Saturday, 13 February 2010

Music that sounds like a Train Crash

Normally, I like music that sounds like a train crash. I like Tom Waits at his most shambolic, hitting anvils, playing saws, singing as if he’s been gargling a mixture of Drano and cat litter and sounding for all the world as if his band’s collective wheels are about to fall off like a police car in a Keystone Cops movie. I like Sonic Youth, a band for whom the phrase “shimmering cathedrals of feedback” was invented. I remember Quicksilver Messenger Service, back in the sixties, ending their gigs by propping their guitars face-in against the stacks and then walking off until roadies braved the screaming noise or the speakers exploded. I like the Jesus and Mary Chain and My Bloody Valentine, who played at such volumes that the feedback was uncontrollable. So it always surprises me when I get out my old copy of the Beach Boys’ Surf’s Up and listen to Disney Girls and fetch up weeping uncontrollably with all the hair on the back of my neck standing on end. And it worries me a little at Christmas, when I play Frank Sinatra’s Greatest Hits in my shop instead of Metallica, and Moon River and Summer Wind stop me in my tracks. And when my kid watches The Wizard of Oz and Judy Garland sings Somewhere Over the Rainbow I have to remind myself that I’m a married man with no gay subtext that I’m aware of.

I’m not supposed to like shit like that, am I? I’m not supposed to tap my feet when Robbie Williams sings Beyond the Sea over the closing credits of Finding Nemo. I’m supposed to enjoy Terrible Canyons of Static by Godspeed You! Black Emperor; I’m supposed to love Too Drunk to Fuck, by the Dead Kennedys. The way Sonic Youth close Daydream Nation with Eliminator Jr. is meant to fill me with awe. And usually it does. Melody? Fuck off. Tunes are for girls. That’s the way it’s supposed to be, isn’t it? When Jeff Buckley holds that note for about five minutes in Hallelujah, he’s just doing some kind of Freudian musical one-upmanship thing as far as his dad is concerned. Take the fucker off and give me People=Shit by Slipknot instead, for God’s sake, I’m supposed to say. But I don’t.

I guess we all like a tune we can hum to sometimes. There, that’s my credibility fucked forever.

So let’s fuck with it a bit more. The X-Factor is high art, and I love it. And Simon Cowell has done more to manipulate British musical taste than anyone since the glory days of John Peel (in an antichrist sort of way, of course.) Don’t get me wrong; I mean, I don’t like that silly girl’s version of Hallelujah, nor do I own any Hear’say records (although I’d slip Myleene Klass one out of pity, I suppose. God, the possibilities. Me, her and Crack Whore Bronti. Although Jane Austen’s hitting back next week with a revised version of Scents and Sensimilla, a hydroponic love story for Generation X). And I’m always wary that some contestant or other will offend my ears with a version of Whitney Houston’s I will Always Love You, and I’ll have to hit the mute button until they take her outside and shoot her. But the programme itself is a hoot from start to finish.

But it might be slightly better if they abandoned all pretence that it isn’t the Arena and we’re not the new Romans. They could have lions eat the rejects (especially Benny Dictus and Benny D Carter, the hymn-rapping duo who have beards but no moustaches and are there because the Lord told them to do it), or soldiers could machine-gun the wheelchair-bound grandmothers the contestants have dragged out of the Autumn Days Nursing Home for the day to tug on our collective heartstrings. They could have slow motion replays, like a Peckinpah western. It’s a no from me, says Louis. Fire! Budda-budda-budda, go the rapid-fire armalites, and we watch as Ethel Gumption is lifted from her mobile life support system by a fusillade of shots, and sails gracefully across the stage as her blood spatters the white curtains before her twisted, shredded, wrinkly old corpse comes to rest in front of Dannii Minogue, like a perfectly posed heap of rags in front of a glorious living monument to silicone. (“Hey, Dannii, look at her! This is what time will do to you! You can’t escape its evil clutches, no matter how stupidly you spell your name, no matter how much botox you pump into yourself. Let’s have a War Against Time! Because you’re worth it.”) They could practice decimation in the queue for the auditions to save a few hours, and at the same time they could teach newsreaders and journalists the correct meaning of the word, which is to kill one in every ten. (“Hurricane LaToya has decimated Cuba.” What? One in every ten Cubas has been killed by weather? Astonishing.)

Anyway, That’s my Saturday night sorted. Buy the lottery tickets, get a Chinese takeaway and a few bottles of Wifebeater, go home, check the football results on Teletext, empty the dog and tell the kid to go play in the traffic while I watch telly, eat spare ribs and wipe my greasy fingers on the sofa cushions. Life is such a wonderful, inspiring gift sometimes.

The X-Factor is a reality show that bears no relation to reality whatsoever. We know that the kids with white teeth and perfect haircuts come from stage schools, and that they will win. We know the salad-dodgers from Droitwich who want to be Britney Spears will never achieve their ambition because they look like hippos in tutus and have the sort of dentistry that would allow them to eat an apple through a tennis racquet, so we shoot their grandmother as a belated punishment for polluting the human race with such talentless ugliness. Perfect. But it’s not reality. If The X-Factor was a watch, it would be folded in half over the branch of a tree growing in front of a fireplace with a train coming out of it, and we wouldn’t be able to see it anyway because they’d have put an apple wearing a bowler hat in the way. As such, it’s high art. I rest my case.

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Saturday, 6 February 2010


Mountains. Lovely things, but what’s the fucking point of them? I guess they help the jigsaw-puzzle industry, and they’re useful for chocolate box lids, but really, they’re just lumps of rock that encourage a certain sort of male response because they look a bit like enormous breasts. A particular type of man will see a mountain and immediately respond with a visible flare of testosterone like a hormone-fart that makes it imperative for him to climb the fucking thing “because it’s there.” Men are pretty stupid that way. Reminds me of an old Goon Show episode, in which Colonel Bloodnock and Neddy Seagoon wanted to climb a mountain higher than Everest. They decided to build one in Regent’s Park, but had to give up after thirteen thousand feet because they discovered they didn’t have planning permission. So they went out to India and turned Mount Everest onto its side because it was taller that way. Spike Milligan was a fucking genius, but I’m straying from my point.

We have stairs in our houses, for fucking hell’s sake. Use them. Look at the statistics. If you live in a house with an upstairs bit, it’s probably about ten feet higher than the downstairs bit, yes? Now look how many times you go upstairs every day. “Oooh, I need the lavvy!” “Gosh, I’ve left my reading glasses on the bedside table/my book in the bathroom/the dog shut in the bedroom.” How many times do you climb the stairs on a daily basis? Bet it’s about ten. So over the course of a year, you climb the stairs 3650 times, or about 36500 vertical feet, and that doesn’t count the coming down again bits! And Mount Everest is only 30,000 feet high, give or take a few feet for erosion, isostasy, and the complex interaction of various geo-physical processes. Congratulations, you’re a mountaineer! Everest conquered every ten months in the comfort of your own home, even if you’re old and wretched and have to use a Stannah Stairlift to do it. And there’s no need for support teams, large injections of cash from the British Geographical Society or boring documentaries on BBC Four about how you survived getting to the landing by eating your dead friends’ corpses on the way up. You aren’t going to need to hang a bivouac off the banisters when you’re stuck in a blizzard on the ninth stair, and you aren’t going to need expensive rescuing unless your kid’s left a roller skate at the top or your stairlift throws a cog halfway up. On the way up, you can hum a little tune, or stroke the cat that’s lying across the tenth step like a potential python in a snakes and ladders game. You don’t have to worry about avalanches or snowstorms in the bedroom, or the sudden thaw caused by the Föhn Effect. And when you get to the top, you can have a little lie down, or you can take a cup of tea and a biscuit up with you, or a partner for even further bending and stretching exercises in the bedroom. So if you climb the equivalent of Mount Everest on a yearly basis, you’re a better man than Sir Edmund Hillary or that Tenzing fellow, or any of those Ranulph Fiennes types, who probably live in bungalows anyway because they’re fed up with climbing stuff.

There; after a few days ripping the piss out of women, that’s the male imperative sorted, too. So, ladies, don’t marry a man with a bungalow, because they get all sorts of uncontrollable urges. A man with a staircase is much more straightforward. He’ll beat his chest and ululate like Tarzan every time he gets to the landing: “Hey, I conquered the stairs again, love! What a man I am! Do you like chicken? Well suck this, it’s foul. Hurrr-hurrr-hurrr.” They say the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach. It’s not. Generally speaking it’s straight through the ribcage, but if you don’t want to spend a few years in Holloway, just encourage him to run up and down the stairs until a heart-piston comes thudding through his chest wall. Then you can cash the insurance policy and spend the rest of your life eating Terry’s All Gold and watching The Jeremy Kyle Show and Sex and the City or a recurring video clip of a revolving shoe while you tap your cigarettes into his cremation urn so that the poor fat bastard can carry on piling on the pounds even after he’s dead.

Fuck You, I Won’t Do What You Tell Me.

Schools. Don’t they just get right on your tit end? It’s autumn now. It must be, because my kid went back to school last week for the autumn term. So, after a summer spent running about and laughing and staying up till one o’clock in the morning watching Spongebob and eating popcorn, my seven-year-old daughter is glum and serious again. We went to Matalan and got her lots of dark clothes, because that’s what they insist she wears at school, because they want to take hold of any intimations of originality and character and imagination and batter it the fuck out of her. And all her friends. We got a note home in her schoolbag yesterday. “School photographs will be taken on the 10th of September. Please ensure your child is dressed in appropriate uniform so that he/she is clothed according to school requirements for the group photo.” Translation: make sure your kid doesn’t stand out in any way whatsoever.

FUCK RIGHT OFF! I want to reply. I want to send her in bubblegum pink. I want to let her wear her earrings and dye her hair green. She had her ears pierced in the summer (at her request), and dyed hair and earrings are of course against the school rules. I’m sure that by the time she’s fifteen she’ll want to wear black as a matter of choice, but right now she doesn’t, and I really don’t see why she should. I’d sooner see a picture of a group of kids expressing themselves than I would a bunch of unsmiling children, all dressed alike and lined up in neat little rows like soldiers on the way to the Somme.

So, school is getting on my nerves just now. Some aspects of the educational system haven’t changed a bit since I was there forty years or so back. Why do they want a bunch of soulless drones, obediently obeying every piece of crap they try to shove into their little heads? I remember the girls’ school up the road when I was a teenager. They banned mini-skirts, but then maxi-skirts became fashionable (it was a long time ago), so they banned them too. Then midi-length skirts became the latest thing, and the school fretted itself into a lather of indecision because fashion was suddenly dictating that girls should obey the school’s skirt-length rule, and the school couldn’t do a thing about it. It was a kind of accidental anarchy. So they changed focus and banned calf-length boots instead, insisting that girls wore ordinary shoes throughout the winter so their legs could stay cold.

Why? For fuck’s sake, why? Is there any sense to this? Not from where I’m standing. My poor kid. All the other poor kids. Poor future generations, going to their fate like aircraft passengers watching the Twin Towers get closer and closer. But then I wonder if the twats that are concocting the rules now are the same people who rebelled against them as children. People who are, well, my age really, I guess. Where do our memories go when we get old? Why do we become such a bunch of spineless hypocrites as soon as middle-age sets in? Sometimes I despair, I really do.

But then we live in a democracy, which is a political state in which you’re free to do as you’re told, and they start them off young. So where does it begin? School? And who’s going to be the first schoolkid to say no, I won’t get on Zebedee’s magic merry-go-round? Who’s going to say fuck debt, fuck banks, fuck council tax and mortgage providers, fuck the media-endorsed celebrity culture that encourages fruitless aspiration for its own sake, fuck the government that encourages us to shop benefit cheats while our elected representatives rob us blind? Fuck the fucking lot of it. I don’t care what sort of car you drive or how much your house is worth or what all the Z-list celebrities are up to or how well-adjusted your child is. Well-adjusted to what, exactly? To the rules of a government that encourages inequality, avarice, aggression, invasion, corporate robbery, unhappiness and the strangling at birth of any form of free thought, creativity or originality? To a system that encourages teenagers to go and die in some godforsaken foreign field for a cause that basically comes down to money or dubious politics?

Go and look at your kids, or your grandkids, nieces and nephews or whatever. No, I mean really look at them. Don’t just peek over the top of your newspaper or scowl at them when they interrupt whatever you’re watching. Stop reading this shit now, and go look at them. Look at their trusting little faces; look at their perfect skin, the way they get their fingers to do clever things like writing and drawing. Little everyday miracles, so they are. You shove toast and jam or Big Macs and Coke and pizza in one end, they shit out the bits they don’t need and the rest gets turned into human being, and their sweet little DNA systems put everything in its right place. Everything grows perfectly – fingernails, toes and hair, eyes, ears and noses. They’re such prosaic, quotidian little earthly miracles that we take them for granted on a moment-by-moment basis. They’ll grow and leave and do silly things and sensible things. They’ll become Mother Teresa or Fred West or whatever, but until they do they’re ours, not the school’s, not the government’s, so for fuck’s sake stop letting this putrefied society of ours condition their little minds.

Shit, I’ve been reading the Beano Book of Political Ideology again, can’t you just tell?

Throttling a Yorkie

I was thinking about explorers, what with all this stair-mountaineering. I was wondering what happens if, when they’re hanging from a bivouac tent five thousand feet up the north face of the Eiger, all nicely tucked up in a sleeping bag, they suddenly want to go to the lavatory. And what happens if you’re walking across the Antarctic ice-cap, and it’s 200 degrees below zero, you’re dressed in eighteen layers of thermal clothing and you feel the turtle’s head? “Ooh, I need to choke a Mars Bar!” you cry, but what can you do? And in space, there you are, floating in a tin can like Major Tom, when you suddenly get the overwhelming urge to give birth to Meatloaf’s daughter. But you’re encased in a spacesuit, in which even a fart would have to live with you for a few days.
What do you do? Are there, somewhere discreetly hidden away in the back of explorer shops, little shelves filled with grown-up nappies? When Buzz Aldrin stepped upon the surface of the moon and talked about taking a giant leap for mankind, was he wearing man-sized Pampers? It deflates the myth a little, doesn’t it? Did his Mom have to clean him up and change him when he got home? When Richard Branson was ballooning around the world, did he just hang his arse out and throttle his Yorkie over the edge of the basket? Did Titus Oates actually go for a short walk, or was he ejected from the tent by Captain Scott because he’d made a mess on his babygro? (Let’s face it, he didn’t go for a short walk at all. They ate him.)

Maybe these explorer types have something in common. Perhaps, instead of spending all this money boldly going where no man has gone to before, they should be staying home with their computers, logged on to
“Ooh, Buzz, hazzums messed your ickle spacesuit then?”
“Yes, mommy. I’ve been a dirty little spaceboy. Change me! Change me!”
“Come here little sweetums. Let’s make it all better.”

Cleanliness is next to Godliness, so they say, which must make all these explorers heathen scum, judging by the smell that must have come out of Neil Armstrong’s spacesuit when they finally unscrewed the faceplate after a fortnight or so of being hermetically sealed in with his own effluvia. And that particular cliché has some basis in truth too. Imagine Jesus, hanging on the cross…
“My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” he cries, and this time, God replies:
“Well, have you seen the state of yourself? You’re not coming up here looking like that. You’ve got blood running down your face, a hole in your side and all those modern body-piercings that quite honestly make you look silly. And if I’m not mistaken, that loincloth needs changing, and there’s a television crew over there. You’re supposed to be starting a new religion, not hanging about feeling sorry for yourself. Are you going to spend the whole of the Easter Holidays looking like that? I’ll be glad when school starts and we can get you back into uniform. Frankly, son, you’re just making a public spectacle of yourself. They aren’t laughing with you, Jeeze, they’re laughing at you. I don’t know what your mother would say. Fuck off and get resurrected. Come back in three days when Mary Magdalene’s cleaned you up a bit.”

So Jesus wasn’t so much grounded, more kind of earthed. For thirty-three years. Puts Josef Fritzl to shame, really.
“Dad, I don’t wanna go down there! Dad, please!”
“There. That’ll teach you to move in mysterious ways, won’t it? I told you, no more dancing. And for My sake, get yourself a girlfriend. That Magdalene woman’s nice. Bit of a foot-fetishist, but give me a couple of thousand years to invent nylons and the internet and there’ll be a place for her. All this wandering around the desert with twelve blokes. The neighbours are starting to talk, you know, and you’ll be as famous as John Lennon one day.” (Beatles fans in South Carolina are demanding apologies from the Church for this remark, and spontaneous outbreaks of bible-burning have been reported from Alabama.)

The Osama Bin Laden Fun Hour

Terrorism is just politics with the gloves off, really. One man’s freedom fighter is another man’s terrorist; one man’s mate is another man’s person, and so forth, and terrorists are just men behaving stupidly. So why not be nice about it? Stop demanding the release of people who are just going to carry on doing silly things. Stop breaking stuff. Stop trying to bring religion into it. If terrorists started being polite and pleasant, and made their demands a bit more realistic, they might win a few more popularity contests, too.

“Hello. It’s Mrs Bin Laden. We’ve kidnapped Gordon Brown and we’ll send him back in pieces unless you get the council to trim the hedges on Hampstead Heath a bit more. Please, I should add. Only my Osama got stung by a wasp in his hideout last week, and the pathways are an absolute disgrace. I was up there taking him his sandwiches the other day, and I saw a dear little old lady fall and break her poor hip because she tripped on a root. Anyway, I do go on, don’t I? So if you want that nice Mr Brown back, get the bushes tidied please. You know I mean it, I’ve got a history with Bushes. Thanks ever so much.”

Dear Mrs Ban Loden,
Thank you for your voicemail message. Of course we agree to your demands. We have sent cleanup squads to Hampstead Heath, and if you’d like to send personnel from Al Quaida’s Health and Safety Executive to the area, I’m sure you’ll agree that we’ve done an excellent job. By the way, I never realised that was your son up there. I thought he was an eccentric hippie hermit left over from the sixties. We have arranged to take him into care and have given him food and drink, and our fostering and support services are standing ready to assist you in any way you wish. He may need specialist care teams, because he’s been quite a naughty little boy, I gather. In the meantime, I would advise you to contact Social Services in order to check his entitlement to government benefits. On a tangential matter, I have some Americans in reception who would like a little chat with him when he has a free moment. If you wish to avoid any unpleasantness from our rather over-zealous allies, my advice to you is to get him to say he’s feeling a little poorly so we can release him on compassionate grounds. Maybe he could chip a fingernail, then we could send him to Libya. Now, can we have our Mr Brown back at your earliest convenience, please? In one piece, if you’d be so kind.
Yours sincerely,
Boris Johnson.

See? Wouldn’t the world be a nicer place? Actually, if all terrorist organisations were made to have Health and Safety sections, most acts of international terror would be swamped in paperwork and frustration, and thus thwarted at board-meeting level.
“So, Mr Bin Laden, four planes, yes? Do you realise that under Section 42 of the Hostages (Comfort) Directive 2008, each hostage must be given nourishment every three and a half hours. And you must ensure that their seat belts remain fastened until impact, although the need for nature-breaks must be respected at all times. So if even just one of them is out of his or her seat, you’ll just have to circle New York and line up again until they’re all sitting down. Do the hostages have baby-changing facilities? And what are you planning to do with the crew? Oh, really, Mr Bin Laden. Have all your operatives been on the half-day Stanley Knife (Basic Instructions for Use) Course? Have they been issued with protective handwear? No? How disappointing. Right, postpone the entire operation until you’ve complied with the relevant coursework. Let’s re-schedule this meeting for, let’s say, September the twelfth.”


Men are psychologically suspect creatures. All this pent-up aggression and testosterone. Then they refer to each other as “mate,” as in “Fancy a pint, mate?” or “You’re my best mate.” Are they secretly trying to get in touch with their feminine side? Your mate is someone you mate with. You share your life, bed and occasional bodily fluids with them. And then there’s goatees, the trendy, modern facial fashion accessory favoured by bikers, heavy metal musicians and those sorts of chaps who ooze masculinity in all respects other than tidying their beards into something resembling a vagina hanging beneath their noses. Perhaps it’s wishful thinking, or a reminder of the male sexual imperative, like a carrot dangled in front of a donkey. I guess that’s the level male psychology works on, but it’s weird and disquieting. Put it this way: when I watch thrice-copied, blurry porn, the last thing I want in my head is a mental image of Rolf Harris eating a banana.

So why do so many gay men have goatees? Yes, George Michael, I’m talking to you. Is it the height of gay perversion, or what? Once every few weeks, when the feeling overwhelms you, do you and Boy George stuff your goateed mouths with smoked salmon, assume the 69 position and give each other a fish-job, just so you both realise you aren’t really missing anything?

I read a life-changing statistic when I was about twenty-two. Clean-shaven men, I was informed, spend a cumulative period of approximately three months of their lives shaving. Fuck that for a game of soldiers, I thought, and I’ve had a beard ever since. It’s doubly useful, because for most of my adult life I’ve had more chins than the Beijing Yellow Pages, so my beard acts as device of concealment, like Demis Roussos’s kaftan used to. But the thing with beards is that they’re essentially labour-saving devices as far as I’m concerned. I don’t have to fanny about with all this shaving business (if you’ll pardon the Freudian slip there), and it saves me time and effort. I own one of those Remington combined anal hair and pile trimmers, and once every couple of months I go over my entire head with it, taking care that my ears don’t wind up like Vincent Van Gogh’s or something out of Reservoir Dogs. Basically I strim myself from the neck up. Takes about five minutes, makes me look downright lovely, apart from the odd flesh-wound. And I reckon I’ve saved about two months of shaving time already, most of which I haven’t noticed because I’ve spent them asleep, setting my alarm for a minute later every day since 1977.

So what’s the point of beards that take more effort to maintain than shaving would? I’m referring to those daft pieces of sculpted face-furniture favoured by male RnB singers. Those stupid little strips of chin-minge that look as if they’ve been drawn on with a magic marker. One slip of the hand, one slightly quivery hangover and you’re fucked. Maybe it’s a status symbol. Maybe what it tries to say is “I’ve had someone else do this. I go to the barber every morning and say ‘make me look as stupid as possible, please. Make my face look like a Brazilian supermodel’s growler.’”

But the worst mistake of all is made by men who have beards but shave their moustaches off. Why? Do they have learning disabilities? Are they software engineers? Did God tell them to do it? Is it a Christian code, or just bad judgement? Do they actually want to go around looking like Plymouth Brethren or those guys from Amishland who still eat with pitchforks and fuck horses? If God wants to mark his chosen ones out for special notice, he should make them wear lemon popsicles round their necks or something, so we’d know to avoid them, but in the meantime, the beard-but-no-moustache combination makes me run very fast in the opposite direction before their owners start asking me if I’ve given my life to Jesus yet. It’s the facial equivalent of those fish symbols you see on the back of the vicar’s Skoda Fellatio.

I’ll close with an apology to all the red-blooded men sitting out there. The wife’s gone round to her mother’s for the evening, the kids have grown up and left home at last, and there you are, looking forward to half an hour spent battering the maggot in front of left handed websites before you go down the pub. But for some reason all you can think about is Frank Zappa eating saveloys. Sorry about that.

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