Bush of Goats

Life's too short for empty slog. ans.

Day 03 – A song that makes you happy

3 Steely Dan – Reelin’ In The Years

‘You’ve been telling me you’re a genius since you were seventeen,
in all the time I’ve known you, I still don’t know what you mean.’

*And* Jimmy Paige’s favourite riff – all in the one song. Epic win, dude.

Steely Dan – Reeling In The Years

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Day 02 – Your least favourite song

2 – Aqua – Barbie Girl

I used to just dislike this song, but then I had children. Specifically, daughters. Before I could ignore it; now, I have to deal with it. There’s no MP3 for this as I dislike it so much. Instead, and in order that anyone mercifully unfamiliar with it can at least get the jist, here are the lyrics. The song is sung by a man and a woman; the male vocals are italicised:

– Hi Barbie!
– Hi Ken!
– You Wanna Go For A Ride?
– Sure, Ken!
– Jump In!
– Ha Ha Ha Ha!

I’m A Barbie Girl In The Barbie World
Life In Plastic, It’s Fantastic
You Can Brush My Hair, Undress Me Everywhere
Imagination, Life Is Your Creation

Come On, Barbie, Let’s Go Party

I’m A Barbie Girl In The Barbie World
Life In Plastic, It’s Fantastic
You Can Brush My Hair, Undress Me Everywhere
Imagination, Life Is Your Creation

I’m A Blonde Single Girl In The Fantasy World
Dress Me Up, Take Your Time, I’m Your Dollie
You’re My Doll, Rock And Roll, Feel The Glamour And Pain
Kiss Me Here, Touch Me There, Hanky-Panky

You Can Touch, You Can Play
You Can Say I’m Always Yours, Oooh Whoa

I’m A Barbie Girl In The Barbie World
Life In Plastic, It’s Fantastic
You Can Brush My Hair, Undress Me Everywhere
Imagination, Life Is Your Creation

Come On, Barbie, Let’s Go Party, Ha Ha Ha, Yeah
Come On, Barbie, Let’s Go Party,
Oooh, Oooh
Come On, Barbie, Let’s Go Party, Ha Ha Ha, Yeah
Come On, Barbie, Let’s Go Party, Oooh, Oooh

Make Me Walk, Make Me Talk, Do Whatever You Please
I Can Act Like A Star, I Can Beg On My Knees
Come Jump In, Be My Friend, Let Us Do It Again
Hit The Town, Fool Around, Let’s Go Party

You Can Touch, You Can Play
You Can Say I’m Always Yours
You Can Touch, You Can Play
You Can Say I’m Always Yours

Come On, Barbie, Let’s Go Party, Ha Ha Ha, Yeah
Come On, Barbie, Let’s Go Party, Oooh, Oooh
Come On, Barbie, Let’s Go Party, Ha Ha Ha, Yeah
Come On, Barbie, Let’s Go Party, Oooh, Oooh

I’m A Barbie Girl In The Barbie World
Life In Plastic, It’s Fantastic
You Can Brush My Hair, Undress Me Everywhere
Imagination, Life Is Your Creation

I’m A Barbie Girl In The Barbie World
Life In Plastic, It’s Fantastic
You Can Brush My Hair, Undress Me Everywhere
Imagination, Life Is Your Creation

Come On, Barbie, Let’s Go Party, Ha Ha Ha, Yeah
Come On, Barbie, Let’s Go Party, Oooh, Oooh
Come On, Barbie, Let’s Go Party, Ha Ha Ha, Yeah
Come On, Barbie, Let’s Go Party, Oooh, Oooh

– Oh, I’m Having So Much Fun!
– Well, Barbie, We’re Just Getting Started!
– Oh, I Love You Ken!

(c) MCA Music Scandanavia AB

Hmm. Mostly, it’s  jibberish – despite the occasional stumbled-upon metaphysical truth (‘Imagination, life is your creation’? Whoa, dude.) but they’re basically espousing plasticised mass consumerism, which pretty much defines most 6 year-old girls’ fantasy worldview.

And it isn’t that it’s a lifeless, soulless piece of clumsily manufactured europop – if you’ve got children, you’ll know that description covers most of the music aimed at them.

I also know this is a popular hate tune for many people and the repeated refrain, ‘you can brush my hair, undress me anywhere’ is often cited as being the dark heart of the song. But children have no concept of the possible implications of being naked, or of making their dollies naked. The few Barbies the girl’s have, have been naked, bald (having had the hair brushed off their heads) lumps of plastic from the minute they appeared in the house. In fact, having issue with such an idea that nakedness as part of play – and by that I mean innocent, childish play – is somehow wrong or improper seems to say more about the objector than the child they profess concern for. No, the line I object to particularly is, ‘Kiss Me Here, Touch Me There, Hanky-Panky’ because it expressly blurs the line between children’s obsessions and adult knowledge.

The male singer manages to imbue this line with a meaning that cannot be misconstrued by adults and can only lead to questions that a teenager should be revelling in. I’m fairly sure I’m not a prude. I have no problem with sexual imagery in songs (I might find Lady Gaga a bit tedious musically, but she is talking to teenagers, not 6 year olds – even if 6 year-olds do listen to Lady Gaga, but they also know it isn’t for them or about things they understand). Aqua, on the other hand, with their play world parameters and co-opting of the games children play have made a song that sounds unpleasantly like entirely the wrong sort of grooming.

Trying to keep mass culture out of children’s lives is a near impossible feat, and frankly doesn’t create empowered children who are able to make their own decisions. They go to school and they hang out with other kids whose parents might not bother to care quite so much about fleeting fads. I remember the kids who were forced to live outside of mass culture. They were outcasts by dint of their parents isolationism. So I find myself in the awkward position of lying to the girls about why this is my least favourite song.

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Day 01 – My Favourite Song

1. The Glenn Miller Band – String Of Pearls

Wow. Nothing like starting out easy, huh?

Since deciding to do this little project, I’ve thought about little else than the 30 songs I was going to whittle this down to. And just about the last one on the list I decided on was also the first: my favourite song.

Clearly, trying to distill forty years of having ears into a single song is a pointless, meaningless task that reduces a great span of human endeavour to little more than a nubbin of trivia. You might just as well ask, ‘which do you prefer? Breathing in or breathing out?’ But as mountaineers are supposed to say when asked why they do it, I did because it was there.

My favourite song has also, of course, changed several times in my life, and will probably change again in what life remains. As a casual aside, here’s the long (and yet still not definitive) list of songs which have at one time or another struggled beneath the yoke of my portent:

Down At The Barber Shop – The Wombles
Wish You Were Here – Pink Floyd
Reelin’ In The Years – Steely Dan
The Lark Ascending – Vaughn Williams
Nessun Dorma – Puccini
To Blind To See It – Kim Syms
Could Heaven Ever Be Like This – Idris Mohammed
Thrasher – Neil Young & Crazy Horse
Shake It – Limbomaniacs
Alice Clarke – Baby Don’t You Care
Like Someone In Love – Bjork
Carceres Ex Novum – Black Dog Productions
Belfast – Orbital
Mario Man – Super Furry Animals
Lover, You Should Have Come Over – Jeff Buckley
Gypsy Man – JJ Cale
Doves – The Cedar Room

All great songs and had I been doing this at another point, it would have been one of those. Several of them make it onto the list in other categories, but others… Sorry, songs! There were just too many of you.

So why  ‘A String of Pearls’? In the end it came down to choosing the song which was considered and pencilled into the most other categories. This one song manages to describe in me the greatest range of emotions and feelings, as dictated by the scope of the task. (And also some which weren’t: ‘Spaghetti’ for instance, as for some reason I cannot fathom, this song always makes me think of a plate of cooked spaghetti.)

So, here are the other categories Mr Miller’s and Mr Gray’s particular String of Pearls could have gone into:

A song that makes you happy
When I am feeling unhappy, this song can change my mood. By the time the saxophones commence their rhythmic croon at around 7-8 seconds, any frown has been smoothed away. By the 25 second mark, when the saxes repeat the same phrase with a slightly raised pitch, lines appear less wrinkled. By 53 seconds, when one of the saxes cuts lose and pulls off a cocky little solo, I am once again frowning, but only because I am concentrating on my very own air sax solo. And then at 1.55 as the cornet takes over from the sax, I am beaming from ear to ear.

A song that makes you sad
As with the previous category, this implies the song has the ability to change your mood. This song, as well as making me happy can on occasion have quite the opposite effect and bring tears to my eyes.
A quick point here: I like sad. Sad is great. I like it’s self-indulgence and I like knowing that when I have finished feeling sad, I will feel happy again; doubly so because I will have figured out what was making me sad and resolved it.

Having said that, ‘A String of Pearls’ reminds of my Grandpa, who is dead and I wish he wasn’t and I can’t do anything about that.

A song that reminds you of someone
Like I just said, Grandpa George. Tall, funny, brave, handsome, generous, honest and hard working.
Blimey, it must be getting smoky in here.

A song that reminds you of somewhere
The floor of my Grandparent’s dining room, on a Saturday night, cocooned inside the black, brown, yellow and orange patterned sleeping bags, with the sound of this song, blended with the dull chink of ice and laughing on cut glass whisky tumblers drifting down the bungalow hallway of the seventies.

A song that makes you fall asleep
This song is one of my oldest, probably the oldest, musical obsession I’ve ever managed. And lying in that sleeping bag, in that place, I distinctly remember waiting until I had heard it before allowing myself to sleep. Once it had started playing, I would relax and be asleep before it reached my favourite part.

A song no one would expect you to love
I can’t be certain that this is true, but I suspect it is. Although knowing what a Contrary Mary I can be, several people having initially appeared surprised might then concur that even that surprise had a certain predictability to it.

A song you listen to when you’re sad
Similar to, but  not the same as, making me sad about Grandpa, Pearls fits in twice here, as it also works to get me out of feeling sad, if I’ve got stuff to get on with.

A song that you want to play at your wedding / funeral
Important events, important song. Yeah?

A song that makes you laugh
I mentioned earlier the happiness this song creates in me, well at around the 2 minute mark, the smile bubbles out into actual laughter
as Bobby Hackett rises, wiggles his valves, sets his lips and begins to play this short but spellbinding solo. I never cease to be amazed by the debonair insouciance of it: I don’t think there was ever a more stylish piece of play.

A song you wish you could play on an instrument
When I was 15, I started learning to play the trumpet because of that solo. I was terrible. After months of learning and attainng the dizzy heights of second trumpet in the school orchestra, I began practicing for my grade 3 exam. I scraped through with a point to spare, despite what I remember as being real effort on my part. A week or so later, plodding my way through the 3rd trumpet part of ‘Liberty Belle’ (having been demoted due to my low pass mark) it dawned on me that I would never ever be good enough to play that solo with anything like the panache it required. I packed my trumpet back into its case that night, went home and never took it out again.
A song from your childhood
I think I said this already.
Your favourite song from this time last year
Having packed my trumpet away in 1986, String Of Pearls disappeared from my life. I had new obsessions like The Damned and Pink Floyd and girls and computer games and art to occupy me.
Then my friend Nick anounced he was going to wed a lady and he asked me to DJ for him. Part of the ask was a playlist of big band stuff for the afternoon, so I bought a box set of big band tunes on Amazon (for an absolute pittance, I might add) and suddenly ‘String of Pearls’ was back. I cannot describe the feeling of rediscovering a song that hadn’t crossed my mind in over 20 years – foremost of which was, ‘how have I not heard this in 20 years? And thus, I commenced to renew my obsession.
Those within earshot will be pleased to learn I have no plans to start learning the trumpet again.

So there we have it. Ladies and Gentlemen, Mr Glen Miller…

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…And another thing

Check me out, two post in a single day.

I am about to begin doing this. There will be MP3s.

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The Watchmen made me watch them.

One of my best books ever is Watchmen.

As I’ve said previously, I think the context for a novel is paramount, and Watchmen and me were made for each other: I was at art college, doing student politics, loving the indie disco and developing a keen interest in recreational doorways; It was a multi-layered musing on the fallibility of ego, armageddon and the monoculture in a comic. We hung out.

I saw Watchmen the movie when it came out and I was sorely disappointed. I watched it again last week and, without the cloud of PR hype distracting from the actual thing, I thought I would right down what I thought of it.

This has been said elsewhere, but if you’ve read Watchmen, the first half hour of the movie version will make you believe you are about to see the greatest screen adaptation ever. Unfortunately, as the extended multi-layered musing on the fallibility of ego-cum-title sequence gives way to the ‘film proper’, it stops being that and becomes just another movie franchise. Don’t bother hoping it’ll improve; it doesn’t.

Watchmen the graphic novel is about a great many things, but it takes as a start point the idea that the comic books of the 50s gave rise to a masked vigilante craze: a strangely dramatised version of cops and robbers wherein committed citizens would chase down the good old fashioned criminals (the burglars, the bank robbers) and rough them up a bit before dumping them off at Police Headquarters. Some off-duty cops joined in. It was a bit like WWF.
But then an accident at a nuclear research facility creates the first actual super-human.

Dr Manhattan is a blue man with pure white eyes and no discernible penis. On the plus side, he is able to travel through time via dimensions unknown to regular people, decide to be 60ft tall (or just to be a 60ft tall penis with white eyes) and of making people explode USING THE POWER OF HIS MINDE IF HE FEELS LIKE IT. I guess that’s probably a ‘win’, overall.

What actually happens in Watchmen is I think less important than being in its world. It is a written world you can lose yourself in, but one that also comes with pictures. Instinctively, you expect this to intrude on the mind’s own theatre, but amazingly, they don’t: there are pages and pages of  effectively empty scenes, often with the fractured lapsed thought bubbles of Rorshach (the blotter-faced psycopathic PI) as a bleak semi-relevant narrative. Labouriously repeated frames of rain puddles scattered by hurrying feet that slowly simmer back down to the blank reflection. Shadows arcing across walls as cars drive by, out of sight.

These sparse frames are jazz and rainy; paintings of Blade Runner, from a paused videotape. They are a there-not-there backdrop to your mind as it wanders through the possibilities and the likely implications of the most recent twist of the plot. And echo in their form the themes of the good blue Dr. as he lives in different dimensions and does stuff both before and after it has happened .

Unsurprisingly, this comic book reinterpretation of one of film’s structural components doesn’t make it back into the film adaptation.

What the film does decide to do is elevate the largely irrelevant love story that pootles along within the book to the status of main theme. Honestly, it feels like it was edited together on the basis of a Google Keyword search. The love theme ends up providing what feels like several hours of unscripted theatre drama for actors who want to improvise their way out of a bad divorce.

In fact, the more I think about it, the idea of a google word search editing policy seems to make more sense. The fanboys (me included, I guess) are going to watch this regardless of whether it’s good or not, but if the studio can get it highly matched with ‘date movie’, then they’ll tap into an even bigger market. Who cares about the integrity of the project. This is Hollywood, numb nuts!

Furthermore, there are a couple of moments of ultra (ultra) violence that I found entirely without purpose, which I think are recreated exactly as they appear in the book (I only think this, as I can’t check: I lent my copy of Watchmen to an Italian AD who subsequently disappeared from my life, taking my original copy of the book with him. I am an idiot.). Anyhoo, the moments of violence follow on from the extended relationship improv scenes and made me inextricably angry. I felt like I was being clumsily manipulated and I still cannot for the life of me understand why these moments of inconsequential brutality are included.

I suppose one of the insurmountable problems with Watchmen the movie are also those that Hollywood itself might yet fail to overcome: an inability to recognise and translate our growing sophistication with our understanding and expectations of time into things we’ll want to do to for pleasure and for relaxation.

More and more I watch films now where I think, this would have been a better game. The things you could do with time in a game about Watchmen might be better suited to uncovering and amplifying the themes of the book and letting players drift in spaces that might somehow reveal  the deeper meaning of what you’re being asked to pursue.

Linkses:

Watchmen, the Graphic Novel.

Watchmen, the film

Saturday morning Watchmen (this is a brilliant parody: I wouldn’t be surprised if the Warner execs who greenlighted the movie thought this was what Watchmen was all about. However, if you haven’t read the book or seen the film, it’ll probably just confuse things. Mum.)

Filed under: Noticing, Uncategorized

Away from my desk

Hi!

Some of you might remember me from such advertising agencies as ‘Mook’, ‘Work Club’ and ‘Start’ and also from such publicly-funded broadcasters as ‘BBC’. I have however, been away from my desk for some time now.

In that time since I last wrote anything down here, the first anniversary of our Move Out Of Town has happened, green shoots have been spotted and I have learnt a great many things on a great many subjects. Some may prove useful in the coming years (toilet roll tubes make excellent slug barriers for new young plants) and others I hope ( such as ‘factory nightshifts’ and ‘jobseekers interview’) can be consigned to the dustbin of inconsequence.

Anyway, I am making an effort to get back on with the blogging by changing something back to how it was and seeing if that makes a difference. Carry on. Proper new thing soon.

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A license for printing money

Having just completed a stint at the Big British Castle, the relationship between the independent micro production company (me) and the mega-corp (them) has been on my mind. Then the pepperami crowdsourced brief came up and I wondered about that as an idea for the license fee. make it a ‘membership fee’ paid as it currently is, but make payments back to people when they contribute something to the BBC ‘feed’. Maybe it’s responding to a question posed by a DJ on Radio 1-6 and you get 2.4p rebated if it’s aired, or maybe you form part of a large body of skilled individuals who are doing a costume drama and you’re drawing additional salary from other license fee holders who want to see it. Clearly, the detail isnt’ there (prolly never will be either) but the point is, you’re doing away with the broadcast hegemony at a time when the whole idea of being massive is starting to look increasingly creaky.

Just a thought.

Filed under: Thinking

It’s my birthday today

I’m 39 today, which is nice.

These people were also born on this day, at various points through history: Auguste Rodin, Roland Barthes, Grace Kelly, Neil Young, Naomi Wolf Mariella Frostrup and Charles Manson. You will no doubt have your own opinion as to which of those is the most pertinent of coincidences.

There are also a couple of events which really stand out:

On the 12th November, 1980 Tim Berners Lee submitted his first proposal for what would come to be the World Wide Web.

But better *even* than that, I recently learned that my all-time favourite internet meme took place on the same day that I exploded onto the world.

Thank you, Oregon State Highway Division. I can think of no more fitting event.

Read all about it:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Exploding_whale


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ReFryed Celebrity

So, Stephen Fry, national institution and all round good egg, is apparently ‘having a break’ from Twitter. Can’t says as I blame him. His position is surely an intolerable compromise.

What I think is interesting about Twitter is its disavowal of the idea of ‘audience’. It’s not about broadcasting (despite the oft-stated criticism of it that it exists to tell people every tedious detail of your life): it’s about saying. If I want to say something, I am saying it for my benefit, not for that of others. If someone hears it, and says it again or wants to hear what I have to say in the future, that’s nice, but it is not the reason I am doing it. I am speaking for my own satisfaction, not an audience (and if you were to explore my twitter profile, you’d see I don’t really have an audience).

So, I am currently pondering the idea that the act of ‘saying’, in digital spaces, is an expresison of thought. I, Marc Williams, am a complex collection of lots of stuff, but digitally, via twitter, @bushofgoats is just one tiny particle. Nothing I say matters more (or less) than anyone else. I cannot help but be free of ego, amongst so many other 140-string particles. My un-uniqueness is a liberation.

Does this, in fact, make Twitter the dawning of an agglomerated Artificial Intelligence? Hmm.

In Iain Banks’s science fiction novels, he has created what I really hope turns out to be our future: The Culture is a universe-spanning, aeon-wide collection of races who just get on with their own thang. What occurred to me about it, thinking this stuff, was how it has no celebrities within it. And that seems to make perfect sense. What use does an egalitarian collection of billions have for individuals for everyone else to watch and pore over?

But back to Stephen Fry. How to square being a proud node; a sore thumb in an age of supple fingers.

Imagine you are he. You are listened to by nigh-on a million people. Your thoughts, your inconsequential digital utterances, are perceived by this mass not for their being said, but for their being heard. Some of the tiny constituent elements who hear him have projected his celebrity, his non-un-uniqueness, onto themselves and feel entitled to speak to him as equals. But he simultaneously has to manage the brand that is S. Fry across all manner of other, older channels: if he responds (as any good particle is entitled), he is criticized, if he ignores them he is vilified. How can he be both granule and hill together?

And so he is trapped, trying to balance the old idea of celebrity status with the future’s idea of numbers so vast that the idea of being famous becomes ridiculous. Maybe, if we really want to achieve world peace, equality for all, no poor, etc, etc, we have to kill celebrity first. We all need to be nobody, for everyone to be somebody.

And as for Twitter, if I do ever achieve any kind of public fame (please god no) I will be locking my account and permitting only those people I am happy to speak in front of to read my thoughts.

 

Filed under: Noticing

Where The Road leads

I haven’t read that many books lately. In between searching out ways to pay the mortgage (Factory work? Male escort? Decisions, decisions) renovating the house, the kids and my new found love of gardening, losing myself in a book seems, if not downright selfish, at the very least, a bit impractical. So, it’s a good few months since I read The Road, by Cormac McCarthy.

For me, reading a book has always had as much to do with the context in which it’s read as the words on the page. Perhaps Phillip Roth’s recent claim that reading novels will be a cultic entertainment within 25 years hints at this: that the linearity, the one-dimensional attention required to fully engage with one writer’s view of a world they have created is not something we’re interested in – or even capable of doing – anymore. There are too many other distractions; we’re too keen to see it interpreted as a movie, or a theme park or a pencil tin to care about what one measly author had to say about one measly slice of the universe.

So the context for this was perfect: we were leaving London and arriving in a semi-derelict rambling pile in the countryside. We were shedding a civilisation, as the man and the boy (the nameless characters at the heart of the book), walked through a devastated world. As I mentioned, it is months since I finished it and I’ve only now come round to writing about it as I didn’t want any immediate context to colour my judgement. But it’s been 6 months and it still comes back to me. I might have already read the greatest book I will ever read. And if I have, that’s OK.

It’s one of those which makes you want to write a book, and at the same time, is so comprehensively, gobsmackingly brilliant that it makes all other writing irrelevant. It’s heart-rendingly bleak, impossibly tender, desperate, hopeful, horrifying, mundane, delightful and dreadful. It is both just a simple story and yet utterly post-modern. It is a science fiction novel you can’t divorce your reality from.

So, it was with very mixed feelings I heard they were making a film of it. I’m generally fine with films of books (apart from Watchmen) as it’s interesting to see what the scriptwriter thought was the theme, then what the director did with that. But for me, the written version of this particular story has already transcended any other possible interpretation in its post modern abandonment of its native form. Mostly, it’s because there’s no punctuation and the leads characters have no names, but the prose is so taught, so lean, that it renders form obsolete. It is a story told around a fire, a spoken word piece that, as extinction threatens all mankind, had to be written down to be remembered.

So in this context, the very idea of something as convoluted and elaborate as a film seems ridiculous. And unlike the novel, I don’t think film-making as an art is mature enough to destroy itself and rework the fragments in two hours.

But who knows? Maybe the film will do something incredible to audiences: maybe the multiplexes will be ripped apart and rebuilt on the outskirts of primitive villages as shrines to half-remembered deities.

The book on Amazon

Movie trailer on YouTube

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