100 Works of Art: (Audio) 1812, Tchaikovsky

The 100 Works of Art series of blog posts is a primarily positive slew of posts blethering in a hopefully intelligent manner about works of art which have some sort of personal resonance for me; 25 posts about visual art begin with Black Virtue by Matta, and the ongoing section on audio art opens with The Cure’s Let’s Go To Bed.

32. 1812, Tchaikovsky

Unlike most of the music included on this list, I have no memory of the first time I was introduced to this. It would be impossible to separate out a moment when I first became aware because Western culture is fairly heavily steeped in this piece of music. It has soundtracked endless films and adverts for Iceland, accompanied a thousand fireworks displays, and probably nauseates real connoisseurs of various periods of classical music with its inappropriate ubiquity. Certainly the relentless inevitability with which it is spooled out to provide a false sense of celebration can leave a sour taste in the mouth.

But it doesn’t have to be a degraded version, or a sad attempt at emotional manipulation through invoking the associated sense of victory and achievement. Listened to outside of the context of Bonfire Night, bad films, and the inexplicably popular frozen food giant’s old ads (what is a prawn ring and more importantly why is a prawn ring?), I think the overture retains its original fire.

There is also something to be said for any piece of music which, rather than relying on an excellent performance by an above-average individual (thank you Mozart for whatever the harpsichord equivalent of fretwanking is), decides to go balls out and hit you with cannons.

Written by Tchaikovsky (not that one, the other one) in 1880 to commemorate the victory of Russia against the invasion by Napoleon’s troops (no mean feat considering how much of the rest of Europe the mad little Corsican had successfully vanquished), the 1812 Overture or Overture of 1812 or whatever you like to call it is rightfully celebratory, victorious, triumphal, and full of fucking cannons. It evokes the spirit of relief and strength, and if there is one thing Russian composers love, it’s evoking strength: those two emotions, connected irrecoverably to the successful defence of the frozen motherland, are easily hijacked into daily victories:

Play it when you’re approaching the final word count of your essay; play it when you’re getting to the top of a hill on a long run; play it when, against all the odds, you have successfully tidied your hell-hole bedroom and found no dead animals under the mounds of mouldering clothing.

It is of course for this transferable quality of victorious joy that the overture has been so repeatedly press-ganged into services which are beneath the composition’s true potential and inadequate at securing an emotional response on their own, by a lot of very very lazy musical directors, or productions with a tiny PRS budget. I believe that music should be a personal experience; that is what this entire series of posts is about, and even when enjoyed communally and enhance through the communal experience, what is important is the connection between the individual mind and the music, and the emotion created in the space between them.

Therefore I think it is only reasonable to expect to be able to reclaim the 1812 Overture, and play it whenever you need the appropriate sense of military salute accompanying your achievement. The people at the bus stop may not appreciate that you’ve just jogged half a mile, but Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky does. Or he would if he wasn’t dead. And since he’s dead he can’t argue.



100 Works of Art: (Audio) We Hate The Kids, The Indelicates

The 100 Works of Art blog post series is, in the most basic form, me rambling about the personal connections to and appreciation for works of art that I like. It is not particularly critical or intelligent, more a way of cataloguing things I consistently enjoy and reminding myself, when the world is full of infuriating news stories and people having pointless flamewars on the internet, that humanity has also produced great things. It begins with 25 posts on visual art, which starts with Matta’s “Black Virtue” triptych, and has since continued on with a few posts about audio art (i.e. music), beginning with “Let’s Go To Bed” by the Cure.

31. We Hate The Kids, The Indelicates (2006)

The Indelicates are a band whose introduction into my life I forget. I know that I came to them via their sarcastic, bitter song Our Daughters Will Never Be Free, and was given said song because I liked (and still like) The Pipettes, being told “they’re sort of the anti-Pipettes”. It wasn’t until I listened to Julia, We Don’t Live In The Sixties (an anti-activist/death of hippydom anthem) and Your Money that I realised that sweet, pop catchiness (characterised by Julia’s clear, beautiful, almost childlike voice) with bitter and often nihilistic lyrics were characteristic of the band. Anyone who has read much of this blog series will know that I have an almost pathological love of the particular cognitive dissonance in “upbeat music, downbeat lyrics”, previously described as “triumphant songs about heartbreak”, and recently on Facebook outlined as “cheerful songs about death”.

Picking one specific Indelicates song for this series was quite difficult, as alongside literary references and an interest in failed messianic figures, nihilism, cynicism, and bitterness seem to be their stock-in-trade lyrically as much as catchy and uptempo is their stock-in-trade musically, leaving me with several albums of “existential horror you can dance to” to sift through. Magnificent.

We Hate The Kids comes in the vein of Last Significant Statement and to a certain extent Sixteen, in that it’s a song about music and music fandom and the adhesive quality of idol-worship; I enjoy songs about the music industry as experienced both by fans and by bands (Dinosaurs Will Die by NoFX, Behind The Music by the Vandals, especially the latter as it served as a brilliant adjunct to the “Music Business” classes I took as part of my HNC in Music Production a couple of years ago), and as with all songs, the more bitter the better.

This particular song is ecstatic in its form: it rises to a crescendo, denigrating along the way all the fans of the band, of all bands, all the hangers-on, the businessmen involved, and the entire mythology attached to the youth culture of music. It is blazingly destructive, eschewing the sacred cows of rock and roll with the same fervour that rock and roll eschews the standard set of achievements in “normal” living, a kind of energetic end-note to a youth spent in worship of the world of music.

Perhaps in some respect this is why it, and indeed the rest of their work, appeals to me so much; it is a powerful chapter ending to a specific period of life that normally receives no farewell, no recognition of being over, leaving it to either peter out unsuccessfully, or to never quite die – with stringy fifty-and-sixty-somethings kidding themselves that they still have it in them to pogo, while their adult children sigh and move to the back of the crowd.

The allusions to rock anthems are many (“every generation gets fooled again/and every generation is to blame” slams into the Who at least twice, while “dance, dance, dance to this radio tonight” more or less picks up Joy Division and hits the listener with them), the references to business bitter and bold (“no one discusses what they don’t understand/and no one does anything to harm the brand”), and there is even an echo of one of my favourite Radiohead songs, Anyone Can Play Guitar (“this gift is an illusion, this isn’t hard/absolutely anyone can playing the fucking guitar”), but ultimately it is the rise to the euphoric nihilism of “NO MORE MUSIC, THANK YOU AND GOOD NIGHT” which really sells the song to me. It is by way of being the hallelujah of the hymn, and, true to its word, right afterwards everything cuts out.

100 Works of Art: (Audio) Town Called Malice, The Jam

The 100 Works of Art series is still going, albeit slowly. There have been 25 posts about visual art and 5 about audio art so far. The premise behind this series of posts isn’t analytical writing but a kind of sloppy marriage between analysis and personal connection, which is exactly as dreadful as it sounds.

30. Town Called Malice, The Jam (1982)

The Jam provide solid-if-vague politically aware white-boy-with-angry-guitar music, ragged with sarcasm and generally quite danceable. Once, when I was 17 and in a shit nightclub in Plymouth, I slapped a man I’d been flirting with because he called Courtney Love a psycho bitch and opined that Hole weren’t as good as Paul Weller’s solo stuff, because I cared a LOT more deeply about music at 17 than I do now, writing essays about it. “Going Underground” is one of my favourite songs, although it went down in my estimation when my far superior mondegreen of a sarcastic commentary on manufactured outrage (“at this point shout! at this point scream!”) was revealed by Googling to be a much less inspiring standard-issue general anger (“make this boy shout, make this boy scream”).

Because I grew up in a household with bizarre and unfriendly musical tastes, I came to The Jam via unorthodox routes; I only found out about “Going Underground” because of the excellent Fitness To Practice spoof “London Underground” (which I still secretly prefer), and it shouldn’t be much of a surprise that I only knew “Town Called Malice” because a friend gave me the soundtrack to “Billy Elliot”.

Once upon a time I worked in a demoralising and monotonous job. Well, several times upon a time, really. For reasons that don’t make a lot of sense to sane people, I used to get up between 3.30am and 4.30am and, via a series of strategic naps, make it in to work long before everyone else and avoid the rush. The problem with this tactic of people-avoidance, apart from the terrible sleep patterns and likelihood of running into foxes on the way in, was that I ran out of energy before the working day had even started.

And so I had to compile a playlist of songs that had the function of providing me with pep and vigour. This was one of them: just as it provided a perfect soundtrack to Billy Elliot exploding with the joy of movement through a dour and oppressive town, so it got me out of darkness and sleep every morning and gave me enough life to deal with eight hours of data entry. It seems like an abuse of a song.

It’s one of those songs where the lyrics and music clash, producing a contrast in concept or tone; by now readers of this series will be aware that I have a great love for that kind of cognitive dissonance in art. Town Called Malice brings together lonely housewives, impoverished children, boozy husbands, and the slow death of a town with a tune that inspires frantic, emotive dance. The tune is upbeat, a sing-along song for cold mornings and drunken evenings, and the lyrics are a sad, barely-hopeful description of life in a dying town.

Dying towns slipped by my periphery when I was a child in the 80s. We spent six months in a place where poverty was more visible, drawn in primary colours and a lengthy drought, and when I came back my horizons had shifted: as far as I was concerned the people in debt for their colour TVs were rich, and it’s only in hindsight that I can see the dead cities in the streets I used to run down, the grey faces surrounding the rainbows of the imagination. Songs like this one bring a kind of valour to what must have felt like slow rot to live with every day: when I was a child I didn’t know any different, but through the fearful eye of adulthood and the emotive transport of music, it’s easy to take on those miserable ghosts and just kind of … dance at them.

After all, the world does appear to be heading back into a dead-towns-and-lonely-housewives direction once more.

100 Works of Art: (Aural) Crow on the Cradle, Sydney Carter

The 100 Works of Art blog series is to do with personal interaction with beloved works of art rather than impartial reviews or focussing solely on the relatable and universal qualities of the work. Because this is a blog, not a book. The first 25 are to do with visual art, and begin with Matta’s Black Virtue; the next 25 will be about aural art and begin with The Cure’s Let’s Go To Bed.

29. Crow on the Cradle, Sydney Carter & Jackson Browne

I grew up on a mixture of folk music and a little of the blues. My mother had what my peers characterised as “terrible” taste in music, and I adopted it: as I’ve got older her taste in music has become genuinely terrible (there was a point where it was all whale noise and Gregorian chant and then as I got into plainchant she managed to undercut me again and asked if I’d get her a James Blunt CD) and I’ve decided to ignore the judgement of a collection of Celine Dion-reared rejects from my childhood and embrace the inner folkie. A lot of the songs I listened to as a child were standard-issue folk music about girls with this or that coloured hair or one particularly brilliant song about an enormous pie – the title of which I’ve never been able to remember, to my great loss. But a lot of the songs, too, were protest songs: other contenders for this slot included Country Joe & The Fish’s Fish Cheer/I Feel Like I’m Fixin’ To Die Rag, a selection of Donovan songs including Universal Soldier, and the Fureys & Davey Arthur’s version of The Green Fields of France. Not surprisingly for someone who was taken to an anti-nuclear weapons protest at six weeks old, I grew up listening to various earnest people – both with and without beards and dungarees – requesting with various metaphors and degrees of urgency that the world consider maybe not nuking itself into oblivion.

Regular readers of this blog will be more than a little aware by now that I am morbid as fuck despite all my best efforts, and this began early, with a love of the aforementioned Green Fields of France and a collection of songs which were, bluntly put, guitar-led dirges about dead people. Crow on the Cradle is no different in that respect, and along with Universal Soldier and an untitled song about dead soldiers in the Vietnam War which I listened to so often that I wore out the C90 cassette it was on, got considerable use as a lullaby for me.

It is a little like a lullaby. There is something late evening, inevitable, and gentle about the version I am most familiar with. It puts me in mind of the festivals I spent all my childhood summers at: the sun low in the sky, the flies rising, a hubbub of voices and the smell of wood fires, music everywhere in the background, and hot, dry earth under bare feet. In that respect it is comforting, although you do have to wonder about finding a song warning of nuclear holocaust “comforting”. 

As with many a folk song, the lyrics work as a poem, and the whole thing is designed to be memorable and easily-recited. It’s a kind of troubadour tradition: make the information simple to pass on and vivid enough to stick in people’s minds. In the case of Crow on the Cradle it’s achieved with snatches of nursery rhymes and nursery-rhyme-esque phrase: hush-a-bye little one, never you weepwith rings on her fingers, and bells on her toes; in each case subverted by a fairly chilling closing part to the pattern: for we’ve got a toy that can put you to sleep; or and a bomber above her wherever she goes. As the fact that I’ve had a French nursery rhyme about wearing clogs stuck in my head for a week can very much attest, nursery rhymes are tenacious once crammed into the brain and arise as soon as a similar phrase is heard. So it is that this is a thing that I leave up to you immediately recalls the rest of the song, and while “Ride a cock horse to Banbury Cross” is not the most oft-recited of nursery rhymes, it has been supplanted in my mind all the same by and a bomber above her wherever she goes.

Each verse in itself becomes bleaker and more morbid as it progresses, from cow’s in the corn to carry a gun (and the ominous omen of death in the crow on the cradle of the title and refrain), but overall they also become more and more ominous and threatening, like the returning passes of a bomber. Well-paced in this regard, it is the centre verse which repeats on itself, speeding up the onset of the fearful and the morbid (somebody’s baby is born for a fight / somebody’s baby is not coming back), setting up the remaining two verses with their violence and oppression at the start: your mother and father will sweat and they’ll save, to build you a coffin and dig you a grave. In these remaining verses the blame is attributed: the beginnings speak of the baby in the cradle and the doom overhanging it, while these tell the listener whose fault it is. The generation of the songwriter, apparently, is to blame. 

The song closes with an insistent demand for action delivered by the threat that must be eliminated itself, the eponymous crow on the cradle, repeating: this is a thing that I leave up to you. Even now the assigning of responsibility is palpable and in the context of the rest of the song the refusal to act seems like it comes at a chilling cost. It is not hard to imagine the crow as a mushroom cloud.

In light of all this, even more so, it is strange to find the song comforting, but I’ve always also found a certain level of comfort in nihilism and the idea of accepting the degree of powerlessness an individual has in the face of a very powerful force (in this case, mankind’s apparent yen for self-destruction).

100 Works of Art: (Aural) Best Sunday Dress, Hole

The 100 Works of Art blog series is to do with personal interaction with beloved works of art rather than impartial reviews or focussing solely on the relatable and universal qualities of the work. Because this is a blog, not a book. The first 25 are to do with visual art, and begin with Matta’s Black Virtue; the next 25 will be about aural art and begin with The Cure’s Let’s Go To Bed.

28. Best Sunday Dress, Hole

For most of the turbulent and eventful year that was the first in the Gregorian calendar to begin with a 2 and carry three digits after it, the oft-lyriced-about 2000, this was my favourite song. It’s a B-side, which I can promise you is unusual for me these days, but in the height of my pre-torrents, pre-YouTube music fever collecting B-sides of bands I liked was an art form in itself, and involved petitioning virtual strangers on message boards to send me bad cassette tapes, and trips to various market stalls to acquire bootleg CDs. I had a weekly income of £22 from my Saturday job, which I was technically trying to save, and couldn’t exactly spunk money left, right, and centre on hunting down rare releases – especially when even finding what they were was such a hassle.

Reader, you will be glad to hear that I have since realised that it is not necessary to be a completist to appreciate someone’s oeuvre, and as such Hole more or less mark the point at which I never again put so much effort into investing my interest in a single band. I don’t regret it in the slightest, however: even a few years later, when I’d moved on and was mostly listening to techno, and a copy of America’s Sweetheart came into the offices of the student rag I worked for, I still snapped it up. Nobody’s Daughter, even more recently, still met with a doggedly loyal reception. Connections forged in the emotional overreaction that is adolescence tend to hold more firmly than those found later.

So why this particular song, of all songs? I didn’t come to it first – that honour goes to the title track of third studio album Celebrity Skin – and it probably isn’t the most lyrically or musically accomplished of all the band’s work (most people agree that Live Through This contains almost all the strong contenders for that title); what resonated at the time was, perhaps rather shamefully, the tragedy inherent in both the simple chord structure and the lyrics.

At 17 and 18 I was a fairly stereotypical Sixth Form Goth, and as for much of my adult life, preoccupied with death – this time with all the fire and fervour of youth – and with the tragedy of suicide and all that jazz. My Nirvana phase was squarely behind me, and I’d moved on to scanning the lyrics of Hole songs for Courtney’s obvious and ongoing agony regarding the death of her husband. The song is pretty much rife with references which either are or can be pressed into service as references to the departed:

Pale blue eyes so young
Pale blue eyes so far away
Watch me with his sorrow
Forgive me all his pain

And at the time I was still in thrall to the key-change as an emotional intensifier, having ridden through the first burst of puberty on the back of the Top 40, so the line at which this occurs (roughly around shone like a diamond) also cemented itself into my head as one with great meaning, although now, looking back at the song with an additional 13 years of life in the way, it’s this which seems the most poignant:

and I’ve come here all undressed
all the posion and pain and I take what is mine

possibly because these two lines to me represent adequately what has happened to Courtney in the eye of the beholder. She’s been repeatedly stripped of any right to mourn via rumours and accusations about her involvement or her emotional response (what is the correct response to your tempestuous and troubled love of your life shooting himself in the head while AWOL? Is there one? How do you respond to something so huge and so painful?), and exposed before all the world in the press as someone to be scrutinised at her time of greatest sorrow (much, indeed, as Yoko Ono was). A woman of strong, divisive personality and very powerful emotions, she would never have contented herself with a regal tear and the mannerly withdrawal required of widows: she was a rock star before she met him and she was determined to continue being one after he left. In the second line the poison and pain are as much the vitriol heaped on a grieving woman as they are the heroin and loss; I take what is mine could equally apply to retrieving the image of her dead husband from the media who declared him their property (I suspect she minded the fans slightly less) as to the acceptance of abuse (I take what is mine, I take what is intended for me, ie, poison and pain) from various quarters.

For what is a very, very sad song the sound is defiant. It’s not the sadness that curls in on itself and weeps quietly, but a kind of explosive sadness, a supernova of mourning or a howl of ongoing misery that acknowledges everything that’s fed into it as it pushes all of it outwards. Messier, and less acceptable than the accepted mode of widowhood, but then when I was 17 and 18 I was messier and less acceptable than the accepted mode of adolescence, trying to rescue my entire sense of self from five years in a lock-up and doing very poorly at it. It spoke to me, the way Courtney Love’s music spoke to several generations of unhappy and angry teenage girls and in fact continues to do so. The fans of it are still subject to the same derision and spite as its maker is, but that comes with the territory of being someone with too many uncontained feelings who refuses to beautify them for the comfort of others.

100 Works of Art: (Audio) Szamár Madár, Venetian Snares

The 100 Works of Art series of drivel is a blog challenge thing which mostly involves me talking at incoherent length about things I like and how I relate to them. So far I’ve done twenty-five on paintings, sculptures, and photography, and one other one on music.

27. Szamár Madár, Venetian Snares

It’s not often that I can pinpoint a song which not only got me into a specific artist but an entire genre, but Szamár Madár redirected a lot of my feelings about instrumental and electronic music – previously focussed on repetitive examples of techno, trance, and psy-trance – into breakbeat, and by way of breakbeat also into DnB (Pendulum, hacktastic though they are, helped with that, and I won’t claim that the video to Showdown didn’t have a hand in that) and jungle, in a kind of backtracking through spheres of influence, and
then later primed me for dubstep.

Szamár Madár sounds like someone has taken a hammer to a soundtrack of someone’s unhappiness. It is splintered, fractured music, and is definitely the best track on what I have taken to referring to as “The Hungarian Album”, mostly because I find Rossz Csillag Alatt Született a little hard to pronounce. The rest of the album too is full of jagged edges and bleak grey squares and the flight of pigeons, but Szamár Madár‘s frantic rushing in sudden bursts of sound is the most electrifying of listens. If pressed I would say my favourite of Venetian Snares’ albums is not Rossz Csillag Alatt Született but either Winnipeg Is A Frozen Shithole or Detrimentalist, two vastly different sounding works – Winnipeg is a frantic mess of broken, aggressive sounds and layered pieces that sounds like someone having an angry breakdown in the middle of a wasps nest and borders on being more sonic assault than music (which is why I LOVE it), while Detrimentalist might almost be played in a club.

But the track I’m talking about now is, as an example from Rossz Csillag Alatt Született, is superficially classical in vein. That was what drew me to Venetian Snares in the first place. Back in the early noughties I was enormously into club mixes of classical music – a subgenre of which there were never enough skilful examples, and which I am still very much attracted to – and I had hoped initially that VS would be able to provide.

What happened instead was this weird snarl of strings and minor chord screeches came on like a violent scene in a modernist ballet and seized my listening mind by the throat. It is a series of small explosions – a painterly piece not in the sense that Debussy or Liszt might try to evoke a painting that represents a great scene, but painterly in the sense that it evokes something more like one of Francis Bacon’s frantic brush stroke chaoses resolving into an anguished face. Edward Elgar’s Cello Concerto 1st Mov contributes to the classical sound, as it is one of the samples used in the track, but the construction, the choppiness, and the bursts of scampering movement sound very unlike the stately, nostalgic sound of Elgar’s uninterrupted compositions.

Szamár Madár started me down the road to my own weird creations, and demonstrates more fully than any other track I can think of the ways in which genre boundaries can be effectively smashed by sampling and a creative approach to what constitutes a song. It draws on soundtrack, ballet, and sonic art to create an adventurous, discordant, threatening and unsettling approach to sound which eventually also led me to Iannis Xenakis and other experimental composers and creators, and broadened my enjoyment of music considerably from its early constricted folk music roots.

100 Works of Art: (Audio) Let’s Go To Bed, The Cure

Having dispensed with visual art, the 100 Works of Art rambling about stuff I like has moved on to music. This is simultaneously more and less intimidating: it’s harder to talk bollocks about music and sound impressive because more people know what you’re on about at entry level and you have to step it up and get technical, which I assuredly cannot do about music.

26. Let’s Go To Bed, The Cure (1987)

My relationship with The Cure was brief but intense, like most things during sixth form college. Due to an accident of good timing I went from being a dedicated little bedroom goth to being the sudden proud owner of several very large posters, two video compilations of their music videos, one live video, and a couple of mix tapes of rare recordings for twenty quid from someone in the pub my friend worked at. This was the first and last time I ever managed to strike lucky on the “dodgy people in pubs” front.

With a catalogue spanning about as many years as I’ve been alive, if not more, and a slew of extremely catchy pop-goth chart songs as well as the more gloriously dreary grey-hued extrusions of Pornography, it’s difficult to pick a Cure song. Aside from being Cure Songs, majestic in their ridiculous storytelling and Fat Bob’s whining voice, they have personal connections: Friday I’m In Love from long before I tried my hand at backcombing my hair, bleating from a shitty clock-radio while I read children’s fantasy novels in my bedroom, or the later terrible half-choreographed goth two-step at B-Movie to Love Cats every month. There was the ongoing relationship between the whole of the KissMeKissMeKissMe album and the lurid, lustrous, purple Poppy Z Brite novels and atrocious short stories about vampires I read while listening to it and scrawling notes in pink biro. I have been every teenage cliché and many of them while listening to Fat Bob’s fab band.

Let’s Go To Bed is at its heart a tug-o-war. It is an uptempo song with slightly sinister and melancholy lyrics – a combination you’re going to see a lot of in this section because it is possibly my favourite kind of song (“I like beautiful melodies telling me terrible things”, quoth Tom Waits, and I could not agree more) – and the tug-o-war is as much between the imagist nonsense of the verses and the straightforwards, unpoetic stubbornness of the subtly changing choruses as between the “I” and the “you” of the song.

But I don’t care if you don’t
And I don’t feel if you don’t
And I don’t want it if you don’t
And I won’t say it
If you won’t say it first

The chorus is an ugly dare, and in a world of songs about how love would go so right, or where love has gone wrong and I’m sorry, baby (or how we’re going to hump it all night, because emotional fulfilment is no longer the euphemistic core of lyrics that it once was),  it’s almost off-puttingly realistic. Certainly I’ve been in more than one relationship where it seemed there was precisely this kind of brinkmanship going on: I’m going to bite my fucking tongue and not say it until you do. I’ve used it as the basis of characterisation in numerous stories, because that ugly dare is an excellent source of tension as one or more characters struggle to force the other/s to spill their guts while reining back their own compulsive need to confess BUT I DIGRESS.

The music reinforces the sense of push-and-pull, with a very quick movement (technical terms: I do not know them) up and down the scale in what sounds like two-steps: the bass has the same two-part step, which really does put me in mind of some sort of dance where one partner tries to yank the other in one direction, and is immediately yanked backwards themselves. It’s a neat trick, and one which for me holds the song together through the drawn out breaths of the verses with their more photographic and less emotional lyricism.

A little update about nothing in particular

Hello, I’m not posting very much at the moment because I’m trying to force myself to edit; this is resulting in a lot of tantrum-throwing on Twitter and one-sided arguments with myself which sadly cannot be won by shouting “you’re not my real dad” and slamming a door. The process of editing is not being helped by the weather being blindingly nice and making me long to go and sit in a park and drink wine and not edit; by Word Starter on my netbook being held together with glue and stupidity and therefore crashing every few minutes; and by my own self-sabotaging need to start trying to draw bad cartoons of Loki from The Avengers crying on the floor at 1am with a copy of Photoshop 7.0 which only works after you’ve opened it and closed it three times (while drinking and watching 90s movies, because I am a cool cat).

I do have plans for partaking of the 100 Blog Things challenge on the subject of the Arts, but every day that I think “I shall write my first blog post on this challenge” is a day when I reach 1am and still haven’t finished editing whichever chapter I’m working on.

So as a show of faith or an “I ain’tnt dead”, here’s a brief run-down of Things What I Have Been Doing:

  • A visit to the Natural History Museum to see the inside-out animals; plastinated animal bodies showing their capillaries (which looks astonishing and very artistic, like someone has grown a duck or a rabbit out of some delicate, vibrant red fern) or musculature and ligaments, the crowning glory of which are a pair: a running giraffe and a kind of three-dimensional exploded diagram of a female Asiatic elephant, which is made all the more exciting for being an actual elephant. My main criticism of this other than “not enough exhibition” which I would have said even if it had been the length of the Bayeux Tapestry (which I have seen and been enormously bored by), is that as with so many museum exhibitions, the level of information provided was decidedly entry-level. As remarked by my companion for the day, scientist-and-comedian-and-designer-and-general-polymath Holly Yagoda, if you know anything about biology it’s assumed that you don’t want to learn any more by coming to a museum.
  • That same day out also included a walk through Hyde Park and a walk through St James Park, the latter of which involved an encounter with some wildfowl that I was unable to identity. Roughly the sound of a small goose/large duck, with a ruddy patch in the middle of a white breast, a very narrow black bar across a white area of the wing, dark head, and a cry like a car that won’t start. Any ideas?
  • I’ve been reading The Persian Boy by Mary Renault. Another of Mary Renault’s books, The Charioteer, is one of my absolute favourites, and so I went into this with high expectations. As someone overly invested in the relationship between Alexander of Macedon and Hephaestion I find I’m irritated by the attitude of the narrator (shut up, Bagoas), but it seems very realistic of the character to behave and think that way considering the kind of person he is and life he has led. I have no criticisms to level at the author for this historical fiction, but my God I want to slap the narrator a lot.
  • Continuing the theme of science, last night I accompanied a couple of people to see Robin Ince’s current stand up show, Happiness Through Science. I have seen several of his various tours and rank him close to the top of my favourite comedians list, if not the number one slot. I’d describe his style as “manic”, peppered with impressions and tangents and excitement and cynicism. A self-styled curmudgeon, he actually comes across as being extremely warm and enthusiastic (as many self-styled curmudgeons tend to), brimming with knowledge he wants to share, and of course appropriately self-effacing (we are after all British). It is always pleasant to spend an evening being talked to as an intelligent adult rather than a fool or a child, and more so when explanations for things one might not already know are presented as “things I didn’t know, I don’t know if you know them, you probably already do”. Stand out moments included Robin interrupting himself to wail “I wish this was a fucking character!” of his own babbling and self-distraction, and a member of the audience towards the end standing up to offer an evidence-based heckle about the correct order of amino acids in a genome. That is the kind of audience one can expect at a Robin Ince gig.
  • Aside from being a consumer of entertainment and enjoyer of this sudden burst of sunshine, I have also been patiently trying to rein in my propensity for feeling guilty about reading things I enjoy “because I ought to be doing something else”. So far it’s not going very well.