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Friday, December 30, 2011

The music of the Unknown Artist

I found this reel of tape today while clearing up at home. God knows what it is. I don't have any means of listening to it and I'm not madly curious either. Half an hour later I was listening to The Fame Studios Story 1961-1973 (3cd Box) and I noted that one track on the third disc is credited to "unknown female".

There are only two generalisations about the sexes that hold good. When called upon to describe an item of clothing they once wore, women will always draw it on their body. When asked for their response to a piece of music, men will only tell you what they think once they know who it's by.

All minority evening radio works on this latter principle. Genre first, artist second, actual emotional response a distant third. It wonder if any radio station could find room for a programme which just played records based on what they sounded like and talked about them based on the things you could hear in them. Stupid question.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Sports Impersonality Of The Year

From The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach:
Baseball was an art, but to excel at it you had to become a machine. It didn’t matter how beautifully you performed sometimes, what you did on your best day, how many spectacular plays you made. You weren’t a painter or a writer - you didn’t work in private and discard your mistakes, and it wasn’t just your masterpieces that counted. What mattered, as for any machine, was repeatability. Moments of inspiration were nothing compared to elimination of error.
Whenever players are asked to comment on a game in progress they'll tend to say "we need to cut out the errors". Commentators, on the other hand, say "they need to produce something special". Never read anything which illuminated the different ways of looking at it quite as well as this.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

The Importance Of Somebody Being Ernest


My Dad was called Ernest. That's him pushing my sister. Over the last thirty years we've watched the fashions in boy's names click by. We've seen the stalwart Edwardian names give way to the matier painter and decorator names of the 40s and 50s. We saw all sorts of unlikely names come back but my sister and I have always been pretty certain that it would be a long time before anyone would call a child Ernest again.

Today my wife was in the hairdressers next to another client with a four-week old baby. "What's his name?" she asked. The mother explained that they had combed through all the available names in search of something that wasn't going to turn up in those inevitable lists of the most popular names. They'd decided on Ernest. Best of luck, son.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Families at war and peace

Watched The War Room, D.A. Pennebaker's 1993 documentary about Bill Clinton's election team. It's pre-digital. The only mobiles are huge items, charging on desks. The pace of the campaign is dictated by the headlines of daily papers. There's some talk of "meeting round the computer, then you can show us."

The thing that makes it more remarkable is the fact that James Carville, the "raging cajun" who stars in the film as Clinton's chief strategist, is an item with Mary Matalin, who also appears in the film as a key spokesperson for the incumbent President George Bush. This seems to me like the definition of a civil society.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Why actors make such good bankers

This morning I went to a screening of Margin Call, the Kevin Spacey/Jeremy Irons drama about the coming apart of a Wall Street firm over a 36-hour period in 2008. It begins with a corporate cull, as over 70% of a dealing floor are "let go" in a few hours. The human resources people move in to state the severance terms, the Blackberrys are switched off, computer access codes changed and security men escort the 70% off the premises with their personal possessions in a cardboard box.

Once they've gone Spacey gathers his remaining troops and reassures them that because they have survived they are a lot nearer to their boss's job than was the case a few hours earlier. They may miss the people who've gone, he says, but they know that ultimately they're the beneficiaries of the cull.

It's quite a shocking scene and the young actors (Zachary Quinto and Penn Badgley among them) manage to look shocked on our behalf. So this is how the world of finance works. This is the brutal downside to those big bonuses. How foreign that is to the lives the rest of us lead.

But then another thought stole over me. If there's one section of the population for whom this shouldn't be a surprise, one bunch of professionals who have spent huge parts of their young lives finding themselves on one side or another of an uncaring cull, who know what it's like to be figuratively escorted off the premises, who know that the difference between success and failure can be the flip of a coin, it's actors.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Why don't we cough on the radio?

Before doing Front Row on Tuesday night I was worried that my incipient cough would let me down. It had kept me awake most of the night before. In the words of Julian Clary, I sucked on a Fisherman's Friend until a minute before we went live. Fifteen minutes later I was once again amazed to note that I'd got through it all without even thinking of coughing.

I've discussed this with broadcasting people before. How the adrenalin required to do radio or TV somehow shuts down all the receptors that make us want to cough or sneeze. On the stage it's known as "Doctor Theatre". The person on the stage will not feel the need to cough at all. The person down in the audience will find it impossible to stop.

Friday, December 09, 2011

Nobody wants a traditional Christmas more than yesterday's teenagers

When your kids are teenagers it's hard to get them very interested in Christmas. They refuse to go to carol services, lie in bed until midday on Christmas morning, nursing the hangovers they've acquired the night before, announce they're starving an hour before the meal is ready and start making appetite-destroying bacon sandwiches, then sit there texting their mates to work out the earliest they can get away from the obligations to hearth and home and reunite in a ravening wolf pack. They appear to have no interest in the simple joys of togetherness and give every appearance of preferring to be with their peers.

But then they leave home and go to "uni" and work, go and live in flats and houses alongside people who often are even less scrupulous about washing up than they are, run out of money in October, endure their first bout of flu away from the consoling arms of mother and generally come face to face with the truth that they're not all that special.

At that point they start becoming very concerned that Christmas is going to be observed according to the rules. They ring home to make sure you've got a tree, find out when it's being decorated, check that nothing unusual is being ordered in the way of food and do everything in their power to make sure that everything is being done "the way we've always done". It's interesting. You only find out about "family tradition" when you depart from it unknowingly and it's generally somebody in their twenties who reminds you of it.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

If you're looking for a history book for somebody this Christmas

I've just finished this book. Most histories are written from the top down. The main chapters are devoted to the big stories. The personal details are in the footnotes.

The Beauty And The Sorrow by Peter Englund works the other way round. Sub-titled "an intimate history of the First World War", it interweaves the diaries of twenty young people who were caught up in the conflict, from Belgian pilots to English nurses with the Russian army, from gung-ho young men looking for glory to soldiers of fortune looking for a scrap, from 12-year-old German girls to stranded Polish mothers.

Wilfred Owen talked about "the pity war distills". You feel that pity on every page of this book.

Sunday, December 04, 2011

How come the best women's sport is never on the TV?

I don't want to get involved in the to-do about the lack of women candidates on the short list for the BBC Sports Personality of The Year award but it may be a good time to air a question that's been puzzling me for a while.

How come the best all-women's sport - the one which is not a poor relation to the men's version because there isn't one, one which is clearly played by keen amateurs in parks and school playgrounds all over the country, one which is a brilliant spectator sport because it's intelligible to even a casual watcher - is never given any coverage in the media and also, even more bafflingly, is not included in the Olympics, which seems nonetheless to have found room for activities as marginal as synchronised swimming?

I'm talking about netball. It's a brilliant game. What did it do to get left out in the cold?

Saturday, December 03, 2011

What happens when Bruce Springsteen and Bob Seger stop

Bob Seger played Madison Square Garden this week and was joined on one number, appropriately enough "Old Time Rock & Roll", by Bruce Springsteen.

We were looking at the clip in the office yesterday. Kate Mossman was kicking herself that she hadn't seen through her plan to go to New York to see the show. Meanwhile Jude Rogers was getting very excited about the prospect of Springsteen's tour of Europe next year.

I don't think these two young woman were wrong to get excited about two old gits, people who had already made their names before they were even born. Though both performers are past their prime, when they're on stage they represent a vital link to the first two decades of rock and roll, an age that is fast disappearing over the brow of the hill in the rear view window.

That's why I would gently urge any interested young person to go and see Springsteen. (In fact I think a few of the old fans should step aside and make way.) When he stops doing what he does, nobody will be doing it at all.

 You can see the clip here.