The Loneliest Jukebox

Graham Barnfield's weblog, being gradually replaced by his Twitter feed -

Graham Author Page

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Things you learn from newspapers

1) Sonia Deol, profiled in weekly (22 May 2006) wants more mouthy white men on her show. I'm still game ...
2) 'Brits have gone blog crazy - with one in four internet users starting their own diary' (Daily Star, 21 July 2006, p.6). The nearest I'll get to being trendy all year.

Hip to be the Square

I'm skint. '...the tradesmen at the door, the school bills, the rent due, all turning up with an ordained regularity. Money frenzy for breakfast along with pride and hope .... In life it is common to find persons in truth absolutely broke, and yet there they are the next day buying newspapers.'*

So the spending continued, as promised, at a Neurotics gig last night at Harlow Square. Faces from the 1980s were there in abundance, including Attila and Dave the Dentist Womble. Support acts were the Price, who seemed to be staffed entirely by clones of the journalism professor Martin Conboy, and the Sweeney, who blotted their copybook with a protest song against 'white trash', the sole non-Eastern European ethnic group it's okay to abuse these days. The Neurotics themselves were excellent; tight, funny and money I don't have well spent.

* Elizabeth Hardwick (2000), Herman Melville: A Penguin Life (pp. 17, 30) (buy it here).

Friday, July 28, 2006

(Howard) Blue Review

No, not the late night 'adult' TV show. A more sedate occasion by far is my review of Howard Blue's book Words at War, over on J-History (logs version link here). I'll post up the full URL once it is archived on H-Net.

Most readers would get something out of this thoughtful book, available here from Amazon UK.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Still Neurotic after all these years

It's an honour when Steve Drewett of the Newtown Neurotics pops up on my blog, commenting as he does here. To make life easier for him and the reader, I'll reproduce this posting below, hopefully with working links.
Steve Drewett said:

Hi Graham,

Steve Drewett from the Newtown Neurotics here, the purpose of this posting is to let you know that I now have a blog that I complete everyday so that people can read what goes on in my head as we lead up to a little flurry of gigs hear in the UK. I thought you too might be interested in what's going on in the Drewett head. It's a strange thing (the blog, not my head, oh I dunno though), more like a narrative that is time shifting through three separate years but each journey is important to why we are playing again. Some of it is quite grim and unpleasant. If you have the time to indulge have a read and see what you think.

and we have a myspace site too

which has an interesting old video of 'When The Oil Runs Out' on it. I might not be available at the moment because MySpace was hit be a power outage over on the west coast and it's taken them all day to get their sites back online. The video section still isn't back yet as I write but will be.

And of-course we still have

Hopefully I'll get to see the band this Friday, as they play a 'homecoming' gig in Harlow.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Linking burrows

A strange 24 hours of linking up a veritable underground network.

First Google Adsense kicks me off for 'irregularities', hence the white stripes on the blog. After noting the rise of Myspace as a new form of collectivity, I join Faceparty to see what happens there. And I'm selling a load of old records on Ebay. Fill your boots.

All in all, a day of virtual activity (a.k.a a day wasted?)

Friday, July 21, 2006

Anti-social book review

Not long ago I indicated my dislike of Francis Gilbert's book Yob Nation (buy it here). Over on Spiked today ('What’s behind the rise of Yob Lit?', 20 July 2006) is a review setting out my objections in a bit more detail. Up the chavs!
PS. I was putting the links in this page when I noticed that there's a facility from Amazon which allows couples to add Yob Nation to their wedding lists. I object! Seriously, who - apart from Mrs Gilbert, already married to the author - is going to want this as a gift?

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Bye bye, the Jury (On Mickey Spillane)

So farewell then, Mickey Spillane. No longer full of vinegar, the best-selling author of the 20th century died earlier this week. Obituarists point out that he would hate the way critics came to re-appraise him, recognising his work as a prose stylist and seeing how even Cold War rhetoric could become kitsch over time. He was politically reactionary and a hard-working guy. A man with a Hammer who saw nails everywhere. Based on his innovations in the 1940s and 1950s, and a charming appearance at the National Film Theatre I once attended, I grew to like him. He'll be missed.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Surveillance City

Last night I was a talking head on ITV's Surveillance City (contrary to some previous bad advice about transmission dates given out on this blog). It was a decent five minutes of post-pub propaganda. As there are six episodes scheduled, I might be back for more, before the whole thing runs on a continuous loop on the History Channel.

Apologies for the acidic-looking tie and purple shirt: this was a cunning ruse to distract from my combined hayfever/cold symptoms, which left me looking even more like the Face of Boe when I go on TV than usual. Do not adjust your set.

In fact, my clothing became an issue on the day of filming. On the way home from the production company's offices that evening, I was approached by a charity collector in Angel:
GB: "Sorry, I'm in a rush."
Chugger: "Well at least I can colour-coordinate."
GB: "Actually, your employer makes you wear that silly yellow tunic."

Sadly, the truth is that I'm not that quick-witted most of the time. My rapier response was to say, "uhh, prick" or something equally hilarious. Oscar Wilde I'm not.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

There goes the Neighbourhood

This time last year I was looking at buying a one-bedroom flat on the site of the former Wheelwright's public house (a stone's throw from Pimp Hall Nurseries - nothing to do with rap music). Common sense and hardship prevailed, so no rural retreat for me.

Today that area is all over the news, after the body* of a witness in the Enron/'NatWest Three' extradition case was found nearby. Small world.

* On BBC News 24 the director of Liberty noted that rumour has it that the FBI leaned 'excessively' on the deceased, a Mr. Neil Coulbeck. Sounds like this story will run and run.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Is happy slapping the new rock and roll?

I only ask because last year's moral panic is becoming a catch-all phrase used by lazy journalists. For instance, over in the Belfast Telegraph, we have 'the fine-art version of happy slapping, whereby you get someone to take your photo in front of a famous picture, then run on to avoid being ticked off in French' (Natalie Holmes, 'Holidaying in Monet's backyard', 11 July).

Anyway, isn't Islam the new rock and roll?

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

On watching television and being watched

No, not a more passive version of the Pierre Bourdieu book (yours to buy here, UK readers).

My blog has praised and criticised TV programmes since its inception (here, here and here, for instance). It strikes me that TV can be very good at times - The Shield, Curb Your Enthusiasm and more. But at other times, the content and the planning are just plain dumb.

For instance, last year I was in Las Vegas. One of the regular activities for employees in the MGM Grand is to pull the punters into a room to watch new TV shows, mainly sitcom pilots, in exchange for gift vouchers. (I saw Seinfeld alumnus Julia Louis-Dreyfus in The New Adventures of Old Christine, which is still being shown.) Prospective viewers are asked to quantify numerically, by turning a dial, whether they thought the characters are dumb, sympathetic, friendly and so on. This data is then used to help fine-tune a show, or decide whether to show it at all. Thus the network executives defer to the drunk, sunburnt and shell-shocked - who have better things to do than watch TV if in Vegas - in deciding the viability of future shows.

Mine's a double JD and coke: roll tape.

Talking of being on TV, readers in the ITV London region can see me in Surveillance City*, starting on ITV1 London, Thursday, 13 July 2006 at 23:00 hrs. I appear in one of the later episodes. It's billed as a "New series investigating how and why cities keep track of their citizens. Featuring an insight into the advances in mobile phone technology that allow anyone to be filmed or photographed. Plus, the estate which allows its residents to monitor the activities of their neighbours." (And produced by Roger Bolton's Flame TV.)

Monday, July 10, 2006

Cross words on screen violence

Ex-soldier, book smuggler and drunk Malachi Thorndike has just killed a man, at least partly in self defence. This prompts him to remember his childhood*:

"When I was thirteen, my father had reluctantly capitulated to my swaggering insistence that I could happily, indeed casually, sit through the television screening of a horror movie which involved hordes of shambling, undead zombies munching on the succulent flesh of uptight young Americans .... The film contained no scene in a hotel bathroom, not as such, but nevertheless, as I sat on the bed and lit a cigarette, I wondered if the two things might not in some way be connected."
Neil Cross, Christendom (Jonathan Cape, 1999), p.156 (UK readers can buy it here).

We should encourage the idea that speculative fiction is a place to explore the link between fictional violence and real-life violence, rather than social policy.
* Neil Cross's actual childhood memoirs can be purchased here.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Role reversals

On the one hand, David Cameron appears to buck nationwide trends in the anti-social behaviour debate. The Daily Mail and its online commentators seem apoplectic with rage. On the Mail website, there's even a close-up of actor Noel Clarke, who bowed out of Doctor Who last night, with the words 'yob teenagers' underneath. Has Mr. Clarke (31) got his lawyers watching the Mail?*

On the other hand, retro act the Pipettes are marketed in the following terms: "Three sassy, sexy polka-dot clad girls from Brighton, they're a girl pop group culled from a whole other innocent era, long before ringtones and happy slapping" (Manchester Evening News, 6 July 2006).

So let me get this straight: the leader of the Conservative Party has some sympathy with anti-social behaviour, while rock and roll is now defined in opposition to it? My head aches...

* A note for overseas readers: the Daily Mail houses an apocalyptic narrative of social decline, day in, day out. This is neatly summed up in the following quotation: 'The paper whose tone and agenda is closest to 1960/1970s-style moral panic ... The fact that the Mail is the only national daily with more female than male readers - if only 51 per cent female - undoubtedly informs its respectable girl's brand of moral indignity. Hence, hysteria about single and teenage mothers is perfect material for a Daily Mail moral panic.' (See Angela McRobbie and Sarah L. Thornton (1995), 'Re-thinking "Moral Panic" for Multi-Mediated Social Worlds', reprinted in Chas Critcher (ed.), Critical Readings: Moral Panics and the Media (Open University Press, 2006), p.272. Buy it here (UK).

Thursday, July 06, 2006

The Digital Afterlife of the Marmite Sisters

From summer 1984 until the summer of 1989 I was knocking about in various punk and indie bands. The first of these was a Flux of Pink Indians-sounding outfit called the Fucking Pieces of Shit. For reasons you can work out for yourself, it didn't catch on.

From here I went into the Anonymouse, with some lads I'm still in touch with. After a major line-up change the band name also changed to the Marmite Sisters. I was out by the summer of 1988, although I came back on vocals for an Xmas/New Year gig in Nottingham. With me gone, guitarist Steve took over vocal duties and the band developed a far better sound in my absence. (The first writer to review the Anonymouse praised me as a 'white rapper' fronting the group, but the truth is I couldn't sing; Steve could do harmonies and hold a note.) The band soldiered on until 1994.

Steve's follow-up project, Artists Against Success, did less well than the Sisters, but better than his early keyboard/clarinet duo Dark Horizons. And without the internet, it all could be laid to rest there. Even with the internet, the band's legacy might be confined to the occasional query on a Sisters of Mercy bulletin board if I was Barney Stackhouse (I wasn't).

Today I noticed a drawn-out controversy over whether or not the band's page on Wikipedia should be deleted. (As a 'well-known academic' or 'pretty un-notable "famous academic" ex-singer', depending on your side in the controversy, there are times when my students' essays make me think Wikipedia should be deleted, but that's another story...) At least seven people were hard at it over the merits of the band, 12 years on from the final gig. A person known as TruthbringerToronto stuck up for us and the page stayed.

Normally I would say life's too short, folks. But with all this renewed interest, it's clear that an opportunity was wasted by not releasing an England World Cup song to pay off our credit card bills. South Africa 2010 here we come.
*Completists can buy the entire back catalogue off Steve Marmite himself; contact him here.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Men are from Bow, women are from Oakland

Once upon a time I was dating a Californian. A Marxist-feminist (third wave) in politics and a neoplatonist in aesthetics, she nevertheless explained a wide range of the problems she observed on British TV in terms of people's diet. How Californian, I thought at the time.

On further reflection, we were in different ballparks altogether on dietary issues. Take Quorn for example. For us Brits, this edible soil mold is generally something carnivores buy when they don't read the labels properly in the supermarket. In the Bay Area, I'm told, it's seen as Frankenfood (despite being one of the most extensively safety-tested foodstuffs on the planet). Meanwhile the Brits - and Doctor Who - will gladly tuck into biscuits topped with dragées, while the U.S. Food and Drug Administration considers them to be inedible ('for decorative purposes only').

Clearly the Atlantic allies needs to hammer out an agreement on whether something is actually food or not before arguing over individual diets.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Alumni of the Month

A lad I was at school with has just got himself a super-ASBO, the first of its kind in Leicester and Leicestershire. Full story here. Reminds me of the old Borstal joke: 'I went to a good school. It was an approved school.'

Saturday, July 01, 2006

"I Just Need My Own Myspace!"

A recent blog entry concerned the way online networking was growing in importance. Not networking in the technical sense, of computers being linked, but social networking of the 'how to win friends and influence people' variety.

The popularity of these techniques now means we are seeing these networks infiltrated with guerilla marketing techniques.

Take, for instance, Blood and Guts: the Return of the 80s Horror Movie. I haven't seen it yet, so can't honestly advise you whether or not to see it. But the cast includes Anna-Marie Wayne, a fellow veteran of Number One Longing, Number Two Regret. In turn, her character in the movie has a Myspace page here. Not bad for the 1980s, when the internet as we know it was still some years away. I predict (adopts echo-chamber voice) that we will see a lot of this sort of promotion in future - it's inexpensive and it connects with a fair sized audience (albeit an often inward-looking one).

*The new networking can also work in downwardly mobile ways: see Don'tDateHim Girl for an example of this trend.