The Loneliest Jukebox

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Monday, September 27, 2004

By George! A new publication

Readers with library cards or $205 to spare are advised to check out the Dictionary of Literary Biography Vol. 303: Radical and Reform Writers (ISBN: 0-7876-6840-0) (click here for the Table of Contents). I've got a chapter on V.F. Calverton (1900-1940) in this hefty tome. The man was a whirlwind of writing and activity, not all of it useful; who knows what he would have been like in an age of blogging and e-mail. If alive today, the 104 year-old could purchase a copy from Amazon here. Calverton's drinking, like a man on a perpetual stag do, ensured he barely made it out of the 1930s.

Some of the chapters in the original proposal, like Alan Johnson on Sidney Hook, don't appear to have materialised, but this still looks like a strong reference source if you need to know about this kind of writer.

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Bands re-reunited

Cable channel VH1 is making much of its show Bands Reunited. Twenty years on, they round up the estranged members of an MTV-friendly 80s group and get them to perform. Tonight it was the turn of ABC, whose album The Lexicon of Love was a pop classic (the reissue can be ordered from Amazon here if you don't believe me). 'Together for the first time in 20 years' went the accompanying hype.

Except the continuing 1980s revival means that in one form or another it's as if they never went away. I personally worked security at their 1997 comeback gig at Sheffield City Hall, watching Martin Fry stumble through a few numbers and getting told off by his wife because she wasn't on the guest list. Heaven 17 got back early off a Siberian tour, they claimed, to come and watch, while various Human League members were reputedly dotted around the venue.

Although the geographical distances may be greater, the 1980s revival makes Bands Reunited not unlike the 18 year-old school leavers using to locate and link up with people they last saw a few months earlier.

Comedy ASBOs?

The BBC website has rounded up reporting of the new rules imposed on people through Anti-Social Behaviour Orders (ASBOs). Individuals face jail if they wear hats, mop the floor or drink alcohol. Others could be imprisoned for karaoke or videoing their neighbours. So far, so hilarious, and worthy of a King of the Hill storyline.

Except the things they face jail for are not illegal in the first place. In the style of the L.A.P.D. gang register, a new form of administrative law enforcement is emerging, where those who offend official standards of good behaviour – rather than actually break the law – can be locked up. Reactionaries often finish listing their dislikes with the phrase 'there ought to be a law against it'; ASBOs mean they don't need such a law to impose their will on others.

Saturday, September 18, 2004

A Punk is Dead

So farewell then, Johnny Ramone. The bowl-headed guitarist says ‘adios amigos’ to us and joins his amigos Joey and Dee Dee in the afterlife. Only drummer Tommy, and his various Spinal Tap-style replacements remain to beat out a 1-2-3-4 on behalf of the suburban adolescents they no longer are. The Raindance Festival’s screening of End of the Century next month seems a good place to pay your respects.

As we lay the Ramones to rest, perhaps it’s time to do the same to their musical style. It was 30 years ago folks; that rawness and excitement soon goes stale after years of repetition and imitation. Don’t get me wrong, I love the Ramones and one day that vinyl and those cassettes will be replaced with CDs in the car, so my driving can further deteriorate. But it’s irritating that their entry-level basics are now the preserve of boyband Busted and the new new wave of new wave, or whatever we call those New York and Scandinavian rockers. Let’s push things forward, as the Streets would say.

Fellow foxiles Kasabian, whose self-titled CD is playing in the background as I write, were recently criticised as proof that ‘British rock has become scared of technology, retreating into an arid world of old-fashioned instruments, analogue recording equipment and supposed “honesty”. (See John Harris, ‘The slow death of punk’, Guardian September 9, 2004: 26.) A bit harsh, but you know what he means. Part of the problem is that society itself isn’t giving bands much to work with. If we take punk to be a historically specific reaction to the economic downturn of the 1970s and the end of the post-war boom, then it’s hardly surprising it hasn’t lasted forever, even if some of us wish it would. The ‘punk is dead’ argument kicked off in 1978: maybe the post is so terrible in Harris’ neck of the woods that he's just cottoned on. Kasabian’s slogan ‘Reason is treason’ seems much more in tune with our times.

Friday, September 17, 2004

Feeling festive

Returned to journalism this week, with the press launch of the Times London Film Festival. These things are always a tad strange. First of all a senior figure in the festival's organisation reads a vast list of sponsors. Thank you Hagen Daz, Sofitel Hotels, the web hosting service etc. Then Sandra Hebron is on stage to plug the opening and closing galas and give a sense of the festival's content, with a stream of film titles, guest directors and words like 'delightful and incandescent'. Then there's a half hour hybrid of trailers and clips, usually torn from their context or edited to flash up beats which tell viewers that there will be sex and tantrums in a European movie. Gregg Araki's latest includes zeitgeisty teens sounding gormless, like all his other movies: I like Araki, but give the guy a historical costume drama to do. Then on the way out we're bribed with ice cream and mints. Are the bribes necessary? It's good hospitality, but usually Hebron's team does a suitable job of ensuring the lion's share of the movies are adequate enough to sway most critics. This could be down to the organisers' judgement, or their ability to work with the movies not bagged for premieres at Cannes, Edinburgh and Venice. Either way it looks promising.

Sunday, September 12, 2004

David, please be more Frank

Some sleight of hand from David Aaronovitch in today's Observer. Reviewing Frank Furedi's Where Have All the Intellectuals Gone?, the 'columnist of the year' conflates Furedi's opposition to 'social inclusion' policies with opposition to political democracy. Or as the subhead puts it "A study attacks today's intellectuals for being too willing to dumb down. Rubbish, it's just a new style of democracy." Furedi clearly favours democratic politics.
Aaronovitch's slippery argument shows that the sooner we start treating politics and culture as distinct the better. Yes to universal suffrage, in the spirit of Tom Paine (the man they could not contain). But there are some things worth leaving to the experts, at least until one has built up sufficient expertise to supersede them. The broad case for intellectuals striking out instead of cowering from the press can also be seen in Dane S. Claussen's new book, which is a good account of the symptoms, if not the causes, of present day malaise in US higher education.

Friday, September 10, 2004

Schedule Victims Unit

One would have thought that a spell of sick leave was a chance to indulge in some trash TV or, in my case, US cop shows with high production values. The scheduling alone is enough to make me ill, however. Third Watch is on daily, with special 'adult' episodes broadcast at 2.45am on a Sunday morning. It gets pulled for the school holidays and reinstated on a whim later in the month. Because the show follows the Hill Street Blues tradition of rambling, interconnected storylines, missing an episode is not on (or I could get a life). The language and violence are chopped down to make it suitable for GMTV audiences. Channel 4 has carried over this fine tradition of messed up scheduling from its use of NYPD Blue in the graveyard slot, provided cricket didn't overrun or something. Both sets of New York cops (and medics/firefighters) are still in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, so far behind are the episodes being imported to the UK.

Five a.k.a Channel 5 has made a name for itself with US cop shows, notably CSI where the scheduling is logical and coherent. Then it can't decide whether to show the Shield on Tuesdays or Saturdays, before dumping it in favour of Cosmetic Surgery Live mid-series. Hopefully Vic Mackey and co will return after the latest crop of reality TV nosejobs. Five also offers us Law & Order reruns after midnight on a Saturday, with Benjamin Bratt's saintly character still partnering Lennie Briscoe.

Law & Order is designed to be super-syndicatable, with most episodes entirely self-contained (and most NY crime solved by the same detectives). This means that the various forms of shambolic inconvenience offered by cable TV detract from your personal life, not the storylines. That said, the morbid but watchable Special Victims Unit would benefit the Hallmark channel more if it wasn't shown five nights a week, which means blasting through a (US) whole season in just over a month. All these shows could probably build up a loyal base of viewers if they were on once a week at the same time. Not everyone has a Tivo box to juggle all this, and some of us would rather spend less time watching TV each week. I long for the day when I'm better and go back to having no time for TV at all.


I mentioned in a previous blog the missed opportunity to write up GameStarsLive! brought on by my illness. According to Halo 2 developers Bungie, one aspect of beta-testing the forthcoming game has been a malodorous nightmare, with 'hundreds of teenagers ... reeking like the contents of a Hobo's diaper.” I didn't miss much then.
Perhaps defumigating the gamers is a job for
John Redwood to sort out, in his new role as Shadow Secretary of State for Deregulation. After all, you can only fight red tape by creating more red tape ...

Monday, September 06, 2004

Golly gum drops

One of the big claims made about the cyberspace revolution was that the distinctions between health and ill-health would be abolished. Virtual identities, presumably including blogging, would be used to 'squeeze out the meat' and let us all get on with life online, in the style of Donna Haraway. My current bout of herpetic stomatitis leads me to believe that this was another example of the kind of cyber-pants that led to fleeced 'new economy' investors and academic mumbo jumbo: my mouth feels like it's full of broken glass the whole time and a walk to the shops is exhausting, to the point where updating my blog leaves me knackered.

I hope to be better next week, but this week saw me too wrecked to do a spot of gonzo journalism at GamestarsLive!. Next week will probably see me too clapped out to go and see the Nightingales, as promoted by a good friend. [If you have noticed a slight tweak here compared to the September 2004 version of this entry, thank the litigious turds threatening said friend over similarly named promotion companies.] So all in all I sense a wasted week pending, as I wait for my gums to grow back and get a sense of what early retirement can be like.

Regular readers could console themselves with my new series of film profiles in the TES New Teacher supplement; a sample copy is available here.