Monday, August 23, 2010

Public Squeaking.

I gave a speech at a black tie dinner in March 2009. It was fairly nerve wracking but I memorized the gist of the speech, and had a little mnemonic for each section and got through it unharmed, with a few laughs, and that was that.

This weekend I was at the wedding of two very good friends from university and they kindly asked me to read First Sight by Phillip Larkin at the service. I decided I would learn it by heart in order to give the best performance I could and, thankfully, it went fine: I stood, I poetried, I sat again. Phew.

It was strange, though, having to learn something word perfect, for possibly the first time ever, to deliver as impeccably as possible. The best man, groom and father of the bridge speeches must all be scary and exciting too, but at least you can ad lib, or um and err your way through them. For poetry, you have to get it perfect, everytime (talking widely here now, not about myself).

Anyone else done a poetry reading / recital? I might try The Waste Land next…

'This music crept by me upon the waters
And along the Strand, up Queen Victoria Street.
O City city, I can sometimes hear
Beside a public bar in Lower Thames Street,
The pleasant whining of a mandoline

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Is Billy Joel any good?

Growing up, driving around in a black, weather faded Renault, then a highly economical Passat, my parents subjected me and my brother to many a songsmith, from Bob Dylan to Clapton to, you’ve guessed it from the title, Billy Joel.

Years later and my love of Dylan is strong, Clapton, meh, and Billy Joel…well, I just don’t know. Some of his stuff is overblown tripe, I think, but other songs seem deceptively good, I think.

It doesn't help that songs like Uptown Girl have moulded his reputation in the general consciousness (mostly probably mis attributed as a Westlife song too I would bet) and he seems to have this vague air of “ha, Billy Joel? Don’t make me laugh…” A sentiment my brother and I both developed as we grew up but that now I think we would both admit has passed into grudging respect, even enjoyment.

A song like Piano Man is the very model of a genuinely good pop hit. Melancholic, rousing, reflective, engrossing, uplifting if you wish, downbeat if that’s your mood, it's up to you.

Goodnight Saigon is a damning reminder of the pointless waste of the Vietnam War, complete with dramatic helicopter sound effects and a huge military chorus of “We will all go down together”. It’s actually kind of heartbreaking.

We Didn’t Start the Fire is an incredible piece of showmanship, even if some of the rhymes are a bit forced. Yet again, it’s also sort of laughable when you hear it too many times. It’s certainly ripe for parody too.

Then we come to Scenes from an Italian Restaurant. A seven minute plus pop epic that starts with a slow, almost saccharine love song chorus then randomly shifts into a fast, three-line stanza-ed rock song complete with madly upbeat clarinet work, trumpet solos and jaunty piano fills and trills that all flit around a song about the “popular steadies Brenda and Eddie” realising their love isn’t that strong and falling apart. It’s bizarrely epic and inappropriately upbeat. 

Also, a lot of Joel's lyrics actually make sense. Someone like Elton John is a clear example of a similar type of musician (broadly speaking), yet some of his Bernie Taupin's lyrics are scandalous: "Mars ain't the kind of place to raise your kid, in fact it's cold as hell...and there's no one there to raise them, if you did". What the hell does that mean? Sheer nonsense.

Yet rarely, if ever, does Joel ever seem to feature in any Top 100 this, or Top 50 that lists. I feel this is an oversight.  Although they did make a stage musical of his songs. Which is something. Also, we share the same birthday. So that’s nice. 

Any response to all these musings? Good, bad, indifferent? Well?!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Around the coast

Britain is a coastal country. This is well known. You can rarely be more than 50 miles from the sea. For some people in some countries the idea of being 50 miles from the sea would be as good as being on the coast.

One man, Nat Severs, is, as I blogged before, currently walking the entire coast of the UK at the moment. That’s 7,000 miles. A long way. He’s now heading south, after many months of northward walking, in and out of the endless inlets of the west coast of Scotland, and eating up the miles as heads back to the starting point of Portsmouth, where he began on January 10. It’s all massively impressive and if you want to know more, then go to his website and read more. Most impressively, have a look at the map of his journey and see each individual days walking he did.

Complementing this blog I am here writing at this very moment, is a book I recently read by another previously blogged topic, Paul Theroux, in which he travels around the UK coast, not as literally as Nat, but close enough, following the same clockwise route through walking, buses and, of course, trains. I read it last week as I rattled home on the First Great Western train to Truro out of Paddington, at one point, always the best bit, passing the sea, mere waters from the sand filled with walkers, dog owners nad fisherman. It seemed very apt to be reading of his trip around this very coast some twenty five years earlier when Britain was at war with Argentina.

Theroux’s trip is marked with heavy sarcasm, almost resentment of the places he sees, not always, but often, and his distain for the UK holiday industry of Butlins and the like, of people in box cabin caravans in fields is clear throughout. He sees no better future for the UK coastal future, predicting a continuation of such drab, bleak holidaying of citizens enjoying cheap, regimented fun.

Yet, he was wrong. The UK coast now is fancy, expensive and much sought after. I’ve seen my home town turn from a sleepy sea side place to a growing tourist trap filling slowly with the same chain stores as anywhere else, Costa, Nero, FatFace, and the like. Yes, some areas are untouched by this gentrification, but many are not, and it’s interesting to think that in the 1980s as Britain was a drab, soulless place (through Theroux’s eyes) that seemed to be falling into further disrepair, it has now become home to the likes of Rick Stein filling towns like Padstow and Falmouth with expensive fish and chip shops, growing numbers of arts festivals based around the water and shoreside apartments used by city workers for two weeks a year, if that.

It's interesting to imagine the various futures that people imagined in store for Britain throughout the 1980s, or before, as we do now. Where we imagine, perhaps, failure, continuation of stagnation, it can offer be quite the opposite.

The enchanted kingdom of McDonalds

Hiding from the rain in a McDonalds on Tuesday night in Putney, a girl, maybe 16 years-old, walked into the golden arched palace I was sheltering in and, to my fascination, looked around agog at her surroundings.

Never before had she seen such splendour, or such ornate decorations and furniture, her face seemed to say.

After she had stopped and taken in the sumptuous surrounding she slowly stepped forward, as if scared of shattering the dream she had wandered in to by stepping to heavily. She craned her neck up in wonder at the ceiling, as if Michelangelo himself had painted them.

Then suddenly it was too much. She went outside again, stared up in disbelief at the giant M outside.

"Could it be," she wondered. "Is this really what a McDonalds is? My parents had told me they were evil, dirty, downtrodden places where the masses come to fritter their finances on fries and milkshakes."

She stood still, wondering what to do next. Then, strangely, she left. Turned tail and removed herself from the scene, and tramped off into the rain. I looked around. No-one else seemed to have noticed this strange creature so enraptured by the place.

I continued chomping, sent a text, received a text, texted back. In this time I never noticed she had returned. She sat this time, wearing dark sunglasses, at the end of the long formica bench I was sat on, as if she was the coolest girl in the world because she had found a McDonalds.

She was an odd one, no doubt about it. I wonder what her reaction would have been if she'd had any food. She may have exploded.

Monday, August 02, 2010

Some film thoughts

A lazy, lazy Sunday (in which my main activity was a walk to the local Oxfam book shop where I bought The Kingdom by the Sea for £2.50), was complemented by a few films watched.

Johnny English. Is this film good? I can't decide. I've seen it before, of course, and only watched the last 45 minutes of this before I headed out (as mentioned, lazy day, hungover and very tired from much sport playing on Saturday). It's sort of funny, and Malkovitch is brilliantly over the top . But then some of it is so over the top and stupid and obvious that it seems quite lazy. I guess it doesn't matter really.

Brighton Rock (original). I thought this was terrible. I know it's from a loonnnggg time ago (maybe 50 years!) but I just didn't get it. There was so much random cackling from characters, often weirdly out of sync with their lips (it seemed to me), the acting was mostly pretty lame and I still don't buy the plot (book or film) of lame thugs and stupid girls. The remake is out later this year, so I look forward to seeing if that makes an improvement. 

Frequently Asked Question about Time Travel: Strange one this. Some of the plot was quite clever and nicely linked together, but then again some of the piece were really stupid ( the future party of people dressed like them / the "editors" who come back and kill people). A pretty cheap film, the kind of film that in 30 years will have the same heavily dated, cheap British film look that 1970s films have to us know.

Also, I finished Birdsong last week. I enjoyed it, but also thought it was a touch overrated. It has such a high standing in literature from the last twenty years, and Faulks is seemingly so revered, but I found the writing pretty average, but in a good way. It wasn't bad, but I had imagined it to be better. Still, it was a strong narrative, but then again anything about WWI is always moving. It really was the most ridiculous war, in which human's really did show their innate stupidity through and through (at least from behind the front lines). I digress.