Thursday, 24 April 2014

Performance Anxiety

I scrolled through the Palm Pilot of my mind. Something lurking in the buried recesses there was Paging me, trying to Laser Disk recollection into my Dot Matrix printer of a brain. I had always credited myself with a Betamax eidetic recorder of events and experience; that I simply had to dial-up any prompt and the cursor of recall would locate the exact file in my personal RAM. Then seamlessly download to the soft palate of my glossal floppy disc, having sieved through a developing tray of emotional chemicals and through the formal organisation of word processing, I would be presented with that retrospection I was seeking after accessing. But not today, despite having played it over backward and forwards on my reel to reel of an analytical mind. No flashing of an incandescent lightbulb going off in my head. Rather the grey matter seemed misty and fogged behind smeared carbon papered facsimiles, with Tippexed redactions and gouges of key bytes of data. Eight-tracked white noise seemed to be clogging my synapses, a thumping migraine boomboxed my ears the harder I tried to focus my thoughts. Nope, the reason she had walked out on me was not recoverable. I hoped it wasn't the age difference. I hadn't meant to be so dismissive of her love letter on scented paper. It was the technology I was objecting to, not the content.

Taken from the new flash fiction collection available on Amazon in print or ebook

Monday, 21 April 2014

Stellar Songs - Music of the spheres

Gustav Holst's "Planets Suite", the music of the spheres, the harmony of the cosmos, music has always had an association with the stars. We even call our heroes 'rock stars', that is something out of this world. So here are ten songs about the solar system. Rock(et) on!

1) The Rezillos - "Destination Venus"
The Rezillos were a touch under-appreciated punk/art school band from Scotland. With great song titles such as "My Baby Does Good Sculptures" and "Someone's Gonna Get Their Head Kicked In Tonight". Perhaps they never made it because they were so bad at miming for 'live' TV pop shows

2) The Cure - "Jupiter Crash"
I'd totally lost interest in The Cure once they turned from indie new wavers into silly Goths chasing invisible rabbits down unseen holes. So I was totally unaware of this song from their ouevre. It's odd to think how different a persona guitarist Robert Smith presented when he played in Siouxie And the Banshees when he was no longer the main man and didn't have to adopt all the teased hair and smudged make-up as he did with the Cure.

3) Jimi Hendrix - "South Saturn Delta"
From the man who invented the out of this world "Acid Rock" this song shows just how much Hendrix drew on Southern Delta Blues for his style. Since there are no words to this, not sure what Saturn has to do with it exactly, but any excuse to include Jimi is alright by me to be honest.

4) David Bowie - "Life On Mars"
Considering the whole Ziggy Stardust album could have made this list, it's perhaps surprising that this song actually appeared on the Hunky Dory album. Bowie was best when he was obsessed with spacemen and he and guitarist Mick Ronson wore shiny space age clothes on stage. Just my two cents.

5) B52s - "Planet Claire"
From a band who took their name from the stratospheric carpet bomber the B-52, they made some really knock-about music such as "Rock Lobster" and "Strobelight". Here the professed love object is utterly out of this world.

6) Rush - "Cygnus X-1"
A song about one of the earliest discovered black holes, taken from an album "A Farewell To Kings" that also flirted with the radical ideas of author Ayn Rand, while the album "Hemispheres" contained a track "Trouble With The Trees" which saw the band accused of having fascist leanings. My jury's out on that one, but I just fixate on the bloated size of that drumkit, it resembles a solar system in its own right.

7) The Carpenters - "Calling Occupants Of Interplanetary Craft"
And breathe.... Calming it all back down, here we have Karen sending out a beauteous plaint into space. I'd answer if I were an extra-terrestrial wouldn't you? Imagine the heartbreak of landing to meet this siren's call, only to discover she'd died from the very sustenance that is supposed to keep her species alive...

8) Husker Du - "Books About UFOs"
And cranking it back up again, the finest 3-piece power trio introduce some plinky-plonk piano against their wall of noise. Delicious stuff.

9) Pink Floyd - "Astronomy Dominé"
It could have been "Interstellar Overdrive" or "Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Sun", but this track from the Syd Barrett days namechecks more planetary bodies and besides, shows just how heavy and dissonant sounding a band they were in those days. Also some rare archival footage of Roger Waters being quite polite.

10) Grinderman - "Honey Bee Let's Fly To Mars"
Glorious inchoate noise that was Grinderman's debut LP. Then they cut their second one and all that was lost... Also note to Nick, excessive facial hair is not rock 'n roll unless you're ZZ Top.

11) Only Ones - "Another Girl Another Planet"
Shame frontman Peter Perrett was lost on another planet most of the time with his heroin addiction, cos they were a great pop-punk band who could have produced so much more.

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

A Round, A Bout - Friday Flash

As she approached the rope, she realised she hadn’t had a run-through. How was she supposed to make her entrance? Torso first and slide her legs round, or posterior backing into the ring? Either way she suddenly cottoned on that her flesh was to be exposed. Ass cheeks from the frontal approach, cleavage amplified by gravity with the rear-first method.

A large dinner suited man with flattened nose and spread ears had stretched the lower and middle rope apart for her. She briefly thought back to when she was a child and two friends would do similar with their skipping ropes for her to hop through. The adult her chased this fleeting image away with the notion that the ropes depicted an interference wave pattern. What the hell was she a Physics Graduate doing here scantily clad in front of thousands of men baying for blood and a glimpse of distant female flesh? She needed the money, perhaps as much as the boxers all things being relative. Her looks had always meant folk dismissed the abilities of her scientific brain at college.

Her somewhat ungainly scrambling through the ropes was still accompanied by the excited chatter dissecting the previous round of pugilism the crowd had just witnessed. A low throb of testosterone-driven descriptions of punches and bodies reeling from the impact. Yet the instant she erected herself, that statuesque moment before she started her circuit and held the rectangular board bearing the round number above her head, the tonality of the crowd rose a couple of octaves and the wolf-whistling began.

She cranked her lips into a smile and began her swaying walk. The board wasn’t heavy, but it affected her centre of gravity and dragged enough air resistance to impart a natural wobble to her gait, which she supposed was the point. The crowd didn’t need informing what the next round was, the giant stadium board over the centre of the ring told them that. Her task was a gratuitous one, to turn the minds of the throng from the bloodlust to the well, just lustful. To prick any crescendo of belligerence aroused by the sight of two men beating the merry hell out of each other. A similar reliving role that comedy played in the original Greek tragic dramas.

As she walked she realised she was not as cold as she feared she might be. Beneath the lights, her raised arms and upper body were clammily hot. However from the waist down she was shivering, with goosebumps populating her legs, exacerbating the tilt of her stride. She identified with the boxers who formally demarcated the two halves of their bodies with a belt. No hitting below its stamp; a gathered target presented above. Out of the corner of her eye she saw a water bottle being squirted towards a boxer's groin by one of the cornermen, while the other was yanking the elasticated band of the boxer’s trunks away from his sculpted abdomen. She averted her head, confused by the strange inverted directionality from the usual fluid flows from such male nether regions.

How tight a circuit was she supposed to transcribe? Too tight to the middle and she would be done in twenty seconds. It might also appear she was soliciting the referee stood there in the middle of the ring. Too wide an arc and she risked getting snarled up with the feverish activities in both corners. There were pools of water, possibly with blood mixed in, radiating slowly out from underneath the boxers’ stools. She didn’t want to be getting her shoes tagged in that, even though she had been provided them by the event promoters. God her arms were heavy under the weight of the board.

She imagined that some of the noise from the masses bore a particular pique, because round six, that number she was toting, signalled the death of their bets on a definite result in round five. These punters were now thrown back on a diffuse partisanship for one or other of the fighters, now that their main investment in the outcome had gone by the wayside (ringside?). Her board symbolically represented the guillotine, the knockout blow that ended their hopes. The boxers may have cuts and gashes on their faces, but she had the transposed blood of some of the defeated audience on her board. She shuddered and tried to focus her hearing even tighter for any hostility towards herself.

She had reached the other corner now. Even though she consciously steeled herself to give the men busying themselves there a wide berth, she found her path naturally veered towards them. Like two planetary masses coming into alignment and warping the space between them, she was drawn into their gravitational pull. The boxer was sat low on his stool, his legs splayed out long in front of him to the canvas. She couldn’t tell if he was slumped or nonchalant. The raised welts and crusted blood ridges around the cuts on his nose reminded her of the slightly worn or frayed fibres of the rugs her Grandma used to hand weave. The boxer raised his eyes and winked at her. Either that or he was trying to purge some water or sweat that had dropped into his eye from his teeming crown. She speeded up her step to get her past the black hole of the corner.

She had completed her circuit. She wasn’t sure if she should keep going. Was there time to complete another lap? How long was the break between rounds supposed to last? She had lost track of time during her perambulation and assault by all these jabbing thoughts. Goodness alone knows how boxers adjudged the duration of a round when they were being assailed by punches, yet she couldn’t even do it merely holding a board aloft. She widened her smile to no particular purpose, as both boxers distended their on mouths in order to reinsert their gumshields. The same man pincered open the ropes and beckoned to her with his flattened nose and flapping ears also seemingly directing her to between the ropes.

Ding-ging, saved by the bell.


Thursday, 10 April 2014

Compound Fracture - Friday Flash

The Engineer studied the Entrance to the London Underground Station. It was dark and foreboding as Soot picked out the outlines of Commuters whilom impressed against the Tiles. A Wind squeezed up from below ground and buffeted his Face, its force impelling him backwards. A concatenation of displacement he mused. Basic design fault. The gust stilled as quickly as it arose. Next was a thunderousdrummingcadence drawing towards him, but to his Earattunedthroughexpertlongprescription it was a nonmechanicalgenerativesound. Suddenly a human host swarmed over the Stairs and out through the Exit, knocking him this way and that like a Bagatelle, as they did to each other.  When they had finally dispersed into London’s Thoroughfares and Alleyways, he took out his Notebook:


He resumed his own Perambulationwithpurposethoughwithoutspecifieddestination. He noticed how the Denizens of London all had their Heads bowed as they walked. Was this because of the reputed Rats that supposedly possessed the filth laden Streets? London as one giant Rat-run he smirked to himself. His countryfolk had a word for it Umweltverschmutzung. It was only ever applied to other races.

Or perhaps was it prompted byeyecontactaversionthroughfearofprovokingviolenceinonemotivatedbyperceiveddisrespectFor he’d heard how dangerous this particular Capital City had become, the polar opposite of the order that was tightly maintained in that of his own Country’s Capital.

In thrall to Rats and Thugs, he pitied the Citizens of this formerimperialpowerprostratedrunningitscoloniesandbankruptedoncewealthofitsdominionsnolongerbeingsequestratedIt’s grandiose Edifices and Statues now merely bombastic as they sat smeared in grime and bird droppings, the masonry crumbling and eroded. Military heroes from long-forgotten wars. Buildings that used to house retired Governor-Generals and High Commissioners, now converted into flats for divorced spouses with spare bedrooms for their weekend-lodging Kinder. Even the verdancy of London’s central Parks had withered and become eclipsed by traffic fumes and degraded by the volume of footfalls. Certainly hadn’t been browned by the Sun!

To him this was a decadent City. A City in decline. That’s why its citizens had their Heads down, they lacked the confidence to look the World in its Eye. Unlike his own proud Nation. A sudden bolt of that Painwhichstartsoffstupefyinguntilneuralmessaginghitsbrainwholebodybecomingwrackedwithmountingagony hit him. Also his vision was filled with the prospect of people’s Shoes about to boot him in the Face until they veered away at the last moment. His processing Mind elicited that he was prone on the Pavement. His Knee was radiating excruciating sheets of pain, as if it were Metal being beaten white hot in a Forge. He gazed down and was confronted with an unsettling, unaesthetic disparity. Something awry from the anatomical blueprint. His Leg was twisted at an ugly angle, the Kneecap clearly being unable to pinion it naturally. None of the passersby offered to help him, but sniggered as they pivoted and swerved around him. Schadenfreude he thought miserably to himself until a bolt of pain blotted out any further possibility of coherent cogitation.

Lying in a hospital Bed with a compound fracture of his Patella, the tidal waves of pain and the tsunami clotting of his chemically sedated brain meant he was strikingly unable to string his thoughts together. But he did at least appreciate now why the English kept their Eyes pinned to the ground. To avoid all the cracks and pitfalls of subsidence in their Pavements that had caused him to trip and fall as portentously as Lucifer’s tumble from Heaven. Subsidence, another marker of venerability. His thoughts were too fragmented to compound into a precise analysis of this event. Welt Schmerz.


I wish English had the facility German does, that when a word doesn't exist, in German you can formulate it by compounding words together to create it. So 'Weltschmerz' is 'world sorrow' or 'Umweltverschmutzung' is 'environmental dirt' or what we call 'pollution'.
The advantage this allows is that it can contribute to tightening up the precision of our meaning, when the existing words just won't cut the mustard. Such compound words more often than not infuse the concept with a philosophical tinge, the nuance coming from the joining of separate words together that tinge and shade their partners in the compound.
However the downside of this being  that the high-minded philosophical bent can be at the expense of any metaphorical or imagistic tenor of the concept. 'Weltschmerz' sounds great, but the high-minded concept of world sorrow is somehow divorced from a poetic idea of a world sorrow and the two scarcely can coexist because the philosophical tenor comes over so strongly.  This is odd given german's direct descendence from Anglo-Saxon which contained the beautifully poetic Kennings which absolutely embodied the metaphorical and the figurative through the compounding of two separate words.
So I wanted to write a story that played up the differences of the compounded words and the metaphorical phrases. I also wanted to write a story about how the facility of compounding in a language could perhaps also determine character, personality and how one expresses oneself. And then I wanted to assert the triumph of the metaphorical over the philosophical and fracture the compound!

Hope this helps in explaining the madness that precedes it! 

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Strings Attached - Rock'n'Roll With Strings

10 great pop and rock tunes, guitars and string sections in perfect harmony (sort of).


1) The Ramones - "Baby I Love You"
Kings the warp speed guitar punk slow it right down and get in a string orchestra to beef up the hollowness that would pertain otherwise.

2) Portishead - "Glory Box"
this one actually makes sense since Portishead's music was always suggestive of soundtracks for as yet unwritten movies and this works perfectly.

3) Rolling Stones - "As Tears Goes By"
The Stones had a few songs with lush classical accompaniment. I think it was more acceptable in the 60s when rock and roll was still trying to throw off the shackles of the establishment such as the BBC, when every entertainment programme seemed to employ a backing orchestra. Well it's all just music right?

4) Einsturzende Neubauten" - "Armenia"
I'm not sure if this counts because I don't think they ever played with an orchestra but simply took the tape of an Armenian folk song and um did their deconstructionist musical thing over the top of it. But this is my blog, my chart, my rules and they're one of my all time favourite bands!

5) Goldfrapp - "Clowns"
There's no doubt that a string section add textured lushness to what would otherwise be a very brittle song indeed.

6) Led Zeppelin - "Kashmir"
Bloated bombastic rock epic saved by classical strings. Actually that's not quite fair since the Arab tonal textures make it interesting enough.

7) Aerosmith - "I Don't Want To Miss A Thing"
See this is the problem with adding orchestras to hard rock bands, they believe it makes them all serious and respectable. Whatever happened to those who were enjoined to "Walk This Way?". In this song they're invited to sit down and take the weight off...

8) Massive Attack - "Unfinished Sympathy"
While heavy metal and punk bands glom on some strings either to lend credibility that they are making 'classic' music, or in an ironic fashion, Trip-Hop bands like Massive & Portishead who were mixing and weaving together different types of sounds in their tonal landscapes which meant that the strings sounded more organic and embedded into the ensemble. As in here. Boring video though.

9) The Verve - "The Drugs Don't Work"
The Verve's two biggest hits, this and "Bittersweet Symphony" both employed string sections. I can't even name any of their other songs, don't know if that says anything?

10) REM - "Everybody Hurts"
Lush, lush, lush and now not a description of Peter Buck allegedly in a plane...

Bonus Track - Lou Reed "Perfect Day
Perfect symbiosis, nothing more needs to be said. RIP Lou