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