I knew I shouldn’t have mentioned The Specialist
. It is a cursed abomination of a fillum, and just mentioning its name is enough to have appalling repercussions. I didn’t have a camera on me at the time, so you’ll have to take my word for it: a small convoy of film crew vans idling in Brewer Street, Soho. On the dashboard visible through the windscreen, along with the usual permits and empty Mars wrappers, was the large identifying sign “BASIC INSTINCT 2
And yes, Sharon Stone is in it; although she turned it down at first. However, as the production has stumbled on from one director to another, year after year, without anything getting done, she has had time to star in Catwoman, Beautiful Joe, Gloria, and The Muse, and subsequently reconsider her dwindling options.
No-one else from the original appears to be in the sequel, not even Jeanne Tripplehorn. It’s supposed to be set in London, in case you were wondering: everyone works cheaper here and they won’t have to spend money disguising the locations.
Book lovers: have some of the authors you have admired for so many years started to show unmistakeable signs that their heads have adjoured to a warm, sunny place up their own arses; have you heard muffled, lazily-constructed sentences from these exalted recesses to the effect that they like what they see and don’t care to withdraw any time in the forseeable future?
You are not alone! But wouldn’t you love to give them a piece of your mind, perhaps even – faint hope – penetrate the thick layer of self-regard that has fattened their heads, and just maybe shake them a little from their slough of complacency? Not from the comfortable redoubt of a book review or (god forbid) the sinecure of a literary column, but to their faces?
, making the literary world a better place, two writers at a time.
BONUS: Nastiest. Review. Ever.
Forget who forwarded this to me; it was some time last year. When someone begins “This is the worst thing I’ve ever read” and still has 1,339 words of elaboration left in him, you know you are in the presence of pure, burning hatred.
I’m listening to a Dutch Classic Cock station on a tinny AM radio and running a sweep with my imaginary friend
on how soon until they play “We Built This City” so my judgement may be slightly impaired at the moment but, contrary to some people, I love Ikea.
If your Swedish is not up to scratch, she speaks English too, but only on the American Ikea website. I don’t know why she doesn’t appear on the Australian website: perhaps that’s a reflection on the respective qualities of service you can expect in each country. Better still, American Anna has been given a box with extra headroom to live in, which gives the tantalising suggestion that if you ask the right question she will start jumping up and down.
I started searching Ikea homepages for other countries in hope of meeting exotic Annas around the world, particularly to see if the Saudia Arabian incarnation was wearing a burqa, but no luck.
But then, I was going to introduce my new best friend Anna to a colleague in London, and got a disturbing surprise:What the hell happened to the real Anna?
British Ikea gives you advice about life, love, and chipboard furniture through an Essex girl
. Luckily, original flavour Anna is alive and well in Sweden and/or the States, but why this different look just for Britain? Are they trying to test us with some sort of Paula Wilcox/Sally Thomsett
judgement-of-Paris dilemma? Contrary to appearances, British Anna is as reluctant to give out her phone number as Swedish Anna.
This is Christine. She lives in Ezra Pound’s house. Well, it wasn’t his house exactly but he did live there for five years, on the first floor, according to Christine. She happened to be popping down to the shops at the time I was photographing her house and asked if I was a Pound fan.
I don’t care much about biography, particularly when it comes to “understanding” or learning more about writers or composers I’m interested in. It’s always the work I want to find out more about, not how the person who made it was living at the time. The one exception I’ve made is for Ezra Pound, my favourite poet. Yes, I know he was a mad, fascist anti-Semite, but he’s also a revolutionary, beautiful and fascinating writer (although some of that fascination comes from the writing’s frequent difficulty and wildly variable quality), and just about everyone writing over the past century has been influenced by him to some extent, whether they like it or not.
I was compelled to read Pound biographies because appreciating his work becomes inextricable from understanding his political and economic opinions, bizarre and repugnant as they often are. Untangling the issues of what he did or did not do, and how and why he did them, becomes essential when arguing with people who think he’s an unintelligible Nazi loony.
I remembered from one biography that Pound spent many of his years in London at 10 Kensington Church Walk, hanging out with an esoteric bunch: T.S. Eliot, Wyndham Lewis, Hilda Doolittle, Rabindranath Tagore, Henri Gaudier-Brzeska, Ford Madox Ford, Robert Frost, and D.H. Lawrence (the last sleeping on his floor from time to time). One sunny afternoon I went over to Kensington to find the spot. This has been made easier because just last year a blue plaque was unveiled
to commemorate his residence. The lingering controversy about him can be seen in the amount of time it took to get this official recognition
– English Heritage has refused previous applications.
During his life and for the 33 years since, Pound has had the additional unfortunate tendency to be a crank magnet, so I was worried the plaque may be defaced or surrounded by graffiti about social credit
. But no, just a quiet courtyard off a quiet walk behind the church (whose bells Pound complained about to the vicar, in an angry letter written in Latin).
Christine very kindly postponed her shopping to invite me in for a cup of tea and to look through the photographs of the unveiling ceremony. She said she had people stopping by every now and then, and were no bother: she rather enjoyed the attention. The committee from English Heritage gave her a bouquet, in case you’re wondering what’s in it for you if your house scores a plaque. We then turned to photographs of her cat, and her family living in the USA and Sydney.
Now I’ll have to get hold of a copy of Julian Rios’ novel Poundemonium
, and go on a homage to a homage.
If you want to know what I’ve been reading, Humphrey Carpenter’s A Serious Character
is the most detailed and dispassionate Pound biography currently available. The other books commonly found suffer from being written while Pound was alive and the author having an axe to grind, for or against the subject. Even Carpenter’s book is badly flawed by his evident dislike for Pound, and his inability or unwillingness to explain what his life amounted to. The Wikipedia entry
is a pretty good summary but I’m getting worked up again now so I’m tempted to send in corrections on some small but niggling points.
Another item I can cross off my list of things I never thought I’d ever do: jumping onto the back of a double-decker bus between stops. They were designed for this, but conductors these days don’t seem to be happy when you actually do it. In all likelihood they’re never happy but I don’t intend to stand around them for long to find out.
Most of these buses are gone now, replaced by boring new buses with lower insurance premiums and no conductors: the few remaining ones will be gone in the next few months. I intend to ride them as much as possible, even though they go only to horrible, out-of-the-way places like Hackney.
The photo below is taken from the front top window of one of the old Routemaster buses, showing another old Routemaster bus; proving the rule that you wait and wait and two old buses come along at once. For your convenience, a guide to this complicated piece of machinery is attached.
1. All the travel guides agree: the best way to see London is through a filthy, filthy bus window.
2. Ad for crappy musical you’ve already been taken to see against your will, with the same cast of nonentities as in the provincial touring production you once endured. (It’s this or We Will Rock You.)
3. Conductor in a fluorescent netball vest who yells at you when you get on between stops.
4. Male virility snake-oil ad, sadly not endorsed by a C-list celebrity so I cannot calibrate the British equivalent of Ian Turpie, Tim Webster, or Ugly Dave Gray.
5. The legendary open platform at the rear. If it doesn’t kill you, the conductor lurking inside will.
The rest of Eurovision 2005: click here
for part one. Quotes, including the fine example above from the Belgian contestant after rehearsal, are from the performers themselves, taken from the official website
. Surprisingly, Belgium didn’t make it to the final.
Serbia & Montenegro
“We have spent the last six months preparing for this. It feels great to be here. Vote for us. We are the best!”
More drums! A boy band! With six boys. Being at war with all their neighbours throughout the nineties made them take their eye off the ball when it comes to churning out identikit pop music. Two sets of drums, big ugly brown tympani which one guy is left pounding away on up the back for most of the song. The surplus boy is evidently the autistic brother of one of the band members, or else the token Montenegran. This is appalling, but I can’t help admire their thriftiness in buying one suit each and then swapping around pants and jackets to look like they have a whole wardrobe of mix’n’match.
“Everyone can be a singer. Obviously some people are better than others, but the main thing is to enjoy it – it doesn’t really matter if you make a good sound. It helps if you have a good bathroom though.”
Scarily enthusiastic redhead chap who looks like he’s either joined one of the more disturbing cults or is about to address an Amway convention; he has what can only be described as a shit-sucking smirk plastered over his gob from start to finish. Surprisingly, we’re told he wanted to teach music in a primary school but they wouldn’t let him. The mind boggles. For his backing group he has the world’s oldest boy band dressed like El Lissitsky’s idea of what gay cowboys look like. Hey, more black and red!
“How can you sing about a town that you’ve never been to? So I went. But I didn’t see Céline Dion.”
A man dressed like George Michael dressed like Fonzie sings a song I cannot remember but seemed to think wasn’t too bad at the time, considering, while backed by the four surviving Solid Gold Dancers who are all members of the Kill Bill Fan Club. Of course everyone was hoping they’d whip out the samurai swords and do a number on him at the end but instead they handed him a stick, which he then leaned on because he was getting a bit fagged. Or they’d forgotten to bring out the oil drum he was going to hit it with. You may have noticed I’m not saying much about the songs themselves, because by this stage I was very much the worse for drink.
“Eurovision is very big in the former Yugoslavia. There is competition among the countries but they support each other. It’s not a conspiracy, though.”
I remember. Australian readers: next summer all the bogan girls will be dressed like the chicks dancing around in this one. All the cheapo shops in London are pushing this flouncy peasanty print crap for summer. The other highlight in this one was the blokes in the background, especially the one on the right. Seriously, that was Senator Bob Brown
up there. And he was showing all the dynamism and vivacity as we’ve come to expect from him. The guys are dressed like two bogans at Jooce on a Friday night, and dancing like it: chambray shirts and shuffling to and fro. While guy on the left is pumping his fist in the air Senator Bob lets his hand hang limply in mid air: he does so
not want to be here! Some half-arsed and apologetic zorba-ing ensues. And of course there’s a guy banging on drums, some big ugly brown tympani they stole off the autistic Montenegran backstage. Seriously, they were exactly the same drums.
“People in Europe who don’t know Ukrainian still enjoying the song because it has a simple rhythm and melody. People enjoy its wholesome energy.”
Mlle Fifi: This is like that song off that Beastie Boys album.
Me: Which one?
Mlle Fifi: The one that sucked.
Everyone’s been betting that Ukraine won’t try to win again because they can’t afford to host the contest two years running. They play up to the home crowd by bunging on the theme song of the Orange Revolution, complete with Attila the Stockbroker rapping over some beats and guitar. You feel slightly ashamed when you say that as nu-metal hip-hop goes it’s not bad for a bunch of Ukranians, but at least you don’t have to sit through it with an embarrassed, fixed grin like Prince William having to spend his birthday listening to the Poet Laureate attempting to freestyle. So, I’m conflicted: was it a worthy gesture combined with a cynical attempt to blow the contest, or did they really think the rest of Europe really does give slightly more than a rat’s arse about what happens in Kiev? Hey, it’s Green Jelly!
“Although I hurt myself a bit, I’ll keep on jumping around.”
Speaking of not being able to afford hosting next year, it helps to understand Germany’s entry by remembering that they’re already hosting the World Cup finals next year. Take the self-styled ‘rock chick’ from your local breed of Pop Idol, put her in a bikini, have her sing a song almost identical to 4 Non Blondes’ “What’s Up” (which is itself almost identical to “Don’t Worry Be Happy”), then have her denote emotion through tuneless bellowing, and voila: no need to trouble yourself planning a Eurovison in your country until at least 2007!
“He’s escaped from a mental hospital. They don’t even know that he’s here. We just keep giving him his medication.”
AAAAAAAAGGHHH RUN FOR THE HILLS, IT’S CHRIS DE BURGH!! He’s working the stage like Denis Walter on the Midday Show hoping to pull some hot granny action when they’re off-air. And because Eurovision is a fever dream from which I shall never wake, there is a mad drummer who does his own choreography: namely, at the end of the song he stands on his head. Because tonight he’s playing wingman to granny-pulling Chris De Burgh. Expect him and that Moldovan crone to be all over New Idea real soon.
“I think I’m a woman now; not a girl.”
Safe and strong, the sort of thing that steamrolls the competition at Eurovision. At least they actually hired a choreographer so they didn’t shamble around on stage at random like all the others; no Norman Gunston ‘expressive’ hand gestures here! (There were two singers who did the fingers-down-the-cheek move when they sang about crying. I forget who, but I pegging Albania and Israel.) Better still, they zorba like they mean it dammit, and they pull out two of the best Euro-batshit manoeuvres of the night: a Busby Berkeley-style aerial-view number ‘1’, and (in the best appropriation of Turkish entrants yet) the chick standing on a guy’s back while pulling some strings out of his arse and playing them like a cello. Best of all, she makes that last move look almost normal! The singer chick manages to look much hotter than she probably really is, and more or less keeps it together for the whole song, which is more than many of the acts have managed tonight. Winner: all that’s missing is the Bucks Fizz move.
“‘America’ just rhymes with ‘little Erica’, so it’s just a lyric.”
Complete with cheap wig and plastic mac with nothing underneath, one of Russia’s crackwhores is rescued from working the streets in Rotterdam and given a second chance at life. If she wins Eurovision glory for the mother country she will get back her passport and see the people-smuggler who tricked her into indentured servitude brought to justice. But there are many obstacles in her way: an inability to sing and a tuneless dirge of a song which, despite being one of the few tonight written in english by someone who actually speaks the language, consists mostly of the words “Nobody hurt no-one” droned over and over. If she can just sing a little louder maybe, just maybe she can triumph! Louder still now, and hold your hand up to your ear to make sure your wig doesn’t slip off when you tilt your head back for that high note…
Bosnia & Herzegovina
“My father owns a vineyard, and if we win my father will make a special wine for you all to enjoy when you come to Bosnia & Herzegovina next year!”
Fake Abba, mostly Waterloo (another Eurovision winner, are you starting to see a pattern here?) Everyone picks it as fake Abba. Newborn babies turn their heads towards the telly and sniff, “Hmmph, they’re doing fake Abba.” It’s so blatantly, shamelessly fake Abba soliciting your approval that no-one will want to vote for it; everyone’s just gonna bust out their old Abba records one more time. So no Bosnian plonk for you! I hate Abba. Never liked them. If you liked Abba at my school you were a girl.
‘Cool Vibes’ is a song about a tiger.
The canny Swiss have pulled a Fine Cotton and hired mercenary Estonians Vanilla Ninja in a naked attempt to harvest some votes from the plethora of newly-minted, busted-arse Baltic states. Vanilla Ninja are four hot-enough chicks, brave enough to wear white after last year’s snowblinding fiasco, who rock as hard as their name i.e. slightly. They’re a ‘rock’ act who doubtlessly list Redd Kross and Josie and the Pussycats as their big influences. Despite being a band none of them play drums, which on any other night would seem like a cop-out but tonight is a refreshing twist. So it’s a good thing.
“We think some performances can be a bit ridiculous.”
Two blond kids who didn’t get the memo that white suits are so 2004. They sit up on stools strumming their little guitars like that chick in Vanilla Ninja, desperately trying to imitate those two Danish blokes who won in 2000 with their anthem to Australian beach volleyball champs Kerry Pottharst and Natalie Cook, only with added teen appeal and without the tune. Because they’re the only Baltic country left in the comp they know they have a lock on the votes from the myriad of tinpot ex-soviets strewn around their borders, so they get cocky and do a dance routine they choreographed all by themselves. Namely, they stand up and walk towards the crowd, doing Norman Gunston-style hand gestures to go with the lyrics. This is a bad idea, if only because it shows that the Latvian on the left is really, really short. Like, that singing duo from Popstars Live
last year, which you probably never watched.
“In France, we want every country to be made to sing in its native language. It makes it more interesting. Last year, we had 24 countries in a row singing in English, and so songs in French have no chance.”
A typically French attitude, that competition results can be legislated. This is a wonderfully nutzoid idea, considering that the UK is about the only country which could legitimately enter a song sung in English and they come near-last year after year. Besides, the Latvians could come out with their hands stuck in their armpits and make fart noises for three minutes and still nearly carry it off with 12 points each from every 20-acre backwater east of the Dnieper. If you really want a fighting chance of winning Eurovision, have a civil war so you break up into lots of little countries that all vote for each other, duh!
What the French really meant to say was, “We want every country to suck as hard as we do.” Which is: hard. This was the country that last year entered a midget in a white tuxedo timidly serenading a mime on stilts. I honestly doubt you can pin the failure of that one on language. And this year we had another fiasco: sleeveless chanteuse and backup boys giving us the San Remo moves in spades. The stage is awash with flashing armpits as everyone tries to make up their own dance moves on the spot without breaking up their clusterfuck. The song is atrocious and by the end the singer is going armpit-happy and is visibly struggling. It’s not because you sing in French that no-one ever votes for you, it’s because you make a deal out of refusing to sing in anything else, and want to tell everyone else what language to sing in. And because your music sucks.
Special mention must go to the Amazing Klitschko Brothers, special celebrity guests who lit up the stage with all the flair, panache, and media savvy of a couple of footballers brought onto the set of Hey Hey It’s Saturday in the 1970s. The sight of Ruslana attempting conversation with a Klitschko by unsuccessfully reading cue-cards spelled phonetically while holding a large golden horseshoe aloft was trainwreck television to live in the memory forever.
Of course everyone votes for their neighbours unless the neighbours are French. The only high points were the Ukranian announcer going the full Sandra Sully and having to start over the voting results twice – she must have been previously employed as a Russian electoral scrutineer or a sporting official – and the observation that the women from Greece, Turkey, Bulgaria etc were all ferociously blonde, while the Swedes and Danes were proudly brunette.
The best thing is seeing the performers getting really excited about it, like Cyprus honestly can’t believe they got 12 points from Greece like they do every year. It’s like they actually think it’s because they were any good. They suffer a strong lack of insight, which I expect is a prerequisite for entering this thing anyway. Can I stop now?
Thanks to the Eurovision drinking game
I was too hung over on Sunday to write anything meaningful about the event until now. Other, more complete analyses can be found here
. For what it’s worth, the cloudy impressions of the night from the bunker were as follows. Quotes are from the performers themselves, taken from the official website
“Unfortunately, musical education in Hungary isn’t as important as it should be.”
They wear black and some red: I’m predicting we’ll see lots of dark colours after last year’s Night Of The Long White Suits. Let’s see, it’s a fake Turkish sounding song, with lots of banging on drums like the winning Ukranian song last year. In the middle they zorba around for a while and try to make it look a bit like Riverdance too. Tonight’s theme will be cultural appropriation, specifically of imitating recent winners. Are we seeing the end of the Eurovision we know and love, with batshit-insane ideas coming at us left right and centre? We might be entering an era of bland homogeneity: this song is neither good nor bad, in either a good way or a bad way, and I fear we have seen the future of Eurovision.
“Obviously after ‘Popstars: The Rivals’ I was gutted”
Wow, red outfits and fake Turkish gyrating: there’s thinking outside the box! Three minutes later and Laplanders huddled round their candle-powered TV are thinking “Geez, that Holly Valance thing is so over!”
“The rehearsal went alright. We tested the stage and we tested the shoes and both were fine.”
The first ballad of the night, sung by the Maltese answer to Casey Donovan; and of course the ballad means we’re in for the first Dramatic Key Change of the night. For the DKC she gets excited enough to throw her arms out and slowly wobble from side to side. My god, she has seriously scary talons! Luckily, the ballad was more of an old-school Jennifer Rush dirge than the Celine Dion psychic torture.
“I must admit that we are very disappointed.”
A bi-curious lady wearing high heels for the first time in her life totters unsteadily around the shiny glass stage-floor with her Iron Curtain boob job almost falling out of her silver bodice. She is joined by the Carpathian touring production of Stomp banging on oil drums. The song descends into a tuneless mess, not helped by the struggling singer, who spends the last minute or so with her back to the audience pretending to bang on an oil drum. It’s hard to sound convincingly passionate when you’re standing next to a guy with hubcaps strapped to his feet.
“It’s been five days since we last played a gig. Normally we do two a day. We usually have enough explosive equipment for a couple of armies which we use to blow up the stage.” If they could invite any other country to join the Eurovision Song Contest, it would be Australia. “Then AC/DC could come over.”
Sheer genius: who’d have thought Norwegians had both a dead-on grip of pop culture and a sense of the ridiculous? Every guilty-pleasure rock cliche thrown piled on top of each other, it almost makes up for David Lee Roth leaving Van Halen. The best thing to happen to Eurovision since Alf Poier pogoing around yapping about bunny rabbits and his website in 2003. Should win, but probably won’t because rock never does so well at Eurovision. Much better than The Darkness. Of course there is a DKC, and don’t you want to pump your fist in the air and shout along?
“It’s a Turkish drum and it’s my favourite instrument. I love all forms of percussion – it’s like a heartbeat.” She and her band gave a demonstration of their drumming.
We’re told this is the third Turkish Eurovision entry written by this guy and as They Might Be Giants once sang, he’s got two songs in him. Still, let’s have them banging drums too, that’ll make ‘em stand out from the crowd! The performers are left twirling around aimlessly in traditional-looking clothes singing “Rimi Limi Ley” or something over and over again ad nauseam, and by the end it sounds like even they’re getting jack of it. Anyone willing to bet there’ll be a single fake Turkish song next year?
“She’s now a big star in Moldova,” said Roman. So what are Grandma Boonika’s favourite memories of Eurovision? “We don’t really watch television in our village,” she said.
More chicks banging drums, dammit! Is Sheila E. a superstar in Eastern Europe and if so, has she just died? For a change, this Eurochick is about 110 years old and spends most of the song happily sitting in a rocking chair to one side of the stage, like Yoko Ono on Top of the Pops. Given all the drumming going on tonight it’s a bit of a disappointment that she actually stands up at the end and pretends to start banging while looking very pleased with herself, like those Bulgarian singers in the 1980s around the time their fifteen minutes were up. Everyone agrees the band looks like the Red Hot Chili Peppers after a night of exquisitely expensive drugs, and for novelty value they will rob votes from Norway’s righteous rock cheese gods, but they will forever be referred to as That Band With The Granny.
“We thought it was important to sing in English because we want people to understand it.”
More @&*#$ drumming! At least it’s a bloke this time: he hops around in cricles tapping his drum, then every now and then he puts it down, jumps in the air, stops to catch his breath for a bit then picks up the drum and starts over. That’s his big dance routine. Is there a Eurovision rule that everyone has to do their own choreography? Everyone zorbas around unconvincingly for a bit in the middle, then goes back to waving their fake violins. This is the first song of the night to use scarves, which worked so well for Turkey in 2003. Here, they do not. Stretching out and spinning multicoloured scarves around the stage is impressive; wrapping yourself up in one at the end is not.
“I’m sure we’ll surprise a few people.”
First Ricky Martin wannabe of the night. And the first white outfits of the night. At first you think you’re safe, until you notice some oil drums sitting up the back of the set. But you reassure yourself it’s OK because there’s nothing they can hit them with. Then they produce these big white stick things from nowhere and suddenly it’s clobbering time again! No wonder this sounds like “She Bangs” run through Babelfish. And they fake-zorba for a while, just to add an extra layer of varnish to this turd. At least Eurovision can still present wildly uncoordinated backing dancers.
Son de Sol are three sisters: Lola, Espe and Sole. They think that Lola is the most responsible one.
Three mad chicks from a TV spinoff of an Almodovar movie gyrate around singing their bosoms out. This unshakeably reminds me of the Globos and I keep expecting to see Bob Downe prance onstage shaking maracas. Or banging a drum. Instead their bouncer ambles up and grunts a few lines, then wanders around cluelessly for the rest of the song. It was all OK but not enough oomph to go off the way it should have. The best I can say is that despite wearing sleeveless dresses there was no San Remo moment.
“I have to admit, I am impressed with the professional behaviour of the director and the crew because they were really straight.”
This is the traditional boring-as-shit song they stick somewhere in the middle so you can go stock up on more booze. Apparently she was the runner up on last year’s Jewish Pop Idol, so no surprise it’s underwhelming. I’ll go out on a limb and guess there was a DKC.
I need another drink…
I was so distracted by Basil Brush’s Boom-Booms
the other day that I didn’t notice something very important: British supermarkets stock Sudafed
on the shelves! Wheeeeeeeee! Why don’t the Lonely Planet guides mention this?
This has brightened my whole day. I was about to post a rant about the difficulties of opening a bank account in the UK: basically, you need to present your passport, birth certificate, parent’s birth certificates, a personal letter of introduction from your local MP or Peer, a photograph of yourself shaking hands with a player in a premiership league football team, evidence of your income, and evidence that you are a customer of good standing at another bank – which you must then renounce by burning all your other passbooks and bank cards in a bonfire verified by three independent witnesses. On the other hand, considering that these are the same requirements demanded by jumped-up shampoo salesmen in Australian pharmacies when you try to buy Sudafed, it’s a swings-and-roundabouts kind of deal.