The New Season at Sarsaparilla

Saturday 28 October 2006

The good people at Sarsaparilla have invited me to join their crew of kulchur bloggers, so of course I immediately accepted. Every now and then I’ll be posting stuff over there, which will either be cross-posted or linked to here.
My first contribution is up now, and even though you’ve probably read it before I suggest you go read it again, what with the nicer formatting and other interesting things to read that they have on their site.

Later, the pelican explained that it got the idea from reading my blog

Wednesday 25 October 2006

First it was the ravens, now it’s come to this. And always the pigeons pay.

Families and tourists in a London park were left shocked when a pelican picked up and swallowed a pigeon…. An RSPB spokesman said: “It is almost unheard of for a pelican to eat a bird. Their diet should be strictly fish.”
The bird got up and strolled along until it reached one of the pigeons, which it just grabbed in its beak.


Note for journalism students: the last two sentences of the linked article are a classic example of the inverted triangle in action.

Italy Welcomes American Tourists!

Monday 23 October 2006

On the tariff at the Tre Scalini café in the Piazza Navonna, Rome:
Coffee: €0.80 at the bar, €3.00 on the piazza.
Decaff: €0.90 at the bar, €4.50 on the piazza.

Magic 693: an appreciation

Sunday 22 October 2006

A number of people have written in over the past few months to inform me that Magic 693, the greatest radio station in the world, has suffered a traumatic change. At first it seemed the station had gone for good, but instead it had just been shunted by its owner, without warning, to the more cramped frequency of 1278 KHz.
It’s an oldies station, with a focus on what people would generally describe as “easy listening” – e.g. they’ll play “Something” but not “I Am The Walrus” – but within that ambit they’re about the most eclectic radio station in the world. If they have a playlist, it’s so vast I’ve never been able to learn it. I once heard them segue from “Imagine” to “Baby Elephant Walk”, which is reason enough to love them.
They have a fairly loose, philosophical concept of “easy listening”, in any case. No-one would consider “My Boomerang Won’t Come Back” as a soothing piece of muzak, yet it has turned up without warning, right after Barbra Streisand. Magic’s disc jockeys are fearless, indiscriminately spinning anything that once was popular, without regard for taste, political correctness, or continuity, let alone the selective, sanitised memories of the aesthetic judgements of baby boomers. Their attitude can be heard from their ads for their Fifties show: “the Fifties was more than just rock and roll, and we play all of it!
Besides the music, there is added appeal in listening to the ads. Magic presents itself to advertisers as “Melbourne’s highest-rating station for over-30s”, which is adspeak for geriatrics. The commercial breaks are invariably filled with spruikers for retirement villages, funerals, cat litter (“Is your home a bit… phew-whiff?”), and those recliner rocker chairs that tilt forward to get you up out of them. Bud Tingwell tells you about the good works of the Spastic Society and asks you not to give generously now, but to remember them in your will. They can wait a little longer for your donation.
Finally, there is also the mysterious fascination commanded by their announcers. There seem to be only three of them, who alternate in shifts that rotate around the clock, and after listening for years I still can’t distinguish one from another. The same guy is likely to turn up at 9pm on a Tuesday, and then at 3am on a Sunday.
The station’s indiscriminate inclusivity has put them far ahead of the cultural curve in a number of instances. Without realising it, they have perfectly implemented Negativland’s “Moribund Music of the Seventies” project on a mainstream, commercial station. They are also quite probably the only station which unironically plays records featured in the 365 Days Project, and always has done. A couple of times each I’ve heard them spin Jesse Lee Turner’s “The Little Space Girl” (see July 18) and Jack Clement’s rather fine “My Voice Is Changing” (see August 23) – an obscure B-side, according to the website.
It’s such a pity they’ve been shunted to a frequency with worse reception, and had to ditch their catchy station ID jingles; but on the upside, they’ve just introduced an internet streaming service! It sounds like someone’s holding a transistor to a styrofoam cup on the end of a taut string 16,000 miles long, but the one thing I have been wishing for since I left Melbourne is a reliable source of Joe South and Vicky Leandros broadcast into my house at any hour of the day or night. Now you, music lovers around the world, can share in the Magic.
Also, while looking for links for the above article, I discovered Bud Tingwell has a blog! I love the 21st Century.

A potent mix of critical opinion and biographical fact

Friday 20 October 2006

Scrawled in biro over a poster for the movie of The History Boys on the platform at Euston station*: “Alan Bennett is an overrated poof from Yorkshire.”

* Northern Line, Charing Cross branch.

Patrick White is a middlebrow hack.

Monday 16 October 2006

The final instalment of the online reading of Patrick White’s novel The Vivisector. Previous posts here and here.
“Then we also have our obligations to animals and humans,” she added with a moist pathos.
He remembered the sackful of cats, and she lowered her eyes, perhaps on catching a reflection in his.
We remember it too, because we were told about it only two pages earlier. Even then, it was carefully spelled out to us that if a man is carrying a sack of cats to water, he means to drown them, do you see? The first sentence of The Da Vinci Code should be enough to convince you it’s not worth reading, yet it’s scarcely any worse than passages like the one above which litter The Vivisector.
There’s an old dictum that writers should show, not tell; but White has an exasperating compulsion to show, and then tell what he’s just shown. Perhaps he didn’t trust, or recognise, his own abilities as a writer. Perhaps he was pitching his writing toward an envisaged audience of reluctant students. Perhaps he was afraid that not quite everyone would appreciate his Depth of Feeling, and so had to keep reminding people that he was a Serious Writer, at the expense of the writing itself.
Just in case we’re too thick to get that the cats are Symbolic, Hurtle and Hero then proceed to argue about them for no-one’s benefit other than our own. Ridiculously, this carries on for several pages. Every subsequent, inevitable reference to cats for the remainder of the chapter (including one otherwise effective moment when Hero addresses her “adopted” Aboriginal child as “kitten”) comes across as phoney and heavy-handed as, well, something out of Dan Brown. An especially self-important Dan Brown.
For those wanting to keep track, Hurtle’s previous clichéd lover, the Maternal Whore, has been disposed of by authorial fiat and replaced in unconvincing circumstances by Hero, another clichéd lover, the Slumming Patroness. (Her husband is that other great cliché of the novelist’s time, the Greek Shipping Tycoon. Perhaps White was trying to forestall silly questions about where he gets his ideas from.) There is, of course, another patroness on the scene, and so another cliché, the Triangle, inveitably ensues, thus fulfilling the need for a section about The Artist And His Women.
Strangely, neither woman has apparently ever shown a personal interest in any other bohemian besides Hurtle. He is that most infuriating of stock protagonist types, the Guy Stuff Just Keeps Happening To.
The last three chapters of the book improve dramatically, inasmuch as they begin to play with our expectations more than fulfil them, albeit in a way that renders the preceding seven chapters superfluous. Hurtle is such an inert, narrowly defined character in the novel’s first 400 pages that there is nothing in him or the limited depiction of his world that enlarges upon our appreciation of the final 200. In fact, knowledge of the earlier chapters may even hinder our taking seriously the latter part of the book, with its plot heavily based upon a series of reunions of sufficient improbability to make Dickens blush.
White’s description of people and places is so thoroughly squalid that it becomes unintentionally comic; you could almost make a drinking game out of the number of times a character eats food that has spoiled. Ultimately, his unvarying determination to depict the vulgarity of everyday life is revealed as a veneer of bourgeois titillation to disguise the utter conventionality of the author’s thoughts behind it; a surface of exaggeratedly gritty reality to distract from the dishonesty of the characters and plot: the Crucified Artist Hero and Redemption Through a Child. The noble overreach of the book’s ambition is hamstrung by White’s self-regarding redundancies and need to assert the profundity of his unexceptional insight.
The Readers’ Group is planning another online reading of a White novel soon, which I won’t be joining. Reading this book put me off White more than I expected, and I don’t want to return to him in a hurry, when other, doubtless better books sit unread on my shelves. In particular, I don’t want to reread a White novel: I rather liked the ones I read years ago, and I’m afraid it will spoil my memories.

Simultaneously overenthusiastic and excessively lethargic

Tuesday 10 October 2006

New on the blogroll: Straight from the Tated . It has excellent taste in links.
(Related: Take Every Day as it Comes, Brothers and Sisters)

New desk at last. It looks like this:

Tuesday 10 October 2006

Now we’ll really see some action around here!

Advanced East London anti-war campaigning techniques

Monday 9 October 2006

The real reason the war in Iraq is still going. Also, a rare sighting of the old Blogspot banner.

Yeah, I can hardly believe it myself.

Saturday 7 October 2006

The name and subject indices have finally been updated, to the end of September. At last you can find out what El Lissitsky, Juvenal Habriarimana and Sally Thomsett have in common.
Also, the search function seems to have dropped off a few months back. I should probably get that fixed.
The long-dormant website will get some additions made to it over the next month, probably. Don’t hold your breath, though.

Filler by Proxy XL: An Incomplete History of the Art of the Funerary Violin

Wednesday 4 October 2006

For those of you with a love of the funerary violin, that obscure genre of music rendered almost extinct after it was condemned by the Catholic church in the 1830s, you will be glad to learn that Rohan Kriwaczek’s brand new book An Incomplete History of the Art of the Funerary Violin is now available on sale from Amazon (UK site only). Fittingly, Kriwaczek’s book is published by Duckworth, purveyors of the poetic oeuvre of William McGonagall.
If you don’t care much about funerary violin music but have a grudge against Pius X for his 1903 motu proprio on sacred music, this book may also be up your alley.
The New York Times gives a little more information about the book and the mysterious Guild of Funerary Violinists (you may need Bugmenot to get past registration).
Strangely, The Rosenberg Archive has been silent about this guild.