for 10 minutes. Do not move your head or eyes. After the time has elapsed, close your eyes and move a very small distance to one side of you. Open your eyes and look again at the object. You will never grasp this, but you have just witnessed where I am from.
I have enjoyed your culture very much. Of course, I have watched many science fiction films and read many books of the genre. The depiction of aliens is very entertaining. We always seem to be invading, killing everyone with outlandish weapons, and rapaciously violent.
No one of you seems to have realised that we are not here to dominate or destroy. Many of us merely want a break, a vacation. A holiday.






Saturday, 12 January 2019

POST-ADULT POLITICS IN THE UK

At what point, exactly, did British politics become a situation comedy written by talentless stringers who think their jokes are funny because they are drunk? Anna Soubry - is that her name? - is a strident martinet who thinks branding yourself as Thatcher Lite is the way ahead in politics. She makes some gumby comment about forcing Brexit as it had been voted for, and stands in an interview while Leftist dicks-on-a-stick prance about calling her a Nazi.
Now, a couple of points. Look at pictures of Nazis. Best fucking dress sense in the history of genocide. Soubry looks like a bag-lady who happens to have an account at Harvey Nick's. Secondly, everyone who is not to the left of Tony Benn is a Nazi now. It's like 'racism'. It has lost its impact as a word because it is used on an hourly basis. It is very much like the way that tattoos lost their power to shock and impress when everyone's mum suddenly got them.
The point of Brexit is that is has shown who the establishment are, and it has shown the sad fact that England - fuck 'Britain', I'm not British, I'm English - is now something at which you point and laugh. I hope Britain stays in the EU. It will hasten its demise, an event much to be desired.
Politics in the UK is for intellectual spastics now.
Now, if you don't mind, I will return to my copy of Mein Kampf.

Wednesday, 9 January 2019

WHAT YOU DOING HERE, JOHNNY? MIKE LEIGH’S NAKED

Do you want to come in?
Is that alright with you, love?



Have you ever thought, right? That you might have already had the best fucking moment in your life?
Johnny, Naked

What if God just put us here for his own entertainment?
Johnny, Naked


There is a scene in the greatly entertaining Legend, in which Tom Hardy plays both Kray twins, where it looks as though Reg is going to take a beating in a London pub. ‘Before we start,’ he says, ‘I’ve got a little joke for you. You’ll like this one...’ Well, before we start, I’ve got a little joke for you. You may or may not like it, but you will probably recognise its premise.
A guy is lounging in his apartment with the TV remote control, lining up a movie on the screen. His girlfriend walks in. She notices that he is about to watch the classic Scorsese film Goodfellas. She says, you must have seen that film 10 times. He says, try over 30. She says, well, I just think it’s funny how someone can watch the same movie over and over again. He says, funny how?
I know. I didn’t miss a calling as a stand-up comedian. Do the older ones, by the way, become sit-down comedians, then lie-down comedians? My point is this. When music came packaged as vinyl records, or cassette tapes, or CDs, you didn’t buy an album by your favourite band, play it once, and stash it in a box for ever more. You played it every day. What is different about movies? Nothing.
There are many films I have seen over 20 times. Get Carter. Apocalypse Now. Orphée. Goodfellas, and Casino. Performance. Taxi Driver. Withnail & I. A Clockwork Orange.
And Mike Leigh’s Naked.
Naked was released in 1993, and a friend of mine has pointed out that Leigh made this film under ‘Tory’ rule, and his style and tone changed when Tony Blair got into power and began his dismantling of everything that used to wonderful about England. It is a good point, and the yuppie sub-text to Naked is the worst part of the film, feeling bolted on and cartoonish. That said, Greg Crutwell, the actor who plays the yuppie in Naked, actually steals a late scene in which he plays, well, an angel.
That is the type of film Naked is. The religious sub-text is strong and disturbing. The vision of London as a Danteesque hell is familiar, at least to me. The bleakness – and this is possibly the most joyless film I have ever seen – is the canvas on which the desperation of the main characters is daubed. This is a tough film about weak people. Bit like life, really.
The main character, Johnny, escapes from Manchester in a stolen car and goes to see his ex-girlfriend in London. He causes an explosion of trouble and sexual tension in her apartment, and decides to go out. What follows is a dysfunctional odyssey through London’s twilit sub-world. And that is more or less that. Thewlis is extraordinary. I have not seen many performances like this.
But this is a film about character.
Johnny is a frighteningly intelligent lowlife savant who uses his expertise with language to wound other people, particularly those who come too emotionally close to him. He is a cruel, heartless, Bible-reading psychological bully whose demons are so prevalent in his own head that he has come to the conclusion that everyone else had better share them too. As when you play that infamous album one more time and discover a chord or a harmony you missed previously, so too a re-screening of a favourite movie will always uncover one more forgotten treasure. The scene in which Johnny steals an unconscious drunk woman’s favourite books is dreadful, and all the more powerful for inspiring dread.
His ex-girlfriend, Louise, is a pretty, sad girl who has bought the myth of London and come there to do a soul-destroying job. Louise’s flatmate, the drug-addled Sophie – played brilliantly by the late Katrin Cartlidge, who died very young – is hypnotised by Johnny. Meanwhile, yuppy Jerry is living a rich lifestyle, an obvious alter ego or Jungian persona of Johnny. Throw in Brian, the Stoical security guard in an empty office block, the café girl – one of many of the cast who went on to reasonable fame – one of the Trainspotting cast as the mentally ill Archie – another fantastic performance – and a cast of London weirdoes (and I say that because I am one), and this is La Ronde for the price of a pint of bad cider.
Naked is a bleakly depressing film, and certainly one to avoid if you are on a Netflix date. Johnny pulls everyone he meets relentlessly into the black hole of his own erudite despair. The characters revolve around one another but never coalesce. There are, I think, no single acts of kindness in the film aside from the making of tea. There is no tender sex, it is all violent and the only consensual element in all the fucking that goes on in the film is that this is what happens when mentally ill people get into the bedroom.
London is made to look like a Roman ruin drenched in soot and dirt and expressionless people. Which it is, incidentally. I was born there, and I hate it. I worked for a while with the assistant location manager for this film, and his lot did a good job.
The musical score deserves note. A mixture of doomed cellos and sprightly pizzicato harp, it propels the film in a way no pop music score could ever have done.
This is a solipsistic film, taking place in Johnny’s head despite his best efforts. I empathise with the main character for reasons any poor gal who ever had the misfortune to knock around with me will understand. I have often used my impressive but misguided intelligence to hurt and wound and destabilise women.
I will leave you with the greatest quote from a modern-day Shakespearean fool-cum-tragic figure. Louise asks Johnny if he was bored in Manchester, and he proceeds to sum up the modern West;

Was I bored? No, I wasn't fuckin' bored. I'm never bored. That's the trouble with everybody – you're all so bored. You've 'ad nature explained to you, and you're bored with it. You've 'ad the living body explained to you, and you're bored with it. You've 'ad the universe explained to you, and you're bored with it. So now you just want cheap thrills and like plenty of 'em, and it dun matter 'ow tawdry or vacuous they are as long as it's new, as long as it's new, as long as it’s new, as long as it flashes and fucking bleeps in forty different colours. Whatever else you can say about me, I’m never fucking bored.’

Watch Naked, if you haven’t. But approach with caution.

Tuesday, 8 January 2019

FOUR STRINGS OF FURY (3)

Great album, great cover, great bassist. Andy Fraser is on the left



As my first two bassists have been a punk and a New Romantic, I think it is time to look at the bass-player of one of the great British rock bands of the 1970s. Free were, for a short time, one of the biggest rock bands in Britain. Their virtue was simplicity, straightforward blues patterns played crisply and sparsely, and topped off with Paul Rodgers’s sexy growl.
Andy Fraser is the bassist in question, and any aspiring four-stringer would do well to listen to the way he clips notes, the way he dampens sustain to achieve a rhythmic push behind Paul Kossoff, the doomed guitarist. He played a Gibson EB3 in the band’s heyday, and I wouldn’t mind betting he used flat-wound strings. They have a damper sound to begin with.


Alright Now is the band’s iconic song but it is odd in that, like The Stones’ Honky Tonk Women, there is no bass in the verse, just the familiar figure in the chorus and the brilliant use of harmonics during the solo. Wishing Well is a classic, but the riff is bigger and Fraser is a bit overwhelmed. That’s why I have gone for The Stealer. Listen to the way Fraser loops up and down the neck, vaults octaves and plays the drop note, which is where you are playing, say, E, but keep slipping down to a D#.
I am very influenced by Fraser. It’s not showy playing but it carries a band not known for studio guitar overdubs. Bassists, Free your mind and your fingers will follow.




Monday, 7 January 2019

THE GHOSTS OF BRIGHTON

This is what an intrusive con trick looks like



I have always had a love-affair with Brighton. For those of you of the American persuasion, this is not the small precinct of Coney Island, but a seaside town on the south coast of England. It was made famous in English literature by Graham Greene’s novel of small-time gangsterism, Brighton Rock, later made into an atmospheric and haunting film, in one of the featured pubs of which I used to drink before they closed and destroyed it, as they do to all nice things in England now.
I studied at the University of Sussex, just a few miles from Brighton on the way to the pretty town of Lewes. I lived for many years in Brighton, and it is one of those towns – never a city, lacking as it does a cathedral – which I can travel in my mind’s eye, each promenade and street, the remaining pier, the pubs and fish restaurants or cafes, the famous Lanes, the wonderful Brighton Pavilion, the beach with its rocks in place of sand, the frosted cakes of its Regency hotels and crescents. It is a memory theatre for me.
Before we go back 35 years to pluck a particular person from my memories of breezy Brighton, as it used to be known, let us peruse a snippet from the increasingly surreal British news concerning the old town.
Schools in Brighton have been ordered to teach children as young as eight that people “of all genders” can have periods, as well as to install sanitary waste disposal units in every toilet room.

I don’t really feel that I need to make any comment on this. Brighton has long been in the grip of the Green Party, a political faction dedicated to the destruction of everything wonderful about humanity and offering instead a procession of fat pantomime dames who sustain their weight by eating hamburgers and grass, and have very horrible sex lives. A mad world, my masters. These are people concerning whom you hope fundamentally that they were bundled into toilet cubicles when they were at school and had their horrible heads rammed down the bog to the sound of repeated flushing.
But that is now, and I have gathered you here to talk of then.
Thirty five years ago I lived in the tallest building in the county of East Sussex. Of West Sussex I have no concomitant knowledge and, as Wittgenstein reminds us in the last line of the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, concerning that of which we cannot speak, we must remain silent.
One of my flatmates had a friend we will call Lucy. It is not her name, but I don’t want her connected with this weblog as I have rather a toxic presence on the internet, and she is doing something wonderful and brave with which I do not want to interfere.
Lucy was a pretty, popular girl, played the flute, always looked as though she had just got out of bed, and came to stay with us for a while once when she was ill, so that she would get some decent care and attention.
She contacted me via Facebook recently, and has a happy life and family now, and it transpires that she is involved in a fight against her local English council, who are tearing away swathes of land to build a wind-farm. These things are a con trick, and kill God knows how many birds each year, including bats, who cannot negotiate their movement with their radar system.
Lucy has investigated and probed, organised petitions, and turned up at many demos, at one of which an elderly lady was knocked over by a thug on a quad-bike and nearly killed by a cement lorry.
Good for you, Lucy. Resist the carnage people, the people who destroyed Brighton, the liars and cheats and con-artists and virtue-signalling bastards. I admire you in a world in which there is increasingly little to admire.

Sunday, 6 January 2019

FOUR STRINGS OF FURY (2)

Oh, pretty boy. Can't you give me nothing but surrender?


Four strings of fury, by the way, was the headline from a New Musical Express interview with Jean-Jacques Burnel in 1978. It will be the rubric, if you will, under which I write my series on the great – for me – bass guitarists and exponents of the art.
Mick Karn was the bassist for the 1980s band Japan. What do you call Japan? Post-glam? New York Dolls for bummers? Roxy Music for brittle diabetics? Difficult to say.
Karn played bass almost as though he was trying to flick a moth from his well-tailored suit-sleeve without killing it. The tricksy little runs, the beautiful trills and whoops up the neck, the way that he often centred a song. He also skittered around the stage, like one of those toy robots you has as a kid that kept bumping into the wall and going a bit, well, a bit Mick Karn.


Sadly, Karn passed away several years ago. But, for any aspiring bassist, watch his art. Japan were, of course, a pretentious and showy art-rock band, but I have always liked pretentious and showy. And art rock.
Karn also played sax and keyboards on many recordings by the band. I have chosen Swing because it has a personal memory for me, and is one of those, well, haunted songs.

Saturday, 5 January 2019

FOUR STRINGS OF FURY

My 1981 Rickenbacker 4001 stereo bass guitar.


My plan is working but not, as it were, as I planned. I had expected to be playing solo gigs and the occasional bass slot for one or other of the two big bands in this town. It turns out that 75% of my work is for the bands, meaning that my bass guitar – pictured above – is seeing active service above and beyond the call of duty.
Both band leaders are kind enough to give me a pretty free rein with the bass, so I have decided to revisit the bass players who influenced me the most.
Jean-Jacques Burnel played bass for The Stranglers, and used a combination of over-driven Marshall amps and a tasty Fender Precision bass to produce a sound that was dangerous and utterly compelling, dizzying, angular scales with a Krautrock-influenced insistence. He was also quite something to watch in action.

Jean-Jacques Burnel, around 1978

He defined the band’s solid rhythm on the debut album Rattus Norvegicus, helped carry the poor follow-up No More Heroes, and took centre-stage on the classic third album Black and White. He also made a very passable solo album, The Euroman Cometh. He is a judo expert and speaks fluent French, as you might gather from his name.
The bass line I have chosen is from the single Nice ‘n’ Sleazy.