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Wednesday, July 30, 2003

WARNING: extremely ill-informed opinions ahoy...

OK blundering into the fray several months late, prepare yerselves for It's All In The Mind's forthcoming response to 'Boy In Da Corner.' An intial response: Holy. Fucking. Shit. An apocalypse of sound. Giant robots at war in council estate playgrounds. Without wanting to get dragged too far into the 'is it hip hop?' debate over at ILM, I have to admit as a complete stranger to garage/grime/etc the comparison I can't help making over and over in my head is Wu-Tang. Not in the corny 'ooh it's quite dark isn't it?' sense, you know, the way that any vaguely menacing music involving beats and rhymes gets compared to Wu-Tang. No; I mean more in the sense of the creation of a sonic reality. Dizzee is inventing/recreating the world around him through sound, generating a sonic image of 'East London' just as effectively and compellingly as Wu-Tang do for 'Staten Island.' Oh yeah, plus he's clearly the English Ghostface, that's the other thing :-)

Anyway another point I want to quickly chime in on is that raised by k-punk, in response to these comments at Auspicious Fish, re: the response of the straight-up hip hop heads to Dizzee. Nick's 17-year old hip hop fan thinks Dizzee is shit. Not a surprise: the letters page of 'Hip Hop Connection' was full of similarly enraged/un-comprehending reactions when they gave 'I Luv U' single of the month a while back. (and of course exactly the same thing happened when they put Oxide & Neutrino on the cover ages ago.)

Right, this is the problem I think: calling Dizzee 'hip hop' is such a selling-short of where he's coming from that it's not necessarily the most useful descriptor. It just presumes too much musical/cultural baggage that, when applied to his music by yer average hip hop fan, is going to lead to inevitable disappointment. HOWEVER the instant reflex-defence of Dizzee's UK defenders: 'it's not hip hop! don't you dare call it hip hop!' is equally unsatisfactory. To pretend he isn't immersed in and indebted to US rap is disingenuous to say the least (and am I imagining it or is that a Biggie allusion when he rhymes 'kick in yer door/i ain't got a .44'???!!!). So, yeah: don't call it hip hop. But don't deny it's there! Especially if you're trying to sell this to a dyed-in-the-wool 17 year old M.O.P. fan. Tell them not to listen to just the rhymes, not to just the beats, but to the sound, man.

Anyway, the bigger issue here is clearly the innate reactionary conservatism of so many hip hop fans, funnily enough an impulse often found strongest in those furthest away from the realities of hip hop as a culture. OK this is an unfair generalisation, but you know what I mean: those letters in Hip Hop Connection weren't considered responses to a strange record, they were evidence of ears snapping shut the minute something unusual and foreign was heard. It's basically no more than 'Garage (or 'gay-rage' as one of my enlightened hip hop friends calls it) Sucks! All of it!' Anyway, to put a long post out of its misery, what I'm saying is: yes it's amusing and telling that Dizzee has vocal support from middle-aged rock journalists and little-to-none from teenage rap fans, but I kind of think this division says more about ways of listening than about Dizzee's merits as a rapper/producer...
  Instant Fame-Death

Promise this is the last thing about Big Brother for a while. Just couldn't let it go without mentioning the Sunday highlights episode just gone. Did anyone see it? Creepy as fuck. They condensed the whole big Friday final-night shebang into an hour of little clips (thank god i missed the actual final, it looked soul-witheringly devoid of any tension. Even the contestants were acting up. They all wanted to leave. No-one seemed to care who won, least of all the inmates.) Anyway, instead of showing us the crowds outside and the walks of fame etc, the cameras stayed inside to record the reactions of the others as each one left. Each time the doors shut that person disappeared from fame: walked up the bright white staircase to the pearly gates. Instant death. Except, when Cameron and Davina finally evacuated, the cameras still stayed inside! We saw the doors slide shut and we were locked, alone, inside the empty silent house. You could hear the muffled screams from outside. Nothing happened. I was mildly freaking out at this point. And then - oh my god - they started playing hushed, ghostly clips of the contestants' voices as the lights in the house went off one by one. I am not making this up. We were left there, in the pitch black, the party somewhere else, with just the ghosts of memories of people we barely knew.

Look, it was chilling stuff. Someone at C4 messing with our heads. I mean, just the way they seemed to be taking the piss out of the inevitable post-BB comedown. The months of foreplay, the hectic climax of final night, and the instant post-coital chill. Just to remind us: *they*, ie the contestants were never really in the house. We don't really know what any of those people are actually like, we're just familiar with their edited TV personas. They get to leave: we get locked in with their ghosts! I'm frightened. Remember how Jon kept on singing 'Hotel California' while he was in there? HOW DID HE KNOW???

****something related*****

one of the most indelible memories from my TV childhood: it was a Saturday morning kids magazine show called 'On The Waterfront.' It was only on for one series, in the summer while Going Live was off-air. It was probably pretty shit. I can't remember any of the presenters. But throughout the series, every episode, there were these weird things that happened: like, stuff would move by itself, or the lights would go on and off. The presenters acted spooked: the idea was that there was a ghost in the studio. So far so hum-drum spooky. But in the last episode, when the presenters all said goodbye, yes, bye-bye, presumably already knowing the 2nd series hadn't been commissioned: credits roll. The lights go down. Presenters on an empty stage. Spotlight suddenly comes on. They walk up into the audience and sitting there, operating the spotlight, are their ghosts/doppelgangers/whatever. They've been haunting themselves all series. Because there was nowhere else to go after it ended? Because not being famous anymore is like dying? What the fuck? Minor TV celebrities doomed to haunt the empty studios of unsuccessful childrens' programmes for ever... 
Tuesday, July 29, 2003
  Robbie: Jesus Doesn't Want Him For A Sunbeam

My god can you quite believe the car-wreck that is Robbie Williams' new single? The spirit-sapping lifelessness of the music is pretty breathtaking. The song sounds like it's trying to drag itself up out of bed. It's bright early morning and the coke has run out. America still hasn't been broken. Listen to those downtrodden horns: the sound of balloons deflating at the end of the party, of the fight being sucked out of Robbie. The drugs don't work: all he has is a hangover and an all-consuming loneliness. And the refrain: "when you're lost, hurt, tired and lonely, something beautiful will come your way." It's clear he doesn't believe himself. That chorus isn't a life-affirming statement of self-belief, it's a frightened, desperate grasp at reassurance. Hiding under the bedclothes, eyes too dry to even cry, he has to keep believing it. But the music makes it clear he has no way out: the sagging, plodding thump of the track is his reality - the attempted-soar of the chorus is just a dream. (cf Jon Savage on how great songs always subvert the message of their lyrics. This is a gruesome example of the artist's true state of mind slipping out unnoticed beneath the image he's trying to project. It's the most horrific experience to be had on daytime radio at the moment. 
Monday, July 28, 2003
  Heat 2002: A Memoir

Between January and September 2002 I read Heat magazine every week. I miss it.

Ant McPartlin Angelina Jolie Beyonce Knowles Billie Piper Brian Dowling Britney Spears Caprice Catherine Zeta-Jones Chris Martin Christina Aguilera Claire Sweeney Dale Winton Darius Danesh Davina McCall Denis Van Outen Donna Air Duncan James Elton JohnEwan McGregor Gail Hipgrave Geri Halliwell Gisele Bundchen Guy Ritchie Heidi Range Hugh Grant Jack Osbourne Jack Ryder Jade Goody Jennifer Aniston Jennifer Lopez Jenny Frost Jeremy Edwards Jessie Wallace Jordan Judy Finnegan Kacey Ainsworth Kate Moss Kelly Brook Kimberley Walsh Lee Ryan Liam Howlett Lisa Rogers Louis Walsh Max Beesley Mel Brown Melanie Sykes Mutya Buena Naomi Campbell Natasha Hamilton Nicole Appleton Nicole Kidman Nikki Chapman Noel Gallagher Norman Cook Ozzy Osbourne P Diddy Patrick Kielty Penelope Cruz Ralf Little Renee Zellweger Romeo Dunn Ryan Phillippe Sara Cox Shakira Stella McCartney Tess Daly Tony Blackburn Ulrika Jonsson Vernon Kay Victoria Beckham Victoria Hervey Will Mellor Will Young Amanda Holden Ben Affleck Brad Pitt Bryan McFadden Calista Flockhart Cat Deeley Cate Blanchett Chris Evans Darren Day David Beckham David Furnish Dec Donnelly Demort O'Leary Dido Emma Bunton Frank Skinner Gareth Gates Gary Lucy George Clooney Gwen Stefani Gwyneth Paltrow Hannah Spearritt Jade Jagger James Gooding Jamie Theakston Jefferson Hack John Thomson Jon CarterJude Law June Sarpong Justin Timberlake Kate Lawler Kate Winslet Keisha Buchanan Kelly Osbourne Kerry McFadden Kylie Minogue Kym Marsh Les Dennis Liam Gallagher Liz McClarnon Lucy Benjamin Madonna Martine McCutcheon Meg Matthews Mel Blatt Melanie Chisholm Michael Douglas Myleene Klaas Natalie Appleton Nell McAndrew P!nk Paris Hilton Rachel Stevens Reese Witherspoon Richard Madely Robbie Williams Ross Kemp Sadie Frost Sarah Jessica Parker Sarah Whatmore Sharon Osbourne Simon Fuller Sophie Ellis Bextor Tamzin Outhwaite Tara Palmer-Tompkinson Tom Cruise Tracy Shaw Travis Fimmel Zoe Ball

Holy shit. Um I didn't realise people were actually going to read this nonsense. But Mark [not Ingram I got his name wrong god knows what his name is really!] K-Punk has actually replied to that last post! How embarrassing. He's like an Actual Writer who knows stuff. Anyway he's right, of course, about the trojan horse possibilties of pop subverting the economic machinery it rode in on. The only niggling thing still gnawing away somewhere is the unavoidable elitist rhetoric of this pop nostalgia. You know, back in the day, we had real pop stars, we knew our place, we were happy to bow before the untouchable idols, to lose ourselves in the reverie, yes, yes, etc. And now, look at them, the Heat-reading, BB-watching, guestlist-at-the-provincial-club, text-messaging couch-potatoeing multitudes, satisfied with their facsimiles of Pop Idols, with their illusion of self-importance ('Who goes? You decide!'), how can they be so STUPID? How can they put up with it? Don't they know any better? It's not proper pop life! It doesn't mean anything!

Nothing new I guess; the whole Warhol-described idea of pop stardom is completely founded on an elitist division between star and audience. And that divide is being systematically broken down, we the people are the same as them, the stars. The gap closes and everyone is on the guestlist. The reasons for this are...i dunno, i keep thinking it's intended to disguise the fact that NOTHING SIGNIFICANT actually changes, in terms of the stake people have in what they consume. I mean, if we feel like we are controlling the destinies of our stars, if we know that they are just like us, what does this imply for our non-pop life? Is it just some control mechanism? Ie i hate my job, i hate my girlfriend, she hates me, my life feels out of control, the government don't speak for me, the world is just so crazy and bad, but at least i'm the one who decides who becomes famous this week. So i'll keep quiet about the other things that i can't control? Maybe...

this is slightly related to the above. pop elitism. the idea that not everyone gets it. you know? that the erosion of the magical subversive abilities of pop is inevitable and will not even be noted or mourned by most people. that they don't know any better. but we do. us. the clever ones. we can see what's happening. we can't stop it. but we can see it. so what to do? (this is wider than a pop thing; this is an attitude to the world, life, etc. abandon the possibility of revolution. we grew up after the end of the cold war. revolution is a joke. but what if there's another answer...not revolution but....escape. yes. opt out. run for the hills. walk down the street, or in the club, look at people, you can tell...some of them are like you. like me. not many though. a secret telepathic network. the people who get it. (haha: the masturbatory fantasy of violent revolution vs. the equally wanky fantasy of a a secret society of initiates). anyway get me straight: this is just something i'm identifying. THE VIEWS EXPRESSED HEREIN ARE NOT NECESSARILY THOSE OF THE AUTHOR. this escape fantasy is popping up here and there you know: get together with the few people who understand things the way you do, and Leave The World. some examples:

- the Matrix
- Fight Club
- um, that Tom Robbins book: Fierce Invalids or whatever it's called
- er, shit.
- Ah! The Invisibles, Grant Morrison 'the thing is, there's this big secret...' etc
- oh bollocks my head's gone blank. please send in more examples of the secret band of those-who-know meme popping up wherever you see it. thankyou!

also NB of course that in all of these examples, the secret band of initiaties do actually intend to try and start a revolution, change the world etc. i'm not convinced that's the point: their stories end before the revolution happens. the thrill, and in fact the focus of the narrative, is on the disengagement from the world around them. what is exciting is the possibility of an alternative but private society, not the transformation of public life per se.


oh dear time for a quick music observation, just a quickie, don't worry. this dizzee rascal fellow. i guess the most-discussed person in blog-o-land these past few months. you know what? i haven't heard anything by him at all. ok that's a lie i think i heard 'I Luv U' a while ago but i wasn't listening very closely. anyway it's not my fault! in the office we never play the kind of stations where i might hear him. and i don't download music. and i don't have enough time to sit at home and listen to the pirates, ok? it's been a hectic couple of months. anyway, yesterday, a nice sunny sunday afternoon in hedge end, doing the washing up, radio 1 on, they had a little thing about the mercury *cough*bullshit*cough* music prize. they read out the nominees and played little 5-second clips as examples of each. exceptionally dreary: the thrills, coldplay, athlete, lemon jelly, the darkness, radiohead, remarkable nuggets of utterly dead-sounding music. and then...WHAT THE FUCK WAS THAT? i couldn't make much out apart from this show-stopping voice, like an angry lizard, squawking "Fix Up! Look Sharp!". that must have been Dizzee. it was like an alien artefact suddenly beamed down from space and onto the radio. it couldn't have sounded any more different, more opposed, to everything else on the list. it has to win. it won't.

i'm going to buy his album today.

Friday, July 25, 2003
  Mark [NOT Ingram (ahem edited)] at K-Punk has written this thing about 'celebrealism' which nails a lot of things really - a bit like that thing way down there about Big Brother, if it had made any sense. The only thing that troubles me about his version of events (ie, that 'celebrealism' = opposite of pop, because pop is about alien and Otherness and surprise specialness and new, and celebrealism = normalising, squeezing out difference, smoothing the edges, democratising) is the idea that, hold on a minute, doesn't pop move us in a similar direction? I mean, the false democratisation implicit in things like Big Brother and interactive tv, the illusion of personal agency, the useless feelings of universal connectivity = aren't these things that pop set out to do when the marketing people realised there was a generation of post-war kids with disposable income? Doesn't pop also contatin these possibilities of (personal, social, cultural) self-deception? I dunno, I may be confused, but I'm not sure that pop has always been free of these insidious traces that Ingram detects in the (fairly recent phenomenon) of celebrealism.

***A Tangent Quickly***
Man there are a lot of people in the blogosphere who go on about adverts, both in the wider 'advertising is evil innit' sense and also in the specific 'oh my god xxx advert is terrible, have you seen it, i mean how stupid do they think we are, it's so crass and stupid, oh i hate it.' And like, fair enough, but these are intelligent people, I mean, am I missing something, why are they all so convinced that this is anything interesting or surprising to anyone? Two things:

1 - do these people really make effort to disconnect from advertising? because it would take a conscious effort, to avoid it, or, more likely, to immunize yourself against it. it would be fucking hard. and thing is, what would the implications be? i kind of think a large part of your ability to interact with your surroundings goes missing if you're not paying attention to the adverts. i mean, you kind of have no choice, that's the point, but in that case where does the protest come into it? is it just a self-preservation tactic, you know, rocking back and forth on your knees in the corner of the room, murmuring, reminding yourself yes i am a person, yes i am a person, yes i have thoughts that haven't come from a billboard, yes i do, yes i do. maybe that's it. registering dissent has its own purpose, you know, just to reassert your existence underneath the monolith.

2 - BUT is the sneery little 'ooh that advert is rubbish and silly!' attitude (truly, the counter-cultural equivalent of disapproving dinner party quips about some gauche fashion error recently seen) actually any good? doesn't it just un-dignify the actual impact these adverts actually have on actual people? cf the idea that making fun of bush because he's an idiot plays right into his hands: as long as he's a buffoon he seems less dangerous. wrong: he's very dangerous, and it's not funny. not a joking matter. likewise if people actually have something they want to accomplish re: advertising etc, it needs to be taken very seriously, its place and importance and *never forget* its POPularity recognised, not disdained but engaged with. um. where was i? my train of thought has just ploughed through a family saloon stuck on the tracks at the level crossing, so i'll stop now.

Friday, July 18, 2003
  No one is ever left in pop, they are always in the attitude of leaving. It is like an island of integrity, where the moral complexity of a relationship is defined as my ability to leave you, and your inability to leave me. I might be sorry for what I did, but apology goes hand in hand with the inexorable advacing of time. We never go back after saying sorry, we just feel better about moving on. No one would have though in Switzerland in the early part of the 20th century, that Rilke would describe the greatest narrative sensibility of pop in a poem about the uncertainty of being alive and thinking.
Who made us thus:
that always, despite
our aspirations, we wave
as though departing?
Like a man lingering to look,
from the final hill,
out over the valley he
intends to leave forever,
this is how we live
always saying goodbye.

(Apologies to Rilke for my appalling translation). Ok, so its not valleys and hills that pop describes, but its not hills and valleys that Rilke is talking about either. It is a very quiet primal scream, a surrendering to the fact that we can look back but still in the end we have to pack our bags and wander off to the next valley, that may not be home (I struggled with that word, German speakers - and decided there was no room for it) but it probably looks like it if you squint.
Timberlake, more sinned against than sinning? It hardly matters, his vocal soul is teflon coated and resists accusation. He may have done wrong, but he's still alive to sing about it, God or Voudun haven't confiscated his voice. How else would you or I have anything in common with that shaved head from the south? 
  ha ha ha this stopping-me-dead-in-my-working-tracks thing has just happened for the second time today. the song?

TATU - All The Things She Said

i'm nowhere near comprehending the full brilliance of this song. here is a bewildering and honest
attempt to get to the bottom of what *it* is about them, written by someone who is a lot closer to getting it.  
  we have music on in the office every day. normally just the radio. background sound. air conditioning soft lighting whitewashed walls and popular music. not too distracting. something to buzz in your ear and stop you going mad when everything else is phones ringing. not to be listened to. to comfort and reassure. radio stations know why they're there. don't upset anyone. if people don't know the words what's the point? (if it doesn't have any words there's even less point, right?) jesus knows coming into work is hard enough, you don't want to have to listen to any racket. what's that? people screaming. what's that? thud thud thud. what's that? so much aggression. what's that? bloody noise. what's that? batty music. what's that? silence. get rid of it. listen we don't need that.

today someone put on a compilation cd they'd made. nothing unexpected. then 'stan' by eminem. this was a christmas number 1, remember! happily tapping my toes along to U2, INXS, Coldplay, whatever, and then this: fear rage hate misery confusion disgust violence. in the office. it's too much. i can't do anything. i have to listen. hairs stand up on end, i shiver (maybe it's the air conditioning), as usual when you concentrate on this song. no-one else appears to be bothered. i'm close to tears! the subtle shift in eminem's diction when he switches from stan back to himself. the way the chorus is used DO YOU SEE it's a security blanket, a touchstone, something that stan hangs on to as his mind deteriorates. he lets it all out and then, thank god, his tea's gone cold but he still has eminem's photo on his wall. however bad it gets the chorus-comfort is there. and at the climax: the most sickening moment in a number 1 single ever, ha! car hits water. emptiness and desolation. people around me are answering phones and getting on with things. it's quite unbelievable. the next song is robbie williams.

coming this afternoon: a dissection of 'like i love you' hooray! 
Wednesday, July 16, 2003
  Don't give me cliche
Don't give me grade-school philosophy
Don't give me the same tired consumer society schtick
I am Philip's rapidly waning enthusiasm for Chuck 
Tuesday, July 15, 2003
  Where is Pete?

A day passes, a statement is made, and still no explanation. If you could draw the modern mind, it would look like the internet; webs of connections sprouting more connections, infinite but whole.

Before the internet, the London Underground map was the closest thing we had. Perhaps it was the most accurate depiction, and what it describes has changed. Can we put a date on this? When did the mind stop being confined by Ealing Broadway and Stratford? For certain, the Underground map no longer holds quite the same mystic power it used to represent.

Sometimes you can still touch the past. Drunk on the Strand and you can sense something following you. The old Strand station, abandoned; the Moondial. Sundials, like the tube map, are often mistaken for having been purely functional items. This of course ignores their more important mystical purpose.

We lost him between the Strand and Temple. "You should have known I would be in my father's house". 
  sleepjack the fire drill
a cup of coffee spilt over clean white sheets of paper
ugly people kissing in the street
dark and flickering
weird lights in the sky
fibre optic trees
hangover guts
indie kids are crap in bed
imaginary drums
Friday, July 11, 2003

you know even though i was in france for 3 days i'm not sure i actually heard any music that i enjoyed at all, how funny. (correction *recorded* music, i enjoyed a couple of supremely entertaining live performances, one live jazz band at the world famous (it says here) lionel hampton jazz club which was IN MY HOTEL don't you know and where a gin and tonic cost 16 ENGLISH POUNDS i am not making this up!!!) and one bizarre big band thing that was playing the gig of their lives at the end-of-year party at the ARCHITECTURAL COLLEGE across the road from where we were eating one night, who knows, maybe the band themselves where architecture students, anyway, they consisted of a brass section and ONE drummer and they played all yr usual big band classics, but then they played the james bond theme, various ska numbers, ATOMIC BY BLONDIE and i kid you not GIRLS AND BOYS by blur they were clearly operating on a different plane! and the drummer just wouldn't quit! also i never even got to see so much as a single musician, just heard this racket for like 2.5 hours from across the road, what a wonderful way to experience this bizarre and beautiful sound, ah....)

but for real, i don't think i listened to/heard/enjoyed ANY recorded music while i was there. and the whole point of this point is that, yesterday, when i arrived back in london, got the tube to tott.ct.road, got off the tube and started down oxford street, ie i'd been back in the uk for a total of about 20 minutes, the FIRST recorded music hear, coming out of a shop, is, i know you don't expect anything else, IN DA CLUB. of course it was! there could be no alternative. it's like the song has a sentient life and is determined to insert itself into every meaningful moment it can, just to underline it's YOU KNOW I AM GOING TO BE THE DEFINITIVE SINGLE OF 2003 DON'T YOU DON'T PRETEND YOU DON'T status. serious though - it's not just that's its good, i mean, it is, but there is some other quality about this track that just wants to silence opposition. it's ubiquity feels totally natural and how can we still not be bored of it?

anyway it gets better: walking past the shop, just as the chorus kicks in, singing along in my head, it's drowned out by the music coming from the next shop up the street: the unmistakable kick-in-the-teeth horn orgasm of CRAZY IN LOVE, the only other song this year that i think challenges 'in da club' for supreme dominance (not in terms of quality you understand, just in terms of unanswerable swagger and self-confidence), and anyway, rambling as usual, but something about the way those two tracks melded together in a horrible sticky sweltering hot oxford street afternoon and the fact that they were the first and only music i'd heard since i'd returned to london seemed worth noting, so i have noted it. have a good weekend!


was from jake and it just said

Shake that load off
Shake that load off
Shake that load off
Shake that load off
Shake that load off
Shake that load off
Shake that load off
Shake that load off
Shake that load off
Shake that load off
Shake that load off
Shake that load off
Shake that load off
Shake that load off
Shake that load off
Shake that load off

Oooo-oo-oo-oooo, Ooo-oo-oo-oo-oooooo

thank you jake you have saved the day! 
Wednesday, July 09, 2003
  Why memory?
I think we fixate on memory as it is in effect, the sum total of things which cannot be changed. It’s such a powerful experience, because as we have all expressed in various ways, there are certain things which retain their clarity over the course of years: even when recalled decades later, they remain perfect (or their imperfections are not evident which is much the same thing). Memory is like the present, but with one insistent and pernicious flaw – we can do nothing about it whatsoever.
It is the dichotomy between remembrance and experience I suppose that makes the whole question so prevailing and pertinent – knowing exactly what a certain moment now passed felt like - to a precise degree - but being unable to encounter the moment in anything other than an observational sense. Although memory is contained within the same set of sensory restraints as our contemporary experience, it is more like a movie that plays across our eyes, our ears, even our noses. You can’t punch a memory. It is not even a question of this challenge only presenting within the bounds of desirable recollection; the fact that you remember a painful time, or a frustrating time does not limit the subconscious desire to interact with it again, it merely alters the motivation. Rather than reliving pleasant times again in order to revisit experienced pleasure, it simply becomes a matter of wishing to alter unpleasant episodes.
I think Nabokov had it wrong when he titled his autobiography ‘Speak, Memory’, in that he suggests the memory needs to be commanded to release its contents. It needs no such thing, whether we like it or not, the little home movie of concrete experience plays non-stop somewhere, only occasionally drowned out by the present or by contemplation of the future. It is that weight of certainty, when all else is contingent, that gives it such definition.
Monday, July 07, 2003
  ...I can't hope to follow that up.

Except to note that something our posts seem to have in common recently is a preoccupation with memory. (Brendan: Donnie Darko, Pete: Yo la tengo, Phil: Suede)

Perhaps it features large because it is the idea of the moment.

Or maybe, just maybe, we are getting old.

(HOW old were you when you heard Suede's debut?? heh heh) 
  I listened to Suede’s debut album last night, at about 3am, and all of a sudden I was 13 again. I don’t understand how that works, but I think everyone knows it does. Music is the flux capacitor of sensory experience; there is nothing like it for evoking place and time. If I ever hear a snatch of ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ I remember immediately sitting by the side of my bed, looking at a catalogue of goblin and ork figures, wondering if I’ll ever actually stir up enough interest to buy some. Whenever I hear ‘This Charming Man’ I remember hearing it for the first time, on a Smiths ‘Best of’ CD borrowed from my cousin by my older brother. I didn’t have a clue who they were, but from hearing that first jangling bar my life probably went in a slight but detectably different direction than if it had been say, ‘A Kind of Magic’ by Queen that kept me awake at night as it played on repeat in the next room.
But memory is a funny thing, it is compiled from sense, and so when you close your eyes and the reminiscence of a different place and time is complete, you might as well be 13 again and listening to ‘Metal Mickey’ because how else did you know you were there in the first place? You saw certain things, you were party to certain thoughts, you felt a certain way. If you feel like that again, even if it is a decade (yes a decade people) later, is that so different? Obviously there is a temptation to apply unrealistic hind-sight to things passed; it almost certainly wasn’t a simpler time, just everything that was complicated then has now faded and no longer matters. That the sensation of being 13 remains unchanged somewhere, installed in my synapses, linked inextricably with a 45 minute album of music sung by a bloke whose voice I now think of as distractingly theatrical, is probably a cause for celebration - nothing is going to waste.
Tuesday, July 01, 2003
  okay sure, pop music... but haven't we forgotten about swimming pools?

Southampton's Swimming baths: a brief history of Chlorine

I don't know when it was built, but it was intended to last. Central Baths, the biggest swimming pool in the city, housed in a brutalist concrete shell, angular, monolithic, central. The name fills me with dread and I'm not sure if that's just because it evokes dim and uncomfortable memories of obligatory swimming lessons as a child, or because of its dark political overtones.

Central Baths. Picture Stakhanovites chopping up the cold water with their inhuman endurance, an unceasing repetition of 5 length plans. It represented the corporatist ideal: one swimming pool in one place for one people, government controlled, giving the people the exercise they needed in a building they understood. Not only were the swimming baths a triumph of functionality, but they implied the superiority of regimented bureaucracy; with the name it was understood that as well as the Central baths, there also existed a whole network of baths, strategically deployed. A new Jerusalem.

The building could have lasted forever, but at some point people stopped going there. Around 1988 Southampton witnessed a rebirth of their swimming pool, this time in the incarnation of: Centre 2000. A slogan, surely "This is how people will swim in the future", was rendered unnecessary by the bright fluorescent graphics and playful typography. It was a sort of liquid Toys R Us, somewhere our eighties tastes for consumer spending and conspicuous swimwear could be indulged simultaneously. Margaret Thatcher had won another election, but somehow the local authority had bypassed National pessimism and tapped into something deeper, something to do with re-runs of Flipper, and the new baths appeared to be a success.

The recession hit. I don't know precisely how my swimming lessons fitted into the larger macro-economical framework, but Centre 2000 closed down, and slowly fell derelict. Kids threw stones at the windows, and some of us even spray-painted our names and tried to steal the fancy letters. ENTRE 200 read its now foreboding legend. The swimming pool of the future had become something of a warning, about optimism in the face of uncertainty, about placing our trust in fanciful graphic design. One thing was certain: we would never be the same again.

The new millennium saw a vast redevelopment of Southampton's city centre. A move away from the mistaken post-war cul-de-sac; a move towards the sea. The vast and largely unused space between the commercial centre and the docks, probably at some stage taken up by long-gone heavy industry, was to be reclaimed, repackaged, and re-launched as Southampton upon Sea, a town proud of its maritime heritage. A shopping centre was built, and the city at last established itself as a cathedral town.

In the shadow of the shopping centre, an unobtrusive building sprouted from the rubble. More or less on the same spot that Central Baths had stood, The Quays [subtitle: the Eddie Read Swimming and diving complex] accessorised the mall's glass and steel with a Swedish log cabin motif. The city that brought you Leisure World ("all your leisure needs under one roof" ?) now offers you the full consumer experience: Shopping gives you a reason to live, and Recreation keeps you alive. Entering the building - sorry, complex - is a bewildering experience. Questions plague your mind, such as "what's with the pleasant atmosphere? why aren't you telling us how to spend our recreation? where are the changing rooms?"

Of course it's soul-less. Its shape is vaguely reminiscent of a cruise ship, and I learn that several giant apartment blocks are to be erected nearby, ostentatiously incorporating brightly coloured sail fins into their design. It's all so incongruous. Southampton's heritage isn't a proud maritime one, not in my lifetime. If we have anything to celebrate it's our proud journey from Central Baths to The Quays. I don't know who this Eddie Read character is, but in my imagination he has something to do with the planning of Southampton's leisure centres. He inhabits a pokey office in the town hall, its walls covered with years of blueprints and memos. He is a true Southampton hero.


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