Thursday, 27 May 2010

Enter Naomi

Very busy at the moment. Trying to make a film. It's like working in a cloud. But between reading books about scripts and talking to people about scripts, cameras and actors, I finally managed to finish Enter Naomi by Joe Carducci.

It's perhaps one one of the few book I've yet to read about the SoCal hardcore scene that sprang up in the early eighties. Carducci was at its very epicentre, running SST, the label the Meat Puppets, Minutemen, Husker Du, Black Flag and scores of other bands across America called home.

While books such as Henry Rollins', Get In The Van and Michael Azerrad's Our Band Could Be Your Life explore the nature of SST, Enter Naomi is an altogether more personal book, focusing on the life of SST photographer and close friend of Carducci, Naomi Petersen.

Like so many of the people who would end up at SST, Naomi was an outcast, a mixed race young woman at odds with a Japanese heritage that alienated her through high school. Carducci tells how Naomi's eager attitude and hefty Nikon got her through countless gigs where violence was common – at least until the cops turned up, when it got worse.

But her camera and attitude couldn't shield her from the booze and when things start to go wrong the book turns from first hand accounts from Carducci, to postcards sent from the road and anecdotes about Naomi told by bands she'd photograph. This book, like Please Kill Me by Legs McNeil and Gillian McCain, exposes how women were treated by the hardcore scene; it wasn't pretty and it seems Naomi was caught between this attitude and her unwillingness to confirm to the 'normal' life of husband, kids and home.

It's a great book, fleshing out the life of SST and the dedication of one outsider to music. it's worth tracking down for Petersen's photos alone.


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Monday, 17 May 2010

Tuesday 11 November – Hue, Vietnam

We arrived late last night from Da Nang to Hue, a pretty, sprawling town that's home to the best beer in Vietnam – Huda. There's less of the hustle of Hanoi and none of the hassle of Hoi Ann. We hung around and ordered coffee by the river, before walking through the market. And a proper market this time with not a Vietnam t-shirt or fake Ralph Lauren top to be seen. Just odd vegetables and evil smelling river fish full of bones, which we ate with rice before walking up to the Citadel.

When Vietnam had an emperor, this was where he called home. Or at least it was until Ho Chi Minn came along. Then came the Americans and the whole place was levelled in some of the fiercest fighting of the Tet Offensive. You can read about all this in Michael Herr's Despatches, but for a few weeks the VC held onto Hue, flying the flag from the Citadel until the US shelled the place. The biggest casualties were civilians. Now, Hue is a town studded with cafes and restaurants offering tours of the DMZ to the tourists. I wonder what the locals think of it? Perhaps it's water under the bridge, or maybe it's just another way to earn money.

There's still some bits left of the Citadel and although they've been restored to a high standard, there are still piles of rubble and bands of cats running about the place. Outside the palace walls we chat to a kid fishing the moat. He teaches us to fish with just a piece of string, but my historically terrible fishing skills mean I catch nothing. Fish seem to see me coming.

Walking by the river, Tam, a plucky 23 year old skipper persuades us to take a cruise on his broad river barge piloted by his sister. Inside, by the bow is a shrine to an older man. I think it's Tam's dad as his mother had collected our money on the shore.

The tour is a simple cruise up the Mekong and after ten minutes or so, Tam scampers over the top of the cabin and plonks himself down on the gunwale to question us. It's the usual stuff – who are you, were do you come from and what football team do you support. Then he pulls out a letter from his friend Patrick that morning – could we translate it for him. Sure, and before long Tam has returned with a bulky package. As with all interesting things it took a little bit of digging to get the story, but here it is.

Last season, Tam gave Patrick a river cruise and learnt this fifty something from St Louis was a Vietnam veteran. Patrick's letter was an itinerary about his forthcoming tour of Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos. He wanted to take Tam along. 'Do you have a passport?' I ask Tam. 'What's a passport?' he replied.

I read through the letter, Patrick was promising to pay for food, accommodation and transport. All Tam had to take was spending money and get himself to Ho Chi Ming City sometime in late January. I looked up at Tam and asked just who this guy was.

Tam told us a little bit more about Patrick; he'd been a flight coordinator in the USAF during the war and directed bombing runs on Hanoi. 'He knows many people who died,' said Tam without further explanation. After the cruise, Patrick hired Tam to take him on a moped tour of the DMZ a thin band of land north of the city that stretched from the sea to Laos border. 'He's a big guy,' said Tam, 'We didn't go fast.' Patrick started to cry as they toured the DMZ started crying, so Tam took him to the beach to cheer him up.

What was going on? What was a fifty something man with two grown sons, doing planning a trip round South East Asia with a 23 year old man. I later thought it might be sexual, but I eventually threw that theory out. It just didn't seem right. Maybe it was some deep-rooted self loathing dressed up in fantastic altruism. I say altruism, because in addition to offering Tam a completely unobtainable experience, he was also sending him presents too.

'Look what came with the package,' said Tam fishing out an MP3 CD player and three generic Walmart best of CDs – Bob Dylan, Willie Nelson and Johnny Cash. The young man scours the label before handing it over with a guiding finger – look at this: insurance of contents: $60, cost to send: $20. 'Does he love me?' said Tam. Shit, all I could say was, 'Patrick must care for you very much Tam.'

'Sixty dollars, that's a million Dong,' said Tam, 'Why didn't he just give me that instead?' I try and explain how it was different with gifts, that you had to look past the worth and focus on the sentiment, but he just didn't get it. And why should he? Tam couldn't help but add up the value of things because he really had nothing except this boat – his livelihood – that Patrick was asking him to leave during the height of the tourist season. I look back down at the letter. Patrick signs off by saying he considers Tam his son.

Even my ropey mental arithmetic knows Tam is not Patrick's son. But who knows? Perhaps Patrick did leave a son behind. It wasn't uncommon. Perhaps this is atonement for that, or playing his part in the war. I'll never know. We left Tam wondering out loud whether his Mum would let him take time off to go on holiday.

Back at the hotel, Rambo First Blood was on satellite. That was weird.

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Monday, 10 May 2010

at east vs dave

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Matt Groening ATP: Africa vs Japan

The first of this summer's ATPs at Minehead was a pretty quiet one. If you looked, you found empty chalets, so it was never really that rammed and the line up was a decidedly broad.

Maybe everyone decided to plump for the Pavement ATP. More fool them. In my opinion, this was one of the best ATPs I've been to. Almost every band was interesting, there were few disappointments and I found loads of new music. Anyway, less people equals relaxed vibe, no queues for anything and happy, polite security.

Matt Groening didn't waste time getting out and enjoying the acts, which was a pretty smart move on his part. Sure, it's unnerving the first gig you realise you're standing next to the guy, but after the fourth encounter it becomes no big deal. Until he asks you what you thought of an act. But even that becomes normal, so when you do see him you just say 'Hey, don't eat the hotdogs.' I think he had a good time. I did, here's who I saw:

Amadou & Mariam
Headliners for the main stage on Saturday and one of the two bands from Mali. Very popular and they've sold records by the bucket load, so pretty much everyone came to see them. Good music – sort of an African version of rock music. So it's good for dancing, but I found everything started to sound the same after a bit.

Boredoms (performing Boadrum)
I only have Pop Tatari, and if I'm honest, I've managed my way through it once. It's also hard to imagine that the Boredoms were once signed to Warners. I didn't know what to expect. Well, this was an experience – just as SunnO))) was at Christmas. The stage was crammed with drummers and EYE stood behind his rack of boxes conducting them while smashing out ringing chords on his crucifix of guitars. Yes crucifix of guitars. And if that wasn't compelling enough, one drummer was held aloft by ten hands and delivered to the stage by sedan. You either love this sort of thing or hate it. But you'll only watch it once. Loud.

Built to Spill
A mate of mine reckoned if all bands hang around long enough they begin to sound like Built to Spill. And Built to Spill just sound like a really polished rock band. They also played the main stage on a Friday, so it was one for the fans.

I didn't like them. It sounded pretty twee from Burger King.

Daniel Johnston
I just don't get the cult of Johnston. Not my sort of thing.

Took on the main stage and won, even though they sounded as if they're still trying to figure out how to play such a big venue. Everyone happy – best t-shirt of ATP too..

The Fresh and Onlys
After so many bands, The Fresh and Onlys sounded just a bit too indie for my liking. But I have a sneaky suspicion that if I listen to more of their stuff, I'd really like it.

Hello Saferide
Swedish Indie singer songwriter, Annika Norlin delivered polished personal songs of love and introspection. It was okay.

Iggy and the Stooges
Nobody heckled Iggy, not that he gave them a chance. He just ran out and started screaming Raw Power. Great! I have to be honest, I only went to hear Search and Destroy, I Wanna Be Your Dog and catch Mike Watt play bass. All three things were ace. The only awkward moment was when Iggy started inviting people on stage. Then it got a bit GAP ad. Personally, I don't mind the insurance ads – look at the credits for his songs. Bowie gets the lion's share. It's time the man got paid. Does anyone else think Iggy looks a little bit like Jennifer Aniston?

James Blackshaw
First act I saw – introspective picking. We watched, we zoned out. James was great, if a little bit miserable. They should have put him on Sunday afternoon.

Joanna Newsom
Apart from waiting over an hour and the too short 40 minute set, this was a great end to ATP. I was tired and had no patience to jog to the front, so I sat at the back with a beer and thought of stuff.

Juana Molina
The curse of the loop pedal strikes again. The first song is good: 'Oh yeah she's looping up vocals, guitar parts, sounds interesting.' But by the third number you're falling asleep. However, she did play the graveyard Sunday afternoon slot. 

Konono No 1.
Scrap metal Congolese trance played on home made thumb pianos, percussion and kit. Good for dancing, repetitive and each song was at least double digits in length. Awesome.

Panda Bear
I first saw Panda Bear two years ago and it was amazing. On Saturday night, right when everyone wanted to dance and lose it to tunes like Good Girl/Carrots and Bros, Noah Lennox opened his set with droney introspection. After 45 minutes and no beats, I left for hours of fun at the indie disco. And the balance was rubbish too. Fail.

Band of the festival! Just crazy, amazing pop music that goes all over the place, played by an incredibly tight band. I didn't know what to expect, except that for every minute, they'd just go for it. Man they were young and hungry. Molly Siegel threw herself into dishing out yelping vocals. The only recognisable lyric was 'Oh no I'm late for school!' My new favourite band.

She & Him
That would be Zooey Deschanel and M Ward and about as close as I'll ever get to see a Rumours era Fleetwood Mac. For all the cynicism one could level at the band for being at ATP because of Zooey, she has written some really sweet music. The whole thing was a class act. I bet the album's a grower. I must say Zooey did come across a bit stoned with the onstage banter. But then hey, she was confronted with five rows of wide-eyed bearded indie boys. Christ, what would you think about that – except don't fall off the stage whatever you do.

Ruins (solo)
I stood outside Reds and this sounded like a whole box of wrong. I know he's a big deal, just not my kind of big deal.

Shonen Knife
Bubblegum punk for a Friday night. They were awesome, playing 45 minutes of power pop with not a dropped smile or nbeat. It's hard to believe they've been going since the eighties. There can't be much difference in age between them and the Raincoats. Except Shone Knife don't look a day over 26. It's uncanny. But they came with husbands and daughters in tow. 'Let's Go to the Sushi Bar' and a fantastic cover of 'Jet', by Wings were the set highlights. 'Banana Chips' was also great, except the sound, accents – whatever – made it sound like they were singing something else.

Spiritualized performing Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space
There were loads of them! A string section, horns, choir dressed in white, two guitarists, a bassist, a drummer, another drummer with even bigger drums, a keyboard player behind a space shuttle of keyboards and then little Jason Pierce hunched over his Telecaster in big shades. This was all about power and everything was thrown into the mix, so in the end the mix was just too much. And God, the songs went on and on. The first three were great, but then you realise they all sound the same and you end up wondering what all the fuss is about. 

Toumani Diabate
The second Mali act. Man, I want to got to The Festival of the Desert if this is the quality of the acts that play – even if it is in the middle of the desert and you have to carry everything with you – including your water. Toumani is the latest in a long line of kora players that stretches back some 71 generations. He's the Hendrix of kora and his live band were spot on too. Often I find African music tends to just get locked into a groove (which is no bad thing sometimes), but Toumani's music was highly structured. One of the best acts of the festival. I wonder what they thought of people like Iggy Pop and the Boredoms?

The Tiger Lillies
Dark tales of freak shows and other macabre characters. Matt Groening introduced this one and you can see why he likes them. The Tiger Lillies fuse a whole load of musical styles with the attitude of punk (read edgy) and dish it up in a theatrical manner. And one of them looks like Krusty. They're a cult band, which means if you like them you'll have seen them five times already and if you haven't, you'll just about make it through their set without wanting to see something else first. I liked it tho.

The XX
Yeah, put an emo band on Saturday night just when everyone is peaking. Hmm, I know the XX are supposed to be the band of the moment, but their music just seems so dry, morose and basic. Not my cup of tea.

Bad things:

That hotdog

Everything seemed to shut early

Less people meant less bands to see

Rubbish cinema

It was cold!

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Thursday, 6 May 2010

The Simpsons Confidential

So why is The Simpsons so popular? Is it the characters? The jokes? The stories? According to a study undertaken by Fox, the number one reason people like the show was when Homer hits his head and 'all the pretty colours'.



That's focus groups for you. The answer is more complex and John Ortved's first revelation is the role of Matt Groening. If there's a Matt-sized hole in the book, it's because the cartoonist behind the Life is Hell strip played only a very minor role in the story of how The Simpsons quickly became the most successful show in television history.

While it's true Matt drew a family based around his own to pitch for the Tracy Ullman show, the book reveals the brains behind the tone, look and setting of The Simpsons.

If there's a heart to the show, then it's down to James L Brooks – the man behind the sitcom Taxi and the writer/director of Terms Of Endearment. Ortved reveals Brooks to be the force that anchored the antics of The Simpsons around the idea of family – as well as a ruthless director of who should enjoy financial success from the show.

All the yellow skin and garish colours is down to animators, Klasky-Csupo. The creation of Springfield and the myriad of supporting characters is the work of hard drinkin', hard gamblin' comedy veteran Sam Simon. And what was Matt Groening doing all this time? Sitting in his office authorising ever more outlandish merchandising opportunities for Homer and co.

The real pleasure to be had from The Simpsons Confidential – particularly for any comedy fan – are the chapters dedicated to the show's writing room. Various ex-writers, such as Conan O'Brien and Jon Vitti describe writing for the show as equal to 'shooting hoops with Michael Jordan'.

Some of the finest minds in American comedy have written scripts and almost all of them for the generally accepted classic era (between seasons 2 and 6). This is a good book to discover the work of George Meyer, the man behind the singular Army Man magazine and John Swartzwelder, who wrote more classic scripts than any other writer. Without them, there wouldn't be the lines, 'Pray for Mojo' or the deliciously violent Itchy and Scratchy.

Inevitably, a good final third of the book is devoted to just how poor the show has become in recent years. John Ortved squarely nails his colours to the mast – the show should have ended seasons ago. But The Simpsons is a monster. The Fox network owes its very existence to the show; only Seinfeld has earned more money. It's almost impossible for any of the people interviewed in the book to imagine the show coming to an end and because of this, the book tends to drag. But The Simpsons Confidential is not just a history of the show. It's an essential read for anyone who wants to learn about the icons of recent American comedy writing. And that makes it pretty funny too.



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Tuesday, 4 May 2010

Legoland 25-04-2010



TN - Guitar
FD - Guitar
RM - Drums

My fingers break at the end

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Hack your Joggler into an iPoggler

The O2 Joggler is billed as your new fridge door; replacing all the notes and scrawled on calendar with a neat touch screen unit. You can text others from it, text in calendar dates, listen to internet radio and according to the O2 website, watch videos.

It looks a little bit like the iPad and with a bit of simple DIY hacking, the Joggler can start acting like one too. But be warned; it doesn't have a battery so it must forever be tethered to the mains. It doesn't come in a swish aluminium casing and the Joggler won't save the publishing industry anytime soon. But you can install a netbook operating system from a flash drive via the USB port. And that's when the fun starts, here's a video:


A friend of mine has hacked his and now uses it to show pictures, check his email and run Spotify all in the comfort of his own kitchen. He bought his Joggler for £50 on the high street, which is exactly £479.95 less than the entry model iPad is expected to ship in late May.

Apart from the price, why bother? One reason, is that some people, such as Russell Davies, think the iPad could be quite popular with old people. You just load it up with family pictures and a calendar and hand it over. And if you've ever had the experience of trying to explain to an old person just what 'mouse' is and why the window they should look at is not on the wall, you can see the appeal of saying 'touch what you see and have a play.'

Five hundred notes is a lot of money to spend on an iPad and my parents have already had one failed attempt at 'webbing' up granddad. Now I should point out, my granddad is still a sharp cookie and worked with computers (albeit mechanical ones), designing missile guidance systems – he just can't get his head around a laptop. And seeing as a typical day for him is watching the cricket on Sky and eating cream cakes, I reckon he just can't be bothered with the intricacies of Windows Vista.

But he is an avid follower of family photos and something like a hacked Joggler could be a good way of getting him used to the internet. If he can start playing with a touch screen, then upgrading to an iPad should be easy.

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