Archive for January, 2012

Into Thin Air recounts the details of an ascent on the main summit of Mt.Everest back in 1996 which ultimately lead to the deaths of a number of amateur climbers and their expedition leaders. Krakauer, the author, was one of the party who happened to be there on the scene of the tragedy (in contrast to his other famous work, Into the Wild).

The book asks all the questions which one would expect in the aftermath of unexpected and tragic death: what exactly happened, who is to blame, why were we so surprised in the wake? The answers to all these kept me feverishly reading, despite the unpoetic prose and the obvious trajectory of the account. However, there is much to appreciate in this engrossing work.

Krakauer powerfully raises many morbid aspects within the human male. His deep insecurity and need for affirmation. His absurd desire for danger and trouble all his days. It just serves to remind one the extent to which the human male will continue to be a ripe specimen for examination. And Krakauer puts us all under the microscope.



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The neons and the cigarettes

Rented rooms and rented cars

The crowded streets, the empty bars

Chimney tops and trumpets

The golden lights, the loving prayers

The coloured shoes, the empty trains

I’m tired of crying on the stairs


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Future Islands are a Baltimore band.

They are what I imagine Joy Division would have gone on to sound like if Ian Curtis hadn’t tragically topped himself.

They do melancholy electro beautifully, also adding a danceable beat and a sonic richness to the whole dealio.

This track is off their 2011 album, On the Water. Thanks Jess and Jared.



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The last couple of weeks I have managed to devour five seasons of series television: both seasons of the BBC’s Life on Mars? and all three of the sequel, Ashes to Ashes. To watch episode after episode in the evening hours brings a certain rhythm to one’s holidays which is both nicely relaxing and fosters expectancy for another night-time fix. I recommend the UK versions of both shows for some not too demanding, intelligent viewing.

This patch of couch grazing has me thinking about the use of popular song in series television. Both these shows use music in quite central ways. The premise is integral to the songs; the main character finds themself inexplicably thrown back in time where retro cool can be mined for all its worth (Life on Mars? is set in the 70s and Ashes to Ashes in the 80s). This accomplishes something highly effective – the fashioning of instant nostalgia. While every other ingredient in a production may be lacking, the music can still lay down meaning and elicit emotion from the viewer via our attachment to the song. And in so doing, we have another memory or visual image tied to these ditties. I remember our heroine freed from near-death in a cold room to Ultravox’s “Vienna”. An intimate dance moment made uber-romantic with the added strains of “True” by Spandau Ballet. The thumpingly rhythmic synths of “Baba O’Reilly” heralds a new fissure in the space-time continuum.

However, The Sopranos (the greatest ever dramatic television show?), uses the tone and lyrics of a song in profoundly moving ways. One never feels over-stimulated by the soundtrack. And yet, Don’t Stop Believing by Journey, used in the final episode of the show, can now bring me close to tears. The song for me is forever caught up in the creation and life of the show’s characters and their ultimate fate. Only in two key moments of Life on Mars? and Ashes to Ashes is something similar accomplished; I don’t think I will ever listen to David Bowie’s “Life on Mars” or “Ashes to Ashes” in the same way again!

Nevertheless, all three shows have underlined the power of popular songs. They remind us of times and places, sights and smells, sadnesses and joys. They are such a strong force in our emotional lives.









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This is the best Arcade clip since their first album landed. Interesting, evocative and beautiful.


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Drive is an extended advertisement for a particular form of masculinity; a product from another time and place. The mysterious hero, named only Driver, is a character mashup – he is Charlie Bronson’s vengeful fist blended with Sam Peckinpah’s bloodied and tragic anti-heroes.

Ryan Gosling shows his acting versatility once again. He is gallant and cool; he doesn’t end up with the girl, because in the end he would just be too dangerous. This is the film tailor made to enable men to fall in love with the attractive Gosling.

There is so much to dislike about this movie. It’s thoroughly artificial; utterly contrived in almost every aspect of the production (plotting, characters, themes). The music thumps and chews away, reminding the viewer this is an exercise in pure style. The story is wafer-thin, giving enough texture and pseudo-emotion to create the form of a world, but scarcely enough to fill it with substance and meaning. It’s made to be experienced rather than reflected upon.

There’s some absolute zingers of artifice to be enjoyed here. Albert Brooks’ sinister Bernie keeps a collection of jewelled daggers in a display case purely in order to shows us the depths of his evil – he slays good people in his spare time. And Ryan Gosling’s Driver has all the accesories for the real man. He dons a jacket akin to those worn by the neaderthalish Cobra group in Karate Kid; this one has dried blood mashed into its metallic sheen. His macho quota is multiplied whenever he chews on a toothpick, which happens to be for most of the film.

Nevertheless, despite all these things, and more, Drive is highly effective and impressive. It was hard not to be moved by its style, its sense of tragedy and its honour code. As Ryan Gosling’s Driver still moves off into the night, even now, I begin to wonder what this accomplished actor will do next.



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