The classic 90s Canadian sketch show The Kids in the Hall is coming back! This is exciting new for me becasue, when it first aired in the UK, I would sit in the dining room of my childhood home, watching the show on a tiny ‘portable’ TV that sat on my parent’s dresser (while they were in the living room watching something they wanted to watch… like the news or something!). My best friend at school was also obsessed with the show and we would go around ‘squashing people’s heads’ and singing ‘Alouette, Gentille Alouette’ because of the sketch above. Which I still find hilarious to this day.
I have just finished reading a very detailed account of Royal Instagram accounts. I don’t care a jot about Harry or Wills or any of them really, but it’s a pretty interesting investigation into the slightly suspicious behaviour of their follower counts.
This week, Buster came to the office with me for the first time. Which also entailed going on a train for the first time. He nailed both tasks with flying colours. I was very proud of him. This must be how parents feel when their offspring speak their first words or graduate university.
Also this week, I went round a friend’s house to drink beer and play boardgames. Of course we had to have a game of Pandemic (so topical), but I was also introduced to Coup! which I enjoyed a lot (lots of bluffing and susipicion).
Musical treat this week, has to be the new album from Caribou:
Above, David Byrne (67!) performing “Once in a Lifetime” on SNL.
It’s going to take a lot to convince me that there is a more inspiring person in the world than David Byrne right now.
Week notes are late this week because Nina is still away, I am being a single dad to Buster, and occupying myself by seeing friends to play boardgames, eat nice food, and go to the pub – it’s exhausting!
I did find a bit of time to watch Harmony Korine’s latest, The Beach Bum, this week. I am very torn on what to think. On the one hand the cinematography is amazing, the cast (including Matthew McConaughey, Isla Fisher, Snoop Dogg, Zac Efron and Jonah Hill) are all having a whale of a time and do a great job, and the whole thing is agreeably bonkers and uplifting in a strange way. But on the other hand, at some points the characters act like self-centered pricks (violently mugging an old man to get money to spend on booze and weed for instance) and there’s no real heart or depth to the film.
Last weekend a couple of friends came round (to meet Buster), and I made Alison Roman’s steak tacos with a peanut and chilli salsa (from her amazing book which I got for Christmas). Bloody hell it was good (accompanied by a ton of beers from Craft & Courage in Crystal Palace).
Tomorrow I take Buster in to the office for the first time! Wish me luck.
To finish this week: a killer, drumless mix of Hall & Oates’ classic Maneater.
Above, LIFT, a film by Marc Isaacs, “who set himself up in a London elevator and slowly wins the trust of the residents, creating a humorous and moving portrait of a vertical community.” I adore films like this.
Nina has left for the States with work. She’s gone for nearly two weeks, so it’s just me and Buster left to entertain ourselves for a fortnight. I am lining up friends to meet at the pub (most of whom want to see Buster more than they want to see me I suspect).
I am just getting used to dog/pub/cafe politics and etiquette. My favourite person this week was the guy at post office when I went to pick up a parcel. He waved Buster in and declared he was ‘nicer than most of the people we get in here’. All my postman/dog stereotypes have now gone out the window.
I started my ‘watching stuff Nina won’t care about’ with one of those cult classics that’s been on my ‘should watch’ list for a while: Two Lane Blacktop. It’s Dennis ‘Beach Boys’ Wilson and James Taylor revving around the States, being hip and existential. I liked it. but it’s no Easy Rider.
If I’m honest, this week has all about one man: Jack Reacher.
I’ve been aware of Lee Child’s slightly cartoonish (and maybe more than slightly outdated) protagonist ever since Tom Cruise was hilariously miscast in a couple of films. But I’ve never read one of the books (I only just found out Child is British and went to uni’ in Sheffield).
But the other month I picked up the fourth Jack Reacher novel in one of those train station book exchange ‘libraries’, and got round to reading it this week. It was an entertaining, actually-way-better-than-I-thought-it-would-be adventure romp and I may read more of them at some point.
Full disclosure: last year the Times Literary Supplement ran a column about how great Lee Child’s books are. Am I the kind of person who only reads ‘trash’ if the TLS says it’s ok to do so? No, but I’m adjacent to that person.
Last weekend we sat down as watched the new Todd Haynes film,Dark Waters (Mark Ruffalo versus a huge chemical corp in one of those ‘My God, they knew!’ true-ish stories). Cue paunchy, dour Ruffalo and lots of miserable blue/green shades seeping into every frame like a toxic chemical. It’s ok, but doesn’t deserve it’s 127 minute run time (not a lot does these days… am I just getting old?).
Buster has been with us for five weeks now and his personality and behaviour are settling down into something resembling routine. We chose the worst couple of weeks to get a dog (we’ve had to keep an extra tight grip on his lead to stop storms Ciara and Dennis whisking him away like Toto) but it’s very much worth it. There is a special kind of contentedness that comes from lying on the sofa, one hand turning the pages of your book, while the other strokes the dog sitting at your feet.
A bit of music to finish off the week. Here’s the new album from a guy who was one of the people who I met in the early days of the internet (when the social web was fun and inviting and creative): Dr Rubberfunk’s My Life at 45.
Oh how I can relate to that (not the bra bit, obviously).
A bit of a video special this week but before we get to that, a couple of wordy, ready things:
Definitely my favourite thing of the week, from a website I’ve spent way too much money at over the years: Oi Polloi’s In Praise of TinTin.
“Think of Tintin and you’ll most likely picture a round-faced, ginger-haired grass who hails from Belgium, yet has a suspiciously good British accent. And while the aforementioned is mostly certainly, definitely true, what you’re probably missing from your list is: cultured menswear fashionista.”
And here’s the second article about dancing and Little Women of 2020! (It’s the Oscars tonight and for the first time in my life I really don’t give a fuck about who all the old white men decide to give their statues too. I love some of the films nominated, but the fact that Lulu Wang and Greta Gerwig aren’t even noinated for Best Director – and Todd Philips is – just makes a mockery of the whole thing.
First video: The Hustle is Real is “a story about creating your own lane to make money doing what you love and the hustle and grind that goes along with it,” (starring DJ and the man behind Fleamarket Funk, DJ Prestige):
In a similar vein: it’s Every Sample from the Beastie Boys’ Paul’s Boutique:
Here’s a trailer for The Street, a brilliant-looking documentary “Following the lives of residents and business owners on Hoxton Street, Zed’s film urges us to consider the impact of gentrification.”
Did I mention I’m obsessed with the band Haim a bit right now? Well I am, so here they are on the Price is Right being amazing:
A few more trailers… First one for David Simon’s take on Philip Roth’s The Plot Against America:
And then one for another documentary, The Booksellers:
Around these parts we normally sign off our weeknotes with something music-related. So here’s Paul Simon explaining Mrs. Robinson to Dick Cavett in 1970:
The week started on Monday morning, just after 4am, when I was woken by the sound of barking and whining from the kitchen, and came downstairs to find Buster had…. well his new diet wasn’t agreeing with him, let’s just leave it at that.
Two days of wiping up dog excrement from my kitchen floor were followed by two late nights in the office getting a pitch together (and by late I mean anywhere between 10pm and midnight). To be fair, that doesn’t happen very often these days, and there’s a bit of me that enjoys pitching and a team of people coming together to get something done etc etc… But if you’ve been awake from 4am cleaning up poop then its a fraction more difficult.
(And, yes, parents, I know: Your heart bleeds for me. That’s why I’m not complaining that hard!)
Between me writing that last point and writing this one, I made Sunday dinner while my wife changed the sheets on our bed… And then Buster promptly went upstairs and pissed all over that same bed. Something he’s never done before. The delights of owning a dog.
Being angry with a dog is difficult!
Meanwhile, in none dog news…
They Might Be Giants were the first band I saw live. I was about 12 and Birdhouse In Your Soul was in the Top 10 and they were playing the Sheffield Octagon, so me and I guess what you’d have to call my first real ‘girlfriend’ went, and it was pretty amazing. I’ve always been very grateful that they were my first gig experience. Anyway Flood turned 30 ths week and Spin magazine asked a bunch of musicians what the album means to them.
Does monoculture still exist on the internet? is a very long, but I think pretty crucial, read from Vox. It’s much more about TV and music than it is about writng and opinions, but still an interesting and slightly worrying read.
The persuasive power of an individual review today is vastly diluted by the fragmentation of the media and the frantic chirping of cable channels, Facebook posts, Twitter feeds and text messaging at all hours. Abbreviated attention moves on at an almost mindless speed. A trend rises and vanishes, all but forgotten before it ever sticks. A book and a book review — even if capturing a cultural turning point — today can’t help losing the competition for eyes to Twitter bursts and viral videos. One might wonder what social transitions are never noticed these days in all the noise.
So yeah. Twitter would have buried On The Road basically.
And with that depressing thought, I’ll leave you.
Maybe some They Might Be Giants wil make it better.
One thing no one mentioned about getting a dog, is how much it calms you down. I mean, maybe they did mention that (there’s a lot of talk about how pets are good for your mental health generally) but the thing I’ve noticed in the one week we’ve been dog owners is how our movements and our speech and our demeanour have shifted into this calm, soothing register (most of the time). I think part of it has to do with Buster being a rescue dog who has obviously been through some shit times in the past, and us trying not to spook or upset him.
There’s that of course, and then also the fact that you have another living thing around you that you have to dedicate your attention and focus to, and therefore away from your own petty shit.
I realise that all the parents reading this will be going, “Well, duh!”.
In the time I’ve not been doting over Buster I’ve mainly been readng. I finished Little Faith in just a few days. It’s beautifully written and very moving and I took a lot away from it.
I also finishedThe Art of Noticing (subtitled 131 Ways to Spark Creativity, Find Inspiration, and Discover Joy in the Everyday), which I actually started reading before the end of the year, but it’s one of those ‘dip in, dip out’ books so it’s allowed. I highlighted quite a few bits that I hope to revisit throughout the year.
Believe it or not, I’m now reading E.B. White on Dogs (my brother bought it me for Chtistmas, we knew a dog was on its way to us at that point).
Just one film this week; the classic 1945 Gothic horror/noir-murder-mystery The Spiral Staircase (as recommended by The Pure CInema Podcast). I’m really enjoying these old horror-ish films a the moment. Not sure why. There’s just something about that quaint, black and white look and the clipped accents and the style of the clothes… mixed with gruesome deaths, that really appeals to me.
We got a dog this week! Actually we’ve been looking to adopt a rescue dog for over a year now, but it’s not the easiest of processes. But, after a few false starts, we finally found Buster, a six-year-old mixed breed dog from the streets of Romania. Buster was delivered to our door at 4:30 am this Saturday morning, very nervous and dirty (and smelly!). Since then it’s been a slow process of acclimatising and settling in, as well as getting him to trust us. Needless to say we are totally besotted already. (No photos yet, there will be plenty of time for that.)
Only one film watched this past week: Mystify: Michael Hutchence. I dont’ have any strong affinity with INXS or anything, but this is a pretty solidly made documentary, and there’s a lot I didn’t know about his story. Plus, 90s Kylie MInogue is The Best.
Got 2020 reading off to a flying start though. Finished The Topeka School by Ben Lerner and went right into A Cosmology of Monsters by Shaun Hammill. Difficult to descibe this one, but it’s horror-ish with a real family element thrown in that makes it feel more grounded… until the monsters show up. I read it in record time and was both entertained and genuinely disturbed by it.
I’m on to Little Faith by Nikolas Butler now. My wife rattled through this over the Christmas break so I’m hoping it will keep my reading momentum going at pace.
Read quite a few articles about death and dying this week it seems: Commentary: John Simon, Clive James and the future of criticism in our culture from the LA Times is about dead critics and the next wave of them; while The Art of Dying from The New Yorker is written by a critic who is quite literally dying (of lung cancer), and he writes about it here with amazing beauty and clarity. The Lingering of Loss (also from The New Yorker) is subtitled ‘My best friend left her laptop to me in her will. Twenty years later, I turned it on and began my inquest’. But it’s less about the laptop and more about the friendship.
An article I read this week that’s not about death or loss: Lived in Bars from Good Beer Hunting is about giving up alcohol but still frequenting and trying to enjoy your favourite bars.
Below is one of the tunes that’s caught my attenton in the first couple of weeks this year:
I’m changing the format of these posts for 2020. It’s not all about the media I’m ingesting anymore, a few more observations and random asides thrown in.
So first off: Happy new year! I spent the end of 2019 and the beginning of the 20s in Copenhagen. It’s a lovely (if damned expensive) city, which really comes into its own on new year’s eve. It turns out there’s no real law governing the use of fireworks in public spaces in Copenhagen so as it gets closer to midnight you see people carrying personal arsenals of flying explosives towards the city center and then… Boom, all hell breaks loose at the stroke of midnight. Despite the somewhat warzone atmosphere it was a lot of fun (see IG picture above).
We spent the hours leading up to midnight in a very nice restaurant enjoying their tasting menu (a lot of fish) and wine pairing. The most memorable part of the meal was when a woman at the next table casually leaned over and vomited on the floor. If that had been me I would have probably left at a sprint, apologising profusely and leaving a massive tip. But this woman and the people she was with (her parents!) styled it out and let the staff clean up around them. I was, and still am, gobsmacked.
We watched Dracula on the BBC, which was good… Right up until that third episode when it took a steep nosedive (not a controversial opinion, I understand). The Mark Gatiss Dracula documentary was more enjoyable I think.
I started reading The Topeka School by Ben Lerner. It’s very beautiful, and just off kilter enough to keep me intrigued. Should finish it this week.
I also read Grayson Perry’s The Descent of Man and the graphic novel Off Season by James Sturm (a Christmas present), both of which I really enjoyed.
I just got back from seeing Greta Gerwig’s Little Women, and I’m putting it right at the top of my Favourite Films of 2019 list.
Am I doing that annoying ‘the last thing you experienced is your favourite’ thing? Maybe, but I don’t think so. This film is over two hours long and when it finished I just wanted to start watching it again (it’s also one of those films where I instinctively wanted to start applauding when it ended, I didn’t of course, I’m English.).
Why did I love it so much? It’s beautfully shot and it looks amazing. The cast is out of this world, and Saoirse Ronan is phemonenal, she need to win all the awards for this performance. The structure is clever but not too gimmicky or showy. Most of all though, it’s incredibly entertaining and effecting. It is 100% pure cinema: it will make you laugh, cry and everything inbetween, plus the dialogue is whip smart and it’s an adaptation of a book which is over a century old, yet if feels incredibly modern.
I love a film that does something new and different (it’s why Once Upon A Time… in Hollywood and Parasite are second and third on my list), but to take something that’s a recognised classic, and which has been adapted so many times already, and then produce something so fresh and so beautiful – that’s talent.