Archive for February, 2012
Do you ever get that odd sensation when you suddenly become aware that, for a while, you’ve been aware of something without really realising it?
Right, just me then.
Anyway, this happened to me most recently with The Artist and particularly its lead actor, Jean Dujardin. Over the last six months or so I’ve been (mostly subliminally) picking up bits and pieces about the film, and had this nagging feeling that I knew Dujardin (by name at least) from somewhere.
If you rewind about 13 years, you’ll find me in a small flat in a small town in France going through what, in hindsight, was somewhere between acute home-sickness and a mild borderline nervous breakdown, induced by a strange kind of loneliness, shyness, and inertia. I am of course making far more of this than I should, but I was very stranded in a very small town, and, with too much time on my hands, and most of that spent on my own, I turned a little eccentric. But not even in a particularly good way, I just did things like buying a house plant and naming it after France’s most recognised living cultural icon. Despite being a student at the time, there wasn’t even any smugly self-conscious ‘irony’ about this. It was genuine. Fucking hell, I’ve just remembered that before I left France I actually planted ‘Johnny’ somewhere where I thought he/it would get plenty of sunshine and rain (I don’t know whether the correct response to that sudden, unexpected memory is to blush, laugh, cry, or shudder. So I just did a bit of all four).
A couple of years later, my Mum breezily said “we did wonder if you were ok” which is my Mum’s way of saying “we thought you might have been going batshit mental”. Thing is, this was before the internet was anything like embedded in everyday life, so Christ knows what I would have been like with the facility to easily and, essentially, freely document my thoughts and ruminations at the time. Frankly, I’m quite relieved about that. Can you imagine?
So, yes, I spent a lot of time doing not very much, and a good portion of that was spent watching TV. Now, to be fair, I genuinely consider TV to be a cultural boon, and being isolated (etc etc yawn whinge whine) it was a brilliant way of exposing myself to something approaching the French way of life (much better than, say, going to a bar, buying a beer or two and saying a simple bonsoir to the locals).
In all the many, many hours of watching French TV, a favourite of mine was Un gars et une fille (A Guy and a Girl), a series of slices (dare I say vignettes? I do) of domestic life which I saw from its very first episode. Imagine a French version of Men Behaving Badly, with just one couple, without the god-awful laddish elements, and with a surprising amount of slightly-clichéd charm. Anyway, its two stars were future spouses (in hindsight, this seems inevitable) Alexandra Lamy and, yes, Jean Dujardin. And 13 years later, out of nowhere (from this uninformed idiot’s perspective, anyway), Dujardin has won an Oscar. Fair to say I didn’t see that one coming (Johnny the house plant may have done, but I could never tell what he was thinking. Inscrutable, you see).
I find it almost painful to watch these back; it reinforces my habit of allowing myself to act and think as if places and people don’t change when I leave them (for example, ex-colleagues’ children are, in my mind, the exact same age now as when we stopped working together five or more years ago). And so if I’m not careful France, to me, is still a place where they’re about to switch from one currency to another, where male politicians carry on like rutting chimps, and where the party of the extreme right is led by a bigoted fool by the name of Le Pen.
In effect, I’m instantly taken back to the time in question, and want to tell myself to get a grip, and get out of the flat.
And to stop watering that bloody plant.
Here’s a tip-top post about those cheeky Davies brothers and their sibling rivalry / brutish fist-fights (depending on your point of view, not that the two are mutually exclusive). It’s over at the curiously titled, but always interesting, bashfulbadgers blog and I highly recommend you read it, once you navigate away from this here cacophony of semi-intelligible ranting.
No, don’t deny it. I know you’ll be off elsewhere. Secrets will only make things worse between us.
I’m frightening you aren’t I? You’re not a process man – I am.
Cartoon Network present The Hives. No, they really do.
I’m not sure there’s anything massively original or unique about The Hives, whether it’s their cartoonish character names, their heavily stylised looks, or the lead singer’s Mick Jagger mannerisms.
But instead of being a loose collection of dull clichés, they pitch their monochrome image, their furious, thrashy sound, and their tongue-in.cheek/so-serious-it-hurts anti-establishment lyrics in just the right way to create something loud, funny, and brilliantly, strangely joyful.
The songs are both throwaway and long-lasting, the titles alone – Die, All Right!; A.K.A I-D-I-O-T; The Hives Are Law, You Are Crime; Dead Quote Olympics – demanding attention.
They also have an interestingly contrived back story; namely that a recluse, Randy Fitzsimmons, summoned all five of them individually by letter to form the band, subsequently writing their songs for them and remaining behind the scenes. The inconvenient fact that ‘Randy Fitzsimmons’ is an officially-registered pseudonym of Nicholaus Arson’s is (a) just a means for Arson to collect Fitzsimmons’ royalty cheques on his behalf (of course), and/or (b) ignoring the fact that Arson probably isn’t his family name in the first place, and/or (c) taking all this far too seriously.
And so Howlin’ Pelle Almqvist screams his way through a range of generally disenfranchised, occasionally unintelligible lyrics (mangling their delivery as required: “This time you really got something, it’s such a clever idea / But it doesn’t mean it’s good because you found it at the liba-ra-ria“), almost unfailingly backed by machine gun percussion and jackhammer guitars.
Other songs to lock yourself in a small room with and listen loudly to are Diabolic Scheme (with its jarring, discordant strings), Antidote (“You want antidote / I got the poison” seeming to sum them up pretty well), Tick Tick Boom, and Abra Cadaver: I initially mis-heard the lyrics as “They tried to stick-a Dave Bowie inside-a me”, which I thought was taking the Jagger thing a bit too far.
Thanks to the magic of the internet (and reading) I’ve just discovered the wonderful Kinda Kinks mentioned my most recent post on its News & Rumours page. This has directly led to around 180 (at the time of writing) people heading over and reading, which is an impressive 25% of the average monthly visits to this site in a single day, people.
However, if only to keep my feet on the ground, still at the time of writing, 1 (one) of those 180 people has formally stated that they liked the post.
Swings and roundabouts, innit.
Just a year after a return to chart success with Lola, and with a move to a new record label (RCA) under their belts, late 1971 was clearly the right time for the Kinks to capitalise on their comeback, seize the moment, and stake their territory as mainstream rock and roll heroes.
Alternatively, they could release an album of songs inspired by those most reliable measures of commercial triumph in Britian, country and western music, and lyrics about urban regeneration, social exclusion, and mental illness.
Inevitably they went for the latter and the album, Muswell Hillbillies, tanked.
But frankly, and nearly 41 years later, who cares, because here we are dealing with a most rarefied form of genius.
Ray Davies addresses the personal and the global – or at least his own world of north London – opening with a cry for escape from the 20th century, its civil servants and threat of nuclear warfare (interesting juxtaposition). When he howls “This is the 20thcentury / Too much aggravation / This is the edge of insanity! / I’m a 20th century man but I don’t wanna be here” he sets out the platform for most of what follows. Paranoid waking nightmares, wishful escapism, eviction, unjust incarceration, a forced vacation (with a thankfully short-lived impersonation of a toothless blues singer), all of life’s joys are here.
Davies highlights the burgeoning obsession with weight and physical appearance (as well as the carb-free diet a good 30 years or so before ‘Dr’ Atkins brought it to the, er, masses), and concludes the album with a railing against imposed social change. We’re left with an impression of the world ‘out there’ besieging us with its demands, insistences, and constraints, and of a man on the brink of breakdown – in the midst of one, even – but who can still muster defiance against the powers that be.
This is a totally cohesive album, the seemingly disparate elements of music and lyrics combining perfectly. Davies takes the most bleak personal troubles and society’s ills, and somehow, somehow makes them humorous, inspiring, and comforting.
He even found space for a playful homage to that most British of institutions.