Archive for October, 2010

Please sir, I want some Moore

October 24, 2010

the legendary Alan Moore

Mention Alan Moore to most people and you probably won’t get much response. Mention him to arts-savvy hipster types and you’re likely to cause some discussion about the bearded old druid who was phenomenally important in the reinvention of comics as we know them. Mention him to comic nerds and you’ll be smacked around the ears with a volley of rabid, utterly-reverential devotion. So it’s safe to say he’s carved a decent niche for himself – within a field that’s pretty niche itself – as arguably the most well-known figure in comics (with the very possible exception of Stan Lee).

Whether the cognoscenti know him from masterfully-written works such as the genre-transcending Watchmen, occasional appearances on late night arts shows or as the guy who wrote the source material for some hit’n’miss movies (a debate for another time), you’ll recognise that he’s an impressively intelligent dude. Plenty of comic writers have been praised for their scope, or the complexity of their output – Daniel Clowes, Joe Sacco and Frank Miller stand out as obvious examples of realtively-modern times – but few have the same all-pervasive resonance of Moore’s writing. His reputation is well-deserved. It’s interesting, then, that his latest project should not be another comic, but an independently-produced magazine.

Dodgem Logic is not an ordinary culture magazine – there’s none of the hip-to-the-moment hackery that populates Sunday supplements, nor the excruciating Nathan Barleyness of Vice et al. Instead, Moore has gathered writers who are passionate about their subject matter and know how to string some interesting words together without a thought for fashion or other similar irrelevancies. The first issue alone features an article on attempting to live without money, some well-informed femenist polemic and Moore’s own thoroughly-researched history of underground publishing. There are also comic strips (including one by indiepop’s favourite comedian Josie Long), but it’s important to note that they’re treated with the same validity as the columns, rather than for tokenistic value. It’s immensely readable. If the magazine seems slanted towards a Northamptonshire perspective, it’s because that’s how Moore wanted it – although he also claims the DL team “are not local or global: we are lobal.” Five issues on, the magazine is still going strong.

This might seem like something of a vanity project, and perhaps it is to some degree. The vitality of the writing and the colourful, delightful artwork that binds it all together, however, make it more of a necessity project. The age of the internet presents us with almost too much choice in terms of reading material (how did you find WHTB anyway, and why are you still reading?), and underground publications like this are disappointingly rare. That it should be such a fantastic read is a testament to the excellent choice of contributors, and I urge you to seek it out and help ensure that Dodgem Logic remains a going concern.

The Social Network

October 21, 2010

Jesse Eisenberg as Mark Zuckerberg

Facebook: it’s a global phenomenon. You might, if you were so inclined, even call it the apex of online communication media – more instant than email, less cluttered than Myspace and bizarrely addictive without really doing anything much at all. But how interesting can a movie that documents the origins of the site truly be?

Well, pretty darn fascinating, it turns out. Aaron Sorkin’s screenplay was adapted from Ben Mezrich’s book The Accidental Billionaires, which revealed the legal… er, ‘complications’ that occurred during the site’s development, and director David Fincher weaves the resultant mish-mash of intrigue, betrayal and (I’m afraid so) computer jargon into a hugely engrossing picture.

Baby-faced Jesse Eisenberg plays socially inadequate hacker Mark Zuckerberg, who is frustrated by his inability to communicate with people (and one girl in particular) with the same ease that he manipulates algorithms or HTML. So far so Weird Science? Not really. Although things get pretty ridiculous, there are no cyber-babes or mutant bikers to be seen. Instead we get a noteworthy Justin Timberlake, as the cocky-but-paranoid Napster creator Sean Parker, a sterling turn from Andrew Garfield as Mark’s “only friend” Eduardo Saverin, and Armie Hammer playing both of the Winklevoss twins with some degree of panache.

Try as they might, however, none of the above quite manage to steal scenes from the increasingly impressive Eisenberg. Following his two star turns in last year’s Adventureland and Zombieland, you might have been forgiven for thinking the lad had been shoved in a curly wig and told ‘be like Michael Cera’, although frankly this does a disservice to both Cera’s naturalistic instincts and Eisenberg’s natural presence. He spreads out a little here – he does confused and awkward, sure, but then there’s total self-assurance in there too – especially in one particularly rousing speech where he responds to a cross-examination by stating in no uncertain terms why he hasn’t been paying attention. As ever with rising young actors, it’s too early to make grand claims for him just yet, but it’s hard not to imagine that we’re watching a genuine star in the ascendent right now.

It’s not all perfect – the closing scene returns to an idea from the movie’s opening sequence in a way that seems needlessly eliptical, as though it’s just there to tie the movie together rather than with any plot-related justification (apologies for being vague. I’m trying to avoid spoilers). However the non-linear sequencing works a treat, adding to the mystery along with Trent Reznor’s brooding, perfectly apt score.

One common question amongst reviewers has been whether the story is true. Ultimately, the only thing to ask in response is ‘who cares?’ Fincher and Sorkin have managed to make a compelling modern legal drama that’s relatable to life outside the courtroom and somehow hip with it. The Social Network is: well worth your time. Go see it.

Lately

October 18, 2010

Recent habits, for shits and giggles.

Listening:

  • Guided By Voices – Alien Lanes, Bee Thousand, Tonics & Twisted Chasers, Box
  • Alice Cooper – Trash
  • Algernon Cadwallader – Some Kind Of Cadwallader
  • Shorebirds – It’s Gonna Get Ugly
  • RVIVR – RVIVR

Reading:

  • David Mitchell – number9dream
  • Richard Herring – How Not To Grow Up
  • Sean Manning (ed.) – Rock And Roll Cage Match

Watching:

  • The Social Network
  • Lonesome Jim
  • Back To The Future
  • Adventureland (again)

Heads up

October 17, 2010

Greets, peeps. Check out the rather swish header that’s been newly-added to WHTB! It comes courtesy of the mad skillz of interweb doodlist extraordinaire Old Rope.  Read his blog. It’s funny.

To celebrate, here’s some Guided By Voices tunes, because I’ve been listening to them rather a lot of late. And they’re great.

Coming up: thoughts on Alan Moore’s Dodgem Logic zine and The Social Network (aka ‘The Facebook Movie’)

A change would do you good

October 14, 2010

Recently I’ve been reading Rock And Roll Cage Match (ed. Sean Manning), a collection of jovial essays in which the writer is asked to invent or describe a rivalry between two bands, and then pick a winner. Perhaps inevitably, it’s largely composed of self-confessed false dichotomies where half the fun comes from the ludicrous reasons as to why each artist should be at odds. It probably says something about the WHTB mindset that I love a good debate, so what better than a collection of intelligent-but-ludicrous arguments?

My favourite imaginary rucks thus far have come courtesy of Richard Hell (Rolling Stones vs Velvet Underground), Elizabeth Goodman (Guided By Voices vs Pavement) and Tom Breihan (Jay-Z vs Nas). The part that’s intrigued me most, however,  has come not from an actual debate, but rather an aside. Surprisingly, it’s part of Whitney Pastorek‘s sublimely daft bout between Mariah Carey and Whitney Houston that’s really set the cogs whirring.

Discussing what you’ll recognise as Houston’s all-time classic/omnipresent saccharine cackfest (delete as appropriate), Pastorek provides a winning argument for the power of an oft-used musical device:

The Catharsis: the glorious boom of a key change that occurs three quarters of the way through I Will Always Love You, anchoring what is, with apologies to The White Stripes, the best Dolly Parton cover in history. The Catharsis is in effect elsewhere throughout Houston’s career… but the modulation she pulls off in I Will Always Love You is perfection embodied.

That’s exactly what a good key change should do. Admittedly I wasn’t even thinking about key changes when I’d started reading the piece, but by this stage I was sat bolt upright, nodding, with stern features and a fist raised triumphantly. You’re darn right to use the word ‘catharsis’, Whitney Pastorek. Switching key at any point during a song, and pulling it off, is a tricky feat… but save it for a chorus (particularly the final chorus) and you’re onto a surefire winner. Even fucking Westlife knew that, for fuck’s sake. It’s a useful weapon in the pop arsenal. And like it or not, that Whitney H number’s a pretty fucking good example of how to wield it.

Pastorek goes on so enthusiastically that it seems pointless to paraphrase:

I fail to find a way to break this down scientifically, or even articulately; all I can hope is that you have experienced a great key change at some point in your life and you know the rush, the transcendent ping that goes off in your brain and brings emotions you barely knew you had rushing to the surface and spilling out all over the place for no good reason whatsoever. A good key change can save your life.

As someone who has been close to spontaneously breaking into tears on hearing a great key change at a live show, I know exactly what she means (YES, beer was involved. NO, I don’t think that matters). So with that in mind, here’s some of WHTB’s favourite key changes in pop. Nothing so crass as a top five… just some good ‘uns (okay, five), avoiding yer Hey Judes and soforth.

Feel free to suggest your faves.

1. Dance, Dance, Dance – The Beach Boys

A barnstorming classic from the non-surfing surf faves. Dig the way the song suddenly lurches into a higher key halfway through the final verse – and in a song that’s barely got time for verses, that’s a special way of preparing you for one last extra-fun take on the hook. On the dancefloor, that’s the bit that gets your toes from twitching to out and out tapping.

2. Crazy Crazy Nights – KISS / Town Bike

KISS opt for a stranger tactic – after the second chorus, just before the solo, there’s suddenly a brief burst of chorus in a higher key. Why? No-one knows. It’s fucking awesome though. And as a special treat, I’ve linked Town Bike’s free download version, which is so darn good that I now struggle to listen to the original.  Get on it.

3. Summerteeth – Wilco

After two lovely verses of cryptic, countrified pop, Wilco switch key for a mellotron solo that seems to have wandered in from another band. Once that’s over, we’re still in this new key for a final, breezily- plaintive verse and a gorgeous “oo-ooh, aa-aah” backing vocal. Which is frankly ruined by attempting to spell it. Just go and have a listen; you owe it to your ears.

4. Alison’s Starting To Happen – The Lemonheads

Despite the perky pace of the tune, Evan still uses a sleepy drawl to tell us of an unexpected crush on a friend, and all’s good. But for one final verse, as he finally gets his head around the nonsense of the situation, the song lifts in time for the exclamation “this world is topsy-turvy!” From thereon in things get rather more frantic – and yeh, pretty fun too.

5. Bright Yellow Gun – Throwing Muses

Kristin Hersh specialises in fragmented poetry and creepy melodies, even on full-pelt alt rockers like this. The change is superbly effective; suddenly the tension’s cranked up and a pretty-fucking-vital-already song suddenly becomes essential. Ace.

More baby kittens and sucker punches

October 13, 2010

For ages i’d disregarded Pennsylvanian 4-piece Algernon Cadwallader as little more than Tim Kinsella-wannabes. All I could hear was the awkwardly-screeching vocals and glittering guitar styles of Joan of Arc or Owls. I was unfair to sell them short in this way. To be fair, there’s a lot of Mike Kinsella‘s band American Football in there too.

The main thing I missed amongst all those pointless accusations of rip-offery was that Algernon Cadwallader write really, really great songs. Even if they do play them in a style that’s more than merely reminiscent of their presumable heroes. It’s good stuff, and the album Some Kind Of Cadwallader comes highly recommended. Here’s a prime cut, set to a video of someone drawing.

Lovely.

A rare moment of understanding

October 12, 2010

It would be patently untrue to call my relationship with my father troubled. Ours is a disappintingly typical bond, borne out of years of fluctuating impatience, eyeball-rolling tolerance and casual disagreement. We have, I hope, been through our rough times and now amuse and exasperate each other in equal measure. His love of country music has finally filtered down to me, and my obsession with punk in general has gradually brought him round to the idea that it’s not all gobbing, uncouth buffoons sticking safety pins in their noses (although this new understanding has changed little in terms of his actual taste; he still doesn’t really like it very much).

When we do find moments of commonality, it tends to be in the world of literature; he likes a good turn of phrase as much as I do. As an English teacher, he encouraged me to immerse myself in books, which as a nipper I duly did. After nurturing me with his favourite books from his own childhood (Richmal Crompton‘s Just William books, Frank RichardsBilly Bunter tomes and other similar creations), he eventually led me onto equally worthy, but perhaps more mature novels that he had grown to cherish as an adult – Steinbeck‘s Of Mice And Men being a notable gift. As I grew myself, I eventually came to return the favour with my own favourites. With mixed results, of course. Michael Chabon proved a hit, Paul Auster less so, but nonetheless we had something to discuss beyond repetitive football talk or strained musical debate.

It’s interesting to me, though, that the moments we have most felt in tune have come about not though a shared delight in great writing, but in flashes of irreverent silliness. TV was a great source of these, particularly Father Ted. I recall watching my dad with some amusement as he slapped his thigh and guffawed uproriously at Father Jack‘s aged, alocoholic cantankerousness. Upon noticing my reaction, he explained, “…and that is exactly how my dad used to laugh when he watched Barney Rubble throw a bowling ball through one of Fred Flintstone’s ears and out the other.” Although I have no idea whether such a scene ever existed, the moment stayed with me.

 

"I'm gonna make it!"

 

This evening, over a decade later, I watched an old episode of The Simpsons entitled Bart The Daredevil, in which Homer accidentally jumps Springfield Gorge in an ill-conceived attempt to scare Bart away from a career as a death-defying stuntman. If you’ve not seen the closing scene, it’s one of slapstick’s finest moments and I won’t include a spoiler (although if you’ve not seen it by now, let’s take it as read that you’re probably not ever going to). Suffice to say the comedy is enhanced by the brutally drawn-out reality of Homer’s pain and the utterly helpless futility of it.

I am a pathetic excuse for a near-30-year-old in that I have recently moved back into the parental abode for uninteresting financial reasons, although the situation has its uses on occasions like this. Remembering that this was a moment that he had enjoyed as much as I on its initial (UK terrestrial) broadcast, I called my dad into the room for the agonising, hilarious final scene. Once again he laughed uncontrollably, although without the thigh-slapping this time, and I did too. Suddenly the moment was fascinating to me. Here we were, chortling away at the improbable but side-splitting conclusion to a father’s attempt to guide and bond with his son. It seemed strangely appropriate that we should laugh at it together.

It probably seems like an insignificant moment between two people with no reason to do anything other than get along amicably, and in a sense that’s all it was. But sometimes these moments feel bigger than they are. This one didn’t even feel especially big – certainly not the sort of thing that makes you feel glad to be alive, or realise how lucky you are or anything quite so life-affirming as that.

No, it was just a  moment of shared laughter on a Tuesday night, that didn’t matter to anyone other than the people involved.

That’s all.

“I’ve got swingin’ doors, a jukebox and a barstool…”

October 12, 2010

part one of a probably-very-occasional series…

Everyone loves a good pub. Probably. From time to time, or indeed when the mood takes me, I’ll be decorating WHTB with tales of favourite  or memorable alehouses I have visited. Here’s a starter for you.

On my first tour with my old band, we made it our mission to go to the metal (or, if you prefer, biker) pub in every town we played.  For this reason, the seven-day jaunt became affectionately known to us as the ‘Full Metal Tour’. The Giffard Arms in Wolverhampton was the week’s clear winner, with its selection of fine ales, red lighting and satanic throne (this is probably the least accurate description of the design, but by far the most appropriate). But i digress.

The Giffard Arms’ ‘Satanic throne’. Note the upside down cross.

Situated next door to Stoke’s sort-of-famous live music venue The SugarmillThe Stage Door is nothing to look at. Indeed, from the outside it looks like an awful, cheap, dirty building with little to recommend about it either way. Before our gig next door, we popped in for a pint (not knowing the area whatsoever) and realised it was the local smellies’ haunt. What? Ok then, ‘moshers’, although they were always known as smellies round these parts. Anyway. 80s metal on the jukebox, three ageing bikers in one corner and four spotty long-haired teens in the one adjacent. Indeed, the clientele was vaguely reminiscent of that of the godawful bar my 6th form used to attend, only without the presence of a large contingent of drunken 16-18 year olds revelling in an establishment stupid, oblivious or unceoncerned enough to serve them.

Just as we’d decided the place was no good, we turned to the bar and noticed the shrine. O, what a sight met our eyes! Lovingly-arranged posters of heavy metal overlords Manowar papered the wall behind the pumps, and in the centre was written, in gothic text, “Grandfather, who were those men?” “Why, they were the true gods of metal, my child.”

At that moment we knew we had found our home for the next couple of hours.

Later I was shouted at by the locals for selecting Rage Against The Machine as one of my jukebox choices.

It was that sort of night.