Sunday, July 26, 2009


A trawl of Michael Jackson covers will eventually unearth this gem, an eight-minute disco-skank through "Don't stop til you get enough":

Re-released some years back on Soul Jazz, it was originally released in 1980 as a disco-reggae crossover throwaway. Despite legendary roots DJ Trinity toasting over the steady bass-clavinet-rinky-tink-piano rhythm during the last three minutes, this is as unrootsy as one might expect from an Off the Wall cover. Any punk lionising reggae's authenticity would have stopped in his tracks on hearing this. It is tempting to transpose the original's rite-of-passage from one socio-economic period to another onto Lara and Trinity's version - 1980 was, after all, the year when Edward Seaga became Prime Minister, rejected Jamaica's non-aligned status and its alliance with Cuba, and cosied up to the USA.

But these sort of rush-released covers, recorded in haste to capitalise on whatever the latest trend was, were doing the rounds in the late 60s. It is rare to hear one as durable or original as this - by slowing the original's BPM and disposing of its breathlessness, it achieves a sort of gossamer inexorability. Unlike the euphoric Michael Jackson, Derrick Lara sounds resigned to his fate -neither complaining (cause his love is alright) nor consummating.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009


In lieu of proper (non-cricket) posts, some links:

1. This is lovely: DV posts a picture of, and a poem about, Nunhead Cemetery, one of the seven great Victorian Cemeteries in London, where dignatories and commoners were united by (if nothing else) being covered in the same soil dug by the same gravedigger.

The picture is splendidly hauntological – a ghostly apparition, hovering somewhere above Croydon, breaks through the trees and shakes the headstones. And the poem is well-chosen, evoking the dislocation which the graveyard (and the experience of bereavement) causes. The visitor to Nunhead Cemetery cannot be sure which century he is living in, never alone which city or suburb he is in.

2. We have become so disconnected from the past, that history is now only a commodity of the present. We visit museums, castles and historic sites; we take cheap flights to cities whose pasts are preserved in aspic (but which always feel upsettingly caught up in the present); but we can no longer consider the passage of time between the past and present as a continuum (albeit one that sometimes proceeds with abrupt qualitative shifts).

These photos on Leningrad / St Petersburg (found via Kosmograd, who sees in them “the past bleeding into the present”) are uncanny for this very reason. They are assembled with scrupulous precision, so that the past fits perfectly with the present (spatially if not temporally) – but they still don’t make sense.

At first I thought I could do the same with King’s Cross – interleave photos of the new development with those of the streets and the railway lands which held out until the turn of this century (and which I never saw). But such an exercise would be both impossible and undesirable – impossible because the streets have simply been erased (many of them ran along what is now Paperchase or WHSmiths or the taxi rank outside), and undesirable because my obsession with re-creating a (fictional) past in the area is slightly unsavoury. I am drawn back to it always (I often stand listlessly outside Marks and Spencers imagining where the impassive old facade of the German Gymnasium used to stand), but it is a fraught and pointless obsession. I should really move on.

3. More here [NS link] on a set of buildings which “represent an ambiguous future or a reviled past,” but “cannot make sense in the present.” The Leeds University campus was built by the trio responsible for the Barbican Centre and the Golden Lane Estate. It is a sumptuous complex, Brutalist and sci-fi, which refutes the claim that rational, modern, monumental buildings are necessarily cold – or rather, the claim that coldness necessarily equates to violence or social destruction.

Owen claims that Leeds University has compromised the original vision of the architects by smattering it with “street furniture.” This may be true (I have only visited Leeds once since I left in 2001), but I think it is more likely that, as Fredric Jameson has said of postmodernist architecture (though for different reasons), human beings never metamorphosed into properly Modernist subjects who were capable of inhabiting such structures. This is regrettable, but the economic shift from Fordism (where, for all the pressures placed upon them to spend their improved salaries on mass-produced commodities, people were still bound by a degree of class-consciousness) to neoliberalism, where the limits of human subjectivity are bound only by their aptitude for shopping, has left us stranded in a postmodern world.

I won’t make it to what looks like an affecting exhibition. But I shall buy the book – there is no cap to the number of black and white photos of the campus one can devour. From what I remember, it was always black and white anyway.

Sunday, July 12, 2009


"Paul Hogan, Paul Keating, skippy, Ned Kelly, Harold Bishop! Can you hear me Harold Bishop? Your boys took one hell of a draw!"

Shades of this at Sophia Gardens today.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009


There’s an article about Mike Brearley in this month’s Prospect (forwarded on to me by Dr Batty), in which the ex-England captain and president of the British Psychoanalytical Society compares Test cricket with psychoanalysis:

“Cricket matches, like works of art and psychoanalytic sessions, are usually uneven. Even in the closest and best contests there are passages of entrenchment, of defensive play, of phases where one side or both are keeping things ticking over.” Sometimes, just as on long days in the outfield, the psychoanalyst has to have “the ability to stay with not knowing.”

Despite the success of 20:20, the repute of Test cricket is a little further from the doldrums than psychoanalysis. It is true that, while we cricket fanatics are feverish with excitement about the first session of the Ashes tomorrow morning, most of us will be unable to watch it without recourse to pirate websites or countless hours down the pub. It is 1410 days since England last won a Test match against Australia, and exactly the same amount of time has elapsed since Test cricket stopped being free-to-view. It is, as the Chair of the ECB has said, a travesty that people who cannot afford to donate £30 a month to Murdoch's empire, are funding off-shore grandees with Nazi fetishes and, er, Nazi sympathies.

But let none of this detract from the matter in hand. Notwithstanding the appalling five-day weather forecast, the first chapter of the Ashes will begin tomorrow morning at 10.30. Those who seek assurance from precedents will have heard the news that Brett Lee is unfit for the first two Tests and been reminded of Glenn McGrath in 2005. Whether England would have won in 2005 if McGrath had played all five matches is a moot point, but the signs were that Lee may not have played in Cardiff anyway. Elsewhere, precedents are rather thin on the ground: neither team has ever played a 5-day match in Cardiff; none of Australia’s bowlers will ever have played a Test in England; half of the 22 players in each starting line-up will never have played an Ashes match before.

The number of new faces makes it difficult to call how the series will finish (2-2 seems the most likely result to me). There are obvious talismen in both teams: Ponting and Clarke for Australia, Pietersen and Flintoff for England. Australia look to be stronger with the bat, England with the ball – but both these assertions depend on Hussey regaining his form, on Hughes fulfilling his maverick potential, on Anderson reverse-swinging it, and on Broad throwing the odd screaming Yorker into an otherwise relentless line-and-length approach.

This article by Graeme Smith and Mickey Arthur is worth reading: you dismiss the Australian top-order, they say, by probing, pace and the odd ball that tempts them into playing the shot of their dreams. Apart from bowling as well as they can, England’s seamers (I suspect neither Swann nor Panesar – nor for that matter Hauritz – will play a huge part in this series) must hope for the best and accept Brearley’s tenet that sometimes the cricketer has to have the ability to stay with not knowing.

Friday, July 03, 2009


The case is made for Off the wall being the last great Motown album. Not just the last great record released on the Motown label (the Debarges might have something to say about that), but the great closing act of a post-war Golden Age. Motown and Detroit were so symbolic of this Age because they invoked the claim, at once idealistic and credible, that black people could escape from servitude through work or art or dancing or politics – activities in which one could imprint one’s unique qualities and at the same time become immersed in a collective struggle or celebration.

Mention the 60s and 70s, and you think of collectives – Beatles, Stones, glam, punk, funk, disco. The 80s produced only individuals: Michael, Madonna, Prince, Springsteen – each alienised and alienated. Its lissom disco delirium aside, Off the Wall harks backs to the 60s – it even has a dance side and a ballad side – but by 1982, the claim of the Golden Age had become implausible. Jackson could no longer (and no longer cared to) appeal to any shared notion that life was getting better. His tours became unaffordable to all but the highest-waged (an ever-decreasing group), and Jackson was there to be worshipped or defamed.

"In the case where the self is merely represented and ideally presented," writes Hegel, "there it is not actual: where it is by proxy, it is not." From the age of five, Jackson was packaged as something to be devoured by the market. He generated gigantic wealth, for his harsh and overbearing father, for himself, for countless executives and promoters and assorted hangers-on. Thriller the album became the image of Michael Jackson the commodity: it was a social event, and in buying the record, one became a part of that event. The content of the music was soon lost - many Jackson fans value Thriller and Bad ("a work of bad faith," in the words of Barney Hoskyns, "the sound of expensive technology thrown at useless songs in a vain effort to keep up with the innovations of Prince, principal pretender to Jackson’s crown") above Off the Wall. As Greil Marcus writes, "the content was now one's response to the social event of Thriller, the form the mechanics of the event." The same applies to his death - an event no more or less meaningful in the Jackson drama than the release of Thriller.

Marcus quotes Marx's explanation from Capital that the form of the commodity is the commodity itself, not the materials from which it was made - "the table continues to be wood, an ordinary, sensuous thing. But as soon as it emerges as a commodity, it changes into a thing which transcends sensuousness." This is why to look beyond the spectacle of Michael Jackson, to wonder what happened to him between 1979 and 1982 to cause such a change in his appearance, or to find out what really went on in Neverland, is to miss the point. For 45 of his 50 years, he became moulded into a pure commodity: there was nothing human or "real" beyond the spectacle. Even his musical output is negligible - early Jackson 5, couple of early solo singles (especially "Got to be there"), couple of late Jacksons singles (especially "This place hotel"), Off the Wall, "Billie Jean" - but when you compare his career with the far more impressive Prince, there is no doubt that Jackson's is the more significant in creating and reflecting modern reality.

In a piece written to mark Jackson’s 40th birthday, Barney Hoskyns asked: “If you’ve been groomed to simulate adult passion and eroticism at such a tender age, how do you cope when those feelings actually show up in adolescence and hormones start coursing through your confused, elongating body?” In his 1993 interview with Oprah, Jackson confessed his failure to resolve this question. “People wonder why I always have children around, becasue I find the thing that I never had through them, you know Disneyland, amusement parks, arcade games.” Even his re-creation of (the notion of) childhood - which he is hardly alone in finding problematic - is one of images, playing the part of a child from the point of view of an adult - a fake innocence with a murky flip-side. He is, says Ian Penman, "The Man Who Fell To Earth, right down to turning himself into a public corporation, but privately regressing into wombtime."

Just as Elvis's slow death began in the early 60s - with a short intermission for the comeback special - Jackson's began in 1980 (or earlier) and even a cardiac arrest cannot stop it in its tracks. Let us spare a thought for Bubbles, the overgrown chimp with violent tendencies, forgotten in Wauchula, Florida, who hasn't even been invited to the funeral.