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Tuesday, 26 February 2008

Variations On A Local Theme (A. Parody)

Here be the type of local literature poems you wished they taught you in school:

The Haunted Village

The village is haunted
Beyond the lallang fence
are graves full of old bones.
Tombs are looted
by modern-day robbers.

There is a ghostly entity
in this gutless village:
Of a girl
Strangled behind the mosque,
Violated into eternal pain.
Now she howls after every sunset.

The Constipated Village
The village is constipated.
Behind a corroded iron fence,
In use through out the long day,
Toilets are occupied by the villagers.

There is no toilet paper
in this crowded village.
The small stream behind the toilets,
cannot flow into the drain.
Now clogged up with old newspapers.

The Horrible Village
The village is horrible.
There is a head on the barbed wire fence.
Coming home from school.
kids are murdered by busy housewives.

There is no judiciary
in this lawless village.
The poisoned stream behind the mosque,
chokes itself on hidden secrets.
Spewing out the undead.

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Tuesday, 19 February 2008

Deprival Symptoms

I did a wee musical experiment over the last month- I removed all tracks by Madonna, Elvis Costello, Depeche Mode, Joy Division/New Order, The Smiths, Peter Gabriel and Aztec Camera/ Roddy Frame from my Ipod, and did not listen to them for four weeks.
Of course, you may ask, what did I listen to in the meantime? Lots of 90s grunge, Britpop, techno, baroque and film soundtracks .

The aim of my experiment was to see how I fared( in body,mind and soul) without my favourites, and here are my findings-

1) *I will never do that again*.
2) *Nothing* (no matter how good) will ever replace your favourites.
3) I have forgotten some of the lyrics to the tracks on 'The Queen Is Dead' (sacrilege!)
4) In the pub discussion of 'Greatest Guitarist Ever?', I have moderated my stance on Johnny Marr (blasphemy!)
5) I momentarily failed to recognize the intro of 'Somewhere In My Heart', when played on 'Red FM' (She's lost control!)
6) During the fourth week, I developed a raging viral fever and was in bed for 3 days.
7) Not listening to the music that sountracked your teenage angst and growing pains is a sign of deep denial and non-reflection and should never be mistaken for new-found maturity.
8) Your favourites got you through life, to jettison them is to lose your bearings.

This writer is currently doing penance- by watching videos of her favourites on Youtube, for a start.
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Friday, 15 February 2008

Book of the Month

"Looking For Jake And Other Stories"- China Mieville

What is it about the genre, 'fantasy' that tends to put the average female reader off? The incessant noodling on the ins and outs of sorcery and dragonlore? The lack of convincing female characterizations? The constant quests that take the heroes across more terrain and culture-clashes than an average season of "The Amazing Race"? The male hegemony that governs the lands of fantasy?

Hats off then, to London-based author, China Mieville a two-time winner of the Arthur C. Clarke Award, for Perdido Street Station (2001) and Iron Council (2005). He eschews the cliches of modern fantasy- no swords, no sorcery, no wizards and warriors, and no array of mythological creatures improbably co-existing on the same plain. His weltanschauung is urban, dark, paranoid and grotesque. Dip into this book and be richly rewarded for your courage.
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Culture Vulture Speaks! #2: 80's Music Redemption

Culture Vulture is flapping his wings and asking me to lay down a few ground rules concerning 80's music, in today's post:

1. Don't hate music because of the era from which it came from. The 1980s gets reviled as the decade of sartorial disasters, such as shoulder-pads, mullets, day-glo pants, spandex and violet eyeshadow. If the image and fashion sense of 80's artistes bothers you, well, then close your eyes but open up your ears.

2. Don't hate music of a particular era because your parents listened to it. (The exception applies to Engelbert Humperdinck...). Before the Internet, Ipods and mp3s, I admit, there wasn't much going on. But it wasn't a complete Dark Ages: there were record shops, walkmans, vinyl garage sales and music charts. Listening to music was a more tactile experience- you had to get the disc out of the sleeve/ case and into the player and you had to read the sleeve/ CD booklet for lyrics. Fandom was abit troublesome- to find out more about your favourite artiste there was no Myspace page or Wikipedia, you had to go to the library or bookshop and refer to hefty tomes such as "The Virgin Encyclopedia Of Rock" or "The Faber Book Of Pop". (quelle shock! Horreur!). There was no Google image finder if you wanted images of your favourite artistes, you had to spend some of your pocket money to buy magazines.
This is why your parents get misty-eyed or excited when they hear a certain song on the radio.This is whhy they start exclaiming things like, "Ooohhh I remember this!", "Ohh I used to have posters of him/ her/them all over my bedroom wall!". Just wait in another ten years, you'll be saying the same about EMO or American Idol winners (maybe...)

3.Don't close your mind to music of a certain era because of the instruments used on the tracks or the production. Would you hold production against Vivaldi, if recording equipment was available during the 17th century? 80's musicians didn't have 'Garage Band' software or digital recording techniques but they made the best out of what was available. So what, if the slap-bass makes you giggle, the synths sound cheesy, and the drums sound like wasps fighting in a biscuit-tin? That was all part of musical history. You'll never hear the likes of them again.

Redemption of 80's Artistes

1. Madonna- She wasn't always about Kabbalah and motherhood. She was a veryy naughty girl when she started out in 1982: ripped hemlines and conical bras, fruity song titles, such as "Like A Virgin",and "Into The Groove.". She was controversial but at least the songs measured up to the hype.

2. Rick Astley- . Before he became the infamous 'rickroll'd' internet phenomenon. Perhaps if he had been less cute and his videos less focused on his awkward dancing and tailored suits, he wouldn't be the easy choice for 80's music whipping boy. But this boy had a set of soul-singer pipes that could whip Michael Buble anyday.

3. Nik Kershaw- Another obvious choice for 80's artiste whipping boy, because of his Macgyver-mullet and Brooke Shield eyebrows. If you get past his anaemic vocals you will discover his formidable songwriting talent for putting weighty highbrow (no pun intended) subjects into smart pop tunes. He is the only artiste who has written a pop song about "Don Quixote".

4. Sting- (as above for Nik Kershaw, except for "Don Quixote"). In addition: He wasn't always this crappily safe, MOR and boring! He managed to sneak a song about stalking, "Every Breath You Take" into the Top Ten.

5. A-ha- There's more to them than "Take On Me'. They have been making beautiful if somewhat austere Scandinavian rock/pop since 1985.

6. Simple Minds- Listen to their output before 1985, before the activism and charity concerts. And ("Hey! Hey! Hey! Hey! Oohhhhhhhh..." ) Don't youuuuu complain about the lyrics. I know they do not make sense, but in a smart enigmatic way. Simple Minds never churned out radio-friendly love songs. They did have a hit with 'Love Song' in 1982, which isn't a love song at all but a sort of polemic against americanization.

7. Duran Duran- I'm sorry, there is no redeeming Duran Duran. The lead singer sounds like an elk going into labour, the other band members look like they failed the auditions for Japan, and "The Reflex" has not one but *two* godawful choruses
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Wednesday, 13 February 2008

Introducing: Culture Vulture

Just as the North American Indians, Inuits and African shamans of olde had power animals and spirit guides, I have adopted a 21st century power animal. I call him Culture Vulture. He sits ready and poised, to peck and dismember those narrow-minded dullards who have (you've guessed it...) no sense of high, low or popular culture.The ancients did not revile the vulture, because it is an emissary between life and death.The vulture subsists on carrion, thus clearing away dead matter and making way for new life.

People always say that I am being abit too harsh, but it is ironic that in the present day of increased media, more people are more unaware. Normal casual conversation is impossible when the following simple questions cannot be answered:

Q: What films have you seen recently?
(Stock Answer) : Dunno/ Can't remember/ ehhhhhh...

Q: What are your favourite movies/ songs/books?
S.A: Dunno, I go to the cinema I watch whatever.../I listen to what's on the radio/ I only read newspapers and magazines...

In such cases, I normally restrain Culture Vulture from swooping down and baring his talons. But in cases of wilful, blind assumptions resulting from unawareness and ignorance of general knowledge, I give Culture Vulture the all-clear. Such as:

Nik Kershaw is *not* some Anglo-Malaysian singer from Kelantan!
Sean Penn is not the capitol of Cambodia or Laos.
Roddy Frame is not the name of a piece of furniture or wall decoration available from Ikea.
JFK is not a fashion designer, like JPG or YSL.
The lead singer of Depeche Mode, David Gahan, is not dead.
"Depeche Mode" is *not* pronounced, "De-peach Mode" or "De-peck Mode"
Peter Gabriel is not some gospel singer.

London is a city in England, it is not England per se. When I tell some people I studied in York, UK, they ask, "Oh is that in London?" or "You mean London, is it?"

The "g" and "h" in 'Van Gogh' are silent. He was never a "Van Gog" or a "Van Goth".

The reason why art contains so many depictions of the nude women is that since the dawn of time, artists have always appreciated the aesthetic beauty of the female form. It does not mean that these artists were, "hum-sup" or dirty-minded.

YES! For sooth Shakespeare hath penned a surfeit of tragedie. Because tragedies put more bums on seats in those days.

For special cases, the Bearded Culture Vulture is available. She will rip out the stale innards of those who:
a) Mistake Al Pacino for a Starbucks Special Brew,.
b) Have never seen Stars Wars-AT ALL.
c) Would rather undergo a triple root-canal than watch a foreign-language film with subtitles.
d)Only heard about Leonardo da Vinci because of Dan Brown.
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Monday, 11 February 2008

Choose life...choose "Trainspotting"

I think you can tell that I've seen "Trainspotting" too many times and read the book until the spine gave way- and *still* refused to replace that battered movie tie-in edition only because it has Ewan Mcgregor on the cover and the uber-cool orange and white lettering done by Stylorouge, famous record album sleeve designers.

Yes, I know it's a movie and book about junkies, addicts, psychoes, HIV and desperate and degraded lives. When first released in 1996, "Trainspotting" suffered from being accused of glamourizing the subject matter that it tried to comment upon. It was charged with starting that late 1990s 'junkie chic' fashion movement, which is a bloody laugh, there always have been drugs in the dressing-room, behind the catwalk and at fashion shoots. ( May I refer you to the life of early 80s' supermodel Gia Carangi...).

If you want a movie about drug addiction to show your Moral Education class, perhaps "Trainspotting" is not appropriate, because it shows that the protagonist, Mark Renton, has managed to break out of his social situation by ripping off his friends. The more suitable movie for an anti-drugs Moral Ed lesson is 'Requiem For A Dream' (Darren Afonosky, 2000).

But great cinema and literature provides its audience with a wealth of memorable quotes for pop culture, and usage of such quotes by audience members. I have found Mark Renton's monologue (reproduced on the theatrical poster) to be invaluable over the years. Especially when busy-body family members ask me:

"Wahh! Still not married, ahhh?"

(Me, in a Scottish accent) : Chooose laiffe....choooose a joab....choose a kaireer...chooose a famleh...choose a fecking biiig telei-vih-shun....

At which point, those enquiring think I'm possessed and never ask me that question again. Woo-hoo!
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Thursday, 7 February 2008

That's Entertainment

Chinese New Year-Day 2

Greetings to all faithful blog readers- how is your holiday so far? Did you wake up ready to greet the Year of the Rat with a laugh, a smile and a merry quip? Those who did are the fortunate ones- I was rudely awakened from a blissful dream involving Alex Kapranos and light gauge electric-guitar strings (sorry, too much information...) by a horrid wailing that issued from the living-room. I stumbled to the source, unsure if my previous dream had segued into a nightmare state. No such luck-reality proved to be much worse.

The source of the infernal caterwauling was a cheong-sammed female songstress on a Chinese variety show, belting out oldies in a paint-stripping falsletto. Now, before certain parties level charges of cultural bias and prejudice at me due to the language barrier ("You were born in London and don't understand Mandarin/ ! Of course you don't like Chinese songs!"), let me categorically state that the singer was singing an English song. I recognised it as, "I Left My Heart In San Francisco". (Pity she didn't leave her voice over there as well) Bad singing requires no language to make itself understood, and by extension finds a very wide and captive audience. Something which is supported by the proliferation of numerous reality shows and boy-bands.

The same audience of Chinese variety shows are intractable in their ardour. My attempts to lower the volume were met with an instant backlash- "Oy! We are watching that!", "It's an old song!", and "Let us watch, it's Chinese New Year!". As the banshee in a cheong-sam vacated the TV stage for the next act (a chorus of garland-waving schoolchildren), I told myself that if this be nostalgia, then give me neuralgia at any time of the year.

The vehemence that my volume-reducing efforts met with only confirms that violence lurks beneath the festive veneer. Movies shown on TV during Chinese New Year are of the Kung Fu pugilistic type such as, Jackie Chan in,"Police Story: Mr. Nice Guy Drunken Master's First Strike" or Jet Li in, "Once Upon A Fearless Time In China The Fist of Legend Fong Sai Yuk Must Die." Parallels are found in the British Boxing Day James Bond movie TV screening, " You Only Live and Let Die Another Spy Who Loved Me From Russia With A View To Her Majesty's Secret Golden Gun For Your Living Daylights Only." Why are action movies staple holiday viewing? Do we enjoy abit of vicarious violence when surrounded by our nearest and dearest? ("IF AUNTIE SO_AND_SO ASKS ME ABOUT MY SINGLETON STATUS AGAIN I SWEAR I'LL EAGLE-CLAW PUNCH THIS WHOLE STACK OF EMPTY ANG POW PACKETS DOWN HER LAYER CAKEHOLE...!") Or hemmed in by the confines of the filial home or visiting other people's homes, and lacking any emotional space we are grateful for any semblence of activity and assertion? The answer is both, according to Adorno and Horkheimer:

'The enjoyment of the violence suffered by the movie character turns into violence against the spectator, and distraction into exertion.'
(The Dialectic of Enlightenment, Theodor Adorno and Max Horkeiheimer, 1944)

I wholly agree with Adorno and Horkheimer, as my interrupted dream turned out to have a satisfyingly rousing climax last night. (No, not in that way, all of you with gutter-mentalities...) After comparing types of electric guitar strings with AK, I joined him, a youthful Elvis Costello and a militant Joe Strummer onstage during a Chinese variety program. We proceeded to punk up and new wave traditional festive songs, smash our guitars onstage to the horror of the audience and made cheong-sammed banshees and rosy-cheeked schoolchildren quake in their dressing rooms. 

Thank you very much ladies and gentlemen and goodnight
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Year Of The Rat-ta-to -ille

Happy New Year to all faithful blog readers. The annual exodus back to my parents' hometown happened with the grim inevitability of lemmings leaping off a cliff. Which could be connected to the Year of The Rat. My cousin is improvising dischord on the living room piano while her elders are marvelling at her latent musical talent. She should enjoy while she can; it won't be so adorable once she hits 10 years of age when the very same family members will be telling her to sit down and eat her food.

Ahh food, the staple of any festive season. Food lubricates the merrymaking machine, along with alcohol ( for Chinese New Year, its always Hennessey XO or Jolly Shandy), providing a sense of familiality and communion. However, as I gaze upon jar after jar of pineapple tarts, love-letters and mini deep fried prawn rolls, I realise that the festive machinery has started to be rendered obselete by modern methods of crass production.

Take the pineapple tarts, for example, or rather, don't take them. Especially when you get the type that are shaped like stuffed dormice and the jam filling looks like jellied hamster turds instead of golden dollops of sweetness. Mini prawn rolls fare no better when they are compacted and deep-fried to an unbelievable hardness. The riot police will be using prawn rolls instead of plastic bullets to disperse unruly crowds. Love-letters are aptly named- after being stored in a lined Milo tin for two or three days, they fragment into forlorn shards, and you are left to pick up the pieces while all your aunts tactfully inquire, "Waah! Still not married yet?".

The quality of foodstuff is not strained; it droppeth like the gentle rain from heaven. I am not asking for manna during any festive season but I protest the wanton proliferation of substandard manufactured traditional foods. Whereby mass production churns out copies of copies, until the originals are rendered meaningless and forgotten. Why do we eat pineapple tarts during Chinese New Year? Who invented the pineapple tart? When was the first recorded pineapple tart consumed? These may seem like inane and pointless questions but at least mull over them when you unscrew the red plastic lid off the pineapple tart jar. Perhaps, once upon a time, a single pineapple tart contained a whole pineapple, as prawn rolls must have contained whole prawns before being downsized to their modern pellet-shaped incarnations. Love letters used to stand the test of time (until Chap Goh Meh) despite being shaken and stirred in a metal tin.

The obvious solution against crass production would be to make your own festive tidbits, but that is unfeasible with time-pressed modern families. As I watch my cousin bang away on the piano, I declare that we should also ( try to) enjoy any festive season while we can, and insist on quality over quantity. It sounds like a dreadful cliche but you do not want to be saddled with jars of stuffed dormice, riot pellets and shattered love letters after Chap Goh Meh. Particularly when you can't give them away for Valentine's Day.
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