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Monday, September 27, 2004
  And he swore the fiercest beasts could all be put to sleep the same silly way

'Gram Parsons - Fallen Angel' BBC TWO, Friday 25th September

About four years ago I went into the local HMV and asked if I could listen to the Gram Parsons double album of 'GP' and 'Grievous Angel', mostly out of curiousity and the thought that really, with titles like that, these were songs I should like. I stood and flicked back and forth through the tracks for about 15 minutes, before surreptitiously hanging up the headphones and walking out, uninvolved. Clearly something happened in the intervening years, as when the record was given to me by a friend about six months ago it hit me hard. Eventually though, I had to give it back.

Today, I finally got round to buying myself a copy, after listening to ripped MP3s during the interim. About twelve hours later, in one of those serendipitous bits of scheduling, BBC2 decided to show one of their 'Originals' documenataries, smuggled out of the digital ghetto of BBC4 under Jack Davenport's overcoat. Mercifully, minimal time was given to the details of Parson's botched cremation in Joshua Tree National Park and the subsequent burial of what was left by his step-father and remaining family. Rather more time was given to his tragic family background; parental alcoholism and suicide, and rumours of foul-play in the death of his mother. This patina of darkness over the early years of his life is in fairly vivid contrast to his later reputation has a good-time guy, more interested in hanging out with Keith Richards than touring with the Byrds, or recording his own material. The two extremes are there even more explicitly in the songs; in the clear-eyed sadness of 'Brass Buttons' and the whiskey/gin/anything-soaked rush of 'Ooh Las Vegas'.

Rather what harp on endlessly about various songs, I'll limit myself to one. A notable part of the documentary was Keith Richards reminiscing on Parsons' ability to make every woman in a audience cry. Either Keith was being a little disingenuous in protecting the inheritance of masculinity, or I'm just not much of a man, but '$1000 Wedding' has made me cry more than once. Coming to it late, the cliches of vernacular American speech in this little country-tinged saga are probably more seductive than they would be if my country wings had been taken by someone with slightly less finesse than Gram in years past, but I particularly love the "mean ol' momma" lyric. The gentle piano introduction, and the eventual percussive swing of the main sections of the song are counterpoints to a narrative of almost unbearable melancholy - a succession of abandonment at the altar, drunken confession to concerned friends and the consoling words of a priest. Parsons and Emmylou Harris harmonize as beautifully as on any track on either album, but for me the most perfect moment in the song is in the final section, when Harris' drops out, and Gram Parsons' voice has a bruised, fibrous quality as he sings the line I've used as the title... Beautiful. 
Friday, September 17, 2004
Archigram - padre
i wanna go back to church

Tuesday, September 14, 2004
  The best decision I made today was to borrow 'The best of the Carpenters' from a middle-aged co-worker, rather than the reissued CD of albums by The Mice being touted elsewhere.

I don't believe in ghosts, but there's a slim possibility I saw one today. 
Monday, September 13, 2004
  Don Paterson in this weekend's Saturday Telegraph (11/9) could be found attempting to revive the aphorism. I can't say it was a successful operation; either the lightening rod wasn't hoisted high enough, or the corpse-pickings of previous aphorists refused to be sewn together, with or without bolts through the neck.

The uncharitable part of me (and those who know me personally will be aware that this constitutes a high percentage of my total mass) tends to think that Paterson hasn't really got much of interest to say, and in order to keep in the literary pages has decided to embrace a 'forgotten' form; like the Coen's superfluously black-and-white 'The Man Who Wasn't There' and Southampton's recent attempts at the long-ball game. His coy little game of patsy with 'brevity' and 'truth' didn't fool me, oh no, not for a second.

Especially not once you've read a few of his minuscule musings.

I was terrified when I suddenly realised her entire conversation took place in inverted commas. She didn't dare mean a thing.

Seventy years. But your childhood was an infinity. What fools we were to sign up to time.

I read a definition of the word "solid": something which retains its shape; and find myself immediately terrified by the wilfulness of objects.

Obviously there is a lot to object to in that little sample (and I promise, I didn't just pick the worst ones). However, the thing I'd briefly like to bitch about is the vulgar over use of the idea of 'terror'. Terror is a good thing, I've long been a fan; I like the fact that it encompasses everything from bowel-evacuating fright, to the sublime uncanny. However, it also has a dark recent history, where it is just a foot-soldier in the pretentious quest to make the banal sound emphatic. Now the most terrible thing of all is to see something described as 'terrifying' as they so rarely make you want to fill a nappy or climb Mont Blanc. A shame.

Sunday, September 12, 2004
  The Channel 4 Art Show was quite interesting. The Tricorn Centre in Portsmouth is familiar from my youth, and to see a passionate defense made when for as long as I can remember it has been reviled, was quite unique.

I thought the one unignorable flaw of the argument presented was that all of the wandering around these giant brutalist buildings took place when they were empty. In that context it was easy to see the drama of angular concrete avenues and cathedral-like buttresses. Space became monumental, a statement of principal; something it can't be when there are people rushing around with shopping bags, or looking for the sign for the toilets. Most of these buildings were made for banal purposes, efficient retail environments, cheap to produce and erected in record time. To me they now seem more impressive in their vast emptiness and drip-streaked degradation than they do in the imagined future of regeneration and re-use. 
  When you're lying awake...

Love, unrequited, robs me of my rest:
Love, hopeless love, my ardent soul encumbers:
Love, nightmare-like, lies heavy on my chest,
And weaves itself into my midnight slumbers!

-Iolanthe, Gilbert and Sullivan

I finally saw 'Lost in Translation' tonight, which makes this a little late in the day/year, but I'm not begging anyone to bear with me, you can move along if you like. I remember reading a lot about this film, but can't remember what was said, which isn't a slight on those who've written about it before, just an indication of the state of my memory and my tardiness. I'm fairly sure though that an awful lot of the affection the film is held in has to do with an unacknowledged cult of personality that has developed around Scarlett Johansson. I don't want to burden this down with slavering riffs about how lovely she seems, but there's definitely something about her, about the way she looks - like she's just regained her composure after crying - that is totally separate from the character Sofia Coppola wrote, and is visible in practically every film I've seen her in. The film isn't hugely funny, aside from one or two set-piece scenes with Bill Murray, it isn't especially interesting to look at, and overall I didn't really believe any of it ; but I liked it in spite of all this.

There's something absurd and optimistic about 'Lost in Translation' - a faith in the ability of people to be matched perfectly, to never hit a wrong note, to always exceed each others expectations. It is both seductive and sly, and I think, accepts the fact that most viewers will be aware that they are being courted quite blatantly. But that doesn't really matter all that much. Charlotte is beautiful and lonely, and in quite clumsy contrast with the neon buzz of money and fucking in the strip-club city around her, she's looking for something meaningful to do with her life. She's a cipher for what most people who watch Sophia Coppola films want from another person. What most of them will drift through life hoping to find, glacing at pretty people on trains who are reading interesting sounding books, wondering if chance has dictated that it's them, and wondering if somehow this is it.

Also, maybe I'm just projecting.

There's a deliberate innocence about the film, the only sexual act alluded to is jarring and transgressive. Charlotte looks up like a happy child when she's carried to bed and tucked in - though just for a second - quickly choosing sleep over intimacy. She lies in the foetal position on Bill Murray's bed, countering the obvious starring role played by her quite clearly post-adolescent body. I'm not sure I believe it though. There was a part of me that felt elated at the idea of love, microwaved to perfection in sixty-seconds by the intense lights of the walls of animated billboards; of it being borne out of necessity and sushi and karaoke. But to remove sex from the scenario quite so coyly felt like cheating.

This is why the appearance of 'Sometimes' by My Bloody Valentine on the soundtrack resonated perfectly. 'Loveless' is probably the most inaccurately titled album of all time. No other music captures the adolescent ethereality of thinking you're in love as well as this. The cyclical geiger counter roar of distortion, the murmured vocal on the edge of comprehension, the relentless thump of bass and drums - all swarming, repeating, endless - like someone's name going round in your head, or the memory of the last time you saw their face imprinted like after-glare.

Monday, September 06, 2004
  Some thoughts on Girls Aloud's 'Love Machine' video...

1) The Irish one is evil incarnate. You can tell this just by looking at her eyes. When I try to imagine what she must be like, I am reminded that ants will use the bodies of their dead to overcome an obstacle.

2) Cheryl is the only one they trust to do 'cute'.

3) The red-head one knows she doesn't belong. You can see fear in her eyes, and sometimes it looks like hysteria.

4) The other two only exist to give balance to wide-angled shots.


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