Friday, September 26, 2014 

Speech spirits.

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Friday, September 12, 2014 

You exist within her shadow.


Somewhat typically, I'm not here next week. I might well pop in next Friday and indulge in a bit of schadenfreude, but otherwise that's your lot for 7 days.

And I'm sorry I'm such an utter gimp, despite my words having lost all meaning and power long ago.

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Monday, September 08, 2014 

A triumph of art over logic.



What's the greatest album of all time?  General consensus, at least among critics, usually offers up either Revolver, Pet Sounds or Sgt. Pepper.  For good reason: all three were released within a year, all during that point in the Sixties, 4 years after Philip Larkin was later to declare sexual intercourse began, and before the murder of Sharon Tate, Woodstock and then Altamont brought the decade to a close.  The advances in production techniques; willingness to experiment with those techniques; outside, at the time exotic influences; drugs; they all combined, and it's no coincidence so many of what are now deemed to the finest collections of music you can buy all came out within a 3 or 4 year time period.  Hendrix, Dylan, Velvet Underground, Van Morrison, Led Zeppelin at a stretch, all operating at more or less the same time, all delivering magnum opuses, all inspired by each other, sometimes directly competing against each other.

Why then go against this consensus and instead say the greatest album of all time came out 28 years later, with the 20th anniversary of its release having just passed?  Simple, really: The Holy Bible by Manic Street Preachers is a singular achievement, an album out of its time, a triumph of art over logic, as Keith Cameron has described it.  It's the greatest precisely because of its imperfections, as opposed to the perfection of Pet Sounds.  In its original mix it sounds muddy, flat, and it's difficult as ever to decipher exactly what it is James Dean Bradfield is singing.  It sounds that way because it's how the band wanted it to sound, although they later preferred the mix prepared for the never released US version by Tom Lord Alge.  It doesn't matter because the music and lyrics are visceral in their intensity, the sound of a band playing for their lives, rejecting their previous mistakes and operating at a peak.

There's no getting away from what The Holy Bible has come to signify above all else, which is the disappearance and almost certain suicide of Richey James Edwards.  Some of the comment and search for meaning in his lyrics, with Edwards writing almost the entirety of the words to Bradfield and Sean Moore's music, where previously he had collaborated with Nicky Wire on the band's two previous albums, misses the mark as the album was finished before he was admitted to a mental health ward in Cardiff, later receiving treatment at the Priory.  Nonetheless, it's difficult to read the lyrics to Yes, Faster and Die in the Summertime and not visualise a mind in tumult, the culmination of what Edwards had been trying to say previously with Wire and hadn't quite achieved.

The Manics were after all treated as a bit of joke by some critics, at least to begin with.  Understandably, considering Wire's boasts of releasing a double album as their debut, it selling sixteen million copies, and then splitting up.  Motown Junk contains the line "I laughed when Lennon got shot", and some missed the intentional ridiculousness of You Love Us.  At the same time as rave was crossing over, the Manics were wearing eye make-up, reviving punk and quoting every revolutionary and cultural icon they could lay their hands on.  Generation Terrorists is a flawed, brilliant record, Motorcycle Emptiness not requiring any explanation, while Little Baby Nothing, Edwards' first song about the abuse, commodification and exploitation of women, both features Traci Lords and has the "culture, alienation, boredom and despair" line that so epitomises everything the early Manics stood for.  Famously, in response to interview questions from Steve Lamacq about their authenticity, Edwards invited the NME hack backstage, where he proceeded to carve "4 REAL" into his arm.  Most versions of the story then omit how the next day, after getting stitched up, Edwards rang Lamacq to apologise.

Edwards' mental health problems had begun in earnest at university, where by his own admission he drank to get to sleep, cut his arm with a compass and at one point weighed just 6 stone.  Twice during his time with the band he went to a health farm in an attempt to recover from the worst of what he did to himself, with any improvement being short-lived.  His behaviour was treated by both some fans and sections of the press as a bit of laugh, or even to be emulated; the worries of his closest friends and bandmates were downplayed, although others saw the path of destruction he was on for what it was.  He both hated and fed off the attention of those who idolised him; given a set of knives by a fan in Thailand, he refused to cut himself on stage as she wanted, instead slicing his chest horizontally beforehand, coming on topless with the blood trickling down his body.  There's a shot of Edwards in the 10th anniversary edition of the album, emaciated, looking heavenwards, the scars on his upper body lurid red, appearing for all the world like Christ down from the cross.

Wherever Edwards' mind was he as wrote the album's lyrics, they feel like, are his gospel.  Faster is his song, his response to critics both real and imagined.  "I am an architect, they call me a butcher," it opens.  "Self-abuse is anti-social, aggression still natural," he later commented.  How Bradfield and Moore wrote music to some of the lyrics defies explanation in itself, Bradfield commenting how he called Edwards "a crazy fucker ... expecting me to write music to this" but he managed it.  Imbibing post-punk after Gold Against the Soul had gone glam to indifferent results, the scuzz at times practically drips from the speakers, only relenting for This is Yesterday, the album's most straightforward and by the same token least interesting song, if you can describe a song that attacks the comforts of childhood as false in such terms.

Viewed from 2014, the idea of a song criticising political correctness making the top 40 and getting played on the radio is laughable, let alone from a band known for its left-wing sympathies.  As a double A-side with Faster, PCP reached number 16 in 1994.  Equally out of place and out of time was Archives of Pain, Edwards taking Foucault's work on discipline and punishment and tongue-in-cheek using it as a justification for the death penalty, as well as being a reaction against the cult of the serial killer.  Ifwhiteamerica... is a more standard piece of anti-American, anti-imperialist agitprop, on which Wire did the most work of any song on the album, with the lines "Zapruder the first to masturbate / the world's first taste of crucified grace" staying in the mind.  Just to slam the message of brutality further home, there's not one but two songs addressing the Holocaust and man's inhumanity to man, both written after the band had visited Dachau and Belsen, as well as the museum at Hiroshima.  If Mausoleum is one of the album's weaker tracks, for all its bleak, beautiful imagery, then Intense Humming of Evil is among the best, haunting, respectful, necessary.  "6 million screaming souls / maybe misery - maybe nothing at all / lives that wouldn't have changed a thing / never counted - never mattered - never be".

As absurd as Faster and PCP getting radio play seems 20 years on, it was only Edwards' disappearance that prevented Yes from being released as a single.  Used as we all are now to cussing in tracks being masked for radio edits, quite how a song about prostitution and the commodification of everything written in the most unflinching terms would have gone down can only be imagined.  Opening with the line "For sale? Dumb cunts same dumb questions" and with the chorus featuring "He's a boy, you want a girl so tear off his cock / Tie his hair in bunches, fuck him, call him Rita if you want", it's just as much about Edwards himself as it is the other topics it addresses.  "Can't shout, can't scream, I hurt myself to get pain out" is almost the exact reasoning he gave when asked why he self-harmed.

Most important of all is 4st 7lbs, without a doubt Edwards' and also Bradfield's true masterpiece.  Told from the perspective of a young female anorexic, it nails the vanity of wanting to be "so skinny that I rot from view", while not for a moment either judging or glamourising that desire.  Two-thirds of the way through the track changes completely, slowing gradually to a crawl, mirroring the way life is ebbing from our narrator as she approaches 4st 7lb, the weight below which death becomes medically certain.  "Yeh 4st 7, an epilogue of youth / such beautiful dignity in self-abuse / I've finally come to understand life / through staring blankly at my navel".

It's still not properly known what triggered Edwards' admittance to hospital in August 1994.  Some have suggested it was a culmination of his self-harm, alcoholism and anorexia, while reports, denied at the time, of a suicide attempt could well be nearer the mark.  Certainly, if he really had wanted to Die in the Summertime, then he didn't have the weakness, the strength to succeed.  While Edwards claimed the lyrics were written from the perspective of a pensioner remembering his childhood, dying with the thoughts of his happiest time, it's not every OAP who would think "scratch my leg with a rusty nail / sadly, it heals" or "a tiny animal turned into a quarter circle".  Easy as it is to interpret it straight to Edwards' own thoughts knowing how events would turn out, in this instance it could well be the correct one.

Speaking a couple of years ago, Wire said had Edwards lived he expected he would have been "writing books ... an amazing artist ... I like to think still writing amazing lyrics with myself".  The "like" is key: both the rest of the band and Edwards without saying as much almost certainly realised things couldn't go on as they had.  The hospital admission had proved that.  The day before they were due to go to America in their first real attempt to make it there, Edwards disappeared.  His car was found at Severn View, formerly Aust services, near to the Severn crossing.  Apart from a few almost certainly wishful sightings, no trace of Edwards has been found since.  Although his sister continues to hope he will either be found or one day return, he was declared presumed dead in 2008.

Genius is a word thrown about far too liberally.  That it often goes hand in hand with "tortured" is almost always a cliché too far.  Depression, mental illness, they strike without discrimination; we just don't hear about the millions who kill themselves who aren't renowned.  The fascination with the famous or celebrities with personal deficiencies is part wanting to rationalise why it is they reached where they did, part wanting to think they aren't "better" than us and part not wanting their success due to its ill effects.  Edwards wasn't a genius in the true sense, nor was he anything other than a terribly flawed human being.  What he did have was a blinding intellect, a lyrical gift that blazed all too briefly.  The Holy Bible is his epitaph, like it or not.

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Friday, September 05, 2014 

Re-imagined.

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Friday, August 29, 2014 

Black rose.

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Friday, August 22, 2014 

I should have lied like everyone else.

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Friday, August 15, 2014 

And not this mess of a man.

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Monday, August 11, 2014 

227 Lears and I can't remember the first line.

100,000 plays.  In just over 10 years.  11,047 artists.  1,849 plays of Bloc Party.

I'm not sure what any of this means.  Or if it means anything.  Other than I've listened to an average of 27 songs a day.

This urge to document the most mundane things about our lives is quite something though, isn't it?

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Friday, August 08, 2014 

Another chance.

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Friday, August 01, 2014 

Don't make me over.

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Friday, July 25, 2014 

Sucking on the hose pipe.

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Friday, July 18, 2014 

Judge yr'self.

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Friday, July 11, 2014 

Hidden XS.

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Friday, July 04, 2014 

You used to hold me.

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Wednesday, July 02, 2014 

Everyone I've loved or hated always seems to leave.

Puking, shaking, sinking, I still stand for old ladies.  Can't shout, can't scream, hurt myself to get pain out.

Remember that thankfully brief period just after the turn of the millennium when nu-metal/rap-metal seemed to be all conquering?  How could anyone possibly forget?  Such was the success of perhaps the standard bearers of the ill-fated movement, Limp Bizkit, that Fred Durst's band contributed the main theme to Mission Impossible 2.  Then there was Slipknot, Papa Roach, KoRn, Puddle of Mudd, and most importantly for this piece, Linkin Park.

Ah, Linkin Park.  Crawling, In the End and all the rest are classics of the period, in they're perfect distillations of what the especially angsty side of nu-metal was all about.  Previous generations of rebellious teenagers heard music that tended to suggest they either direct their anger outward, or better still, created the conditions which enabled them to create their own new sub-culture, somewhere they could belong.  This isn't to say those into the heavier side of usually American rock didn't have their own cliques, and in my neck of the words we called those who belonged to it or dressed in the style grebos, but I digress.  Nu-metal seemed different in that it suggested the best way to deal with the loneliness and pain of being a teenager was to direct it against yourself.  At least, that's what it seemed at the time.  When the chorus of Crawling is "crawling in my skin, these wounds they will not heal", why would anyone think differently?

If I haven't made it clear before, I was more than a bit of a dickbag until not long after this period (who am I kidding, I still am).  What could be more enjoyable then than a spot of trolling Linkin Park fans?  Whether this was an official site or not I now can't recall; what I do is there were plenty of other teenagers the band did speak to, and they were incredibly easy to wind up/upset.  Before the banhammer came down, plenty of forum threads were duly derailed, much personal shit was mocked, and self-harm especially made light of.  Kill yourselves.  Do it properly.  Slice up and not across.

At the time I hadn't realised the sadness I felt, the self-loathing I was beginning to truly experience and the longing for things to stay the same meant I had far more in common with these kids than I would have ever admitted.  I didn't know I had been depressed, was depressed, would become more so.  It was just angst, typical hormonal stuff, nothing more; I'd get over it.

Karma doesn't exist, couldn't possibly, not least when so many of those deserving will never get their comeuppance, but all I had dished out, not just online obviously, came back and far more besides.  So it was that probably only a year and a half later I started using a knife against myself.  Irony of ironies.  Hypocrite of hypocrites.  Where I got the idea I don't know; extremely rarely does someone begin to self-harm completely of their own volition.  Perhaps it was from a friend I spoke to over the internet who had told me he had cut himself.  Maybe I thought it would give some kind of release, divert my attention from thinking about everything else to a real, physical injury.  It could have been I wanted to prove just how "4 real" I was.  As usual, probably a mixture of all three.

Except, thankfully in retrospect, I wasn't very good at it.  Not that I didn't try.  I even bought a Stanley knife from a market stall so as to keep from blunting the kitchen cutlery (jokes).  Surprisingly, cutting yourself hurts.  Who knew, right?  It didn't however have any real effect on me.  It didn't distract me.  It didn't make me feel better.  All it did was leave lines of not much more than scratches on my arm.  It was addictive though, and I kept doing it for a while.  For some people, it clearly does help.  There was controversy a while back about providing adult patients with a "safe" environment where they could self-harm, on the same principle as allowing addicts to inject.  If it's a first step in getting those with a severe problem to stop, then it's worth a go.


 
When you cut yourself, you aren't thinking of the future.  You exist only in the moment.  In my case I didn't think I had a future anyway.  I certainly didn't imagine that 11 years later the scars would still be all too visible, a constant reminder of how fucking stupid you were, you still are.  As I've made clear, I never cut too deep, with the possible exception of the mark dead centre, where I gouged as much as slashed.  Here's the warning, kids: if you think cutting will solve something, anything, know that you will bear it for a long, long time, even if you're a wuss like I was.  Sure, you could cover the marks with a tattoo (if that is the damaged skin can be covered), but it will have to be a pretty damn big one, we're talking almost a full sleeve, and they cost money, money that could definitely be spent on better things.  Besides, is a tattoo going to make the difference that matters the most, the one to you, when you know what it's hiding?  Plus trust me, while a tiny minority of people might like scars, they won't appreciate those where it's apparent how the injury happened.

See, I was wrong about Linkin Park.  Not about them being shite, natch, especially when everyone could have been listening to say, Relationship of Command instead.  Rather it's that the lyrics, regardless of what you think about them, meant something to those people at a time when it mattered.  When they needed to know someone else had gone through what they were, were thinking the same way they might have been, a popular beat combo filled the role.  Looking at the mainstream in 2014, about the only person telling teens to be themselves and not to worry about being different is, err, Lady Gaga.  How times change.

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Monday, June 30, 2014 

White people as far as the eye can see.

"We're Mogwai from Glasgow, Scotland."  You only need hear Stuart Braithwaite say those words in his distinctive lilt, the way he always introduces the band, to know that for however long they play, everything will be all right.  While the BBC were raving away about how heavy metal was taking over the Pyramid stage, agog at just how noisy and uninhibited the tossers who sued Napster were, away at the Park stage a group that know the quiet parts are just as important as the loud ones were in their element.  They might not have played Like Herod, the version they recorded for John Peel putting anything by Metallica to shame in terms of sheer aural punishment, but Mogwai Fear Satan more than made up for it.  Their thank you at the end of the set was both heartfelt and pointed, a barely veiled nod to the comments beforehand about the "shite" they were billed against.

Glastonbury was without a doubt better this year than last, in my obviously irrelevant view formed from sitting in front of a computer at home.  At least it was so long as you ignored the main stage entirely, which is increasingly the best policy.  Arcade Fire undoubtedly tried their best, but they're never festival headliners in a million years, however much I like them.  It also might have meant something if Metallica had been on the Pyramid on Saturday night over 20 years ago; in 2014 it's frankly embarrassing.  As for Kasabian, comparing them to Spinal Tap suggests a sense of humour they conspicuously lack.  I understand Elbow's appeal (I bought the new album despite being deeply underwhelmed by Build a Rocket Boys!), it just increasingly leaves me cold, One Day Like This destined to become a song so overplayed any meaning it may have once had left as sterile as a hospital ward, while Jack White's histrionics were wearying rather than seductive.  If nothing else, Lily Allen's performance conjured up a new vision of my own personal hell: forever condemned to relive a false experience of being trapped in the middle of the crowd for her set, surrounded by hipsters, trustafarians and tens of thousands of white people.

Which is something that has to be discussed: the whole weekend I saw more non-white faces among the security and on stage than I did in the crowd itself.  You can't tell me the range of music on offer doesn't appeal across the demographics, so clearly there's something else at work.  Whether it be the price, the way the tickets are sold or other factors, it ought to be something to worry the organisers and sponsors.  If those on high are going to deliver lectures about culture and values to communities that supposedly want no part of modern Britain, we can't ignore how monopolised the events regarded as the biggest of the year are by the (white) middle classes.

Following on from last year, the live streaming of all the main stages, if not the dance tents as would help complete the picture of what the festival as a whole is like, meant you could dispense with the BBC's main coverage entirely.  Not that this was wholly successful: at least my end the stream couldn't make up its mind the quality my connection could handle, constantly switching and so interrupting playback to the point of distraction (and much swearing).  Thankfully, and as should be the case, the full sets for almost every act are now available to be replayed to your heart's content, at least for a month.

You can then watch the latest great white hype (surely hope?) for British indie, Royal Blood, delight an easily pleased John Peel tent.  They're not bad, it's just I remember them from ten years ago when they were called Death from Above 1979 and they were better.  Coincidentally (or not), the actual DFA 1979 have a new album coming out in September after reforming a couple of years back.  More impressive were Wolf Alice, but you still can't see them making the breakthrough.

A further reminder of how far ahead the Americans have been of us Brits in the indie rock stakes in recent years came from Parquet Courts, whose spiky, idiosyncratic assault on the Park stage must have won them plenty of new admirers.  The Park stage in general was the place to stick around for most of the weekend: apart from Interpol, the Manics and the Horrors, all of whom were reliable on the Other stage, with the latter surprising everyone with a gorgeous rendition of Jamie Principle's Your Love, not much came close to Four Tet's Friday night mix as the sun set.  Kieran Hebden had more people dancing outside of the area dedicated to DJs than the rest of the acts combined.

The real highlight of the weekend though had to be St. Vincent. On before James Blake, who despite starting with CMYK failed to translate his stripped back sound in the same way as the xx did last year, Annie Clark stunned in absolutely every sense. Whatever drugs she was on, and she was so high she could barely stay on the ground, I could really do with some.  As fantastic as Strange Mercy was, to see her perform the same guitar heroics live was to be reminded of how exciting rock can be when sonic experimentation meets great song writing. It ought to be a rebuff to conservatism in music in general at the moment, whether it be from the garage-house revivalists or the Kodalines of this world.  Sadly, what sells matters more than ever.

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Friday, June 27, 2014 

Glastonbury can do one.

Call me a cynic, but I'm pretty doubtful John Peel would have ever played Clean fucking Bandit.

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Friday, June 20, 2014 

Routine.

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Friday, June 13, 2014 

A taste of Brazil.*


*In the same sense as KFC are currently offering "a taste of Brazil".

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Friday, June 06, 2014 

Is there a spirit that spits upon the exit of signs?

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