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Benjamin Clementine is London born, but Paris is where he honed his musical craft. I don't really know how you would begin to categorize his music and am not sure that it is necessary anyway (for him or anyone else)--some call him Nina-Simone-like, and there are definite hints of an influence it would seem (he gives interview shout-outs to his influences-Tom Waits, Simone and Nick Cave)--and he definitely doesn't fit into the musical molds that would seem likely to get people on the charts, instead he creates a unique, profound and deeply emotional music in a style all of its own, laying rhythmic lyrical patterns over particular piano lines, with strings and drums that seem to give the music something of a vintage feel sonically. The lyrics are what his work seems to really want to call attention to-again something not necessarily driving a lot of stuff on the charts today.
His debut album, At Least For Now, is sublime. It doesn't all work, but that's the deal with creativity I think.
I came across a remarkable essay by Stassa Edwards in Cabinet magazine about the 'Great Stink of 1858. It concerned the overflowing of the river Thames into the streets of London and the unleashing of a putrid stench stemming from the long-term practice of dumping waste of all kinds-animal, industrial and human, in the summer of 1858.
The essay explores the modern city and its relation to human waste, to dirt, to shit--there's a great line, "The Great Stink was, perhaps, an unwelcome metaphor for London's paradoxical modernity: it was the epicenter of a world power, its citizens could fundamentally change human knowledge, but all of this could be ended by a plumbing problem. and that is exactly what the great stink was: an epic plumbing catastrophe nearly two thousand years in the making."
Without stretching a metaphor too far, I am fairly convinced that after a couple of thousand years Christianity has a plumbing problem as well--it is over-flowing with shit--the detritus of centuries of dumping crap into the river of faith. Dogma, doctrines, ideas and metaphors that undermine the perception of what religion is, what it's functions are, how it works etc. Towards the end of the essay Edwards writes,
"Perhaps the Great Stink is an urban madeleine of sorts--not the sweet-smelling spongy cake that Proust envisioned, but a foul-smelling, deformed inversion of it. It invades the senses, creating memories of sensory revulsion. It reminds us of how quickly our smart city existences can devolve into primitive conditions."
One could argue that the rise of fundamentalisms in the early 21st century are indicative of the devolution of religion into a primitive, barbaric state.
Anyway, the essay prompted me to begin to address some ideas that I've been kicking around in my head for at least a couple of decades, just some niggling thoughts that I have wrestled with over the years related to what it means to have faith, to live a life impacted by religion, and a notion that the sterile, sanitized version of Christianity that most of us have experienced is an elaborate veneer masking a smell that needs to be addressed.
So I'm giving a series of talks called, Pure Filth, which will explore things like vulgarity, disgust, the unclean, the profane, the dirty and everything we tend to avoid but which are in fact, everyday realities and experiences for all of us in life--and maybe this will tease out another way of thinking about religion, or maybe it will just be a load of crap.
The very provocative image at the top is by Odd Nerdrum, entitled, Ecce Homo.
(Village Church 343 S. Church Lane, LA 90049 at 11:45am Sundays)
One of the great things about 2016 is the release of a new David Bowie album. I have been a lifelong Bowie fan and he seldom fails to deliver musically as far as I am concerned. The new album is a departure from the last and travels with a new band into 'jazz' territory, an area Bowie has not mined much.
I like Bowie's sense of adventure, in age of calculation, heritage acts and overblown pop, it's refreshing to find a musician who has been around as long as he has who is still pushing into new territory. He is not the only one--there is so much good music out there-the digital age has brought so much stuff to the surface if we are willing to look, but there is something about Bowie--I still remember walking down a hallway at a party in London and hearing Changes for the first time and being immediately hooked-crazy but that's the way music works for me.
Simon Critchley, the philosopher, and also lifelong Bowie fan, has a great book about Bowie's music called simply, Bowie--worth a read if you haven't got to it yet.
"New Year's eve is like every other night; there is no pause in the march of the universe, no breathless moment of silence among created things that the passage of another twelve months may be noted; and yet no man has quite the same thoughts this evening that come with the coming of darkness on other nights." Hamilton Wright Maibe
Like many of my friends I stayed home the New Years Eve, mainly because I was pretty jet-lagged from my trip home to England, but also because NYE never really gets me wanting to be out and about. It often feels like there is so much expectancy for 'something' to happen or be different--you can almost feel the wanting in the air. I have no axe to grind, I welcome the sentiments--letting go of the past, leaning into a new uncharted future, hoping that things will be better in our lives, but I can seldom bring myself to make it out into the streets. Time is a funny thing--we mark moments, grant them a significance, and underneath it all time marches on, oblivious to our posturings, unaware that we find in a particular moment, pause for thought and reflection.
My mum is losing her mind to dementia and I am acutely aware that a certain time is gone for her, and for me with regard to her--the clock still ticks--but with every movement of time she drifts further and further away from her sons, from herself, from the world--it's a sobering thing. And a part of me wishes to hurry up time, to bring things to their inevitable and ugly conclusion as quickly as possible--is that pity for her, or selfishness on my part? I don't know, probably a bit of both.
What I realize, and believe me it is no great revelation, is that time pays no attention to us--it just keeps moving, reminding us, if we pay attention, of what a precious commodity it is.
I think that to honour the sentiment in Bing Crosby's song, we must give thanks for the time we've had, and the time yet to come, and live like we care.
It was never going to be long enough--RIP B.B. King
What were you doing when you were 15 or 8 or 12 years-old for that matter? Well I wasn't doing much to be honest, unlike Norway's Elise, who started blogging at 8, launched a blog network called Archetype with a group of friends when 12 and then launched Recens Paper, a youth magazine when she was 15!!
The magazine is directed toward 'generation z,' a generation that, according to the magazine's website is,
"...fed up with all the commercials that are dumped on us, the beauty standards which ruin our self-confidence, and the gender stereotypes that put us in a box. We know how the beauty standards and gender stereotypes more or less affect every teenager."
Elsewhere, the young editor declares that the magazine,
"gives a voice to the youth and is what they want to see, instead of perfectionism, gender stereotypes, beauty standards and commercialism."
The second edition of Recens is out now. You don't need to be 15 years-old to appreciate both the quality and content of the publication. The content focus is helpful to anyone who has come of age in the midst of consumer-culture where we are bombarded by so much over-hyped information, where the focus on body insecurities seems to get more and more intense as days go by, and where rampant commercialism is still thrust forward as the 'go-to' mode of being, even though we all know it is completely empty and devoid of meaning.
This particular magazine could also be seen as part of what is clearly a re-vitalization of niche-magazines that are popping up everywhere. If you get the chance go find a really good magazine stand and spend a little time checking out all the new and interesting magazines that are out there today.
Prince released a protest song this week, Baltimore, a song dedicated to the memory of Freddie Gray. As with most things prince, the song is melodic and danceable, so much so that I have read and heard some criticism of the legitimacy of a protest song being something that one can dance to?! haters always gonna hate!! I think this song actually is a bit of a departure for Prince. He has done protest before, but usually under the umbrella of wicked funk and spaced out guitars, creating this space where all can come--a funky party where everyone can dance and hear protest with a wink. Not so with Baltimore. This song names the location and the victim(s) Michael Brown and Freddie Gray up front and finds The Purple One being much more direct and even leading a chant in the mid-section, not the "we shall overcome" of the Civil Rights era protests but "no justice, no peace" a much more contemporary and vulnerable comment which emerged in the 1980s. The song gets more intense as it comes to an end, rock and roll joined by gospel-voices, the sunny sound gives way to something a little more fierce--there is statement here, a protest song for 2015.
Hollywood usually goes dystopian when it comes to technology, and particularly there is nothing treated as alarmingly as AI, artificial intelligence, which, more often than not, is presented as a threat to humanity. Just cast your mind back through movie history--be it the cold and clinical Hal of Kubrick's 2001 for instance or the machines in The Matrix-there is usually some cautionary tale being told about the threat of AI--it fits into the larger schema of dystopian apocalypticism which seems to haunt the American pop cultural landscape in myriad ways.
In terms of that trope, Ex Machina comes as a subversion and that is welcome relief. This isn't a film about the perils of AI as much as a meditation on what it means to be human. It accepts that AI has become not only mainstream, but that it has also moved beyond the realm of fiction. But as I have already noted, the film eschews traditional notions about artificial intelligence, including the notion of singularity--the eclipsing of human consciousness by machines that will render humanity extinct essentially--in favor of a more nuanced and simple idea--consciousness is what makes us human--and if a machine has consciousness then it is for all intents and purposes human and you will find yourself, as I did watching this film, desiring that it achieves the freedom it seeks.
Essentially this is a story about a machine trapped by its maker, who yearns to be free-the most compelling parts of the film are when Ava (the AI robot) reveals her inner life, her longings and desires to her conversation partner.
I don't want to give too much of the story away as I feel this is one of those films that is best viewed with the least amount of foreknowledge, and I have already said a lot.
It was written and directed by Alex Garland (The Beach, 28 Days Later, Sunshine, Never Let Her Go), who according to an article in The Atlantic, consulted with Murray Shanahan, a cognitive roboticist who has pioneered thinking about AI in some new directions, including neuroscience. Garland was driven to write the story because he was concerned about the growing concern around technology that he saw everywhere,
"We have laptops and cellphones and tablets, and most of us don’t understand how they work. But the devices seem to understand how we work. They anticipate what we want to say in text messages and search-engine inputs, and know what we want to buy, see and read. This one-way understanding makes us anxious. We locate the anxiety in the machines, which translates as anxiety about A.I." (New York Times, APRIL 22, 2015)
So he wrote a counter argument in favor of the machines. It offers us an opportunity to think differently about technology, to explore it without pre-conceived notions of doom, and it grants us an opportunity to consider the beauty and the wonder of what it means to be human.
One word. Blur. Back after a 16-year hiatus and back with a fantastic album of new songs. The album is named after a Chinese brand of firecracker and this album is a bit of a firecracker in that it reminds the listener of the ways in which they captured the essence of the 90s ennui behind Britpop's swagger and became explorers rather than simply affirmers of the surface stuff and continue in that spirit even after such a long break. More than worth a listen whether you liked them in the 90s or not--there's good stuff here.
I did a fair amount of train travel the past week or so and consequently had an hour or two each day to kill while I travelled from London to my mum's house. So I did a lot of reading.
I picked up Kim Gordon's autobiography on a whim. I haven't been the biggest fan of Sonic Youth over the years, but I was aware and interested enough to pick it up and was glad I did. To be honest, I wasn't ready for the honesty, insight and depth that I uncovered. Silly of me really, a girl in a band with her husband for three decades, why wouldn't there be depth and insight, but somehow I didn't figure it that way. Of course, the fact that her marriage ended and the band broke up only added dimension to an already interesting story of one woman's encounter with art, music, New York and being in a band.
For instance, this is what she had to say about California, where she moved with her family when she was five years old,
"I've always felt that there was something genetically instilled and inbred in Californians--that California is a place of death, a place people are drawn to because they don't realize deep down they're actually afraid of what they want. It's new, and they're escaping their histories while at the same time moving headlong toward their own extinctions. Death and desire are all mixed up with the thrill and the risk of the unknown. It's a variation of what freud called the 'death instinct.'"
Not your usual rock biography fodder. The book is filled with nuggets like that. It's also filled with pain and heartbreak over betrayal, adultery, divorce and the loss of so many things. Whether you know Kim Gordon or Sonic Youth is not necessary to enjoy this book--it's a book that is more than the sum of it's expected parts.
There seems to be a bit of an explosion in learning for fun environments, where the desire for knowledge about life, about the world, is driving both entrepreneurial spirit and culture hunger in really interesting ways. A case in point would be a venture in London called The Lost Lectures. Their tagline: enchanting talks/secret locations, tells you a lot about what they are up to. They find really interesting venues for world class speakers, thinkers, writers, artists etc., to give provocative talks.
Here's one featuring Jake Chapman, half of the Chapman Brothers, provocateurs of the art world.
The site is worth a long exploration and the talks combined with the locations are fantastic. The blurb about themselves says,
It’s an underground series that’s re-imagining the lecture concept, pushing it’s boundaries to their creative edges by creating immersive worlds and unforgettable experiences with World-class speakers across an eclectic host of fields. Each evening we bring together a mix of scientists, artists, techies, designers, entrepreneurs and entertainers and many more in incredible, inaccessible and secret locations.