Saturday, 28 November 2009

Open Letter (To Living Colour)

OK. This post is about a band who were pivoltal to my musical life (an in turn, my life more generally) - Living Colour. It was after discovering Living Colour, during my teenage years that I grew my hair, got a guitar, and sought out other groups like Led Zeppelin, Faith No More et al. But it always came back to these guys. Since they weren't as widely known as groups my peers were listening to in the early 90s (i.e. Queen), my obsession with the band felt intimate and personal.

What they were best known for was the fact they were rock musicians, but they were black. This was their 'novelty', as far as the media seemed to be concerned. It's odd. Lenny Kravitz is a rock musician, Prince draws from rock, Hendrix (arguably the biggest icon of the genre) was a rock musician, Little Richard was right there on the cusp between rock 'n roll and the heavier style that followed, as was Chuck Berry. If you keep following that line backwards, you get to rhythm and blues, then the blues, and then delta blues. Black musicians.

However, for some reason it blew people's minds that this group of 4 black guys wanted to play rock instead of hip hop or R&B. Their first hit, Cult of Personality has since become something of a flagship piece for them. I guess that's fine because I like the song, but to my mind, there would be other equally fitting contenders. What's interesting about Cult of Personality is that it gave a political theme to a hard-rock tune four years before Rage Against the Machine became famous for doing that. To my mind, the message of Cult of Personality (that charisma can be channeled for both good and evil) is a whole lot more interesting than that of RATM's Killing in the Name (some police are racist). At any rate, I don't mean to belittle RATM just to make Living Colour look good. I'm just saying....

Living Colour's debut album, Vivid, which was released in '88 made a great impression on me. Although it was a Talking Heads cover, the song Memories Can't Wait resonated vividly (no pun intended). There seemed to be a strange, ambient energy to it that I hadn't heard elsewhere in music. And I loved the sound of the vocoder when the guitarist, Vernon Reid made his guitar say "these memories can't waiiiiit..." - exciting stuff for someone discovering music!

Then came Time's Up (from '90) - which I consider their masterpiece. It was as ambitious, eclectic and sprawling as the album cover. I noticed something new every time I looked at the inlay, and a world of mystery somehow seemed to be embedded within the music. Even the font they used to write the name of their band excited me. Well, 17 years later, as I listen to the album, I'm still pleased that this was the one I broke myself in with. The record starts with a montage of ticking clocks and alarms going off. A snare drum strikes three times, and it tears into a tight, Slayer-esque riff. Corey, (the singer) cries "Time's up, the rivers have no life. Time's up, the world is full of strife. Time's up, the sky is falling... time's up, the lord is calling!" What a punchy start to an album! The tune turns into a tight groove and everyone in the band showcases their virtuosity (yes - that's the correct word).

After that first track, instead of another hard-rock song, a strange sound-montage kicks in. Consistent rhythms disappear and instead you hear what sounds like slowed down samples of some kind of lesson on African musicology, amongst other samples like "are slaves going to be free in heaven?". The rest of the album is similarly eclectic and inventive. Love Rears Up it's Ugly Head has a funk-blues thing going on, in which the tone of the song and the subject matter of the lyrics seem to be perfectly matched. Plus Love Rears uses a distinctive game show-host voice sample that they created for the first couple of albums - in this song, he yells "wedding march!". In the song Type, it ends with a chorus of voices singing "everything that goes around, comes around" in a cycle, while Corey sings the same line over the top in a variety of melodies, at different speeds. In the track Information Overload, Vernon makes his guitar sound like a computer loading up software (very exciting for a young guitarist looking for new ideas). Elvis is Dead sounded like a deranged James Brown track, complete with a saxophone solo and a guest rap from Little Richard(!). Under Cover of Darkness shifts from a breezy opening riff to unashamed funk. Queen Latifah does a guest rap, and Vernon plays in a modal Jazz-scale for the guitar solo. Brilliant, seamless fusion. Solace of You, such a sweet melody, draws from South African Mbaqanga music. Ology is a brief, extraordinary instrumental which just doesn't sound like anything else I've heard. Tag Team Partners is a fun, goofy beat-box interlude. Finally, the grandiose This is the Life begins with a montage of sitars and strings with middle-eastern scales. I still can't hear exactly what they did.

For what it's worth, I think that if they left New Jack Theme, Someone Like You and Information Overload as b-sides, they would have had a pretty-near perfect album.

In '93, Stain followed. This album marked a departure for the band, and to my mind it set the template for all their subsequent albums. They didn't use the loopy band logo anymore and opted for a simple, direct capital-letter font, and a single image with muted colours. This album had the lovely and unique ballad Nothingness on it. Plus Wall is a great song, and Hemp is another etherial and atmospheric sound montage. Otherwise, the album seems much more musically and emotionally uniform to me. Some of the dissonant, heavier tracks such as Go Away, Auslander or This Little Pig took them to a place I couldn't go for some reason.

I heard one fan comment online that he thought Stain was their most 'focused' album. For me, 'focused' is another way of saying that he is only interested in hard rock and used to skip past the more adventurous tracks. Sorry - that's what I think.

Why did this change take place in the band? Whilst a new bassist joined them for this album, I doubt it had too much to do with that. Perhaps they felt the need to re-invent themselves, which is indeed a healthy thing for artists to do. But, record sales for Stain were apparently a disappointment for the band. They were still quite healthy, mind - but not what they were aiming for. Now, public taste can be a fickle thing and it's easy for me to sit and blog in judgement. But, speaking as a fan it seemed to me that in dropping their eclecticism, along with other trademarks like their logo and the game show host voice-sample guy, they were discarding some of the things that made them so interesting in the first place - the things that played a good part in bringing them their initial commercial and critical acclaim.

Two years later in '95, Living Colour disbanded. However, in 2003 they got back together and released the album CollideĆøscope. I'll not say anything about that record, because a) I don't know it well enough to comment, and b) this blog is already way longer than I planned it to be.

In 2009 - earlier this year, Living Colour released another album entitled Chair in the Doorway. I was looking forward to hearing this album very much, and I'm happy to report that their first single (Behind the Sun) is one of the best songs that they have done. But I'm less happy to report that the rest of the album carries everything over that I found dissatisfying about Stain, but to a greater extent. There's almost no guest musicians, a relatively constrained instrumental line-up, moderately constrained emotional territory (mostly angry). Cross-check this with Times Up, which shifts from rage (Time's Up), to ambience (History Lesson), to a sense of defeat and submission (Love Rears...), to sexual (Under Cover of Darkness), to wistful intensity (Fight the Fight). Also, there's no more sharp genre shifts mid-song (a la Funny Vibe or Under Cover of Darkness), no more joviality one finds in Glamour Boys, no chanting choruses of Funny Vibe, no mysterious soundscapes, no Jazz scales, no world-music influences, no samples.

I heard Vernon comment in an interview that the members of the band all have separate outlets for their own personal projects, and that this is a good thing for the group. Are you sure about that, Vernon? I know that Corey was involved in stage musicals, Will (the drummer) is involved in world music and Vernon is involved with the downtown New York avant-garde scene (amongst other things). While these various external projects may help reduce creative differences in the band, I wonder if that creative tension actually made the group more interesting.

I like to belive that artists don't burn out, or run out of ideas but rather they learn how to cut deeper over time. But I also wonder, is Living Colour's level of ambition as high as it was in 1990? I gather that most the guys in the band have become parents in the intervening years - which is wonderful. But when I think of artists becoming family men, I think of George Lucas. And I think we all know what good that did him. His work became imbued with a sense of "there's more to life than my art".

re: ambition. Lets take the case of Bless Those (Little Annie's Prayer) - which is actually one of my favorite tracks from Chair in the Doorway. It basically revolves around three power chords, going back and forth. The simplicity of the song is appealing, I guess and I like the slide guitar. But I've been in bands and I think I know how this song would have been written. One instrument (perhaps the bass since it was co-written by Doug - the bassist) came up with the initial riff. Then Vernon added the most natural sounding guitar riff that would have gone with it. Then the drummer did the same thing. Some lyrics were cooked up, and voila.

But it's too goddamn easy! I listen to Under Cover of Darkness (from Time's Up), and it's obvious that a good amount of re-structuring and layering went into that song, everyone thought about how their own individual instrument should be both separate, yet contribute to the whole piece. It sounds like it was painstakingly thought through.

I'll say it in simple terms: I don't think that Living Colour are trying as hard any more.

And I'm not sure if it's because they have been through the recording process so many times that making an album isn't as big a deal to them as it once was, or if they have other musical commitments and family commitments which have drained their creative energies for this group. It might be because they were given less time in the recording studio, or their new record label (Megaforce Records) encouraged them to focus on straightforward rock tunes.

I imagine that some fans, and perhaps the musicians themselves would say that Chair in the Doorway contains as many ideas as their earlier work. Well, on the surface that isn't the case. I realize that Hard Times is in 3/4, Young Man has a disco rhythm, the riff to Behind the Sun is tapped, and Out of my Mind contains some first-rate shrieking. But one has to look for the nuances to find variety in this record. In their earlier work, the variety was on the surface. And that's absolutely fine. As far as I'm concerned, the surface of a piece of music can actually be more important than subtle, easily-missed details.

Anyway, I wrote this blog (or at least the second half of it) with a heavy heart. I feel like I'm shitting on a group of artists who have given me so much, and while they are doing what they can, I'm sitting at home on my computer and passing judgment. But this was written entirely in the spirit that if you care about something, you're critical of it. As a fan, if any of you guys should ever read this, I just wanted to say that I really appreciate the impact you had on my life, and that I hope you keep working together, but also that I would love to see you be as audacious and eclectic as you used to be.

I've been following the reviews of Chair in the Doorway and they have been warm. But I don't want to see 'warm' reviews, these risk invoking a tepid reception from the public. I want you to be widely loved in the way that I love you! And I wanted to voice my opinion, which I haven't seen elsewhere.


Monday, 23 November 2009

A Great Conversation

Me: "Guess who the richest man in the world is"
Emily: "I don't know... the Sultan of Brunei?"
Me: "Who is that?"
Emily: "It's the fucking Sultan of Brunei"
Me: "No, it's Bill Gates. Guess who is number 2"
Emily: "Sting?"

Friday, 9 October 2009

Johnny 5: Queen of the Desert

Two more similar pictures.

This has been bothering me for a little while and I have to get it off my chest. Whenever I walk through the London Underground at the moment I keep seeing this poster...

... and at first glance I keep thinking it's the poster from Short Circuit

Two figures in the desert, both being zapped from above. Coincidence? Yes.

Sunday, 27 September 2009

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

Staking Out My Position

Disclaimer: It's not so smart on my part to dismiss a branch of Philosophy, and there are people out there with more philosophical knowledge who could set me straight on a bunch of things, but these are my two cents. Comments and criticisms, as ever are welcome.

I'm going to start with a synopsised summary of analytic and continental philosophy taken from wikipedia:

Analytic philosophy is a term for a style of philosophy that may be characterised by an emphasis on clarity and argument. It often incorporates analysis of language, and a respect for the natural sciences. It is committed to the idea that the object of philosophy is the logical clarification of thoughts, and also that philosophy should be continuous with those of the natural sciences. Key names would include Wittgenstein, John Searle, Daniel Dennett and Steven Pinker.

Continental philosophy includes movements such as phenomenology, existentialism, structuralism and post-structuralism (don't worry if you don't know what they are). Philosophers who subscribe to this approach are said to generally reject scientism, the view that the natural sciences are the best or most accurate way of understanding all phenomena.

From the early 20th century until the 1960s, continental philosophers were only intermittently discussed in British and American universities. However, with post-modernism (a continental idea) in the 1970s and 1980s, university departments in film, literature and the fine arts have increasingly incorporated ideas from continental philosophers into their curricula.

At least, this is how it's characterised in wikipedia. I've got a bunch of other opinions on how one can characterize continental philosophy that aren't so charitable. But the fact that it rejects science as a means to understand phenomena is probably a good starting point.

Here are two short clips. The first is of an analytic philosopher, Steven Pinker who discusses free will (ignore the text pop-ups and the Dawkins bit at the end):

And the second is Slavoj Zizek discussing the Universe (he's continental):

In both cases, I tried to find something brief, but long enough for you to get the flavor of their approaches.

OK. Now, now you'll be forgiven if you find Zizek interesting and charismatic. But read the following extract from Searle in a comment he made about Derrida and see if Zizek also fits Searle's description: "anyone who reads [Derrida's] texts with an open mind is likely to be struck by the same phenomena that initially surprised me: the low level of philosophical argumentation, the deliberate obscurantism of the prose, the wildly exaggerated claims, and the constant striving to give the appearance of profundity by making claims that seem paradoxical, but under analysis often turn out to be silly or trivial."

Derrida responded by saying that Searle had misunderstood him, Searle (and others) responded back by saying that this is a long-running excuse for his bullshit (though he didn't phrase it like that)

Since I don't have the patience to make this blog flow more smoothly, I'm just going to put all my thoughts into a series of bullet points. So this is...

  • Continental philosophy rests on the assumption that the more difficult an idea is to understand, the greater the reward will be when you do finally grasp it. Even if the mind 'rewards' itself when a difficult concept is grasped, that's not the same as being enlightened with a profound truth
  • Using specialist terms and thinking in novel, counter-intuitive ways does not elevate your thoughts above those of everyday people. It's more difficult (and ultimately more useful) to use the same language and framework of thought as everyone else, and still say something insightful
  • Some continental person responded to Pinker's clip on youtube and said the following: "Freewill is an IDEALIZATION of our mental faculties. Moral theory requires that, much like how mathematics has figures such as perfect 2-D circles which could not possibly exist in reality." That's what I'm talking about - total cobblers. It's not even a coherent sentence
  • I heard the continental accusation of science as being "bougeois". Whoever thinks that is a big fat loser
  • Continental philosophy has a powerful aroma of name-dropping and the snooty "Europeans are smarter than English speakers" attitude. Check a list of continental names some time - they are great to drop into a conversation (e.g. Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Heidegger, Sartre)
  • Zizek is colourful, animated and has a charming speech impediment. His video is hard to understand, yet somehow seems clever and internally consistent. So one comes away feeling like there is profound truth and wisdom in there, but one also has to keep watching it over and over to properly grasp if there is actually anything meaningful. I've not figured it out yet, and I've watched this clip a few times. Pinker, on the other hand, not only did I enjoy the first time but I understood it too
  • Continental philosophy is far more responsible than analytic philosophy for making most people feel like their not brainy enough to have anything to do with Philosophy

  • Continental Philosophers tend to have fertile minds and be well read. It fuels creative thought. If it could be a branch of the arts, on some level this might not be so bad. But to claim that it's more connected to the world than analytic philosophy is a bad idea. Aesthetics should be difficult to grasp, but thought should be clear and articulate. That's not dogmatism, it's sense
  • The ideas are sometimes interesting. But continental philosophy subordinates explaining phenomena in place of being interesting. There is an intuitive feeling that we should resist common assumptions and accepted wisdom, and also that we should develop new terms and use words in a different way. I agree with that stuff, but it can, and has been taken too far by continental philosophers - any Lacan clip would prove my point on this one better than the Zizek clip
  • I do sometimes enjoy listening to philosophers of the continental strain and occasionally feel enriched after contemplating them. I like this clip of Derrida discussing love, for example. But there are far more ideas that fun to believe, or fun to try to understand, but little more

So there you go, that's my feeling. Hit me!

Monday, 14 September 2009

Small, private thoughts

This is kinda frivolous, but I wanted to share it because I've been thinking it for years and never told anyone. Plus I never actually put these two pictures next to each other.

I think that the woman on the left from The Mamas and the Papas:

was kinda pulling the same pose as Henry 8th:

Friday, 4 September 2009

Jews, Nazis and Tarantino

I went to see Inglorious Basterds with some amount of apprehension. I’d heard that Eli Roth said that the film is a “Jewish wet dream” because we see a team of Jewish soldiers brutally kill lots and lots of Nazis. The level of idiocy on Roth’s part is mind-boggling. Even if there is a part of the human psyche that wants revenge, from Jews or anyone else, why watch a movie that indulges such negative, destructive impulses? Are Jews supposed to feel appeased somehow, watching a movie with people pretending to kill other people who are pretending to be Nazis? Think of it as a question of what kind of stories we need to tell ourselves. Movies provide cultures with a working-through of ideas and feelings. The only thing I can imagine this film will provide us with is stoking the flame amongst Neo-Nazis that Hitler should have ‘finished the job’, and that Jews are 'just as bad', and are capable of the same level of savagery (Neo-Nazis will inevitably be interested in seeing the film), and it will also invite the delightful comparison that gets banded around, whereby Jews are behaving like Nazis. This comparison comes up every once in a while from liberals, Jews and anti-semites alike.

A digression: are Israelis behaving like Nazis? No. They are insofar as Palestinians are treated like second-class citizens, just as Jews were in Nazi-occupied areas before they were sent to death camps. But it’s a bogus comparison because a few more conditions would need to be comparable. For instance:

• Palestinians would need to be sent to death camps
• Israel would need to Invade Syria, Egypt and other surrounding countries
• There would need to be have been terrorist Jews killing German civilians in the 30s and 40s

If these things were happening, the comparison might have merit. Instead, we have impoverished Palestinians retaliating by firing rockets into Israel, prompting Israelis to elect politicians who are going to come down hard on Palestinians, and the whole thing winds up in a big ugly cycle. I imagine most Palestinians are caught in the middle between Palestinians terrorists and heavy-handed Israeli soldiers. Dreadful.

Anyway: it’s a lousy comparison, and I think people enjoy saying that Israelis are acting like Nazis because irony is appealing, and people get a little buzz out of being provocative when they think their entitled to be.

But back to the movie, and back to Tarantino. Something that bothered me about the Kill Bill movies is that they spent too much time contemplating themselves. I realize that that was the point of those movies – small incidental scenes turn into 10 minute sequences (walking into a nightclub, or a sword being ceremoniously given away), but the whole thing just seemed in awe of itself. Inglorious Basterds seemed happy just to get on with the story (with the exception of a 5-minute lipstick application scene). More conventional on Tarantino’s part, but a welcome return to commonplace convention. He did remain consistent with his other work by having monologues in which we are invited to reconsider something we’ve always taken for granted. In this case, it’s why we have a bigger problem with rats than we have with squirrels (previously, he’s covered a new understanding of Superman, what they call the Big Mac in France, what the song Like a Virgin is really about).

He also follows his earlier trademark-thing by citing movies and filmmakers he’s interested in – Leni Riefenstahl gets name-dropped (a famous Nazi-Propaganda filmmaker), Pabst and David O Selznik gets mentioned too. This is just part of his ‘wink at the camera’ thing where he recommends films to fans who want to look up bits of film history. Shogun Asassin gets menitoned in Kill Bill, and I’m sure there’s a reference to some 70s action movie that gets mentioned in Death Proof. Well, I kinda like the ‘lets celebrate cinema’ thing in movies. Nanni Moretti does that too and it’s always cool. Godard did it as well of course (though he’s not a fan of Tarantino, incidentally). Somehow, in Tarantino’s hands citing film history is starting to feel a little bit tired.

Another criticism: while Inglorious Basterds was about 2hrs 30, it still felt like there were too many threads and characters that weren’t given space to breathe. As a result, I wasn’t really in the zone during the climax. Perhaps Tarantino should have split this movie into a 12-part mini-series as he said he considered doing. If he had, it may have been the masterpiece he claimed it to be.

In spite of my criticisms, I did come away from Inglorious Basterds feeling like it might be his most interesting work. Whether it’s his best, I’ll not comment because I try not to be in the business of evaluating stuff too much. But it did get my brain going more than any of his other works. I found the very first scene very compelling and affecting indeed, and there is a scene in an underground bar which plays out beautifully. Despite what some critis said, I didn’t think the scenes played out for too long at all. They played out nicely, and Tarantino found a new way of using time rather than his usual *blam blam blam* pacing.

In conclusion then: Inglorious Basterds is a socially irresponsible movie (though hopefully ultimately innocuous, like most art), but it picks up on a bunch of Tarantino-esque tropes and is compelling to watch, despite a bunch of shortcomings. Also, comparing Jews or Israelis to Nazis is stupid.

There you go.

Wednesday, 12 August 2009

Facebook and Mythologizing the Self

Hmmm. That might be a pretentious title, but it's the one I'm most satisfied with right now.

At any rate, what's great about social networking sites is that you get to create your own persona if you choose to invest in it. It can be particularly revealing considering what kind of profile picture a person selects for themselves. I've attempted to break down all the possible choices. Let me know if there's any I've missed:
  • At home
  • On holiday
  • At party
  • At fancy dress party
  • Studio photo
  • Childhood photo
  • With girlfriend/ boyfriend
  • With spouse
  • With buddy
  • With child/ grandchild
  • Something done to your face (e.g. Yearbook Yourself/ Cartoon avatar/ MorphThing)
  • A photo of something else (e.g. a painting they drew/ movie freeze frame/ funny picture)
  • Their pet
  • Their shadow (particularly popular amongst artists)
  • Picture of a celebrity/ cartoon character
  • 'In action' - e.g. at work
  • Their hands
  • Clowning around
For all the variety here, I think that the range of face expressions are fairly limited (although there is room for variation within these categories)
  • Smiling nicely
  • Sultry
  • Moody
  • Pulling a funny face
  • Engaged in something
I think that the persona people attempt to develop for themselves can fit into the following categories, and sometimes it's a combination:
  • I'm attractive
  • I'm mysterious
  • I'm unconventional
  • I'm unconventional even by unconventional standards
  • I'm wacky and don't care who knows it/ I don't take myself seriously
  • I'm creative
  • I play it straight
  • I'm one of the lads/ girls
  • I love my friends/ partner/ children
I've never seen "I'm hard" as a profile picture, but would imagine that's because I wouldn't befriend someone who would use that as their persona.

I think everything has pretty much been covered here. If you can think of any curve balls that I haven't spotted, let me know...

Saturday, 1 August 2009


The human face is a landscape that we never tire of. We are programmed to be on the constant look out for faces, even where there isn't one, or where it's a heavy abstraction of a real face.

As such, I'm hooked on the website called morphthing at the moment. If you could have told people 50 years ago that we would have the technology to blend faces together, I can only imagine their minds would have been blown. Well, my mind is blown and it continues to be. I can't believe we can do this.

The site is clearly aimed at teenagers, and is seen as a fairly frivolous thing. Maybe it is. I can imagine the "you've got too much time on your hands" response, or "it's all a bit silly really". I dunno. I just keep thinking it's amazing and taps into something fundamental about our perceptions.

No point hiding from the fact that I have an interest in my own face. As such, here's me with Whoopi Goldberg:

Mona Lisa:

Barack Obama:

This is me today with me when I was about 6:

Then there is other people who you can combine. This is Tupac and Tony Blair:

Tupac, Tony Blair and a Tiger:

Harry Potter and Hitler: (or Harry Pittler, if you will...)

Britney Spears and George Lucas:

It just goes on and on. Weird, androgynous people and splendid combinations. You can reconfigure your own face. Such giddy fun!

Tuesday, 28 July 2009

Reggae and Gay People

It's a real heartache to me. Sizzla is possibly my favourite of the current generation of dancehall musicians. He carries the heritage of Lee Perry, Big Youth and Dr Alimantado effortlessly and adds his own thing. The hooks are great, and he sings straight from his heart.

One problem - he's a total homophobe.

See, I never cared especially for Wagner's music so I was never really faced with the problem of how to negotiate the art/ politics problem (Wagner was a Nazi sympathizer). Sizzla is my modern day equivalent.

I think it was a 70s thing in particular - the politics of aesthetics. The general thrust seemed to be that right-wingers didn't like radical art, but lefties did. That seems to broadly be the attitude today.

Well, this never made sense to me for a couple of reasons. First of all, if you listen to any piece of music (without lyrics), it says nothing at all about the composer's political convictions. How they feel about welfare benefit, gun control, abortion or whatever else. Secondly, one of the pivotal movements for the avant-garde was the Futurists, who were Fascists.

So formal properties remain apolitical. We would like to think that art with questionable content will consistently be substandard, but this isn't the case. Leni Riefenstahl is a classic example. In much the same way, racist jokes are always politically objectionable but people are more likely to forgive the joke if it's actually funny. I would take this as meaning that the form of the joke is solid, even if the content is offensive. Conveniently, most people who cook up these jokes aren't that bright so the jokes usually aren't funny. But even if they are, that doesn't make it forgivable. A friend of mine said to me recently "I think you can say anything as long as it's funny". This seems to be a widely held belief, I would contend that even if it is funny, that's not a license to be hurtful to any group of people.

Back to Sizzla. There is no room for ambiguity in his lyrics. He cooked up a song called Nah Apologise, which is him declaring his refusal to apologize for writing and performing songs which incite and encourage hatred and violence towards homosexuals. This song is freely available on youtube. I looked at it, and noticed that the discussion wall generally went along the lines of people writing "kill batty boys!". Great. So my good turn for the day was flagging the video to youtube, and alerting them to the fact that it's inappropriate and incites hatred and abuse towards gay people - which is against youtube policy anyhow. What's surprising is that it's already been looked at by 355,586 people (to date) and it would appear that I'm the first person to object.

I hoped that they would take the video down, but instead they just disabled adding comments. Not ideal, but I guess it's something. Though if I was catching the brunt of his hatred (i.e. something anti semitic) I wouldn't be satisfied.

Rastas, particularly the ultra-orthodox branch to which Sizzla subscribes - called Boboshanti Rastas better sort this thing out. Jamaica has such a proud tradition, they punch above their weight culturally, but why the hatred? No-one asked them to be gay, it's a low pressure deal. Their rationale behind the hatred of gays comes from their claim is that to be gay is to go against the will of God. This comes form the book of Leviticus - the same book that states that any child who says their parents name in vain shall be put to death.

Do Boboshanti Rastas follow through on this instruction as well? Of course not. If they could first of all admit that the hatred of gays comes from a personal dislike rather than sublimating it to God's will, that'd be a start.

Dear Sizzla: you have a right to your opinion, and I have the right to call you a fool.

Friday, 17 July 2009

Empathy, Mirror Neurons and the Peanut Song

This is a home recorded version of an academic paper that I delivered last month at Salford University on screen comedy...

Free-floating thoughts on MJ

Yes, I'm still smarting over his death. So there's a series of thoughts I wanted to get out of my system:
  • Medication: The ‘Dr. Feelgood’ characters have been in Hollywood as long as there has been a Hollywood. These are people who can give prescription painkillers to wealthy showbiz-types and they keeps killing our stars. MJ is the latest in a list accompanied by Heath Ledger, Anna Nicole Smith, Elvis, Judy Garland, Howard Hughes, Keith Moon, Nick Drake and (one of my fave avant-garde filmmakers) Maya Deren. The list goes on
  • Nothing learned: Some deaths lead to something positive - Jade Goodie’s legacy is that the number of women taking smear tests shot up, but no lesson will be learned from MJ’s death. The media won't stop exploiting their stars, and no medication addict will kick their habit
  • Revisionary: I never even liked the song Billy Jean that much. On Thriller, Human Nature sits there quietly making it a great album without you noticing. On the album Bad, Speed Demon does it for me every time. Plus more attention should be paid to the post-Quincy Jones era. Remember the Time is a deceptively good song, and Butterflies could have been a hit if Sony had promoted it properly
  • Liar: MJ explicitly stated that he impregnated Debbie Rowe. However, he’s black and his children aren't mixed-race. They are his foster children. (Yes it’s obvious, but no-one ever seemed to point that out). If anything tells me that he was willing to delude himself, it's that
  • Expose: MJ clearly already had plastic surgery by Thriller, and no-one objected. So is it the plastic surgery that bothers us, or the fact it’s bad plastic surgery? (bad meaning ‘bad’). My suspicion is that he developed an addiction to surgery, and would fixate on different parts of his face at a time rather than pay attention to the complete thing. I notice his plastic surgeon has remained anonymous this whole time. Can’t he/ she be exposed?
  • Arseholoe: If Gavin Arvizo admitted that he made up the story about being molested, isn’t he legally accountable? Is that called ‘contempt of court’?
  • Baby-sitter: No – I wouldn’t have let MJ look after my children. But neither would I let Prince, Boyzone or the Cheeky Girls look after my children either
  • Tough break: He had to sell his home in order to clear his name and the court decided on both occasions that he hadn’t molested anyone. Still the public didn't trust him. He probably settled out of court the second time because they didn't want the case to be prolonged. He was caught between a rock and a hard place
  • Journalism sucks: MJ exposed most journalists’ inability to hold two opinions about a person at the same time. He’s either the greatest guy ever or the worst
  • Trauma: It’s damaging to be attacked excessively, but it can be equally damaging to be praised excessively. MJ had both
  • Suspect: The video to Man in the Mirror intercuts MJ with Martin Luther King, Ghandi, John F Kennedy and Mother Teresa while he induces a religious fervour in a stadium full of people (see: During the Jarvis Cocker incident, he was pretending to be Jesus. In the video to They Don’t Care About Us, he plays a Che Guevara-type folk hero. In all these examples, one could argue that he’s being used as a symbol of hope, but it’s all rather suspect
  • Good guy: On the other hand, he’s apparently the second biggest celebrity-contributor to charity after Oprah Winfrey. That's a piece of information that never really slipped into public consciousness
  • Skin: I’m willing to believe that he had vitiglio, but why didn’t he use his money to make his skin brown again? At any rate, I don’t think he wanted to be caucasian. I think he wanted to be white, as in, *pale*. That's not the same as being 'a white guy'
  • Sha-Mo: This is MJ’s own version of “Tra-la-la” or “Shoo-be-do”. I think it’s great that he came up with his own musical turn of phrase
  • Moonwalk: MJ didn't invent the Moonwalk. To my knowledge, he never claimed to. There have been recorded instances of the Moonwalk performed as early as the 1930s by Cab Calloway, and later in the 50s by Marcel Marceau. Later still in the 70s, street dancers were doing the move. MJ just popularized it
  • Cruel: Who asked his bereaved 10 year-old daughter to speak in front of a stadium of about 250,000 people? (Or 1 Billion if you count worldwide figures)
  • Fun: You never hear about anything fun that Richard Branson or Bill Gates did with their money. MJ became a Billionaire and bought a fairground and a monkey. Cool
  • Tragic/ Hero: Will he be remembered as a pop hero or a tragic figure? Elvis showed us that there is space for both conceptions in our collective memory
  • Memento: My favourite video clip of MJ became available a little while after he died. It’s the only footage I’ve seen where he’s not consciously aware of being looked at. See him in the second half of this clip, he’s just watching and thinking, and we’re given some insight into his internal thought processes as he sits and contemplates. Quite precious, to my mind:

Wednesday, 8 July 2009

Men & Women

I have this idea I'm trying to work through. As a man, I have a theory that if I can observe women in the correct way when they discuss men, I'll gain a new insight into what men are like. I'm so busy being one, I can't quite tell what we are like as a species.

What I figure is that there is a disparity between the way we imagine ourselves and the way in which the opposite sex imagines us.

Case in point, a woman as imagined by men:

and a woman as imagined by women:

Here we have boys as imagined by girls:

and men as imagined by men (at least a certain type of man):

None of these are necessarily errors in a perception, it's just that both genders bring out a different truth on the same subject.

What we really need is a third gender. A neutral, androgynous sex that can observe impartially without a background set of assumptions, expectations or biases.

Any volunteers?

Friday, 3 July 2009

My Danish Adventure

I'll start by saying that Copenhagen was a big deal to me - I kinda saw it as being my second Bar Mitzvah. Some sort of passage into adulthood. This was a big conference and if it turned out that I was indeed an impostor playing the part of an academic, this would be the place where I would get rumbled...

As such, I was a tad jittery for the first couple of days. Actually, I started getting jittery about 5 days before flying out there. My good pal Dominic enjoyed the brunt of my nerves by having to listen to me fixate on minor things. Breaking point came when I was complaining to him about how unfair it is for a band like Metallica who will never be recognized as one of the greatest bands ever because there is a glass ceiling for heavy metal groups. Dom eventually replied "listen Paul, just chill out". Probably the right thing to say.

At any rate, I didn't get to see too much of Copenhagen itself because the conference was quite intensive. But I did see a whole variety of people whose books I had read. And if you're a film theory dude, these people are like celebrities to you.

Case in point, this is me with David Bordwell:

Bordwell is something of a patriarch to the cognitive film movement, and besides that he's a giant within film theory. Besides that still, he lives up to his reputation as being a tremendously kind and likable guy. I only got the chance to speak to him a couple of times, but he went out of his way to make me and other PhD students (who might otherwise feel intimidated) feel welcome and needed at the conference. It wasn't intentional, but I think this picture gets across how much I look up to the guy and like him as a person.

At any rate, if Bordwell is the patriarch figure of the conference then Joseph Anderson is my favorite uncle:

Joseph wrote a book called "The Reality of Illusion: An Ecological Approach to Film Theory", which kick-started my PhD (so as you can guess, I was excited to meet him). I eventually got the chance to speak to him and tell him so, which meant a lot to me. He was very kind with his time and interested in my ideas on film, and was happy to offer a response to questions I had about his book. (Which as basically, how does one factor the avant-garde into an ecological understanding of cinema. But I'll not go into what that actually means for now)

At any rate, the conference itself was fabulous. I was surrounded by other film obsessives who were having thoughts about cinema that had never been thought before - thrilling to see if you're into this stuff. I saw a paper on how spectators visually track the screen and how we miss most of what's going on. I saw a paper on what it means to develop a taste. Murray (my supervisor) spoke on how the sciences can contribute to our understanding of art.

Then there was me. I talked about cinema and a condition called Synaesthesia.

I'll not go into the details of my paper now because I might put some sort of version of it on my blog at some point, but I'll just say that my paper felt like it was warmly received. Bordwell and his wife Kristin Thompson came along, as did two people who I quoted in my presentation (Carl Plantinga and Kathrin Fahrlenbrach) and a guy called Torben Grodal, whom I had read. I'm kinda name dropping here, but it's more for my sake rather than yours (Unlike most people who will read this, I know who they are, and I'm putting it in my blog so I remember!).

Thankfully, I didn't get a wobbly voice and I pretty much held it together during the presentation and Q&A. It appears I'm not an impostor. Phew.

After this, I had a bit of time to snoop around the city. This is Dom and Ted trying to figure out where we were. Note how instead of getting involved, I just decided to take a picture of them...

The next day I also climbed a Church spire in Copenhagen. It's probably famous, but I don't remember what it's called:

Here we are at the top:

As for the city itself, it was very clean. The locals seemed ecologically conscious, there were a lot of bikes around and no litter. There was also a hippy commune place I went to with a few pals (no photos allowed for some reason).

Danes (?) seemed to go for a fairly meat-based diet, and there is a culture of crisps and chocolate comparable to that of the UK. It's also pretty costly out there. But on the plus side, they had an exhibition of weird sign-posts in the city center:

Anyway, then came a major surprise at the conference. Lars von Trier came to do a Q&A after the screening of his new movie, Antichrist. Here's a blurry picture I took of him with my phone camera:

This was a thrill for me because I love his work. I asked him a question about his use of hypnosis in the film. As a guy, he seemed cool though not someone who naturally felt at ease speaking in public about his work. As we went along, he seemed to feel more comfortable in his own skin. If you want to know more about what he said, ask me :)

I took this picture in my Hotel. The shower was better than the signpost would have you believe:

A few more snaps from the final night, when we had a big meal. This is me with another Professor, his name is Ed Tan. He is of Chinese and Indonesian origins but grew up in Holland. I liked him very much.

This is a guy called Chris who also spoke at the conference. I must look him up on Facebook. Though he'll kill me if he sees I've uploaded this picture:

Finally, a drunk lady who was at the conference. Not sure who she is.

At any rate, the whole thing was just a dream. I got a real sense of being in a culture of academics. Lots of schmoozing, and a supportive environment. By the end I was completely pooped, but what fun.

I'll mention a point made by Dominic. The cognitive movement within film theory is somewhat maginalized. It's been an uphill struggle to get recognition, and this is a very strange thing. As we imagine ourselves (and I think it's a reasonable assumption), we appeal to common sense, straightforward language and facts. And this is seen as the alternative to the dominant paradigm. That's kinda creepy.

At any rate, next year it'll be in Virginia! Whoop....

Sunday, 21 June 2009

doomsday like shabby

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benefit compra cialis the yet in rage

Friday, 19 June 2009

Joy and Time

I just felt like putting these two happy pictures next to one another. No special reason why...

Thursday, 18 June 2009

Beautiful People

I attended a lecture a couple of months ago by Jerrold Levinson. He was discussing the concept of beauty, and why it was a discussion which could be looked at as an issue within "aesthetics" rather than "art". He said the following...

"There is more beauty outside of art than there is beauty inside of art. How many works of art are there? Maybe 2 Billion. How many people are there? 6 Billion. Maybe a third of them are beautiful"

Sunday, 14 June 2009

Stay Sick

Three characteristics that sometimes go hand in hand: low self-esteem, laziness and misanthropy. I have a suspicion that the second two stem from the first.

These are all characteristics that are generally considered shortcomings. Well, I don't see much use for any of them although I've had a sprinkling of all three off and on over the years. As it happens, it would seem that some of my pals have as well - at least low self-esteem and misanthropy (I don't want to judge anyone else as lazy). But I like my pals.

So I figure, even if those characteristics aren't much use in and of themselves, perhaps something good accompanies them. Being of that disposition makes one more philosophical, or gives you a better sense of humour. Or you don't take the culture we've been handed at face value and one prefers to look at the world as an outsider.

Channel your symptoms!

Wednesday, 10 June 2009


I've been under pressure recently to get some essays marked on time, and I had a tight deadline. It's all done now - thank God, but the pressure was getting under my skin. However, I was told a technique which can be employed when someone is getting to you.

Imagine a window which has dirt on both sides. There is your side of the window, and there is 'their' side of the window. When you are wiping your side of the window, a smear is produced - you should smear it vertically. When you smear the dirt on their side, wipe it horizontally.

So their smear is horizontal and yours is vertical. Keep their smear on their side and yours on your side. They are separate.


Monday, 8 June 2009

Sawdust and Tinsel

There is a thought I've been trying to articulate for a while, and I'm still not sure if I can. It's something that everyone else has already realised. Nevertheless, I'll have a go:
  • The downfall of our celebrities interests us more than their successes. Nervous breakdowns, failures and photos of stretch marks
  • There is an Aztec tradition in which the village would find their most beautiful young woman, dress her up in their finest jewels and then sacrifice her
  • Armageddon supposedly arrived with AIDS, mad cow disease, bird and swine flu. We love an epidemic
  • The attempt to provide 'happy stories' on the news is normally neutralised by recounting trivialities. Why don't they make bigger issues out of medical breathroughs? They happen every once in a while
  • When you go to the Supermarket, the best deals are never at eye-level. They are trying to trick us
  • We're impressed whenever the television doesn't address us as idiots
  • There is a Pub I walk past on my way into town which has a special offer on at the moment called the "Credit Lunch"
  • BBC Radio 1 is state funded and could stretch public tastes, but instead attempts to skew towards them
  • If the British Media was a person, he/she would be vindictive, manipulative and mercurial
  • Our culture hates itself. I will watch it collapse with the same glee that readers of celebrity magazines felt when Britney Spears went into a depression

Friday, 29 May 2009

A Magical Evocation Born Out Of the Rigours of Choice

A zen student once composed the following haiku:

Clipping the wings of
of a flying dragon
is pepper dust.

To which the master replied:

Pepper dust
Give it wings
It's a flying dragon.

Sunday, 24 May 2009