“Craziness is going on!”: Eurovision wrap, 2006 (part 1)

Sunday 21 May 2006

Firstly may I say that, as an Australian, I am happy to longer feel the need to publicly repent over that “rubber kangaroos on bicycles” fiasco at the Atlanta Olympics. Thankyou Greece, for deciding that the best way to class up the Eurovision Song Contest is to stage an opening musical number with dancers dressed in rubber dolphin costumes doing somersaults around the stage. It almost drew my attention away from the women with model ships perched on their heads.
As with last year, quotes in italics are from the competitors at the pre-contest press conference. The figures in brackets refer to damage taken as part of the Eurovision Drinking Game.
Former Yugoslav Republic of Switzerland
“Who was responsible for the costumes?”
A very Swiss, very nondescript performance by a bunch of celebrity impersonators: Cher, Justin Timberlake, Tina Arena, and three other people I’m not “hip” enough to recognise. (1 – DKC)
Former Yugoslav Republic of Moldova
“She was only 15 when I married her. She doesn’t even know about it yet.”
Nobody has heard of Moldova, but then Moldova has a mutually sketchy idea of what happens beyond Romania. Their attempt at reaching out to the world ends up as a reggae number sung in cod Italian, and Moldovan reggae is as wrong as you might imagine. But the Moldovans get everything wrong, even the hallowed concept of the Bucks Fizz: the girl removes her clothing behind a screen, and the guy gets things backwards and puts clothing on (does this mean we have to spit up a drink?) Moldova has much to learn about Eurovision. Plus they have a guy on stage riding one of those razor scooters around like it’s the new thing. (4 – 2BF, E?, SR)
Former Yugoslav Republic of Israel
“These are the costumes we’ll be wearing on Saturday. They’re white…”
One of our house guests watching the show has lived in London all his life and never seen Eurovision, so he was always a shoo-in to ask what Israel is doing in Eurovision. One of the reasons the choreography in Eurovision is so crap is that the backing singers actually have to sing, but this motley assemblage howled like wounded dogs. Whisper it low: Israel has supplanted Germany as the country most likely to sing about everybody being happy and together. White suits and frocks. (3 – FC, DKC, Israel?)
Former Yugoslav Republic of Latvia
“We’ve released four albums in Latvia but none outside of Latvia so far.”
Another of those weird 6-piece boybands (see Serbia and Montenegro last year) who sing falsetto and beatbox while walking around a puppet made from office supplies. You can’t make this up. Sadly, this is the most entertaining thing so far. Oh yes, they wear white suits. (0).
Former Yugoslav Republic of Norway
“The lyrics are quoting from Norwegian mythology, with mentions of elves etc.”
This evil song tries to get us all drunk, while five bored ice queens wander listlessly round the stage, pretending to play fiddles and not even remotely hinting that I might have a chance with any of them. Bah. White frocks. (6 – 5SR, WM)
Former Yugoslav Republic of Spain
“Is Eurovision what we expected?”
It’s Las Bloody Ketchup, which is Spain’s way of saying they don’t want to host Eurovision in 2007. Continuing Latvia’s use of office supplies as stage props, the singers faff around in ergonomic chairs while two dykes roll around on the floor to try to distract from the shiteness of the song and the fact the singers can barely make themselves heard over the music. (2 – DKC, WC)
Former Yugoslav Republic of Malta
“I really enjoyed it and I think we all felt amazing actually.”
A tiny, evil troll with three eyebrows (the third has slipped to below his lower lip) tries to revive 80s disco, albeit with live singing and no post-production pitch correction. The result is predictably disastrous. At least the absence of decent singing allows him to fill the stage with real dancers. (1 – DKC)
Former Yugoslav Republic of Germany
“We just want to say to all the Eurovision workers, keep up the good work – you’re doing an amazing job.”
We learn that German country and western makes more sense than Moldovan reggae, despite (or because of) an Australian singing the lead. We also learn that a German banjo player is much, much scarier than any of the characters in Deliverance. Also, the double bass has a sheriff’s badge on it, so we learn that German basses are empowered to conduct seizures of chattel property to satisfy a legal judgement. And they can carry a gun. (3 – FC, DKC, SR)
Former Yugoslav Republic of Denmark
“We’re definitely getting closer to what we want.”
The Danes sing a “retro” song about twisting, which traces the roots of 50s rock’n’roll all the way back to, oh, Racey. In the Nordic tradition of the Bomfunk MCs’ Freestyler, no actual twisting occurs during the song. Someone does come out to breakdance and fanny about with an unplugged electric guitar. I hate them for all flashing their armpits. (6 – 5SR, WM)
Former Yugoslav Republic of Russia
“With so many beautiful people around me on stage, how could it not go well?”
A young man in a mullet and a Bonds singlet with his entry number ironed onto the front tries to ignore the two ballerinas waay up the back of the stage, and the mime stuck in a piano throwing rose petals around. This is classic Eurovision trainwreck staging, concocted by people who have never actually witnessed any form of entertainment, but had someone describe it to them once. Much debate over whether a mime in a piano constitutes a Wandering Minstrel. (1.5 – SR, 0.5WM)
Macedonia
“I don’t want to sound like a Miss World contestant, though!”
An armpit on display right from the start. She can’t sing, but her Daisy Dukes do all the singing for her as she torments the world’s whitest homeboys. She sits on one for good measure, in lieu of choreography. (1 – SR)
Former Yugoslav Republic of Romania
“I should be a mathematics teacher actually.”
My friends think this could be a Eurodisco hit as big as that Eiffel 65 thing but all I can think of is: what the hell is wrong with that dancing librarian’s capri pants? She appears to have several stenographic pads stuffed down each leg. (2 – DKC, E?)
Half-time break. The hostess has changed her dress and our Eurovision virgin laments that we still have 12 more songs and voting to go (2 more drinks).

Countdown to Eurovision: a clarification

Thursday 18 May 2006

A large part of this week has been spent out working or out somewhere south of the river going to the Frederic Rzewski gigs (trying to find the venues is half the fun!). The few hours at home have been spent reinstalling my computer’s operating system (hint: don’t upgrade Firefox!) Instead of going on about my own shortcomings I will actually finish writing up the Rzewski concerts tomorrow, in between posting stupid crap about Eurovision.
Speaking of which, a clarification of the Eurovision Drinking Game is in order. The Key Change, the Buck’s Fizz and the TaTu are to be honoured at each and every occurence. Is That English? and Don’t Mention The War may be honoured only once per song, at its first appearance (for those of you worried about this year’s Turkish transvestite who yells “Superstar!” 8 or 9 times during a song otherwise in Turkish).
The San Remo applies once per person per song; the Cultural Rainbow and the Wandering Minstrel only applies for each distinct phenomenon per song (e.g. repeated bouts of pretending to strum a stringless zither is only one Wandering Minstrel, whereas strumming a stringless zither in between waving a set of pan pipes around is two Wandering Minstrels).
It’s all a matter of common sense, if you think about it.
To the person who suggested that the World Cup be renamed My Lovely Horse: your submission is being given serious consideration.
Refresh your memories of last year’s debacle with a (ahem) brilliant review. Oh, it’s in two parts.

Frederic Rzewski: a short, stupid confession

Monday 15 May 2006

As I type this Frederic Rzewski is giving a piano recital at Trinity College of Music in Greenwich. He is a fine, distinctive pianist, particularly of his own compositions. Right now he is probably playing Four Pieces for piano, which I like very much. Later in the concert he is performing De Profundis for piano, with the pianist reciting passages from Wilde’s essay of the same name. I havetypically found his “piano with declaiming voice” works heavy going, but I haven’t heard this one so I can’t judge it.
I was meant to hear these pieces tonight, but I stupidly went out to Blackheath Halls, where another Rzewski concert had been given on Friday night, and by the time I realised my mistake it was too late to get back to Greenwich in time to do the concert justice. Stupid, stupid, stupid.
I did hear Rzewski play piano on Friday, and I have double checked the details so that tomorrow night I won’t miss the concert where his extraordinarily powerful work Coming Together will be played. A writeup of both events will follow shortly.
If you plan on going somewhere by mistake, Blackheath is a very nice little village in the southeast suburbs of London, complete with a village green and an expensive fish and chips shop.
Below is another foolish Eurovision post.

Countdown to Eurovision (3): The Eurovision Drinking Game

Monday 15 May 2006

Reprinted from last year, with a couple of revisions and additions, it’s the Eurovision Song Contest Drinking Game:

Phase One: The Performances

The Key Change. Whenever the singers dramatically change key during the final chorus. Additional drink for every successive key change in the same song.
The Buck’s Fizz. Whenever a performer sheds a piece of clothing. Finish your drink if the clothing loss is obviously unintentional.
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 San Remo. Any occurence of visible armpits and/or pointing.
The Fine Cotton. Any appearance by mercenary singers flown in to represent a foreign country. Two drinks if they’re Irish.
The Cultural Rainbow. Every time an entrant blatantly rips off last year’s winning performance (i.e. in 2006 expect lots of half-arsed Busby Berkeley kaleidoscopic choreography and people pulling scarves out of each others’ clothing). Finish your drink if last year’s winning country rips itself off.
The Wandering Minstrel. Eurovision doesn’t allow backing tapes, so take a drink if one of the performers is pretending to play a musical instrument (or simulacrum thereof) as part of the choreography.
The TaTu. Finish your drink if the audience boos (on telly, not in the living room.)
The World Cup. Any obvious indication that a country is deliberately trying to lose, to avoid budgetary/logistical problems of hosting the event next year.
Don’t Mention The War. Each time the German entrant sings something about everyone being happy.
Phase Two: The Voting
The Wardrobe Change. If the female host is wearing a different frock after the songs have finished. Two drinks if the male host has changed his suit.
The Hurry-Up. Every time the hosts have to talk over the announcer from each voting country to ask “Can we have your votes please?” (i.e. shut the fuck up already). Finish your drink if the announcer tries to deliver a personal message to a relative watching at home in Murmansk.
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 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 Sandra Sully. Each time an announcer fucks up the voting results. Finish your drink 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. Any time an announcer realises 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. (This may not happen.)
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.
The wildcards
The first person who asks why Israel is in it, or why Italy isn’t, finishes their drink.
The first person who asks why Lebanon or Serbia and Montenegro aren’t in it must finish their drink. Everyone else must drink unless they know the answers.
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.

Countdown to Eurovision (2): Meet the losers

Thursday 11 May 2006

Although the website gives you full sound and video of each of the competing songs, I prefer to take my Eurovision without warning or expectation, and advise virgin viewers to do the same. It is useful, however, to identify the country with the longest odds of winning: it serves as a focal point for the evening, and as a yardstick of consensus badness by which the other entrants may be appreciated. If you’re lucky, it may also set the scene for an Alf Poier-like boilover in the voting to help get you through the long, dark, latter half of the event.
This year’s bottom rung (100-1) is occupied by Moldova, who lucked their way into the final with last year’s drumming granny stunt. This year they’ve retreated into Wayne and Wanda territory with a song written by a concussed 4-year-old trying to recite a Ricky Martin number:


Every night I need my Loca
Every night I need her boca
Every night I need my Loco
Need him crazy just un poco

There are several countries with worse odds, but which may not qualify for the final. Absolute bottom (150-1) is Portugal, with a girl group singing a song composed by a Nigerian email scammer: they are GONNA MAKE YOU SMILE IN ALL CAPS:

I’LL MAKE YOU STOP THINKING SAD THINGS FOR A WHILE
AND EVERYTHING WAITS WHEN YOU’RE DANCING IN STYLE
I’M GONNA MAKE YOU DANCE
MAKE IT WITH STYLE

Judging from the typography they’re going to yell the entire song, presumably concluding with a cry of “this are perfectly 100% legal”.

Paris: local colour

Thursday 11 May 2006

One of the satisfying things about going to Paris is seeing all these people acting the way the French are supposed to, just like you’ve seen in the movies. You can be confident that within an hour of stepping off the train at Gare du Nord that you will have seen several people walking around carrying baguettes and at least one truck driver yelling at a policeman.
My first French conversation, of sorts, was with a crone in the gutter. I was going to say she was begging, but I’m not sure that screaming abuse and obscenities at passersby, or even people across the street, technically constitutes proper begging. She had nevertheless accumulated a small pile of coins, so perhaps there is a distinctly French attitude to commerce that extends all the way from their winos to their international trade negotiations.
Despite the strike the Metropolitain was still running, although on a reduced schedule, apparently. Over a year of living with the, uh, eccentricites of the London Underground, I have heard people on numerous occasions sniff that the Paris Métro is infinitely superior. Those people would not be pleased to hear that on my first Métro trip this visit the train broke down, stranding us about 10m out of the station for about half an hour, before they backed the thing up to the platform and kicked us out.
Also, for all their faults, London stations generally do not feature drunks passed out on the platform, let alone drunks passed out on the platform after employing the delivery chute on the vending machine as a urinal; nor do they put up enormous posters hawking le nouveau album de Tina Arena.

It’s worth paying for the climb up the towers of Notre Dame, if only because it lets you see the world’s most overrated bookshop without having to go in or near it. Unfortunately, I had to push my way past a mass of wine-quaffers loitering outside for a new sudoku book launch or something, to get to the Bang On A Can gig.
Once up the tower you can also enjoy the weathered old plaques prohibiting you from throwing stuff off the roof, writing on the walls and ringing the bells.

The trees around the Eiffel Tower are very dangerous and are fenced off for your protection in enclosures that replicate their natural habitat. Do not approach the trees!

The Parisian romance with cigarettes continues. The Left Bank couple at the cafe table next to me flaunted their French sense of style with a packet of Winstons and a disposable plastic Che Guevara lighter. The price of booze makes drinking in Paris less fun than it should be, although the bars are still better for people-watching than English pubs. This is my favourite place, somewhere in Montmartre that reminds me of my preferred haunts in Melbourne because (a) it’s frowsy and (b) I can never remember the name of it, so I call it the Brown Bar.

See America! Go to Paris.

Wednesday 10 May 2006

Old news, thanks to my being offline for most of last month. Today: the Bang On A Can All-Stars from New York, who were playing in Paris when I visited. Later this week: LA artists at the Centre Pompidou. My next visit to Paris: to see the Rauschenberg retrospective. Is there anything French worth seeing in Paris?
Like Parson Yorick, I spent several days wandering around Paris in a state of blithe obliviousness, with the consequences just as negligible. Every service I needed just happened to be one not affected by the general strike; and whichever part of the city I visited, the protesters had either moved on or not yet arrived.
I did see some very cheerful students with banners and facepaint walk into a bar in Montmartre for a well-earned drink after a busy day rioting, and was almost approached by a heavily armoured policeman when I was photographing the nice big wall they’d put up around the Sorbonne. That’s pretty much it. If you spend all your time in the centre of the city you’ll mostly meet Americans and other tourists like you, anyway.
By a fluke, I managed to get into the Chatelet to see the Bang On A Can All-Stars, who restored my faith in a couple of things. Firstly, they played Philip Glass’ Music in Fifths, one of his most relentlessly single-minded scores. After suffering Icebreaker’s travesty of Music With Changing Parts I began to wonder if Glass’ earlier music, which rarely specified instruments, could ever be as effective in arrangements other than the composer’s own ensemble of amplified winds and electric keyboards. The All-Stars’ performance was on non-traditional grand piano, clarinet, cello, marimba and electric guitar. It was fast, it was tight, it’s meagre musical material needed no further embellishment to make it compelling listening from start to finish.
(It was only during a talk by one of the musicians to the audience between pieces that I learned there was a strike on. Either my French had really sharpened up after a couple of days in town or he was speaking in English, I forget. If it was the latter then Parisians certainly understand English very well when the speaker is saying nice things about their city. Either that or the audience was full of Americans.)
After the interval, they made me take back a lot of what I’ve said about crossover*. The second half of the gig featured the Czech singer and violinist Iva Bittová, who at first came on stage alone, playing with apparent urgency, impatiently slipping and sliding from Slavic folk music to louche cabaret to cod avant-garde histrionics, violin melody turning to noise, turning to ecstatic vocal gibberish. She’s an exhilarating musician, but the cynical part of my brain kept worrying at what would happen when she was joined by the All-Stars, for a suite of peices she had written for them and herself.
Great, I thought sarcastically, the soloist is either going to have to tone down her natural exuberance, or else look out of place amongst the other musicians. Her music will become stuffy and mannered as she tries to write something with gravitas appropriate to the occasion. The musos will miss the shifts in musical styles and not understand their playing attitude needs to change with them. Stand by for 45 minutes or so of dreary cabaret defanged by the concert-hall atmosphere.
Amazingly, none of this happened. The set of songs and instrumental passages held together: they were fun, and they were moving. Bittová’s performance, part chameleon-like chanteuse, part concertmaster and part ringleader, had the whole audience entranced (although you could tell by their reaction there were a number of converts and diva-worshippers in the hall); her adopted band could both follow and lead her abrupt changes in mood. The sense of the music kept taking unexpected turns, whipping up tumultuous noise before just as suddenly burning out into sullen melancholy; the performers knowing how to shade the slow, unravelling melody to make it bite and not meander in muzak.
It was one of the best gigs I’ve been to for a long time, something I haven’t experienced for a long time, partly because I’ve been jaded and reluctant to expose myself to it: a happy and completely unexpected surprise.

* Not on this blog, just incoherent ranting after one vodka too many after disappointing genre-crossover gigs.

Countdown to Eurovision: “Oh my god, keep the voting!”

Monday 8 May 2006

If you’re anything like me, then you know the biggest music event of the year is drawing near: The Eurovision Song Contest!
The official site has full previews of the competing songs, the singers, and the multitalented hosts, but I prefer to take my Eurovision as a surprise. Even so, over the next week or so in the lead-up to the final, there’ll be a small preview of some of the least-promising entrants, a review of last year’s big night in the Ukraine, and most importantly, a revised version of the Eurovision Drinking Game. This last is essential to enduring an entire evening of the finest entertainment Europe has to offer.
Speaking of Ukraine: why didn’t anyone tell me that 2004 winner and upskirt champion (link not safe for work) Ruslana is now a member of parliament? It doesn’t seem that sparkling Ukrainian co-hosts the Klitschko brothers, or best-ever Eurovision loser Alf Poier have run for public office. Yet.

Abstract Expressionist Sunday, Part II: Even more about Philip Guston

Sunday 7 May 2006

When I first wrote about Philip Guston, I mentioned being first impressed by “one of his big, abstract expressionist canvases from the 1950s, back when I was an impressionable nipper.” It was when a bunch of paintings from the Phillips Collection from Washington D.C. were shown in Adelaide. It was one my primary formative experiences of modern art, and wouldn’t you know it? The Phillips Collection has put its collection of American artists online.
So, for the record, here’s that painting: Native’s Return (1957). The pic below doesn’t do it justice: in real life it’s 65 by 76 inches.

Abstract Expressionist Sunday, Part I: More about the Rothko Room

Sunday 7 May 2006

I mentioned the Rothko room at Tate Modern last week, saying it had been left as before. It turns out this is not exactly true: the entire thing has been reinstalled (I thought they’d just closed off a door), as explained here:
In the dimness the paintings appear at first fuzzy, and move inside themselves in eerie stealth: dark pillars shimmer, apertures seem to slide open, shadowed doorways gape, giving on to depthless interiors. Gradually, as the eye adjusts to the space’s greyish lighting – itself a kind of masterwork – the colours seep up through the canvas like new blood through a bandage in which old blood has already dried.

I had wondered about the title card at the Tate explaining that these paintings were originally commissioned to decorate(!) The Four Seasons restaurant. Rothko couldn’t be serious, could he? The restaurant couldn’t be, could they?
“I accepted this assignment as a challenge, with strictly malicious intentions. I hope to paint something that will ruin the appetite of every son of a bitch who ever eats in that room. If the restaurant would refuse to put up my murals, that would be the ultimate compliment.”

Short, Stupid Thursday

Thursday 4 May 2006

I’m still working through a backlog of stuff, but after the longish writeups of Samuel Beckett and Tate Modern (and too much time spent dicking around with pictures of John Hurt) it’s time for a few, short, stupid posts to break up the routine. See them below: one, two, three.

A Close Call (contains exaggeration, spurious praise of deity, sentence fragment)

Thursday 4 May 2006

I woke in a cold sweat last night and had to get online to check my blog again, convinced that somewhere in my discussion of Monet and Rothko I had used the word ‘diaphanous’. False alarm, thank god.

You sick bastard

Thursday 4 May 2006

Someone visited this site searching for “Denise Drysdale tits“. I’m speechless.

Name your Japanese hip hop posse

Thursday 4 May 2006

Urgent Ditsy Casual Pack

Beckett and Gaburo: Let’s Dance The Screw

Wednesday 3 May 2006

Speaking of the influence of Samuel Beckett’s antiphonal dialogues on Kenneth Gaburo’s music, UbuWeb has a complete recording, with sleeve notes, of Gaburo’s Maledetto, a 40-minute disquisition on the word screw “for seven virtuoso speakers”. If you’re unsure about downloading the whole thing, here’s a 2-minute excerpt (MP3, 3.5 MB). Hosted through the Boring Like A Drill Hit Parade.
Bonus Beckett links: Filming Play. Dunno if this could be any good (screenshots, Anthony Minghella, etc.)
Video clips of John Hurt doing a Krapp.