Couple of Good Things

‘It Takes a Killer’ on CBS Reality

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.

Podcasts

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.

 

 

 

 

 

Book Review

Barbarian Days- William Finnegan

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.

Dante’s Peak

The movie Dante’s Peak has been on TV a lot lately. For reasons I don’t understand, I simply cannot get enough of it. I find it hard to tear myself away any time it’s on. It’s strange, because I can’t stomach even five minutes of other disaster movies from that era, like Deep Impact or Armageddon. Everything Pierce Brosnan does in Dante’s Peak is him embodying a particular conception of perfect masculinity and maturity. I liked the idea of trying to subvert that fantasy, using a sequence of events from the first half of the movie. I’ve done it in pairs of paragraphs, with the Dante’s Peak version first, then my version:

Brosnan’s instincts are spot on- the volcano is going to blow; everyone else is wrong.

Brosnan hasn’t been known for having good instincts, and the on the job training he’s received has gone to his head in embarrassing and unforeseen ways. His shallow understanding of volcanos and his arrogance are a big problem in this delicate situation. He’s been fixated on a paper he read which documented a similar previous case where the volcano did erupt. He took the best part of a weekend day over reading and understanding the paper and now he can’t hear anything that contradicts it or provides counter-evidence.

…….

He is dismissed from the project by the team leader, who instructs him that he ‘needs a vacation’. The team leader is a more conventional mind, unable to fathom Brosnan’s heightened sensitivity, mistaking it for erratic behaviour.

He is dismissed from the project by the team leader, who instructs him that he ‘needs a vacation’. The team leader is finally taking the action necessary to prevent this puffed-up idiot wasting any more of the team’s time.

…….

The team enter a bustling, cozily lit establishment that evening for a drink. They see Brosnan sitting alone at the bar, contemplative, a bottle of beer in front of him. The old barman turns obediently as Brosnan calls for the ‘same again’. The team leader takes a stool at the bar next to Brosnan and attempts to explain himself, talking about the muddy politics of putting a town on alert, the economic fallout that could result, the feathers that could be ruffled. Brosnan listens patiently, lets him finish, and after a pause looks him square in the eye and says ‘Ok’, before shooting a peanut into his mouth- using his closed fist like a cannon in an interesting and decisive gesture of impatience that concludes the scene.

After being suspended Brosnan buys some booze and heads directly back to his motel room. He cracks open the wine he got and as his laptop boots up he gets half a glass in him, while huffing a cigarette too quickly over by the window. He’s jumping out of his skin at the offense of it all. He’s going to email the team leader and tell him what’s up. The bastard got the best of him in the face to face encounter, he’s no good on the spot. Some time later he’s done. The finished email is good, he’s pleased, even if he did interrupt the writing of it for a wank. He fires it off, tops up his glass and heads over to the window to rake another fag, this one well deserved. His motel is situated in the center of the small town and the sounds of Friday night revelry are filtering in through the window. With the wine nearly gone he makes the sudden decision to head out, emboldened by the booze. At the bar he buys his drink and makes a beeline for a shadowy spot off to the side, by a column. By the time the team walks in several pints later he’s graduated to a chair at the bar and is testing the young bar guy’s patience with his attention-seeking chatter. The team leader somewhat reluctantly invites Brosnan to join the team at their table for a drink. The team are uncomfortable with Brosnan’s brash drunkenness and take the opportunity to leave when he goes to the toilet.

Good Tunes of Late

Doo Doo Doo Doo Doo (Heartbreaker)- The Rolling Stones

I’m not an expert on The Rolling Stones, or any music for that matter, but this is the most exciting song of theirs I’ve heard. It was on the end credits of a documentary I watched, one of those showstopper moments where the song kicks off as the screen goes black and you think ‘Wow- what’s this!?’ The lyrics are about the cops in New York recklessly shooting someone ‘right through the heart’. So the chorus continues: ‘Heartbreakers! With yo’ .44! I wanna tear your world apart!’ Not sure what Mick Jagger knows about .44’s, with his economics degree. Maybe a lot, what do I know. I suppose they’ve been around.

Everything Goes My Way- Metronomy.

I listened to this track on repeat while I was out for a jog the other night. Every time it drew to a close I would be running with my phone held out in front of me, stabbing at the screen trying to hit the back button. I was pretty much delirious after five straight listens, but I couldn’t face moving on to something potentially less motivating. It’s amazing for jogging. A cascade- the vocals of what sounds like a female android with a voice like honey, dying away and immediately rising again and again, a horn tooting, hand claps, a swaying guitar – all falling forward together- the momentum of the high beats per minute saving it from collapse.

I Don’t Know What I Can Save You From- Kings of Convenience

This band sounds exactly like Belle and Sebastian, but they’re from Norway. This is a very lovely melancholic tune involving the interplay of two acoustic guitars and a caressing male voice. It made my friend go ‘What’s this?’, which was satisfying.

Mercy Mercy Me- Marvin Gaye

The sorrowful rhythmic guitar riff in this song, which never flags from start to finish, is what makes it great. Far-away sounding ‘oooh’s’ rise and fall at certain points, complementing it. It’s physically difficult not to bow/shake you head sadly when they come in. As it happens the lyrics are all about pollution and are very lovey-dovey:┬áRadiation under ground and in the sky/Animals and birds who live nearby are dying… I think this could be where Michael Jackson took his cue from, with his Earth Song etc.

Don’t Think Twice

 

Here’s what I think is a great recent cover of my favourite Bob Dylan song, Don’t Think Twice It’s Alright. It was already the ultimate singalong song for me- the lyrics flow so smoothly, rhymes everywhere, and it’s a great wish-fulfillment character- some world-weary cowboy type guy whose ‘precious time’ has been wasted in this relationship. Life has just done gone and disappointed him once again and he has a whole song’s worth of excellent withering shit to say to this imaginary nogoodnik woman, before he’s ‘a’ travellin’ on’. The Bob Dylan version already flowed beautifully but this take adds an airy nostalgic guitar sound that fits really well and also more of a driving quality to the chorus bit, which is exciting.

Amazing

Good Stuff

Good Stuff

I like coffee- it’s delicious- but I’ve never understood the ‘I need my coffee’ thing. It’s never done anything particularly dramatic to my system in terms of an energising effect. Then it gives me the jitters if I drink even the one cup too quickly. But these Starbuck’s ‘doubleshot espresso’ tins have been a revelation to me. They leave you properly switched on mentally- where it’s all working- you’re not just still scattered but now in a caffeine-y way. Then they somehow eliminate physical sluggishness even when you’re wrecked, like coffee never does usually. And all of it with no jitteriness whatsoever. I would recommend anyone reading this to try one, because they’re really special. I buy around six of them when I do a big shop and just hold them in reserve in the fridge. If you know what’s going on with them and can recommend other things like it, great.