Friday, June 27, 2008

the worst film ever made

Imagine Steve Martin being gargantuanally unfunny as he tries to sing Maxwell's Silver Hammer in a forced 'zany' voice. Then 70s wet rocker Peter Frampton breaks in and has a sort of light sabre battle with him whilst in the background the song turns into an instrumental jazz fusion freakout as Frampton's sidekicks, the Bee Gees, fight with some nurses.

Really, though. See for yourself.



Imagine being the extras in this scene, having to listen to Martin's excruciatingly oh-so-wacky vocals for take after take, all day long. Maybe that's the real reason they all look lobotomised.

This, gentle reader, is Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. It's from 1978, the money from Saturday Night Fever and Grease is rolling in, much of it mutating into consumption of Columbian exports, and the team go for a hat-trick.

You can see how they could talk some decent people into doing a film. These days, most people who haven't seen Saturday Night Fever (and many of those who've only seen the censor-butchered TV edit) think it's cheesy tosh. Those of us who've seen the proper version (still an 18 certificate!) know otherwise. It's a canny, music-loving, moving film with a real bite, and must surely have been seen that way at the time.

But for the follow-up, as if the amount of coke they'd snorted into their skulls had taken over the space where good ideas might have been, they decided to make a musical based on late-era Beatles songs.

Despite it sounding to you like some sort of desperate unthought-through comeback attempt - and you're right to think it, because that's what it looks like too - both Frampton and the Bee Gees were in the afterglow of making two of the biggest selling albums of the decade. They could've done anything. Instead, they squeezed out this monumental turd on to the face of popular culture.

Most songs from musicals are utterly shit because they're not written as real songs. They're written to make some two-dimensional point at a particular moment in a story. As such, they lack subtlety, mystery, poetry.

Psychedelic songs, in contrast, are emotionally evocative because they feel like dreams and feelings rather than solid considered sentences.

So how bad an idea is it to take psychedelic Beatles songs and try to fashion a literalist musical from them?

Let me tell you. It's a bad idea. A very very bad idea indeed.

Even something with a straightforward narrative like Maxwell's Silver Hammer is still incongrous, being sung by a doctor who does brain erasing. There is no PC31, no Rose and Valery, no trial, almost nothing the lyric mentions, yet he sings it like he's in a musical and so there is the sense that the things he says should be visible.

Alice Cooper's Because is a bit far out, but then he is a brainwasher-indoctrinator so you can try to make some allowance for it being some sort of appeal to the deep subconscious. Only a short song, and Alice Cooper's quite good, so this one should be easier, right?

Just try it. You'll be wishing it would get to the bit at the end where Barry Gibb chins Cooper into a pie.



The word COCAINE hangs over this movie like a storm cloud. The sheer fucking ego, the vacuousness, running too fast with a bad idea and far, far too much self-confidence. The shitty plot is so paper thin and contrived it makes an episode of The Monkees look like Mulholland Drive.

How do you crowbar a song like Strawberry Fields Forever into the plot? Simple, have the love interest be a girl called Strawberry Fields.

Let's make a character called Mr Kite and - you'll never guess - have a benefit gig for him. You can also have a band called Lucy and The Diamonds who are seen from below performing on an outdoor ledge. Oh yes you can, really.

And when blonde Strawberry dies, you can have Billy Shears - Frampton's character - singing Golden Slumbers to her in her coffin. Then the Bee Gees come in as pall bearers, pick up the coffin and walk off singing Carry That Weight.

The grieving Billy sings as he walks off down a long and winding road that leads him to Strawberry's door. He mooches round her bedroom - complete with cardboard cutout of him that she had, of course.

All this is nothing. There are the bad guys whose minion is Mean Mr Mustard played by - titter ye not - Frankie Howerd. Not even the coke-basted nobbers who made this cackfest could let him sing his theme song, so it's done by two vocoder-voiced robots as they massage his arse.

He does, however, get to deliver the words 'yes! A dirty old man' at 3.23 with all the unsettling salaciousness you'd expect of a past-his-prime Carry On actor. Chilling stuff.



And then, at the end, the secret evil mastermind only referred to as FVB turns out to be, er, Future Villain Band, played by Aerosmith. They turn in the one good performance in the movie, a steaming and sinister Come Together, as Frankie Howerd grooves along in a safari suit. Or at least, they get to do half of it when - oh for fuck's sake not again - Frampton and the Bee Gees break in and beat them up.



As if you're not a drooling gaping ball of bafflement already, they dropkick your incredulity by having Peter Frampton kill Steve Tyler.

Frampton couldn't bend a fucking damp daisy! He couldn't take Larry Grayson!

I don't mean that in some theoretical if-he-were-alive sense either, I mean the desiccated remains of Grayson could knack Frampton into the middle of next week. Whereas Tyler, even today, is not someone whose pint you'd want to spill.

Peter Frampton frankly looks like what would've happened if Justin Hawkins had been a eunuch.

Hawkins minus testicles equals Frampton

There's more, much more. Too much more. Earth Wind and Fire's inexplicable and barely recognisable Got to Get You Into My Life.

Most perplexing is the finale where, for no reason at all, the reprise of Sgt Pepper is performed by a massed choir featuring among others Jack Bruce, Donovan, Wilson Pickett, Peter Noone, Tina Turner, George Benson, Barbara Dickson, Al Stewart, Curtis Mayfield, Robert Palmer, Dame Edna Everage and Dr John. Still not weird enough? Apparently George Harrison and Paul McCartney are in there too.

Several of the songs have a half-decent stab at the backing track (if only we could get a half decent stab at the singers). That's because it's produced by George Martin.

Fucking hell, he should know better! Has anyone ever taken him to task for this shit? I mean, producing Rolf Harris B-sides at the same time as Abbey Road is a waste of talent, but this is waaaay beyond that. This takes his finest work and shreds it, handing it over to sitcom actors with delusions of musicality. It is the needless premeditated slaughter of his most sacred cow.

The DVD cover lists the special feature. Singular. It's the theatrical trailer. I suspect that's because the trailer pre-dates the movie. As if anyone involved would enthuse about it once it came out.

It might, almost, perhaps, all sound a bit funny to you now. That's because you haven't spent 90 minutes in its company. I was literally howling at the screen, feeling by turns amazed, repulsed, angered and soiled. There is less desecration-by-movie to be found in Sgt Pecker's Lonely Hearts Club Gang Bang.

I have seen some eyewateringly dreadful movies in my time. Samuel L Jackson's Shaft disgracefully tarnishes a fine original. Just because, for the third time in a movie, he uses the words 'repugnant shit' does not mean you don't feel cheated and wrongness-splattered by that film.

Rock n Roll Nitemare is, like Sgt Pepper, music-based codswallop with a corny cliched plot, a runaway train of ego without a cause. It was, without doubt and by quite some distance, the worst film I'd ever seen.

Not any more.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

gm tries again

Today's Independent runs a story about the UK government wanting to commercialise GM crops. It begins

Ministers are preparing to open the way for genetically modified crops to be grown in Britain on the grounds they could help combat the global food crisis.


The second paragraph just paraphrases the first

Ministers have told The Independent that rocketing food prices and food shortages in the world's poorest countries mean the time is right to relax Britain's policy on use of GM crops.


The clear implication here is that GM crops lead to increased yields, and biotech companies are desperate to make foodstuffs for the world's poorest people. The problem is that this is simply untrue. That in itself undoes everything they're saying.

It's rather like the debate over whether to upgrade cannabis' legal classification in the light of evidence that it can trigger mental health problems. That issue got caught in discussions over civil liberties, the low incidence of psychotic episodes and whether those episodes could really be attributed to cannabis.

There was an underlying assumption on both sides of the debate that downgrading cannabis encourages greater use. It doesn't. To even discuss the other issues is to accept that falsehood as true and give strength to the prohibitionist position.

By the same token, to play along with the unspoken environment-versus-food idea is to be working on the terms dictated by the biotech firms that are demonstrably based on lies.

Nonetheless

Last night, the Environment minister Phil Woolas held preliminary talks with the Agricultural Biotechnology Council, an umbrella group formed in 2000 to promote the role of biotechnology in agriculture. It is run by representatives from the companies Monsanto, Bayer CropSciences, BASF, Dow AgroSciences, Pioneer (DuPont), and Syngenta.

If the government talks to the biotech industry, what answer do you think it's going to get?

He said: "There is a growing question of whether GM crops can help the developing world out of the current food price crisis. It is a question that we as a nation need to ask ourselves. The debate is already under way. Many people concerned about poverty in the developing world and the environment are wrestling with this issue."


Poorly phrased/heavily veiled, that's the 'well-fed luddite puritan whities letting their loony ideas get in the way of feeding the starving' idea again.

So, let's leave the greens to one side for a moment and see what 'people concerned about poverty in the developing world' have to say. People like, say, Action Aid.

ActionAid's research shows that GM crops are largely irrelevant for the poorest farming communities – only 1% of GM research is aimed at crops used by poor people - and they may pose a threat to their livelihoods.

The fact is there's enough food to meet current global needs - now and decades into the future.

The real causes of hunger are political and economic: poverty, inequality, and poor access to land, food, markets and resources - GM crops do nothing to address these issues.

Our main concern is that four multinationals dominate GM technology – giving them unprecedented control over their GM seeds and the chemicals that go with them.

Many farmers in poor countries are unaware that they can't save GM seed from one harvest to the next. This could jeopardise the rights of 1.4billion people who depend on farm saved seed worldwide – and could lead many into a spiral of debt.

What about Oxfam?

lack of food security is primarily caused by low incomes and unequal access to land, water, credit, and markets. There is no crisis of world food production on the horizon, despite environmental problems and a growing world population. Hunger will only be eliminated if governments and international organisations such as the World Trade Organisation implement substantial policy changes in favour of resource redistribution, poverty reduction, and food security. Technological fixes alone, such as genetically modified (GM) crops, cannot solve this problem, despite the claims which have been made for them.

The impact of GM crops for people in poverty, particularly in developing countries, could be negative. GM crops and related technologies are likely to consolidate control over agriculture by large producers and agro-industrial companies, to the detriment of smaller farmers.

Or the World Development Movement?

The major multinationals promoting GMOs [genetically modified organisms] are increasingly using the argument that "genetic engineering is key to feeding the world's increasing numbers of people" and "slowing the acceptance of biotechnology is a luxury our hungry world cannot afford." (both from Monsanto advertisements). WDM considers that these arguments are not founded in reality. A closer analysis of the evidence suggests that, far from feed the hungry, the unrestricted introduction of GMOs may result in further hardship for the world's poor.

The argument relies on a simplistic assumption that there are hungry people because there is not enough food in the world. However, as the World Food Programme has pointed out, the world's farmers do produce more than enough food. Yet over 800 million people go hungry.

The real problem is that the poor do not have the land, seeds and tools to grow crops, or cannot afford to buy food. It is the unjust political and economic structures at the local, national and international levels, in combination with mounting ecological damage, that marginalise the poor from food production or deny them an opportunity to buy food.

As stated by Ethiopia's representative to the Biosafety Protocol negotiations, Tewolde Berhan Gebre Egziabher, "
There are still hungry people in Ethiopia, but they are hungry because they have no money, no longer because there is no food to buy . . . We strongly resent the abuse of our poverty to sway the interests of the European public".

There we have it. It's not about a lack of food, but about the price. Food riots are not conducted by the starving whose crops have failed, but by the poor priced out of the market.

As even the pro-GM government here found in its farm-scale trials a few years ago, GM crops have a severely detrimental impact on the other organisms around them.

If a farmer grows GM and then - unable to afford the necessary chemicals, displeased with the yields being lower than promised or whatever - decides to go back to sustainable organic farming, they may well find that the beneficial insects, birds and other organisms relied upon are not there any more.

As the price of oil and gas increases, so do the prices of the agrichemicals which are dependent on them. Not only is organic farming the most environmentally friendly method available, but it's the only one with a long term future. To decimate or obliterate essential components of its methods is an attack on own future food security.

The agri-multinationals create a global food crisis by oversupplying animal feed and biofuels, then sell themselves as the solution.

A letter from Nitin Mehta in the same issue of the Independent talks of the diversion of crops to biofuels

Sixty million tonnes of food produced in the US in the past two years, which could feed 250 million people, was used for biofuel. It takes 232kg of corn to fill a 50-litre car tank with ethanol, enough to feed a child for a year. Brazil, Argentina and even India use crops for biofuel.

The result is that prices of staple foods have risen 80 per cent in three years. The problem is made worse by almost 760 million tonnes of grains being fed to animals raised for meat. The biofuel model to solve the climate change and energy crisis needs to be revisited. A return to a plant-based vegetarian and vegan diet is also of great importance if we are to avoid the double whammy of biofuel and grains diverted to feed animals. Opposing biofuel should not be seen as opposing capitalism or globalisation. Capitalism with a humane face is in the best interest of all.

Sorry Nitin, but capitalism can't have a humane face. It sells to highest bidder, and people who drive cars are richer than those who are starving. Feeding most of the world's cereals to animals who shit most of it out is very wasteful, but also very profitable. That's why we have people starving in a world that produces more than enough food to feed itself.

The only time capitalism has a humane face is when it is pushed into it and doesn’t have a genuinely free market. The most responsible thing is not often the most profitable. Taking corn from plates to forecourts, cutting down rainforests to grow soya to feed cattle; well paid, so hard to stop in a profit-chasing world.

I suppose that, strictly speaking, just opposing biofuels doesn't mean opposing globalisation; only if you oppose biofuels because it is the rich taking autonomy away from the poor and burning food while people starve.

The only current UK trial of GM crops is BASF's blight resistant potato. Pro-GM reports like to mention the Irish potato famine. Thing is, we already have blight resistant potatoes. BASF could have saved themselves a lot of bother and come to my allotment where I'm growing Orla and Valor spuds.

More to the point, rather like the fodder and biofuels thing, the potatoes are not being grown for food but for industrial starch production. Like most people from England, growing up I was given very little information about the history of our Celtic neighbours. Nonetheless, I feel sure very few people in Ireland fled or perished from a lack of industrial starch supplies.

To come back to the piece in the Independent, Phil Woolas must be pleased to know that one of the 'people concerned about the environment', Clare Oxborrow from Friends of the Earth, has finished her wrestling with the issue.

Industry claims that GM crops are necessary to feed the world are a cynical attempt to use the food crisis for financial gain – and governments should look at the industry's record before believing the hype.

After a decade of commercialisation most GM crops are used for animal feed, not food; they do not yield more than conventional crops; and GM drought and salt-tolerant crops remain a PR promise rather than reality.

We now need a radical shift towards sustainable farming systems that genuinely benefit local farmers communities and the environment worldwide.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

honda's hydrogen hype

As longer term Badgerers will know, I have pretty clear opinions on hydrogen as a vehicle fuel.

The long version can be read here; Hydrogen: Not the Vehicle Fuel of the Future.

The short version can be read here; it's a load of arse.

Yesterday it was announced that Honda had started 'commercial production' of their hydrogen car, the FCX Clarity. Quite how producing 200 cars over three years and not selling any of them counts as commercial production is beyond me.

But anyway, despite being told it's all sexy and shiny and zero-emission, it will be responsible for at least as much carbon dioxide emissions as driving a petrol car.

I've just published a post about it over at UK Watch. For reasons I don't quite understand because I've only just spotted the pattern, as usual for my posts there it's got a triply alliterative title, Honda's Hydrogen Hype.

[No Comments on this post - the place to leave them is on the post at UK Watch]

=============

UPDATE 2 APRIL 09: As UK Watch is offline, I'm republishing the posts from there on their poInter-posts here.

========

HONDA'S HYDROGEN HYPE

Car manufacturer Honda tell us that

If you could read our minds, you’d see dreams of a greener and more environmentally sustainable world.


Judging them not by what we telepathically perceive but by their actions in the external world, we find quite a different picture.

Yesterday it was announced that Honda have begun limited commercial production of the FCX Clarity, their hydrogen powered car.

Over and over and over and over again we’re told that it is ‘zero emission’. This is true in the sense that the only emission from the car itself is water vapour. However, the car is responsible for considerable carbon dioxide emissions – as much as a petrol car.

This is because the nice clean hydrogen has to come from somewhere, and that involves a lot of fossil fuels. The cheapest and most common source is natural gas. It can also be made from water by electrolysis, using an electric current to split water’s hydrogen and oxygen components.

Here’s the maths

Honda say the FCX Clarity does 57 miles on 1kg of hydrogen. Let’s get that in metric; 57 miles is 91km.

Manufacturing hydrogen from natural gas emits 9.1 kg CO2 per kg of hydrogen.
[IPCC Special Report on Carbon Dioxide Capture and Storage, Cambridge University Press, 2005, p 131]

9,100g divided by 91km = 100g/km to make the hydrogen gas from natural gas.

Electrolysis requires 39 kilowatt-hours of electricity to produce 1 kilogram of hydrogen.
[Wind Energy and Production of Hydrogen and Electricity — Opportunities for Renewable Hydrogen, US National Renewable Energy Laboratory, March 2006, p2]

That electricity is made from a variety of sources, predominantly fossils. UK grid CO2 emissions are 480g/kWh.
[Fuel Mix Disclosure Data Table, DBERR 2006-07, table 3]

480g x 39kWh = 18,720g/CO2 per kg hydrogen.

18,720g divided by 91km = 206g/km to make the hydrogen gas from electrolysis.

But it’s not over, because at this stage all we’ve got is hydrogen gas. This has about one three-thousandth of the energy density of petrol. Assuming you’re not going to have a fuel tank a few hundred times the size of your car, you have to shrink it. It has to be either cooled to a liquid, or else it has to be compressed. Honda use hydrogen compressed to a pressure of 5,000psi.

It takes 2.6-3.6 kilowatt-hours of electricity to compress 1kg of hydrogen to 5,000psi.
[Raymond Drnevich of major American hydrogen supplier Praxair, Hydrogen Delivery: Liquefaction & Compression, May 2003, p14]

2.6-3.6kWh x 480g/kWh = 1248g-1728g CO2 emissions per kg hydrogen.

1248-1728g divided by 91km = 14-19g/km for compression.

Here’s the totals

100 + 14-19 = 114-119g/km for compressed natural gas hydrogen

206 + 14-19 = 220-225g/km for compressed electrolysis hydrogen

To compare, the current petrol powered Honda Civic emits 135g/km, a Toyota Prius emits 104g/km, a Renault Megane emits 117g/km.

As David Talbot from MIT’s Technology Review said of BMW’s Hydrogen 7 vehicle

a car like the Hydrogen 7 would probably produce far more carbon dioxide emissions than gasoline-powered cars available today. And changing this calculation would take multiple breakthroughs – which study after study has predicted will take decades, if they arrive at all. In fact, the Hydrogen 7 and its hydrogen-fuel-cell cousins are, in many ways, simply flashy distractions produced by automakers who should be taking stronger immediate action to reduce the greenhouse-gas emissions of their cars.


The sleight of hand that passes the emissions to the fuel factory and has people calling the
FCX Clarity an ‘eco-car’ is unsurprising. If we want to know how corporations will treat carbon accounting, look at how they presently perform tax accounting.

The FCX Clarity is a decoy, deployed by people who surely know about the emissions they’re responsible for. The car manufacturers can see no way of reducing their emissions that won’t similarly diminish their profits.

As the petrol/diesel car is widely understood to be unsustainable, car makers have to offer the hope of an alternative; not so far off that we feel there’s a problem to worry about, but not so imminent that they’ll actually be held to account for failing to do it nor make anyone question why they’re still developing new oil-fuelled models.

Honda are only leasing the FCX Clarity. There are perhaps many reasons, but I can’t help suspecting that chief among them are that it’s too expensive to sell and they want the cars back before they break.

In December 2002, Yozo Kami, Honda’s engineer in charge of hydrogen fuel cells, said it would take at least ten years to get the price of a hydrogen car down to $100,000 (£50,000).

Fuel cells of the type used in cars (proton exchange membrane cells) have a short lifespan. The industry is aiming at around 4,000 hours of use, which might equate to ten years of driving. As it stands, a good prototype can only manage about 2,000 hours. Buying a car that costs £50,000 and is guaranteed to need major engine work within five years isn’t going to appeal to anyone.

Hydrogen as a vehicle fuel is thoroughly impractical, prohibitively expensive and, most importantly, does nothing to reduce carbon emissions. On the contrary, it would significantly increase them.

Honda might be able to kid journalists into thinking that hydrogen cars are ‘zero emission’ but unfortunately they can’t fool the climate.

Monday, June 16, 2008

seven songs

It's blog meme time again. Jim Bliss has tagged me.

List seven songs you are into right now. No matter what the genre, whether they have words, or even if they’re not any good, but they must be songs you’re really enjoying now, shaping your [summer]. Post these instructions in your blog along with your 7 songs. Then tag 7 other people to see what they’re listening to.

I like Jim and Justin's thing of, where possible, giving you a link so you can hear the track.

That said, sometimes Youtube lets you down. There are all these recent performances of people doing their classics from decades ago, lacking the power of the original. Yet to the uninitiated, and to the future, these pedestrian geriatric videos will become what we were excited about.

Fortunately, some people are just sticking tunes up there. Try putting '45rpm' in a Youtube search and see what comes up.

Anyway, on with the show.

1. Brenton Wood - Baby, You Got It

I'd never heard of this guy until a couple of months ago. Someone listing soul 45s on Ebay was selling Wood's Catch You On the Rebound and it instantly grabbed me, a piece of gorgeous gossamer late 60s pop-soul.

When the record arrived, it turns out it had been mis-listed and the A-side was in fact Baby, You Got It. It was even better. Such warmth, such ease and tingle and lightness of touch with such groove. If sunshine could be captured and made into music, it would be this.

There's a double CD of all his 60s stuff, and most of it is in this vein and just as good. And if you buy it from his company, it comes autographed!

2. Nina Simone - Angel of The Morning

There are loads of versions of this song, most of them mediocre and forgettable. But that's all in the performance; there's a great song here. PP Arnold's version utterly soars and swoons. Joya Landis' Trojan reggae version sways and enfolds you. But even then, you find only some of the lyrics have stuck. Then come to Nina Simone's version and she takes it down and really pulls the spirit of the lyric out. As the brilliant analysis on Wikipedia says, it echoes Ruby Tuesday in being somehow slightly baroque and being the sentiment of an effortlessly liberated woman.

The venerable Richard Cubesville once said that every sentence of George Orwell's journalism seems to have a silent prefix of 'oh for fuck's sake, any idiot can see that...'. By the same token, everything you ever see and hear of Nina Simone seems shrouded in 'I am a fucking artist. Got that?'. Such incredible presence and gravity, total and constant, even on a tune played so delicately as this.

3. Hush The Many - Revolve

Fucking hell, this band are the real deal.

As so often with early records of a band's career, the recorded stuff doesn't properly capture their live prowess. They are one of the great live bands to see, absolutely mesmerising. Sensitive yet epic, brooding, tender, mysterious, searing, captivating. Imagine if Tim Buckley was writing and playing in Placebo and you're more or less there. Now add a cello.

This new single keeps me coming back over and over, while it's on it makes the world just stop.

You can buy it as an MP3 or a 7inch vinyl here.

4. Manu Dibango - Soul Makossa

From 1am to 5am Radio 4 fucks off and you get the BBC World Service. It's what I listen to before going to sleep. There's always tons of interesting stuff, and even if something's boring, programmes are short and it's only quarter of an hour at most before something else is on.

So I sometimes hear Charlie Gillett's - please someone invent a better term - world music show. He did one a couple of months back playing key old tracks that brought world music to western ears. When he played this I had to sit up, turn the light on and write the details down. Next day I bought a copy.

It's early 70s funk with this insistent looping rhythm, a rasping catchy sax hook and nebulous ethereal floaty backing vocals, so you're pulled in several directions at once. Punchy, spooky, and a hell of a groove.

Looking into it, like numerous great tracks (Rock Around The Clock, I Will Survive), it was recorded as an afterthought for a B-side but the public knew better.

Michael Jackson pinched the 'mama-say, mama-sa, mama-ma-kossa' chant for Wanna Be Starting Somethin and Dibango sued and got a chunk of the money. As that's the biggest selling album of all time, if you see Dibango in the pub then it's definitely his round.

5. Dinah Washington - Big Long Slidin' Thing

Man, I love Bear Family, the label that put out my compilation with this on. They've done a Johnny Cash box set so comprehensive it's got him singing Ring of Fire in Spanish and I Walk The Line in German.

There are a few I could pick from this recent play-lots album, Eat to The Beat: The Dirtiest of Them Dirty Blues. It takes records from a time when you couldn't sing I Wanna Sex You Up. Instead, you can say that you've got the best piano in town and I'd like to play it so 'baby, let me bang your box'.

It may be full of innuendo, but it's not all about the lyrics. It wouldn't work if it was just some pile of nudge-nudge. Musically, most tracks are superb. If you're going to write a song that pushes the limits, you're probably at the rougher edge of music, and the CD really captures the upsurge of jazz that fed into rock n roll.

And for those of us who only know My Ding A Ling from Chuck Berry's excruciating live single, Dave Bartholomew's original is very refreshing; explicitly saucy and a fabulous ska rhythm.

The womens songs have an edge, coming from a time when sex was unmentionable, let alone women having sexual desire. It's this one I'll plump for - from 1954 Dinah Washington's Big Long Slidin' Thing.

Incidentally, don't be alarmed at the references to her 'daddy'; it's not an incest thing, nor an infantilising of women thing. It was a common slang term for 'fella' at the time. 'Mama' was commonly used for girlfriend, and that survived intact well into the 70s and still at a diminished level to this day, yet 'daddy' fell by the wayside for some reason.

I’d been in every bar
Been in every honky-tonk

Been tryin’ to find my daddy

With that broke down piece of junk

Asked everyone to help me

Cried help me if you can

You know my daddy

He’s that trombone-playin’ man

Where is my daddy?

Tell me, where is my daddy?

With that big long slidin’ thing


I even asked a man

That played a steel guitar

He said that you don’t need him

To be moved eight to the bar

He brought his amplifier

And he hitched it in my plug

He planked it, and he plonked it

But it just wasn’t good enough

Cos I need my daddy

Need my daddy

With that big long slidin’ thing


Well then a knock came at my door

I said, 'Mmm, my daddy’s back'

I opened up the door

And there stood Piano Jack

He said, 'I came to do some tinklin’ on your piano keys'

I said, 'Don’t make me nervous; this ain’t no time to tease'
Just send me my daddy

Send me my daddy

With that big long slidin’ thing


Well the first time he played

I asked him how it was done

He said I blow through here

Then I work my fingers and my thumb

I slide it right out

Then I slide it back again

And I get a lot of wind

And then I slide it back again


Where is my daddy

With that big long slidin’ thing?

Oh yeah!

6. Jimmy Ruffin - I'll Say Forever My Love

I first heard of this through the reference in Reminisce Part Two on Dexys Midnight Runners' criminally underrated masterpiece Don't Stand Me Down. It was ages before I heard the actual Ruffin song.

It's the same team that wrote and produced his classic What Becomes of The Broken Hearted. This has something of the same pace and atmosphere, but where that record has an ominous anguish, this has a hands-to-the-sky euphoria. You can tell a songwriter's hit gold when they know they can start a track with the chorus.

Although it's from 1967, it was a top ten hit in the UK in 1970, as the emerging Northern Soul scene trawled for lost old belters.

7. The Church - Summer

Most people who love music have a couple of bands they really champion, people who haven't had the acclaim they really deserve, bands who become personal, part of who we are. For me, that's Cowboy Junkies and, most of all, The Church.

Starting out in 1980 with a brand of post-Television pre-REM intelligent Rickenbacker tunes, they rapidly progressed. Absurdly prolific (even the most devoted Church fans can't keep up with all the solo and spin-off projects), always luscious and mysterious, they imbue their work with a very strong yet very vague sense of longing. In the last decade or so they've mutated away from the three minute song into something more sensual and textural, something a bit more Spiritualized.

It's such an odd thing when a band you've loved for years brings out an album that becomes your favourite. At first it's just new music whereas the old stuff is branded into your soul. Then, as you absorb, you feel your spiritual innards shifting. So it was with the Church's beautiful languid 2001 album After Everything, Now This.

The follow-up, Forget Yourself, was more spiky and angular, yet still found space for several mellifluous opiate beauties, and they close the album with this one. Last week I was listening to a compilation I made for someone ages ago and it came up, and it wrapped around me like a warm slo-mo whirlpool. It makes me close my eyes and feel my arms lift as my lungs slowly fully fill. So human, so eternal, so rich, so gentle, so huge and so alive.

= = = = = = =

As for tagging others, I've recently found Panadola Diction, who listens with intelligence and a complete lack of pretention to a wide variety of music.

I thought of Jon over at Uncarved and then found that he's already done it.

Alice, we know of her activism and her allotment, but what does she listen to? It's time to find out.

Then, as with my last meme, there's a few great wits who really should return to blogging. Comfortably fronting the pack is Rhythmic Ginger, the man who recently put me on to Chuck Carbo's Can I Be your Squeeze, the funkiest thing I've heard in a long, long time. That would be reason enough even if he didn't have the best taste in music on earth.

Zoe at Goldfish Nation, again never playing music that's anything other than superb, and she put me on to The National, for which I'm forever grateful.

Then there's Justin at Kerosene Oyster Hell, a man who loves the most twisted fucked up darkest music ever made and Strawberry Switchblade. I still have a picture of him miming guitar with a cricket bat. Doesn't all that make you want to hear what he's listening to right now?

Friday, June 13, 2008

coal on the rocks

In August last year Al Gore said

I can’t understand why there aren’t rings of young people blocking bulldozersand preventing them from constructing coal-fired power plants


Here we go.

Two weeks ago there was a mass trespass on the proposed site of a new open cast coal mine in Derbyshire.

This week the Camp for Climate Action announced that its big day of action on August 9th will aim to shut down Kingsnorth power station in Kent.

Kingsnorth is due to have a new coal power station - the first in decades in the UK - built. Those wild anarcho-primitivist radicals in the House of Commons Environmental Audit Select Committee laid into the plan last week.

(The Guardian, however, decided that their Climate Change Summit's lead sponsor will be Kingsnorth's owners E-on. Be interesting to see how the Guardian cover the Camp for Climate Action.)

This morning a train taking coal to Drax power station - the UK's largest single source of CO2, most countries emit less - was halted and occupied. The protesters have hung a banner saying Leave It In The Ground from the train. They have supplies for several days and are unloading the coal with shovels. As the train is blocking the line, no more coal can get into Drax.

Drax have responded with their stuff about being the cleanest coal-fired power station (once again, I say that's like bragging about being the least murderous serial killer), and say they're 'not all bad' because they plan to burn around 10% biomass.

They don't mention where this biomass will be grown; will it involve clearing virgin forest? Or will it be on existing crop land (thus somewhere down the line meaning someone will cut virgin forest for new crop land)?

As it's a huge area involved, equivalent to about 2% of the UK, it's a question that wants answering.

And the biomass thing is a red herring anyway. Drax is physically incapable of using less than around 85% coal. Which means that if we want to tackle climate change, we need to shut it down.

For more on the Drax and other protests, see The Coal Hole.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

vonnegut : extend the hippocratic oath

Ages ago that wear sunscreen advice piece circulated and was originally credited as being a speech given by Kurt Vonnegut to students graduating from Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

It wasn't (it was actually written as a newspaper column for the Chicago Tribune by Mary Schmich). Vonnegut did, however, make a speech to MIT students in 1985, reproduced in his excellent 1991 ragbag scrapbook of speeches and essays Fates Worse Than Death:

= = = = = = = = = =

MIT has played an important part in the history of my branch of the Vonnegut family. My father and grandfather took degrees in architecture here. My Uncle Pete flunked out of here. My only brother Bernard, nine years my senior, took a doctor's degree in chemistry here. Father and Grandfather became self-employed architects and partners. Uncle Pete became a building contractor, also self-employed.

My brother knew early on that he would be a research scientist, and so could not be self-employed. If he was to have room enough and equipment enough to do what he did best, then he was going to have to work for somebody else. Who would that be?

Most of you will soon face my brother's dilemma when he graduated from here. In order to survive and even prosper, most of you will have to make somebody else's technological dreams come true - along with your own, of course. You will have to form that mixture of dreams we call a partnership - or more romantically, a marriage.

My brother got his doctorate in 1938, I think. If he had gone to work in Germany after that, he would have been helping to make Hitler's dreams come true. If he had gone to work in Italy, he would have been helping to make Mussolini's dreams come true. If he had gone to work in Japan, he would have been helping to make Tojo's dreams come true. If he had gone to work in the Soviet Union, he would have been helping to make Stalin's dreams come true.


He went to work for a bottle manufacturer in Butler, Pennsylvania, instead. It can make quite a difference not just to you but to humanity: the sort of boss you choose, whose dreams you help come true.


Hitler dreamed of killing Jews, Gypsies, Slavs, homosexuals, Communists, Jehovah's Witnesses, mental defectives, believers in democracy, and so on, in industrial quantities. It would have remained only a dream if it hadn't been for chemists as well educated as my brother, who supplied Hitler's executioners with the cyanide gas known as Cyklon-B. It would have remained only a dream if architects and engineers as capable as my father and grandfather hadn't designed extermination camps - the fences, the towers, the barracks, the railroad sidings, and the gas chambers and crematoria - for maximum ease of operation and efficiency.


I recently visited two of those camps in Poland, Auschwitz and Birkenau. They are technologically perfect. There is only one grade I could give the designers, and that grade is A-plus. They surely solved all the problems set for them.


Yes, and that is the grade I would have to give to the technicians who have had a hand in the creation of the car bombs which are now exploding regularly in front of embassies and department stores and movie theaters and houses of worship of every kind. They surely solve the problems set for them. Kablooey! A-plus! A-plus!


Which brings us to differences between men and women. Feminists have won a few modest successes in the United States during the past two decades, so it has become almost obligatory to say that the differences between the two sexes have been exaggerated. But this much is clear to me: Generally speaking, women don't like immoral technology nearly as much as men do. This could be the result of some hormone deficiency. Whatever the reason, women, often taking their children with them, tend to outnumber men in demonstrations against schemes and devices which can kill people.

In fact, the most effective doubter of the benefits of unbridled technological advancement so far was a woman, Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, who died 134 years ago. She, of course, created the idea of the Monster of Frankenstein.

And to show you how fruity, how feminine I have become in late middle age: If I were the President of MIT, I would hang pictures of Boris Karloff as the Monster of Frankenstein all over the institution. Why? To remind students and faculty that humanity now cowers in muted dread, expecting to be killed sooner or later by Monsters of Frankenstein. Such killing goes on right now, by the way, in many other parts of the world, often with our sponsorship - hour after hour, day after day.


What should be done? You here at MIT should set an example for your colleagues everywhere by writing and then taking an oath based on the Hippocratic Oath, by which medical doctors have been bound for twenty-four centuries.

Do I mean to say that no physician in all that time has violated that oath? Certainly not. But every doctor who has violated it has been correctly branded a scumbag. And why has the late Josef Mengele become the most monstrous of all the Nazis, in the opinion of most of us? He was a doctor, and he gleefully violated the Hippocratic Oath.


If some of you elect to act on my suggestion, to write a new oath, you will of course have to examine the original, which is conventionally dated 460 years before the birth of Jesus Christ. So it is a musty old Greek document, much of it irrelevant to a physician's moral dilemmas in the present day.

It is also a perfectly human document. No one has ever suggested that it came from a god in a vision or on clay tablets found on a mountaintop. A person or some people wrote it, inspired by nothing more than their own wishes to help rather than harm mankind. I assume that most of you, too, would rather help than harm mankind, and might welcome formal restraints on what a wicked boss might expect of you.


The part of the Hippocratic Oath which needs the least editing, it seems to me, is this: "The regimen I adopt shall be for the benefit of my patients, according to my ability and judgement, and not for their hurt or for any wrong. I will give no deadly drug to any, though it be asked of me, nor will I counsel such."

You could easily paraphrase this so as to include not just doctors but every sort of scientist, remembering that all sciences have their roots in the simple wish to make people safe and well.
Your paraphrase might go like this: "The regimen I adopt shall be for the benefit of all life on this planet, according to my own ability and judgement, and not for its hurt or for any wrong. I will create no deadly substance or device, though it be asked of me, nor will I counsel such."

That might make a good beginning for an oath everyone would gladly take upon graduation from MIT. And there is surely more than that you would gladly swear to. You could take it from there.

I thank you for your attention.

= = = = = = = = = = =

In Fates Worse Than Death, Vonnegut talks about how the speech was received;

What a flop! The applause was polite enough... But nobody came up front afterward and said he or she was going to take a shot at writing an oath all technical people would be glad to take. There was nothing in the student paper next week. It was all over.

...I'll tell you what makes the students so unresponsive. They know what i will never get hrough my head: that life is unserious.

Before my great speech to the MIT students I talked to some of them about Star Wars, Ronald Reagan's belief that laser beams and satellites and fly-paper and who-knows-what could be linked together in such a way as to form an invisible dome no enemy missile could penetrate. They didn't think there was any way it could be made to operate, but they all wanted to work on it anyway.

[The Star Wars programme was latterly renamed the Missile Defense Shield; huge contracts are still awarded, and the system still doesn't exist.]