Wednesday, March 30, 2005

futile acts of conscience

I just got - once again - a mass-forwarded email from a friend saying

The Brazilian congress is now voting on a project that will reduce the Amazon forest to 50% of its size. It will take 1 MINUTE to read this, but PLEASE put your names on the list and forward this on as instructed below...

If you are the 400th person to sign please send a copy to:

I really understand the concern of those who sign these things, but they have no effect, except to make concerned people feel like they've done something when they actually haven't.

There's no way to ascertain their 'genuineness'. In the absence of identifying details such as physical addresses and phone numbers, the names listed on these petitions are unverifiable and easily faked.

Anyone could simply grab a bunch of names from the web or a phone book. The petition you sign to stop rainforest destruction could easily be cut and pasted into a different petition for, say, legalising hate crimes or putting up a solid gold statue of Stalin in Trafalgar Square.

No organisation in the world - and least of all governments - takes email petitions seriously. Real petitions have a credited author and say who they're going to be sent to. Real online petitions have websites.

That said, even verifiable ones done with paper or online registration rarely achieve anything (unless you're in somewhere like Switzerland where a certain number of signatures forces a referendum). They're ineffective because more or less anyone will sign a petition for more or less anything.

But, perhaps most importantly here, these things can never be taken seriously simply because they don't work mathematically.

Let's say I'm name number one and send it to ten people. They all put their name as name number 2 and send it to ten people. By the time it gets to the sixth peson, my name will be on 10,000 'different' petitions. By the time it gets to 400 names, the point at which the recipient is asked to send it to the unexplained and in point of fact non-existant email address, it'd be on trillions of petitions.

There's a personal proof of this principle; the petition I just got has, like every other copy of it I've ever had, a friend of mine listed about 150 names in. She signed it about three years ago.

Another thing that makes them dubious is the factual basis. When there is some large claim, such as the destruction of 50% of the Amazon, and you've not heard anything about it elsewhere, it's worth taking a few seconds to verify it.

In this case, the fact is that Brazilian law requires land owners to protect 80% of their pristine rainforest land from development. The law mentioned was going to change that to 50%. Worrying, yes, but not the stated halving of the forest's present size.

The petition also says 'The Brazilian congress is now voting'. The plan was dropped by the Brazilian congress five years ago. The lack of any date on the petition means it will continue to bounce around the internet until there is no more forest or no more internet, whichever comes first.

This stuff is easily checked. If you type brazilian rainforest petition into Google, the results page is topped with a site called Urban Legends that explains it's guff.

The second result is titled Rainforest Petition Is All Wet and shows how the petitoin fails the site's 'sven tests of armchair activism'

Expiration - FAILED - As we've already seen, this one has outlived any usefulness it may have once had. But, since it's not dated, it continues to circulate as if new.

Focus - FAILED - This letter does a lot to convince you to sign it, but has no well defined action statement.

Integrity - FAILED - Whose actions are we trying to influence with this petition? It doesn't say who will receive the signatures, nor how they can bring about the desire change.

Privacy - FAILED - No e-mail petition is private. Once you sign it and send it on, you have no control over who sees your name and e-mail address.

Reliability - FAILED - Messages to the e-mail address in the letter bounce as undeliverable, so nobody is collecting these 'signatures.'

Sponsorship - FAILED - The author does not identify himself or herself, nor does he or she offer any assurances that the mission will be carried out.

Validity - FAILED - Since the measure it's supposed to stop has been shelved, the petition is no longer valid.

It took Google 0.19 seconds to return those results, which is a lot quicker than it takes someone to send the petition to their friends.

Don't feel bad if you've sent these things on. They are an expression of your concern for others and your noble will to stop things that should indeed be opposed.

But email petitions do not and cannot ever make any positive difference, they only serve to clog up our inboxes, give our email addresses to spambots, and distract us from doing things that really might achieve something.

Monday, March 28, 2005


I love twisted collisions of music. The early 90s techno mix of Ace Of Spades. The bootleg mash-up that combines the vocal of Hit Me Baby One More Time with the music of Smack My Bitch Up. Rodeohead, a fast-fiddling down-home country medley of Radiohead songs.

So I love Beatallica too. They take the music of a Beatles song, play it in the style of Metallica, and do a lyric that hybridises the two. Tracks include Leper Madonna, For Horsemen, and ...And Justice For All My Loving.

There is the thorny issue of copyright, though parody is allowed, and Beatallica surely qualifies as that. Beatallica saw interviews where James and Lars from Metallica said they loved it, and whilst they hadn't heard from the Beatles camp, they understood Paul and Ringo have a good sense of humour.

But in the murky swamps of the music industry, it's not down to the people who merely wrote and recorded the originals. It's the record company lawyers you've gotta watch for. On February 17th Beatallica got slapped with a lawsuit by Sony, the miserable shitbags.

Record companies always tell us that fileshare and suchlike is 'stealing from the artists' cos they know we can't be swayed by the more accurate 'possibly taking a bit of money from the overpaid cokehead lawyers'.

'Taking from the artist'? Tom Robinson says 'In my last 15 years as a recording and touring musician I would estimate that no more than 5% of my gross income has been paid to me by a record company in the form of royalties for records sold.'

And in Beatallica's case, exactly what the fuck were Sony supposed to have lost out on? Their cease-and-desist letter claims 'substantial and irreparable injury'. But Beatallica gave their tracks away as free downloads. There was no money made by anyone.

And they're metal covers, it's hardly going to detract from Beatles sales. Who would say, 'well, I've downloaded Got To Get You Trapped Under Ice so I don't need to buy Revolver now'?.

There's not one copy of a Beatles record gone unsold because of Beatallica, whereas I wouldn't mind betting a few people have actually got more into the Beatles songs because of it. If anything, Sony should thank Beatallica.

Metallica, to their credit, got their kickass lawyers on to Sony, and whilst nobody's saying exactly what went on, Beatallica have just been told they can put their site back up soon, and forget about that compensation stuff.

Beatallica have promised there'll be a new song when it comes back online in a week or two, with thirteen different versions with vocals done in different languages. Go bookmark their site.

Or, in the meantime, you can find the tracks on lots of P2P filshare programs (my fave is Soulseek). You know, the kind of thing that Metallica sued for sharing music for free.

Friday, March 25, 2005


My new discovery, the excellent Miss Badger blog, has pointed me towards a recent Guardian article called The Vagina Dialogues about the problem of finding a useable word for female genitals.

The linguistic differences on this subject are indeed huge. It's not just that mens bits have the 'short strong words' mentioned in the piece, but they have so many different words suitable for different occasions. There are several to choose from, whether you're being strident, practical, comedic or clinical.

Whilst we have a great many words for female genitals, the crucial reference bracket - terms you can use in everyday conversation with mates or, as the article discusses, for kids - are simply not there.

As one of the creators of Newspeak, Syme, said plainly, the lack of words to talk about a subject disarms people of the very ability to discuss it.

There is no ready option for female bits. Fanny has the transatlantic problem (in America it means bum. And bum means vagrant, but that's by the by). And frankly 'fanny' still sounds a bit cutesy.

The suggested yoni is ridiculous. Adopting other language's words is fine if we have no equivalent - as with zeitgeist or chic - but using a word from another language when we already have our own is a form of euphemism, it denotes embarrasment.

Cunt has a bluntness to it, an unashamedness like fuck or shit, that make all other words for the same thing seem a bit daft.

Furthermore, its supposed obscenity is a relatively recent contrivance. Deciding that certain common words were unseemly was a very effective instant way to draw class differences. The idea that a word, especially a word for a common item or function, could be obscene serves no positive purpose. These words were made obscene by those who wished to see themselves as above those who used them.

Cunt was once relatively harmless. Chaucer dropped it casually and severally into The Canterbury Tales, spelling it variously queynte, queinte, and even Kent. The City of London once had an alley favoured by prostitutes called Grope Cunt Lane. It was not until the early eighteenth century that the word became indecent.

Bill Bryson, Mother Tongue: The English Language

Cunt has a great etymology. It's the same root as cunning, the Scots word ken (meaning 'know'), and also the Wiltshire/Berkshire waterway the River Kennet which uses the name because its spring and early course are on the Marlborough Downs beside the great neolithic goddess monument Silbury Hill. (Visiting Newbury's generic 1980s shopping mall The Kennet Centre is made almost tolerable if you remember it's effectively called The Cunt Centre). There is also some evidence that it's the same root as Kent and country, used in the sense of being the land that birthed you.

All of these words have meanings around 'giver and preserver of life/wisdom'. Not quite as sexy as it could be, but a lot more honouring.

Incidentally, there's another level of liguistic patriarchy that I rarely see mentioned. The term wanker or tosser is never used in its literal sense, it's used to mean a man who is an irrelevant fool. The word is never used against women. The equivalent word, both in its severity and its use, is slag.

In literal terms, a wanker is someone who doesn't have sex with anyone else, whilst a slag is someone who has sex with lots of people.

In using these words, we reinforce the idea that men should shag everything (female) that moves, whilst women should stay untainted and virginal.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

reap what you sow

When he was Home Secretary in that runaway train of frenzied bigotry, outrageous sleaze and quasi-fascism known as the last Conservative government, Michael Howard was the architect of the infamous Criminal Justice Act 1994. It contained numerous assaults on rights of assembly and liberty.

In Section 80, it removed the duty for local councils to provide travellers sites. Cash-strapped councils didn't lose votes by closing sites, and so, entirely predictably, a great many sites were sold off in the years after 1994, leaving nowhere for travellers to stay.

Ten years on and Michael Howard is the latest in the long line of unelectable slaphead Tory leaders. He complains that there are too many illegal travellers sites these days.

Anyone got any ideas why that might be?

Sunday, March 20, 2005

diana - a new dansical spectacular

Lord help us, it's happening again. You know that bit I wrote about how satire gets outstripped by reality?

And longer-term Bristling Badgerers may remember my comments about Oscar Wilde: The Musical, an atrocity of a production from the same diabolical pen as the Cliff Richard musical, Cliff!

Well the unfortunate burghers of Manchester have just played host to something equally bizarre. Diana The Princess: A Celebration In Dance.

It comes from the fulminating mindswamp of Peter Schaufuss, the man who previously inflicted The King, a straight-faced show about Elvis. Schaufuss explained that one to the press; 'He described it as a "dansical spectacular," since it tells its story through the combination of classical, contemporary, show dance and tap styles.'

Yeah, that really gets into the heart of what Elvis was about. Don't you agree?

In the Diana thing, he's cast his wife in the title role. She prances about the stage in a white lycra catsuit to a soundtrack of Elgar and The Cure, and a chorus of singing beefeaters. Camilla Parker-Bowles is portrayed as a whip-wielding dominatrix in jodphurs flaying Prince Charles with her riding crop.

It's serious, by the way.

Who the fuck would it appeal to? Unsurprisingly, only the residual emotional mutants who still adore Diana. According to the strangely unjudgemental review in The Times, the audience booed and hissed the person playing Camilla. It's being treated in panto style, except both the production and the audience are all completely serious about it.

The Independent said

it does have moments of comic genius. The problem is it's hard to tell whether they're intentional or not...

As the show closes with Diana's funeral, the soundtrack wails with Eighties guitar and prog synth, and Diana's signature lights up the backdrop in neon. It's not quite as kitsch as a Charles and Diana souvenir wedding plate, but you can't help wondering if we have here the makings of a future camp classic, Rocky Horror style.

It is, surely, the tribute she deserves.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

rachel corrie

Let's be clear - what is happening in Palestine is no inexplicable 'cycle of violence' where each side is as bad as the other. It is no more an equal cycle of violence than apartheid South Africa. It is militaristic apartheid.

Being against it is not anti-Jewish any more than being against a British government's military aggression means you hate everyone British. Indeed, there is not only an active Israeli peace movement, there are also hundreds of proud and patriotic Israeli soldiers who are refusing to serve in the occupied territories, many of them being jailed for their stance.

Israel has invaded Palestinian land, in breach of international law. In this invaded land, Israeli forces commit random killings, beatings, demolition of homes, curfews and detentions without charge on a massive scale. Israel has ignored repeated UN Resolutions calling for withdrawal within its own borders (even though non-compliance with UN resolutions was given as reason enough to invade Iraq).

The USA touts itself as a fair peacebroker, even though it gives $4bn of military aid a year to Israel and nothing to the Palestinians.

There have been several direct approaches to redressing the injustice. Some people have organised getting the superb organically produced Palestinian olive oil, buying it at premium prices from the Palestinian farmers. It's now available in the UK. Buy it.

Whilst some took that action to give positive input, others confronted the negative. People around the world realised that the lives of Palestinians are simply not of enough concern to western minds. Hundreds of them formed the International Solidarity Movement, going to Palestine to act as witnesses and human shields to deter Israeli violence.

As well as giving hope to the Palestinian people by letting them know they are not forgotten, the idea is that if the Israeli military know international citizens are staying in a residential area, they'll be disinclined to randomly fire missiles into it. If children are walking to school accompanied by internationals, Israeli soldiers will be less likely to open fire.

When the Israelis declare curfews, they often choose to release randomly detained Palestinians during the forbidden hours, just to make the journey home more difficult. An accompanying international makes it safer. Ambulances are deliberately delayed at checkpoints for hours. An international in the vehicle often makes the difference between life and death.

This did indeed prove effective for a while. Then the Israelis called their bluff. They shot Australians, Americans and Brits. Unarmed people, standing or walking slowly, not threatening anyone or anything. There has been no major diplomatic incident, no constantly rerun stories on CNN personalising the dead.

In the UK and USA there have been people detained indefinitely without charge or trial because there may be evidence they planned to commit political killings of our citizens. Israeli soldiers, however, can do it outright in broad daylight and cold blood and we don't raise a murmur.

Whilst we can believe in the brutality of European police and military forces, and in the corruption and atrocities of those further afield, when it's an English speaking country we refuse to waiver from our commitment to their rightness.

If someone gets maimed or killed by English-speaking forces, they probably had it coming. Even when faced with irrefutable evidence, we go for the 'one bad apple' theory rather than admit such violence could be intrinsic, systemic or policy.

The response to Israeli soldiers killing ISM volunteers shows we've made Israel an honourary member of this club. We effectively grant them a license to kill.

Tom Hurndall was shot in the head and died. Channel 4 cameraman James Miller was shot in the neck and died. This week, the Israeli army decided not to prosecute the soldier who shot him. The soldier admitted firing shots at Miller and friends, the incident was videoed, the soldier is to be 'disciplined for misuse of his firearm', yet apparently there is not enough evidence to convict him for the shooting.

And two years ago today, 24 year old American Rachel Corrie was run over and crushed to death by a bulldozer that was destroying Palestinian homes.

It has more impact on us for the same reason it was intended to deter the Israeli military; that we identify with westerners. Seventeen Palestinians were killed by the Israelis that same day.

Rachel's cousin Elizabeth Corrie wrote this a year ago;

Only a year ago, the month of March would have held the same positive associations for me as it has for many - the beginning of the end of winter, the promise of springtime and even summer. This year, and for every year for the rest of my life, the approach of March will mean something else entirely - the anniversary of the brutal death of my cousin, Rachel Corrie.

On March 16, 2003, an Israeli soldier and his commander ran over Rachel with a nine-ton Caterpillar bulldozer while she stood - unarmed, clearly visible in her orange fluorescent jacket - protecting a Palestinian home slated for demolition by the Israeli army.

The death of Rachel Corrie, and the response that her case has - and has not - received, reveal several disturbing, indeed immoral and criminal, truths.

First, Rachel died while attempting to prevent the demolition of a home, a common practice of the Israeli Army's collective punishment that has left more than 12,000 Palestinians homeless since the beginning of the second uprising in September 2000. This practice violates international law, including the Fourth Geneva Convention.

Second, Rachel was run over by a Caterpillar bulldozer, manufactured in the United States and sent to Israel as part of the regular U.S. aid package to Israel, which amounts to $3 billion to $4 billion annually, all of it from U.S. taxpayers. The use of Caterpillar bulldozers to destroy civilian homes, not to mention to run over unarmed human rights activists, violates U.S. law, including the U.S. Arms Export Control Act, which prohibits the use of military aid against civilians.

Third, the self-acquittal of the Israeli army for Rachel's death and the resistance of the state of Israel to an independent investigation into this case reveals both the Sharon administration's unwillingness to take responsibility for the death of a U.S. citizen and the Bush administration's cowardice in allowing another nation to attack U.S. citizens with impunity.

Fourth, Rachel's death was in fact only the first of several Israeli attacks on foreign citizens in the West Bank and Gaza. Brian Avery, from New Mexico, was shot in the face on April 5; Tom Hurndall, a British citizen, was shot in the head on April 11 and died Jan. 13, and James Miller, another British citizen, was also shot and killed in April. To date, only in Hurndall's case will the Israeli soldier responsible for the attack face trial, and this is because the British government, after several months, finally responded to the overwhelming evidence presented by the Hurndall family.

As we approach March 16, residents and citizens of the United States should ask themselves how it is that an unarmed U.S. citizen can be killed with impunity by a soldier from an allied nation receiving massive U.S. aid, using a product manufactured in the United States by a U.S. corporation and paid for with U.S. tax dollars. When three Americans were killed, presumably by Palestinians, in an explosion on Oct. 15, 2003, as they traveled through Gaza, the FBI came within 24 hours to investigate the deaths. After one year, neither the FBI nor any other U.S.-led team has done anything to investigate the death of an American killed by an Israeli.

Why the double standard? Perhaps this reveals the most disturbing truth of all.

So then, here's to the memory and bravery of Rachel Corrie: a true American hero at a time when we really need them.

Monday, March 14, 2005


A month ago - Valentine's time, twistedly - I got dumped by a lover. As I put in a blog post at the time, I wrote a thing about it but was unsure of whether to publish, so I decided to leave it till the dust settled a bit.

Re-reading it, I think it stands up, I think it talks about experience in a personal way that taps into something broader, wiser and more universal, so I think it's worth posting. So here it is.


12 Feb 05

Having not seen her for several weeks I was really looking forward to a five day visit this week. Last I heard from her was an email last week making reference to sweaty activity and the possibility of entirely recarpeting her room with condom wrappers.

The day before coming down I rang up to finalise things. It wasn't what I expected. She's been seeing this guy for four weeks (not mentioning him to me at all) and now would feel guilty if me and her still saw each other.

I asked if I should still come down, she said very much so as it was all still a muddle and I would probably help her get things clear.

In fact this didn't seem to be the case, she had already firmly decided everything but I think she felt she 'shouldn't' dump me by phone.

She said it would be nice if I'd stay anyway. It would be exactly the same, just not shagging. Which is of course completely untrue.

The whole magic of being with her is that it's free and easy and open, we can just let time drift and talk about anything and everything. We were exploring what happened between us, feeling it unfold, seeing where it could take us and being open to it all.

When there's the introduction of boundaries and rules, we cannot do that.

If her hands on my body feel like effervescent light pouring into the core of me that make me awash with desire and peace, I'm going to want a lot of that sort of thing.

However, if whilst that happens I'm having to keep myself in check, not be overenthusiatic, if I know the feeling is not reciprocal then the magic is poisoned, the hunger becomes pained.

God it was so simple back in adolesecent monogamy world. You see each other, then you fall out, you hate each other and never see each other again. Nice clear black and white absolutes, you knew precisely where you stood.

But in this more advanced world where we give everything the best opportunity to shine, where we hold on to what is still good, where we don't deny the fundamental rightness that is alive between us despite any misfirings, it gets so much more confusing. 'Hi, you're dumped, but not completely, and I'll console you about it'.

It's wisest in the long run, it gives the best opportunity for still enriching one another's lives to the maximum extent, it's a hell of a lot more honest and brave and real than the adolescent dualism model. But in the initial aftermath before the dust settles, it is a right headfuck.

And I didn't want her to feel bad so I praised her (eventual) honesty on it, I tried to keep a clear line of sight on what is so wonderful about her, the reasons why it could be hurting in the first place. She was kind and cuddly and did her magnificent mix of warm soothingness and boistrous daftness; she held me for hours, then we had a pillow fight. And with that, and in my pathetic spaniel-beside-the-dinner-table needyness, I spent the night there in her bed.

And in the morning as she got up for work I knew it had to be over, that I had to leave. I watched her get up and get dressed. The number of times I've seen her beautiful form rise from the bed, watched her do things and been exalted by the intrinsic effortless splendour of her. But that day I knew I wasn't supposed to be looking at her like that. That she'd feel really awkward if she saw it. So I turned away.

And still I had this mix of feelings whose motive(s) I couldn't figure; wanting to be decent and kind? Wanting her not to feel bad on my account? Wanting to leave the door open to reunion? Glad of any contact instead of none?

So I stayed a bit longer, I shopped and cooked and had tea ready when she got home, we ate and then I explained I had to leave. We clearly both treasure something mutual, but it's going to take a while to get comfortable again. I have to go away and let a particular spark fizzle and die. I thought I missed her this time last week. That's nothing to what the coming weeks hold.

What we had wasn't something deep or all-important. It was something new, fizzy, ascending mysterious and compelling, brimming with tingly enthusiasm and potential. Every time we saw each other compounded it with a feeling of being right about this enthusiasm, and a feeling that it was just getting going. The awfulness is that nothing has gone wrong between us at all.

So whilst I mourn the loss of what we've had, if anything I mourn more the loss of what we should've had, what was rightfully ours, there in our hands, that has been dropped so swiftly and readily, no effort made to hold on.

There are times when you need to examine a hurt, to analyse what went wrong, why, how, what can you learn from it. The things that hurt most will grant the greatest wisdom.

There are other times when you need to shut up about it and go and get convincingly drunk. After 24 hours around her, this situation was now very definitely one of the latter.

Friends are great. With two swift phone calls at no notice I had a plan. We drank together, I drank a lot. I promised not to talk about her. Apparently I was loud and repeated myself a great deal and only talked about her towards the end of the evening.

Of course, I was never going to really not talk about her all night, but if I set out with that as my objective then I'm not going to only talk about her all evening and end up a blubbing snotfaced wreck in the corner.

I woke up at 3am fully dressed alone on a sofa in a dark room and took a while to realise whose house I'd ended up in. I couldn't have planned the evening to have gone any better.

I had several offers from lovely friends of places to stay for the weekend, but frankly I need some space with certain records right now. And I Fell Back Alone by World Party, Once I Was by Tim Buckley, Electric by The Church, all of Soul Mining by The The and more, many more.

Cos by whatever route, you do have to face this stuff. And you don't have to be scared of it.

Love, in all its forms, is like being alive only more so. The intensity and significance of everything becomes heightened, and that means the pain as well as the pleasure.

Too much time is spent dulled and not feeling much at all. This thing that has me right now squirming like I'm impaled on a spike is the feeling of having a living heart, unafraid to fall for someone. This is why we're alive at all.

As my friend Kirk says, when you get to this stuff don't flinch, outstretch your arms, flick your hands inward and shout 'bring it on!! BRING IT ON! How much can I feel here?'

Or as Henry Rollins has pointed out, the cutesy idea of 'when life hands you lemons make lemonade' is twee and impossible. But you can take those lemons and cram them into your mouth and chew on them really hard and make yourself shout 'I fuckin love lemons! What else have ya got?'

Oh, and her friend who told her that cos I'm seeing other people it doesn't really matter that she dumped me can fuck so far off. That is the most staggeringly patronising thing, both to me and to my newly ex-lover.

It implies that seeing any one person is like seeing any other. It denies the unique and beautiful magic that existed between us, and denies the individuality of both our hearts. It says that what was great and wonderful about her is readily got from other people.

It isn't, OK? Not from anyone else anywhere.

Different people bring different things to you, they bring out different things from inside you. Jesus, if the same thing or a close analogue were available closer to home why would I waste the fuckin train fares? She is not a generic commodity, she is uniquely wonderful, a mesmerising radiant beacon of tenderness and playful splendour who appears to inspire a sparkling joy in everyone who knows her.

I suspect she was just casting around for things to say to make her friend feel better and spoke without really thinking. I hope so. I pity anyone who really does feel that way. I pity anyone who's their lover. I pity them for having such a small vision of what love is and can be.

We have to dream as big as we can and then dare to aim to get there. And all along that journey we'll bellow out our marching song; 'I fuckin love lemons! What else have ya got?'

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

alternative bookshop online

In just three or four years, the majority of alternative and radical bookshops disappeared as city centre shops become too expensive. Independent politically orientated shops we at Godhaven Ink supplied in the late 90s in Nottingham, Glasgow, Newcastle, London, Sheffield, Lancaster, Coventry, Manchester and Brighton are all gone.

There are still several out there doing a fine job - Green Leaf in Bristol, Housmans in London and News From Nowhere in Liverpool are all carrying the standard.

Whilst they do offer mail-order, the fact is that those who aren't fortunate enough to live near such a shop are under-supplied when it comes to radical and political literature.

So it's with a glad heart that I learn of Alternative Bookshop Online, a new site that makes available the publications that the mainstream bookselling chains don't stock. You order online using a secure system, and the publishers dispatch your orders directly to you.

The catalogue is being continually updated and expanded so look again if at first you can't find the material you want. They actively encourage readers to participate in the development of the service - if you've any suggestions on what they should stock and comment on texts that you have purchased let them know.

The more people know about and use this service, the more it can grow and become more comprehensive in the range of publications it offers and keep independent radical publishing alive.

Sunday, March 06, 2005

indeed! it goes away

There's another thing we've lost from LPs. With the advent of CDs and global marketing there are now precious few differences between an album released in different countries. But it wasn't always so.

In the 1980s in Japan LPs were issued with lavish care given to their packaging. Albums that didn't have lyrics published anywhere else were given lyric sheets in English and Japanese. Unfortunately, these were transcribed by Japanese people with often peculiar ideas about their second language.

Using the same attitude toward composition in the english that you find at, some of these varied so wildly from the actual lyrics that not only did they make no sense but they didn't even fit the scan and phonetic structure of the original.

When Julian Cope toured Japan in the 80s he found his album Fried had been given just such a sheet. For the song Sunspots where he does do the now-you-think-of-it-a-bit-odd car noise 'eeeeeow, it goes away' was given as 'Indeed! It goes away'. So to twist things up a bit, he sang the 'indeed' version for the duration of the tour.

The Tom Robinson Band's album Winter of 89 got a sheet with an extra helping of corkers.

In War Baby 'Always stabbing and wounding, only getting my own back' became 'Always stuffed with moor moving and getting your own bag'.

'I don't want to battle you to your feet and your knees and elbows' became 'I don't wanna bother you, you pick new novels'.

'Smooth skin and tenderness long ago on a dark night' became 'Spooks getting tender us in the garden at the dark night'.

On Glad To Be Gay 'Showing their leg through a split in the seams' became 'Show me the legs for I was smitten in the seams'.

'If it's filth and it's fiction it's there in The Sun' became 'Its film, its picture and its married son'.

Atmospherics (Listen to the Radio): 'Throw off your coat, pick up my coat, put another coffee on' became 'Serve your coat he got to know to put another patio'.

Number One 'Had a West End attorney in a jacket and tie' became 'Had a wasting doggy of the juggle tied'.

We Didn't Know: 'Opponents had their phone tapped, and campaigners felt the heat' became 'Upon the Sunday church they can pray this smell of the heat'.

In Martin 'The neighbours all knew us as the terrible twins' became 'The night of all the furious temporary trims'.

And a whole verse of the song goes arseways with

'But Martin never missed a single visiting day / Hitched from Clapham to Crewe / With all me racing mags and little bits of news / Smuggling in ciggies and a little bit of booze'


'But Martin never missed a single falsity die / He is fitted clunching on the clue / With all mean racy men examine a little bad news / Smartly neat sins and a little bit burst.

Bear in mind that these transcriptions were then translated into Japanese, and one has to wonder what kind of record buyer would identify with an artist who had supposedly written such gobbledegook.

My all-time favourite is from The Church's 1988 album Starfish. On the gorgeously languid Lost, Steve Kilbey sings 'It's an exquisite corpse and it's lips are red, and it's teeth are glistening'.

But not according to his Japanese transcriber he's not. They heard 'it's an exquisite corpse and it's lips are red, and it chewed the piss out of me'.

Certainly, someone's having the piss removed from them.

Friday, March 04, 2005

morphing formats

Since CDs became the prevalent format for albums there's been a slowly declining complaint that they don't offer the same sense of artefact as LPs.

Although it must be said Julian Cope certainly gives it a good shot. His outsize box for the 20 Mothers CD housed a gatefold sleeve in the classic double LP style, but nonetheless it was eclipsed by the album's vinyl counterpart in gatefold sleeve pressed on double purple vinyl.

His new one, Citizen Cain'd is one of those very rare CD releases that matches the glory days of the LP. Housed in a spooky slipcase featuring a solar-illuminated monolith, the Armenian font and plain black CD box is hugely striking.

The foot-wide vinyl album may have been subject to adding snaps, crackles and pops to the audio to those of us who weren't surgically careful with our records, but still, the LP made up for it in other ways, primarily in the artwork.

The hugeness of an LP sleeve wasn't just handy for skinning up on - a clear majority of second-hand vinyl copies of the White Album I've seen have tiny brown scorch marks - but it also allowed a richness of detail in the artwork. A lot is lost when you shrink certain things down to CD size.

George Underwood's intricate and exhaustingly absorbing flouncy hippy cover for Tyrannosaurus Rex's equally exhaustingly titled My People Were Fair And Had Sky In Their Hair But Now They're Content To Wear Stars On Their Brows is a case in point, as are most of the luscious enigmatic covers on 1980s releases from darkly arsty label 4AD.

Contemporary audio artist Christian Marclay - good little Guardian article on him here - has taken full advantage of the physicality of the vinyl format in an assortment of works inventively disrespecting the form and its artwork.

Footstompin' is just one of the brilliant LP cover composites from his Body Mix series of the early 1990s, showing as part of a retrospective of his work at the Barbican in London right now.

Still, the shrunken artwork and generic plasticity of appearance isn't the only problem of the CD format. A whole generation has grown up who regard the LP in the same way as us old 'uns think of 78s and wax cylinders. They don't understand the term 'you sound like a stuck record'. People are studying for their finals at university who were only just about born when Brothers In Arms was busy being the first ubiquitous album of the CD era. They have no innate understanding of the vinyl format and so loads of titles of reissued albums don't make any sense to them on CD.

The single-sidedness of CDs means that The Two Sides of Tony 'T.S.' McPhee suffers the same problem as Keith Moon's Both Sides of The Moon and Genesis' Three Sides Live.

Man's hilariously named 2oz of Plastic With A Hole In The Middle not only needs the scaling down of those 'side' album titles, but also converting to the metric system.

Island Records' 1971 sampler album El Pea needs retitling See Dee.

They must've hit these problems before though. Was that Man album's cassette version called Quarter of An Ounce of Plastic With Two Holes, Each About A Quater of The Way In From The Edge As You Hold It Landscape?

Public Image Limited got around this with their 1986 album Album, and had a cover featuring just the single word. The other formats featured the words 'casette' and 'compact disc' respectively. This was a time when, confusingly, the word 'album' was often used as a synonym for LP, and 'single' meant vinyl 7-inch.

Which led to a painfully circular argument with a member of staff upstairs at WH Smith in Southport in 1987. The Jesus and Mary Chain had released the title track of their album Darklands as a single. I wanted the CD single. 'I'd like the CD single of Darklands' She handed me the CD of the album. 'No, this is the album, I'd like the single'. 'It's not an album, it's a CD'. 'Yes, I know it's a CD, it's a CD album, ten tracks. I'd like the CD single, four tracks' 'The CD or the single?' 'It's a CD and a single'. 'Well that's the CD'. 'Yes, it's the album though'.

It does serve me right for trying to buy records at a shop more geared to selling Jackie annuals and glitter pens.

There are those who've been ahead of the game by focussing on the content rather than the physical form of the medium. The visionary David Byrne titled Talking Heads' 1978 album More Songs About Buildings And Food, and Leonard Cohen's made a lifelong habit of this, from his 1967 debut Songs of Leonard Cohen through Songs From A Room, Songs Of Love and Hate, Live Songs, and Recent Songs to the 2001 album Ten New Songs. Smart move from the Prophet of the Heart.

Dylan, ever the greater prophet, was even further ahead than Cohen and Byrne when he called his 1963 album Another Side Of Bob Dylan. It's a straightforward pun on the facet of his personality/the record, except that the record - as Tony 'T.S.' McPhee, Genesis and Keith Moon will tell you - has two sides. Dylan's title makes more sense on CD than on vinyl.

I am aware that even these musings will shortly be regarded as quaintly anachronistic. Perhaps, Men In Black style, the record industry's known this all along, that CDs were to be a short fad like MiniDiscs, DCCs, 8-track cartridges, DATs and so on, and that it was worth waiting to re-do the artwork until it can be Genesis - 17.7 Megabytes live, or the Island Records sampler Bilyuns ov Wuns and Zeer Ohs.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

fuck you, copper

June 1977, God Save The Queen time across the UK.

In Westbourne Park Road, London, a copper stops the Sex Pistols.

Johnny Rotten (the copper is obscuring him, but you can see his shoes) is frisked for drugs and booked. He gives his name as 'Dave Vanian'.

And true to the Pistols anarchist credo, Steve Jones flicks the V's behind the copper's back.


UPDATE 3 March 05: Just as I find this vinatage Pistols thing, I get the news that Glen Matlock has spoken out against swearing. "It's pathetic when people just swear for the sake of it," he said in a carefully pre-recorded interview to be broadcast this Sunday. What a fuckin wanker.

Steve Jones does a radio show in LA, on the proviso he doesn't swear.

For those who want to hear an epic soundscape based on a loop of Jones' all-time best swearing - the celebrated 'you dirty bastard, you dirty fucker' from the Bill Grundy incident - download this MP3.