Tuesday, 23 May 2017

Crazy Clown Time

Strange is not science. Or if it is, it would take more time to handle than the Tower of Hanoi that some tireless priest is still trying to solve. 

It takes finesse. And when it's fake, you know it's fake. Sometimes it comes with blood and robots and bells and whistles, but it's shallow and has to be explained. Westworld wouldn't work if it didn't have to be explained. 

Strange is disappearing because no one wants to be unsettled anymore. Strange has to be based on artistic vision, it has to be compelling, it has to come from deep down and what do you have to offer if deep down you simply do not have it?.. You can't just do it and hope for the best.

Lynch understands what most people (who would probably never get lost in a film like Inland Empire without a wish to get out) cannot allow themselves to understand: if you go strange, you have to go beyond strange. That way, you would at least get a glimpse.

It's crazy clown time, again, one where the clown is also one hell of an artist. I would give a lot for a whole new season of that. It's a miracle I didn't have to. 

Saturday, 20 May 2017

Хоппер и Магритт

Что делать в музее?

Ты думал так часто, а тебе так часто говорили. "Выбери одну или две, забудь про все остальные". Но вот ты снова выходишь из зала с чувством, что не понял или упустил. Они остались там, Хоппер с Магриттом, а ты растерянно и немного пристыженно смотришь на входящих и думаешь, что эпифания была где-то рядом.

"Бери блокнот и записывай имена и названия". Но ты знаешь, как это глупо. Блокнот затеряется на дне сумки, а сумка будет выброшена в реку. Если однажды ты вновь увидишь имена и названия, небрежно написанные твоей рукой (или..?) в Дрезденской галерее или Метрополитене, то связи с моментом больше не будет. Эпифании не случится. Ты уже не тот человек, и это был совсем другой мир. 

"Фотографии?" Те самые фотографии, которые в любом альбоме и на любой открытке будут выглядеть в миллионы раз лучше?.. И потому ты снова упустил возможность и едва ли чем-то отличаешься от беспокойного ребенка, обежавшего галерею за двадцать три минуты и восемь секунд. Ты тот, кто снимает концерт на камеру вместо того, чтобы слушать музыку, о которой мечтал полжизни. 

Что еще? "Картины лечат". Но ты уже спускаешься по ступенькам, а насморк все не проходит.

Остается одно. Чтобы запомнить рассказ, роман, книгу, нужно представить, что читаешь его глазами другого человека. Так, чтобы понять картину или хотя бы создать эту иллюзию, нужно не пользоваться ею глазами три секунды или три часа, но смотреть глазами прохожего, матери, друга, случайной дамы из конца 19 века. Хоппера или Магритта, ни один из которых, конечно, не увидел бы в ней того, что увидишь ты.

Thursday, 18 May 2017

Friday, 12 May 2017

Living Signs

London. A guy from Pakistan in a slapdash, cheap-looking shirt did not even look at me as he inspected my ticket. My heart was uneasy and kept bouncing up and down my chest and I was fully expecting him to find a fatal flaw and tell me in a faux-polite manner that 'sorry, sir, but you got this ticket illegally and I cannot let you in'. Which would have been fair as this was exactly what happened when I realised the Belle & Sebastian summer concert had been sold out ages ago. 

The Pakistani barely made a sound. He applied the ticket to a sensor and instead of a green beep we heard a shrill sound of red that basically said 'bugger off'. Now clearly this was it. I would have to go back to the nearest Cafe Nero and scribble a depressing short story drinking a depressing cup of black coffee. I would not hear "A Century Of Fakers", not in this lifetime.  

In the meantime, the queue behind me was getting annoyed rather than annoying, and I could see the struggle inside the mind of my ticket guy at the entrance. He kept pressing the ticket to the sensor and it came off red each time. Then he raised his head, looked straight into my eyes (virtually through me), tore the ticket in half and said: 'Never mind, come on in'. 

Thirty minutes later, I would listen to the opening "Nobody's Empire" and wonder just how lucky I was that day. 

But more than anything else, perhaps, it's all about that guy from Pakistan who was either negligent or extremely generous. For at every concert you visit, there is always one person that gets stuck in your memory. He or she becomes integral part of the experience, the instrument that isn't played by anyone in the band, the proverbial sixth player in a basketball team. 

At the Nick Cave concert in Moscow, it was a very psyched-up office worker who freaked out when he saw Warren Ellis enter the stage: 'No! It simply can't be!' (At that point, Cave himself was still nowhere to be seen.) 

At the Cold Specks concert in Munich, it was the hippie-styled man who passed me the small green glass of absinthe together with a lump of sugar and a look of amused concern (completely justified as at some point during "Living Signs" the band's saxophone player started to look like a pornographer shooting videos for Andy Warhol).

At the Menzingers concert in Dublin, it was an Irish teenager with guts made of steel who kept downing Guinnesses one after another (I lost count) and jumping to the ceiling and singing along to the chorus of "The Obituaries". 

At the Buena Vista Social Club concert in Rome, it was the wrinkled old lady of 90 (no less) who smoked the most seductive cigarette I have ever seen and who danced with such beautiful abandon to "De Camino a La Vereda".


Which brings me to this. There was but a single concert in my life where that one person did not make an appearance. It happened in Siena a few years ago where three girls stopped me in the middle of a fairly busy street. They did that without saying a word. They were playing instrumental music on their violins and at that moment they were already besieged by a silent crowd of locals and tourists. Or maybe they were ghosts. Maybe there was no one else there in the street and in fact I was alone listening to them play a dozen classics in that intimate, subdued, totally magical way. I was alone. Or was I.

Friday, 5 May 2017

travelling notes (xxvi)

Things happen. You see things. You hear things. You smell them. At some point, though, it will all blend together and form a collective memory which only you will share. One brief sight, however, will never leave you, and it's that of a middle-aged nun running across the bumpy hills alongside the ruins of an ancient castle. Green valley. A few drops of sun. Polish language in the distance. And a black-robed nun rushing to the white walls of a cathedral. 

Sunday, 30 April 2017

Album of the Month: SELF-TITLED by Robyn Hitchcock

While I can hardly improve on my review of Hitchcock's previous record, while I was fully expecting this to not be the best album of April - what can I possibly do when "Sayonara Judge" starts playing? Having that timeless, "N.Y. Doll"-sized melody that literally sucks your soul into infinity? 

What can I possibly do when "Raymond And The Wires" is as pretty and disarmingly surreal as classic Robyn Hitchcock?

The trick is simple enough. Years ago, there was a corny music programme on the national television. A guy with a haircut and no imagination was interviewing artists and bands and playing snippets of their most famous songs. The Rolling Stones, Aerosmith, R.E.M., Live (yes, fucking Live)... The whole thing was shallow and painfully irrelevant. 

However, there are things which stick, especially when you are impressionable and fourteen. Once, Sheryl Crow ("Leaving Las Vegas" is still a bloody good song) mentioned that when she and her friends heard a really exciting record back when she was a teenager, all they wanted to do was jump into a car and drive somewhere. Anywhere. Which they did. 

And all these years later, I still believe this to be the measure of all music. The opening bars of "Detective Mindhorn" do that with great abandon - pumping as they do through your veins and whatever endless road lies ahead. 

At some point you do of course realise that these are some of his best tunes since Olé! Tarantula. Caterpillars, autumn sunglasses, Virginia Woolf. The usual. "My eyes have seen a trolleybus in 1964...". There is no shame in knowing where your strengths lie.

Wednesday, 26 April 2017

Jonathan Demme

I haven't thought about Jonathan Demme in days, maybe years. But all the same - he died today. 

This unsettled me. The way someone whispered it: "The director of The Silence Of The Lambs has just died". Unnerving. Which is odd, because I haven't thought about Jonathan Demme in days, maybe years. I believe part of it is the childish idea that people we rarely think about are in some way immortal. They do not die. 

Part of it is Jonathan Demme himself. 

The man has always unsettled me, in a profound way. His films have, and The Silence Of The Lambs is in the bottom half of the list. More of the way David Byrne played "Psycho Killer" on the acoustic guitar in Demme's legendary Stop Making Sense

Or the way Robyn Hitchcock appeared in Rachel Getting Married, completely out of nowhere, to perform "America" in that faux intimate setting of a dysfunctional wedding. The dishwasher scene. More of that whole film, really, with Anne Hathaway doing something mentally devastating, something you never thought she would be capable of.

To me, Jonathan Demme was all about naked wires. He took the pure essence of people and things, stripped them of their sheen and made them bleed onscreen. Beautifully. Like a true artist. One of the all-time best. The scenes must have stayed with me, for that's what I thought when somebody whispered the news.

And now that I think of it, Tom Petty's "American Girl" has never sounded the same again... RIP. 


Tuesday, 25 April 2017

travelling notes (xxv)

In a roadside cafe a local family will serve you the best dinner of your life. You will pay a few coins and walk to the station wondering how it could possibly be this cheap. By this point, however, the green wine will have taken its effect, and getting on the train, you will not remember much beyond the rough hands of the woman and the language you could not understand.

Wednesday, 19 April 2017

Favourite Bookstores, p.4

There are books so rare they basically do not exist.

However, before I get to this idea - something about Livraria Lello. In a word, overrated. Because after paying three euros (for entering a bookshop, no less), you will be struck by the huge back of a giant Turk making a selfie at the entrance. Your blood will be up already, but wait until you see the screaming multitudes of Harry Potter fans blocking the staircase. Which is an impressive staircase, and would be even more impressive if you were here alone. The book selection is all right I guess, but it's not about books, is it?..

Ironically, my new favourite bookshop is not about books either. Or maybe it is, but I wouldn't be too sure. The place is called Alfarrabista Chamine da Mota and it's in Rua das Flores, Porto. I do not even know if I'm describing a particular spot or a series of similar-looking places (I've seen a couple of bookshops like that in Portugal).

When you enter the place, you feel the dust and the sheer age of things on display. Old maps, globes, postcards, gramophones, things you can't even name. It's a fairy-tale sight, and you are allowed to view it from within. The shopkeeper? The shopkeeper won't care as he is a man from the past inspecting a leather-bound ledger in the far corner of the giant room. He looks like a sleepy insect who will not be disturbed by any noise, never mind a visitor. His hair is silver by default and he is wearing a corduroy jacket abandoned by every moth possessing a vestige of self-respect. 

Soon, however, you focus on the centuries-old bookshelves soundlessly cracking under the weight of centuries-old books. You come closer to inspect the green, yellow, brown covers, but there's a catch. The book selection is vague to the point where you start wondering if these writers ever existed in the first place. For years you read English and American literature, you think you know it all, but you are left licking your wounds in the face of such mind-numbing obscurity. 

Inevitably, you open one of these books written by an author whose name sounds vaguely familiar (it is not familiar, you are deluding yourself), and you see a barrage of words you know well and you almost have to scream in bewilderment: "How in God's name?..." After which you close the book without buying it because buying books here will seem like an act of sabotage totally uncalled for.


Portugal is filled with bookshops. In fact, I haven't seen another country that would compare. 'Livraria' is the word you will see as often as someone will say 'obrigado' to you. You will see it under bridges, by liquor stores, in dead-ends, at places where bookshops do not belong. And you will walk in (unless you are dead inside), you will look around and you will see a million books that either do or do not exist.

Thursday, 13 April 2017

How I Learned to Love Edith Piaf

In art as well as in life, you can only achieve greatness through obsession. Things you do not obsess over are bland and easily forgotten. In the final moments, on your deathbed, alone or else surrounded by people, you will not remember them. Not a flash. Not a fucking flicker. 

Filmmakers who do not obsess over their characters simply waste your time, as do poets who drive cars and musicians who write to order. They have no sense of passion, loss or true enjoyment of what they are doing. Like anyone who falls in love with an idea of getting married, they have no grasp of the process and will only look for the result.  

So I bought a vinyl player. 

God knows when the sense of obsession will hit you. But it will, and not necessarily the moment that "A Whiter Shade Of Pale" starts crackling softly but distinctly around your apartment. Could be Mark E. Smith snidely intoning 'Oh! Little brother! We are in a mess!' Could be at any point during "Town With No Cheer".  

The thrills are not cheap, and there is nothing materialistic about the needle plunging into narcotic depths of The Delines' Colfax (still one of the greatest albums of this century). And once, lying on the floor after a great day at the gallery, you and I, we fall in love with the voice of Edith Piaf like never before. 

It is the voice of Paris as it used to be, slightly muddied by the time and the dust. It is time-travelling, and it will not be forgotten. Because you know what I think? A trip is not a trip if it's not a journey. 

Monday, 3 April 2017

travelling notes (xxiv)

There is always a scene from an unwritten book taking place in a certain part of a city. A local citizen wouldn't know, stuck as he is on his way to work or behind the familiar spot of a bar counter. You, however, are right in the midst of it. With your clumsy ways and your travellers' handbag, you came out of nowhere. Like a character from an unwritten book. 

Friday, 31 March 2017

Album of the Month: DISAPPEARED BEHIND THE SUN by Angles 9

In a month when Jarvis Cocker released an album of such great beauty and style. When Stephin Merritt released 316,456 songs out of which 29,459 are really bloody good. When Aimee Mann released another great Aimee Mann album. When The Jesus And Mary Chain released a comeback that was in all honesty as good as it could ever be. When Johnny Flynn released his best album since A Larum.  

In a month like that... best new thing I heard was an album of Scandinavian free jazz released in January. 

Angles 9 are the sort of band you discover by chance, by way of some random, left-field list on which a good 90% of featured artists are pure nonsense. In fact, I was fully expecting to write them off twenty seconds into their second album (Injuries, their first, was released in 2014), but then all of a sudden it started to make perfect sense. 

Disappeared Behind The Sun is free jazz with lots of conviction and little-to-no subtlety. Most of the songs are born out of chaos. Then a rhythm is formed. Then you hear a perfectly realised groove of such intensity that any free musical expression added to it seems to work. The result is a rush of blood to your head as well as to every cell of your body. The moments of calm and beauty are relative and all the more worthwhile for that.

There's nothing bland and wishy-washy about Angles 9. They seem to know their business and they do it well. Disappeared Behind The Sun is to be swallowed in one gulp. This album is what Ornette Coleman would do in a world where punk rock was the only music allowed.    

* My only excuse (if I needed any) is that the vinyl version of this record was, indeed, released in March. 

Friday, 24 March 2017

My Big Midweek

I only tend to remember this once a year, when Mark E. Smith has a new album out, but The Fall really are the greatest music I've ever heard. 

There's an episode in Steve Hanley's autobiography My Big Midweek: Life Inside The Fall where Craig Scanlon, The Fall's longest running guitarist, comes up with this verbal perversity:

'The worse the atmosphere in the band, the better music they make'.

You may think this is absurd, or else a bad joke, but no: it really is what he thought at that point in the 90s when the group ('the band is what plays in Blackpool') was still going strong. I specifically wanted to single out these words, albeit quoted from memory, because they give you a rough idea of the fucked-up mindset of someone institutionalised in The Fall. 

Steve Hanley joined The Fall as a young man back when Mark E. Smith was still singing "Repetition". For a Manchester lad with the grim prospect of a life in a parents' bakery... I mean, what more could you possibly wish? Then came the rest. The rest unfolds here like some fucking thriller.

Mark E. Smith's dysfunctional brilliance is not in doubt, and don't pretend you knew nothing about the bullying and the backstabbing. However, My Big Midweek is unique in the sense that it describes The Fall institution from the inside. Hanley is right. You don't need to be a fan to love this book. You don't even need to like music (though in that case you would miss a million priceless references with varying degrees of snide and affection).

For once, it's beautifully written. With true, unfading passion - but then with love, too, so that your eyebrows are barely raised when Hanley thanks Smith in the acknowledgements. 'For the opportunity and unique life lessons'.

It was 19 years, too.

Hanley has a lot to get off his chest. He has every right to feel embittered, being one of the greatest bass guitarists of his generation and the single most crucial member of The Fall whose name is not Mark E. Smith. What follows is a perfect snapshot of the band during one of their last tours together: 'a feral rogue and his rival, whose soul he's sucking dry, a reluctant guitarist who hasn't faced the audience for five years, a deconstructed dance-head whose bouncy edges are still being sanded-down, a claustrophobic snug-dwelling diva and me, a big, bald, grudgeful idiot from Ireland'. Beat that.

You know by the end of this book (which will leave you battered, though not as much as an average member of The Fall) that, against all common sense, Steve Hanley would never have chosen a different life. Because he fucking cared.

But equally there's a perverted sense of joy in the way he finishes the book: 

'I'm not going to play bass with The Fall again'.

Sunday, 19 March 2017

travelling notes (xxiii)

There's a precious feeling Jarvis Cocker is trying to communicate in Room 29. It's about hotels. Great ones. It's that feeling you have on the second day, having enjoyed the vanilla-smelling bedsheets and the fine wines and the spectacular view from the window. It's when you start thinking, 'well, what if it's ALWAYS like that'. But then you know it isn't. Tragically, or else fortunately, it isn't.

Saturday, 18 March 2017

travelling notes (xxii)

In places which are losing their identity even the birds are singing in tune. And what tune! Average fucking pop music that bores you before you actually hear it. And birds are so easily led.

Friday, 17 March 2017

travelling notes (xxi)

Some cities get swept away by bad weather. A slight drizzle would alter their shape, their colour and even their appearance. This is not true about St. Petersburg. After all, Monet's lady is always there, lurking in the sun, hiding under that small white umbrella. 

Tuesday, 14 March 2017

Greatest man in Hollywood

James Stewart. 

Cecily said it best. "There is something in that name that seems to inspire absolute confidence". 

Rear Window, ages ago. It was not the tension that stuck in my mind more than anything else. Not even his acting which was hardly a revelation. Rather, it was his presence that eclipsed, quite effortlessly, the great American beauty of Grace Kelly.

This presence was deadly serious in Vertigo and almost comical in Shop Around The Corner, yet you always knew you were looking at the greatest man in Hollywood. Try setting him against the modern world of half-actors trying too hard to impress. 

The thing about them - they come and go. The thing about James Stewart - he was always going to stay.

Remarkably, he didn't even have to try. He could be the foolish idealist in Mr. Smith Goes To Washington or he could be the cynical reporter in The Philadelphia Story. His confidence was always palpable. You could feel its sweat on your forehead the way L.B. Jefferies felt the pressure of the midday heat. 

And then, of course, there was Harvey.

How often do you feel like a kid who's just seen his new favourite film? How often do you stare at a scene that is some kind of an impossible epiphany about a six-foot rabbit leaning against a lamppost? 

And, again, there is no one else there, just him filling your screen from top to bottom, with absolute confidence. 

Ah but do look closely. There is no doctor in that scene. No nurse. No dingy stairs of a dingy back street. Only James Stewart. And, of course, Harvey.

Friday, 10 March 2017

travelling notes (xx)

In a quiet restaurant in the heart of Toledo a booming Italian once told me that there is a difference between wine for 2 euros and wine for 20 euros but there is no difference between wine for 20 euros and wine for 200 euros. I took that as gospel. 

Monday, 6 March 2017

travelling notes (xix)

Everything about those who sleep on pavements - everything about them should remain a half-truth. A half-mystery. If you find it in any way romantic, do not ruin your good story by altering the ending. Walk past, don't say a word. One syllable casually dropped - and there would be no end to bad teeth and petty revelations. The whole city could be obliterated for all eternity. Or even - and this is much, much worse - for you.  

Saturday, 4 March 2017


Даже когда город мертв, когда город задыхается в банальных разговорах и в дыме дешевых сигарет, я люблю смотреть на них. Их руки в постоянном движении, их глаза цепляются за взгляды друг друга.

Черт возьми, они живы. Мне кажется, между ними происходит вечный разговор, частью которого ты не имеешь права быть. Можешь только глотать тишину и путаться в словах, которых нет. Они неутомимы, и нет такой темы, которую они не выхватили бы из ветра и не превратили в шутку.

Преступно подслушиваю. И взгляд сползает со скользкой страницы какой-нибудь книги, чтобы отвлечься на одинаковые шапки, одинаковые голоса, одинаковые движения. 

Они идут по улице, по размытому тротуару, который пахнет сыростью, но теперь он пахнет дождем. 

Tuesday, 28 February 2017

Album of the Month: IN BETWEEN by The Feelies

In the meantime, Mark Kozelek is trying to eat us all. Piece by piece. Gruesomely. Without chewing.

The Feelies are special. I know you've probably heard this said a million times before, about a million different bands, but few would say that about The Feelies. After all, who even fucking remembers The Feelies? And who cares what they have to say now, thirty-seven years after their first album?.. 

Which is slightly odd as it would take one listen to "The Boy With The Perpetual Nervousness", in headphones or otherwise, to fall in love.

Once you do, you'll know that on occasion they do indeed sound like The Velvet Underground doing jangle-pop ("In Between (Reprise)" is not unlike "White Light/White Heat" as recorded by The Bats). But that's not what makes them special. It's what is going on underneath. 

Charismatic songwriting worthy of a band who only records albums when they have something to say (this is a band, remember, who took six full years between the debut and the follow-up). In all honesty, you have to lack not one - but both of your ears to miss the greatness of "Gone, Gone, Gone". 

A lesser band would bore you to tears with "Time Will Tell" and would probably make you pay too much attention to the "Some Kinda Love" styled guitar playing in "Pass The Time". The Feelies win you over with substance or whatever it is that makes you feel the sheer excitement of seemingly uneventful "Been Replaced" and the title song.

Album of the month, easily. After all, who would think that feedback noise could fill your heart with warmth? The closing "In Between (Reprise)" does just that.

Tuesday, 21 February 2017


Ironically, the only living being in Paterson is the bulldog. The one who's trying to shake things up by tearing apart the sacred notebook and pushing the post box slightly to the side. It's a small town you may have heard in Songs For Drella, but this one you actually see.

Adam Driver is fantastic - in fact, that's exactly how you do small-town apathy by acting it. The characters are, well, characters, and the humour comes in deadpan spurts, but what sticks out is the brilliance of the script that has such great care for the detail. 

Because Jim Jarmusch knows that style and taste are nothing without substance. And whatever little hope he gives us at the end, what with the mundane miracle elegised in 'The Line' poem and the promise of an empty page, it all comes crashing down the moment you see the frame of yet another Monday morning.

Thursday, 16 February 2017

Old Magazines

Oh the things you find in an old magazine from your parents' apartment. Those unforgettable, long-forgotten things. Your parents' apartment, where your old music magazines are scattered all over the place. Once, ten or maybe fifteen years back, you bought them all religiously in Dresden and in Gateshead and God knows where else. You memorised the lines and even entire reviews. And then you let them be, as you do with any old memory, habit or even dream, and currently there are dozens of them lying on the bathroom floor.  

You pick one up, you open it at page that is totally random, and you see a five-star review as well as an article going by the name of Crown Pretenders. Underneath, you see who this title refers to: four young Americans with defiant stares and unwieldy haircuts. They look great. It's 2003, they have just released a debut record everyone is excited about, the future's looking bright and beautiful, and the review has the effrontery to end this way:


I almost don't mind as the actual album is quite good. Not really some chain-smoking, housewife-shagging redneck classic as the reviewer claims, but the excitement is palpable. The name of the band? It's hard to believe it now but the name of the band is The Kings Of Leon. 

Yes, the very band that would in a few years transform into the worst band in the world (I'm exaggerating, but if you've heard their new album - you know exactly what I'm talking about). The band whose sleek, cheesy faces would send hideous shivers down my spine. The band whose music would walk the fine line between 'tasteless' and 'generic'. The band you would happily stuff with rock'n'roll Grammies or whatever it is that they are shooting for.     

Tragic, really. Try putting any of their current pictures against the one from an old music magazine and you will start questioning God. Because they have inflicted all the damage upon themselves or maybe (oh the destructive power of doubt!) they never had it to begin with? Because look at the bottom of the yellow page and notice the bizarre picture of hoop-wielding Patrick Wolf who also released his debut album that year

Patrick Wolf? Still bizarre. Still carrying that hoop (maybe another one, but a hoop nonetheless).

The Kings Of Leon are no more. Just a fading picture in an old magazine from your parents' apartment... Your parents' apartment. You rarely go there these days. In fact, you never do it the way that you once did - just dropping in, throwing yourself on the sofa with a bunch of magazines and memorising lines and even entire reviews. Long-forgotten yet unforgettable, and God knows what revelation a random page can bring. A dream from the past. A distant memory. A hope. Yes, that's the one. A new hope. A new hope from an old magazine.

Saturday, 11 February 2017

Ornette Coleman

Ornette Coleman opens me up. Ornette Coleman gives me ideas. Ornette Coleman allows me to look at things from a different angle. It's an odd-looking angle. It's challenging. On occasion it may look like this angle is entirely cancelled by laws of physics. I had no concept of this angle before I first heard "Lonely Woman".

To describe this effect is to imagine a brain ripped out of your skull and smashed to pieces and scattered all over the places and the people. Who are now characters, who are now settings. He might rip the heart out of your ribcage, too, but that would need a little more time.

Hooks? Well, they never stop. They are these half-thoughts flirting with your imagination.

But earlier, there was Naked Lunch. A Kafka high and the greatest film about the process of writing. Burroughs, present during the Dancing In Your Head sessions, gets "Midnight Sunrise" as a way of an homage. Back then, however, I only heard it as some ear-splitting insanity juxtaposed against the restraint of Howard Shore. 

Totally authentic, and something Ornette Coleman does to me now, regularly, somewhere along the way to Interzone decorated with bugs crawling up those white bathroom walls.

And then, even earlier, there was a short story I wrote. The short story was titled "Madeleine" and it was about a young boy who fell in love with an older woman and got trapped in her apartment. The older woman listened to jazz and I had to include a name of some kind. A jazz name. 

Naturally, there was just one name that fit the passage. Back then, I had no idea that all along - it fit the narrative, too.

Because in the end - the boy did get out.

Tuesday, 7 February 2017

travelling notes (xviii)

It's one thing to see a ghost in your home town. It's another thing to see a ghost in Vienna. Likewise, it's one thing to drink cocktails in your home town and it's quite another thing to drink cocktails in Vienna. 

One cocktail - a feeling of quiet liberation
Two cocktails - a quiet liberation of feeling
Three cocktails - God starts ignoring you
Four cocktails - Ornette Coleman starts playing "Willow Weep For Me"

Sunday, 5 February 2017

Tuesday, 31 January 2017

Album of the Month: INTOXICATED WOMEN by Mick Harvey

You know how sometimes an artist tells you that fame doesn't mean anything and you just roll your eyes. Oh please. In one of my favourite stories from Martin Amis's Experience, the author gets asked by his son if he would agree to have written everything he has but with no fame attached. To which Amis says, well, 'what would be the point of that?' With years you come to realise that there's no cynicism in his answer. That's just the way it is. 

Which makes it all the more exciting to say that Mick Harvey doesn't care about fame. Never has. You can watch any old footage of him alongside Nick Cave or Blixa Bargeld to know that. Mick Harvey has always been this amazingly talented man who just wanted to be there. To play whichever instrument he chose to play. To produce. To write. To interpret. But mostly - to just be part of world's creative process.     

This album is the fourth, and final, installment of Harvey's interpretations of Serge Gainbourg's music. There was Intoxicated Man back in 1995. Pink Elephants in 1997. Delirium Tremens last year. All brilliant, all brimming with erotic understatement and melodic sensibilities that Gainsbourg made his name on. 

Now it's Intoxicated Women and we kick off with a German take on "Je t'aime... moi non plus". 

Seconds in, you get reminded that Mick Harvey is the perfect interpreter of Serge Gainsbourg. He imagines the great Frenchman as a folk balladeer ("Prévert's Song"), religious provocateur ("God Smokes Havanas"), salacious seducer ("Striptease"), decadent romantic ("The Drowned One") and quite simply one of the best songwriters of his time ("Sensuelle et Sans Suite" is morning coffee, pure sex, a favourite cocktail you drank last night). 

Intoxicated Women has barely been noticed by critics and audiences alike. Normally, I would be going mad about great talents getting so little recognition (mind, Delirium Tremens was one of the best albums of 2016), but in Mick Harvey's case it's just a great artist doing great art. No more and no less. Intoxicated Women is fantastic no matter how many people get to hear it and no matter what fame says. It's the best album of January, easily. 

Saturday, 28 January 2017

La La Land

this review is dedicated to the memory of 
Emmanuelle Riva who died earlier today

My sore throat is burning and my mind is still reeling from La La Land. Christ it's one of those reviews where you don't even know where to begin. It's all so overwhelming you have to get distracted for a minute or two. But then, gradually, your mind starts jumping all over yesterday's experience (scratchy vinyl, restless needle, that sort of thing) and picks out one particular conversation. 

Naturally, it's a conversation about jazz. One character is saying that jazz has to be the music of the future, the way it was back in late 50s and early 60s. People like Thelonious Monk and John Coltrane pushed jazz into whichever direction they chose, creating something exceptional in the process. The question that arises here is how you achieve that. This character, a young jazzman of the most repulsive sort, has no intention of doing anything new. Rather, he is going for that cowardly option of adapting to the modern times. It's a flawed option, of course, and the film will try to confirm that, but oh the irony. 

Two years ago, Damien Chazelle made Whiplash, one of my absolute favourite films in recent years. I could go on for hours about all those things Whiplash did well, but in this particular review I will say what that film did not do: Whiplash never tried to sell jazz cheap. 

La La Land does just that.  

Ryan Gosling, usually a good actor (Drive, The Ides Of March), is a hologram in La La Land. He doesn't do anything, he's just there. Emma Stone acts her guts out (arguably trying too hard in a few places), but Gosling only comes alive in the amusing 'bite your lip' scene. Obviously it doesn't help that his character is an embarrassing caricature, a hackneyed stereotype of a jazz fan that will no doubt make you cringe half the time. 

Which brings me to the point that seems completely inescapable: there is no chemistry between the characters of Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling. There is no emotional connection. They are just two random people who happen to inhabit the screen and the beautiful landscape at more or less the same time. And for a musical about love, that's a fatal flaw.

When I say 'fatal', I do of course realise that I'm in desperate minority as everyone and their grandmother loved La La Land. Granted, a woman to the right of me fell asleep at some point in the frankly vapid middle section of the film, but there were people screaming with joy and clapping themselves into fits. And how do you say that millions of people are wrong? You don't just tell them that style isn't everything and neither is technical brilliance.

To me, the film did that most heinous thing a work of art can do: it was trying so hard to be liked. Every second of it. As one critic put it, this film is like a dog. It will do whatever you want to get a biscuit. It will be warm and it will be cuddly. It will be that big Hollywood movie about Hollywood. And for what? For empty posturing? For tedious dialogues? For a half-baked plot? For a cliched story that only last year, in 2016, was done so much better in Woody Allen's decidedly non-classic Cafe Society

Speaking of cafes, there's one that I go to quite often these days. I drink coffee, I look at people and I write. Usually, the music here is great, ranging from Glenn Miller to Bill Evans to Nick Cave. However, yesterday the owner's daughter brought her new iPhone and started blasting the soundtrack of La La Land all through the place. It was so loud I was losing my focus. A few people, who were finding it increasingly hard to communicate, said oh that's right, this music is fantastic and it's from the amazing La La Land

It was just so random and inconsequential. Then I watched them get back to their lattes and their cappuccinos and thought of that place in Southern California where they 'worship everything and value nothing'. 

Sunday, 22 January 2017

travelling notes (xvi)

The only thing more disgusting than a local citizen boasting of the greatness of his city is a beautiful girl who understands the full extent of her beauty.

Tuesday, 17 January 2017

At the Existentialist Cafe

Black coffee, Coltrane's "Blue Train" and the underground. Three things I will be reminded of each time I think about this book.

At some dodgy post-Soviet conference a young man was trying to present a University thesis on existentialism. To put it bluntly, it was not a great presentation. The young man was clearly gripped by the subject, but his speech and his manners were horribly inarticulate. In fact, he could barely pronounce the word 'existentialism'. He gnawed at the term, he chewed it, he swallowed two syllables at a time. The young man had long wavy hair flapping to a wind that wasn't there, and it looked like he may have been a closet drug addict. One part of me wanted to believe he was some sort of unrecognised genius. The other part of me knew better: the young man had no idea what he was talking about. 

Time and time again I have seen this. Vulnerable young people fluttering about the 'mystery' and 'despair' of Camus, never quite getting to the point. Never quite getting the point. Quoting Kierkegaard and not walking down the Danish streets the hungry, slovenly way that he did. Name-dropping Heidegger like it's some sort of epiphany. Putting all the effort into philosophy and not the apricot cocktail that spawned it.   

At The Existentialist Cafe: Freedom, Being, and Apricot Cocktails is one of the greatest, most lovingly and beautifully written books in recent memory. It's powerful, personal stuff. There are those who might wonder why anyone would feel the need to mention Simone de Beauvoir in the year 2016. But in truth - there has never been a time more appropriate than this. If anything, Sarah Bakewell's book has come a little too late. At a time when we have already lost the ability to shed the epoche and experience the world in its pure existential greatness. At the risk of sounding like some hopeless curmudgeon desperately out of loop, it's next time you talk to someone who then takes out his mobile phone carving your mid-sentence open.

Existentialists may have been a random, disagreeing bunch (it's enthralling to read about the mental see-saw between Husserl and Heidegger), but it's that certain fullness of being (or, indeed, Being) that you find in almost all of their works and even lives. From Camus's acceptance of absurdity and the ability to move on with life to Beauvoir's fascinating desire to taste every fine object around her. So rest assured, these times would have horrified Sartre. Because it's a little bit of this and a little bit of that and never quite the whole thing. Imagine if you had a lover whom you could never kiss full on the mouth. A peck on the cheek, a bite on the neck, a nibble on the lips - but a million worthless distractions would never allow you to plunge full on. Or to see why many great-looking Frenchwomen were taken with a man having such a disturbing look in his eyes (notwithstanding the delicious Camembert cheese that he used to have in the periods of great privation).

It is the lack of process he would decry. The absence of spiritual freedom constrained by a million small concerns and offences. This lack of ability to describe a world full of fascinating things, never mind show. Never mind enjoy. And, crucially, filter it through your own unique existence. For existentialism is powerful, personal stuff - but who would care anymore, except for those who can not see past an existential crisis? One that always has to be resolved? And how! Camus, remembers Simone de Beauvoir, was 'so emotional that he would sit down in the snow in the street at 2 a.m. and pour out his love troubles'.

Read this book. Or maybe don't read this book. But do make sure that next time you are walking down the street, turn around, do a complete circle, and carry on walking. 

Friday, 6 January 2017

Minus 283 degrees Centigrade

Oh Christ. Best thing about Robyn Hitchcock is that he can literally end a song that way and it wouldn't feel forced. And it's not even the best line here. The people in the background are good, too. The old-fashioned buses. The bloke with no hand. Ghastly mellow saxophones.