Wednesday, December 19, 2007


I was listening to ‘Mr Blue Sky’ by the Electric Light Orchestra today; they’re not a band I’m normally a fan of, but it’s such a catchy song. I’ve concluded that that song is one they wrote because, by some oversight, neither the Beatles nor Wings ever got round to writing it. I’m not saying that it might be derivative, it’s not a copy of a Beatles song, it’s just like a song that they missed out. If you see what I mean.

I remember reading an interview with Jimmy Page (I think) a few years back where he was asked, as he often is, whether there is any truth to the urban legend that he was the man who played the roaring, mad guitar solo in ‘you really got me’ by the Kinks. I can’t recall his response exactly but as I remember it he started by explaining that no, he hadn’t played that solo, but he really wished he had - that he envied the kinks because, as he put it, there was a whole group of bands at the time who knew that that song was out there somewhere, and wanted to be the ones who wrote it.

I know that it’s utterly irrational but I often find myself thinking along similar lines to Mr Page; that there are certain ideas, whether they are songs or concepts, that have some kind of existence independent of their creators – that want to be made. You just have to look at the notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci to see an illustration of this - he drew pictures of helicopters, tanks, steam engines, etc., at a time when there wasn’t even a glimmer of most the technology that would make these ideas feasible.

With things like planes these recurring ideas not particularly interesting, people have always wanted to fly, but when you look at something like this it becomes really striking.

The central four devices are portable transistor radios made in the early 60’s. The outer four are first generation iPods. The radios were a flop, very few were made and little attention was ever paid to them. The thing is that everyone at apple swears that they’d never seen them before. It could be that the iPod just wanted to be, way before the hard-drive or the LCD display.

Terry Pratchett, British fantasy writer and generally funny man, has written a great deal on that idea. In his strange, pseudo-renaissance alternate world ‘Discworld’ technology and ideas that are familiar to us keep appearing, in garbled form in his world. The reason for this, he explains is that the inspiration for these ideas whizzes thought the firmament looking for a receptive head.

Or, I suppose, it’s actually just that shit happens and coincidences can be as implausible as they want to be.*

- Ben

*take, for example, the name 'napoleon dynamite' - when a bunch of young film makers invented a character with this name they had no idea that Elvis Costello made up the same name to use as a pseudonym on a couple of tracks he produced for other people in the 80's

Monday, December 17, 2007



Now I know that this is hardly the most exciting news story you'll see this week, but look closely at the accompanying picture.

You spot it?

Yes that's right, it's taken long enough (judging from what 60's Sci-Fi told us, we're still at least 10 years behind schedule) but we, as a culture, appear to be finally moving into the future. And not the boring future - you know, the one that involves astonishing medical advances, mobile phones, the internet, etc. - but the proper retro-future where there are jetpacks for all, robot butlers in every home, and skin-tight lycra jumpsuits for everyone.



Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Suicide Songs

I’ve been listening to a lot of music tonight, marvelling at the number of songwriters who write about suicide, and how, despite their bleak and depressing subject matter, these songs aren’t necessarily bleak and depressing in themselves.

‘Better off Dead’ by Bill Withers is a good example of this kind of song; it’s funky, catchy, and has lyrics about alcoholism and death – Like a Raymond Carver story put to music by Curtis Mayfield. It opens with the lines "she couldn’t stand me anymore/ so she just took the kids and went/ you see I’ve got a drinking problem/ all the money that we had, I spent," ends with the lines "she’s better off without me / and I’m better off dead…" followed by the crack of a gun going off, and isn’t much happier in between. Nonetheless it is a really good song - you find yourself singing along with the despairing, suicidal chorus with the same enthusiasm you’d give an old favourite.

I'm not sure if this is just me, but I find that that song reinforces my belief that it's not possible to take in melody and poetry at the same time. You can appreciate both, in the same song even, but not at the same time. How many times, for example, can you remember listening to a song and then, afterwards, thinking about the profundity or relevance of the lyrics. The first time I heard Eliza Carthy's version of 'Worcester City' I didn't register the slightest hint of what the story was about, just how good the song was.

‘Can’t Stand Losing You’ by The Police (I can’t remember whether it’s a Sting or Stewart Copeland song) is another example of an insanely catchy song about suicide, although it is different in its angle on the subject. This isn’t the monologue of a crushed alcoholic; it’s the angry posturing of a petulant kid, trying to make people pity him, caught up in the romantic idea of killing himself over love without ever really considering it.

To flex literary for a moment, the protagonist of ‘can’t stand losing you’ is like wossername* in Northanger Abbey – a personality created by the narrative format they imagine themselves in: in her case, the gothic novel. In this case: the self-pitying suicide song.

I suppose the thing that is interesting isn’t really the fact that catchy songs have been written about killing yourself, but the fact that so many songs get written about suicide all the time. I mean, I’ve got two examples here, but I expect that the Stereophonics alone have probably written about 6 more of the conventional dreary kind. Why this is baffles me a bit - I’m pretty sure that Kelly Jones can’t be writing from personal experience – I don’t doubt that living in Wales is bleak, but I don’t think it’s bleak enough for him to know a half dozen corpses by the time he wrote his second album. I suppose it’s just that Romeo and Juliet thing again, conjuring this image in people’s minds of suicide as something beautiful, rather than just the grotesque and painful end to the life of some poor bugger who’s been in and out of institutions their whole life.

Er, well, on that jolly note, I’m off to bed.


*hey, it is 12:30 at night, don’t expect scholarly accuracy.

Sunday, December 09, 2007


For anyone who doesn't know, I'm currently working at a publishing firm, sorting and storing their massive archive of strange books. For the first few weeks I was there I was Mr Self-Control. I never caved to temptation and delved in the pile of books bound for the skip. My resolve was broken, however, when I found a children's science activity book (not one made by the firm I work for, I hasten to add) with the most amazing cover illustration.

(clicky on images for embiggening)

Good isn't it, quite the most astonishingly bad picture ever. I didn't open it for a week or two, because I was worried that perhaps what was inside would spoil the perfection of the cover, might explain what it meant and ruin it. But I was not to worry; when I eventually opened it up I found that the illustration in the cover was, if anything, actually one of the better examples from inside the book.

Look at this -

Or this -

By now I was convinced that I was dealing with a master artist, a latter day michaelangelo. But I still worried, perhaps the writing would be incisive, intelligent and educational - making it slightly less wonderfully absurd.

no need to worry on that front, most of the experiments described are bizarre to an almost surrealist extent.

So there you go, further evidence that Look Around You really isn't that far from how science is taught in the UK.


Yes, it has occurred to me that these images are probably copyright of someone, but I figure that in order to hand me a copyright violation notice they'll have to admit that the art is theirs first.

and who would do that.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

The blagosphere

The internet has many personalities - most commonly seen are the really obscene and seedy sex trafficker, the prejudiced moron, and the opinionated teenage boy. My personal favourite, however, is the strangely creative, subversive, counterculture type. Who, armed with a really bizarre sense of humour, goes about mocking all the sincere idiots and blowhards. It is the internet that glues captions to cats, that worships the flying spaghetti monster and names endangered whales 'Mr Splashy Pants'

Greenpeace have been tracking an endangered humpback whale for a while now, and recently decided to allow the masses of the internet to give it a name. The internet pondered, looked at the 'beautiful' names - and the usual hippy crap - and decided that the best name for a Humpback whale was 'Mr Splashy Pants', well, 73% of the internet did, anyway.

This all suits Greenpeace just fine. It may be a stupid name, but it has made them the talk of the interblag and motivated the righteous, sincere types to start a crusade to counter the massed facetiousness of the internet - thus generating them even more publicity in circles likely to give them more money.

I'm not going to link the poll, because I'd rather not be a direct part of the interblag meme fest, but the business end of the campaign is here - it's about trying to stop the japanese 'research' whaling fleets - who, by all accounts, don't do a great deal of research


Saturday, December 01, 2007

Face Plumbing

I have a really bad cold at the moment - one of those 'just short of making you throw up everywhere and declare it flu' sort of colds. I know that this isn't particularly interesting; in fact, I'd normally refrain from mentioning any illness I have to anyone, especially women - because generally the phrase 'man-flu' is said, and then the red mist descends - leaving me standing in the middle of a room full of poked eyes and tweaked nipples*

I thought I'd bring this matter up because, whilst I don't really have anything interesting to say, I do have something slightly disgusting to say - and that's nearly as good, right?

I've mentioned before how my body appears to be like a Škoda - It's perfectly sound when it comes to essential functions (I'm reasonably healthy, have no nasty diseases and don't get sick very often) however, when it comes to the less important things, it sort of falls down.

I have a brain that used to give me occasional seizures, knees and back that click and twinge all the time and, as I rediscovered today - some really shitty in-head plumbing.

I was blowing my nose, for about the 15th time today (I was just getting into london bridge station on my way to work). I blew hard, and snot came out, as I'd expected.

but it came out of my eye.


my left eye, to be precise.


Which is quite possibly the most gross thing that's happened to me since I last drank Carling.

In other news, the Onion's informative world Map is very funny, and should be looked at. hard.

I'm off to oxford tomorrow, to hang with lucy and the edster. huzzah.


*Yeah, I know, even when I'm in a berserker rage I still fight like a 10 year old girl