Tuesday, November 27, 2007

17 November is a date of great significance in the Czech calendar. In 1939 it was the day on which the Nazis closed down all Czech universities, executed some student leaders and took over a thousand more off to concentration camps in response to student protests against the occupation. As a result, in 1941 it was declared International Students’ Day. Then in 1989, ostensibly to mark this event, student protesters took to the street, starting off the Velvet Revolution. So it’s a time, perhaps, for patriotic and sombre reflection on the successes and failures of 18 years of democracy in this country.

And how did I spend the day? In very Czech, or to be more accurate, Moravian style. Thanks to my friend Martin and his extended family out near the Slovak border in a village named, I kid you not, Police, I attended a traditional pig slaughter.

The Czechs are heavily into their pork and pig-related products. Pig slaughters are celebratory occasions in this country (though the pig didn’t seem in particularly festive mood), one of those rituals that bind families together. Some foreigners tend to be a bit squeamish at the prospect of being so close to the death of an animal, all the blood etc. It would be gratuitous of me to go into detail, but on the other hand, unless these people are vegetarians I find this squeamishness rather hypocritical. I could even get moralistic about it and suggest that if people want to eat meat, they ought to confront the reality of what it’s about and get their hands dirty.

Not that I did much of that, I have to admit. Beyond scraping a few hairs off the body, my extremely generous hosts refused to allow me to do any real work and instead insisted on getting me drunk on slivovice (and I’m not complaining here). On the other hand I have got my hands dirty in the past, back in my student days, when I had a truly revolting summer job in a turkey factory for a month or so. Many of the students who went to work there came back vegetarians. I personally went the other way, considering that since I had been prepared to do such foul work, I bloody well had the right to eat meat – although I still do have serious ethical qualms about eating any meat produced in such a manner. After that, really, the pig slaughter seemed nothing to get squeamish about. As far as I could see the pig, unlike the factory farmed turkeys, lived in reasonable conditions. In addition it had a relatively quick and painless death. Compared to the experience of the turkey factory, the whole occasion seemed heart-warmingly natural, rustic, even healthy (maybe I’m romanticising and kidding myself here, but despite the cholesterol there was probably a great deal less crap in the meat than there is in the majority of commercially produced poultry).

Bon appetit!

And as any red-blooded carnivore would expect, the results were delicious. Brain omelette for starters, followed by the best Czech national meal of pork, cabbage and dumplings I’ve ever had, washed down with beer and slivovice. After which we went back to Martin’s place to watch the Czech Republic beat Slovakia at football (at least my adopted national team are going to Euro 2008). A truly patriotic day.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Is it politically incorrect of me to perpetuate stereotypes of thick football managers who talk only in meaningless clichés? Do I give a shit? Of course I don’t, not after seeing England’s performance against Croatia last night. I’m not usually one to take the easy option of blaming the manager for everything that goes wrong, but then again, this is not a usual case. Obviously, the sweet FA have to take their share of the blame for appointing a man who was nobody in the world’s first choice, and from that moment on it was an almost unmitigated disaster. We were even handed an unbelievable gift in the form of Israel beating Russia. And then another in the form of a thoroughly undeserved penalty. And we still fucked it up! As for Lampard, scoring with what was virtually his first touch of the game has a rather hollow ring to it if it’s from a penalty, in the second half. And who picked him, despite the fact that he’s done nothing for England since way before the last world cup? The same useless, uninspired arsewipe who’s now laughing all the way to the bank. After making an utter pig’s ear of our chances with one of the best squads we’ve had in decades, pissing about with negative, unattractive and simply incompetent football, he’s now apparently due to pick up a cheque for 2 million in compensation. 2 million pounds to piss off and leave us alone. Cocksucker. And what are we, the fans left with? Sweet FA.

Monday, November 19, 2007

And here it is. Pure poetry.

Matt Bianco

Christ! This has to be up there with Modern Talking for utterly grotesque 80s shitness. Look at the cunts and tell me they don't make you want to fucking puke with their plinky-plinky oh-so-sophisticated pseudo jazz. Youtube wouldn't allow me to post the clip you really wanted to see, when they got what they so richly deserved from a prank caller on live TV. I've actually met a number of people who claimed to know, or even be the person who made the call. I don't believe any of them, but whoever did it has my heartfelt thanks. Anyone who can not only perfectly summarise but also destroy this appalling band's career in three superbly apt words should be given a knighthood.

News! Hughes. Views. Not only can he grow an award winning moustache, he can also verbally kick the shit out of James "rhyming slang" Blunt amongst others. Welcome!

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

“Let me tell ya something. Nowadays everybody’s gotta go to shrinks and counsellors, and go on Sally Jessie Raphael and talk about their problems. Whatever happened to Gary Cooper? The strong, silent type? That was an American. He wasn’t in touch with his feelings, he just did what he had to do. See, what they didn’t know was that once they got Gary Cooper in touch with his feelings, they wouldn’t be able to shut him up! And then its dysfunction this and dysfunction that and dysfunction va fangoo!”

Christmas seems to have come early this year, thanks to the generosity of Mr Matthew Sweney I am now in possession of the entire Sopranos set on DVD. Plenty of praise has been heaped on this already almost legendary drama, and rightly so. It’s been a very long time since I watched the first series, and so now, going back to it, it’s almost like losing my virginity all over again. Frankly I’m in awe.

The intro in itself is a masterpiece, the music menacing and funky, a perfect complement to the mixture of grime and glitz. The drive along the New Jersey turnpike reveals gritty, industrial landscapes, the blue collar world which provides the wiseguys with their bread and butter, a world they themselves inhabit for a great deal of the time, and where those they exploit remain. It’s only in the very last section of the drive that the car, with Tony Soprano’s hairy, cigar-clenching fist on the wheel, speeds into the suburbs, ending at his mansion, where he jerks to a halt and slams the car door ominously, “I’ve had a shit day” written all over his face, the music stopping abruptly as if cut short by some act of casual violence.

The muck-and-brass theme is not a new one, in fact it features to a greater or lesser extent in any gangster-related TV or cinema. In the wrong hands it could be, and indeed has frequently been tacky, or preachy – either mythologizing mobsters as soldiers who’ve worked their way up from the gutter, or lecturing to us like pompous schoolteachers that when you scratch the surface they’re all just pathetic, cowardly bullies, and the reality of gangster life is far from attractive. The same applies to other issues it addresses, those of class and race, mental health and spiritual decay in American society etc. But the Sopranos is far more subtle, and presumably also more honest, about the way all this is presented. Even the confrontation of psychology with the classic Italian matriarchal family is treated sensitively, as well as with a fair dose of humour. The Sopranos doesn’t use a sledgehammer to crack a nut, even if a lot of the people in it probably would. So for example, Tony Soprano is shown playing golf with the Mafioso elite against a backdrop of smoke-belching chimneys and motorways. His main income is literally from garbage, but he’s loaded and sharply dressed. No comment, no hectoring, both worlds coexist and are dependent on one another. It may not be Goodfellas, but it acknowledges that there is also glamour as well as sleaze – the money, the power, the suits, the cars, the women…

The character of Tony Soprano is similarly presented without any frills or moralising, but with fantastic attention to detail. He is shown in all his warts-and-all glory, and like life it’s far from black and white. This restraint and frankness is crucial, James Gandolfini masterfully inarticulate in his role, as remarkable for what he doesn’t or can’t say as for what he does. So he’s a smart, wisecracking, affable don who is respected, feared and also loved by many of those who surround him. Someone who seems to offer the possibility of protection, who’s even fun to be around, for a while at least. He’s also childish, simpleminded, fumbling, out of his depth, particularly when confronted by his psychiatrist, as well as by the other dominant female figures in his life. He’s driven to despair by the lack of values he sees around him, and is also a self-centred, lying thug who might turn around and kill you at any moment. In his own words he’s a sad clown. The fact that he lacks the intelligence or self-awareness to understand his own contradictions makes him all the more compelling. It’s probably impossible to have good drama with a complete absence of sympathetic characters – here it’s clearly no problem, since there are a number of them, including of course big Tony himself. Again, the fact that he does end up getting us more or less on his side doesn’t seem to be irresponsible or dishonest, playing down his negative attributes. It’s a fact of life that for whatever reason we sometimes end up liking people we don’t entirely approve of.

I won’t go into further detail on the quality of the writing and the acting, anyone who’s seen it knows it’s brilliant. Does it make me want to be in the mafia? Weeeell ya know, it does kinda make me wanna start talking like a wiseguy, capische? But it also makes me shit myself way too much to actually attempt it. Goodfellas with a conscience? Godlike.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Slade - Mama weer all crazee now

More Rockin' Brummies. I suppose as someone from Coventry I shouldn't really be promoting Birmingham with quite such vigour... but let's face it, these men are BEAUTIFUL!!

Monday, November 05, 2007

Black Sabbath - War Pigs

ROCK! Get some of this yer bastards! And then Ozzy the daft bugger goes and has dinner with George Bush. Ah well, he's only a Brummie I suppose.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

More punk-related traumas

Perhaps prodded by the recent, wonderful experience of seeing TV Smith play live in Olomouc, I’ve found myself checking out some of the “Punk Years” documentaries on youtube over the last week or so. Never intended to be groundbreaking treatises along the lines of “England’s Dreaming” or “Lipstick Traces”, they’re nevertheless quite entertaining, containing interviews with, or rather soundbites from those who were there at the time, including TV Smith (see him on the telly, I had a chat with him, he’s my mate, him!), plus of course a lot of great music (plus some atrocious shit).

One of the things that struck me watching these clips is what an absolute cunt John Lydon is. And here we are back in Biafra territory. The Sex Pistols are still one of my all time favourite bands (unlike the Dead Kennedys, who I find it difficult to listen to these days), one of those brilliant examples of when something becomes greater than the sum of its parts, in addition to which I’m very fond of early PIL, and so again it’s rather galling for me to acknowledge what’s staring me in the face. Which is that Lydon is a cunt.

Shut up!

A dishonest and utterly undignified cunt in fact. The vision of a 50 year old man, still doing the mad Rotten stare and talking in that sarky, scourge-of-little-England voice, is genuinely cringeworthy regardless of what he actually says. Please, make him stop! But that’s not the half of it. Petty backbiting and jealous squabbles within the London punk scene might be forgivable, even cute, for a 21 year old back in 77, but today, at his age? OK, maybe he simply doesn’t like the Clash, the Damned etc. (although there can be few people to whom it hasn’t occurred that there’s doubtless more to it than mere musical taste, whether it’s based on personal grudges or, much more likely, pitifully anxious guarding of his own status as King of Punk), but one could have hoped that by now at least a little magnanimity might have crept in. But Lydon has barely a good word to say about anyone involved with punk, the only exceptions being bands who could never have been considered any kind of threat to himself, such as the Buzzcocks (and he qualifies even this by arguing that they weren’t really punk anyway) or X-Ray Spex (way too obscure to present a genuine challenge).

As might be expected, his greatest ire is reserved for the likes of Malcolm McLaren and the New York scene, and rarely has the line “methinks he doth protest too much” been more fitting. Because for all of Lydon’s banging on about what an “honest” band the Sex Pistols were, he’s actually just as guilty of rewriting punk history as McLaren was in the execrable “Great Rock n Roll Swindle”. Whilst it’s probably true that McLaren bit off more than he could chew by recruiting Lydon as Rotten, it’s nevertheless the case that had McLaren not discovered him, Lydon would probably never have found fame, whereas McLaren’s project probably would have in some form or another. It would be unfair to accuse Lydon, as some have, of being no more than McLaren’s puppet, but he’s evidently still desperately trying to refute that accusation. Similarly it’s hard not to see that his disdain for New York is little more than a shoddy attempt to deny the immense musical debt the Sex Pistols owed to the New York Dolls, despite Steve Jones having owned up to a Johnny Thunders fixation of embarrassing proportions. Maybe it was this knowledge that provided the motivation for Lydon’s ludicrous assertion that punk had “nothing to do with music”, with breathtaking self-aggrandisement elevating the importance of his own delivery and lyrics whilst dismissing the importance of the rest of the band, continuing with the bizarrely idiotic pronouncement that “the sounds of anger are not melodic” – whereas for all Lydon/Rotten’s shouting, the Sex Pistols, relying mainly on three or four major chords played in the style of the aforementioned New York Dolls, were well within conventional musical structures.

At this point you might be thinking that I ought to be a bit more magnanimous myself, after all the Sex Pistols, even if not enormously musically original, were a superb band with a huge cultural impact, whilst Lydon/Rotten’s delivery actually was pretty unique at the time. Added to this is the fact that to have legendary status thrust on one so young must be one hell of a burden, and one which is bound to engender delusions of grandeur – perhaps Lydon is to be pitied rather than scorned. As well as all that, surely his bitterness with regard to New York is at least in part caused by what that scene did to his friend Sid Vicious. Well, yes, yes, yes and no. On the last issue there is more denial and dishonesty at work. Jerry Nolan of the Heartbreakers claims he warned Lydon that he was “creating a monster” through his role in the creation of the persona of Vicious, to which Lydon responded by contemptuously shrugging him off. I’m not trying to say here that Lydon bears as much guilt as Nancy Spungen etc. in Sid’s demise (or Sid in hers), but he may also not be entirely blameless. As for honest? My arse.

All this links to the second thing that struck me about those documentaries, which is how profoundly annoying it is when someone claims to possess a monopoly on the truth of what punk was really about. This can be said not only of Lydon, but also of the thuggish “real” punks like the Exploited or numerous Oi! bands, as well as at the other extreme the prissy, pontificating indie pop scum, some of whom are still scribbling away pointlessly to this day. These are two sets of people, on very different sides of the fence, with whom I occasionally came into contact at university back in the early 90s, and quickly learned to heartily despise. By this time the “real” punks had grown dreads and become crusties, who I encountered at Fugazi gigs and the like, sneering at us for being “fookin’ styoowdents”, whilst the other bunch, who I encountered almost exclusively on campus were, quite decidedly, facking students.

Punk's not dead?

I have some limited amount of sympathy with the “real” punks, after all the first wave of London, art-school punks argued that their movement was democratic, that anyone could do it, even that it represented a kind of “street” or “working class” form of expression. And so this second wave of much less arty, more genuinely working class punks took up the challenge and did it. In addition they had a point that punk, whilst sometimes having intellectual pretensions, had also always had lowbrow, yobbish elements, such as the Ramones’ dumbed-down image and lyrics, the Pistols’ drunken swearing on the Bill Grundy show or signing for A&M. And it was only a matter of time before someone had to point out that although they might be a great band, the Clash’s proletarian rebel posturing was trite as hell. Unfortunately, being “for real” didn’t necessarily mean that these bands were any good. And when they were bad, they could be bloody awful. In the worst cases, in their anti-intellectual working-class chauvinism they did nothing more than make a virtue out of ignorance and confirm people’s worst prejudices that punks were indeed a bunch of smelly, drunken louts with dogs on strings, who portrayed themselves as victims of society but were actually parasites upon it, certainly not too proud to take its handouts. Either that or, with many of the Oi! fans, violent, jackbooted (and frequently Nazi) hooligans. A good argument for voting Tory, in fact. I had the misfortune to see the Exploited at a festival last year, it was like watching pigs roll around in their own shit. I’m certainly nobody to say that they’re not also punks, but that these bands represent the “real” punk, or that punk didn’t truly begin until Oi!, as some idiots claim? Bollocks.

The logical conclusion of punk?

I have no sympathy whatsoever with the other bunch, who themselves confirm people’s worst prejudices about students. The indie brigade have used and abused punk as a justification for all kinds of awful, tinny, emasculated pish like Talulah Gosh or virtually anything on Sarah Records etc. (Christ, I mean even the fucking name, Sarah fucking Records) , as well as a basis for a viciously puritanical, killjoy philosophy of music. So punk had some anti-macho, celebration-of-the-geek, anti-rock n roll elements. Big deal, punk was full of contradictions, it also had plenty of macho and rock n roll elements too, as documented above. But apparently the latter is not true punk. So although Joey Ramone was a skinny, weedy geek and therefore acceptable in one respect, some of the indie pop freaks I’ve met have even deemed the Ramones of all people to be inappropriate because they (eek!) wore a kind of uniform with their leather jackets, (eek!) were American, (eeek!) played loud, thrashy rock n roll, (eeeeeeeek!) had long hair and (EEEEEEEEEK!) were right wing. Emboldened by the critique of “rockism”, these spiteful hair-splitters started up a kind of moral crusade, which thankfully didn’t get far beyond a few university campuses and some of the music press, but was and still is quite irksome enough. Just as an aside here, a friend of mine once shared a house with Pete Wylie, and tells me that Wylie only coined the phrase “rockism” as a rather flippant pun on Rock Against Racism, which was in the shadow of the repugnant Socialist Workers Party. But let’s not let facts get in the way of ideology. It might seem a bit glib to portray the indie pop kids as playground sissies acting out a revenge fantasy, totalitarian pedants drunk on the meta-narrative of anti-rockism, embarking on a kind of musical ethnic cleansing operation to subjugate or eradicate “inferior” or “degenerate” musical forms such as heavy metal, but it’s interesting and surely no coincidence just how many of them I’ve come into contact with have been actual, out-and-out commies. And musically, punk was the Marx to their Stalin. The result was the fey, curiously white, in fact positively anaemic sounding music of the C86 generation, still guitar-based but purged of all rock elements, virulently anti-American, insularly British and overwhelmingly middle class, scrupulously politically correct and wholly self-congratulatory. And this, they would have us believe, was the “true” spirit of punk.

When all’s said and done, give me the macho bullies every time. After all, who is potentially more harmful, the oafish metal fan who gives you a Chinese burn, or the vindictive swot plotting your downfall in all kinds of sadistic ways because you didn’t want to sit next to him in geography? Forgive me the schoolboy metaphors, but given the indie bands’ fearful, pre-pubescent recoiling from any kind of sexuality in music, which in an Orwellian knee-jerk reaction (jangly guitars good, distorted guitars bad) they equated with sexist cliché (at least in white music, although many of them patronisingly indulged not only sexuality but blatant sexism from black artists, after all we can’t risk criticising them can we?), as well as their self-conscious retreat into infantilism in their twee lyrics and style of dress, this seems entirely apposite. At least the metal meatheads made it to spotty adolescence. I’m not saying that I prefer Iron Maiden to the Smiths (I’m not a monster, you know), but I certainly do prefer Motorhead to the Railway Children.

That said, I prefer just about anyone to the Railway Chidren, and Motorhead to just about anyone.