December 29th, 2008
This list is going to be a little unconventional. It’s going to include things like websites for starters, because, hey, this is the future, and we want to let you guys know we’re not all *old media* here in the dark dimension. Also, it’s going to alternate between an ‘amypoodle recommends’ kinda thing and an actual ‘best of’ list. If it was solely the latter, then I’m afraid it would be rather boring:
‘I went to see Batman at the I-Max and it was reaaaally gooooood’, you know the score. And most of it wasn’t produced this year either. Sorry.
Bobsy forgot to include one thing when he was dissing us sheep-like mindless-people’s obsession with keeping up with the muso-joneses: new shit is fun. For the enquiring amongst us, the seeking out of novelty is a real pleasure wherever we find it – in books, tv, cinema, theatre, websites, art galleries…. It doesn’t matter much to me. Whatever I’m currently immersing myself in is my new favourite thing, and that’s not necessarily comics. Sure, it’s a bit of a shame the world of gigs and grooves feels a little impenetrable for a lot of us, its gates jealously guarded by the style police, but I like my gingham shirt, and I’m not a Daddy yet, so allow me a few more years of farting about being shallow before I grab the nearest mortgage, fireside, comfy chair, pipe and cat and settle into a life of actual responsibility. There is deep wisdom in seeing through the bullshit, it’s true, but we all rely on the bullshitters to find us the best beats.
And Bobsy is still fucking cool, no matter what he says. The mature, working Dad bit is just another layer niceing up the cake.
The bloke always has the best t-shirts and pants.
Now, if I’m not going to talk about Batman, what am I going to talk about for
TOP COMIC OF 2008
Well, to begin with it’s not the best comic of 2008 – it didn’t even come out in 2008 – but I’ve only just read the thing, and that’s all that counts.
Some years ago, in the early 80′s, Art Spiegelman set his visual arts students the task of adapting passages from famous novels into comicbook form. By this he did not mean they should make a clean lift – text illustrated with pictures (something we see far, far too much of in comicdom these days) – but a genuine, honest to god transformation from one media to another, keeping everything essential to the piece, it’s soul, intact, whilst simultaneously relaying this information in an entirely different language. In short, it had to be convincing. Not a flat visualisation of something far more comfortable articulating itself in prose, but a living, breathing metamorphosis, ringing with the life and energy of the original.
Needless to say it was a slightly optimistic experiment.
Just over ten years later, however, one of Spiegelman’s old students, Paul Karasik, set to work, along with David Mazzuchelli, on the mother of all adaptations, translating Paul Auster‘s City of Glass into a funnybook.
Now I haven’t read the novel, but judging by the formal playfulness, heavy symbolism, narrative experimentation and sheer complexity of the comic, all obviously employed in an attempt to convey the emotional and spiritual reality of the ur-text, this must have been one helluva difficult job. Auster’s book presents itself as a detective story, but that is absolutely not what you get. In brief: a case of mistaken identity leads to the protagonist, an author by the name of Quinn, becoming employed as a PI. His case? To track down his client’s recently institutionalised, insane and possibly homicidal Father before he makes good on the threats he’s been sending his son in the mail.
Far from it. And although it might sound cliched, this is post modern detective fiction-deluxe. There really is nothing like it. The case, which is ultimately just a springboard for the author’s internal investigations into the nature of self, loss, absence and location, emerges as the equivalent of a narrative gangplank, an epistemological non-sequiteur the protagonist is forced to walk, resulting in inevitable dissolution, disappearance and absorption by a text in which he has become hopelessly lost. ‘Quinn’ is a character in flux. Is he his pen-name, author William Wilson? Is he Wilson’s fictional detective, Max Work? Is he the other author, Paul Auster, his clients confuse him with? Is he the antagonist’s son, Paul Stillman, who he poses as in order to get close to and interrogate his quarry? Is he a tramp living on the streets of New York? Throughout the course of the story ‘Quinn’ will inhabit all these roles. The narrative is infected by a kind of ontological confusion which increases in virulency as it progresses. This is obviously not a novel that would be well served by a slavish pictoral rendition of character, set and setting. It demands a far more sophisticated lexicon to ably convey the smithereened identity haunting Auster, Karasik and Mazzuchelli’s books.
No, City of Glass only works because its creators are masters of the comicbook form. They have a firm grasp of the occult language only arrived at through the superimposition of image and text, and they employ this language to maximum effect, utilising the disjunctions between the juxtaposed media and points of holographic synthesis to conjure a liquid, decentred environment where stable points of reference become slippery as soap. Words and images tumble into and through one another, and the end result is a comic which feels like a vast, bottomless abyss through which the principle character is dropping, stone like, self-hood eroding moment by moment, torn apart by the blasting winds of nothingness attending his descent, blah, blah, etc. Not this… Not this… From the word-balloons and panels plunging endlessly into, not emerging from, the mouths, throats and bellies of the myriad constituent identities composing the ‘real’ John stillman (a personality more fractured even than Quinn)….
….to the book within the book, a diatribe on the lost language of Heaven – the magical words of God which are things as opposed to descriptions of them – composed by Stillman’s psychotic Father, which serves only to highlight the ephemerality and impossibility of the hard surfaces of font, text and meaning caging and framing the action, the entire piece is an attempt to ram home this sense of collapsible being.
It achieves what it sets out to do and very fucking well indeed.
So it’s not for everyone then.
I mean, it’s bloody depressing (as a Xmas gift, forget it. Tho’ thinking about it, Zom actually did give it to me as a present last year…), and, of course, itdunnertendproperlah – one could even call it pretentious… But if you’re looking for something full of atmosphere; if for you, as it is for Quinn and myself, the interrogation is more interesting than the solution; if you actually give a shit about what comics can do, then City of Glass could well be for you.
Alienation! Ego annhilation!
Ho! fucking. Ho!
TOP BOOK OF 2008
This is a hard one because this is one year when, for one reason or another, I haven’t had much time for books. This is largely break up related. The implosion of a three and a half year relationship is never very conducive to the absorption of long form texts. Heartbreak’s too distracting for a start, and then there’s the need to GO OUT AND GET FUCKED in order to forget. I’m feeling better and my excesses have slowed down a bit now, but there was a good few months, in fact a massive chunk of the year, when I only had time for disposable, quick fix media, especially if I was gonna post anything up on this here blog. No, it’s only recently that I’ve started to get back into bookywooks, so I’m afraid, as is usual with me, I don’t have much to talk about.
And I’ve already podcasted about the book in question, tho’ in a very different context, so ya boo sucks.
I don’t even know if Nick Kent‘s journalistic journeying through the dark heart of rock stardom is still in print, but if it is I unreservedly recommend it. I know what you’re thinking – ‘why would I want to immerse myself in a 400 page dirge of endless hypodermics, stress induced nervous breakdowns and the eternal internal bickering and in fighting that constitutes band politics?’ – but this isn’t Lemmy‘s autobiography we’re talking about here. Whilst Kent’s book is hardly literature, every chapter is a perfectly composed rock ‘n’ roll artefact, distilling everything that’s exhilirating about the experience of hanging out with Keith Richards without ever descending into cliche, sycophantism or bitchiness. Perhaps because Kent lived and breathed this world, the shadow of his permanently arched eyebrow hangs over each of his essays. He has an uncanny nack of keeping his distance, remaining critical, even overtly mocking his subjects, whilst at the same time thowing his lot in with them over more cocaine than you could shake a 6ft ten bob note at. Kent loves the music, the personalities and the lifestyles inhabiting his book, but that doesn’t mean you won’t get an accurate and often hilariously scathing series of character portraits out of it. Frankly, after the chapter on the aforementioned Stones, I felt like I knew that preening tosser Mick Jagger very well indeed. So, yeah, the writing has depth, it conveys, but that’s not the point at all…. No, what’s good in the end is the fact that you thought you knew rock excess, you thought you understood the derangement of its propagaters, but actually you don’t.
Did you, for instance, know that Brian Wilson had a sandpit for his piano and a gym built in his recording studio? Or that the reason the Stooges originally broke up was because one of their number accidentally sliced the top off their tour bus after deciding it would definitely fit into a tunnel unfit for a mouse? No. You didn’t. And it might all sound tired and, yawn, rockstars doing what they do, but at its best Kent’s book reminds me of Oliver Sacks‘ The Man who Mistook his Wife for a Hat: both are, essentially, a series of case studies of personalities approaching the limits of anything vaguely resembling a person. In this instance, sure, it’s self inflicted, but that doesn’t make it any less fascinating. Indeed, that people are prepared to consciously launch themselves into the myriad oblivions presented in The Dark Stuff is in many ways more intriguing. And it’s always entertaining. If there’s humor in a man confusing his wife’s head with a trilby, then there’s just as much comedy value in Iggy Pop, in the full throes of seventies’ golfing gear, explaining to Kent how he’s not engaging in a round of the most distorted, coke fuelled putting session ever, but instead in the process of taking over the world.
I mentioned the arched eyebrow earlier, but I should’ve also mentioned the grin. Kent’s followed his ‘heroes’ down the rabbit-hole too – he knows the territory – he knows about the dangers inherent in taking the epicurean route to the divine, he knows it all…. And he’s still able to laugh about it. Even the book’s title is a nod to the ridiculousness of its own inflated sense of self-importance, and by virtue of that it serves as a cutting debunking of the now legendary rock-conceit, the artist-in-meltdown, too. ‘The Dark Stuff’, I ask you……
TOP BAND OF 2008
Only they’re not a band. Get with it, Grandad.
Because I got with the downloading this year and I’ve been more about standalone tracks than the whole album, initially I was gonna give you a run down of my fave numbers from 2008. However, upon closer inspection it was revealed that no less than 3 of my top ten tunes were actually released prior to this year (some in the seventies) and whilst it may be alright to flout TBMD’s ‘it had to come out over the last 12 months’ rule once in a list, three times is a little too excessive methinks. Anyway, I think my fave music was staring me in the face all the while, I just felt guilty about including it ’cause the *group* in question haven’t got an album out yet. Indeed, they haven’t even got a record label. But fuck that bollocks when the music’s so sweet.
Diamond Vampires – Forever
Zom and I were having a chat the other day about what we prefer, punk or disco, and I spent a good ten minutes trying to persuade him that always erring on the side of the bleeping, booping groove is a bit too easy listening, that we always need the snarl of a guitar in our lives, and he wasn’t having any of it. His reasons were totally Dad – ‘I find it all too demanding…etc..’ – but he does own the Modern Lovers first album and his taste’s so impeccable, at least as far as I’m concerned, I find it very hard to criticize where he’s at, and certainly in any sustained way.
Also, if I’m honest, the sound of a mournful computer terminal modeming its lonely electric dreams into the endless, neon strafed, Aparo-pink night is just about the most wonderful thing imaginable to someone like me, whose earliest memories incorporate the whole strata of late/seventies early eighties iconography: aerial shots of skyscrapers – multitudinous, cavernous white offices gleam like tiny stars of data cascading down their surface; Gary Numan; Kraftwerk; aircraft cockpits illuminated by the soft light of glowing buttons, shining consoles and read-out displays, red and blue, straight off a Silver Apples album cover; Chris Foss posters….
A Japanese woman, taller than a house, inviting a city to enjoy Coca Cola.
This stuff left an indelible mark on my young mind and is a source of tremendous romantic inspiration for me, no matter how cliched the music and imagery have become. Sure, it’s been these last couple of years’ big thing, but my love is strong and true and undying, and Diamond Vampires manage to convince me candyflossed futurism isn’t dead in the water yet.
Their music reminds me that the glittering skylines, bleeding white runways and air-traffic control towers are just the modern day equivalent of the haunted glade and the abandoned fairy rings of late 19th century romanticism, and the hidden lands beyond the disappearing cabinets of turbanned, 1920′s stage magicians, their secrets twinkling in the beautiful assistant’s eye: lost, liminal, intuiting impossibly clean and bright tomorrows. Magical histories. Vampires’ Future is a robot lament for a world that isn’t true, tho’ sometimes felt, but is always hovering there just behind the television screen. Hungry Wives, with its Tales of the Unexpected, tarot reading vocal, peels back the bead curtain on the dreamlife of late seventies’ suburbia… These tunes, that could’ve only been made today, somehow manage to describe the idealised psychogeographies of yesterday’s retro-futures, and, whilst it’s hardly original stuff, Diamond Vampires’ output is definitely one of the purest distillations of this kind of soundtracking.
Look, I know they’re the new cool thing, but forgive them that – it’s very easy – and wallow in all their green LEDed gorgeousness, natural successors to all things computer love. And tonight, just as the sun’s dropping and the cold really picks up, pull open your window, lean out into the sharp, orange-yellow air, light a fag and press play.
Fuck the Pippettes.
Fuck indie. Fuck being a teenager.
Nothing yearns like this.
Diamond Vampires – Hungry Wives
And, if you dig this good shit, when they do get signed and put out an album, make sure you buy it!
TOP FILM OF 2008
My bestest films this year were many and varied and it’s very hard to pick one in isolation. So I’ve opted not to, and just decided to point our readers in the direction of something (and someone) rather great that they may not yet be familiar with. So
and Arthur Russell it is.
So why should you watch this film? Well if you know who Russell is you probably already understand why, but, if you don’t, this is a hugely sensitive, personal portrayal of the 70′s most prolific musician and music producer. Russell was one of the earliest pioneers of the proto-house, bridging the gap between disco and the sparser, more electronic, burgeoning 4/4 kickdrum sound of the 80′s, and, if that’s not enough, there’s his amazing, forlorn, but somehow never depressing, cello work, his collaborations with everyone from Phillip Glass to David Byrne and….
The guy was a musical gadfly, always restless, never settling for one style, one mode, one way of doing things. He understood music as a continuity, and the permeability of arbitrary distinctions like ‘taste’, high and low art and scenesterism. A true avant-gardeist. a cross between generic evil ethnic baddie, Robert Davi, and a Bassett Hound, Russell had terribly sad eyes and an unforgotten past, leaving two confused, mournful, conservative parents behind when he finally abandoned his mid-west farm-belt roots and headed for the Big Apple to snatch himself a little bit of music history. And this is the core of the documentary – it’s beating heart. There’s no flash editing, no attempt to catapult the viewer onto the dancefloors of the Paradise Garage or CBGB’s, just a slow, delicate picking through of a musician’s history seen through the eyes of your standard journalists and music writers, sure, but by his lovers and family also. The emphasis, somehow, is always with the latter and their depictions, and their reminiscenses convey nothing of the usual rock ‘n’ roll excess we normally associate with this kind of documentary. Wild Combination isn’t the story of a rock god – for despite being massively influential Russell was never one of those – but the story of a man, and I think ultimately much more involving and moving because of it. It’s slow, occassionally ponderous, it wears its heart on its sleeve.
Above all it’s sincere.
Don’t watch it if you’re feeling a bit sad, these things never have a happy ending, but this was one pop musician (if I’m allowed to call him that – indeed, as far as I understand it he might’ve been grateful) who was loved, and when I watched the film something inside me felt so grateful for that.
TOP WEBSITE OF 2008
Hasbeens – Make The World Go Away
Thankyou for reading and a happy new year.
P.S. As usual I got fucking bored of editing and tweaking this post. Which means it may be a bit shit.