Thursday, December 30, 2010

Nostalgia Collage

Bits and pieces from my archives. The newspaper article (from South Wales, circa. 1993), top right, I always found particularly tragic. Can an official cause of death really be losing the will to live? At the same time I'm slightly envious of TV addicts. I can never find anything to watch.

Happy new year to you all. 2010 has been a bumper year of blogging for me, over one hundred more posts than last year.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Book Cover: The Anatomy of Human Destructiveness

What a great cover. Who knows, it may even be a good read. I've had it over twenty years and have never even opened it. A college friend gave it to me; appropriately enough, there's a large tear on the back cover from where he ripped a bit out, in order to make a 'roach' for a joint.

Recent covers of this book are very dull indeed. This one is a Pelican Books reprint from 1987.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Merry Xxxmas

My Christmas card designs for this year. Haven't got yours yet? Er, it's in the post.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

RIP Captain Beefheart, 1941-2010

'Music to dematerialise the catatonia'; cover of the 1969 surreal masterpiece Trout Mask Replica. So long, and thanks for all the fish.

Don Van Vliet, aka Captain Beefheart, has died in California, aged 69. Though he sold few records, his influence on other musicians was immense, his increasingly experimental avant-garde rock expanding the parameters of what rock music can be.

In 1982 he gave up music and moved to the Mojave desert to concentrate on his painting and drawing, becoming reclusive. He died from complications of multiple sclerosis.

I'm almost ashamed to admit I've only got two of his albums: Safe as Milk and Trout Mask Replica (which I got last week). Though only two years apart, they sound worlds apart. Safe as Milk (1967) is (almost) traditional rhythm and blues (surreal, psychedelic-sixties, California-style), with a young Ry Cooder playing slide guitar; whereas Trout Mask Replica (1969) is… unclassifiable. I'm not even sure it's music.

Another musical legend gone.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Car Boot Sale Booty: Vintage Playboys

I got a bunch of vintage Playboy magazines from the 1960s and 70s at Battersea car boot sale last Sunday for £1 each. Usually, to be a true car booter, you need to get up at dawn and get there for 7am. Not Battersea, which starts at a very reasonable 1:30pm.

Although Playboy is perhaps the epitome of a porno mag, or the most famous anyway, what's great about the old issues are the covers (the examples above are not the best example, perhaps, but still pretty good) and the writing. I can't quite imagine moronic lads magazines such as Zoo, Nuts and Loaded publishing stories by Ray Bradbury, Arthur C. Clarke, Vladimir Nabokov, Ian Fleming and Kurt Vonnegut, Jr – who all feature in the Playboys I bought.

The 1960s issues are very demure, showing breasts only. The 1970s go a step further and show pubic hair. The 1980s and 1990s were when porn got gynaecological – legs open and close-ups. Modern porn and its obsession with shaved pubic hair I find quite bizarre, a bit unsettling and somewhat prepubescent.

The magazine on the right features illustrations by Alberto Vargas, a famous illustrator of pin-up and glamour girls. In the 1930s and 40s he worked for Esquire magazine, and became world-famous; he also painted movie posters. By the late 1950s and throughout much of the 1960s he was working for Playboy, where his work became steadily more explicit (but not that much). In the 1970s he designed a few record covers including Candy-O by The Cars.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Top 30 Albums of 2010

In no particular order (I know, I'm lazy)…

Gil Scott-Heron I'm New Here
Flying Lotus Cosmogramma
Crystal Castles Crystal Castles (II)
Laurie Anderson Homeland
Charlotte Gainsbourg IRM
Grinderman Grinderman 2
Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti Before Today
Kris Kristofferson Please Don't Tell Me How the Story Ends (recorded 1968-72)*
Bob Dylan Folksinger's Choice (recorded 1962)*
Bob Dylan The Witmark Years (recorded 1962-64)*
The Brian Jonestown Massacre Who Killed Sgt. Pepper?
Bruce Springsteen The Promise (recorded 1978)*
Deerhunter Halcyon Digest
Big Boi Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty
Janelle Monae The Archandroid
LCD Soundsystem This is Happening
Caribou Swim
Joanna Newsom Have One On Me
Beach House Teen Dream
Massive Attack Heligoland
Bryan Ferry Olympia
Kanye West My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
MGMT Congratulations
Sparklehorse/David Lynch Dark Night of the Soul
Spoon Transference

Madador at 21 Boxed set of the year, with six CDs and poker chips!
Galaxie 500 On Fire (double CD reissue)
Rolling Stones Exile on Main St (Deluxe Edition)
Miles Davis Bitches Brew (Legacy Edition)
Jim Sullivan U.F.O. (an obscurity I've found myself listening to all the time over the last month or so. Jim vanished 35 years ago in the New Mexico desert. No one knows what happened to him. Some think he got lost; others think he was abducted by aliens. The truth is out there.)

I didn't get around to listening to... the latest albums by Arcade Fire and Gorillaz. I'm sure they were good but I'm kinda over them, if you know what I mean.

I wish I could even do a Top Ten Films but I probably haven't even seen ten: perhaps Toy Story 3 and Tinkerbell and the Great Fairy Rescue. Oh and Greenberg and Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call – New Orleans (has there ever been a film with such an awkward title?) were pretty good too.

* But aren't these reissues too? (I hear you all cry). No, because these versions have never been officially released before in any format.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Top 10 Worst (ex-) In-Law Presents

Gosh, it's that time of year again. These are the worst Christmas (or birthday) presents I (or my ex-partner) have received from my (ex-) 'in-laws' over the last nine years (presumably I'll receive no more; we can be thankful for small mercies). I think they play blind man's bluff in Superdrug to choose their gifts.

1. Grey flannel
2. Assorted pack of cotton wool (pads, balls and buds)
3. Penguin-shaped ice-cube trays
4. Penguin cuddly toy
5. Plastic soap dish
6. Two identical breakfast crockery sets – for me and my (ex-) partner (with accompanying identical Post-It notes on each reading 'I know you don't need any more mugs but thought the small bowl and plate would be useful.' Needless to say, they weren't). If you think that's just what you're looking for, you should be able to find a set somewhere on eBay for about £2.95.
7. Place mat for one

8. Challenge car battery charger

9. Woolworth's budget watering can

10. £10 Tesco gift voucher

Is there an unwritten rule that even receiving unwanted presents requires you to keep them for up to a year? Even if the present is so rubbish, so inappropriate that the person who bought it for you doesn't seem to know anything about you? Yet there seems to be some innate obligation to keep it for a while, out of politeness I guess – or in case the giver asks about it.

But have you ever noticed how people who give you crap, random presents never mention them again? Deep down, they must know they're crap and forget about them as soon as they're given. Whereas people who get you good presents tend to ask you about them later, like if you've worn it/watched it/read it/heard it, what you thought of it.

With apologies to B&G, and M.

Previously on Barnflakes:
Christmas peasants
How to have taste

Monday, December 13, 2010

Jean Cocteau's London mural

Jean Cocteau (1889-1963) – poet, writer, playwright, filmmaker and artist – painted this mural in the Notre Dame de France church in London in 1960. The church was bombed in the Second World War and rebuilt in mid-1950s. It's next to the Prince Charles cinema, just off Leicester Square. It took Cocteau about a week to paint, during which time he'd often talk to the figures he was painting. You can just make out, to the left of the rose, a Judas-like figure turning his back to Christ. It's a self-portrait of Cocteau.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Giro the Nazi Dog

It seems a bit unfair to tarnish Giro (an Alsatian) with the same brush as his owner, but the name's stuck, and the poor mutt will forever be known as Giro the Nazi Dog. Was Giro a Nazi? It's hard to say. Certainly dogs are loyal to their owners but how far did Giro tow the company line? Did he like other breeds of dogs, for example, or only German Shepherds?

We may never find out, for Giro died in 1934 from 'accidental electrocution'. But he was given a full Nazi burial. Giro's owner was Dr Leopold von Hoesch, German ambassador in London from 1932-36.

Giro's grave can be found next to the former Nazi Germany embassy at 6-9 Carlton House Terrace, London SW1 (near the top of the stairs by the ICA). His epitaph reads, "Giro: A true companion". Yes, he probably was a Nazi.

If I ever get a dog (or any pet for that matter), I'm going to call it Giro.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

I'm in Love

With Debbie. Harry. In 1978. (I've just been watching the DVD that accompanies Blondie's Greatest Hits: Sight & Sound, which has all their old videos. They're great. Most of them are like some kind of bizarre, amateurish performance art.)

Poloroid by Andy Warhol.

Just out: Blondie at the BBC (CD+DVD).

Previously: Never a Blonde.

Friday, December 10, 2010

The Museum of Everyone

Inspired, perhaps, by my recent visit to The Museum of Everything with Peter Blake's huge collection of bric-a-brac and outsider art, I was thinking wouldn't it be great if everyone, after they died, had a museum of their stuff to remember them by? After all, we are what we buy. Gravestones are pretty boring objects, telling you almost nothing about a person's life, and paying a weekly or monthly trip to the cemetery is a grim affair, so why not convert graveyards into multi-story buildings where each room is a personal museum of the dead. Favourite books, records, paintings, photos, furniture, clothes and bric-a-brac could all feature; indeed anything at all that made the person what they were.

It seems sad when a person dies all their stuff has to be cleared out; relatives and friends might keep a few choice items, some of it might be sold, the rest given to charity shops or binned. It would be great to keep their memory alive with a room of their favourite things; or even a recreation of their favourite room.

It goes without saying that my 'tomb room' would be fascinating but I'm worried about other people's rooms being rather bland, perhaps consisting of IKEA furniture, wide screen TVs, bad DVDs and Wiis. No matter. We can have computer monitors in the rooms too, to display photos, videos, witty emails, cool Facebook friends and any other online stuff to make them look interesting.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

London through its charity shops #2: Wimbledon

We approached Wimbledon village via a pleasant walk through Wimbledon common, once home of the Wombles. Wimbledon village is more of a village than an actual village with its rural feel, bakery, a Bayley & Sage, boutiques, horse stables and posh people. And two charity shops: an Oxfam and a British Red Cross. Oxfam is narrow but long, and pricey; Red Cross is spacious and slightly more reasonably priced.

It's a long walk down Wimbledon Hill Road to Wimbledon proper; a pretty ugly town with ubiquitous modern mall and office blocks. Usually pretty busy. Walking down the Broadway our first stop is a British Heart Foundation shop, typically cramped. Further on is a FARA, then a Cancer Research (spacious, good books), a Scope and finally a Trinity Hospice. All pretty good but nothing really spectacular about them.

Barngains of the day: Martin Amis's Visiting Mrs Nabokov and Other Excursions, hardback, £2.25, from Cancer Research; Playmobil Advent Calender 2010, boxed, as new, £4.99 (RRP £14.99) from British Red Cross.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

The Baffled Plain

Yes, I shout across the baffled plain,
Marred only by indifference and pain.
(Most men don’t count; they are too busy eating
Most women don’t count either; too busy talking)
Not a word comes out
Not a word comes in
Too thin
To fight or be anyone of consequence
I sit and stay instead.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Surreal Silk Cut Cigarette ads

UK cigarette advertisements in the 1980s and 90s, in particular the brands Silk Cut (with ads designed by Saatchi and Saatchi) and Benson & Hedges (with ads designed by Collett Dickinson Pearce), were some of the most sublime, surreal, mysterious and beautiful ads ever produced, precisely because British law prevented cigarette ads from associating cigarettes with status, youth, coolness or sexual attractiveness. So the ad men needed a different route. In fact, in the case of Silk Cut, there was nothing to tell you these were cigarette ads apart from the obligatory Government Health Warning, and, of course, the luxurious purple silk being cut in various surreal (and often threatening, occasionally possibly misogynistic) ways.*

(It's interesting to compare American cigarette ads of the same period which didn't have the same restrictions and were extremely dull and unimaginative, consisting mainly of smiling moronic Americans… with a cigarette in their mouths.)

Cigarette ads were the main inspiration behind me wanting to work in advertising in the late 1980s (which I eventually did, briefly). In the early 90s at college I used to smoke Silk Cut, partly to get the free cards they were giving away with them. There was a fellow student who also smoked Silk Cut and collected the cards as well and we used to exchange them to try and complete our sets. I never did, but here are the ones I did get; a fine collection of Silk Cut's billboard ads from the 1990s.

The 'mud people' (not my expression!) advert (bottom right) is a doctored Sebastiao Salgado (I think) photo, one of their best and certainly most controversial, and was actually banned at the time, on the grounds that it was condescending to ethnic minorities.

By the end of the campaign, in the late 90s (cigarette advertising was banned outright in 2003), the brand had achieved its aim, creating a seamless blend of art into advertising with thought-provoking, witty and striking images. And huge sales of cigarettes. It is perhaps morally wrong to lament on campaigns to promote cigarette smoking but the 1990s were a golden age for British advertising, when risks could be taken and fun could be had.

* Which sort of reminds me of the Hays Code in the States – from the 1930s up to the late 60s films weren't allowed to show explicit murder or sex ('Excessive and lustful kissing, lustful embraces, suggestive postures and gestures, are not to be shown'), so film-makers devised 'inventive' visual metaphors and other tricks, some not so subtle, such as a train entering a tunnel, to suggest the sexual act. In hindsight it was a blessing in disguise for directors such as Hitchcock, whose misogyny wasn't allowed full rein. It wasn't until the late 60s, when the code was abolished, that Hitchcock started making what he had probably wanted to do all along: having beautiful women being murdered in slow and painful ways. Witness the protracted murder in his nasty and tacky film Frenzy from 1972. Limitations often bring out the most creative in people.

Monday, December 06, 2010

Martha's Robot Paintings

Two fine examples of outsider art. Peter Blake can have them for £50. Each.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

The Museum of Everything: Peter Blake, Walter Potter et al

With no press advertisements, very few reviews (though Time Out have been championing it for weeks), a vague website and an obscure location (round the back of Chalk Farm public library), entering the Museum of Everything comes across as an overwhelming surprise; it surely must be the most bizarre show currently in London.

The Museum of Everything's Exhibition #3 (open until Christmas, Wednesdays to Sundays, and free) features a huge selection of strange paraphernalia from curator Sir Peter Blake's extraordinary studio, most of which has never been shown before. What's revealed is a sort of alternative history of British folk-art, including circus freaks, Punch and Judy shows, tacky seaside shell souvenirs, vintage fairground attractions, and, most exciting of all, his collection of outsider art, including rooms devoted to outsider artists such as Walter Potter, Harry Varnun, Arthur Windley and Ted Willcox, who created tapestries from pin-up magazines in the 1950s.

Walter Potter's Museum of Curiosity is arguably the highlight of the show; I have vague memories of seeing it as a boy when it was shown at Jamaica Inn in Cornwall but since 2003 the collection was split up and sold at auction (Peter Blake and Damien Hirst, unsurprisingly, bought some pieces). Potter was a Victorian taxidermist who created somewhat macabre dioramas with stuffed animals including tableaus of nursery rhymes such as the glorious Burial of Cock Robin and The House that Jack Built, as well as scenes of a kitten's tea party and wedding, squirrel's fencing and boxing, and playing cards whilst smoking, rabbits in a school and rats drinking in a bar. There's also a two-headed sheep.

The exhibition is definitely worth a visit (or two) ; it's a veritable magical mystery tour from the old pop artist godfather. Unfortunately, no photography is allowed. The penalty is either £1000, or death, depending on which sign you read.

Previously: Animal furniture; Bedlam: The art of madness; Pop goes the car boot sale

++Famous Person Sightings++
On emerging from Chalk Farm tube (our first venture into North London for some time) I joked to Mel to keep an eye out for famous North Londoner's like, er, Suggs from Madness or, er, Nick Hornby. Five minutes later we saw Alan Bennett entering a dry cleaners to get his shirts starched, followed promptly by that annoying guy from Green Wing.

Another recent sighting was a favourite writer of mine, Geoff Dyer. Although we did actually pay to see him at Bookslam (so it wasn't a random sighting), we did see him entering the building (which sort of counts; well, it felt random for a second – we were drinking in the bar and just happened to see a semi-famous writer. Then we remembered). I also plucked up the courage, after two pints and two painful kicks from Chris (shin, ankle) to give him a copy of my book.

Bookslam is located on Powis Square, where one of my favourite films, Performance, with Mick Jagger and James Fox ('I am a bullet!'), was shot back in 1968.

Friday, December 03, 2010

London through its charity shops #1: Hammersmith into Chiswick

The first in an occasional (possibly not very interesting – we'll see how it goes) series looking at London's charity shops. If I had done this in the old days – by which I mean 5-10 years ago – they'd be joyous tales of rare LPs and books for tuppence, Clarice Cliff cups and saucers for thruppence. As it is now, charity shops have realised they're a business and have to compete with other shops, making them rather bland. Also, anything remotely rare or valuable is looked up on the internet and sold accordingly (usually sold online as well, hence the lack of anything interesting in the actual shops). Last week I even went to Christie's with a charity shop volunteer to get a free valuation on some items. There's an urban myth that charity shops in posh parts of London sell posh stuff. They don't. It's still all crap. Still, it has to be said, I would rather go into a charity shop than any other shop and can't actually pass one by without popping in. You know, just in case…

We start from the top of King Street in Hammersmith; a bleak and ugly prospect. The first charity shop is an Oxfam; a surprisingly spacious and bright branch which my boon companion notes has 'funky music playing and funky helpers'. Further along is Traid, a clothes and textiles charity shop which we didn't bother looking in. Cancer Research has a huge number of CDs (mostly rubbish). The British Heart Foundation is deemed too 'jumbly' with lots of women's shoes and also hundreds of CDs. Further along, Amnesty International have a pleasant and interesting second-hand bookshop which also sells records and CDs.

Walking from King Street with its narrow, crowded pavement and emerging into Chiswick with its wide, empty pavements and trendy shops, restaurants and bars was something close to euphoric.

But before we went into Chiswick proper, we made a brief detour up Turnham Green Terrace, towards Turnham Green tube, where there was a FARA Kids shop (which we didn't bother with), an average Octavia (the new name for the Notting Hill Housing Trust) and, opposite, a Trinity Hospice. A little further along is a cheerful Bernado's, then a very funky new FARA. Finally on the corner is an excellent Oxfam Books with well organised books and cheap, decent records and CDs.

Once in Chiswick High Street, we came across a black-fronted Oxfam. There are several of these in London and a few others in other cities, such as Bath; they look like boutiques because they are, and specialise in vintage fashion and tend to be found only in the posher areas of London (The King's Road, Westbourne Grove). It held virtually no interest for us, except some amusing wine glasses which had small red toy cars attached to their bottoms (a reasonable £3). Further along, Cancer Research was deemed 'quite jolly'. Another Cancer Research a little bit up the road consists entirely (bizarrely) of fancy dress and vintage clothes.

Barngains of the day: the Amnesty bookshop had some good, pretty new CDs for £2 each: Black Sabbath's debut album and Paranoid (2010 Digipak versions); Gary Numan's The Pleasure Principle and (with Tubeway Army) Replicas (2008 Tour Edition with bonus CD of early out-takes); and Jon Spencer Blues Explosion's Dirty Shirt Rock 'n' Roll: the First Ten Years, released earlier in the year.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

A Guide to Buying a New Television

New televisions are like the Emperor's New Clothes – we all know the quality's crap, it's just no one's seeing it.

We've only just got rid of our old analogue, cathode ray tube Sony Trinitron TV – it's been in the family for the last 30 years and always worked great. But here's the thing – even up to a few weeks ago the picture quality was better than any digital TV. Don't believe me? Well, put it this way, there was no pixelation, colour fading (when not viewed straight on), ghosting, smearing, flickering, picture judder, jagged edges, screen reflection, temperamental transmissions, dead pixels, low resolution – all things that affect modern LCD and LED TVs.

If you think the quality of modern widescreen TVs is great, you're either fooling yourself or blind (if so, a handy new audio description feature may help you here). Even in TV showrooms – where they like to give a false impression of TV quality by either showing HD channels or DVDs – the quality still looks poor, especially on the ugly large screens, with blurring and pixelation making £1000 TVs look like YouTube quality.

TVs named and explained:

Hi-Definition TV
Most of still watch (and only need) standard definition TV. Ergo, if you have a flash, big, ugly, expensive HD TV the picture quality will be pretty poor showing standard definition.

This is the same technology that powered my handheld video games thirty years ago, right? See all the possible problems mentioned above. Will your LCD TV last thirty years (will it last even last three years)? Will you want it to? No, no and no. You'll be wanting an internet-streaming TV next year, and a 3D TV the year after that. Overall: poor quality which especially becomes apparent watching vintage (ie more than ten year old, non-digital) TV programmes and DVDs.

You'll also be wanting to get rid of your LCD to get an LED. You know what? It's better quality, slimmer and more expensive than LCDs. However, it may also suffer from poor quality.

These are coming in a few years. Better quality than LCD and LED, but more expensive. I'm making it up, but you get my drift. I mean, WTF?

Guess what? They're expensive, ugly and poor quality. And programmed to self-destruct in two years.

3D TVs
This is a new type of TV. They're expensive, with limited content (currently) and usually poor quality. But, most importantly (and this has to be in capitals) THE VIEWER NEEDS TO WEAR SPECIAL 3D GLASSES (which may cost an extra £100). Once again, WTF?

Internet TVs
They should have sorted this out years ago. Let's just make the computer and TV one thing. Still in its infancy, internet access on TVs is mostly limited to a small selection of websites. Facebook on your £2000 55" TV, anyone?

Really Big TVs
Everyone (well, usually guys who want red Porsches and have small dicks… presumably) wants a huge mother of a TV to fill up the whole room or wall. So they can watch reruns of The Bill or Chelsea vs. Spurs. Please. Get. A. Life. It's a general rule that people who want the biggest TVs will watch the crappiest stuff on it.

TV companies and manufacturers must be loving this new technology. For years the UK had nothing but analogue TV and four channels. Now there's a plethora of new features, such as: internet widgets, video recording, eco modes, 3D and audio description. Now TV companies can get us to update our TVs every few years (like the computer companies do by constantly updating software). Go to your local dump and see how many discarded TV sets there are. Yeah, right there, next to all the dumped computer monitors. Basically, the technology isn't ready for the digital switchover so we get either cheap, shoddy TVs that will be obsolete in a few years or really expensive ones with marginally better quality (which may or not be obsolete in a few years).

New TVs don't even have on and off buttons. They're meant to be environmentally-friendly but keeping them on stand-by all night is more damaging to the environment than having them on (apparently).

It's funny how we still have the choice with radio – digital or analogue. Yet the quality of digital radio is far better (comparatively) than digital TV, with complete lack of crackling and superior sound, yet we were virtually forced into buying new TVs or Freeview sets with the analogue switch off. Bring back analogue TV! All is forgiven!

This guide has put together with help from the Which? Guide to Buying a New Television. My final advice? Don't bother. Read a book instead. TV is crap – and HD just makes it appear worse. It's (also) funny that as TV programmes have got worse in quality (in the UK anyway), people have become more obsessed with the quality and size of their TV sets. X Factor's blaring away in the living room when you try to have a conversation with someone. Go figure.

FYI: I don't own a TV.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Top 25 Live Albums

In no particular order (except the order I wrote them)...

Bruce Springsteen Live 1975-1985
Velvet Underground Live: 1969
Otis Redding Live in Europe
Jimi Hendrix Band of Gypsys
Johnny Cash At San Quentin
Johnny Cash At Folsom Prison
Miles Davis Live-Evil
Bob Dylan Bootleg Series, Vol. 4: Live 1966: 'Royal Albert Hall'
Bob Dylan Bootleg Series Vol. 5: Live 1975: Rolling Thunder
Bob Dylan Hard Rain
Talking Heads The Name of This Band is Talking Heads
Talking Heads Stop Making Sense
James Brown Live at the Apollo
Rolling Stones Get Yer Ya Ya's Out
Nirvana MTV Unplugged in New York
Elvis Presley That's the Way it is
The Who Live at Leeds
Led Zeppelin How the West Was Won
Portishead Roseland NYC Live
Neil Diamond Hot August Night
The Grateful Dead Live/Dead
The Last Waltz The Band
Roxy Music Viva! Roxy Music
Leonard Cohen Live in London
Neil Young Live Rust

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Magazine cover: Warhol's Interview, June 1973

Cover girl is Apollonia von Ravenstein. Photos by Chris von Wagenheim. Design by Richard Bernstein. Hair by Christian. Car boot sale find, 10p. Click on image to enlarge.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Homeless Movies Hits 10,000!

Whilst Justin Bieber battles it out with Lady Gaga for most YouTube visits (Bieber was the first to hit a billion apparently, and gains a million hits a day*), humble me is quite chuffed with 10,000 total YouTube hits. Isn't the internet amazing? Post anything up there and it takes on a life of its own. To be ignored or adored.

Those of you still holding your breath for the Homeless Movies DVD… you would have died about six years ago. But after many setbacks – financial, technological, emotional, physical – it will be produced in the next month or so. Maybe. Watch this space.

*Rumour has it he employs a whole factory of Chinese workers with PCs spending twelve hours a day clicking on his YouTube videos to up his numbers. (Only joking.)

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Lookalikes #6: Ted Croner album covers

Top right: Bob Dylan's Modern Times (2006); all other images from Luna's Penthouse CD (1995). Luna formed after the break up of Galaxie 500. If you like Galaxie 500, you'll like Luna. All images by Ted Croner, a key member of the New York School of photography in the 1940s and 50s. Yes, they're meant to be out of focus.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The Annotated Pregnant Widow

I've just finished reading Martin Amis's latest book The Pregnant Widow, which I (naturally) picked up in a charity shop (hardback, 3rd impression, 99p). It's a partial return to form, but what I found interesting (vaguely) was why the previous owner had underlined or highlighted certain passages and corrected spelling mistakes. What impels people to deface books with their jottings is curious, especially if they're going to give the book away. But maybe that's the point – for the next owner to ponder why (though corrected spelling mistakes I can understand – aren't books proofed and spell-checked? I even have a professional sub-editor for this blog. Isn't that right, Mel?).

Here are the highlighted/corrected passages:

'...if we all looked liked bowling balls.' (The 'd' after 'like' crossed out – spelling mistake, p.55)

'After the storm. We display ourselves. Her. Down by the pool.' ('e' inserted after 'Her' – spelling mistake, p.57)

But dreams were non-smoking. (Underlined, p. 380)

'He's back. We talked.' And Kendrik, who was very dishonest but utterly undevious (a combination that would not serve him well), (Highlighted with a bracket and a question mark, p. 383)

What kind of poet was Keith Nearing, so far? He was minor exponent of humorous self-deprecation (was there only one culture on earth that went in for this?). (Highlighted with a bracket and an exclamation mark, p.401)

She combined beauty and dirt, like city snow. (Underlined, p.412)

'More than ever. Actually I'm getting fed up with Rome. It asks so little of you. I need something with a bit more bite.' (Highlighted with a bracket, p.417)

'…The Winter's Tale…' (Correction: 'The' crossed out and replaced with 'A', p.419)

…of a vanished England, all white, all middle-class, and all middle-aged – England before the invention of colour. (Highlighted with a bracket, p. 452)

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Harrison's Ford

Harrison yanked the fridge door open. 'No Ford in here!' he bellowed, grinning. The Leipzig maneuver was in full swing behind him. Outside birds crowed and nests hummed. Cali came in, one breast hanging out. She hitched up her briefs. 'Shit, Harry, what's all the locomotion?' she whined. 'Oh shucks, honey, I'm only foolin' around.' He grinned every time he spoke.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Stairway to Hairven

A birthday card collage (for our dad) by my brother using cut and paste the old-fashioned way: with scissors and glue. See more of his collage cards (and some of mine, though his are loads better) and photos at alwarda on Flickr .

Saturday, November 06, 2010

Record Cover of the Day: Erotic Terrorism

It's not often you see the words 'Erotic' and 'Terrorism' side by side, but here they are, the title of Fun-Da-Mental's third album (1998). There was a brief period, somewhere in the late 90s when I was quite into Fun-Da-Mental, a British (yet anti-western), radical, Islamic hip-hop, dance and world music band. Sometimes the mix works; sometimes not. They're usually pretty controversial. I like the title and the cover of Erotic Terrorism, a parody of a Bollywood film poster. Perhaps not even parody – their music does also contain elements of sounds from Indian films.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Top 10 Warminster disasters*

'Gee, how I would love to be living in Warminster right now. You seem to be getting all the kicks and high jinks in life'
– Schoolgirl from Kansas (as quoted in The Warminster Mystery by Arthur Shuttlewood, 1967, an account of UFO sightings in and around Warminster in 1965)

This is my last week in Warminster, Wiltshire, 'the worst place in England to live' (someone said to me). A bit harsh perhaps, but it has been a bleak experience.

1. Splitting up with my family
It just didn't work out.

2. Burning the living room
Okay, that's an exaggeration; we had the log fire blazing with some cardboard lying quite near it (my fault). The cardboard caught on fire. I threw a bucket of water over it and black ash liquid seeped into the carpet. Don't tell the landlord.

3. Getting off on the wrong request-only train station in the middle of nowhere
I'd only just moved to Wiltshire and started an evening college course (screen printing); on the train back at night I had on my iPod and didn't hear the announcement that the train was stopping at a request stop, Dilton Marsh, quite a few miles from Warminster. I dashed out of the train. By the time I realised my mistake the train had gone. I looked around. There was nothing and no one. I phoned home. Mel was going to have to wake up Martha and pick me up by car. She phoned back two minutes later saying Martha had been sick everywhere and wouldn't be able to pick me up. I wondered around a while. I eventually found a cab.

4. Being chased out of 'friendly local' pub by a group of stoned skinheads
I've mentioned this previously (fourth paragraph down).

5. Being rejected from a local factory job
This involved having to don an apron, net hat and wellington boots then being shown around a prawn-packing factory followed by a twenty-minute maths test. Which I failed. We were allowed to use calculators but it took me about ten minutes to find the calculator on my phone. Even then the questions were harder than GCSE maths and I didn't get very far. (In my defence, all the factory jobs eventually went to Poles in a Polish job agency.)

6. Nothing to do at all
Eh, in my day you made your own entertainment. Whatever. It's like a soulless wasteland. Anyone for skittles?

7. Ex-in-laws threatening to move to Warminster
Perhaps the final straw/nail in coffin etc.

8. Living in a draughty, falling apart, rat-infested house for three years with an apathetic landlord

9. Not knowing anyone for a 100-mile radius
Thank heavens for broadband.

10. Never having seen a UFO or an alien
Everyone else here tends to see them. A friend thinks the whole town consists of aliens. And that's being charitable.

*Apart from moving here.

Due to overwhelming public demand, here's a few extras we remembered whilst clearing the house out:

• We locked ourselves out of the house on our first night.
Mel's best friend bought her (rescue home) dog over to visit. It shat diarrhea all over our bedroom.
• We had a plague of ants for about a week.
• In the early days, Mel was always tripping over in the house. And breaking things.

• Finally, as recently as last week I almost set the dining table on fire. With a bunch of candles on a tin tray. We forgot about them and the candles burnt through the tray, melted the varnish on the table and was very close to catching on fire.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

The Walking Dead recipe

You will need:

1x failed Brit comedy actor (Andrew Lincoln: This Life, Teachers, Love Actually) with dodgy American accent (à la Hugh Laurie in House)

1x blonde girl zombie (à la The Dawn of the Dead remake)

1x post-coma hospital opening scene (à la 28 Days Later, itself à la Day of the Triffids)

1x large helping of Basashi (raw horse meat served in Japan)

Add a healthy dose of mawkishness, (dodgy CGI) blood and guts.

Adapted from the comic books, The Walking Dead is the new six-part American TV zombie series starring Andrew Lincoln (forever Egg from This Life) as a deputy sheriff who wakes up in hospital after a coma to discover the world over-run by zombies. Sounds familiar? Perhaps, but it does get better. Good to see zombies back as Romero intended them, shuffling along at a leisurely pace (instead of the usual ubiqutious post-modern speedy ones). It's been developed and directed by Frank Darabont, who made The Shawshank Redemption, The Green Mile and The Mist – all Stephen King adaptations. A promising start.

Not to be confused with: Waking the Dead, the BBC 'Police Drama series based around cold cases'.
Quite likely to be confused with: 28 Days Later, Dawn of the Dead, I am Legend, etc.

Do say: TV is the new movies!
Don't say: Zombies are the new vampires!

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Book Cover: JD Salinger

Most authors nowadays (or any other day for that matter) have very little say in how the cover of their book will look. Inevitably they end up pretty bland, with each genre having very specific requirements (usually involving a boring stock photo) – you can tell a chick lit cover a mile away, for example.

Reclusive author Jerome David Salinger (who died at the beginning of the year) was the exception to the rule, in that he made the rules. Salinger stipulated in his contract that none of his book covers should have any image or information other than author and title. So no newspaper quotes, plot summary or author bio. And no photos or illustrations (though searching through Google images, it seems this rule has been broken a few times at least...). I love the simplicity of the Penguin example above, bought today at Oxfam for 69p. The back cover is identical to the front.

More recently, book designer David Pearson has given Cormac McCarthy's novels a much needed face lift, using only old-fashioned (-looking... they were actually rubber stamps) type blocks. They look magnificent (even if quotes from newspapers are as big as the title and author. Apparently Pearson/McCarthy wanted to use quotes from the books, but this idea was rejected... no doubt by the marketing department). Compare with the original UK hardback and paperback release of McCarthy's The Road, which had an awful generic Getty image for the cover and a pretty ugly typeface.

Pearson also designed Penguin's Great Ideas and Popular Classics series, both featuring type-only covers.

Previously: On the Road; Versions of Covers

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Random Film Review: Shutter Island

Dir: Martin Scorsese | 2010 | USA | 138mins

Throughout the film I wondered in amazement at the hammy acting, numerous basic continuity mistakes and cheap-looking CGI, but by the end I was thinking: was it all intentional? I mean, Leonardo DiCaprio's character has just imagined most of the film, so was it meant to look artificial, cheap and clichéd? Perhaps. But probably not. Nevertheless, the conceit of 'he imagined it all' is just as bad as 'it was all a dream'. It's a cop-out.

Like Bruce Willis in The Sixth Sense (who surely anyone with half a brain realised was dead after about ten minutes), when the 'surprise twist' comes at the end of Shutter Island, not only did we guess it at least an hour ago, but we didn't really care one way or the other anyway.

Oh where for art thou, Leonardo? He who was the golden boy in Titanic is now the podgy, average man (though like Matt Damon, still unconvincing as a functioning adult in society) thirteen years later in Shutter Island (which starts on a boat, instantly recalling Titanic; with shoddy CGI, instantly recalling Titanic).

DiCaprio has been in four Scorsese films now. It's obviously just not working: can I suggest he calls it a day? Martin Scorsese hasn't made a great film since 1990 (Goodfellas). That's twenty years ago. Leonardo DiCaprio has never been in a great film (though I grudgingly admit he's been in some real good ones). Did you know he's six foot tall? I always thought he was shorter.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Random Film Review: Phase IV

It's a safe bet Bass didn't design the film's misleading poster.

Dir: Saul Bass | USA | 1974 | 91 min

Are rats and mice forever going to fall for traps? Are badgers and foxes ever going to look both ways before they cross a road? Will rabbits always freeze in headlights? Are animals just stupid or does evolution just take a very long time?

In Phase IV, after an unspecified 'event', two scientists are sent to the Arizona desert to investigate strange behaviour that ants are exhibiting. They're building massive ant nests, displaying high intelligence and evolving at an exponential rate. By the end of the film, the scientists discover that they are in fact the subject of the ant's experiment.

With a cast of millions of ants (I felt itchy throughout) and only a handful of humans in the whole film (half of whom get killed early on), for the first ten minutes there are no people or dialogue at all (just a voice over); mainly just microscopic images of ants. Labelled a 'sci-fi horror' (minus any special effects), most of Phase IV is more like an eerie, psychedelic nature documentary. But its mood and message is in keeping with other classic, intelligent sci-fi films of the period, including 2001: A Space Odyssey, Silent Running and The Andromeda Strain.

I hadn't since Phase IV since I was a child. I did recall it was about ants, though I remembered them being giant-sized (must have been the macro photography giving that illusion). Or maybe I'm thinking of Them! (which does concern giant ants).

Largely forgotten about nowadays, though it has a sort of cult status, being the only film directed by the great graphic designer Saul Bass. Unsurprisingly from the man who gave us the shower scene in Psycho, it's full of eerie, startling imagery: huge close-ups of ants (macro and time-lapse photography were both fairly new at the time); giant ant's nests like monoliths from 2001 (or Easter Island); ants coming out of a dead man's hand (an update of the Bunuel classic); and abstract, hauntingly beautiful shots of landscapes, machinery, and man's (and ant's) relationship to them.

The website goofbutton has assembled a collection of stills from the film, highlighting its visual motifs and colours.

The actress Lynne Frederick was only twenty when she acted in the film; she died twenty years later, in 1994. She acted in Vampire Circus and was married to Peter Sellers and David Frost. For some reason she has several (pretty tacky) fan websites dedicated to her.

If you're a member of you can watch Phase IV for free on their website along with thousands of other films including Let the Right One in and The Mist (both excellent). Please note: this blog has no affiliation with lovefilm and isn't even a member.

It's scandalous that there's still not a decent book about Saul Bass.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Top 10 Google 'How to...' searches

Google's top ten predictive text results when typing 'how to'.

1. Write a CV
2. Lose weight fast
3. Make money
4. Kiss
5. Draw
6. Make pancakes
7. Tie a tie
8. Get a six pack
9. Train your dragon
10. Play poker

If you've mastered all these, you probably have a pretty happy and successful life.

Friday, October 22, 2010


See more of my illustrations here.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Die young, stay pretty

Advance apologies if this post sounds a little callous, but have you ever noticed when a child dies in a (usually freak) accident or is perhaps abducted or even murdered, they're always portrayed in the media as being either 'beautiful', 'bubbly', 'full of life' or 'bright'? I mean, does it really matter what they were like? Would it matter less if they were boring, ugly, depressed or stupid? And when a boring, ugly, depressed or stupid child does die, is it just not reported? Is a beautiful (usually white, blonde and female) child's life worth more than an ugly child's? Is it just more news worthy? Considering some 150,000 children go missing every year in the UK (many of which are thankfully eventually found, unharmed), I guess it's hardly surprising we don't hear about all of them, but it would be good to even out the score a bit.

Monday, October 18, 2010


Pheasant season has just began. Did you know pheasants are bred expressly for hunting? Apparently I should have known, having read Roald Dahl's Danny, the Champion of the World (and seen the film) and lived in the country for three years. Well, I know now. It seems a trivial and tragic existence for a pheasant, a handsome yet stupid bird. At least other animals are bred for food, which seems more essential than hunting (though if the pheasants are eaten afterwards, I guess it's okay. In fact they probably get more freedom to roam than most other animals).

We were driving through the country and noticed a line of men waving large coloured flags. Scarecrows? Crazy country folk? I wondered. No, my boon companion corrected me, they are pheasant 'beaters'; men (occasionally women) who drive the birds into the line of fire for the shooters. Sounds like cheating to me. Beating is apparently the new shooting, with one such beater quoted in the Daily Telegraph (never!) as saying he prefers the excitement of beating to shooting. You get a radio and everything.

To me it seems a pretty easy job but apparently there's quite a craft to it. And now an organisation with a website: the National Organisation of Beaters and Pickers Up (otherwise known as NOB; I kid you not... there's a very immature pun to be made about beating and NOBs but I'm not going to go there).

Friday, October 15, 2010

Overheard #6

Two middle-aged men with Bipolar disorder in a charity shop in Westbury, Wiltshire.

– You got any kids?
– What, being Bipolar? You must be kidding. I had the snip years ago. How often do you get attacks?
– It's with me all the time. It never goes away. How about you?
– I have an attack every couple of months. Sometimes I hear voices. I just ignore them. Especially when they tell me to stab my wife.

The man lets out an evil chuckle. Everyone in the shop has heard him, but is not sure if he is joking. We make our way towards the exit.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Lookalikes #5: Sebastian Roché & Gordon Ramsay

Sebastian Roché, actor, and Gordon Ramsey, Tourette's suffering celebrity chef. The lookalike becomes more apparent watching Sebastian Roché in Fringe. We've just started watching season three.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Now Serving Flat White

After – what? – a thirty year wait, the major coffee chains in the UK are now serving flat white coffee. Originating from New Zealand and Australia in the 1980s, I've been met with blank looks when asking for one in many a UK coffee shop over the years (though several independent coffee shops have been serving it for some time here; most obviously Flat White in London).

I've never had a decent coffee in a chain coffee shop but thought I'd give the Costa flat white a try. Apparently 'Coffee lovers prefer Costa'; they've even based a whole advertising campaign on it which goes something like: 'In head-to-head tests, the majority of coffee lovers preferred our flat white to Starbucks' (this now-widespread competitive advertising I find so juvenile). In small black print (on a dark purple background) at the bottom of the ad are the statistics: out of a 157 sample size, 84 professed to be 'coffee lovers'; 62% of which preferred the Costa flat white, which gives us... 52 people. Wow, that's quite a survey. Mine, BTW, was average. And Costa isn't called Costa for nothing: it cost £2.49.

In my mind, a flat white is pretty similar to a café con leche or a café au lait – both simply meaning coffee with milk (I know there are probably many technical differences*) – amazingly, also pretty hard to get hold of in England. Cafe Rouge, for example, does not serve café au lait (!). It's true – they only have filter coffee, lattes and cappuccinos (none of which are French). And the few times I have been to a Costa or a Starbucks I haven't seen one on the menu. It's not difficult. Go to any cafe in France, Spain or Portugal, and a café au lait or café con leche is readily available (and not a bewildering list of stupid named milk-based substitutes à la mochafuckachino).

In the UK I usually end up opting for a latte, though it is like a coffee milkshake, especially when served in those ridiculous knickerbocker glory glasses (which I'm sure are only meant for women and children). A latte is too milky, a cappuccino too frothy, a filter coffee too... boring. All I've ever wanted is a decent flat white/café au lait/café con leche. It looks like I'll have to wait til I'm next in New Zealand/France/Spain to get one.

(*Costa's How to Make the Perfect Flat White: 1. Perfect the grind; 2. Extract every drop; 3. Treat the milk with respect; 4. Pour with care; 5. It's all about bollocks, I mean balance. Apparently.)

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The Velvet Underground Live 1972 & 1993

'The unanimous opinion was that we were ten times better live than we were on records'
– Sterling Morrison

The Velvet Underground are famous for their live performances in the late 1960s but two very different and interesting post-60s shows are available (sort of; they're out of print now but can be found on eBay or bought secondhand on Amazon): Lou Reed, John Cale and Nico at Le Bataclan '72 in Paris, 1972, and The Velvet Underground Live MCMXCIII in 1993, also in Paris, at the L'Olympia theatre (about a ten minute drive from Le Bataclan).

I only discovered these two albums recently: the former I'd never heard of until a few months ago, the latter I dismissed at the time but thought I ought to have a proper listen to. You know what? It's not that bad.

After disbanding in 1970 (the album Live at Max's Kansas City was recorded in 1970 but not released until 1972), these two shows are all we have of (most members of) The VU live post-1970. After being a bootleg for thirty years (it now seems prescient for Lou Reed to mumble at the beginning, 'Took us a while to get here'), Le Bataclan finally got an official release in 2003. It's as close as we're ever going to get to The VU Unplugged; there are acoustic, after hours bar-room sounding arrangements of VU classics (Waiting for the Man, Black Angels Death Song, Heroin, Femme Fatale, All Tomorrows Parties), given a laid back bluesy treatment. The trio also play songs from their solo careers; Lou's deadpan introductions to his songs include, 'It's my Barbara Streisand song' before Berlin and 'It's a new song. It's called Wild Child. It's about a wild child... funnily enough' before Wild Child. After three John Cale songs comes Nico's set, and it's as if we've been transported from a basement Parisian bar to an austere German Gothic cathedral. Listening to Nico is an acquired taste. I like Chelsea Girl but albums like The End and The Marble Index can be painful at best.

Just over twenty years later, The Velvet Underground reformed with Lou Reed, John Cale, Sterling Morrison and Maureen Tucker for a series of live shows, their last appearances together (Reed and Cale had yet another tiff; Sterling Morrison died in 1995). Just seeing them all together again was enough of a minor miracle for most fans; and though the music mostly is pretty good, Reed's vocals are mostly awful. Watching the DVD (released in 2006) of the concert, everyone apart from Lou seems a bit nervous and awkward; Reed looks like he doesn't care at all. I think I caught him smiling once (nothing unusual there) and there are moments when the band gels and it's magic (Pale Blue Eyes); there are other moments when it's embarrassing (Velvet Nursery Rhyme). There's also a new song, Coyote, disappointingly average. Still, over all, it's pretty good if unremarkable.

Recent Lou Reed being troublesome:
I love Lou Reed when he offends people (almost a full-time job for him). My headline of the year so far has got to be: Lou Reed Makes Susan Boyle Cry (he wouldn't let her do a cover of Perfect Day). Priceless.

In June this year 'fans' yelled obscenities and walked out during the Montreal Jazz festival when Reed, partner and fellow experimental musician Laurie Anderson and John Zorn (also pretty experimental) performed an improvised instrumental set of free-jazz (not so free at £62 a ticket though) with no vocals and very little melody.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Single Father Films

Single Father is a new BBC four-part series starring David Tennant (trying to distance himself from Doctor Who as far as possible) as the eponymous father, whose wife is killed in a road accident, leaving him with four kids to raise.

Traditionally I guess it's unusual for a father to raise his children alone; I don't know, perhaps the BBC thinks it's being original or even daring, but there's a long tradition of motherless movies, and the concept seems to have gained in popularity in recent years. Mostly, the films are either pretty lame (A Simple Twist of Fate, Jersey Girl, Big Daddy, Mall Cop, The Holiday, Inkheart) or portray the father as incapable (Jack and Sarah with Richard E Grant, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, 10 Things I Hate About You); usually a bit of both (an exception may be Michael Douglas as a single father in American President; he has a pretty responsible job and it's not a bad film).

(Certainly, single mums in movies are portrayed as capable and managing to have some fun too: Julia Roberts in Erin Brockovich, Kate Winslet in Hideous Kinky, Juliette Binoche in Chocolat, Keri Russell in Waitress, Renée Zellweger in Jerry McGuire).

Each decade seems to have its blockbuster single father film: in the 1970s it was Kramer vs Kramer (1979) with Dustin Hoffman; the 80s gave us Three Men and a Baby (1987); in the 90s it was Sleepless in Seattle (1993) and Mrs Doubtfire (also 1993); the jury's still out on the 00s – perhaps Love Actually (2003) with Liam Neeson providing the single father strand or The Pursuit of Happyness (2006) with Will Smith?

I occasionally wonder who decides (and why) to make a child motherless in a film: (presumably male) writer, studio executive, director? In the case of Knowing (2009), it was the actor Nicolas Cage. A single father himself for some eighteen years, Cage wanted to expel the movie myth that a man couldn't capably raise his child on his own. I'm not sure having a film about a boy who hears whispers from aliens and eventually leaves earth in a UFO is the best way to go about re-addressing the balance, but full kudos to Cage for trying.

Indeed, either having the father and child in an extreme situation (it's the end of the world in Knowing) or the father being less than fully in charge of his faculties seems a convenient way out for some films. The Road, based on the book by Cormac McCarthy, has Viggo Mortensen and son trudge through a bleak post-apocalyptic landscape. I am Sam (2001) has Sean Penn as a mentally retarded father; Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1968) stars Dick Van Dyke as crackpot inventor Caratacus Potts who doesn't bother sending his children to school; Nanny McPhee (2005), a Mary Poppins ripoff, has Colin Firth as a bumbling dad. But what runs through these films, no matter the circumstances, is how much the father loves his child.

Disney films, surprisingly perhaps, considering they're meant to be 'family' films, have a long tradition of broken families and in particular single dads, from Pinocchio (1940), Bambi (1942) and Cinderella (1950, though the single father dies at the start of the film) through to more recent classics like King Triton in The Little Mermaid (1989), (another) crackpot inventor, Maurice, in Beauty and the Beast (1991), the Native American tribe chief in Pocahontas (1995), the neurotic clown fish dad in Finding Nemo (2003) and Patrick Dempsey in Enchanted (2008). Indeed, single fathers far outweigh single mothers in Disney films, with only Dumbo (1941) and Toy Story (1995) featuring lone mums. The Sony Pictures Animation feature, Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs (2009), also features a single father, who speaks in fishing metaphors and has very little control over his son.

One Fine Day (1996) and The Parent Trap (1998) get points for being about both a single mum (Pfeiffer and Richardson respectively) and a single dad (Clooney and Quaid respectively).

The Guardian Weekend magazine recently had an article written by a father of four children whose wife had died. He said women now found him irresistibly attractive and he could get any woman he wanted (unsurprisingly, this provoked something of a backlash in the letters page the following week). There's an assumption that the father hasn't got a clue how to raise children; that he needs help; that he's also caring and sensitive. Apparently women love this kind of stuff. Perhaps this is why many leading men are lining up to play single fathers.

I wonder how many are going to line up to play Bunny Monroe in a possible TV-adaption by John Hillcoat of Nick Cave's The Death of Bunny Monroe. Bunny becomes a single dad when his wife commits suicide and he's forced to acknowledge his son's existence; even then he's more interested in getting laid.

Given the influx of single dad films, you'd think mothers are leaving their families (or simply dying) in droves. They're not. It's still the father who is far more likely to walk out (or die).

Abrams's and Spielberg's sentimental, retro monster movie, Super 8 (2011), contained two single fathers: one uptight, the other a mess.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Anvil vs. Spinal Tap

Even after watching the documentary – or rockumentary – Anvil! The Story of Anvil and afterwards, looking them up online, I'm still not sure they're not a spoof band. I mean, their music isn't even as good as Spinal Tap's (who have fallen into that strange grey area of being a fictional band who have actually released a record and gone on tour).

The similarities between Anvil! The Story of Anvil (2008) and This is Spinal Tap (1984) are just ridiculous: indeed, the characters and dialogue from This is Spinal Tap seem to inform Anvil! The Story of Anvil throughout. Both bands (real and imagined) were big in the 1980s, then vanished into obscurity, and after trying to make a comeback finally became big in Japan. Both are heavy metal bands. Both have a Rob(b) Reiner. Both have volume dials that go up to 11. And the Stonehenge connection. Spinal Tap are certainly more real to me than Anvil.

We all now know that I'm Still Here, the recent documentary – or cockumentary – directed by Casey Affleck about his brother-in-law Joaquin Phoenix, was a hoax. This involved Phoenix being a dick for two years; putting on weight, growing a beard, being obtuse in chat shows, admitting to giving up acting and starting a rap career. Knowing it's now a hoax essentially means Phoenix was acting a part (in public) for two years.

So what I'm waiting for is the makers of Anvil! The Story of Anvil to admit that the band are a hoax; that they've been planning the film since 1973, when two of the band members met at school, and have been acting their parts for the last thirty-five years, just for the film about them to be released in 2008. (At the same time, I'm also thinking, you just can't make these guys up can you?)

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

The Burton's Bedouin Tent Tomb

In a small cemetery in leafy Mortlake, south west London, stands the imposing tomb of Sir Richard Francis Burton (1821-1890) and his wife, Isabel (1831-1896). Explorer, adventurer, soldier, writer, translator, linguist: by all accounts Burton was an amazing man; he spoke some 29 languages; disguised himself as a Muslim to sneak into Mecca; and searched for the source of the Nile. His fondness for erotic literature (and sex in general) made him a controversial character at the time. He is perhaps best known for his translations of One Thousand and One Nights and the Kama Sutra.

His wife Isabel wrote to her mother, "I want to live... I want a wild roving vagabond life... I wish I were a man". She would always live under the shadow of her husband (this was the Victorian times) but was said to be 'striking, intelligent and unconventional' (being Burton's wife, she would have had to have been); she also wrote some travel and history books.

Their tomb is extraordinary, especially considering the surroundings; the graveyard is tiny and the Burton's tomb sticks out like an oasis in the desert. Round the back of the tomb there's a small window where one can peek in and see their coffins.

Monday, October 04, 2010

Notes on The Brian Jonestown Massacre

They're from San Francisco and real good – much better than their once-friends The Dandy Warhols, who were loads more successful than BJM. They are the subject of DiG!, a 2004 documentary by Ondi Timoner, exposing their lead singer, Anton Newcombe, as a passionate and charismatic yet somewhat crazy and self-destructive individual. BJM have had nearly as many personnel line-ups as The Fall, and like lead singer and songwriter Mark E Smith, Anton Newcombe has been the only consistent band member over the years.

They have released twelve albums and numerous EPs over the last two decades (they formed in 1990), the latest being this year's Who Killed Sgt. Pepper? All their albums are pretty good, and they've been steadily getting more experimental.

They got their name from two sources: Brian Jones, guitarist with The Rolling Stones, who drowned in a swimming pool in 1969; and the Jonestown Massacre, where the Rev. Jim Jones, cult leader of the Peoples Temple, persuaded his almost 1000-strong congregation to drink Kool-Aid poisoned with cyanide and commit mass suicide (in the end 918 people died). This was in Guyana, a tiny country in South America in 1978. There's a good documentary about it called Jonestown: The Life and Death of Peoples Temple.

They've named-checked as many bands as musical styles they've used: their band name and album Their Satanic Majesties' Second Request (The Rolling Stones); Bringing it all Back Home Again (Bob Dylan); My Bloody Underground (My Bloody Valentine and The Velvet Underground); Who Killed Sgt. Pepper? (The Beatles). Their musical style has been a combination of psychedelic rock, shoegaze, folk rock and experimental.

A few years ago they were giving away all their albums as mp3s on their website (I don't think they are any more, but they do post radio shows and demos from time to time). I downloaded most of their albums but still haven't listened to them all yet. A few weeks ago I got a BJM compilation in Oxfam, 2004's Tepid Peppermint Wonderland: A Retrospective, a double album which is a good introduction, containing songs from throughout their career as well as live performances and a few rarities.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

RIP Arthur Penn, 1922-2010

Arthur Penn, American film director, died 28 September. Pictured: The Missouri Breaks; Mickey One; Little Big Man; Bonnie and Clyde; The Chase and Night Moves.

I haven't mentioned the passing of another favourite director, Claude Chabrol, French suspense master, who died 12 September this year, aged 80.

Monday, September 27, 2010

On the beach at Lyme Regis

Lyme Regis on the south coast of England is one of my favourite places in the world. Most famous for its fossils, its beach and cliffs are part of the Jurassic Coast, a World Heritage Site which runs along Southern England. Unlike other, tackier, coastal towns whose glory days have long gone, Lyme Regis has retained its charm, vitality and history.

I've been fascinated by the place ever since being taken there as a child and searching for fossils and, later, reading the book and watching the film The French Lieutenant's Woman by John Fowles – who can forget Jeremy Irons first seeing Meryl Streep at the end of The Cobb (the famous harbour wall); her piercing, haunted face with the stormy sea as a backdrop? The author John Fowles lived in Lyme Regis from the late 1960s up to his death in 2005. The Cobb, which dates back to at least the 1300s, also features in Jane Austen's Persuasion.

The child's tongue-twister 'She sells seashells on the sea shore' refers to Mary Anning (1799-1847), Lyme Regis's most famous (yet largely unknown) resident. Fossil collector, seller and palaeontologist, her discoveries were some of the most significant the world had ever seen, and changed the way scientists thought about the history of the earth. Though recognised as an expert in many areas, she remained poor. Some of the scientific community of the time doubted Mary's finds and abilities (she was self-taught) – mainly because she was female and poor.

Mary Anning's trusted companion, her dog Tray, died in a landslide. Like much of England's coastline, Lyme Regis's cliffs are constantly being eroded. In 2008, its largest landslide for 100 years occurred along the beach towards Charmouth. Once the site of a rubbish dump, the landslide revealed garbage from over a hundred years ago.

My daughter, up until now, had wanted me to find her fossils. I found lots – you can't help but stumble across tiny ammonites along the beach – but by this time she was more interested in the contents of the ancient rubbish dump: in particular, coloured china and tiles. But the find of the day was possibly a lead toy monkey.

• Tracey Chevalier's novel Remarkable Creatures is a fictional recreation of Mary Anning's life. It's quite good. As part of Mary Anning weekend at Lyme Regis, Tracy Chevalier, among others, will be giving guided tours and talks about Anning's life and work on Saturday 23th and Sunday 24th October.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Record Cover of the Day: Babes Forever

Naked chicks on skateboards (Babes Forever EP by Coolrunnings). How cool is this? Need I say more?

Okay, a bit more. Lots of bands are using amateur 70s-style 'found' photos or Polaroids for their album covers nowadays, such as Vampire Weekend's recent Contra, Wavves' Wavvves, the Dum Dum Girls and Wolf Parade. I guess the Found magazine and website helped make these kind of retro-images cool, so why not use them for album covers? Pitchfork have written an article all about it if you're interested. They cite William Eggleston as a precursor, and indeed his seemingly random snapshots of small town America have been adorning album covers since the 1970s when Big Star used a photo of his for their Radio City cover. Since then his snaps have been used on covers by Primal Scream, Joanna Newsom, Silver Jews, Spoon and more besides... I was going to do a visual post of all Eggleston's album covers but someone's beaten me to it... like over a year ago.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Barbie: She's not there

A recent email from Amazon:

Greetings from,

We've noticed that customers who have purchased or rated I'm Not There [DVD] [2007] have also purchased Barbie - The Magic Of Pegasus - 2D Version [DVD] on DVD. For this reason, you might like to know that Barbie - The Magic Of Pegasus - 2D Version [DVD] will be released on 27 September 2010. You can pre-order yours for just £11.99 by following the link below.

A few things about this system generated email immediately strike me: 1) I can't think of two films more different. It's just so random. Okay, so a parent is a Dylan fan and has a daughter who's a Barbie fan (okay, as it happens, I am a Dylan fan and my daughter is a Barbie fan... but what are the chances?). But this buying another thing as someone else just because we've bought one thing the same... It's like the supermarket sending me an email saying: 'We've noticed that customers who have bought bread have also bought... rat poison/anchovies/laxatives/[insert random item as applicable]'.

2) It's obviously a 2D version if it's a DVD; 3) How have other people bought it if it's not out yet? (Presumably they've pre-booked it but Amazon do use the word purchased); 4) How many other customers have bought it? One? 2,468? Is that all they've bought on Amazon apart from I'm Not There? 4) Is there actually a connection between the two films?

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

On seeing the pope

You've got to believe me, this was going to be a great photo; I had a good position and composition, then someone got in the way at the last second – unfortunately my crappy camera has like a two second shutter speed delay. Still, at least you can sort of see him in the mobile phone screen. Sort of.

After Open House weekend on Saturday, my boon companion and I set off across London for a visit to Fopp, only to stumble across an anti-pope demonstration along the way (where we were roughly manhandled by the police). We came across some great placards, including 'DOWN WITH THIS SORT OF THING' which James called 'fantastically vague' (and indeed, if the picture is replaced, it could easily be adapted to be used at any kind of protest).

James had mentioned earlier that if he was with me he was bound to see someone famous (I have a reputation for seeing the famous whenever I'm in London). I gave him the pope on a plate, but apparently this didn't count. His theory goes that to see a famous person it must be a random sighting. We knew the pope was going to be along the Mall, thus the random encounter aspect was void.

My friend Chas seeing the pope going round the Wandsworth one-way system the previous afternoon, however, does count as a famous person sighting as it was random, unplanned. Likewise, I cannot say I've seen Bob Dylan, as I paid money to be there (it was premeditated). However, seeing Roger Daltrey, Anthony Gormley and Bill Nighy at the Dylan concert does count as they were random, unpredicted sightings. His theory seems a bit churlish if you ask me.

FYI: I'm an atheist who just happens to like seeing famous people.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Windows 7 wasn't my idea

The latest Windows TV campaign seems to have been going for years and shows no signs of abating. It consists of random, deluded, 'normal' (though usually cool and good looking – possibly they're actors or models) people claiming they had 'X' idea for a new Windows component – like watching TV on your laptop (couldn't you do this years ago?) or being able to see all your windows at once (didn't Apple do this years ago?).

But what gets me is that these random, normal, deluded people are actually admitting to having a Windows idea. I mean, how embarrassing. Isn't this like admitting you stole a TV, broke a window, voted Conservative or worked for Enron (even if you didn't)?

I mean, Windows is crap, right? It's the ugliest, clunkiest, least-userfriendly operating system ever (even if, ever since its beginnings, it's tried to emulate the Mac OS as near as possible without copyright infringement). And its applications – don't get me started; I hate them all. And these people are admitting/pretending to have had a hand in it. On TV. Shouldn't they be arrested and put on trial for crimes against humanity?

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Songs for Bobby

I asked Bobby Dylan
I asked the Beatles

I asked Timothy Leary

But he couldn't help me either

The Who, The Seeker (1971)

According to there are now over 31,000 individual covers of Bob Dylan songs. But how many songs are there actually about Dylan? Quite a few actually, though most seem to be parodies, along with a couple of open love songs about him (maybe it's easier to mock than to love).

Joan Baez (in perhaps her best original song; she's long said it's not about Dylan but we all know it is) on Diamonds and Rust (1975) refers to Dylan as 'the unwashed phenomenon / The original vagabond'. Joan, usually when covering his songs in the 1970s, would do a pretty good impression of Dylan's voice.

Chan Marshall, aka Cat Power, has never hidden the fact she adores Dylan. She's even on record as saying she wants to have his baby. In Song for Bobby (2007), the best song by far on her Jukebox album, she pleads, 'Can I finally tell you to be my man?'

Dylan was a key early influence on David Bowie, and on Song for Bob Dylan (1971), Bowie sings that Dylan has a voice 'like sand and glue'. Andy Warhol was apparently upset that Bowie put his song about Warhol next to Song for Bob Dylan on his album Hunky Dory. The relationship between Dylan and Warhol was somewhat tempestuous. Perhaps they were two sides of the same coin. Paranoid Warhol famously gave Dylan one of his Elvis prints in the 1960s and wondered what happened to it; according to rumour, Dylan either: used it as a dartboard; gave it away, or swapped it for a sofa. There's an amusing comic strip about the pair called Bob Hates Andy.

Last Man Standing (2005) by Bon Jovi was inspired by the death of another legend: 'When Johnny Cash died, I picked up my guitar and got the idea that Bob Dylan was the last man standing, the last of the real gods,' Jon Bon Jovi says. 'It was for Dylan, Cash, Lennon, Elvis – that's what I was thinking.'

'See those real live calloused fingers / Wrapped around those guitar strings / Kiss the lips where hurt has lingered / It breaks the heart to hear him sing'

Dylan is mentioned in two songs by T-Rex. On Telegraph Sam, 'Bobby's all right / Bobby's all right / He's a natural born poet / He's just outta sight'. And on Ballrooms of Mars, 'Bob Dylan knows / And I bet Alan Freed did: / There are things in night that are better not be behold.'

I'm So Restless, from Roger McGuinn's first solo album (1973) is partly about Dylan, who plays harmonica on the song:

'Hey, Mr. D do you want me to be / A farmer a cowhand an old country boy / To get up in the a.m. and tend to the chores / And leave all my troubles behind a locked door / Layin' with my lady and strumming' on my toy / Oh, I know what you mean and it sounds good to me / But oh, Mr. D. I'm so restless'

McGuinn co-wrote many of the songs from his first album with Jacques Levy, who would collaborate with Dylan a few years later on his album Desire. Of course, with The Byrds McGuinn recorded many Dylan songs, popularising such classics as Mr Tambourine Man and All I Really Want To Do. McGuinn co-wrote with Dylan the theme tune to the film Easy Rider, Ballad of Easy Rider, and in 1975/76 he played with Dylan's Rolling Thunder Revue.

Dylan is mentioned (often in passing and/or for a convenient rhyme) in lots of songs. The Beastie Boys are 'just chillin' like Bob Dylan' on 3 Minute Rule; 'Til Tueday 'sat in the car and listened to a Dylan tape' on Coming up Close; The Beatles sing on Yer Blues 'I feel so suicidal / Just like Dylan's Mr. Jones'; Wyclef Jean's Gone Till November has 'So I'm Knockin' on Heaven's Door like Bob Dylan' and a cameo from Dylan in the video; on Garden Party by Rick Nelson, 'Mr Hughes hid in Dylan's shoes wearing his disguise'; John Lennon in his song God, 'I don't believe in Zimmerman' and The Plastic Ono Band's Give Peace a Chance: ' Everybody's talkin' 'bout / John and Yoko... Bobby Dylan'; Kris Kristofferson's If You Don't Like Hank Williams starts off with 'I dig Bobby Dylan and I dig Johnny Cash...'; Don't Look Back by Belle and Sebastian, 'If they follow you / Don't look back / Like Dylan in the movies', obviously referring to Dylan's Dont Look Back documentary; Hootie and the Blowfish's I Only Wanna Be With You has 'Put on a little Dylan... Ain't Bobby so cool...'; 'And things got weird / And I started growing / Bob Dylan's beard' from Bob Dylan's 49th Beard by Wilco; there's The Lonesome Ballad of Robert Zimmerman by Hogan's Fountain; Phil Ochs, Bob Dylan, Steve Goodman, David Blue & Me by John Wesley Harding, a dream where 'Bob plays harmonica but he plays it all wrong' and Kevin Kinney's MacDougal Blues 'Thought I'd see a million Dylans, maybe a Joni Mitchell or two...'

Dylan himself is no stranger to name-checking (usually dead) others in his songs, from Arthur Rimbaud to Napoleon. More recently though he's been 'Thinking about Alicia Keys' (Thunder on the Mountain) and 'listening to Neil Young' (on Highlands). Neil Young, perhaps returning the complement, sings 'You're invisible / you've got too many secrets / Bob Dylan said that or something like that' on his song Bandit some years later.

With Dylan's distinctive nasal whining, he seems an easy target to mock. There's a Bob Dylan Blues by Syd Barrett; Bob by Weird Al Yankovic; Blues in Bob Minor, a Subterranean Homesick Blues parody by Robert Wyatt; Paul Simon's A Simple Desultory Philippic (or How I Was Robert McNamara'd into Submission); John Lennon's Serve Yourself; Richard Belzer's The Ballad of Bob Dylan ('He was a skinny Jew, one of the few from Minnesota, they had a quota'); Protest Song by Neil Innes; Suburban Drone by The Capital Steps... and not forgetting Minutemen's Bob Dylan Wrote Propaganda Songs (though I'm not sure what category it falls into).

Best of all, a few years back, Kevin Ryan put online Dylan Hears A Who (now unfortunately taken down by Dr. Seuss Enterprises), a mash-up album of mid-sixties sounding Dylan singing Dr. Seuss poems. Ryan's nasal twang sounds exactly like Dylan circa. 1965 and apparently Ryan even played all the instruments too. It came complete with 60-style cover artwork. It's very funny and you should be able to find it somewhere on the web quite easily.

On an album of mainly cover versions (Acoustic), Everything but the Girl's Me & Bobby D comes across as a bit mean, though interesting, coming from one who presumably doesn't hero worship the man:

'Me and Bobby D don't get along that easily / You told the world, "Be free, love life" / Tell me, is it true you beat your wife? / You see, me and Bobby D don't get along that easily / You told the world, "Skip rules have fun" / Knocked her from here to kingdom come? / How many girls have you had today? / And how many bottles have you downed today? / And while you're on the skids, who's minding the kids? / Go to sleep Bobby D, here's a kiss / Don't worry your pretty head about this.'