Jah Jah Dub

Friday, December 30, 2005

Terror and Liberalism - Paul Berman

Last night I dreamt that I had made a trip back to my old college to give a speech. The usual smug faces from my time there were sat waiting. I did it without notes. I castigated them for their political idiocy. "“Why are you so obsessed with Israel and America?" I said, "What about all the dictatorships out there? What about the women who have no say in their societies? Do you not care for them?" I was impassioned and enflamed. I stormed from the room, walked out through the bar, adrenaline pumping. At the door I turned, raised my arms and extended both middle fingers; a raspberry blew from my lips. I swaggered out of the bar, triumphant.

It was a nice dream.

UPDATE! That girl who got herself kidnapped

"'Kate had long ideological discussions with the kidnappers which certainly tired her out,' one official said, 'but we have been trying to impress on her that it was serious and that she was kidnapped.'"

“It’s been reported that she badgered her kidnappers and I could believe that. You can just imagine: there’s this outcry over the kidnapping and she’s arguing with them in Arabic about ideology."

sounds like a nightmare.

That girl's family was kidnapped too, right? How out of character for the media to be concentrating on a blonde woman.


Thursday, December 29, 2005

parenthetically - some notes on G4's new album/span>

Bless you James, bless you. I was eyeing the G4 album the other day, thinking on how extraordinary it was that I hadn't already bought it. You did it for me, you special special boy.

G4 and Friends


Karaoke backing track so far, nothing much to report.

And there's that voice. The voice that can only be described as "Jonathon from G4".

Ah! The big "Barcelona!" moment!

My, isn't this overblown and underwhelming at the same time? Arpeggio from Lesley there, drums, string... One last barca... and we're done.


The one they're already calling this album's Creep! You wouldn't recognise this from the intro. Restrained. Apart from the orchestra. Nice cod-American, "for you I BLEED myself DRY!"

When a child is born.

Alright, but I'm about five days too late for this. It's very nice and everything, but not the time. NEXT!


No, not that Fever! No! It can't be... It is! It IS! Oh joyous day! Sultry boys, sultry! You give me fever. Or chills. Or the sweats. One of them.

If the lead vocal was dropped it'd be alright - the sound of some black tramps singing around a burning oil drum in an 80s film set around Christmas about the redemption of a yuppie.

Miss You Nights

This is with Cliff Richards - presumably this song has been designed for Guardian music journalists to mock. It's not awful, just pointless.

La donna e mobile

Oh yeah! Pah, pah pah pah pa paah! I know this. Heard it on an advert or something. I assume there are better versions.

Another day

Was really hoping this was Another Day in Paradise. Alas, it's a nondescript pop song. Not missing anything by skipping this one.

The Last Song

Again, some bollocks. Gasp! This must be checked: do G4 have any dread "writing credits" on this thing? Please no "original compostions". Oh, it's by Elton John. I've told you about my struggles with Elton John before.

You're the voice

Hopefully not three ropey ones in a row.

The intro is, dare I say it, funky for G4. Now a little twee. This is boring too. Don't do "proper" music, boys. What's the point? Christ, these lyrics are dreadful. Who wrote this tripe?

How long can we look at each other, down the BARREL OF A GUN? How long, indeed?

First of May

Sung with the least objectionable of the Gibbs, I don't see this one delivering.

No! When I was small, and Christmas trees were tall!

Brilliant! A hundred times!

Now we are tall, and Christmas trees are small!

Not even we've grown tall. You're spoiling me! I'm engorged with delight!


The Wonder of You

Ah yes, that old Elvis song. Imagine G4 singing it. That's it.

I vow to hee, my country

Dead poet's society. I am the captain! No, I am the captain!

What's this tune? Oh yeah, Elgar. I've seen the advert.


X-tina? Please X-tina. Please X-tina...

YES! Fucking YES! They pulled it out of the fucking bag! It is the Aguilera song! There was me thinking there was nothing here. But they do it!

You ARE beautiful, Jonathan, with your little friendly vole face! I WILL NOT bring you down today, or any other day. Descending strings! Vocal breakdown! Jon's extrapolations! A very long held high note! Quite superb! This is possibly the quintessential G4 track!

Remember me?

Not really.

Don't have a good feeling about the next one.

Au Fond Temple Saint

They're singing away in foreign. Nice for them. Don't know this one; unsure if it's been used in an advert.

Conclusion: not a disappointment, my expectations were not sky-high. If you only get one G4 album, get the first. But this has its moments. Mainly their cover of Beautiful. And Yellow. And Fever. But as with 97.8% of all albums made in the last ten years, it's at least a quarter too long. Do they have another album in them? Rest assured, if they do, I'll be here, reviewing it. And that, my friends, ends this interruption. Soon I'll get these fucking books done and we can properly move on.

First G4 album reviewed here.


Friday, December 23, 2005

The Cement Garden - Ian McEwan

In other news, this guy from the Guardian is fucking insane.

"More than any other political movie this year it has the courage to suggest that all that is wrong with America today was evident in that first hour of the nation's life: the loved and hated, always misunderstood Other needing to be tamed, converted or destroyed by the vulgar, greedy, overarmed white man. As for the Indians, so too for the African slaves, the Vietnamese, the Iraqis and, perhaps one day, for the weaker citizens of America itself."


To its credit, yesterday's Guardian provided further evidence for American's cultural excellence with a rundown of the chants at the US-England friendly in Chicago earlier this year:

Not only did they sport T-shirts proclaiming "Tea is for pussies", "Beach Boys kick Beatles' ass", "Beckham is a Fairy", "FDR can't save you now", "Magna Carta this..." and "We own Man U", but - led by a drummer - they taunted David James for an entire half with: "We Have Dentists!"
Boom boom boom-boom-boom
"We Have Dentists!"
Boom boom boom-boom-boom
"We Have Dentists!"
Boom boom boom-boom-boom
"We Have Dentists!"
Boom boom boom-boom-boom
"We Have Dentists!"
Boom boom boom-boom-boom.


Thursday, December 22, 2005

Time Regained - Marcel Proust

So I'm sitting at work, right, and this fucking mouse walks past my desk.

Must I be forever plagued by these brutes?


Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Three Men in a Boat - Jerome K. Jerome

"I like work. It fascinates me. I can sit and look at it for hours."

Oh, and one other thing:


Friday, December 16, 2005

Classical Art From Greece to Rome - Mary Beard and John Henderson

As you would expect from these two puckish scholars, this is less about brushstrokes than an analysis of our response to what we call "art". What is "Greek" art, anyway? And what is an "original" and what is a "reproduction"? And how is our response determined by this distinction? And so on.

I find its post-modernism a little self-conscious - ha! We're much crazier than those other squares in this series! - and it is a little Roman for my taste; but overall my Cambridge homeboy and girl come good on this one.

The Periodic Table - Primo Levi

In this Levi attempts, successfully, to introduce his trade - that of the chemist - to literature. Each chapter bears the name of an element, and each tells a story from his life. Though it is impossible not to mentally catalogue each tale as pre- or post-Auschwitz, it goes far in lifting the monstrous shadow of the deathcamps from this man's life. And in its treatment of the chemical blocks that make up our world, it inspires. Don't be put off by my shitty review: this is a magnificent work.

Flaubert's Parrot - Julian Barnes

There seems to be some dispute over whether or not you can call this a novel. I think it's not, not really - it's some interesting stufd about Flaubert and art stretched over the warp of a character study. But no matter, we can all come together and call it a book, I'm sure. One thing's certain, Barnesy (as I and no one else calls him) can write, and those who can write are worth reading.

A History of the World in 10 1/2 Chapters looks interesting - anyone?

Classics: A Very Short Introduction - John Henderson and Mary Beard

NB: Couldn't find the actual cover.

I don't have it with me, so I'm going to have to busk this one. They start with a frieze in the British museum and build outwards. The Greeks are fascinating as we don't know enough to be sure about anything, but have enough evidence to let our imaginations go hog-wild. Consequently, Classics says more about our culture than it does about any ancient one.

My friend Dan (PhD in the phallus) recommended this to me, describing it as, "very good, and very short." The second of these particularly appealed. I pass his words on to you, unchanged.

The Fifty Years War: Israel and the Arabs - Ahron Bregman & Jihan El-Tahri

Yes, another book about that shitty little country. I don't really want to get into a thing here about this conflict. I'm happy to talk about it in real life, but don't have the stamina for it here.


Thursday, December 15, 2005

The Crisis of Islam: Holy War and Unholy Terror - Bernard Lewis

Yeah, you know, like good.

Othello - William Shakespeare

"Even now, now, very now, an old black ram Is tupping your white ewe."

Why Blame Israel? - Neil Lochery

Why indeed?


Monday, December 12, 2005

Provos - Peter Taylor

It's a shame this doesn't come in a boxset with Loyalists and Brits. They could throw in a free balaclava.

Hamlet - William Shakespeare

Now I know why this is so famous: it's really good.

A Load of Blair - Jamie Whyte

Good, but not as good as Bad Thoughts.

The Wisdom of Crowds - James Surowiecki

Just the right side of a management training module - why markets can rule.

The Adventure of English - Melvyn Bragg

I liked this; no one else seemed to.

The Mating Season – P.G. Wodehouse

This is the one where there’s a misunderstanding which gets sorted out in the end. It’s a good one.

One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich - Aleksandr Isaevich Solzhenitsyn

My favourite thing about Prague's museum of communism is its location:

Above McDonald's, next to Casino.


Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Nausea - Jean-Paul Sartre

A mop-up. This was on my to-read list since I was 18. I picked up a second-hand copy a few years ago. Wasn't really worth it now I’m no longer a schoolboy.

How to be a bad birdwatcher – Simon Barnes

How to pitch this? Too far one way and I’ll sound like a loathsome cynical urban arsehole. Too far the other and I’ll seem twee, or worse, an anti-rational Romantic. What the hell, I’ll just go with it, whatever the pitfalls.

I picked this up in Fopp for three quid while I was waiting for Marty and Gary – we were going to see Derren Brown’s stage show. I liked Simon Barnes’s sports writing in the Times, and as a lapsed member of the YOC I had previous. You know, Nick Hornby has a lot to answer for: here’s another middleclass man talking about himself through the prism of a hobby (ahem), with some bonding with his father thrown in. But Barnes has a real passion for birdwatching - a pastime I’d filed with stamp-collecting under “youthful indiscretions” - and a talent for conveying it. Crucially, he is not the cataloguing and obscurity-hunting type of (male) collector (how you doing, Pato?): he does it because it is fun, because it makes his heart soar. Before I’d read more than a couple of chapters my perspective on the world slightly shifted. Knowing that that bird over there was a jackdaw, not a crow, and that the distinction meant something, that it had its own character, its jackdawiness, added another dimension to the everyday. My eyes have been opened a little, I’ve begun to realise just how much is going on out there. Recognising the city as a habitat has made London a nicer place to live in; and looking at what happens as the seasons change has made the passing of time seem less depressing.

There’s now a bird table and feeder in the garden. This morning I stood outside drinking a cup of coffee, watching a robin bounce around and a blue tit twitch about the feeder, my mind completely clear of thoughts but at ease.

There, I told you it’s hard to find the register to talk about such things.

In a way, more than anything else I’ve read this year, this book has changed my life. This seemingly flimsy thing, the main message of which is “look out your window”, has altered the way I go about my business. Nothing major, but it has had an effect.

So books about hobbies can be good things: they need not be nauseatingly self-indulgent. However, I promise you this: I will never write something about karaoke. And there will not be a section near the end where an awkward night in the pub with my Dad ends with us on a stage singing Father and Son by Cat Stevens – it should have seemed cheesy but it wasn’t; we looked at each other and just for a moment, we understood, and we forgave.


Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Occidentalism - Ian Buruma & Avishai Margalit

It's that time of year again.

Saturday the 17th December I will be watching the Muppets Christmas Carol. You know who's more than welcome? You.

If you don't know my address, that's easily solvable.


Monday, December 05, 2005

The Odyssey

After Frasier, probably my favourite spin-off.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream – William Shakespeare

I hardly did any Shakespeare at school, only Macbeth for GSCE. Ever since I’ve felt the prickly shame of inferiority when people talk about Julius Cesar, Romeo and Juliet and those other ones. As you may by now have sensed, my life is driven by an unsavoury combination of insecurity and arrogance. Piecemeal, I am trying to put together something resembling cultural knowledge. I will no longer be cowed by highfalutin scholars, puffed up with the Twelfth Night they did in Year 9.

So it’s pretty good anyway. Things one must never do when talking about a Shakespeare comedy:

1) Claim that it is too complex, playful and clever for the squares to understand.
2) Say how hilarious you find it.
3) Make a big deal about how unfunny it is.

Writing shallowly about Shakespeare, listening to A Hard Day’s Night. Could I be any more middlebrow?

The Captive/The Fugitive - Marcel Proust

Forgive me the occaisonal review where I say that something's good.

No one ever says they had a bad holiday. After the cost, and the effort, people will tend to accentuate the positives of the experience. Similarly, no one reads a 3000 page novel then claims it was a waste of time. I’m no exception: Prague was great and In Search of Lost Time is magnificent. If you’ll allow me to be precious, it is an extraordinary piece of art, and once I’d settled in I stopped thinking of it as a challenge to be overcome: it became a companion. Volume 4, Sodom and Gomorrah, is when it really kicks in and gets nicely seedy; but for me The Captive is the peak. The Fugitive is also great; you’re on the homestretch from there.

If you want to pretend you've read it, use “Proustian” to describe obsessive, suspicious, suffocating love – any talk of memory and madeleines reveals someone who has never made it past page 34.


Sunday, December 04, 2005

The Parthenon - Mary Beard

I am well aware of a major failing in my reading: too often the authors are male. I wring my hands about it occasionally, promising to cast my net wider. This year I have put in a woeful performance. I’ve tried to clear up those books that have been knocking around for years, books bought when I was not the new man/metrosexual/ubersexual/whatever-I'm supposed-to-be I am now. But one of the few writers who will make multiple appearances in this list is Mary Beard. She’s a Cambridge classicist; she writes for the Guardian; she is excellent. This is more than a straightforward history of a building; she raises interesting questions about representation and especially restoration, and it’s all very readable.

A less long-winded entry, this one: it’s Sunday evening and I have dinner to make. There will be more to come from Beard, and I need to up the pace of these entries.

Panther in the Basement – Amos Oz

This has been knocking around for years. I couldn’t have paid full price for it, it’s a slim thing, I’d heard of the author but this is far from his best-known work: I must have picked it up for a knock-down price. Eventually I got round to it. It was nice and light, and I thought that in addition to the non-fiction I’d been reading about the Middle East a novel might be nice. I took it to Prague, it was small and light enough to justify inclusion in my flight bag.

The plot: a young boy in the last days of the British mandate in Palestine learns about betrayal, or rather, he learns how complex betrayal can be. It’s a convincing, generous, portrait of the edge of adolescence, and brings some humanity to that most frustrating argument, the whole Israel-Palestine thing.

Most of it I read as I waited for the flight home to take off. We were delayed by snow. Prague’s nice, isn’t it? We saw a woodpecker.

UPDATE: Prague photos here.

The Trial – Franz Kafka

I started reading this when I was… let’s say nineteen. I was enjoying it and all, but something else was bought, or given, or caught my eye from my shelf, and I put it to one side, convinced I’d finish it soon. Needless to say, I didn’t; my copy was within an edition of all of Kafka’s novels, and the tight print was unwelcoming. That was a near miss: I saved myself the shame of years of boring girls (I say “girls”, but frankly they were few and far between – allow me this license) about how amazing Kafka was, how his vision foreshadowed the totalitarianism that would afflict his country later on in the century. Christ, I might even have described him as "the quintessential twentieth century author". A lucky escape.

The other week I was thinking that I should read something Czech, something to get me in the mood for my upcoming trip to Prague. I had a skeet round Amazon then thought I’d go back and try this “Kafka”.

Someone, possibly Henry James, said something like, “tell a dream, lose a reader”. Well, The Trial is basically a dream – he almost lost me, but I thought I might as well get it over with. There’s a problem here: how much is intentionally “nightmarish”, designed to disorientate the reader, and how much is just shoddy plotting. The characterisation is poor, the actors’ motives obscure and capricious. “But that’s the point!” Yeah, maybe… The ending is sudden, as if you’ve woken from a dream, taken a round trip to the toilet, fallen back to sleep and missed some important development in that film running across your pillow. But it’s pretty good. It just passes my test of whether something is worth it – the reality is slightly different to what you imagined it would be.


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