Tuesday, 28 March 2017

PROTECTING WESTMINSTER AND THE WIDER WORLD

WE'D ALL BE BETTER OFF IF SHE WAS IN CHARGE

A few days ago a person who was very angry at the state of the world, and who had determined to do something violent in the name of extreme views, went on a rampage outside of the British houses of parliament.
A terror incident, and awfully, innocent people were injured, and killed, including an officer guarding the home of democracy in these isles. Images of an heroic MP bloodied and unbowed, and talk of the Blitz spirit, boomed across the globe.... Britain is strong, and unbeaten.

Family members of the killer have apologised. Debates rage about his religious identity, and how someone "home grown" could end up so hate-filled - as if this was not also the country that gave us Cromwell and Jack The Ripper. Hate is often grown at home.

The new PM, Mrs May, spoke eloquently, and in rather rhetorical fashion, about the greatness of democracy and Westminster. True, but painfully ironic. For, while the terrorist in London has taken a few lives cruelly soon, and criminally, with evil intent, he has also vanished in the action himself, and his attack will, in the way of such things, only harden positions, and build tougher ramparts and road blocks; he cannot defeat the idea of British democracy with a knife and a car - even a bomb.

Politicians, however, even duly elected ones, CAN destroy democracy, or imperil nations, with their decision-making. There is no guarantee that democracy yields the wisest results.  Now, in BREXITRUMPLAND, the insane Western realm we post-truthfully inhabit, madmen and madwomen make decisions, trigger articles, cancel treaties, and deny global warming, at will - the age of the expert has turned to the age of the populist, out for nothing but raw power or personal gain.

I am not making a moral comparison between an armed killer and a president or prime minister. Our politicians, at this stage, have not crossed that rubicon....

But let us hope that Brexit does not one day destroy the lives, hopes, dreams, and opportunities of tens of thousands of young British, Irish and EU citizens over the next few years. And that the new revocation of environmental protection laws in Washington DC this week does not end up destroying all life on the planet, SOMEWHERE down the crazy river.

VERY IMPORTANT PERSONS OF COLOR

CULTURE IS NOT ALL ABOUT WHAT WHITE PEOPLE SAY OR DO
Last week saw the deaths of TS Eliot and John Lennon... now imagine that media fuss. Well, what did happen? In fact, Derek Walcott and Chuck Berry died.

Now consider what actually happened... There was a lot of fuss; obituaries... AND THEN... sort of not all that much.

Certainly not the wailing lamentation when Bowie died... or even Ted Hughes...

I am not saying the media and Western cultural machines are organisationally racist, but there is something wrong with the omelettes in Denmark, when arguably the greatest poet of color of the 20th century dies followed by ONLY THE GOLDARN INVENTOR OF ROCK AND ROLL - and there is no world-shaking sorrow and recognition that SOME OF THE GREATEST ART AND CULTURE is made by non-white folks.

Just saying...

Because Walcott and Berry, for all their human weaknesses, were universal geniuses in their fields. Their deaths were not just sad or notable - they were SEISMIC.

Now imagine they were white... we'd have TIME magazine covers for weeks. Or am I missing something?

Monday, 20 March 2017

BEST SONGS OF 2017 SO FAR

MUSIC SAVES
I turn now to our quarterly report into some of the key popular songs that have made their way as ear-worms into the hearts and minds of the writer of this post, since January 1, 2017 - in short, for the first 25% of the year, what are the top songs so far?

Note, only songs that one can find on Spotify count. It has been a good year so far, for pop and indie music... new Shins, and Depeche Mode albums in the same month as the first album from The Jesus and Mary Chain in 19 years can hardly be said to be a bad time.... so, counting down from Number one, in anti-climactic order.... here goes.... the 11 best songs so far, for 2017.... (and be careful, what with the allusions to a decade now as long ago as the 50s was to the Reagan era, this might be the best of 1987).

1. 'Love' - Lana Del Rey
Arguably her best song - and, like all her songs - a microcosm of her entire canon - like Dylan Thomas', her work is always imploding inwards to achieve a sort of Ur-perfection of its own self-style.

2. 'Doomsday' - Ryan Adams
It is unclear who Adams thinks he is - this song sounds as if Bruce Springsteen had decided to rip-off Tom Petty. That being said its metaphysical conceits, and references to Dante are lovely, and the overall achievement is to generate a classic American rock song of rustbelt heart-break.

3. 'Crying On The Bathroom Floor' - MUNA
I have done this, have you? Sounding like 'Sweet Dreams...' had been slowed down like a sex-robot doused in an acid bath, the whole synth-sound melts into a mournful expression of utter loss. Beautifully cold and sad. A pure class-A coming down track.

4. 'Feel It' - Georgia
In similar vein, the cold, stabbing synth lines from this song could be from Men Without Hats, 1980. But the vocals and pop nous are Robyn's. A haunting dance track with an angry core of noir.

5. 'Going Backwards' - Depeche Mode
Arguably the most didactic track on a major new album - the band's best in 20 years - this is still startling for its misanthropy and bitterness. You might think a band whose leitmotif is kinky sex-play might be counted among those revelling in the end-times of the BrexiTrump Era. But no, they actually mourn for a time when we were not cavemen, and had something "inside". Oddly powerful, vintage DM.

6. 'Automaton' - Jamiroquai
This track is a bizarrely perfect melange of early 80s tropes, beeps and blips in place, Billy Idol references, and a few Mr Roboto echoes... you actually expect a flock of seagulls to gust in. A fun retake on the new digital age, and hugely danceable, with undertones of ennui and isolated sadness.

7. 'Can I Sit Next To You' - Spoon
Speaking of 80s, who expected Spoon, those cool journeymen of American indie, to craft a tune vaguely in hock to Peter Gabriel's classic hits from So? Anyway, this is as smooth, slinky and sexy as INXS at their best. Retro? You mean, the new normal? No problem.

8. 'B.H.S.' - Sleaford Mods
This is the song that most resembles, in terms of moral and cultural import, 'Ghost Town' during the Thatcher era. It means British Home Stores - a massive chain closed by a greedy set of hedge fund managers and knighted entrepreneurs, leaving thousands of workers marooned without proper pensions after decades of loyal service. In short, this is a political song. However, it is insanely catchy, in a DIY fashion that makes many punk ancestors appear like Prokofiev in terms of complexity. It sounds like a drum machine and a few angry lads who never had a chance. But it is stirring, funny, and hugely critical. The Brexit anthem.

9. 'Bad Bohemian' - British Sea Power
A band with a great name, and no discernible pattern of hits or misses (who are their fans?), they've been around for years (featuring in a top list way back in the last decade here) - and here, in yet another 80s nod, they've written a great new New Order song - and inflected it with their own whimsy and craftsmanship.

10. 'Evermore' - Granddaddy
Immensely moving, ennobling pop-rock tune from an American indie band that sounds like autumn creeping over the summer like an opiated whisper. "This was never yours"... ghosts of a Beach Boys track that fell into a muddy creek and drowned haunt this classic slice of Americana.

11. 'All Things Pass' - The Jesus and Mary Chain
Instantly among their best, sleaziest, most inspiring songs - and indeed, up there with the finest alternative/indie tracks imaginable - this dark, clever, and pure rock joint - regretting vows and drugs taken, "girls touched", fearing death and the relinquishing of sins in equal measure - this is a classic lament to be saved, but not just yet.... as if The Ramones and The Bunnymen were rutting in a cavern.

SOME HONOURABLE MENTIONS: Sofi Tucker's 'Johny' is Gallic pop bliss; Priests express the shock of the post-truth era with 'Nothing Feels Natural'; Goldfrapp return with their utopian synth-pop in 'Anymore' - their best song in half a decade or more; and Sundara Karma create an anthemic slice of Springsteen apple-pie pop with 'Olympia'.


Monday, 6 March 2017

FOR LOGAN, THINK LOLITA - the SECRET Ls at the GENETIC CORE OF THE NEW X-MEN CLASSIC

DANGER - SPOILERS AHEAD!!!

Logan, the new film by James Mangold, and the tenth outing for the Wolverine character from the Marvel Universe, as played by Hugh Jackman, is receiving a lot of critical praise. Released March 1, the film has been called "the Citizen Kane" of comic book films, and compared favourably to the previous benchmark for quality in this sub-genre, The Dark Knight trilogy, by Christopher Nolan. It shares with that trilogy a gritty realism, a downbeat tone, and serious actors at the top of their game. It is however not an urban picture, but, as every critic has noted, a road movie/Western in its DNA. The cliché is to cite Shane, which the picture does itself, as the blueprint, but this is a red herring, since the actual Western it most resembles is The Searchers - let alone In Cold Blood or T2.

Mangold has co-written the film, at a time of Western darkness (Brexit, the rise of Trump) and the film opens on a landscape torn from Beckett by way of Bannon - loudmouthed American youths on stag nights chanting USA! USA! and a massive Mexican border wall. However, as a serious film-maker (his Cop Land and Girl, Interrupted are indie American classics of their kind), Mangold has mainly based his screenplay and directorial vision on a set of Oulipean puns.

In short, his constraint was to make a film with major allusions to other films that a) are one-word titles starting with L or b) titles beginning with L and ending with Ns. In short, for Logan, read: Lolita, Leon, Let The Right One In.

The 3 key elements of the film are derived from the film versions of Lolita, Leon, and Let The Right One In, in uncanny ways. (These are the Uncanny X-Men):

1. The young girl in the film wears sunglasses, is oddly mature for her age, dangerous, and goes on a disturbing road trip across small-town cheap motel America, pursued by a weird man that wants to possess her;

2. The main relationship in the film is between a pre-pubescent girl and a killer, and they form an unlikely, sentimental bond;

3. The little girl appears dark-haired, quiet, melancholy, and vulnerable, but when push comes to shove, can rip a room of people apart, with her bizarre abilities.

There are of course ways to also see the film as a reprise of The Tempest, or the latest Mad Max, or Rebel Without A Cause* (both films share a trio of damaged persons seeking a safe home) and the strength of Logan is that for all its allusions, film puns, and deep reservoirs of cinematic knowledge, it remains a visceral experience - perhaps, literally, the most visceral (it name-checks Nosferatu early on). The fight scenes are startlingly violent (perhaps the most violent I have ever seen in a mainstream picture), made more so by the humanity of the characters, and their vulnerability; the development of secondary roles, especially that of Caliban, is subtle and moving; the soundtrack is haunting and subdued, when not merely deeply troubling.

It is true that critics could easily claim this as yet another celebration of an American cinema that has valorised violence, lone-wolf gunmen in a wild west, and sentimental relationships where broken older men are idolised by children as would-be father figures. I prefer to see it as a hugely intelligent reprise of all that has gone before in its genres, and an attempt to introduce a whole new level of artistry to the action film. It is a must-see, and Jackman is already a shoe-in for a best actor Oscar nomination for this year coming.

* Logan is set around a series of set-pieces, which all concern a nominally (liminally?) safe space/hideaway, culminating in "leaving Eden" for the ironic new land of "Canada" across a vague border among deep woods. Every safe haven is violated terribly - from hotel and motel rooms, to cars, to rusted-out old factory buildings, to farmhouses - nowhere is safe, period. There are guns in the valley - and until the guns are gone, and the men behind them, then the peaceful, decent settlers are threatened with endless returning threat and death.

THE WINNER OF THE 9TH FORTNIGHT POETRY PRIZE IS...

Kierstin Bridger! Congratulations, she wins publication of her poem on this blog, and £140 to be paid immediately via PayPal. ...