Sunday, 29 November 2015

We Hate Hank?

 ... no we don't.

We rather like him, anagram fans.

Ethan Hawke is one of those actors, like Richard Gere, say, or even Hugh Grant (though on a totally different level), who has thinkpieces written about him, because he's not just an actor, he's a representative of something, he's a story within a story.

You're never totally totally sure that he's excellent (although, with Hawke, you're pretty certain) but that doesn't really matter.

Looking at his filmography,  I've seen 12 Hawke films. I like nearly all of them. I love a lot of them.

Some might say he's lucky that, by his association with Richard Linklater, he's part of some truly great, transcendent cinema. But Linklater's just as lucky. It's the Scorsese/De Niro of our age.

Hawke seems nearly always to be playing some version of himself - that's rather the point. A young man growing up on film, from Dead Poets' Society to Before Midnight and Boyhood. He's nearly always some kind of "good", some kind of "hero", albeit he's annoying and insecure, selfish and error-prone. A sweaty, geeky, neurotic normality combined with sharp intelligence.

He plays an author, an absentee father, a guy who's marriage to a beautiful wife breaks down, he plays imperfect and pretentious.

He's not completely unrecognised (I'd thought he was) he has writing Oscar nominations for work on the 'Before' trilogy, a couple of Best Supporting Nominations for Training Day and Boyhood.

I caught a scene from Boyhood on TV yesterday - it kind of summed so much of Hawke up - it's early in the film, it's when he takes his kids bowling and he's telling Mason he doesn't need the sidebars - life doesn't give you sidebars. He's telling the kids their mother is "a piece of work" in the most affectionate way imaginable, he's explaining his absence, swearing and donating to the swear jar. It's one of many wonderful scenes in the film. You don't know at this stage if he's going to be a shitty dad or a great one, but you hope it's the latter, and so it turns out to be.

Because of his authorship and his role in the writing of the 'Before' films, but also just because of how he is, I watch so much of his scenes thinking he's truly giving the audience something of himself.

With the wrong actor, that might be awful, but it's what makes him great.

I know a couple of film fans who initially weren't charmed by Before Sunrise because, basically, Hawke's character was too annoying, but as the three films progress, they were won over, as they realised that was almost the whole point.
The character of Jesse and Celine are just about the truest you'll ever come across in film - it can make other so-called realistic scenes quite hard to watch afterwards.

What are my favourite five Hawke movies, counting 'Before' as one, which is a bit of a cheat.

Dead Poet's Society
Before Sunrise/Sunset/Midnight
 .... Hmm, then it's a bit of a toss-up, but I think I'll go for Reality Bites, for old times' sake.

Sunday, 22 November 2015

My Favourite 101 Songs

I do all these lists, don't I, but it's been over five years since I actually told you what my favourite songs are. No arsing about with pretence to objectivity or strictures or structures.

Here they are. There is some small structure. I thought "Since I last made a list of My Favourite 100 Songs five years ago, what have been my favourite songs within that time?" So not just this second and not throughout my whole life either. I looked at what I'd listened to most, thought about what had consistently thrilled me in the various contexts I listen to music, and then knocked this together in no time at all.

If you follow the blog, there are few surprises. There's plenty that was here last time. It's depressingly lacking the kind of eclecticism I'd be compelled into if I was doing anything but expressing a preference for the very cream on the top of the 100s of 1000s of songs that have passed through my ears.
  1. In California - Joanna Newsom
  2. The Rat - The Walkmen
  3. All My Friends - LCD Soundsystem
  4. Going Underground - The Jam
  5. Ice Hockey Hair - Super Furry Animals
  6. Hey Lover - Dawes
  7. Isis (Live) - Bob Dylan
  8. Losing You - Randy Newman
  9. I See a Darkness - Bonnie Prince Billy
  10. My Girls - Animal Collective
  11. La Tristesse Durere - Manic Street Preacher
  12. Thunder Road - Bruce Springsteen
  13. The First Day of My Life - Bright Eyes
  14. Emily - Joanna Newsom
  15. Bryte Side - The Pernice Brothers
  16. The Only Living Boy in New York - Simon and Garfunkel
  17. St Patrick - James Yorkston
  18. The Good Intentions Paving Company - Joanna Newsom
  19. Lean On Me - Bill Withers
  20. So Long Marianne - Leonard Cohen
  21. From the Morning - Nick Drake
  22. Slaveship - Josh Rouse
  23. My Wandering Days Are Over - Belle and Sebastian
  24. The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll - Bob Dylan
  25. Doo Wop (That Thing) - Lauryn Hill
  26. Love Anyway - The Waterboys
  27. Between the Wars - Billy Bragg
  28. Your Love Keeps Lifting Me Higher and Higher - Jackie Wilson
  29. Hey Darling - Sleater Kinney
  30. Grace - Jeff Buckley
  31. Dry the Rain - Beta Band
  32. Angela Surf City - The Walkmen
  33. Northern Sky - Nick Drake
  34. People Ain't No Good - Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds
  35. Be My Baby - The Ronettes
  36. We Can Work It Out - The Beatles
  37. Steady Pace - Matthew E White
  38. There She Goes, My Beautiful World - Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds
  39. Heaven - The Walkmen
  40. Snow is Gone - Josh Ritter
  41. Rise - Josh Rouse
  42. The Trapeze Swinger - Iron and Wine
  43. Trellick Tower - Emmy the Great
  44. A Case of You - Joni Mitchell
  45. Mr November - The National
  46. Let's Make This Precious - Dexys Midnight Runners
  47. Mississippi - Bob Dylan
  48. Sons and Daughters - The Decemberists
  49. Make Your Own Kind of Music - Mama Cass
  50. The Mercy Seat - Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds
  51. Idiot Wind - Bob Dylan
  52. Holes - Mercury Rev
  53. Fire in My Heart - Super Furry Animals
  54. Fight the Power - Public Enemy
  55. Olympian - Gene
  56. Floating in the Forth - Frightened Rabbit
  57. America - Simon and Garfunkel
  58. A Rainy Night in Soho - The Pogues
  59. 14th Street - Rufus Wainwright
  60. She's Your Lover Now - Bob Dylan
  61. Sweet Jane - The Velvet Underground
  62. Chicago - Sufjan Stevens
  63. Massive Night - The Hold Steady
  64. This is a Low - Blur
  65. Funeral - Band of Horses
  66. The Weight - The Band
  67. When the Haar Rolls In - James Yorkston
  68. Don't You - Micah P Hinson
  69. American Trilogy - The Delgados
  70. Redemption Song - Bob Marley
  71. Family Affair - Mary J Blige
  72. Like a Rolling Stone - Bob Dylan
  73. Jesus Etc - Wilco
  74. Chin High - Roots Manuva
  75. Wake Up - Arcade Fire
  76. $1000 Wedding - Gram Parsons 
  77. Carey - Joni Mitchell
  78. Sunshine on Leith - The Proclaimers
  79. Billie Jean - Michael Jackson
  80. Moon River - Audrey Hepburn
  81. Faster - Manic Street Preachers
  82. Severed Crossed Fingers - St Vincent
  83. Sweeping the Nation - Spearmint
  84. Round Eye Blues - Marah
  85. Sweet Thing - Van Morrison
  86. Jackie - Scott Walker
  87. My Baby Don't Understand Me - Natalie Prass
  88. I'm Gonna Make You Love Me - The Supremes and the Temptations
  89. Misunderstood - Wilco
  90. Out on the Floor - Dobie Gray
  91. Dreamy Days - Roots Manuva
  92. Little Baby Nothing - Manic Street Preachers
  93. Dancing On My Own - Robyn
  94. Scottish Pop - Spearmint
  95. How - Regina Spektor
  96. Rise to Me - The Decemberists
  97. Galveston - Glen Campbell
  98. Oxygen - Willy Mason
  99. Be Not So Fearful - Bill Fay
  100. Instant Karma - John Lennon
  101. Gimme Some Lovin'   -  The Spencer Davis Group

Tuesday, 17 November 2015

Those same streets

I write about music and sport here. I love these things and I've bored many a person trying to say that they're not just parts of life, they're the most important things in the world. I really think that. Now more than ever.

It's understandable for people to think otherwise. It's understandable because often our joys and pleasures seem separated from the business of life and death. People who don't love sport think people go to football matches to care far too deeply about something for a couple of hours as an escape from their real lives. It's a view. It's not how I see it, but it's a valid view.

Likewise, the songs and the gigs and the festivals we love can seem like a hermetically sealed place of magic and wonder. While we're there, we're free. But, some might say, its not real, it's not the hard stuff.

And we get so cross about our rivals, our Arsenal FC and Australian cricket team, and we love the bands we love, and look down on the others - we go, pah, the Killers, pah One Direction, I wouldn't waste money going to see them.

I'm sure you know where I'm going. My blog can be hermetically sealed, I try to avoid any public reaction, whether here or on facebook, to anything of the wider world. It's not more important, I say to myself, it's just more boring, and also I've fewer fun and interesting thing to say about it.

So. I've seen everyone reacting in their different ways on social media to what happened in Paris on Friday, and I didn't think I'd join. People were very quickly finding ways to disagree with how each other were responding, what was appropriate, what wasn't. It's what we do, these days. It can be exhausting, annoying, occasionally amusing.

A lot of people cried "hypocrisy" and mentioned the 100s who die elsewhere every week. But it's never a numbers game. If it were, if people cared equally about each untimely death, we would not get through a minute without crying.

Modern history contains a few events which have been unusually unsettling for me. I speak for me. But the list is probably shared with most other people of my age who grew up in a city. I may have spent my whole life being treated like, and also cultivating the image of being, a bit of an oddball, someone who thinks slightly different things, but I'm really not so different.

I love going to restaurants, pubs and bars, I love football and other sports, I love live music, I love the hum of a great city on a good night out. Those things, they're just the best, aren't they?

And we have taken them for granted. We have. Those have been our safety net. And now, maybe just for a while, maybe for longer, they won't feel so safe.

That's what they want, obviously. I don't know much about them, but the news and the thinkpieces tell us they're an anti-culture millenarian death cult, a joyless version of what we decadent city folk would think a living hell. They're destroying sites of ancient culture in the Middle East, they'd try to destroy modern culture.

We're going to have to take a few deep breaths in order to get on with it. I've not been in Paris for a while, not been to the Bataclan, am not a fan of Eagles of Death Metal,  not been to the Stade de France or (I don't think) the bars and restaurants which were attacked. But I've been to other great cities, other great gig venues, seen other great bands, been to other great stadiums and been to other great bars and restaurants. Most of us have.

Are we hypocrites because we feel strongly that it's our life which is under attack? No, not hypocrites. Can this lead to a siege mentality, and a retreat to our larger tribe? Well, it can, it can, but these great cities, they don't let that happen for long, not if you've got your head screwed on.

I don't want to romanticize and mythologize the lifestyle of the Londoner, the Parisian, the New Yorker. We know those cities have their problems. But what is true that you see people who are totally different from you every minute of every day there. Different but not that different. And that's what makes it great.

I've taken to writing poems again lately. I hope this isn't crass.

I count the difference with precision,
Find new foe in every phrase
And stripe, each eyebrow raised
Lends me a new subdivision
To lean myself limply against.

We walked the same, or similar, streets,
With different step and colour scarf
Wincing at each misjudged laugh
making sure we didn’t meet
with no harm done or meant.

I offer now my quiet and gentle scorn
For your beautiful lives lost,
Affront held without cost
and just as casually forsworn –
this gift we shared, our very best.

Saturday, 14 November 2015

Fame is for the few

Righto, so here's another thing. You could say it's from the perspective of being someone who loves cool stuff and is a bit obsessive about the details of it, and spends their working days and nights finding out exactly the living, breathing, working world knows about stuff, cool and otherwise, and generally getting ground down by how depressing that is.
This is the kind of line I deliver ...
"Yes, we all know that as an Adele song, but that's the original ... no it's not Louis Armstrong  ...  no, not Michael Bolton  ... it's Bob Dylan (small cheer). Very well done to the three teams that got that..."

I'm perhaps a little disappointed by this. I had a killer first line, I think (though I've gilded the lily there a little) but then I think it's often just couplets, just punchlines. Anyway, maybe you disagree.

The flow does work,  I promise, though you may have to be a bit flexible ...

Right, it needs a name  ... remember the name ...


Fatal fame is for the few, whatever Andy Warhol said
To Valerie Solanas as his holy torso bled.
Now even Lili Taylor’s just a footnote to a star –
A face, but not a name, of rarely rewatched cinema.

The fruit tree’s sprouting wildly, constantly, inedibly
And not one bright but tasteless plum will leave a legacy
Like Achilles, Moses, Iron Man or any other figure
Lucky to be connected with a name that’s even bigger.

When Lou Reed died, the radio did play Who Loves the Sun –
so the sixty-seven folk who formed a band could bask as one
in their hard-won separation from the standard frame of reference
and the 7 and growing billion who could not tell the difference.

The purpose of the practice of the pedant – to correct -
Is futile, if its underlying goal is not respect
For the labours of the undersung, deserving, at the last,
to break free from blithe errata of the clinically unarsed.

Bob Dylan makes a quiz question by virtue of Adele
Deigning to judge which lumpen ballad’s dull enough to sell.
A roar, a point for glory, is this a new fanbase cracked?
Our survey says the surface is the only point of contact.

Festivals raise cult heroes back to that one big stage
Where bearded bubbled revellers can mourn a bygone age
When talent and adventure earned reward, renown, repeat -
All tomorrow’s parties lit by yesterday’s conceit.

Even if you bleed charisma, tingle with clear-eyed ambition
Death is not a guarantee of fitting recognition.
On the day Joe Strummer died, the DJ followed Train in Vain
By asking if we’d hear such a distinctive voice again.

Death invades relentlessly this rock and rolling news age
And instantly the tributes pour from every user’s web page.
They tweet a name they half-know but they do not mourn the man,
Knowledge at our fingertips is shared history down the pan.