Something has been bugging me since Christmas. As is usual at that time of year, the radio, particularly the type of stations I listen to
, was full of the usual christmassy songs, most of them customarily horrible. Like Dante’s circles of Hell, there are graded degrees of quality of Christmas song. “Adeste Fidelis”, say, might enjoy the company of Aristotle and Ovid, while “Jingle Bell Rock” rots amidst the betrayers.
I had always thought that there was a place reserved in one of the lower circles for “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas”, a song, on casual listening, I had always found exasperatingly smarmy and condescending. Over time I’d guessed that there was a greater meaning behind the song that I wasn’t getting, but didn’t care because the tune, its arrangement, and the way it was sung, inevitably crushed its suppressed sentiments down to the complacently glib.
It may have been one I hadn’t heard before, it may be that for once I paid close enough attention, but last Christmas I heard several times a version of the song that was sincere, touching, and achingly sad. Usually, a revelation like this is an experience of unalloyed pleasure, the thrill of discovery coupled with the minor relief of there being one less odious thing in the world to despise; but I cannot shake off a sense of regret for my newfound admiration of this song.
It can be hard to pin down the exact circumstances that force you to reconsider your tastes. Sometimes a shift in understanding can come from a forced change in perspective. I’d always disliked The Beatles’ “Ticket To Ride” until one day in my early twenties when, immobilised by flu on a couch, I heard it played on a small AM transistor radio hidden beneath a cushion and realised it was a little masterpiece.
More usually such changes in taste can be attributed to a natural, healthy expansion of one’s palate over time, or that comes naturally with the attainment of maturity. In this case, I can see how an older, more experienced mind can recognise depths in the little Christmas song to which a younger person would remain oblivious. Why does part of me resent finding this depth? Is it better to learn to sympathise with other people’s hopes and sorrows expressed in simple songs, or is it better to reject with a youthful sneer the foolish sentimentality, emotional manipulation, the con artist’s pitch?
Having shown so much love and understanding for so long, should I be less tolerant of other people’s tastes? Some years ago I drew a line in the sand at Frankie Valli; should I be doing more to defend myself?
There is so much good music I will never get to hear. Why should I be pleased to discover that “Me and Mrs Jones”, a song I’ve always found hateful, has a rather fine-sounding guitar break? Am I listening to too much mediocre music, and starting to prefer technical accomplishment to creativity and imagination?
Should I stop finding beauty everywhere, lest I open my mind so far that I let in the forces that will close it down, trapping myself in a popular critic’s world of stunted sentimentality and highbrow kitsch?
Is it virtuous to find reasons to accept the bad with the good, or does it ultimately lower one into relativism – a passive, complacent mindset that accommodates any mediocrity it encounters, never stirring to reject it and instead seek out the good?
(Cross-posted at Sarsaparilla.)
Karlheinz Stockhausen, Michaels Reise (Solisten-Version) (Markus Stockhausen, Karlheinz Stockhausen, Simon Stockhausen etc etc)
It’s funny how as Stockhausen’s
messianic tendencies became more evident, his music got less hard-nosed and abstruse, more relaxed, even folksy enough at times to drop corny jokes. It would seem that Stockhausen is a benevolent god. Perhaps the music gets a little too comfortable with itself sometimes, but it’s nice to hear old-school modernists mellow out a little.
It’s funnier still how when he’s writing melodies for doubled horns, in irregular rhythms with odd little leaps all over the place, he sounds just like Frank Zappa. Complete with wacky German muttering in the background.
Sonic Youth, Daydream Nation
Does everyone have this experience? I don’t think I’ve ever stopped this record early, but I can’t remember anything after “Candle”. I’ll have to start this disc at track 10 and see if it exists. I’ve just noticed my ancient CD player is showing “Trilogy” is indexed. That’s so cute.
As I’ve mentioned John Cage
a couple of times recently
, I may as well go on and mention that Silence
, a collection of his essays from the late 1930s to 1960, is one of the most useful, entertaining, and best-smelling books I own. In his lecture “Indeterminacy” he tells, in part, how he came to be a composer. Instead of finishing college, Cage left California and went to Paris where, eventually, he ran into one of his former professors.
He gave me literally a swift kick in the pants and then said, “Go tomorrow to Goldfinger. I’ll arrange for you to work with him. He’s a modern architect.” After a month of working with Goldfinger, measuring the dimensions of rooms which he was to modernize, answering the telephone, and drawing Greek columns, I overheard Goldfinger saying, “To be an architect, one must devote one’s life solely to architecture.” I then left him, for, as I explained, there were other things that interested me, music and painting for instance.
When I first read this, and for years after, I knew nothing about this architect other than Cage’s single name-drop, and assumed that the name’s retrospective connection to a James Bond villain was a coincidence. This situation changed soon after I arrived in London.
For several weeks I wondered about the unusual tower building visible throughout much of north west London, until I found that it was written up in my Time Out London guide:
Trellick Tower, built in 1973 by architect Ernő Goldfinger and considered by some to be a hideous eyesore and by others to be a significant piece of modernist architecture. You might wonder about the concordance of Ernő’s name with a James Bond villain? That’s the penalty for irritating Ian Fleming.
Goldfinger left Paris in the mid 1930s and moved to London; most of his designs were built in England. Trellick Tower, on the northern edge of Notting Hill, is his most famous building – or notorious, depending on your point of view.
There are two persistent myths about Goldfinger the architect. One is that he committed suicide by throwing himself off Trellick Tower in a fit of remorse over his creation, and the other, more pervasive one is that Fleming maliciously named his villain after the architect as a rebuke to the latter’s aggressive modernist tastes. Goldfinger had built an avant-garde terrace house in Hampstead as his own residence, allegedly to the displeasure of his more conservative neighbour Fleming.
Nigel Warburton, Goldfinger’s biographer, has debunked this oft-repeated story, showing there is no reason to believe Fleming had any grudge against the architect. Fleming had most likely heard of Goldfinger through a mutual friend and took the name for his own use, as he often had before with other friends, relatives, and acquaintances – to their occasional displeasure.
Fleming’s irritation with the real Goldfinger came after the fact, when the architect sued for defamation. The publishers, unable to deny that use of his name was coincidental, settled out of court, and presented Ernő with six copies of Goldfinger. Fleming’s own suggestion that an errata sheet be inserted in the novel, explaining that the character’s name should be Goldprick, was not taken up.
Trellick Tower has always been a contentious building to Londoners, to a greater or lesser degree over the years. Apart from its brutalist style, by the 1980s it had become one of the more conspicuous failed modernist housing projects, rife with crime and squalour. Living conditions have since improved immensely since the local council invested some money in the site, and employed a concierge as Goldfinger recommended in the first place. The building now has a heritage listing, and has acquired some cachet among the fashionable.
Warburton has collected a number of related articles
and book excerpts about Goldfinger, and Trellick Tower in particular. (His book cannily puts the Fleming story at the very beginning, to save journalists the trouble of searching the entire thing.)
Now that I know something about Goldfinger, one aspect of Cage’s story becomes unusual. Goldfinger was only ten years older than Cage, and was in his early thirties when Cage was sent to work for him: why did Professor Pijoan decide he would be a suitable mentor for Cage?
Eurovision night was spent at home in a faint haze of cabernet sauvignon, stilton, and pseudoephedrine, so this year’s wrapup is a bit on the sketchy side. The code in brackets at the end of each entry denotes the drinking game
The show begins with a warning about flashing images, in case there are any Japanese school children watching and the stage is overrun with Pokémon
. Then the slogan “True Fantasy” appears across the screen for no evident reason, so maybe this is going to turn into anime after all.
The male and female presenter couple are present and correct.
Bosnia-Herzegovina: Slow start tonight, with several women vamping around in the sort of pale green fog that threatened to irradiate Jon Pertwee on Dr Who. That bloke with the bazouki looks really pissed off with the singer about something. Come to think of it, they all look like they had a tremendous row just before coming on stage. (1: WM)
Spain: Four guys in white denim outfits and two girls pretending to play oversized drums out of time with the music: two classic Eurovision clichés. I can’t believe they don’t complete the set by taking off their jackets. Presumably they forgot, in all the excitement. (3: E?, DKC, WM)
Belarus: Ignore the fat chick at the edge of the stage doing all the singing! Please be distracted by the women in suits sliding back and forth on office partitions doing slow, jerky dance moves copped from Laurie Anderson. Belarus’ designated pretty boy sings about how he’s wheeling something, from the sound of it. (0)
Oh dear. Oirish bobbleheads haplessly sway back and forth, clearly at a loss as to how best convincingly mime their instruments. The singer’s intonation and vocal power is uncannily reminiscent of Julie Dawn
; she later tries to build some stage presence by ripping off Grandma Boonika’s star drumming turn
a couple of years ago. She fails. (2: WM, CR)
Finland: A solid-looking goth diva announces that she’s “gotta go crazy just to stay sane.” Yeah, well I gotta get drunk just to stay sober, so the room decides that goth is as close as anyone dares get to ripping of Lordi tonight, so Finland is deemed guilty of self-plagiarism. Harsh but alcoholic. (2: CRx2)
Five songs in, and both hosts have changed their outfits! (3) This could get dangerous. A bafflingly pointless charade ensues where the two hosts pretend to randomly pull a Eurovision Fan, i.e. a shrill woman in a pink party frock, out of the audience to act as a third host. Ah, Eurovision! Always finding new ways to irritate the crap out of you.
Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia: Someone sings a boring ballad under fraught circumstances. Behind, a young man selflessly restrains a feral ballerina who means to knock the singer down and claim the limelight for herself. Meanwhile, three people on stools guard the stage perimeter to keep the Serbs out. (1: E?)
Slovenia: Another chunky goth diva! Everyone’s going a bit goth here, but then the filmed segments introducing each song would like you to think that Finland is simply filled with (a) snow and (b) goths. She’s singing that operatic swooping over a techno beat that every hacky sci-fi movie and Malcolm McLaren would have you believe is the Next Big Club Hit. For added effect, she lights up her face with one of those little palm-lights she copped from Laurie Anderson. (2: CR, SR)
Hungary: Another chunky woman – for once, not in a leather bustier – leans on a bus stop sign stolen from Sesame Street and sings the blues in Hungarian. She pats her stomach in a missed attempt to find her heart. Perhaps she’s hungry. I can’t make out the slogan on her tank top: “Thank God I’m —-” Hungarian? Atheist? Dyspeptic? Not French? (0)
You should have guessed by now that a group called 4FUN
(a) has not four members but five, and (b) is not fun. As predicted, a moody and mildly depressing ballad, with a hint of Spanish via Bryan Adams. Behind the singer, the rest of the band play in silhouette behind a screen, in a move copped from Laurie Anderson; although this may be to disguise the fact that they’re really the Latvian entrants doubling up. (0)
Someone is the audience is waving a placard saying “Where is Andorra?” No, no, no! It’s supposed to say “Where is Moldova?
A man in a stripey suit that strobes horribly on TV does the traditional Greek Pat Benatar shimmy with a gaggle of frankly trashy women. He’s singing in English but drops the word “Yassou” in every now and then so you don’t mistake him for Ricky Martin. Considering that he sings the line “Dancing like a Cheeky Girl”, he’s more likely to be mistaken for Lembit Opik MP
. At the end they copy that “pulling the ropes out of the singer’s clothes” move pioneered by the Turks a few years ago: either a sign of reconciliation in the east Mediterranean or a declaration of war. (3: E?, CR, SR)
Georgia: A girl in a nice red frock is surrounded by Ninja Cossacks, which is less fun than it sounds. She bellows over a techno track swiped from the free CD that came with the October 1989 issue of Studio Musician Monthly, and then it’s over. (0)
Sweden: It’s a pity Justin Hawkins didn’t get up as the UK entry this year, ‘cos this outdoes him for ironic glam cheese. I think the Swedes have secretly been at war with the British for decades, by remorselessly taking the piss out of every aspect of their popular culture. They’re crap and they’re ugly; in other words, a perfect recreation of a real glam rock band. Still a bit gothy, though. At last, the first Bucks Fizz move of the night! (1: BF)
Half Time: After their shock quarter-time wardrobe change, the hosts keep us guessing by wearing the same clothes! Outside the hall, the Eurovision Fan goes to the trouble of finding some more Eurovision fans, only to laboriously explain to us why she’s not allowed to interview them, thus answering a question no-one watching had asked. Still, that ate up a minute of commercial airtime.
France: Five television comedians who have obviously never worked together before frantically try to steal the limelight from each other in the mistaken belief that one of them will get voted out of the band at the end of the show. Was there some English in this song? I think so. It didn’t help. (1: E?)
Latvia: They sing in Italian, just to confuse us, and to secure the vote from the Italians, who neither compete in nor watch Eurovision. Five blokes in jeans, dinner jackets and top hats wander in like junior execuitves turning up at the office on Il Divo Friday. They clutch roses, they sing, they go away. (1: DKC)
Three Manezh Mall Rats
form a Chrissie Amphlett fanclub and sing a song about being Manezh Mall Rats. Their two fat friends from school are allowed to join the club too, but they have to stand up the back. Also hiding up the back is a guy pretending to play guitar, who is really there to beat up anyone who eyes up his bitches too much. (0)
At last, a proper white suit. It’s a swing number, and everyone tries to look cool instead of dementedly happy: see what we mean?
Once again the Germans have found an excuse to put a double-bass on stage, but unlike last year this one is a civilian. The word “ROGER” appears in lights behind the stage, which at first glance I mistake for an audience cue. Oh, those Scandanavians! (2: E?, WS)
Serbia: Every lesbian’s ex-girlfriend from hell comes on to sing the slow, tuneless ballad known from Aragon to Arkhangelsk as the Toilet Break Song (future me: whoa, did I get this one wrong!), and she has a posse of Ruritanian ambassadors from Planet Zsa Zsa to join her in some pinpoint choreography consisting of standing together and staring at the floor really hard. For the climactic key-change her passion moves her to remove her glasses. At the end, She and one of her dead-eyed minions do this creepy loveheart hand gesture – yeah, just like your sociopathic ex. (2: BF, DKC)
Ukraine: Campy blokes in Alfoil and granny glasses recreate a gay fascist disco cabaret in your living room for three minutes. They sing in German, which makes no sense whatsoever until you remember that the Germans used to do this kind of self-consciously zany stuff at Eurovision all the time up until about, oh, five years ago. They run around on stage and smack each others’ bottoms – this is so German. I thought Operation Barbarossa failed. (2: E? DKC)
The hosts reappear to confuse and enrage us by wearing the same clothes!
United Kingdom: It’s a pity Justin Hawkins didn’t get up as the UK entry this year, ‘cos this is even worse. Hah! The Ukrainians just outgayed you, UK. And they did a better Benny Hill schtick. And their English made more sense. Dressing up as fabulous air stewards and miming the in-cabin safety procedures may add a rare note of educational value to the show, but it’s probably not a good idea to remind viewers mid-song (a) that they can leave any time they wish, and (b) of the futility of resisting inevitable, violent death in a fiery plane wreck. It isn’t really Bucks Fizz in that bottle they’re waving around, it’s Eau de Desperation. (3: CRx2, BF (bottled))
Romania: Now there’s some wandering minstrelsy! In a misguided attempt to ingratiate themselves with voters, five blokes aimlessly fanny around on stage, bumping into each other and singing each line of the song in a different language. Unfortunately, they get carried away and sing in French too, blowing their chances of winning. (2: WM, E?)
Bulgaria: Yeah, drumming, that’s different! Everyone thinks this is finally going to be the year no-one else will go for the drumming and so their act will stand out. A flat (in both senses) chick goes for the goth looks but wears the wrong type of trousers. They try to get some tribal thing going, which is impossible when there’s only two of you. (1: CR)
Turkey: Year after year, Turkey has reliably sent us some hot chick to ogle; this year we now know why they’ve never sent guys. This man has the apperance, as he has the clothes, of some one who hangs around the front of hotels in Istanbul in the hope a tourist mistakes him for an employee. Apparently the backup belly dancers are British, which explains why they’re (a) not so hot and (b) have no bellies to dance with. A failure on every level, but it’ll get them through to next year’s finals thanks to the gastarbeiter vote. (1: FC)
Armenia: A mess of people in different outfits who had trouble translating the “come dressed as a goth” memo. Either a Turkish fan threw a ripe mulberry at the singer or he’s got a squib under the his ruffled shirt, because during the second chorus a dark red stain spreads across his collarbone in a missed attempt to find his heart. Is there some Eurovision rule against anatomically correct singing gestures? First the great Alf Poier crotch-grab fiasco of 2003 (which cost him the prize, I reckon), now this. (1: DKC)
Moldova: Every girl in Europe wants to be Amy Lee. Look, this one’s already sacked her band! Her crack team of wannabe goth divettes hurl scarves, for all the good that’ll do them. (2: E?, DKC)
The voting: The hosts are still wearing the same outfits when they announce the voting, but she’s changed her hairstyle (1). The voting session is officially started by Finland’s biggest celebrity: a goth! No, just kidding: Santa Claus. At least he does a better job of things than Nana Mouskouri.
At last, after the voting has finished, the presenters change their clothes again (3). “Things are getting very exciting!” they shout. They’re wrong. The Serbian Toilet Break Song wins and I still can’t remember anything about it. Everyone grumbles about bloc voting by the Balkans and former Soviet states, but France, the UK, and Ireland came last, which is only fair considering they were the worst of the lot. The only real surprise is that Malta gives 12 points to that dire British effort, but that may have been a tactical “fuck you” to the Eastern bloc for dumping them out of the semifinals on Thursday. Good night.
Previously posted editions of the Eurovision Song Contest
Drinking Game are now superseded by this, hopefully more user-friendly, edition for the 2007 contest.
Phase One: The Performances
A. Every instance within a song:
The Dramatic Key Change. Whenever the singers dramatically change key during the final chorus.
The Buck’s Fizz. Whenever performer(s) sheds a piece of clothing – once only on every instance, whether executed by an individual or as a group. Finish your drink if the clothing loss is obviously unintentional.
The TaTu. Finish your drink if the audience boos (on telly, not in the living room.) Hopefully this year we won’t be rendered near unconscious by an audience that was incredibly up themselves – we’re considering renaming this one ‘The Greeks”.
B. Once per song only:
Is That English? Whenever someone notices that the singers have switched from their native language into English in an attempt to win more votes. Two drinks if they try to dodge the language issue by intentionally singing gibberish.
The Fine Cotton. Any appearance by mercenary singers flown in to represent a foreign country. Two drinks if they’re Irish.
Las Ketchup and the Waves. A country drags a legitimate, real-life one-hit wonder out of obscurity in the hope that name recognition can buy them some points. This is additional to the Fine Cotton.
The Cultural Rainbow.
Every time an entrant blatantly rips off last year’s winning performance, which, considering last year’s winners
, could be quite amusing if anyone attempts it this time. Finish your drink if last year’s winning country rips itself off.
The Wandering Minstrel. Unless it’s a solo guitar or piano, Eurovision insists on backing tapes – it’s in the rules, so don’t accuse some entrants of cheating. I got this point completely the wrong way round when explaining it last year, but the essential point is the same: take a drink if performers pretend to play a musical instrument (or simulacrum thereof) as part of the choreography. A second drink is permitted if a subsequent, different wave of faux-minstrely rises after the first has subsided.
Don’t Mention The War. The German entrant sings something about everyone being happy. Judging from recent years this one is being phased out in favour of…
Don’t Mention The Wall. The Israeli entrant sings something about everyone being happy.
My Lovely Horse. Any obvious indication that a country is deliberately trying to lose, to avoid budgetary/logistical problems of hosting the event next year.
ADVANCED PLAYERS ONLY:
The San Remo. Any occurence of visible armpits and/or pointing at nothing in particular. Two drinks for an unshaved armpit.
The White Suit. Self-explanatory.
Phase Two: The Voting
The Wardrobe Change. Each time the female host changes frocks. Two drinks if the male host changes suits.
The Gimme. When Greece gives twelve points to Cyprus.
The Old Europe. When the UK gets null points from France.
The New Europe. When the Baltic states all vote for each other.
The Sympathy Vote. When anything sung in French first gets a point, and/or the last country without any points finally gets off the mark. A special toast to any country left with zero points at the end.
The “Viktor, You Very Unattractive Fellow.” Two drinks if the hosts speak in rhyme and/or pretend to flirt with each other. Finish your drink if the flirting is serious.
SOBER PLAYERS ONLY: The voting now moves along too quickly for most people to keep up with the following by this stage of the evening, but you can try.
The Hurry-Up. Every time the announcer from each voting country is politely asked by the hosts to shut the fuck up (“Can we have your votes please?”). Two drinks if the announcer tries to deliver a personal message to a relative watching at home.
The Sandra Sully. Each time an announcer fucks up the voting results. Two drinks if they get so confused they have to start over.
The Sally Field. Each time they show contestants backstage during the voting looking genuinely surprised and pleased with themselves when they get the same politically-motivated votes they get every year.
The Master of Suspense. It looks like everyone got the memo, so this rarely happens now: each time an announcer fails to understand that the pause for suspense only works if they announce the twelve points and then the country that has won them – not the other way around.
A person must finish their drink if they ask: (a) why Israel is in it; (b) why Italy isn’t in it; or (c) where the hell is Moldova?
A toast to the first person who expresses dismay when they realise how long the voting is going to take.
A toast to the person who gets so drunk you have to secretly call a cab and persuade them they ordered it when it arrives.
I’d spent the past few days sick at home, watching the foxes in the back yard and reminding myself that they’re meant to be there, when someone asked what I planned to do for Eurovision
this year. I’d forgotten that it’s on next Saturday, so it looks like it’ll be a quiet one at home. Originally I had planned to be at the event in person this year, but then Finland went and won the thing so that Eurovision 2007 is being hosted in one of the few cities even more cripplingly expensive than London.
Before the contest even begins, Portugal can celebrate being the country with the longest odds on winning for two years running. (Is this a case of My Lovely Horse
?) After threatening that they WERE GONNA MAKE US SMILE last year, this year their singer, distinctively named Sabrina, is offering more of a soft sell:
Come dance with me
Through the waves of adventure
And I promise I’ll give you
Oceans of tenderness
The wind told me
You will always be my partner
Portugal probably won’t make the final, where the lowest-rated country with guaranteed entry is Lithuania. These were the guys who turned up last year with an act consisting of six blokes in suits yelling “We are the winners of Eurovision so vote for us” for three minutes, and blow me down it almost worked. Unfortunately success has gone to their heads and they’re now going for an earnest, mopey, Ireland style of what I presume is a ballad.
Words lose their sense
when I feel you near
when I touch your hands
I’m trying not to think
that at break of dawn
You’ll be gone and I’ll be lost, numb and all alone
According to the Eurovision website the band’s named 4FUN, which I think is a typo of 4MUM.
The UK has an excellent chance of nul points this year, thanks to the voters of Britain selecting a Stock, Aitken and Waterman reject act that is basically (hello Australian readers) the airline stewards sketch from Fast Forward, only even gayer. Also, they wave Union Jacks around at the end, because the rest of Europe finds the British so endearing. It’s like the French having a song with a second verse about correcting the hosts’ pronunciation, and then complaining afterward that it didn’t get many votes. In fact, that may have happened sometime in the 1980s.
Coming later this week: the Eurovision Drinking Game, substantially revised to take into account the new vote-counting method and last year’s near-hospitalisation for alcohol poisoning.