Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Patti's crystal skull

Listening to 'Twelve', the new Patti Smith album, comprising a bunch of cover versions. Last week, at Sheffield Plug, we saw her live (for the first time) as part of the accompanying tour. Unfortunately we didn't make the poetry meeting in Kendal as I was [a bloodless buffoon who would prefer] speaking at a conference about widening participation, in London. The gig was amazing, a good mixture of her own stuff and the 'Twelve' covers, plus a storming opening version of 'Highway 61' done just for the night (Bob Dylan's birthday), with lyrics read from an A4 sheet of paper. I'm liking the covers more than I thought - as they're being done by an artist of equal stature to the originals they're more like reinterpretations - eg Patti's 'white rabbit' has different resonances than Grace's.

At the Sheffield concert she apologised for her t-shirt, describing it as looking like 'the Grateful Dead's evil twin'. She was struggling to remember where it came from but the legendary Lenny Kaye, ace guitarist and creator of the seminal 'Pebbles' and 'Nuggets' albums, stepped in as a taxonomist of the English department store and explained the difference between Dorothy Perkins and Debenhams. The shirt came from the latter (or 'Zebedums' as PS referred to it) and I had hoped it would be some kind of own-brand cheapy; it is in fact a Levis one costing £25 :( otherwise I'd be sporting one right now...

Monday, May 28, 2007

Dipping a toe in the DCU

I don't read many comics on an ongoing basis, though I do like to check in and see what's going on now and again. So last week I popped in to Liverpool's 'Worlds Apart' (an oasis in the pre-match mayhem) and picked up a passel of recent books. I was interested to see novelist Jodi Picoult's take on Wonder Woman and got her first issue. WW is perhaps the most mutable major character in the DC Universe; an Amazon, sometime goddess, feminist icon (though very 3rd wave judging by her cleavage), fully-functioning superhero. As such she lends herself to endless reinvention. Now the character is seen as focussing on her human identity as Diana Prince, with a day-job, new hairo and bodysuit, and some decidedly non-mythological struggles with subway turnstiles and Starbucks coffee menus. Amazingly, Picoult is only the second woman to write the WW strip in is six decades.

Tad Williams is another author venturing into long-underpants territory with Aquaman. I've rarely read an actual Aquaman comic though he shows up regularly in the Justice League. Since the latest reboot of the DC Universe he seems to have become a wide-eyed underwater ingenue, rather than the grumpy, grizzled, one-handed regal figure he has been for ages. The artwork in this strip is reminiscent of Herge, clean and cartoony, making the ocean seem like a perky, Euro-fairytale place. Although it's the beginning of a story I felt swamped by established characters and plotlines - I don't think I can persist at these depths. (Though I did like the ship that is a giant wooden castle, and the ghost-scientist.)

More my fighting weight is the Brave and the Bold, a romping tale with Batman, Green Lantern, Supergirl and others chasing a dangerous artefact across the universe. Great artwork by George Perez...

'The lawn was littered with cans of Barbican ' - Low Alcohol Beer Taste Test

Thought I'd try a few low- or no-alcohol beers to see how drinkable they are. Here are the results.

Carling C2
I'm not a regular Carling drinker by any means. I admire their advert with the flocking birds for encapsulating the Friday-night-drinkathon-as-homoerotic-Nuremberg-rally ethos of lager drinking with such elegant simplicity, but always see it as a kind of lowest-common-denominator commodity drink, irrevocably tainted with football. Still, the idea of a 2% alcohol beer is appealing in a Silk Cut Ultra kind of way. However it tasted thin with a faint tang of plasticene, so after half a can I made it into a ginger beer shandy.

Bitburger Drive
Nice packaging, and a cool name - 'drive' cos you can drink and then drive cars (this doesn't work for me as I haven't got a license); 'drive' cos the <0.5% alcohol doesn't impair one's libido, Nietzschean 'will to power', or golfing skills. (However at 'under 0.5%' it does have some alcohol - but you'd need to drink an ocean of the stuff before waking up in an unknown town or needing to 'check the peeling walls for lips and eyes'.) But... it's bitter, and not in a good way. Like chewing a bunch of willow branches that have been trailing in a river. Two swigs and it was in with the ginger beer again.
[Later - had a couple more of these and it grew on me. Maybe the homeopathic doses of alcofrol had dissolved my superego or p'raps its just an acquired taste...]

Cobra 0.0%

Now that's more like it - actually tastes like beer. Good branding: I love the mannered '0.0' implying that technical drinkers are monitoring their intake in decimal fractions. This is the placebo for me.

Looks like there are loads of non-alcohoholic beers these days. Becks might be worth a try along with some of the others - perhaps I'll lay on an alkoholfrei kegger without telling anyone and see how drunk the guests become. Guess this genre has come along way since the days of Laurie McMenemy forcing down a gulp of Barbican, sighing with manly satisfaction and opining 'It's great, man!'

Thursday, May 24, 2007


My walk to work currently involves stepping around two pools of vomit. When these appeared I noted with mild interest that the contents comprised coloured rice adhering splashes of stomach acid, and mused on the optimism of those who shovel down Indian or Chinese meals on top of unfeasible amounts of alcohol.

This morning I was surprised to see more rice had apparently been added. What could be happening - amazing vomit-coincidence? Performance art? Innovative guerilla marketing by Uncle Bens?

However on closer inspection the new additions proved to be fallen petals from the blossom trees, adhering to the original mess. [Later - identified as laburnum; the yellow and white petals, slightly dried and curled, look just like grains of rice from a reconsidered Egg Fried Rice.]

A beautiful moment.

Saturday, May 5, 2007

Mr Darcy vs Heathcliff

I've been musing on the appeal of the 'team-up', a type of comic-book story where characters from different series meet up for a fight and/or adventure. Often there is an unlikeliness to the combination - for instance, characters from different genres (superhero+supernatural, eg Spiderman and Brother Voodoo; superhero+western, eg Batman and Jonah Hex; superhero+war, eg Batman and Sgt Rock), orientations (good+evil, eg Batman and the Joker), fictional+real (Superman vs Mohammed Ali, Jimmy Olsen and Don Rickles); or different times (eg Spiderman and Red Sonja who is of course from the Hyborian Age). Sometimes the difference is more one of style - a serious character with a light-hearted character (Batman and Plastic Man), a major character with a minor one and so on. Batman and the Shadow was interesting - a character meeting his literary ancestor (a bit like Tarzan meeting Mowgli.)

A special category of team-up is the crossover involving characters from different companies. The first of these was 'Superman versus Spiderman', (characters owned by DC and Marvel respectively) in advance of which I could barely sleep for anticipation. I mean, they were from different universes which worked to totally different rules and had different histories - how would this be explained? How can you have an America with Metropolis, Gotham (DC) and all the regular cities (Marvel)? In the rather tame story this was simply ignored though later Marvel/DC crossovers invented some parallel-universe schtick but it never seemed particularly satisfactory.
I'm surprised the team-up concept hasn't spilled over into other genres - soap characters showing up in different soaps for instance. Or of course real literature - a sort of hard-wired intertextuality where instead of referring or alluding to other texts the 'actual' characters 'really' meet up ('Not a dream! Not an imaginary story!'), bringing their associated themes, paradigms, worldviews, metaphysics, authorial voices etc with them to clash, mingle and collapse in the background.
I have to deliver a session with some recently-merged academic departments next week - perhaps my years of reading team-up books will give me a rich seam of lore to draw upon... comments like 'remember when Superman lost his powers and teamed up with Swamp Thing' will no doubt give us some common ground for discussion.