Category: Music Page 1 of 6

Music for Monday: “Only Us” featuring Laura Dreyfuss and Ben Platt

I’m not always a fan of musicals, I’ll cheerfully admit, and I have no idea what the one which this song is from is about, but… blimey, what a frankly beautiful song. I suspect that hearing this live in a theatre would make the hairs on the back of the neck stand up – for the best of reasons. Get yourself a cup of tea, turn the volume up loud, and give this a listen.

My father once referred to certain bits of music that make you feel better about the world, just for their being in it (I don’t think he was paraphrasing Hannibal Lecter on purpose), and for me, this song is firmly in that category. Delightful.

 

Tuesday Tune: Flowers and Love

So I’m probably a bit – no, make that a lot – late in discovering this track, and the album it comes from, but I like it, and thought it might be nice to share it. I’ll freely admit I don’t really go for the opening bit of dialogue, it’s a bit fraught and not really my kind of thing, but I really like the song. So:

What Year Is This? Who’s The President Now?

… all of which is to say: has it really been that long since last I blogged? Crikey (though a part of me is oddly relieved to see that it hasn’t been a whole calendar year, because – let’s face it – it wouldn’t be the first time that long a gap had happened between posts).

So, as is so often the case on this blog, I open with apologies to anyone who’s been visiting on a regular basis in the hope of finding updates – thanks for your patience, and sorry the only things that have greeted you have been silence and cobwebs.

I haven’t been writing on the blog, granted, but (by way of long overdue update) I’m glad to report that I’ve made good and hearty progress in the world of long-form prose; my novel Captives has been through multiple drafts and re-drafts, and my test readers have all made very useful suggestions which led to a few bits of re-re-drafting, and now it’s out for consideration by literary agents.

Trying not to let the momentum dissipate, I’ve started on the next novel featuring the same detective protagonist, which currently has the working title of Refuge. I won’t get into the details of it here, but I like to think that the shape of the books is almost akin to that of the films of Dan Brown’s novels – the first one (The Da Vinci Code) is full of flashbacks, but the second is a ticking-clock race against time (Angels and Demons). So I’m working hard on making sure it has that all-important sense of forward motion, which I’m increasingly finding is a good way to stop me from waxing too lyrical, as if the words don’t serve plot or character, then they’re probably not needed… but I’m sure I’ll talk about that more in future blogs.

As is so often the case in my relationship with blogging, this return is intended to be the clearing of the throat before more sustained communication; in these politically and socially divided times I’ll probably steer clear of too much in the way of politics or similar, but I’ll try to compensate for that by sharing thoughts on writing, the odd review (and not necessarily of new items – one of the wonders of the internet is our easy access to things from the past), links to things which amuse or interest, and the like.

Speaking of things which amuse, I’ve recently discovered Brooklyn Nine-Nine, a TV police comedy which is genuinely as good as its fans make out, and I recommend you have a watch of it, if you’re not already a fan. That show has led me to enjoy the musical stylings of cast member Andy Samberg and his cohorts in the group The Lonely Island, which in turn led me to the following video… hip-hop isn’t really my thing, but ludicrous comedy and utterly committed performances are very much my things, so (in the nicest and most praise-filled way possible)  I urge you to look at these idiots:

She Does, You Know. She Does Kick Me.

Make my friends rich dept:

My old friend Ian, and his bandmates in Katalina Kicks, have just released a new single called ‘Me’, and it’s available to buy via iTunes, for the very reasonable price of 79p.

Not sure if you want to trust my opinion on it, especially as I tend to write about books and writing as opposed to music? Okay, I understand. Here’s the video:

What’s that? Oh yes, it does rock. Told you so.

Big Ups To All My Haters, As I Believe The Song Puts It*

Well now. It’s been a while, hasn’t it? If it provides any kind of justification for my absence, I’ve recently had a job which took me out of London (and away from easy access to a full-size keyboard), but now I’m back.

And what, you may wonder, have I decided is the best way to re-commence regular blogging activities? Why, tis nothing less than the perennial subjects of love and hate… well, kind of.

Love and hate, we’re often told, are two sides of the same coin. Or there’s a thin line between them. And so on. Basically, we’re often fed the idea that the two of them are very close together – it’s simple enough to see why, they’re both extremes of feeling or opinion, and particularly in the field of emotion, disappointment and annoyance with someone we’ve formed an attachment for can easily cause us to become equally vehement in our negativity towards them; in films and TV shows, it’s often quite common for characters who spend a long time being antagonistic towards each others to end up smooching, though I have to say that (relaxed licensing hours notwithstanding) I haven’t seen that happen quite so frequently in real life.

If we’re going to be honest about it – and I think we ought to, as life is often more complicated than simplistic presentations of emotional duality in programmes such as the Jeremy Kyle Show would have us pretend – there’s actually a long distance to travel between love and hate, if we’re using the words in their strictest sense. I love reading, and it would take quite a lot of negative reading experiences (that is to say, bad books or whatever) before that affection for the activity turned into hate. I’m sure you can think of things which you enjoy immensely – would it really take the equivalent of a coinflip, or a hop over some imaginary line, to make you hate them with equal intensity? I doubt it.

In reality, the line between love and hate, when viewed in three dimensions, manifests as a vast plane, with slight disaffection and indifference and irritation with at various stages between the two extremes. And if love and hate are sides of a coin, we should be honest enough to admit that it’s actually more of a cylinder than a coin, with enough stages and distance from one side to the other as to make the particle acceleration corridors at CERN look like a cupboard for the electricity meter.

I increasingly feel that there’s a problem with people presenting arguments or opinions in a way that suggests you either love something or you hate it; you’re either a fan or a hater. And whilst we’ve often seen this used to simplify political debates – in 2002, a popular simplification was to suggest that any doubts about military action in Iraq equated with approval for the regime of Saddam Hussein – it also seems to be used increasingly in relation to more everyday issues.

Let’s take an issue which, in and of itself, doesn’t really matter, but which is often portrayed as some kind of ideological battle; the question of whether Apple products are better than PCs. To read a lot of review columns, or to hear people talk, you’d think that one was vastly superior to the other, and that using the opposition’s products is the action of a seriously ill-informed person, whose brand allegiance (in whichever direction) is akin to that of a brainwashed dupe. The reality, of course, is a lot more nuanced – let’s be honest, both have their merits (Apple’s stuff is visually appealing, reportedly more stable [the iPhone 4 signal problems and iOS’s tendency to eat battery life could be argued to have undermined this in recent times, though], and generally held to be technically superior; PCs are cheaper, and used in more workplaces and so more familiar) and their flaws. But the problem is, nowadays, you’d think that people either have an Apple or Microsoft logo tattooed on their heart, and this means that the discussions tend to be polarised – and this simplification means that facts get overlooked – such as the fact that Microsoft helped Apple financially in the 1990s by giving them $150m to bundle Internet Explorer with new Macs as the default browser; so, that big hatred and fighting between them you read about in the press? Probably more like business rivalry, but of course that’s not so interesting, and it’s more fun to portray their customers as engaged in some teeth-baring hatred.

The major problem I have with this situation is the way it reduces everything to a non-discussion, and removes any possibility of people conceding that their so-called opponent has a point (watch the way politicians will invariably try to ignore facts or events in debates, even if empirically and provably true, which don’t make their argument look entirely true, as opposed to the best-guess opinion it really is). It means you can’t point at flaws in anything without being labelled a ‘hater’ or ‘anti’, even if you’re only trying to say that something has weaknesses in certain areas (cases in point: Lady Gaga is really not as stunningly original as many people insist, and Steig Larsson writes a lot of exposition).

As I’ve mentioned with tiresome regularity on the blog, my favourite TV programme of all time is Twin Peaks (it is my equivalent of Mark Kermode’s love for The Exorcist), but I’ll cheerfully admit that it’s got flaws (the second season loses its way, certain storylines are just risible, and it’s painfully clear at certain points that they’re just making it up as they go along). As long as the catalogue of weaknesses in something doesn’t overwhelm the things we like in it, then there doesn’t seem to be any problem in liking it, but there’s equally no problem in admitting it’s not perfect – very few things are unimprovable (despite what the most vocal supporters might say).

Am I asking too much? Is it really now the case that you’re either a rabid fan of something or a hater? I’d like to think not, and I’d also like to think that it’d be possible to see discussion of topics (and by ‘see’ I mean ‘encounter’, though if televised debates – on whatever topic – would like to actually show people admitting the strengths in their opponents’ arguments and the weaknesses in their own, I’d welcome that) which actually reflect that there are many waystations between the positions of support or loathing for something, whether it be a political stance or a work of art or a brand of cola or whatever. Much of the time, opinions on things fall into the median, grey band of ‘meh’, and it feels to me that pretending that you have to pick a position at one end of the spectrum and fight it doggedly with closed ears and mind is oversimplifying, and doesn’t actually enable a proper discussion to take place.

Although – ahem – I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out that I’m not so convinced of this that I don’t welcome discussion of it. That would be hypocrisy, and of course the Post Comment button exists for your input (and not just about Apple, Gaga or Larsson, ideally)…

*That would be the number “They Know”, by Shawty Lo Featuring Ludacris, I believe. Not really a fan, but it seemed appropriate to refer to it, by way of illustrating that merit may lurk where we don’t expect it.

Future And Past: The Name May Be Its Future Chart Position (1), And The Form In Which It Would Have Been Sold Until A Few Years Ago (45)… Perhaps.

Longtime blog readers with appallingly long memories will recall that a friend of mine Ian is a singer by trade, and lookylook, his band’s video is available to view online (ignore the fact that the frozen image below appears to show him doing an impression of the Joker, he’s actually a very presentable chap):

That’s rather good, innit? The single’s out on 5 July, and will be available from iTunes and other places like that. If you like it, please buy it. And even if you don’t like it, please buy it just to please me, for my wrath is great and far-reaching and painful for those who displease me.

As the aforementioned longterm readers will also be well aware of.

I Used To Work With Someone Whose Parents Wouldn’t Let Her Watch Magpie When She Was Young On The Grounds That It Was ‘Common’…

… but looking at this LP from one of the presenters, I think that they were probably just trying to shield her from the wanton perversion simmering below the surface of a seemingly innocent children’s TV programme.

Shocking, it is. I’d write to my MP if I was confident he could read.

Hands away from the swimsuit area please, Mr Robertson.

Learn From My (Almost) Mistakes

So, on Tuesday night, the external hard-drive thingy attached to my computer died. It’s a cute little thing, about the size of a passport and about 300Gb, and thus the ideal place for me to store all my music and video files and the like (not to mention my writing).

But the computer suddenly stopped acknowledging the drive even existed, and so iTunes and other programmes were looking for information that wasn’t there. Yeek.

The fortunate timing for me was that this drive-death had happened within hours of me backing everything up onto another, bigger drive, so after buying another portable drive I was able to get things pretty much back to where they’d been. Okay, time and a bit of money wasted, but a small price to pay in comparison with losing all my tunes and videos. As the Young Ones put it, “Phew! That was close!”

Anyway, I’m telling you this not just because I treat this blog like some kind of online confessional/notebook, but also because the moral of my tale is one which has been said many times before, by better folks than I, time and time again: back up your stuff.

They often say you never know when a drive’s going to die, but the chances are that it’ll be when it’s least convenient for you (not in my case, but I’ve always been a freak), so save your stories, assignments or whatnot in a good location, and then save them again somewhere else.

If you’ve got a Mac, there’s the Time Machine software; if you’re signed up to Windows Live, you can use their ‘Skydrive’ facility to stash stuff online, or there are other services such as Dropbox which offer free online storage and access (and if you use that link, we both get an extra 250Mb free space), or you could just use plug-in external HDs or memory sticks or whatever you prefer.

But I strongly urge you to back stuff up, and get a routine going to do so, so that you can avoid the possibility that, as mine did the other night, your stomach suddenly goes cold as you realise that you may have lost all your funky music and draft writing…

No, No, There Were Supposed To Be Plans For A Batman Musical…

I don’t want to pre-judge, but is it just me, or is this the most insane idea for a musical ever?

For every Sweeney Todd, there is, after all, at least one Capeman.

The Never-Ending Story

Unlike many, many people, I haven’t yet watched the Doctor Who episodes The End Of Time, though I’ve got them through iPlayer, and they’re sitting on my computer awaiting my eyeballs.

In a similar fashion, I haven’t read the final volume in Stephen King’s Dark Tower series, though I really like the books, and the finale is on my ‘to read’ bookshelf.

I don’t watch Heroes any more, though I cheerfully followed the first series all the way until the penultimate episode, and only missed the finale because I mis-set the recorder; granted, most people I know are suggesting that I didn’t miss much (either in that finale or what has followed), but I was oddly content with leaving it where it was.

I’ve written before about how mysteries and questions can be as satisfying as resolutions and answers, and it’s certainly a feeling that seems to be increasing in my thinking; which is odd, given that one thing that I find deeply satisfying if it’s present (and frankly irritating if it’s not) is a story in which it’s clear that the creator knows where they’re going and what they’re doing.

And yet, like a reunion of a much-missed band or sequel to a much-loved tale, the anticipation can overwhelm the reality, and your excited imaginings can far outstrip what’s actually delivered.

In part, this is an inevitable result of items being exaggerated in their importance; there’s a story which I love (especially if it’s true) that when a group of journalists were attending the official release of the ‘reunited Beatles’ song Free As A Bird, they were asked to turn away as the boxes of the single were carried onstage. One of them, apparently (and rightly) said ‘oh, for god’s sake, it’s only a record!’, and refused to turn away, at which point all the others did the same. Don’t get me wrong, I think the Beatles are far and away the most important band … well, probably ever, but a new song from them is, when all’s said and done, a song, and it’s unlikely that its four minutes or so of music and lyrics is going to actually, literally, knock the world off its axis or otherwise change absolutely everything forever and ever and ever.

I think there’s a similar hyperbole applied to many things, be they books or films or albums or comics or whatever, much of which seems to be intended to get people all giddy and excited and convinced that this thing really, really matters just long enough that they slap down money for it, and after that, well, so long and thanks for all the dosh. In a way, it’s pretty much evident from, say, the promotion for films – there are trailers and posters and interviews on chat shows and press releases dressed up as news reports (I’m looking at you, free newspapers), but within a day or two of the film’s opening, it’s almost as if the massed media has forgotten about what it was so recently talking about, and is trying to pretend its fleeting obsession never happened.

Seemingly the most obvious version of this, though it doesn’t quite follow the theory, is the way that winners of The X-Factor tend to vanish without trace for the best part of a year until they bob back up to the surface of public consciousness in late autumn, to ride the wave of pubic interest generated by the new series of the show. There’s a very real danger in this instance that the public – who are, after all, encouraged to pretend that this really matters as the series goes on, and to forget about people whose standing in the show they were terrifically excited about the previous week – will forget all about these newly-born ‘stars’ in the intervening months, though I guess it takes a few months of being strapped into Simon Cowell’s Strip-Away-Any-Vestige-Of-Personality-And-Ensure-We-Can-Flog-Them-To-The-US-O-Tron before they can be presented safely to the public. But I digress.

I guess one has to be realistic about the level of expectation involved – and when I say ‘one’, I mean you. And me. The final Harry Potter book or a newly-discovered full version of The Magnificent Ambersons or [insert your Holy Grail here] may be a terrifically exciting prospect, but as so many people felt about the Star Wars prequels or Dan Brown’s The Lost Symbol, the finished article may not live up to your expectations (which may themselves have been stoked by blanket coverage and exaggeration of the item’s properties and importance). Don’t get me wrong, I still retain a frankly child-like ability to get excitable about things which – in the long run, and often in other people’s estimation – aren’t really that important, but I’m trying to keep a sense of perspective, and realise that a comic which finally and definitively settles the fanboy question of whether Captain America could beat Batman in a fight* is, five years down the line, less likely to be quite so important to me, and may well in fact be a bit of a disappointment.

And of course, holding off on the climax has its own rewards (oh, stop that, you filth; you know what I mean): as far as I’m concerned, the story’s still taking place – David Tennant is still The Doctor (though I’m optimistic about the Moffat/Smith era), and Roland Deschain is still en route to the Tower, and neither story’s end has come as a disappointment.

Unlike – very probably for many of you – this lengthy and rambling post, whose end probably comes as a blessed relief.

*Of course he couldn’t – Batman would win hands-down.

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