It’s not Mad Men or Girls, but I really can watch episode after episode of this. Each instalment chronicles a real-life murder or series of murders and the police investigation around them. The show is very fast-paced and has an assured, modern style. The video-game Metal Gear Solid springs to mind. Stuff flashes by: photos, maps, text, talking heads, stock visuals and snatches of reconstruction. On paying a little closer attention I noticed that every move is accompanied by either a ‘whoosh’ or ‘blade unsheathing’ sound effect. The guy working the sound board must surely have developed arthritis. The voice-over is as you’d expect from the title- grave, heading towards devilish- but not dorky and overdone in this case. The experts are compelling characters in their own right: Weary LAPD guy, distant 30-something English woman and slim pork-pie hat dude. It’s quality stuff; there’s a lot of background material, footage and police evidence from each case, some of it jaw-dropping, and interesting wider perspectives are presented. I think much care has been taken. Two thumbs up.
I first heard the term ‘podcast’ back in 2009/10. To me it sounded like something both second-rate and troublesomely technical. I was aware that Ricky Gervais was doing one and I didn’t like the sound of it either- him and his mate laughing at a buffoonish third guy. That was it for me until 2014, when the podcast ‘Serial’ appeared and had HBO-like credibility. They’ve crept up in a big way since then and I have various ones on all the time now. Life is better for them- it’s ‘take what you’re given’ no longer culturally speaking (or even more-so now anyway), plus they make dull tasks tolerable.
I’m currently reading this. It’s a surfing memoir written by a 63 year old guy- a lifelong surfer. When I bought it, for my kindle, I was vaguely hoping for ‘What it’s like to be cool: from the horse’s mouth’. The author isn’t the outlaw I expected though. He’s a deeply reflective chap- a journalist for the New Yorker magazine of thirty years standing. I hadn’t bothered to look him up or even read a review of the book before purchasing, so sold was I on the title and premise. So it’s been a pleasant surprise. There’s highlight-worthy lyricism and insight on his full-to-bursting, counter-culture skirting life every other page. It’s great.
The Prince- Niccolo Machiavelli
A famous 16th century how-to, in short chapters, concerning holding onto power/influence once you have it. The main thrust: Where certain group dynamics are involved, life is such that you have to think and act like a bit of a bastard if you want to live constructively- it’s not possible to avoid it. When faced with social grappling I tend to just disengage and get by on a feeling of martyrdom instead. Above it. But I’ve had valuable things snatched from my grasp a number of times following that strategy. Perhaps I need to go over to the dark side and become a calculating kicker of asses. ‘Old Nick’, for the Devil, supposedly comes from ‘Niccolo’. I once saw a guy bench-pressing with this book opened face down next to him- man on a mission, clearly. I was meaning to read it since.
Submission- Michel Houellebecq
I’ve enjoyed this guy’s previous novels. He does modern-life disillusionment with hair-raising power- he really means it. So I was disappointed to realise this one wasn’t really working for me. It’s set in a 2017 where France is in the process of being remodeled around Islamic values, after the ‘Muslim Brotherhood’ has come to power democratically. It’s a higher-flown setting than in all his other novels- academics and politicians at the Sorbonne- where the permanently drunk yet revered narrator, Houellebecq, is a lecturer. I suppose that aspect pissed me off- those are perspectives I don’t share much with and probably resent a bit. And he compounds it by taking long chunks of each chapter to talk about the work of some obscure French writer, Huysmans, that seems unrelated to the other goings-on in the novel. Perhaps the point his was making with that went over my head, but it felt to me like he was playing a joke on the reader. He speaks eloquently through other characters’ voices, as the sozzled narrator listens on, about what will be the shape of the new Islam-centric society: Patriarchal family units as a force of social control and six wives for anyone with heft, like the narrator and his colleagues. You get the impression Houellebecq is pretty down with much of that, but it would be nice if the whole thing wasn’t such a frustrating guessing game.
Write about evil: how you understand it (or don’t), what you think it means, or a way it’s manifested, either in the world at large or in your life.
Ridicule and bullying are bad ones. Being on the end of it makes me murderously angry, genuinely. Not long after I moved into the place I’m in, the gay couple who live on the same floor as me decided to start making funny noises from behind their door every time I arrived back and was trying to get into my flat. The first time it was ‘no stop…stop hurting me’ as if someone was being abused. All very funny. It was just the once though, so I wasn’t bothered. But then again another night- mewling like cats this time. I had met and spoken to the two of them once before and the big tall one had made it apparent that he wasn’t impressed with me. So the second night of noises I was a little shaken. I shut my door and just stood in my living room with my head spinning. They knew I was here alone and that that kind of thing was going to make me uneasy. They knew all the ramifications of what they were doing. The anger that rose up in me at that, the injustice of it, making my life difficult for no fucking reason, drove me immediately out into the corridor to confront them. I could hear that they were leaving to go somewhere. To be fair, they are a pair of rather feminine, fitness model-type gay guys, so it could have been worse. The tall one tried to play the hard man with me out in the corridor, coming and squaring up to me- he had obviously expected me to be intimidated, the bastard. But he was rubbish at it. And it’s not difficult to intimidate me. So the situation was resolved easily. I just told them with conviction to fuck off, and they did.
I do want to say that I can’t be angry about this kind of thing because I’m as much of a dick as anyone. To be humble and balanced about it. But I’ve wracked my brain and no, I definitely wouldn’t victimise someone in a premeditated way, for sport. As a grown adult I wouldn’t dream of it. The people who do that are another species. Or just daft. It is a fact of life though, it has always gone on and always will. So seething with rage at those people as I’ve sometimes done is shooting myself in the foot. Even if I took them on and won they’ll respawn in another form, to the end of time. It’s necessary to stand your ground on occasion obviously, but with smaller scale outrages, when they happen, the true enemy is the behaviour, and nevermind the person. And I think the only way to direct the rage against the behaviour is to keep as much distance between it and my soul as possible- don’t let it anywhere near me to infect me- by being the living embodiment of courteousness. That’s what I’m thinking now, anyway. Easier said than done though clearly.
I saw this ad on the back of a broadsheet newspaper several years ago, a Sunday paper I think. It was huge- the entire back page in fact. I couldn’t do much but stare at it for a few minutes, mouth agape. It’s Keith Richards from The Rolling Stones, in an ad for Louis Vuitton. ‘Some journeys cannot be put into words’ the tagline reads. You’d laugh to hear that said out loud, but in the context of the ad it’s convincing on some level. They’re flashing such intimidating credentials you’re in no position to argue. The ad is transparently an effort to lord it up over the viewer, and not much besides. Pretty joyless affair. Ok ok, Louis Vuitton, you win, I surrender. Pricks.
Laura Jane Grace in this video has been a game-changer for me when it comes to my perception of transexuality. It’s always looked grotesque and misguided to my eyes. But Laura Jane Grace is lovely, because she looks natural, not done up like it’s Halloween. She’s attracted to women though so it makes no difference. She came across well in a quite gripping extended interview with Marc Maron on his podcast, which I’d heartily recommend. Plus the song is excellent, what a cool voice. Miley Cyrus is there for some reason, but she’s tolerable in it.
Seamus Heaney, who won the nobel prize for literature, died this time two years ago. I studied a few of his poems in the course of my schooling. I wasn’t crazy about them then and still wouldn’t be now. The ones I remember studying, ‘Digging’ for instance, were very much centered on life in the Irish countryside. Sods and bogs and spades. I hate the sound of that life, the lack of glamour in it. Heaney looked like a farmer too with his flyaway white hair and woolen attire. I would have preferred a glowering, gym-buff Heaney. I’m willing to accept that he was a good poet and a nice man though. What I find strange is that he appears never to have written a bad poem, never mind a bad collection of poems. How can that be? He was human. Was there not one where the rhymes were really shit or where he might’ve gone with a different set-up or different word choices? Apparently not. You only get infallible figures like that in the likes of poetry, painting, opera, classical. The ones where elites call the shots. It’s pretty conspicuous.
I love Jack Kerouac’s novel Big Sur. It’s his best IMHO. I caught the movie of it on Netflix this week. The actor playing Kerouac did a great job. Kerouac wasn’t really a poised cool kid. There’s a zaniness that comes across in all his books. But especially in his later years he appears, sadly, to have become a complete clown, something the vicious drinking which ended his life no doubt contributed to (see his writing, accounts of him and footage of him on youtube). In the recent movie adaptation of ‘On The Road’ Sam Riley played Kerouac as thoughtful and vulnerable, but fairly dour. Admittedly it’s Kerouac twenty years before Big Sur but I do think there was something missing. The actor playing Kerouac in Big Sur, Jean-Marc Barr, puts across the silliness. He’s also the same thick-set physical type as Kerouac (who went to Columbia University on a football scholarship), unlike Sam Riley who’s a lankier guy. The locations and sets in Big Sur were uncannily like I had pictured them to be while reading the book. Barr was fifty-three when it was made a couple of years ago, playing a forty-something Kerouac and the entire cast is at least a decade older than in the other film. That automatically makes the whole thing more likable. Maturity. Kirsten Stewart was the headline name in ‘On the Road’; it was her next move after the Twilight movies. I did groan inwardly when I heard that was happening. It’s that kind of thing that gives Kerouac a bad name. But awk, she’s alright actually, I don’t mind her. She’s been redeeming herself since. Plus she’s really sexy. Being sexy is her thing, it’s kind of great. Just that movie was humourless and played to the ‘cool’ thing that I think sells the author short.