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Friday, January 30, 2004
  Denigration being so much easier and perhaps more interesting than commendation, I would like to pre-empt the probably inevitable backlash that greets any new series of a lauded program, and say that Six Feet Under is as good as it ever was.

Other matters... is Katie Melua a joke? The video (and lyrics) of the song used to advertise her album looks like it should be the end-piece of an episode of Smack the Pony... 
Sunday, January 25, 2004
  WIP pt.4

The policeman's deliberations were winding down. He crumpled the ticket, and between pinched fingers, offered it back to the bum. For a moment it looked like he was just going to calm the guy down and let him get on with his journey, but after standing pensively for a few moments, hands on hips, he beckoned for the crazy guy to follow him out of the terminal.

"What'll happen to him?" I asked Mike, as the cop led his charge away, craning his neck to speak into his radio as he sauntered past us. "Oh, station first, then maybe hospital. I dunno, never happened to me. The only time I had a real bad episode my mom took me into hospital by herself." He laughed happily, as if the memory of his hospitalising lapse into insanity was a good joke, or a comfort. "You know what she caught me trying to do? I had a needle and a biro, and I was making all these weird scratches on my arms and legs, and squeezing the ink onto them because I thought I'd see messages. They healed up pretty good though, so there's nothing to show." I nodded and smiled, after all it was a good thing that Mike hadn't scarred too badly.

The whole sequence with the policeman and the madman had lasted maybe ten minutes, and as the guy was being led away there was activity over by the gate marked 'Seattle' and the pop-crackle of a microphone being turned on. Quickly we all mobilized, with the veteran as our leader because he had bravely refused to yield the prime front-of-gate ground. A fat man in short sleeves and short trousers entered through the gate, and began by asking us all to have our tickets ready. Mike and I were near enough the front of the line to have our pick of seats, so I knew I couldn't escape him.

Our luggage was stowed under the bus, in separate compartments because we were going to different cities. I noticed this and remained quiet, Mike noticed this and said "So you're going to Seattle? GREAT PLACE! I know some good guys up there, I can hook you up with their numbers if you want someone to show you around." I was relieved when Mike didn't instantly reel off a list of numbers, but I didn't doubt that he was serious and that I'd get them at some point during the coming hours. I wondered what kind of friends a guy like Mike had - I thought about guessing, but disliked the idea of thinking of myself as an uncharitable sort of person, which I'd probably have to if I pondered for too long. I stepped up onto the bus, and as usual sized up the rest of the crowd, looking for empty seats, looking for anyone that might be trouble (I never found anyone).

Trouble though is a word that changes its meaning in proportion to a given situation. On a bus from DC to Chicago a woman claimed she was having a heart attack. She gained the attention and succour of at least two modern Samaritans, and once she'd 'recovered' enough for the driver to be convinced it was safe to continue, she proceeded to spend the next seven hours abusing her new carers' by reading them her poetry. I was only sitting a few rows behind her, and was pleased at my initial cowardly lack of boldness whenever I caught snatches of their ordeal. She had been in DC attending a poetry competition, and had novelty mugs with 'I Love POETRY' to hand out as rewards to the suitably complimentary listener, even though from what I heard, the rhythm of her verse was in a far ropier state than that of her heart.

Looking up and down the aisle, there were a few unshaven guys who must've closed their eyes the minute they sat down, either embracing or feigning sleep, and the rest of the coach was almost empty. I picked a seat a few rows down from the veteran who'd naturally been the first on, and waited for Mike's inevitable descent onto the seat next to me.

"Hey, mind if I sit with you?" he said, already shifting his buttocks to accomodate the generous dip in the seat. Of course I didn't. Who could object to Mike's company?

Somehow he'd managed to keep hold of burger wrapper, now empty but for the odd livid smear of mustard and ketchup. Only now remembering the litter in his hand, Mike balled it in his fist and let it fall between our feet. I stretched out a toe-cap and punted it under the seat in front of us while Mike was busy prodding at the straps that hung like little canvas creepers from his bag in the overheard compartment.

Slowly the rest of the bus filled up at a speed established by the fussy precision of the baggage handler below us. A few Mexicans filed past us, all wearing regulation uniform of check-shirt and cranially capacious baseball cap. They all sat near each other, as if they were familiar, but none spoke. A blonde woman in her thirties, clutching too many bags and a blanket, fell into the seat behind us in a barrage of muttering and self-satisfied laughter. This was Kimberley, who was not yet known to Mike and I. We would have to wait about another thirty minutes for that privilege. For a while we sat in silence, just watching the passing faces of our travelling companions, careful to avoid eye-contact. 
Thursday, January 22, 2004
  WIP pt.3

For the benefit of my two confirmed readers, here's the next episode...

Mike nodded discretely in the direction of the policeman, not risking being seen to notice him stalking through the TransBay hall. "You see man? Told you it was just gonna be a matter of time. Poor guy'll get arrested, just for being crazy. Being crazy's not a crime. Thats what I think anyway." He looked away from me and back to the man from SFPD, who had managed to get the guy to look up from the floor by coughing loudly three times. I thought Mike's brief discussion of insanity and crime was over, but I was badly mistaken. With disorientating speed, he dragged me to a highly personal plane, where I was nothing less than his confidante.

"I spent a lot of time in therapy as a kid. I had a stretch in hospital too. Ok now though." He smiled keenly, though without any suggestion that this was to reassure me. Mike was just pleased to be free of doctors and hospitals. As he sketched his experiences of psychiatry for me, Mike often paused in mid-sentence, as if he wanted to completely re-experience the event he was commenting on before he finished articulating his thoughts. He did this a few times as we watched the policeman lift the guy off the floor and begin to question him on an empty row of bench-seats a few rows down from us. I watched as scene after scene slipped through the little holes in Mike's brain, and waited patiently for him to hunt around for them, bring them back. The look of placid contemplation when he just stopped talking and went fishing around in his mind for something, dangling a needy hook beneath the thin ice layer of lesions and medication, became quickly recognisable.

While Mike was talking, the shiftless, motiveless lunatic derelict pulled from his plaid-shirt pocket a Greyhound bus ticket. There was no synchronous sharp-intake-of-breath from the room, but it was a sure bet everyone in there imagined that there should have been one. God, I hope he isn't travelling with US.

As the bum held out his ticket, the cop stood, legs an improbable distance apart, chanelling a tree so great that it needed two trunks. To this theatrical stance, he added a ludicrous, shameless flourish - he slowly removed with quick tugs his leather gloves, and then with near-pornographic relish, slid on a pair of latex ones he'd drawn from a pouch on his belt. He plucked the man's ticket from his hand like it was a radioactive shit, waving it around as if he wished it was behind several feet of lead glass. To be fair, the ticket was so grubby it had changed colour; gone was the uniform coroporate grey/blue, now it was a distinctly suspect mottled brown.

The policeman kept one plastic-clad hand on the bum's shoulder as he unrolled the ticket with the other. His eyes flicked relentlessly from ticket to man, man to ticket, unwilling to let a momentary lapse in vigilance usher in escalated craziness and violence. We couldn't hear any of what was being said, but the guy was certainly offering up some sort of defense, and in all honesty, looked quite saddened at the obvious insinuation that he was up to no good. As we watched, trying hard not to look like we were watching, Mike began to speculate about where the guy might be trying to get to. Mike thought his parents must be dead. "Sure thing," he said, "He's not trying to get home to mom and pop." I guessed that our resident loon was probably about forty under the accumulated layers of filth, sweat and fine, matted hair. "I dunno," I said, "his parents could be alive. He's not that old." Mike shook is head vigorously. "No guy with parents ever gets that bad. No one. It's part of the deal." I didn't argue the point further.

"My dad died a coupla years ago, but my mom still looks out for me," he went on to explain, once his longish hair had stopped swinging about. "It was my mom who told me about Portland. She read about it in an article, and she knew I was looking for a new place, so she cut it out and sent it to me, and now here I am, ready to start a new life in Portland and talking to a new friend all the way from England. She looks out for me for sure." Mike was proud, in a totally shameless way, which sort of threw me for a minute, and I forgot that I didn't trust him. "You know I've never met an English person before? I must've told you that right? I musta told you, so I bet I look like a real goof don't I?" His smile was enthusiastic rather than penitent, a plea for indulgence. He hadn't told me though. 
  Work in progress pt.2

I don't know if I have any readers, but if I do, here is the next part.

Mike looked amused, like he saw this kind of thing every day. "I see this kind of thing every day" he said. "Every damn day." He shook his head and bit deeply on his greasy burger, forcing a little ketchup up between his braced fingers, which he licked at absent-mindedly while composing his next thought. "Its a fucking tragedy man. A fucking tragedy. We're all victims y'know? Insanity is all in the mind, its all about who they want to be mad and who they don't." I sort of agreed with him, but still didn't know what to say. In fact, I hadn't said anything yet, just nodded and offered the occasional understanding gaze. I felt it was time to break my silence, and said "Yeah, I know." Not my best work, but at least it was appropriate and congenial.

"Oh wow, you're not local are you?" said Mike. He grinned, as if fate had just hefted some great prize onto his lap. I felt strange that he didn't identify me as English. I thought my every word screamed it, to the point that what I was saying might even be obscured. Admittedly, most Californians so far had fingered me as an Australian.

Now down to the very stub of his burger, Mike began tearing at the wrapper, scattering little grimey confetti pieces on to the floor where he'd shredded two layers at the same time. He looked thoughtfully at me for a second or two, fingers poised to pinch off a piece of ketchup-sodden bun, and said "No, I can't place you man" before popping the bread into his mouth. He didn't look particularly disappointed with his failure to guess where I was from, and looked at me expectantly over the top of the burger and its corona of torn paper, which he had in the meantime raised to his lips.

"Ah, I'm from England" I said, "Been travelling around for a month or two, seeing what I can of the country."

"That's good, that's good" Mike enthused, "You liking what you've seen so far? Where've you gotten to? You gotta tell me all about it, what a guy from England thinks of our country." I felt sort of trapped, like I was being tied to the train-tracks of a conversation that was coming at me headlong and unavoidable. Then the bum lurched at a woman and she yelped, and the place came alive again through the membrane of our chatter. I had escaped, but I knew that at best it was a reprieve. Mike knew me now.

Through the door at the end of the hall walked a policeman, dressed in a summery uniform of short sleeved shirt and sunglasses. For some reason, the first thing I noticed about him were his gloves; shiny leather mittens which probably should have had metal studs protruding from the knuckles, but didn't. Hanging from his belt was a holstered gun and a set of cuffs, buttoned into a little plastic pouch. He walked slowly, confidently surveying the room as if we were all potential offenders, even though he had been called to deal with one filthy lunatic, and only one of the assembled was trying to pry up the floor tiles in the middle of the room. 
Tuesday, January 20, 2004
  From this moment on

From 1957's 'A Swingin' Affair', this is probably my favorite Sinatra vocal performance. It helps that it's one of Cole Porter's finest songs, the gentle insistence of the rising scale imbuing the music with hope that is equal in measure to the enthusiasm of the lyrics. It would be a fine song without Sinatra's interpretation added to it, without Nelson Riddle's arrangement that moves so subtly from restraint to almost juvenile zest you're barely aware of your emergent smile. No, but if you add these two ingredients to the mix, something astounding happens.

A lot is said about Sinatra's voice as an instrument, as a woody, fibrous living thing. If you took at axe to Sinatra's throat there would be a ring for every year he'd lived, with nasty welts scarring those times that were particularly traumatic. Listen to the second treatment of the verses in this song... the second time he sings 'From this moment oooooon' and manages to hit a note so thick it completely encompasses you. Technically its superb, you can't see the join, even when he goes somewhere you're not expecting. But the fucking tone... its transcendent.

The kind of song that makes you want to shove the world out of your way, one atom at a time. 
Sunday, January 18, 2004
  Work in progress

I am sure there is lots of interesting stuff going on around me in the cultural ferment, but I haven't spotted it, so to fill up space, here's something I have been writing during my lunch and tea breaks.

Mike hands me back my pad. He's drawn a big sun, blazing with triangles, and sporting quite a nasty looking grin, like he knows he's about to supernova and is enjoying the thought of consuming the solar-system. Mike is commemorating our meeting, giving me a small token so I'll remember the twelve hours we spent together on the bus from San Francisco to Seattle. He doesn't know I'd rather be sitting next to Kimberly in the seat behind. If he was a smart guy he might realise this, but Mike is not a smart guy. Mike is probably what some people call an 'acid-casualty', and he has just finished meticulously writing the words 'The Grateful Dead' between the little wedges of sunshine that fringe the main sunny disc. He explained earlier that he had spent the five years before Jerry Garcia died following 'the guys' around on tour; selling t-shirts. Mike isn't a career-minded person, and is leaving San Francisco because he has run out of money and heard that rent is cheap in Portland. Mike's poverty meant I'd have the last four hours of the journey to myself.

I took an instant dislike to Mike, that had nothing to do with Kimberly, who I hadn't even met at that time. My instant loathing of Mike grew like mould on the rancid smelling burger he was eating when he slumped into an empty seat next to me at the Transbay Terminal bus station. He wasn't paying much attention to his food, and he was oblivious to the little weeping torrent of mustard that was oozing from between the pink meat patties. A particularly large dollop of sauce landed near enough to my foot that I had to keep reminding myself that it was there, and this pissed me off so I scowled at him, and naturally he smiled back. I probably didn't deserve that kind of treatment.

There was still a pretty long wait before our bus boarded. I'd learned to my cost in a Chicago bus depot filled with single mothers and home-bound ex-felons, that observing the official schedules was a mistake. Everyone has a ticket, and everyone thinks they deserve to get on. The only way to be sure is to get their first, beat the other guy to the hydraulic door.

Mike wasn't insane yet. We hadn't spoken, so at that moment he was just an annoying man with greasy American hair and a pungently nasty burger. Transbay had another more obvious crazy. Mike was the kind of person my dad would have described as being 'shot away' in a curious appropriation of slang that didn't suit him, but was totally in character. A guy in dreadlocks and a dirty brown shirt was spooking the waiting travellers by muttering and smelling. I didn't have a convenient phrase to contain his psychosis, he was just scary.

If you'd been looking down into the main waiting room, you'd have seen its occupants performing a slow orbital dance as we eagerly avoided contact with the filthy madman. On most scales objects act in roughly the same way: if you bunch them together and then fire a rogue particle at them, they explode apart and scatter. This is true if you are looking at Boron atoms, or scared travellers hoping that they don't catch the eye of the angry looking bum stalking their waiting room.

Every so often he'd bowl himself at a few more of us, sending some flying off to the toilets, and a few others off to linger by the burly blue-shirted ticket man at the Greyhound kiosk. Naturally, this being the pioneering west, there were a few who refused to give quarter. A veteran wearing his gold-stitched navy baseball cap sat resolutely on his canvas backpack; not exactly glowering, but certainly broadcasting to the room that he had decided to stand his ground. All enemies are alike to those who have seen active service.

Mike turned to me and said, "He's crazy you know. It's sad that he's out. Probably get arrested soon." I nodded along as this was the first time Mike had spoken, and I wasn't to know that it heralded an almost endless flood of conversation that would last across State lines and midnight queues for bacon and swiss sandwiches at a cafe in the middle of nowhere run by the bus driver's younger and fatter sister. We both looked over to where the guy was systematically jabbing the coin return button of the sturdy yellow and blue payphones. So far no change had come out, and this was when he started banging at the blue dot-matrix screens with the square end of the reciever. I looked around to spy on the room's reaction, and like me, I guess they were all a bit more tense now that the nervous quick movements had coalesced into some proper violence and rage. Through the swing doors at the far end of the room I noticed the kiosk clerk looking on and frowning. He picked up a walkie-talkie, its little curled leash straining up from the desk as he pulled it to his mouth.
 
Friday, January 16, 2004
  reasonable people

warp have made their back catalogue available for download at Bleep
 
Monday, January 12, 2004
  Watching Texas Teenage Virgins tonight, I was struck by two grotesque absurdities. Firstly the sheer shitty hubris of thinking that if an omnipotent God did exist, he would spend your wedding night with his legions of cherubim and seraphim cheering you on as you finally got round to sticking your cock in your new wife.

Then, even more infuriating, is the fact that a vital duty of care is being neglected in order to give the impression that a new moral order has been established, with the dusty bowl of texas as the Garden of Eden. While educators and religious figures congratulate themselves on the sale of cheap non-precious metal pledge-rings, the children of Lubbock Texas get each other pregnant, infect each other with STDs and fuck each other up the arse, safe in the knowledge that anything is better than putting the penile key in the vaginal door to hell.

 
Thursday, January 08, 2004
  Hear ye, hear ye

Today's episode of the Simpsons, on BBC2 was incredibly moving. Yes, it was, so stop sniggering at the back.

(For those unfortunate enough to be reading this somewhen other than 'today', it was the episode concerning the death of Maude Flanders, and Ned's crisis of faith.) 
  NUMBER FIVE - MARY J. BLIGE 'REAL LOVE'

standing alone on pentonville road, waiting for a bus, late night. there are some weirdos round king's cross you know. it wasn't raining at the time but when i picture it now, it is. sunshine in my earphones, a blazing round red sun in the night sky /// waiting for the 277 on that avenue that runs through victoria park. down to mile end. on to the 25, into the city. this time it really was raining, bucketing down. packed damp buses, steam rising off people. nowhere near summer in the bronx. /// i was listening to lots of songs on both these occasions but somehow it feels like i was listening to 'real love' the whole time. crystal clear pianos ringing in my ears - something childlike about the enthusiasm but ineffably cool - stately - at the same time - rich and satisfying and light and ethereal all at the same time. just thinking about it makes me happy 
Wednesday, January 07, 2004
  ruralna gorila

this is my favourite end-of-year list so far - that's what 2003 sounded like you know! 
  stand back - death approaching

on the tube at the moment there's an advert for the new tabloid-sized version of The Times, the tagline is 'it's not big but it is clever.' but then underneath the logo, there's another little line, that says 'born to commute.' er what? 'born to commute.' can you imagine. you see what they're doing: the 'born to xxx' formulation is a popular one, it turns up all over the place. let's think. 'born to do it.' 'born to run.' 'born to win.' 'born to lose.' 'born to die.' 'born to be wild.' each one of those is an effective little motivating motto, they're so peppy (yes! i am born to win!), except the negative ones, and they're just little jokes subverting the peppiness of the concept of being born to do anything. but 'born to commute.' are they insane? who wants to identify with that? i guess they mean that it, the paper, the small version, is born to commute, it's so small you can open it on the tube without losing your balance. but it suggests something competely different - that it's us who are born to commute. damn right. it's actually quite a beautiful phrase, i think it's quite poetic in the way it describes the lifestyle of its target audience. maybe it's because of the competely inappropriate use of the up-and-at-'em 'born to...' with the 100% mundane word 'commute,' which can only suggest weariness, routine, resignation, defeat. millions of people sitting in trains, buses, tubes, cars, every morning, thinking, what am i doing, how did i get here, when did i choose this, wait, wait, not yet, it's all going too fast, whatever happened to..., help me, i'm so, so tired. born to commute. born to commute. born to commute. 
Monday, January 05, 2004
  worst records

the best things i saw on tv over the holiday were world idol (will was great) and assault on precinct 13, and the channel 4 Top 100 Bad Pop Records thing, which we watched on new year's day. to be fair i did expect to watch the thing with smug feeling of righteous indignation, and lo and behold, i wasn't disappointed. i mean, really, those people. i reckon about 75% of the songs in the list were clearly, undeniably, joyfully brilliant pop records. there were a few - but only a few - real stinkers towards the top. but to see the parade of who-the-fuck-are-they non-celebs making crap (really, really crap!) jokes about some of these insanely over-ambitious, hilarious, shameless, ridiculous, wrong, right, beautiful songs, it was sickening. how do they sleep at night? 'yeah, today was a good day, i got to stick the boot into 'doop,' i looked well cool.' MORONS. and that presenter, nnnggg! presumably someone at c4 made the decision early on that the way to frame this list was to sneer at how truly terrible all the songs were: it was like they were taking it really seriously. MORONS. it was quite upsetting in places, eg when they were attempting to criticise wonderful works of art such as 'no limits,' 'we built this city,' fucking 'barbie girl,' 'WANNABE' oh my god, and 'earth song'***, and cher's 'believe' - you can't go there so don't even try! what in the name of fuck makes these nobodies think they have any place whatsoever saying anything bad about these songs? what do they have against beauty, youth, love, fun? MORONS. ok, ok, right, so it's their 'opinion' is it. ah i dunno fuck 'em.

***actually the single best bit of the whole thing was, after a couple of zombies had said jarvis cocker had made them proud to be british when he mooned michael jackson at the brits during 'earth song,' harvey so solid called him a knob and said he was lucky he didn't get kidnapped. TRUE INDEED HARVEY.

FYI a short list of my particular favourites from the list, i am absolutely baffled that any of these could go anywhere near anyone's 'worst songs' list:

Because We Want To - Billie
Barbie Girl - Aqua
Jenny From The Block - Jennifer Lopez
Earth Song - Michael Jackson
Wannabe - The Spice Girls
Lucky - Britney Spears
Believe - Cher
Ice Ice Baby - Vanilla Ice
Girl, You Know It's True - Milli Vanilli
Out Of Your Mind - Truesteppers and Dane Bowers feat. Victoria Beckham
Mysterious Girl - Peter Andre
MmmBop - Hanson
We All Stand Together - Paul McCartney and the Frog Chorus
Perfect Moment - Martine McCutcheon
Doop - Doop
I Should Be So Lucky - Kylie Minogue
Dirrty - Cristina Aguilera
No Limits - 2 Unlimited
Do Ya Think I'm Sexy? - Rod Stewart
We Built This City - Starship
Saturday Night - Whigfield
Ebeneezer Goode - The Shamen
C'est la Vie - Bewitched
Spaceman - Babylon Zoo  
  poor celebrities
my prediction for 2004: (or later) - it really is about time we started feeling a bit sorrier for some of these poor people. i mean it - surely people can only revel in any individual's misery + frustration + failure for so long? making fun of britney just can't go on being gratifying for much longer can it? (would like to point out that personally i have *never* made fun of britney, harrumph)
- for instance: her marriage. the commentary i've seen so far seems to be along the lines of 'her career is over,' 'she's lost it,' 'tragic drunk britney' etc. please! this is a fantastic and hilarious story. she should be proud of herself - getting pissed and marrying your mate in vegas, then getting divorced immediately. i mean that is a world-beating story to tell your friends in the pub right there. most people could trade off that for years. and i think most people will feel the same - and hopefully lay off her for a bit.

same goes for, y'know, j-lo and the like. poor j-lo - all she wants to do is marry ben and just get on with shit! posh & becks - they're very sweet, surely some people must want them to keep on being a happy family and not have it all fall apart. i dunno - just have a feeling that the last x years of hyper-detailed 24/7 dissection of celebrities' personal lives might at some point take into account the fact that, actually, some people are kinda rooting for these guys!

or - the bleak alternative: britney crashes and burns in a spectacular scandal-laden fashion. justin & xtina get together and have a huge worldwide no.1 smash paying tribute to their dead friend and colleague.

one day someone (me) will write a huge sprawling mess of a biopic/musical charting the 3 interconnected paths of these mickey mouse club mascots: from pre-teen tv exposure in the 90s thru superstardom in the 00s and to who knows what thereafter: this story contains tragedy, ecstasy, sold-out arenas, blood, sweat and tears, naturally there will be extensive opportunities for cred-dy character actors with weird faces to play besuited + sinister marketing fiends THE REAL STARS OF COURSE nyer. truly this will be the story of our times - i'll wait till we can see how it's all going to end (give it 30 years or so) and then i'll get started. 

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