23 March, 2009

So... Jade

I'd imagine the schedulers at Dave are in a bit of a panic now. How many episodes of Mock the Week, Never Mind the Buzzcocks or any other number of topical comedy shows might need to be reviewed and possibly re-edited to remove the many comments made at Jade's expense over the years?

That's the problem with being a national joke: when the tide of public opinion changes, what was once fair game becomes hugely distasteful. Possibly a similar situation to how Princess Diana was treated by the press prior to August 1997 compared to post-September 1 the same year.

I thought the TV news that I saw handled the situation well. Just report the facts and avoid too much sentiment. But the texts to Teletext brought a lump to the throat... of sick. All 'goodbye dear angel' and 'there's another star in heaven'. I wonder how many of those people in faux-mourning were laughing at all those pig-face cartoons back in series 3 of Big Brother.

No young woman should suffer like that, and die so young. That's it's someone who's chosen to live every aspect of her life in the public eye is something I feel very uncomfortable about. It'll be interesting to see how history eventually supparises Jade's life, if at all. Hopefully there's be a lot less 'angel', but a significant less 'demon' too.

21 March, 2009

Two Old Men and a Keyboard

He's one of the most unsettling characters in pop. Slicked- back hair,, a pencil-thin moustache, round glasses and a blood-chilling stone-faced expression that makes him look like Boo Radley at a Harry Potter-meets-the-Third-Reich convention. Occasionally, he smiles - or rather, his mouth slides into a rictus grin. A shark might flash his teeth just as readily, but you're not sure he's pleased to see you. And yet, his schtick for Chris Lowe-like static performances and his Calvin Coolidge verbosity means that when he does anything at all, the fans chant his name, egging him on to give them just a little bit more than nothing at all.

His brother, Russ might be doing all the vocal acrobatics and crowd connectivity, but as Russ himself admits, it's Ron Mael who writes almost all of the songs. It's Ron Mael who designs these spectacular scale-leaping assault courses for Russ. And, thanks to the glasses and the moustache, it's Ron you recognise as 'that one from Sparks'.

Like, I suspect, everyone else, I first became aware of Sparks thanks to 'This Town Ain't Big Enough for the Both of Us'. It's a song I've long suspected might make as much sense backwards as forwards - it's a pop song that begins with a fade and the lyrics rattle along at an incomprehensible speed. It doesn't matter that it talks about zoos with tacky tigers, Hiroshima and cannibals that 'need their protein just like you do'. All you get from this wailing popstrel and his creepy brother is an air of menace that any number of screaming metalheads fail to deliver.

Seeing them perform live last night at the HMV Forum in Kentish Town (formerly just 'The Forum', I'm told), I got a sense of why this unique duo have lasted beyond that breakthrough hit. Combining Kimono My House (the album that gave us 'This Town...') and their most recent recording, Exotic Creatures of the Deep (which filled the first half of the evening), the three-hour set piled acerbic lyrics onto surreal imagery. It began with a queue of women strolling onto the stage with shopping trolleys and, courtesy of a video screen centre-stage, it continued with a piano-playing monkey, a hilarious set called 'Photoshop' where Ron tried to play an onscreen piano while an unseen designer kept mucking about with it in Photoshop (with the checkerboard background and correct palette options and everything!), and finished with a sequence where the covers to each of their albums were projected onto the screen in chronological order. Ron set fire to them and chuckled as each one burned, until the final one appeared (the cover to the album they'd just performed) and the crowd roared.

There were 21 of those albums. Not bad for a band known for one huge hit (and had Abba not blocked it from Number One with 'Waterloo', who knows how much bigger Sparks might have been?). And after a short break, they continued with a full performance of Kimono My House - which, thanks to that incinerating slide-show of their covers, I was surprised to learn was their third album!

They might be famous for their bouncy jazz-operatic pop melodies, but their lyrics are far removed from the moon-swoon-Mills&Boon content of most pop. One track from their latest album sounds like Goldfrapp. Opening with the line 'I love you and only you' was a disarmingly romantic sentiment for Sparks - until the chorus came in with the title: 'I Can't Believe That You Would Fall for All the Crap in This Song'. 'She Got Me Pregnant' featured the women from the opening number, this time dressed as Ron Mael, with huge pregnancy bumps. As they surrounded him, Ron began to look nervous. The only other time he looked like that was when his brother put his arm around him.

We might think of Ron Mael as sinister and scowling, but from the front row we could see that Russell is hardly the fluffier one either. It's not that his smile never reaches his eyes - occasionally it barely reaches his mouth, being more a pained grimace. His mania, bouncing around the stage conducting the music, is a bit like Jake Shears of the Scissor Sisters (who no doubt about it are hugely influenced by the band, even if they haven't quite matched their brilliance). Yet this is not a sour or cynical band. I got the impression theirs is a joke shared. At one point, during an extended rendition of 'Equator' from Kimono My House, Russell encouraged the audience to sing some of the jazz bits. It might have reminded us of Freddie Mercury's show-stealling rapport with the fans at Live Aid. Except here, the audience didn't quite know the tune, prompting Russell to sing 'Siiing in keeey'.

The fans loved him all the more.

So then, after the bitter lyrics and vaguely threatening performance, we were left with two brothers, Ron and Russell. One is in his late fifties; the other his early sixties. But as with Grace Jones, who I was lucky enough to see live earlier this year, I was stunned by how much more energy was onstage with these 'older' performers than I ever get from much younger acts. It's not just nostalgia - they don't make 'em like that any more. I know so little about Sparks, aside from about five tracks from their long career that managed to enter my psyche. But I'm far more interested in them than any of the dreary Coldplay-alikes around now.

18 March, 2009

Odd Outings

So, my other half (a mathematically inaccurate term, as if he's the other half, someone's definitely dividing the portions in my favour!) recently started a new job. On his first day, he was accosted by a colleague who'd heard he's a Doctor Who fan and that he's dating me. This seemed to be of some interest to him because, as the guy explained to someone else 'his boyfriend played Zagreus!'

[Followed by an explanation of why this was funny, because blah blah blah.]

So my poor beloved was outed as Whoover and Poof in one go. Not that he's ashamed of either, but it'd have been nice to have been asked if he minded first, I'd imagine.

Outed by Zagreus, though. That's hilarious!

Would You Recommend This Book?

Being a lazy-arse, copying something I posted on Facebook.

This is inspired by a list of books doing the rounds, based on the Big Read the BBC did a few years back, which shows the big difference between the books people think they SHOULD have read, and the ones they would actually enjoy.

In the world of websites, the notion that a website is doing well is often measured in recommendations - ie, if you'd recommend it to a friend, then you'd stake your reputation on it.

Therefore, this is a list of ten books I'd recommend, in no particular order. They might not all be to your tastes, but if you like the idea, why not set up your own recommendation list?

- To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Yeah, yeah, it's one of those ones everyone should have read, but I genuinely love it. The innocence that views the corruption in a small town and the fact that you soon forget it's a middle-aged woman telling the story. made all the more fun when you realise it's semi-autobiographical, and the annoying kid from next door is based on Harper Lee's childhood friend Truman Capote.

- The Long Firm by Jake Arnott
Gangster epic set across three decades in seedy Soho. If you're not the kind of person who'll be put off by the sordid sex scenes in the first chapter, or the graphic violence in later chapters, then you might appreciate the way Jake Arnott weaves his narratives with connected characters.

- 84 Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff
A book I first read after seeing the author on Wogan in the early 1980s. It's a collection of letters between a New York writer with a love of books and a London bookshop who sells the books she wants at a reasonable price. I now have three radio adaptations, a TV version and the film version too. Love it to bits.

- Russian Roulette by James Mitchell
Hard-to-find pulp novel written by James Mitchell based on the characters he created for the TV series Callan. Callan works for a nasty branch of the security services. On the day his optometrist tells him he's going blind, Callan's boss tells him they've sold him to the Russians in exchange for another agent. They've sent three of their most deadly assassins to kill him, and he's out on his own without a gun.

- The Battersea Park Road to Enlightenment by Isobel Losada
True story of a woman who is bullied by a friend into attending a spiritual weekend, and ends up road-testing a load of alternative therapies - some good, some rotten.

- Day of the Triffids by Joh Wyndham
Obvious, but it's my favourite sci-fi novel.

- Bette and Joan: The Divine Feud by Shaun Considine
Charting the legendary rivalry between Bette Davies and Joan Crawford by a man who met them both.

- The Beatles: Day-by-Day, Song-by-Song, Record-by-Record by Craig Cross
Every Beatles fan MUST own this book. It's an Asperger's dream. A few clunky typos, but we can forgive that for some really useful research.

- The Days are Just Packed by Bill Watterson
Any Calvin & Hobbes compendium is worth it; this just happened to be the one with the best title.

- IT by Stephen King
Gotta have a King in there, and it's as much an odyssey as that Tolkien crap. I haven't read it all the way through in a while, but I read certain passages on Hallowe'en every year.