Monday, 4 June 2012

Take the day orf, ma'am.

Greetings blogfans!

So I may have fibbed a little, just a teeny bit. I promised you a book-based blog this week, and while that one is ready I thought I'd delay it until next week - if only to talk about something a little topical, which by next week would no longer be as topical, and we'd have a topical-less blog. Now that's not something anyone wants is it?

Unless you've been living in a cave, you can't have failed to notice that the nation seems to be gripped with Jubilee fever. Other than sounding like a horribly itchy rash, it also makes me unsure as to how I should feel towards it.

© Mike Penlington
Even the bus shelters have caught it. Nasty stuff.

I'm not entirely sure where to stand on this issue. As difficult as it apparently is for many to swallow, I'm not a royalist by any means. I have nothing against the Queen or the Royal family in any way, but as I favour a more socialist form of government, she's not my cup of tea when it comes to choosing my lords and masters. And that's not to say I don't realise I'm the only one living here, take David Cameron for example. I personally happen to think he's an arrogant public schoolboy with more money than sense, who doesn't care who he steps on provided his mates are doing okay. But it would seem lots of other people disagreed with me, and he got voted in, and I have to live with that.

Now while she doesn't have as much power as we might associate with a monarch, I'm still not a fan of someone who wasn't elected being in charge of things. I realise she and the other royals have done a lot of charity work, and are symbols of our heritage and culture and all this, but do we really need a celebration to mark it? Will I get the whole country throwing me a huge party after 60 years of me sitting on the throne? (That's what I like to call my toilet, it makes me feel important.)

We're meant to be in a recession, millions are jobless and we apparently have no money to fix it all. Yet we have enough to do all of this. Not that I'm against big celebrations mind, the Olympics are costing ridiculous amounts to fund but there are many readily apparent benefits to offset the costs (increased tourism, bigger interest generated in our country, etc).

© Katherine√Ę™¥

However, ever the optimist that I am, perhaps we can look at the good points of all this. Whatever else it's doing, it's bringing the nation together (in a manner of speaking). Whether you're celebrating or rebuking, it's being talked about. And as I'm reminded by the loud screams and smell of burgers emanating from my neighbours garden, people are gathering to celebrate. And while I'm not a fan of the reason, I do think it's good that people are getting together and being in each other's company. It's one of the things I somewhat envy America for, the idea of Thanksgiving has always appealed to me (regardless of it's dodgy roots and thievery of turkey from Christmas dinners everywhere).

But what do I know, I'm just a citizen. Just a lowly worker. Though I'll be honest, I wouldn't mind a national holiday on my birthday, or maybe just when I'm dead? I think I'd be okay with that. In any case, tomorrow is the day and soon it will be over, and we can go back to looking forward to the important things (Euro 2012, Christmas and the impending end of the world, yay!). And of course, next week's exciting instalment of what excuse I'll use to cover up not having written a proper blog.

I will leave you with this thought: why is it that when someone tells you that there’s billions of stars in the universe, you believe them. But if they tell you there’s wet paint somewhere you have to touch it?
~ Toby

Monday, 28 May 2012

"And all the words can all get spoken, but I know we tried, and you're forgiven."

Good evening bloggophiles!

Apologies for the long delay between blogs; I had a bit of bad news recently, so haven’t been up to the job. I also apologise for promising you a  book based blog, which I’ll be instead writing for next week (obviously I haven’t been up to the task of reading said book either).

However, this week I’ve got another album for you. I mentioned it in a previous post (and gave in and bought it not long after). That album was Rise Ye Sunken Ships by the New York-based indie band ‘We Are Augustines’, and it’s a bit of a corker if I do say so myself. They are composed of members Billy McCarthy and Eric Sanderson, formerly of the band ‘Pela’ (along with new drummer Rob Allen).

Oxcart Records (fair use policy)
"I tried the Bible, I tried the bottle, I tried the needle, I tried to see if people mean anything."

Where do I start with this album? I suppose I could tell you it was released independently, and maybe that level of freedom has contributed to the amazing collection of material on this album. But I guess I should just jump straight in with what I think is the band’s most amazing feature: the ability to turn painful experiences into something beautiful.

During the final days of ‘Pela’, McCarthy discovered his brother James had committed suicide, and this is ostensibly reflected in the music. One thing ‘We Are Augustines’ do spectacularly is infuse a huge amount of pathos into their songs, through haunting melodies and heartfelt lyrics. But to tell call them depressing would be a huge misnomer, because behind the melodies and lyrics is an incredible energy that spurs the songs on.
Songs such as ‘East Los Angeles’, ‘Chapel Song’ and ‘Barrel of Leaves’ have a certain melancholic feel to them. Somewhat resigned to the fact that we cannot escape the pain, and maybe never truly make it better, but that said it never feels overwhelming, instead being urged on by an energy that refuses to be forced into a state of self-pity. If there is one thing this album is, self-pitying is not it. Tracks like ‘Juarez’, ‘Book of James’ (easily my favourite), ‘Patton State Hospital’ and ‘Headlong into the Abyss’ in particular display a sense of raging at the injustices of the world, refusing to be beaten down. There are even songs that sound pretty upbeat such as ‘Philadelphia (The City of Brotherly Love)’, but they mesh with the album as a whole and don’t seem out of place.

Bob Sanderson
"Lord I see red, and it's storming in my head. I got cathedrals in my ears, and I think my daddy's dead."

Finally, as anyone who knows me at all with attest, I love my lyrics. I’m a bit of a snob really, and I hate the accusation that lyrics are just lazy poetry. One thing that drew me to this record was the expert word-smithery (yay I made a word!) present throughout. The lyrics in some stand out more than others, and suffering plays an understandably large part, but they really go a long way in helping the music as it attempts to reconcile all that pain.

I highly recommend this album, and if nothing else listen to ‘Book of James’ and ‘Juarez’, and ‘Chapel Song’ too if you have the inclination. They’re all the singles released so far, but I think they’ve been well chosen in representing the diverse expressions contained in the album.

Anyway, that’s it from me, I’m off to go listen to this band again because I just can’t get enough. I’ll leave you, as always with a random thought. Jam doughnuts and custard doughnuts are, in my opinion, both equally delicious. But I’ve noticed something about doughnuts: you can give a jam doughnut to an advocate of custard and they will happily eat it more often than not; however, members of the jam doughnut party are unable to enjoy the golden joy that is custard doughnuts.
See you next week, where I promise you will have a book-based blog at long last…
~ Toby

Monday, 7 May 2012

It's worse than that, he's dead Jim.

Sorry blog-fans, but sadly there will be no blog today. I'm feeling far too fragile with the dreaded man-flu, and unfortunately haven't had much time to read or write anything decent today. Many apologies, but check back next week for a new entry!

Meanwhile, I've been listening to this band a fair bit recently. Here's a video to keep you entertained until the next proper post.

Hope you like it as much as I do. I might buy this album as I'm liking what I've heard so far...if I do, you'll be sure to get a post about it!

~ Toby

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

"An arrow of grief quivering through the sky."

(Apologies for the delay, this post was meant to go out yesterday, but due to technical difficulties is arriving today!)

Good evening blog connoisseurs!

This week I've been indulging in a little bit of poetry, as thanks to an American friend of mine I've been informed it's National Poetry Month in the old US of A. Perhaps appropriately, it's an American poet I've been indulging in. The book of poems in question is called The Endarkenment by Jeffrey McDaniel.

Barnes & Noble (fair use policy)
"My demons / will be the fittest / demons of all." (Exercising my Demons)

McDaniel is a poet I discovered around the same time as I discovered Mark Bibbin; I was influenced by both of them in my own work, and owe them both a huge debt. This collection in particular is, I think, one of my favourite works of recent poetry.

Anyone familiar with 18th century thinking will notice the title's play on the 'Age of Enlightenment', when people first began using things such as logic and reason, and focusing more on science and knowledge rather than religion, for example. Before we even reach the contents page we come across an artificial dictionary definition of "endarkenment", a very witty piece somewhat satirising the modern idea that we're better because of our knowledge, particularly in American culture. However, while Bibbins is particularly satirical of his government and the resulting controversies, McDaniel criticises the general malaise in society. That moment when we realise we can't all be supermodels and actors and famous, and some of us must be average; but rather than feeling jaded, he celebrates those everyday things in a way that makes them exciting and extraordinary.

His imagery is fantastic, ranging from the dark and surreal (Meditations on the Death Penalty) to the uplifting yet heart-wrenchingly honest (Day 4305) and back to the melancholy (The Pool), right back to the witty and amusing (Boner Etiquette). He goes from questioning God (Confessions of a Flawed Deity, The Soul Farmer) to questioning how a pervert is supposed to survive with modern technology (Heavy Breather Zoo). All of these poems are contradictions of each other, but unified in a way that they're all searingly honest, passionate, and beautifully written.

McDaniel strikes something which is very difficult to achieve; the right amount of ambiguity. He's ambiguous enough to make you wonder and question the words on the page, but not so much so that you get frustrated and storm off (casting your book casually into a bin as you do so). I struggled to understand this concept when a poetry lecturer tried to explain it to me, but I think I'm getting it now. It makes you want to reread the poems several times to try and understand them; each time you're a little bit successful, but you still want to go back again to get even more.

"But who the hell am I? I'm just the spark from two people / who rubbed their genitals together like sticks in a forest / one October night because they were cold." (The Endarkenment)

I highly urge you to pick up this book; if you love poetry, you'll love McDaniel's juxtapositions, wordplay, imagery, humour and pathos. If you've never read poetry before in your life, you'll love McDaniel's juxtapositions, wordplay, imagery, humour and pathos. It's available here on Amazon for about £12-13 if you'd like to buy it (you should!). Also, anyone who read last week's post on Scar Tissue by Anthony Kiedis, that is available here for about £6. From now on, if possible I will let you know where to buy things I talk about rather than just telling you to buy them. Aren't I good to you?

Now, as some of you might know, last Monday, the 23rd, was World Book Night. I went to an event at Waterstones and had lots of fun, enjoyed some good company and made new friends, and got my hands on a few free books. Who needs a free lunch when you can get books for taking part in a quiz (and coming second, go team British Sausage Roll!).

One of these is Christopher Brookmyre's All Fun and Games until Somebody Loses an Eye. The only information I have regarding this book is what I can gather from the blurb (seemingly an old lady who becomes a crime-fighter/spy) and one of the Waterstones staff telling me it was hilarious. So. I've decided I'm going to attempt to read it in a week and let it be my blog next week. I'll let you know how I manage, but regardless of my progress you'll get something!

I'll leave you with a link to this website I recently rediscovered. Originally stumbling across it in my teens through the animation to an acoustic version of Radiohead's song 'Creep', I soon came to enjoy it's very interesting style of animation. Slightly morbid and depressing, but incredibly creative and definitely worth checking out! Hope you enjoy, I'll see you next week.

~ Toby

Monday, 23 April 2012

With the birds I'll share this lonely view.

Greetings fellow blog-enthusiasts!

There was no blog last week because my internet was down for a few days, and I thought I'd save the one I had planned for today. The week before I was on holiday, and spent the day lying in bed doing nothing productive whatsoever. And loved it.

However, this week I have no excuse, because if I didn't share this with you then quite frankly I'd be doing you all a terrible disservice. This week I'll be talking a little bit about Anthony Kiedis' autobiography, Scar Tissue. (Sorry Anna, it's not about potatoes this time...)

Barnes & Noble (fair use policy)
Strange, yet beautiful. Anthony Kiedis all over then.
Despite having been a huge fan of the Red Hot Chili Peppers since I bought their By The Way album when I was twelve (which grew into an obsessive collection consisting of all studio albums, their greatest hits, a live album and a t-shirt, no tattoo yet...), a mere two years before this book was released, I was only turned onto it in recent years by a friend. Even then, it took me another year or two to finally get around to buying and reading it. And I can say as a fan of both the Chilis and of books, I thoroughly enjoyed this book.

I suppose I'm a little biased in that I was already a fan and so had a prior interest. While I don't think that's required in any way to enjoy this book, it does give you an incentive to read it. That said, it's fantastically written and an interesting story that's both near unbelievable yet also an easily accessible example of the human condition. In the same way I wouldn't one day mind reading about Kurt Cobain, despite having no real interest in Nirvana. Please, no hate mail.

If you do have an interest in Anthony or the Chilis, this book is not to be missed. You gain a fantastic insight into their history, including the many (many!) changes in their line-up, and the evolution of their musical style. But this isn't just a documentary, as each member change, gig, rehearsal or album release is accompanied by Kiedis' huge desire for making music and sharing it with people. It sounds incredibly cliché, but there's an unmissable honesty in the tone reminiscent of a boy singing along to his favourite band and wanting everyone he meets to hear it.

One of the most interesting, controversial and most focused-on aspects of the book is Anthony's drug use. And I'm not just talking about your standard rockstar drug binging, this man seems to have tried and abused most drugs available, and survived to tell the tale. Something I find noteworthy is a comment on the cover, taken from a review by The Sunday Times. The reviewer states that Kiedis' talks about his drug use 'with wide-eyed relish and a refreshing lack of rehab remorse'. I both agree and disagree with that statement. On the one hand, Kiedis is exceptionally honest about his experiences and never preaches about how he's better now, you shouldn't do drugs. He never denies the positive experiences the drugs gave him. That said, he also never denies the negative effects, nor does he claim rehab wasn't a better idea than continuing to use drugs, and his hard work to remain sober is evident. I think he sums up his addiction best: "It was ugly, and there is nothing I know that hurts as bad, but I wouldn't trade it for a minute. It's that appreciation of every emotion in the spectrum that I live for." Take from that what you will.

He may be getting older, but nothing is stopping him rocking!

Finally, I'd like to make a mention of the writing style. Perhaps it's because he's had years of experience as a vocalist, but Kiedis writing is very poetic. It's quite spiritual, and he seems to have a genuine appreciation of the varied aspects of life. From the highest highs to the lowest lows, he relates them honestly and vividly, never skimping on the details in either case.

I highly urge you to read this book, if not for your love of Anthony of the Chilis then for the genuine tale of human tragedy and success. I'll leave you with the prospect of another poetry filled post next week, and the following quote from Brian O'Driscoll: "Knowledge is knowing that a tomato is a fruit; wisdom is knowing not to put it in a fruit salad."

~ Toby

Creative Commons Licence
Not tonight dear, I have a headache. by Toby Cadenhead is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 UK: England & Wales License.