category: Blog meme

Nov 2010

My life as soundtrack

It’s another music meme. Sorry.

Anyhoo, I stumbled across this one over at Paul’s place. Here’s the idea…

They’re about to make a film of your life and want you to provide the soundtrack. Using the random play function on your music player, find 20 songs to fit the following categories:

Opening Credits, Birth, Waking Up, First Day At School, Falling In Love, Losing Virginity, Fight Song, Prom, Last Day of School, First Day at Work, Beginning of Adult Life, Mental Breakdown, Obligatory Flashback, Getting Back Together, Wedding, Birth of Child, Final Battle, Death Scene, Funeral Song, End Credits.

You’re supposed to just list the first twenty that get played in chronological order. I’m going to try to be a wee bit more creative and, while I will take the first 20 that emerge from the player (skipping spoken word pieces and using only one track per artist), I’m going to try to match each one to a scene. So if the first song that comes out is more appropriate for the “Falling in Love” scene than the “Opening Credits”, then that’s where I’ll put it. Though obviously some will still remain inappropriate. I’ll link to a song where possible.

So here goes…

Opening Credits: One Fine DayDavid Byrne and Brian Eno

Birth: GracelandPaul Simon

Waking Up: Eternal LifeJeff Buckley

First Day At School: And She WasTalking Heads

Falling In Love: Stir it UpBob Marley and The Wailers

Losing Virginity: Hidden PlaceBjork

Fight Song: BuntDisciplin a kitschme

Prom: Last Night I Dreamt That Somebody Loved MeThe Smiths

Last Day of School: HeroinThe Velvet Underground

First Day at Work: Desolation Row — Bob Dylan

Beginning of Adult Life: Nature BoyNick Cave and The Bad Seeds

Mental Breakdown: Black Box ThemeTom Waits

Obligatory Flashback: NightswimmingR.E.M.

Getting Back Together: Cold Wind in AugustVan Morrison

Wedding: Let’s Make This PreciousDexy’s Midnight Runners

Birth of Child: Here Comes The SunThe Beatles

Final Battle: O King of Chaos — Julian Cope

Death Scene: TimeDavid Bowie

Funeral Song: Black ButterflyLaura Veirs

End Credits: Sunset Coming OnMali Music

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Aug 2010

First lines quiz

Books this time. Regular readers will recall the occasional quizzes I set where I list the first lines of a bunch of songs and invite you to guess the titles. Well, this time, prompted by Paul over at The Whole Damn World, I’ve decided to list the first lines of a bunch of books (both fiction and non-fiction) and see how good your memories are. Some are obvious, others far less so. Feel free to use google if you need to, but don’t post google-sourced answers in the comments.

Introductions, prefaces and prologues have been omitted, these are all “Line 1 Chapter 1″s. The first one is also the first one on Paul’s list, but it’s a great line to get the ball rolling. Also, there’s no more than one from any particular author.


  1. It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.1984: George Orwell – Paul
  2. Later than usual one summer morning in 1984, Zoyd Wheeler drifted awake in sunlight through a creeping fig that hung in the window, with a squadron of blue jays stomping around on the roof.Vineland: Thomas Pynchon – Nosemonkey
  3. Daniel Pearse was born on the rainy dawn of March 15, 1966.
  4. I didn’t know that afternoon that the ground was waiting to become another grave in just a few short days.So The Wind Won’t Blow It All Away: Richard Brautigan – m’hoop
  5. Everyone now knows how to find the meaning of life within himself.
  6. In the year 1815 Monseigneur Charles-Francois-Bienvenu Myriel was Bishop of Digne.
  7. I first met Dean not long after my wife and I split up.On The Road: Jack Kerouac – Paul
  8. The day had gone by just as days go by.
  9. May I, Monsieur, offer my services without running the risk of intruding?
  10. Something has happened to me: I can’t doubt that any more.
  11. Stately, plump Buck Mulligan came from the stairhead, bearing a bowl of lather on which a mirror and a razor lay crossed.Ulysses: James Joyce – Nosemonkey
  12. That’s good thinking there, Cool Breeze.The Electric Kool Aid Acid Test: Tom Wolfe – Paul
  13. Back in the late 1970s, when I was fifteen years old, I spent every penny I then had to fly across the continent in a 747 jet to Brandon, Manitoba, deep in the Canadian prairies, to witness a total eclipse of the sun.
  14. One thing was certain, that the white kitten had had nothing to do with it — it was the black kitten’s fault entirely.Through The Looking Glass: Lewis Carroll – Larry’s Mum
  15. The year 1866 was marked by a strange occurrence, an unexplained and inexplicable phenomenon that surely no one has forgotten.
  16. In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since.The Great Gatsby: F. Scott Fitzgerald – m’hoop
  17. In the late summer of that year we lived in a house in a village that looked across the river and the plain to the mountains.A Farewell To Arms: Ernest Hemingway – m’hoop
  18. That was when I saw the Pendulum.Foucault’s Pendulum: Umberto Eco – Nosemonkey & Larry
  19. Save the albatross…! Stop nuclear testing now…!
  20. The sky above the port was the colour of television, tuned to a dead channel.Neuromancer: William Gibson – Gyrus
  21. This time there would be no witnesses.Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency: Douglas Adams – m’hoop
  22. Well, Prince, so Genoa and Lucca are now just family estates of the Buonapartes.War and Peace: Tolstoy – Nosemonkey & Larry
  23. At a certain village in La Mancha, which I shall not name, there lived not long ago one of those old-fashioned gentlemen who are never without a lance upon a rack, an old target, a lean horse, and a greyhound.Don Quixote: Cervantes – Nosemonkey
  24. Listen to my last words anywhere.Nova Express: William S. Burroughs – Gyrus
  25. My father had a small estate in Nottinghamshire; I was the third of five sons.Gulliver’s Travels: Jonathan Swift – Nosemonkey
  26. At nine o’clock in the morning, towards the end of November, the Warsaw train was approaching Petersburg at full speed.The Idiot: Dostoevsky – Nosemonkey (half point for author but not book!)
  27. Once a guy stood all day shaking bugs from his hair.A Scanner Darkly: Philip K. Dick – Gyrus
  28. The sweat wis lashing oafay Sick Boy; he wis trembling.Trainspotting: Irvine Welsh – Paul
  29. The chimes of San Salvatore broke into Josef Breuer’s reverie.
  30. May it please heaven that the reader, emboldened and having for the time being become as fierce as what he is reading, should, without being led astray, find his rugged and treacherous way across the desolate swamps of these sombre and poison-filled pages; for, unless he brings to his reading a rigorous logic and a tautness of mind equal at least to his wariness, the deadly emanations of this book will dissolve his soul as water does sugar.Maldoror: Lautréamont – Howard


  1. In your schooldays most of you who read this book made acquaintance with the noble building of Euclid’s geometry, and you remember — perhaps with more respect than love — the magnificent structure, on the lofty staircase of which you were chased about for uncounted hours by conscientious teachers.Relativity: Albert Einstein – UKLiberty
  2. Among the incivilities by which nations or individuals provoke and irritate each other, Mr Burke’s pamphlet on the French Revolution is an extraordinary instance.The Rights of Man: Thomas Paine – Nosemonkey
  3. The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles.The Communist Manifesto: Karl Marx and Freidrich Engels – Paul
  4. All states, all dominions that have had and continue to have power over men were and still are either republics or principalities.The Prince: Machiavelli – Nosemonkey
  5. It is impossible to escape the impression that people commonly use false standards of measurement — that they seek power, success and wealth for themselves and admire them in others, and that they underestimate what is of true value in life.
  6. Daughter: Daddy, why do things get in a muddle?Steps to an Ecology of Mind: Gregory Bateson – Gyrus
  7. All five elements basic to the study reported here — population, food production, industrialization, pollution, and consumption of nonrenewable natural resources — are increasing.The Limits to Growth: The Club of Rome – Phil
  8. When I was six months old, my parents moved from Kesswil on Lake Constance to Laufen, the castle and vicarage above the Falls of the Rhine.
  9. “Long long ago, when wishing still could lead to something, there lived a king whose daughters were all beautiful, but the youngest was so beautiful that the sun itself, who had seen so many things, simply marveled every time it shone on her face.
  10. My research has led me to the realization that repetition automatism (Wiederholungszwang) has its basis in what I have called the insistence of the signifying chain.

Have at it.

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Apr 2010

We all dance to a mysterious tune

There’s another of those blog memes doing the rounds. I first encountered it over at Chicken Yoghurt where Justin nominated this hilarious version of Sunshine, Lollipops and Rainbows as the theme tune to his blog.

I thought about posting a theme tune for The Quiet Road but then got sidetracked by a short article on Peak Oil and it slipped my mind. Earlier today though, Merrick picked up the meme over at his place. Those of you who don’t know him won’t realise just how apt his choice of theme tune actually is. Not merely for his blog, but for his life.

Anyhoo, I gave some more thought to what the theme tune for this place would be. The obvious one would be The Overload by Talking Heads (simply because that’s where I took the name of the blog from). But actually, that’s proabably a wee bit darker than is appropriate for this place. And, in truth, there’s a kind of stately genius to the song that I’d feel a bit cheeky claiming as a theme tune.

There was a strong temptation to choose something extremely silly, but I resisted it. I figured that it did actually have to be something by Talking Heads. Nothing else would really do. Which is when this amazing clip came to mind…

Mind by Talking Heads (1982 performance)


I should point out that Merrick has been slandering me at Bristling Badger. His psychotic hatred of donkeys has led to an ongoing war against anyone who tries to lessen the suffering of these often-abused creatures. Take — for instance — forgettably mediocre crooner, Mr. Chris de Burgh (who, let’s face it, is not very good but the first couple of albums have nice tunes on, which is more than you can say for Huey Lewis). De Burgh has worked tirelessly to fund donkey sanctuaries in both Ireland and the UK and as a result, has come under heavy fire from Merrick whose strict veganism is only interrupted by his weekly bath in donkey-blood. Anyway, Merrick’s claim that this blog’s theme tune should be “the 12 inch version of Chris De Burgh’s Don’t Pay The Ferryman” is a cheap shot unworthy even of the most savage donkey-violator. Everyone knows that anything post-1980 by de Burgh is unlikeable MOR pap. Perhaps his saint-like regard for our downtrodden equine friends can redeem this disagreeable musical output. Or perhaps not. Either way, I consider the Don’t Pay The Ferryman accusations to be below the belt, beyond the Pale and unworthy of anyone who’d nominate the Theme from Shaft as their theme tune (no matter what version).

7 comments  |  Posted in: Blog meme

Nov 2009

Google number ones

Merrick has tagged me with one of those blog memes that I occasionally foist upon others; so it’s only fair that I step up to the plate on this one. He writes…

Give me five great things that your blog or websites rank number one in Google searches, then tag five other blogs. Bonus points if you manage to have any sexual content in the phrase…

Looking at the incoming links on my stats page, I was surprised to notice that I’m only the second result for ‘masturbating with a bicycle’. I’m constantly surprised by how many people arrive here having typed that into google. I suspect they’re rather disappointed when they get here though.

As for proper Number Ones, I seem to have cornered the market on…

  • CO2 per barrel of crude oil (this post)
  • effectively outlawing dildos in Scotland (this post)
  • don’t fuck with techno viking (this post)
  • Dublin to London by coach and ferry (this post)
  • rich in potent psychoanalytic symbolism (this post)

As for tagging others, I’m in more of a “have at this if you wish” kind of mood. But if you fancy having a go, leave a pointer to your post in the comments.

Keep on grooving.

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May 2009

Movie annual

Almost a year ago, I succumbed to one of those little blog memes that involves listing a bunch of your favourite stuff. In that case it was choosing an album for each year of your life. Silly but diverting, and a bit of fun. Albeit a geekish kind of fun. And prone to throwing up some bizarre mind-benders. Strangeways, Here We Come or Sign ‘O’ The Times…? The very idea of trying to compare those two albums! So when all’s said and done, you go for the one that reminds you of that summer in Greece. And you slip a different Smiths album in somewhere else.

Anyhoo, an email arrived recently from Mahalia. It appears to have taken a year for someone to make the radical imaginative leap of substituting the word “album” with “movie”.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Aug 2008

Well read?

It’s a blog meme. Another one.

This time though, it’s not about music but about literature. Specifically it’s about the books nominated by the BBC’s “Big Read” as being the 100 best in the English language. Actually, scanning the list, there’s a few translations on it (The Bible, Anna Karenina, One Hundred Years of Solitude, etc.) so I assume it’s “the best ever” rather than the best in the English language (though the small number of translations obviously reveal the Anglocentric nature of the list).

That said, the fact that there’s not a single book by Thomas Pynchon — who would have at least 3 in my top 10, let alone top 100 — suggests that whoever compiled the BBC’s list (possibly “the public”) don’t share my view of what makes good literature. In fact, the more I look at the list, the more I cringe at the utter dross to be found on it, and all the excellent writing not there. I suspect my response to this meme will be relatively controversial as I can count on the fingers of two hands the number of books written prior to 1920 (or thereabouts) that I consider worthwhile.

Anyways, the BBC apparently reckons that “the average adult” has only read 6 of the top 100 books. It kind of goes without saying then, that I’m a long way from “average”, though to be honest, I feel certain that the BBC is short-changing the public with that claim. Surely most people have read more than six from the list, even if only at school.

So yeah, via Phil at The Gaping Silence, on with the memery…

1) Look at the list and bold those you have read.
2) Italicize those you intend to read.
3) Underline the books you love.
4) Strike out the books you have no intention of ever reading, or hated.
5) Reprint this list in your own blog so we can try and track down these people who’ve only read 6 and force books upon them.

  1. Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen
    Let’s kick off with a sound kicking. Jane Austen (like the Brontes, Thomas Hardy, William Shakespeare and Charles Dickens) is staggeringly over-rated. Criminally so. It still mystifies me how anyone can read this pre-modern toss and not find it contrived, stultifyingly-dull bullshit.
  2. The Lord of the Rings – JRR Tolkien
    Read this when I was a kid and it had a deep and lasting impact on me. Looking back on it, there’s flaws a-plenty, but it’s definitely some of the finest children’s literature ever written (even if that wasn’t JRR’s intention).
  3. Jane Eyre – Charlotte Bronte
    See #1
  4. The Harry Potter Series – JK Rowling
    I read a quarter of the first one and saw the film. Neither made me want to journey any further with Rowling. Ursula K. LeGuin did it so much better.
  5. To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee
    A work of genius. My taste in literature tends towards the American. I blame a shop-lifted Bukowski when I was 11 years old for that. To Kill A Mockingbird was borrowed from the library soon afterwards, though.
  6. The Bible
    I’ve read it start-to-finish (skipping a few chapters of who-begat-who) twice. Both times it left me feeling confused and a little depressed. I mean, most of it isn’t even particularly well-written; how the hell did it cast such a dark shadow on the human heart?
  7. Wuthering Heights – Emily Bronte
    See #1
  8. Nineteen Eighty Four – George Orwell
    I suspect regular readers will already know my opinion of this book, and of Orwell’s writing in general (finest essayist in the English language). This is his crowning achievement as a novelist.
  9. His Dark Materials – Philip Pullman
    I’ve heard the rave reviews. But it just doesn’t appeal to me for some reason.
  10. Great Expectations – Charles Dickens
    Fucking Charles motherfucking Dickens! What a complete waste of paper. Yeah yeah, shining a light on Victorian society blah blah fricking blah. I read this at school and recall thinking very early on, “hang on a second, even back then nobody spoke like this”. It’s sanitised, soul-less writing that fails to evoke even a single emotion in me. Just as with Shakespeare; it’s British colonialism that has secured the worldwide reputation of Charles Dickens; nothing to do with innate talent. Nothing at all.
  11. Little Women – Louisa M Alcott
  12. Tess of the D’Urbervilles – Thomas Hardy
    Don’t need to read it. Hardy is shit. End of.
  13. Catch 22 – Joseph Heller
    This was so highly recommended that I recall being a little disappointed when I finally read it. Still a worthy thing. Not a patch on Vonnegut though, who did this kind of thing so much better, and is unsurprisingly not on this list.
  14. Complete Works of Shakespeare
    Oh come on! The complete works? That narrows it down to a few fools with more time than sense. I’ve read most of the famous ones, a couple of lesser-known ones and a handful of sonnets. None of them roused more than a yawn. Yeah, I know that puts me firmly in a tiny minority. But then, that’s where I’ve always been happiest. Shakespeare is a great writer, Oasis is a great band, Last of The Summer Wine is great television. Seriously, what the fuck does “the majority” know about great art?
  15. Rebecca – Daphne Du Maurier
  16. The Hobbit – JRR Tolkien
  17. Birdsong – Sebastian Faulks
  18. Catcher in the Rye – JD Salinger
    Always felt it was a wee bit over-rated to be honest. But again, like Catch-22, a worthwhile read all the same.
  19. The Time Traveller’s Wife – Audrey Niffenegger
    First one on the list I’ve never even heard of. Guess there were bound to be a couple…
  20. Middlemarch – George Eliot
    Read it at school. Rather wish I hadn’t.
  21. Gone With The Wind – Margaret Mitchell
  22. The Great Gatsby – F Scott Fitzgerald
    One of the few great examples of pre-modern literature. Though obviously, published in 1925, it’s actually in the modern era, this is not a post-Ulysses novel in anything but chronology. All the same, it rises above the dry, emotionless bullshit of pre-modern literature thanks to some wonderfully crafted characters. It’ll probably be the only novel of its type that I’ll end up underlining.
  23. Bleak House – Charles Dickens
    Don’t even get me started on this one. I read this as part of a book club I joined at university. I read it under duress (having made my feelings about Dickens well known) but decided I’d stick it out… after all, I wouldn’t like it if the others in the group refused to read my picks. I left the club soon after though… everyone but me claimed to get a lot out of Dickens. And hell, maybe they did. Maybe they weren’t just dazzled by the emperor’s presence. But clearly it wasn’t the book club for me. Thankfully I met my friend Justin soon afterwards, who was reading Gravity’s Rainbow at the time. A far better class of comrade.
  24. War and Peace – Leo Tolstoy
    To my shame, I’ve still not got round to it. Pre-Joycean Russian literature doesn’t seem to suffer from the same lifelessness as almost all of the English-language stuff (obviously there are exceptions to that, by the way). Or perhaps it’s just the fact that we’re only aware of the exceptionally good stuff over here beyond the translators?
  25. The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – Douglas Adams
    A fine book. And the follow-ups were largely excellent too.
  26. Brideshead Revisited – Evelyn Waugh
  27. Crime and Punishment – Fyodor Dostoyevsky
    A fine novel, but if you’re new to Dostoyevsky, then you should really start with The Idiot, which didn’t make this list.
  28. Grapes of Wrath – John Steinbeck
  29. Alice in Wonderland – Lewis Carroll
  30. The Wind in the Willows – Kenneth Grahame
  31. Anna Karenina – Leo Tolstoy
  32. David Copperfield – Charles Dickens
    Complete wank.
  33. Chronicles of Narnia – CS Lewis
  34. Emma – Jane Austen
    I read this. See #1
  35. Persuasion – Jane Austen
    I didn’t read this. See #1
  36. The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe – CS Lewis
  37. The Kite Runner – Khaled Hosseini
  38. Captain Corelli’s Mandolin – Louis De Bernieres
  39. Memoirs of a Geisha – Arthur Golden
    Overwrought. Over-rated. Over-long.
  40. Winnie the Pooh – AA Milne
    A classic. A work of towering genius.
  41. Animal Farm – George Orwell
    This is a decent novel, but it doesn’t scale the heights of Nineteen Eighty-Four. Orwell was best as an essayist anyway.
  42. The Da Vinci Code – Dan Brown
    Frankly I’d rather eat my own flesh than read this airport-novel nonsense.
  43. One Hundred Years of Solitude – Gabriel Garcia Marquez
  44. A Prayer for Owen Meaney – John Irving
  45. The Woman in White – Wilkie Collins
  46. Anne of Green Gables – LM Montgomery
  47. Far From The Madding Crowd – Thomas Hardy
    Far From The Madding Crowd? Bollocks, more like.
  48. The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood
  49. Lord of the Flies – William Golding
    I actually thought JG Ballard’s quasi-retelling of this story in Rushing To Paradise was ultimately better. Golding’s is a fine book though.
  50. Atonement – Ian McEwan
    Enduring Love was a good novel (shit film though. Really shit film). I’m not sure he’s really written anything half as good though. Certainly I thought Atonement was very weak; like so many on this list, frighteningly over-rated; and more concerned with making sure the reader spots the intricate allusions to literary “greats” than telling a story. A let down.
  51. Life of Pi – Yann Martel
  52. Dune – Frank Herbert
    I read all the Dune novels as a teenager. Yes, even the later ones when he was obviously milking a cash-cow. That said, God Emperor of Dune turned out to be the best in my view (in the sense of the most mind-bendingly far out, which is kind of what you want from your science-fiction)
  53. Cold Comfort Farm – Stella Gibbons
    Second one on the list I’ve not heard of. Am I missing out, I wonder?
  54. Sense and Sensibility – Jane Austen
    Just fuck off, will you. How much “I’m told this is great, so I’ll vote for it” shit is on this list anyway?
  55. A Suitable Boy – Vikram Seth
    Meh. Over-rated.
  56. The Shadow of the Wind – Carlos Ruiz Zafon
    I’m surprised this made the list as it’s pretty obscure (I think) as well as being rather good. It’s heavily influenced by Borges (of course) and kind of suffers by comparison in my eyes. All the same, well worth reading, both as a commentary on Franco’s Spain, and as a well-spun yarn.
  57. A Tale Of Two Cities – Charles Dickens
    Not read this one. Safe to say I never will. Fucking Dickens!
  58. Brave New World – Aldous Huxley
    One of my favourites. For the ideas, not the writing (which I grant you is a tad ropey at times). One of the few “must reads” in my opinion.
  59. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time – Mark Haddon
    Any good, this? I’ve heard all the praise, but am yet to be convinced.
  60. Love In The Time Of Cholera – Gabriel Garcia Marquez
  61. Of Mice and Men – John Steinbeck
  62. Lolita – Vladimir Nabokov
  63. The Secret History – Donna Tartt
    Third one I’ve not heard of.
  64. The Lovely Bones – Alice Sebold
    This one’s been recommended by a couple of people whose views I respect. And the synopsis certainly sounds intriguing. On the “will get to it eventually” list.
  65. Count of Monte Cristo – Alexandre Dumas
  66. On The Road – Jack Kerouac
    A classic. People call it over-rated, and then go back to reading Charles Fucking Dickens. They need a good slap, frankly. This is a hugely important novel, and a wonderful read. Another on the “must read” list.
  67. Jude the Obscure – Thomas Hardy
    It’s just bad writing. OK? Read some Pynchon ferchristsakes! Something with soul. Something with balls!
  68. Bridget Jones’s Diary – Helen Fielding
    There’s a bigger chance of me eating my body-weight in goldfish than of reading this novel.
  69. Midnight’s Children – Salman Rushdie
    Rushdie is another writer I find somewhat overwrought and over-rated. This is probably the best of the three of his books that I’ve read. Still quite dull though.
  70. Moby Dick – Herman Melville
  71. Oliver Twist – Charles Dickens
    When you look at the number of books on this list that I’ve read and hated, it’s a wonder I’ve not been put off literature for life. Because this is real, passionate, deep-seated hatred here not some casual dislike. I hate the way Dickens writes English. I hate every word that emerges from the mouths of his cardboard cut-out characters. And I find the social commentary trite and obvious to the point of absurdity.
  72. Dracula – Bram Stoker
    Meh. Good for its time. But that’s not saying much.
  73. The Secret Garden – Frances Hodgson Burnett
  74. Notes From A Small Island – Bill Bryson
    Bryson holds no interest for me whatsoever. I’m willing to be convinced on the matter, but frankly, I’ve never met anyone who felt strongly enough about his writing to bother trying. Which says all I need to know about it.
  75. Ulysses – James Joyce
    Let me start by saying that if I was compiling this list, Ulysses would be #1. It’s one of the very few books that deserves the incredible critical acclaim it has received. In my view, you can firmly locate the beginning of ‘the modern era’ with the publication of Ulysses. For better or worse. It’s one of the very very small number of novels that I’ve read more than once (three times so far, and I’m planning on a fourth next year) and one of the very very small number of things that makes me positively proud to be a human being. If aliens from SpaceLand arrive and threaten to obliterate us unless we can demonstrate our worth as a species, I’ll be there, clutching a copy of Ulysses, and insisting that a species that can produce this novel deserves to survive. People tell me it’s an impossible book to read. I just look at them as though they’re mad. For me, it’s an impossible book not to read.
  76. The Bell Jar – Sylvia Plath
  77. Swallows and Amazons – Arthur Ransome
  78. Germinal – Emile Zola
  79. Vanity Fair – William Makepeace Thackeray
    Meh. Over-rated but worth a read if you’re interested in 19th century England. I was when I read it. I’m not really anymore, but I’m glad I was when I was. Y’dig?
  80. Possession – AS Byatt
    It’s been recommended. Not sure I’ll get round to it any time soon, but it’s another for that “eventually” list.
  81. A Christmas Carol – Charles Dickens
    Never read it. Scrooged was a funny film back when I was seventeen, though. But that had more to do with Bill Murray than Charles Dickens I wager.
  82. Cloud Atlas – David Mitchell
  83. The Color Purple – Alice Walker
  84. The Remains of the Day – Kazuo Ishiguro
  85. Madame Bovary – Gustave Flaubert
    Supposed to be wonderful. I doubt it somehow, but it’s on the “eventually” list nonetheless.
  86. A Fine Balance – Rohinton Mistry
  87. Charlotte’s Web – EB White
  88. The Five People You Meet In Heaven – Mitch Albom
    I was given this as a gift just prior to a trip to the States. I never finished it, and wound up watching Mr. Bean re-runs on the plane instead. Which tells you a lot about the book. I find Mr. Bean very irritating.
  89. Adventures of Sherlock Holmes – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
    I’ve read them all. Every single one. At least twice. Holmes was a hero of mine (still is to an extent) and I could read those stories again and still get a huge amount from them.
  90. The Faraway Tree Collection – Enid Blyton
    I have fond memories of these books from when I was 7 or 8. Not sure how well Enid Blyton would stand up to an adult-reading, but heartily recommended for 7 year olds!
  91. Heart of Darkness – Joseph Conrad
  92. The Little Prince – Antoine De Saint-Exupery
  93. The Wasp Factory – Iain Banks
    Not as good as some of his subsequent novels (The Crow Road still being my personal favourite and one that would be underlined were it on this list), but a classic all the same. Filled with disturbing imagery though.
  94. Watership Down – Richard Adams
    Neither the novel nor the film ever really grabbed me the way they grabbed lots of people I know. Not a complete waste of time though.
  95. A Confederacy of Dunces – John Kennedy Toole
  96. A Town Like Alice – Nevil Shute
  97. The Three Musketeers – Alexandre Dumas
  98. Hamlet – William Shakespeare
    Not content with having this on the list once (as part of the complete works) the BBC have insisted on putting it in twice. And sadly, Shakespeare’s no better a writer second-time round. Dumb nonsense filled with unlikeable characters, plot holes and incomprehensible dialogue. Fuck off Mr. Shakespeare and take your rhyming couplets with you, you big arse.
  99. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – Roald Dahl
    Not a patch on Danny The Champion of The World. But a good kids book nevertheless.
  100. Les Miserables – Victor Hugo

So yeah, 64/100 and some controversial statements, no doubt. But what else is a blog good for, eh?

To wrap up, let me add a short list of books that would have made the top 100 if it had been compiled by someone concerned with good writing rather than tradition. No particular order, by the way, and consider them all ‘underlined’.

  • Vineland – Thomas Pynchon
    Considered the least of his novels, I think Vineland is damn-near perfect. Gloriously absurd and vitally important all at once. I would also, genuinely, add every single other novel he’s written to the top 100 list. There’s only seven of them, so if you take out Dickens, Austen, Hardy and Shakespeare you’ll have plenty of room for them.
  • Vermillion Sands – JG Ballard
    One of his lesser known books, Vermillion Sands is actually a collection of 5 or 6 short-stories set in the same town. It’s my favourite of his books, but isn’t the only one that merits mention. Rushing To Paradise, The Day of Creation, Concrete Island, Cocaine Nights and all of his short-story collections are highly recommended.
  • Timequake – Kurt Vonnegut
    Like with Pynchon’s Vineland, I seem — even with those authors I love dearly — to gravitate towards the less critically-acclaimed novels. Timequake is a bleak, depressing and very funny book and is probably my favourite Vonnegut novel. Others I loved… Slaughterhouse-Five, The Sirens of Titan, The Breakfast of Champions, Player Piano and Slapstick (or, Lonesome No More).
  • Collected Essays – George Orwell
    Utterly essential. There’s more wisdom and insight contained in the essays of Orwell than can be found in the combined literature of the preceeding 6 centuries.
  • Dubliners – James Joyce
    It’s not Ulysses. But then, other than Ulysses, what is?
  • Huckleberry Finn / Tom Sawyer – Mark Twain
    Only read these quite recently, oddly enough, and they are far far better than any pre-20th century writing has a right to be.
  • Nova Express – William S. Burroughs
    And you can add pretty much his entire output to the list. To me, Nova Express is the absolute zenith of the cut-up technique. It manages to deconstruct not only language, but the very thought-processes of the reader, while simultaneously telling a story. It’s the novel that The Ticket That Exploded was trying to be, but just fell short of.
  • Tales of Ordinary Madness – Charles Bukowski
    The collection of stories that made me decide to become a writer (after The Lord of The Rings had sown the initial seed). It was the first time I’d read a book that felt genuine and real to me. It’s dark and unpleasant at times, and entirely inappropriate for an 11-year-old. But if anyone wants to trace the major influences on my own strange writing style, then pick up a copy of this book and all will be revealed.
  • Stone Junction – Jim Dodge
    It takes balls to walk in Pynchon’s footsteps. Jim Dodge has them. And isn’t doing too bad a job of it.
  • Steppenwolf – Hermann Hesse
    A huge novel for me in my teens. Helped me realise I wasn’t just mad, and that other people had thought the same things as me. Which was comforting if nothing else.
  • Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said – Philip K. Dick
    Not the greatest writer in the world (technically speaking) but a man with more great ideas than almost anyone else. His short-stories tend to be better than his novels (in my view). No doubt there’ll be those who point to his final three novels as being The Great Ones, and they are indeed Great, but this is the one that had the greatest impact on me when I first read it and the one that has lingered most prominently in my memory.
  • Pattern Recognition – William Gibson
    Although I’m a big fan of his early cyberpunk stuff (I loved his cameo in Wild Palms… “Hi, I’d like you to meet William Gibson, he’s the man who coined the term cyberspace, you know?” Gibson (under his breath); “yeah, and they won’t let me forget it!”) I feel he’s really started to come into his own as a writer more recently. Like Jim Dodge, his later stuff is — dare I say it — “Pynchonesque”.

And there’s plenty more of course. Those are ‘top of the head’ suggestions. My fiction is in another room, so I’m probably missing out someone utterly vital. Looking at the bookshelf in this room, however, I’d suggest that the complete works of Freud (all 24 volumes) should be on the list, as should The Politics of Ecstasy by Timothy Leary, Robert Anton Wilson’s Quantum Psychology, Einstein’s Ideas and Opinions as well as Relativity, Colin Tudge’s So Shall We Reap, Carl Jung’s Memories, Dreams, Reflections, the collected works of Nietzsche, Lacan’s Écrits (still not read most of it, but I recognise its worth) and — it goes without saying I’m sure — Gregory Bateson’s Steps To an Ecology of Mind.

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Jul 2008

Wikipedia Album Generator

Wikipedia Album Generator. Utter genius. My favourite thing ever. Today.

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Jul 2008

Album annual

I know. I still owe you folks a sequel to the last entry. But I figured I’d turf this out of draft and onto the web while I’m putting that together. It’s another music meme. Words you dread to read, dear reader. As always it’s a pretty simple concept… this time, “Pick an album for every year of your life”. And why not?

I guess anyone born much before the mid-50s is going to have trouble with the early years. “Long play” records had existed for years, of course, but — love him or loathe him — it wasn’t until Sinatra’s post-war golden era that albums, as “deliberately self-contained musical worlds” entered popular consciousness in a big way.

In my case, born in 1971, I’m spared the dilemma of choosing a single album for 1968 (for the genuine music fan, an activity that carries with it a high risk of seizure or stroke). On the other hand, I’m inventing some kind of “Wild Card” or “Joker”. Or “cheat”, if you will. And I’m playing it in 1980, allowing me to take both Remain in Light and Closer. Expecting me to choose between those two is entirely unreasonable. Well, OK, I know that’s the point of the exercise and I’m going to end up choosing Remain in Light, because it is — after all — the best album ever recorded. But I’m doing so under duress.

And don’t get me started on 1989. No, I’m serious, don’t get me started. I mean, how is it even possible to compare Disintegration with Rei Momo with The Crushed Velvet Apocalypse (just ‘cos you ain’t heard of it doesn’t mean it isn’t one of the finest things ever recorded) with Doolittle with Floating into the Night with Mind Bomb? “How is it possible?” I ask you, “HOW?!”

The answer, of course, is that it’s not possible at all. You end up making arbitrary decisions… well, Prince already has one on the list so I’ll rule him out of the running for that year… and so you start making tiny compromises here and there to reward those artists who have enriched your life immeasurably but had the temerity to release a masterpiece the same year Parade came out. I’m looking at you, Mr. Simon.

The meme arrived, as they occasionally still do, via email. It was sent by my friend Mahalia — a man with remarkable music taste, responsible for turning me onto more great artists than I could mention, but who appears to briefly lose his mind in 1977. I’m not saying New Boots & Panties isn’t a fine thing, but anyone who even suggests that 1977 wasn’t A Bowie Year is living in some bizarre alternative dimension, the rules to which I cannot even begin to fathom. When you get to 1977, the question becomes a very simple one: “Heroes” or Low?

Except it’s not. This is more of a desert-island discs kind of thing. I just wanted everyone to know that I chose Low also under duress. No, this list is about the albums that have most enriched your own life. Screw the critics. And damn the expectations of millions.

So yeah. Onto the list, I suppose. Only one year was any way easy, 1976. No real dilemma there. One towering record and nobody else releasing much of anything. Most were difficult and aside from ’76 there was at least one more album that, on another day, might have graced this list. Oddly enough, if you look at the first three years, the main contender to Lennon in ’71 was a Bowie album and the main contender to Bowie in each of the years 1972 and 1973 was a Lennon album.

1971 — John Lennon — Imagine
1972 — David Bowie — The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and The Spiders From Mars
1973 — David Bowie — Aladdin Sane
1974 — David Bowie — Diamond Dogs
1975 — Patti Smith — Horses
1976 — Bob Marley & The Wailers — Rastaman Vibration
1977 — David Bowie — Low
1978 — Brian Eno — Ambient 1: Music For Airports
1979 — Talking Heads — Fear of Music
1980 — Talking Heads — Remain in Light
1981 — The Cure — Faith
1982 — Brian Eno — Ambient 4: On Land
1983 — The The — Soul Mining
1984 — Prince — Purple Rain
1985 — Prince — Around the World in a Day
1986 — Paul Simon — Graceland
1987 — The Smiths — Strangeways, Here We Come
1988 — Talking Heads — Naked
1989 — Julee Cruise — Floating Into The Night
1990 — World Party — Goodbye Jumbo
1991 — U2 — Achtung Baby
1992 — R.E.M. — Automatic For The People
1993 — The The — Dusk
1994 — Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds — Let Love In
1995 — David Bowie — 1. Outside
1996 — Tricky — Pre-Millennium Tension
1997 — Spiritualized — Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space
1998 — Beck — Mutations
1999 — Tom Waits — Mule Variations
2000 — The The — NakedSelf
2001 — Björk — Vespertine
2002 — The Streets — Original Pirate Material
2003 — The Polyphonic Spree — The Beginning Stages of…
2004 — Stina Nordenstam — The World Is Saved
2005 — Laura Veirs — Year of Meteors
2006 — Beck — The Information
2007 — Arcade Fire — Neon Bible
2008 — Who knows? But I’ll eat my hat if anything better than Dig!!! Lazarus Dig!!! gets released this year.

Obviously if anyone wants to play with this meme, then have at it. I’ll not officially nominate anyone, though let me know in the comments if you decide to take a shot. I’d be interested in seeing how my choices compare with others.

UPDATE (13-07-08): I’ve been thinking about it, and if this really was a “desert island” type thing… “Only those albums and none others forevermore”… then I couldn’t not take Sign ‘O’ The Times. I just couldn’t. But there’s no way in hell I’m sailing off to that island without something by The Smiths. So I’d probably end up taking Meat Is Murder instead of Around The World In A Day. No, it’s not Strangeways… but it’s got some cracking stuff on it.

I realse there’s a chance I may burn in hell for choosing Achtung Baby ahead of, say… … … Loveless.

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Jun 2008

Seven songs

It’s a music meme. Isn’t it always?

Via Phil at Gaping Silence comes this simple set of instructions…

List seven songs you are into right now. No matter what the genre, whether they have words, or even if they’re not any good, but they must be songs you’re really enjoying now, shaping your [summer]. Post these instructions in your blog along with your 7 songs. Then tag 7 other people to see what they’re listening to.

(UPDATE 2: Following Justin’s lead. I’ve added links to each of the songs where possible).

  1. Well, I’ve been listening to a lot of Michael Franti & Spearhead recently (and still haven’t given up hope that they’ll play a Dublin gig this year). Franti is one of the great protest singers of our time. His attacks on the establishment (whether government or corporate) can be quite savage, but there’s always a powerfully positive aspect to his songs. That said, the Spearhead song that’s been on heavy rotation on my mp3 player lately isn’t a protest song at all. It’s that classic chilled-out summer groove, Ganja Babe, from Songs From The Front Porch. Harking back to early Bob Marley, this hymn to the herb is a perfect sunny day track. How can you not like a song that rhymes “heavy medicine” with “Thomas funky Edison”?
  2. Spiritualized played Dublin the week before last. It was a great gig (and Sian Alice Group rate as the best support act I’ve seen since Daau supported The The about six years ago). In the lead-up to — and in the wake of — the gig, I’ve been listening to a lot of early Spiritualized (the new album hasn’t really grabbed me the way past ones have, though I suspect it could be a bit of a grower). Anyways, the debut album; Lazer Guided Melodies; still ranks amongst the best records released by anyone during the 1990s and Shine A Light, a beautiful version of which was performed at the gig, is really doing it for me just now. (Note: for some reason, the only version I can find on Youtube is used to soundtrack a sequence from 2001: A Space Odyssey. Go figure)
  3. This summer is a fantastic one for live music. I’m getting to see some of the great singer-songwriters of the past few decades; the top tier probably consists of four artists… Leonard Cohen, Prince, Tom Waits and Ireland’s own Christy Moore. All quite different, but all wonderful in their own way. Curiously it’s not one of Christy’s original compositions that makes this list, however. Over the past few weeks I’ve been entranced by his cover of Shane McGowan‘s Aisling from the fairly recent retrospective box-set. Just voice and acoustic guitar, it’s a heart-breaking love song and a lament for times past, never to return. Gorgeous. (Note: can’t seem to find this song online anywhere, so instead I chose this classic song of Christy’s for your appreciation; Viva la Quinte Brigada, his ode to the Irish volunteers who sailed to Spain to fight against Franco during the Spanish Civil War.)
  4. A significant shift in pace here. Leaping backwards about 20 years to the power-pop of late 80s girl-band Voice of The Beehive. One of the better pop bands of the era in my opinion, they seem to be curiously overlooked and I’m constantly suprised by how few people even know their singles. Back when it was released, I recall buying the 7” of I Say Nothing and almost wearing out the stylus on my record-player as I played it over and over. The vocal harmonies and jangly guitar blend together and form as perfect a slice of summery pop music as has ever been recorded.
  5. From roughly the same era, though perhaps from a parallel dimension, my next track comes from Isn’t Anything? — the first of the two Great albums released by My Bloody Valentine; the rest of their output being merely Very Very Good indeed. The fact that they’re playing gigs again is really exciting, though currently the only Irish performance scheduled is a festival. Sort it out! Anyways, it’s difficult to imagine a track that so perfectly captures the MBV sound than Lose My Breath, the second track on that flawless album and currently the first track on the “Summer Walks” playlist on my mp3 player. (Note: the only version I can find online is a badly recorded live bootleg. Not going to link to it as it really fails to do the track justice.)
  6. Most people don’t know who Stina Nordenstam is. Most people wouldn’t like her music even if they did know. Most people have poor taste. Her last album, 2004’s The World Is Saved is one of the best records of recent years (and she’s releasing a new one soon… very exciting news). On it, Stina appears to have finally perfected the fragile, claustrophobic, filtered-through-a-magical-industrial-haze sound that typified, though occasionally overpowered, her past output. There’s nothing on this album that quite compares with 2001’s heart-breaking Everyone Else in The World (the opening track from her previous album), but the beautifully weird 125 comes very close and has been delighting me over the past few weeks… “They shut down the experiment / It had long gone out of hand / But the nation’s funds were well spent / To the pride of modern man…” (Note: Can’t find ‘125’ online, but this video for Everyone Else In The World somehow succeeds in being almost as heart-breaking as the song.)
  7. This last one is a bit of a cheat. It’s not a song at all. It’s a singer. Specifically it’s Cibelle, the London-based Brazillian singer. Her solo records, as well as her collaborations with producer, Suba, have a splendid dreamlike quality to them that fits well with sunny days and balmy nights. Most of her vocals are in Brazillian Portugese (which I love the sound of, but don’t speak) so it’s not really possible to pick out a specific track. I just love the way the trance beats, odd instrumentation, psychedelic soundscapes and Cibelle’s caramel voice all blend to create a tiny slice of Brazil right there in your room. I’d recommend either Suba’s Sao Paolo Confessions or Cibelle’s The Shine of Dried Electric Leaves if you’re interested in checking out this sound for yourself. (Note: I sooo want to see Cibelle live. Check out this amazing performance)

If you fancy taking this meme out for a spin, then go for it. I’m not going to tag seven other people, but I’ll just say; if you can be arsed, I’d be interested in reading your response: Merrick, Gyrus, Justin, Rachel, David, and Larry.

UPDATE: it just struck me that I put together a compilation CD for a recent car-journey which — excluding Cibelle — includes the above tracks plus a few more. So, in 70 minutes, this is summer 2008 thus far…

  1. Lose My Breath — My Bloody Valentine
  2. You! Me! Dancing! — Los Campesinos!
  3. Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!! — Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds
  4. I Say Nothing — Voice of the Beehive
  5. Summertime — The Sundays
  6. Shine A Light — Spiritualized
  7. 125 — Stina Nordenstam
  8. Dance Tonight — Paul McCartney
  9. Do I Love You? (Indeed I Do) — Frank Wilson
  10. Ganja Babe — Michael Franti & Spearhead
  11. Tangled Up In Blue [Bootleg Series version] — Bob Dylan
  12. My Funny Valentine — Slumberwall
  13. Strange Apparition — Beck
  14. Iron Man — The Cardigans
  15. Diamonds on the Soles of her Shoes — Paul Simon
  16. Aisling — Christy Moore

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Feb 2008

A book meme

Rob, over at Consider Phlebas, presents this meme for our delight and delectation…

  1. Pick up the nearest book (of at least 123 pages).
  2. Open the book to page 123.
  3. Find the fifth sentence.
  4. Post the next three sentences.
  5. Tag five people.

Well, I have a bookshelf right next to my desk here, and there are plenty of books of more than 123 pages. So it’s a tad difficult to say which one is “nearest”. Therefore I’ve decided to grab three; a novel, a psychoanalytic text, and something from the bottom two shelves… the psychedelic section.

First up, the fiction…

He did not feel any temptation to tell lies to her. It was even a sort of love offering to start off by telling the worst.

“I hated the sight of you,” he said, “I wanted to rape you and then murder you afterwards.”

George Orwell | Nineteen Eighty-Four

Then the text-book…

One thing most contemporary critics and psychoanalysts would agree upon is that biological differentiations are inadequate, too many people seeming to cross over, at the psychical level, the “hard and fast” lines of biologically determined sexual difference. We thus begin with the hypothesis that there are males with feminine structure (defined in some way) and females with masculine structure (defined in some way).

What is of interest in Lacan’s way of defining masculine and feminine structure?

Bruce Fink | The Lacanian Structure: Between Language and Jouissance

And finally the more subversive text…

“Give us the child until he is five, and we will have him for life,” bragged some 18th Century Jesuit. The Jesuit order of that time, as Aldous Huxley later noted sardonically, educated Voltaire, Diderot, and the Marquis de Sade; obviously their techniques of brain-programming were not perfect. Nonetheless, most people in most societies do grow up as fairly accurate replicas of the previous generation.

Robert Anton Wilson | Prometheus Rising

I’ll not be tagging anyone with this. Run with it if you’re interested…

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