The Absent King's Christmas Broadcast

Despite reading livejournal pretty much every day, I've made a grand total of 17 entries all year (including this one). How rubbish of me. It's been a great year though, and I'm happy that my friends on lj have been a part of it.

Merry festivus, one and all.

The truth about swine flu

Oh poor journal, underfed and ignored for so long...

I've had swine flu. It started with a temperature and trembling limbs, and kept those symptoms up through a week of aching joints, exhaustion, headaches, sweating and a very upset stomach. I did not like it (even though the traditional flu, which I had a couple of years ago, was far worse - multiplying all those factors by ten and adding confusion and short-lived depression) and I hope that you do not get it. Unless you have the_heiress looking after you, despite barely shaking it off herself, in which case it's nearly worth it. I'm back at work now after a week off, mostly recovered but still totally knackered. I hope I didn't give it to anyone last weekend. It spoilt my plans (I missed martylog's double orchestra Luminaire show on Saturday that I had bought tickets for) and for this alone I shall never forgive the virus concerned.

One byproduct of the fever was a series of very vivid and memorable dreams and the most recent of these was both mundane and hilarious: I dreamed I was watching Mark Radcliffe interview UK donk merchants Blackout Crew. I know nothing about Blackout Crew beyond their silly and entertaining videos, and that they are a bit of a motley crew in the looks department. Actually, I'll go one step further - they are rat faced trolley attendants to a man. They showed a video that one of the "crew" had made pre-Blackout, which was a super-earnest Christmas time tribute to his grandma that provoked much mirth amongst the dream studio audience. "Hey, I really meant that when I made it!" protested the Blackout Crew member responsible. "I could tell by the serious look on your face," replied Radcliffe. I woke myself up laughing.

The Death of JG Ballard Imagined as a Long Sad Sigh Over a Cup of Coffee

I heard this morning of the death of JG Ballard - one of my absolute favourite writers. From those slightly pulpy but always fiercely thought out early novels (The Wind From Nowhere and The Drought are my favourites), the phenomenal bank of short stories (Memories of the Space Age, describing a long abandoned Cape Kennedy is haunting and staggeringly vivid), the truly transgressive psycho-geography of the late sixties and early seventies (Crash is great, but everyone should have their minds bent by The Atrocity Exhibition) to the noirish satires of the last decade or so, he was restlessly bold and always engaging. Even the very coldest surgical edge of his writing - and he could be very cold - still seems to come from a wistful and human place.

I think a lot of people tend to value prophecy in science fiction, but Ballard did something else - he used an incredible imagination to expose the fabric of the mind, the cold blood of western society, and the factories and wastelands - real and metaphorical - that helped create our modern world.
scott WHAT

Happy list

Things that have made me happy this week: 1) New Keep Left signs.

EDIT: Argh, LJ ate my list of things! New Keep Left signs will have to suffice. They are good.

I'm watching the Watchmen


There's a barrage of cliche and received wisdom that is obligatory for anyone wishing to discuss Zach Snyder's movie adaptation of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons' Watchmen to wade through: it's unfilmable; truncating it is akin to sterilizing it; heresy has been committed by changing it; Moore won't watch it so you shouldn't either; it should have been a miniseries; the director was a bad choice... Ultimately, they're all bunkum. I've loved the book for fifteen years, each page and panel is imprinted perfectly on the layers of my brain. I think it's a masterpiece of storytelling and one of the true peaks of the form, and the film is everything I could possibly have wished it to be.

As a story Watchmen is excellent, and the story and spirit survives utterly intact on the big screen. It's a whodunnit set in a world of masked vigilantes and a solitary superbeing, framed against the extreme cold war paranoia of an alternate reality 1980s that works as a philosophical and psychological analysis of the superhero genre and a debunking of some of the tropes. On screen it works wonderfully. Snyder has taken real care to reproduce the world that Moore and Gibbons created: where Spider-Man 2 (and no other comic adaptation I can recall) dallied with recreating famous frames and scenes from comic history, Watchmen goes for broke - whole swathes of dialogue and image from the book are recreated with faith and love. One of the finest sequences in the film - the origin of Dr Manhattan - takes the escalating emotion of the same scene from in book and relays it without alteration or embellishment to a Philip Glass soundtrack. It is remarkable and supremely moving and, crucially, it is cinematic.

One of the great things about the Watchmen comic is that is about the form as much as the story - panels are reproduced, reflected and referenced throughout, there is an intercut comic-within-a-comic that lays down another layer of cultural signifiers and psychological insight, between chapters there are excerpts of books and news articles from this imaginary world. Dr Manhattan, a superhuman made of energy, experiences time very differently from the rest of us: where we see a narrative, an unstoppable flow (like the viewer of a film in a cinema) he sees his past and future simultaneously in a big picture (like the reader of a comic book is encouraged to do). So parts of the overall Watchmen conceit are closely tied to the form and defy conversion from the page - but I would argue that such things shouldn't prevent attempts to adapt and/or reinterpret a story. Most great books work in exactly the same way, and for the gits chorus of comic book fans complaining about Snyder's film to suggest that Moore's writing is some untouchable holy grail, well, try going to library.

Any fans of the book should not fear, and see what a remarkable job they've done in translating it. Anyone who doesn't know anything about the book should go and see an immaculate story extremely well told. And people with sense will treasure and admire the achievements of both page and screen tellings.

My formative albums

I was tagged to do this by ultraruby, and I'm feeling nostalgic. In the chronological order I heard them:

1) Cat Stevens - Teaser and the Firecat

Because Dylan is too dense for little kids. My dad used to play this album (and Tea for the Tillerman and Catch Bull at Four, but this was my favourite) a lot when I was small. It's a gentle, folky, sad and romantic record, and Cat sounds wistful and exotic. It gets a bit hippyish at the of the album, but it gets poppier at the same time so it balances out - I still utterly adore it. It also has a version of Morning Has Broken on it, and we used to have to sing that at school. Note to Coldplay: do a version of The Ink is Black, The Page is White and you might win some Brits.

2) Queen - Sheer Heart Attack

The other end of my dad's record collection had this: heavy, fast, massive solos, pretension and theatrics. Sheer Heart Attack is by no means a great album, but it's a lot of fun when you're eight years old. We had Queen's Greatest Hits album too, and I loved that, but there was a fascination with the way things on here strayed away from the rest of the pop music I heard.

3) David Bowie - Fame and Fashion

Because I liked Queen, and I liked Under Pressure, the first album I ever bought for myself was this Bowie compilation. I was 10, and I quickly became obsessed. That throbbing, female synth sound during the middle-eight of Young Americans, what the hell is that? We would listen to it in the car when my dad took us swimming, and I would beg him to turn it up louder. Ironically, when I was little I thought the worst songs on this cassette were Fame and Fashion.

4) New Order - Substance

Three years later and I was in my teens. I had terrible protracted insomnia, and I found solace in listening to Radio 1 on my clock radio all night. I heard True Faith (I think on Nicky Campbell's show) and I'm pretty sure I lay there crying. I bought the double cassette of Substance the next day - a whopping £12.99 from HMV - and found myself fascinated by the density of the music, by the depth of the sound. So I looked to nearby Manchester for hope through my teenage years. I bet you can guess where this is going...

5) Morrissey - Bona Drag

The Smiths were over by the time I really became aware of them (I was 12 in 1987), but Morrissey wasn't. I loved them afterwards certainly, but I started with this - yet another compilation. Suedehead and Everyday Is Like Sunday were in the charts, on the radio, were simultaneously funny and slightly sad, and this odd, literate, different man said, well, something to me about my life. We'd be on and off for years, me and Mozzer.

6) Sugar - Copper Blue

The rumbling, grinding bassline that starts The Act We Act was THE MOST FVCKING AMAZING THING I HAD EVER HEARD when I was 16. Bob Mould quickly became a hero and I went for the whole of the Husker Du back catalogue with vigour. It led me to The Pixies and other 4AD bands, to grunge, to bands like Pavement, but mostly it just rocked me when I most needed to rock.

7) REM - Reckoning

Even though I really liked Out of Time and Green, Reckoning was the REM record that got under my skin. The creepy southern-gothic vibe, the country tinge, the jangle, the mumbling! REM became megastars as I was falling in love with songs that were a decade old. Typical.

8) The Divine Comedy - Promenade

Bought entirely on the strength of a review, Promenade is the album that most changed me. More even than The Smiths, Neil Hannon seemed to know me because he loved what I loved: whimsy, French cinema, books, girls. I think this is the single greatest record ever made, but it still led me to something better...

9) The Magnetic Fields - Get Lost

...This. When I finally got to see The Divine Comedy play live, they were supported by The Magnetic Fields. I walked out of Water Rats (for it was there) that night a zealot, amazed by Hannon's amazing band and great new record but lusting after this new pretender - even more arch, even more sophisticated, even cleverer, even more romantic. Get Lost was their new record at the time, and it's not their best, but it was beautiful to me. It came with a bonus disc with one song from each of the previous Magnetic Fields albums, unavailable in the UK then and nearly impossible to get in pre-internet times. I spent months tracking them down. It was worth it.

10) The Go-Betweens - Tallulah

We were chucking out old cassettes from the record shop I worked in when I found this - the box had been nicked by some unscrupulous indie fan, but I had heard of the band and wanted to give it a shot. I put it on. It was instantly love. Two singers alternating songs, each of them fierce and gentle by turns, poetic, romantic. It was swathed in cello and violin. It aimed so very high and it was utterly unafraid to fail... Not their finest hour, but it remains pretty wonderful.