Eine Kleine Nichtmusik

Witty and pertinent observations on matters of great significance OR Incoherent jottings on total irrelevancies OR Something else altogether OR All of the above

Monday, March 30, 2009

The Normblog Posterity Poll

Norm explains the rules of his poll here. The idea is that if humankind were to die out, which artists should represent the best of what we have achieved? Twelves votes spread over 9-12 categories this:

1. Poet
2. Playwright
3. Novelist
4. Composer
5. Jazz musician
6. Rock or pop star/group
7. Country music ditto
8. Movie director
9. Painter
10. Photographer
11. Sculptor
12. Architect

OK, here goes:

1. Poet - TS Eliot
2. Playwright - Shakespeare, Tom Stoppard
3. Novelist - Jane Austen
4. Composer - Beethoven, Wagner
5. Jazz musician - Thelonious Monk
6. Rock or pop star/group - Frank Zappa, Nordman
7. Country music ditto - transfer to 2
8. Movie director - Chuck Jones
9. Painter - Durer
10. Photographer - transfer to 4
11. Sculptor - Andy Goldsworthy
12. Architect - transfer to 6

Thanks to Lisa for tipping me off to the existence of this poll.

P.S. As far as I can see there is no facility on Norm's blog for leaving comments, so I have emailed my list to him. Maybe it's my broswer. Maybe it's his blog setup. Whatever. You may need to do the same. What? Of course you're going to enter. You have, after all, until the end of tomorrow (Tuesday 31 March).

The fractal geometry of nature - in very small writing

Further to my quantum weirdness of last week, I have just been reading this interesting piece in New Scientist. Last week's piece suggested that there really is an objective reality but when you're not looking at it it behaves in a very odd way indeed. Today's article implies that in a lot of places one might think of looking, the universe isn't there (even though we imagined it would be). Don't fret, though, this actually makes it all rather less complicated, at least it appears to.

A heartfelt tribute to Israeli innovation

While Israelis in recent years have on the whole been more renowned for what they have stolen from others than for anything they have created for themselves, from time to time we are reminded that they can come up with something fresh and new. How many nations, for example, can boast the invention of a whole new class of war crime? There are nations with thousands of years of history which can make no such boast, yet one which even seventy years ago was wholly a piece of fantasy has risen from total non-existence to make this great contribution to 21st century civilisation.

Mazel Tov, ladies and gentlemen of Israel. If Israel's claim to this remarkable feat is upheld, I trust those responsible will receive appropriate and proportionate rewards.

In the country of Learsi, Planet Htrae

When the Israeli police protect a fascist march through an Arab town they're "protecting democracy".

Meawhile they burst children's balloons and arrest adults to stop them peacefully celebrating Jerusalem's designation as "Capital of Arab Culture 2009".

So demonstrations of racial hatred (by Jews) are protected under the constitution, while peaceful celebrations (by Arabs) are not. And still they try to kid on that this place is "secular" and a "democracy".

On Bizarro World, maybe. Back here on Earth it's just a theocratic joke.

Canada - good things, bad things

I've been on something of a Canadian kick this week. On Facebook I befriended a cousin of mine I haven't seen in real life since 1970 and we've been swapping messages: me telling her about the state of the British banking system and my employers in particular, while she has been clueing me up on anime films, on which she is completing a thesis. One of clips she sent me was this one, which I have to admit is very impressive both visually and musically, though you won't gain much idea of the plot to come by watching it.

Before that, I had been reading Home From The Vinyl Cafe by Stuart McLean and enjoying it immensely. The Vinyl Cafe stories are based on a Canadian radio series and are based around the central characters of record shop proprietor Dave and his wife Morley. The blurbs on British editions all seem to compare the stories to Alexander McCall Smith's No 1 Ladies Detective Agency, which is nearly right: they are actually very close in style to his 44 Scotland Street series. I shall certainly be reading the others.

And before any of that, we had the Canadian Minister of Multiculturalism and Immigration (is that not a wonderful title?) Jason Kenney banning George Galloway from Canada. It seems odd, to me at least, that Mr Kenney, who supports the People's Mujahideen of Iran, banned in Europe as a terrorist organisation, should ban George for his support of Hamas, apparently similarly banned in Canada despite being the legally-elected government of Gaza. George, meanwhile, seems to think it's his views on Afghanistan which are the problem. Personally I think the problem is that Kenney hasn't learned that the best way to generate instant publicity for someone is to ban them from entering the country.

Mind you, that isn't the only problem with Mr Kenney.

Time was when Americans labouring under the yoke of the Bush regime would look to Canada as a bastion of freedom over the border. I wonder if they still do that today?

Friday, March 27, 2009

Goodbye Mr (& Mrs) Chip

And I can't let the week pass without mentioning a couple of good friends, Americans living in Edinburgh, who have sadly been unable to get their visas renewed again and so have had to beat a retreat to Colorado. I first encountered Chip and Eddie Clark as pupils of Hilary's at Stevenson College (where they became known as Chip and Pin). They became firm friends, with our children as much as with us (they're - rather young - grandparents themselves). They regularly came and supported us in any perfoming we were doing (they were often to be seen at Edinburgh Symphony Orchestra concerts). They took us to The Picture Of Dorian Gray in last year's festival; they introduced us to the delights of I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change and indeed to Wicked!, as well as to the redoubtable talents of the Remarkable Farkle McBride. Chip conducted ESO in the premiere of his symphony "Figuratively Speaking" last summer. Eddie (the more talkative of the pair) would regale us with stories of her childhood on a Wyoming ranch, literally on horseback before she was walking unaided; Chip would talk about being taught Korean by the US Army so he could monitor North Korean radio traffic; and they both reminisced (not too nostalgically!) about their days delivering Strippagrams (sorry, no pictures). They gave us much love and friendship (and a good enchilada recipe) and we'll miss them hugely. They flew out to the USA on Wednesday, and we;re rather hoping that as they're in Colorado we might manage to meet while we're in the state in a couple of weeks' time for skiing.

All the best, guys.

Cabaret - Edinburgh Playhouse

"Samantha Barks emerges triumphant as Sally Bowles" said one of the posters. Well, there was certainly plenty of Samantha emerging tonight as Sally, and it says much for the production that her cleavage wasn't the most memorable thing in it. Samantha, you may recall, came third in I'd Do Anything, the BBC's casting show for Oliver! And I bet now she's glad she did, as while I thought she would have made the best Nancy she makes a fantastic Sally, occupying the role just as thoroughly as Liza Minnelli. (It is probably not coincidence that she got to meet Minnelli during the BBC show.) And as far as co-stars go, I have trouble imagining Rowan Atkinson as Fagin (I know everyone says he's great: I just can't see him in the part) while the Emcee in Cabaret is a role for which Wayne Sleep is brilliantly suited. While I'm sure they've ramped up the choreography for him (especially in If You Could See Her) it came as a slight shock to find he can sing too. The dancing in general was first-rate, with the routine for Mein Herr especially stunning, with the dancers hurling themselves (or being pushed) from the top of a tall flight of steps and being caught by their colleagues. A cliche of team-building exercises perhaps (I'm suddenly remembering the bit in Mean Girls) but to do it look convincingly and without hesitation must have taken a lot of practice.

Back to Samantha, because it's very much her show as Sally. She can act, she can sing, she can dance, she looks fabulous: why would anyone want to cast anyone else in the role if she were available? She really can act: I know she showed acting skills in I'd Do Anything, but to show them in a three-minute song is one thing, to show them in a two-hour show made up of songs and dialogue is quite another. She was always completely believable as the vulnerable but determined Sally Bowles: and it's nice to hear the lines spoken by someone English rather than American. (OK, ner-ner-ner-ner-ner, she's Manx rather than English if you're a pedant.) Diction clear as a bell, which is always nice. And as we were only three rows back I can confirm that she has a very wide variety of facial expressions.

The production, by Bill Kenwright, was terrific. The set was extremely versatile, with a grid of rooms at the back which served as Fraulein Schneider's rooms to let, as private parts of the Kit-Kat Club, as streets and shop windows. Some of the Kit-Kat Club routines were wonderful: no, actually all of the Kit-Kat Club routines were wonderful. Tomorrow Belongs To Me still chilled, and the ending with the former denizens of the club being herded into a gas chamber was a magical piece of theatre. As the Emcee puts it in his final appearance, "I bet you've forgotten all about your own problems, just as I promised". Oh, and the programme is full of excellent pictures of real 1930s Berlin decadent nightlife.

So to sum up: Oliver's loss was our gain. Cabaret is worth seeing just for Samantha Barks, but it's so much more than just a star vehicle, star though she undeniably is. I'm only sorry that I'm rehearsing tomorrow and doing a concert on Saturday so can't try to see it again. Mind you, there is Glasgow next week...... Oh, just go and see it.


UPDATE: I did in fact manage to see the matinee today. I got a seat one row further forward than last time (what, me, obsessive about viewing lingerie-clad ladies? it was cheaper, darling) and enjoyed it all just as much, There was a larger but rather less responsive audience (mind you, getting into the Kit-Kat Club mood in mid-afternoon must be hard enough for the pros onstage, never mind the Edinburgh matriarchs in the stalls). There was a girl of primary school age sitting behind me, who was asking her Mum intelligent if innocent questions about the Nazis at the interval. And now I wonder whether the intelligent but innocent questions about prostitution, abortion, homo- and bisexuality and the whole Berlin nightclub scene came later on the way home, or whether modern nine- or ten-year-olds no longer need to ask them ("Mummy, we did a project on troilism today in school...") Wayne Sleep's diction wasn't quite as clear as on Thursday; Sam got her fur coat caught in a chair briefly (which didn't faze her in the slightest); and the acting, singing and dancing throughout were as brilliant as before. Henry Luxemburg was Cliff; Jenny Logan and Matt Zimmermann were wonderful as Fraulein Schneider and Herr Schultz; but the best acting moment of the show, as before, involved none of them. While Herr Schultz and Fraulein Schneider are singing about marriage after he has just told Fraulein Kost that they are engaged, we see the latter in one of the grid of rooms sitting on her bed clearly contemplating her own unfulfilled life of prostitution, and gradually breaking down in tears. The focus of the show is all on the older couple singing, and it says much for Suanne Braun's dramatic abilities that on neither occasion could I take my eyes off her. (And before you say it, she was fully clad all the time.) Seeing a show for the second time is a good opportunity to see how well the minor characters act, as well as how the principals act when they're not the focus of attention. Full marks all round, for Sam and for the others.

And if Samantha Barks is this good at eighteen, what lies ahead?

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

A long way from the Daily Mail

And this editorial in the same issue reminded me why, despite its rather gung-ho attitude to globalisation, I like The Economist. Yes, it may be run by unrepentant capitalists. But they are among the smartest unrepentant capitalists known to humanity, and like most smart people they are full of surprises.

Stranger than we can imagine

This piece of quantum weirdness caught my eye in The Economist recently.

After which all I can do is quote my hero, the redoubtable Richard Feynmann, from The Character Of Physical Law (1965):

Do not keep saying to yourself, if you can possibly avoid it, "But how can it be like that?" because you will get "down the drain," into a blind alley from which nobody has yet escaped. Nobody knows how it can be like that.

Not so much lice in the locks of literature, more leeches on the arse of Man Rock

I went to see Justin Hawkins' new band Hot Leg at Cabaret Voltaire in Edinburgh a couple of weeks back, and very enjoyable they were too. Before I got round to penning a review, however, I read this one by Barry Gordon in the Scotsman which so incensed me that I wrote a response. You can read it under the review in the Scotsman, but here it is anyway:

I'm not spotty, haven't been a teenager since 1975 and wasn't wearing a black t-shirt, but I was at the Hot Leg gig, which I find difficult to recognise from your review, perhaps because you stayed up at the back where the bar was rather than downstairs with the marine mammals (personally I resemble a manatee more than a seal) in the audience. It does seem that you could have written your review without bothering to turn up at all. "Dumb song titles" - OK, so you don't like Hawkins's lyrics. "Dumb guitar riffs" - so you don't like their musical style either. "The Darkness Part II" - only to the extent that they are a band containing Justin Hawkins. Gone are all the stage gimmicks (heck, at Cabaret Voltaire there's barely a stage). Gone are the catsuits. The guitarists had (I think) two guitars each rather than the dozens normally affected by axe-wielding megastars, while I've seen high school bands with as much amplification. The closest the evening came to a "Darkness moment" was clearly a deliberate reference, and a self-deprecating one at that. If you ever actually saw The Darkness you will know that at some point in the show Hawkins would mount onto a kind of monorail car shaped variously as a tiger or a gigantic pair of breasts, and would circle over the audience's heads while singing and playing. Hard to do that in a tiny underground venue, but Hawkins got a roadie to hoist him onto his shoulders for a quick lap (admitting afterwards the ceiling had been lower than he'd thought). I thought that was pretty funny, myself.

The reason only 250 or so people turned up rather than thousands was that rather than playing the SECC they were playing Cabaret Voltaire, which they sold out. (Bill Wyman doesn't get audiences of thousands nowadays either, but that's because the Rhythm Kings play the Queen's Hall not Murrayfield.) To imply, as you do, that it was a result of audience apathy rather than of the size of venue tells us all we need to know about your journalistic talent.

As you had clearly decided to hate the gig before you went, I suppose one shouldn't expect you to have mentioned that the standard of playing and singing (making allowances for the falsetto) were very high. Hot Leg are a very tight little outfit, even if Hawkins no longer wears one. Nor that, to my surprise at least, they didn't do a single Darkness number all evening. Darkness Mark II: aye, right.

And while stadium-filling megastars come back for their encores in powder-blue catsuits or the like, Hawkins returned to his tiny hot stage in best pub-rocker manner, in a pair of comfy tennis shorts. As to their Bjorn Borg-ness, I find myself in awe of your ability to discriminate between a pair of Borgs and a pair of Agassis or Rafters at your distance from the stage. Do you, perhaps, usually report on sporting events rather than musical ones? That would explain a lot.

One final observation: if Hot Leg are so boring and such an irrelevance, why did The Scotsman send not one but two dodgy journos (yourself and David Pollock) to turn out hatchet jobs on the same gig?

And here is that other review, if one can even call it that. "Writing swear words on school text books" seems to be about the level these giants of journalism managed to achieve while knocking back their expense-account booze and sniggering to themselves about the "spotty" hoi-polloi who were not only actually watching the band but had paid to do so.

Incidentally, since neither of these yokels is up to doing his job, it falls to me to tell you that the support for Hot Leg were The Crave, who are a very decent band from Brighton with a sound more retro and less rock & roll than Hot Leg. Worth looking out for in the future.

The Scotsman: definitely not where you go for intelligent gig reviews.

Here, meanwhile, are Hot Leg doing Cocktails:

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Maybe they should progress this one before Hell thaws out again

The news that Israeli military commanders may be tried in the International Criminal Court for their war crimes is a welcome first sign that just maybe the days when Israel could ignore international law when it suited it (while making use of its protection at other times), secure in the knowledge that nobody would do anything about it : just maybe those days are over.

Though I shan't hold my breath.

A cold day in Hell

In the spirit of even-handed fair-mindedness for which this blog is renowned, I wish to draw attention to that rara avis, a Daily Mail column by Melanie Phillips with which I find myself in almost total agreement.

I think it's unfortunate that when she concludes "It is the pathological reaction of a crude, vulgar, de-educated and debauched nation, which has so badly lost its own self-respect and sense of itself that it viciously lashes out from the anonymous safety of its collective sofa in order to feel better about itself " she clearly fails to recognise the role that she and her fellow-columnists in the gutter press have played in that dumbing-down and debauching, and in encouraging the thoughtless lashing-out at scapegoats.

Still, a stopped clock is right twice a day, and it seems that even Mad Mel occasionally takes a pot at a worthwhile target.

Why oh why oh why (do we have to put up with the Daily Mail)?

My employers are being sued by an ex-employee for £16.7 million for racial, sexual and religious discrimination. When you read the reports of the case you wonder how the perpetrators couold possibly have imagined they would get away with it. Mind you, the reason the suit is being brought at all is that management were aware of what was going on and took no action for some time. And when you look at the comments under the report of the story in the Daily Mail (and the contribution of one of its columnists a few days later) the you can see how that state of affairs might have come about, and realise just how far we have to go as a nation.

(I intended to post this about six weeks ago but just saved it as a draft instead. As far as I can see either nothing has happened yet or it's all been settled quietly out of court. I'll try to find out.)

Meanwhile, there has been this story of institutional racism in the Bedfordshire police force. And once again the Daily Mail makes it out to be all a bit of fun, and their readers contribute the same kind of comments as with Mona Awad.

Mind you, the Mail is the home of Islamophobe-(and indeed xenophobe-)in-chief Melanie Phillips, as well as of that general purveyor of unfocused whingeing Peter Hitchens. A random trawl of his recent columns throws up rants about the EU, the metric system, the theory of evolution, homosexuals, comprehensive education, non-Christians, our insufficiently draconian drug prohibition laws, the Good Friday agreement (the peace settlement in Northern Ireland), anti-depressant drugs, gun control and anti-war protestors. After which he still manages to throw in a paragraph complaining that Sinn Fein are clearly glad that the Real IRA and Continuity IRA have begun murdering again, or else they (the politicians) would simply have had the IRA/CIRA chaps murdered. (No, really, that's what he says: it's at the bottom of this column).

The Daily Mail: proudly pandering to racists and bigots for 113 years, and providing vital puffs to the self-esteem of those unable to cope with modern society.

Oh, the huge manatee!

Sorry, I couldn't resist the headline after reading this story.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Let's NOT Do the Time Warp Again

My first reaction to the story of the shooting of the two soldiers in Antrim at the weekend by the "Real IRA" (now followed up by the murder of a policeman) was that we'd entered some kind of grim timewarp; that I'd wake up and find that Margaret Thatcher was still Prime Minister and Ronald Reagan US President. Because I really thought - as I'm sure did practically everyone in Northern Ireland - that we'd put that kind of paramilitary violence behind us. It was heartening to see Martin McGuinness (member of the NI Assembly but most famous for having been a senior member of the IRA back in the days of the Troubles) saying that these guys were trying to fight a war that was already over, and that the Republican movement had moved from murder to the political process. To hear that from one of the guys who twenty years ago would have been out there in a balaclava with an Armalite carried a lot of weight, I thought.

My second reaction was to think that at last now maybe the morons like Melanie Phillips, Cinnamon Stillwell and the assorted detritus of the far right, who keep insisting that all modern terrorism is Islamic terrorism, will shut the fuck up. They may never have heard of ETA (perpetrators of ALL Europe's terrorist murders last year) or of the Tamil Tigers (what, you mean there are brown-skinned Asians who ren't Muslims? who knew?) but even they will have heard of the IRA, and probably know that the "I" doesn't stand for "Islamic". Of course, none of the aforementioned groups targets Americans or Israelis, which is what seems to define "terrorism" for the feeble-minded Islamophobes.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

International Women's Day 2009

I was trying to find a youtube clip of Dick Gaughan singing this song, but the lyrics will have to suffice.

For details of IWD 2009 see here.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Why would we want a new embassy? We don't need the old one.

Britain has decided not to move to a new embassy in Tel Aviv being built by a company heavily involved in the expansion of Israel's illegal settlements. This is called "not doing business with war criminals".

The ridiculous Ron Prosor demonstrates once again what a sad apology for a diplomat he is by his reaction. "Diplomats in the British embassy in Tel Aviv are not expected to stop eating Israeli bread because it's also marketed in the West Bank", he said. But why not? It's marketed in the West Bank because Israel invaded Jordan more than 40 years ago and has held onto its Lebensraum ever since, in arrogant contravention of the laws and standards adopted long ago by the civilised world. British diplomats only eat the stuff when they're in Israel. So why not pull the diplomats from Israel until it shows itself fit to be negotiated with? Good call, Ron. And you can piss off home too.

Honestly, Tosor is the most ridiculous "Ambassador" since the USA sent John Bolton to the UN. Both make Caligula's appointment of his horse to the senate look pretty sagacious. Let's send the fool home to his third world theocracy until it does something more than beg for handouts and bully its neighbours.

Monday, March 02, 2009

Shocked! Shocked, I say! I mean, I had no idea....

So Tony Blair finally decides it's safe to visit Gaza now most of the tedious Palestinians who used to live there have been wiped out. Not, of course, that Tone met anyone from the government, because, y'know, they're terrorists. (The Israelis say so.) And not of course that he wasted any of his expensive breath suggesting that the Israelis might consider, just this once, abiding by their agreements and opening up the checkpoints to allow in materials for reconstruction. (Though to his great credit Douglas Alexander, the British minister for Overseas Development who was in Gaza at the same time, did exactly that.) No, Tone was just there to emote and to make it look as though his vast salary as "Middle East Peace Envoy" wasn't the total waste it appeared to be when he'd never once visited the site of the greatest crime against humanity of the past year. Now he's been there. Once. (Tick.) Cheerio.

I loved the BBC's TV interview with him, where they made sure we saw him wringing his hands, y'know, to show how much he empathised with all the dead children whose murderers had just paid him a million dollars for turning a blind eye to genocide.

Another one bites the dust

Philip Jose Farmer has died. As all the SF authors I came to love as a student die off, one by one, I start to feel my own mortality creeping up on me. Still, as PJF's best-known work (the Riverworld trilogy) dealt with a brilliantly-imagined afterlife perhaps that's not such a bad thing.

Things the Guardian obituary taught me:
1. that PJF wrote a story (The Jungle Rot Kid on the Nod) which was a Tarzan story as it might have been written by William Burroughs rather than Edgar Rice Burroughs.
2. that Jimi Hendrix first encountered the phrase "purple haze" in a PJF book.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Big In Sweden

I hadn't realised it had been so long since I posted. Oops.

Let's start with some music videos - they usually go down well. For all those of you who wondered what Abba's Benny Andersson was doing these days (apart from doing the arrangements for Mamma Mia! and appearing in the film playing his piano), I give you: Benny Anderssons Orkester, an eclectic bunch held together by Benny's compositional skills and their own considerable talents.

Benny is as likely to be seen playing accordion as piano. Or even, it would appear, ukelele:

Here they are with their biggest hit Du Är Min Man:

And here they are with a recording of a song planned for Abba'a Voulez-Vous album but not finished in time. Time Warp time:

Before BAO, Benny and his Abba writing partner (should that be coll-Abba-rator?) Bjorn wrote a musical. No, not Chess (their collaboration with Tim Rice) though you might like to see the Swedish version of I Know Him So Well (translation on the Youtube page). I haven't seen Chess but comparing this with the English versions I've heard (and comparing the lyrics) it would see to be less wistful and more angry.

No, the one I had in mind is Kristina Från Duvemåla, which is pretty much unknown outside Scandinavia as it's only recently been translated into English and has yet to be performed in it. It is, however, a huge hit in Sweden and places where they can cope with the language. For example, here is part of a performance from Minnesota (sung once again by Helen Sjöholm):

Here's another song from the musical (there's only a short clip available from the Minnesota show so this is from a Swedish TV programme):

Here's a trailer for the full musical (audio and stills):

Oh, and if you'd like to see what he was doing in the days before Abba was thought of, here he is in the Hep Stars in the late 1960s.