troubled diva  
 

My freelance writing can now be found at mikeatkinson.wordpress.com.
Recently: VV Brown, Alabama 3, Just Jack, Phantom Band, Frankmusik, Twilight Sad, Slaid Cleaves, Alesha Dixon, Bellowhead, The Unthanks, Dizzee Rascal.

On Thursday September 17th, I danced on the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square.
Click here to watch, and here to listen.

Friday, September 26, 2003

Blatant self-promotion.

(Oh, hang on - this is a personal weblog. Well, that's OK then...)

I have come over all thespian.

Next Thursday through to Saturday (October 2-4), I'll be appearing in a one-act play called Reality And TV, at the West Bridgford Dramatic Society Studio Theatre. (Keep going straight on at the bottom of Stamford Road, past the allotments, and it's the unmarked brick building on the left.).

I'll be playing the part of Lexis, a "camp stereotype" (and then some). Lex is one of three remaining contestants in a reality TV show called Eye Spy, which bears more than a passing resemblance to Big Brother.

(Who said "typecast"? I heard that.)

While the three contestants ("outrageous" Lex, "bubbly" Mel and "normal bloke" Dan) bitch and twitter in the Eye Spy House (who is "being real", and who is merely "acting out a part"?), they are simultaneously being watched by Carl and Kate, sitting at home on their sofa. Kate quite likes a bit of Reality TV when she gets home, while Carl scorns the very idea. At least, that's what...but no, I think I've said enough to be going on with.

This is the first time that I have acted since 1985, when I simulated masturbation in front of the German ambassador (no doubt bidding goodbye to any possible career in the Foreign Office as I did so). The wrist action this time around will, however, be of an altogether limper variety. But don't worry, Oh My People - there's a fine line between Stereotype and Caricature, and I would never sell you out for cheap laughs. Oh no. Absolutely not. Never ever.

Light and funny for the most part, but with something of a sting in its tail, this is a cracking little play, which was written in-house by our producer. Last night, after the final rehearsal before the technical run-through on Sunday, I surfed all the way home on the sort of adrenaline rush that I'd forgotten came with the territory. For the first time, I started to feel a surge of excited anticipation for next week's performances. Bring it on!

To reserve tickets (4 quid each, pay on the door), ring Penny on 07960 992196, preferably in the evening.

If you're able to come along, then I'll be round the corner in The Willow Tree pub after the show.

Twenty top tunes for today.

1. Basement Jaxx feat. Dizzee Rascal - Lucky Star

My God, but the forthcoming Basement Jaxx album (Kish Kash) shows all the signs of being their best yet. Dizzee Rascal does his typically genius thang in the middle of a crowded souk, while a Prince Charming-era Adam Ant type yelps along in the background.

2. Basement Jaxx feat. Lisa Kekaula - Good Luck
Her-out-of-The-Bellrays applies her gloriously throaty blues-rock holler to a dizzyingly delirious, everything-but-the-kitchen-sink stormer. Makes me want to stand up and TESTIFY.

3. David Bowie - Bring Me The Disco King

The final track on Reality - which, just like last year's Heathen before it, really is Bowie's best work since Scary Monsters. I do love it when fiftysomething rock stars find the plot again.

4. Duran Duran - Rio

OK, so it's taken me two decades to admit it - but yes, Duran Duran did make some great pop singles in their day. It's just that back then, they seemed like The Enemy...of something or other, I forget exactly what now. No such worries these days, of course.

5. Enon - Daughter In The House Of Fools

Nagging, nasally squeaked, minimal electro: Lumidee goes to Brooklyn, via Bali. (Diggin' on that funky gamelan!)

6. Flamin' Groovies - Shake Some Action

A stone-cold solid-gold Rock Classic, mate, taken from a marvellous new CD compilation of tunes from the jukebox of Malcolm McLaren & Vivienne Westwood's "Sex" shop, circa 1974-76, as compiled by Marco Pirroni from The Ants. They always seem to play this in The Social before the bands come on, and quite right too.

7. Johnny Cash feat. Will Oldham - I See A Darkness

How did I miss Cash's American Recordings albums up until now? Is every track on all four (?) albums as good as this?

8. Kelis - Milkshake

Sparse, repetitive, freaky-deaky electro-weirdness, i.e. just the way I like it these days. You'll either be wearing this out on Repeat, and screaming your head off every time she gets to the "My milkshake brings all the boys to the yard" bit, or else you'll be covering your ears in horror. Your choice.

9. Loretta Lynn - The Pill

From the same "Sex" compilation as the Flamin' Groovies track above. "You wined me and dined me when I was your girl, promised if IŽd be your wife youŽd show me the world, but all IŽve seen of this old world is a bed and a doctor bill, IŽm tearinŽ down your brooder house, Žcause now IŽve got the pill."

10. Orange Juice - Love Sick

Twenty-three years after first hearing it (and promptly falling in love with Orange Juice in the process), this STILL wins me over every time, with all its shambling, nobody-knows-how-I-suffer charm. Three years later, The Smiths emerged with many of the same ideas, to be hailed by all and sundry as "ground-breaking". We early Postcard Records fans knew better, though.

11. Outkast (Andre 3000) - Hey Ya!

The new Outkast album is actually two solo albums, bunged together in the same packaging. This, from Andre 3000's CD, is whole galaxies away from the hip hop that you might have been expecting. Rhythmically akin to George Michael's Faith or The Cure's Close To Me, this heavenly piece of bouncing/swinging silly/happy pop genius deserves to be a Number One Global Smash by Christmas, at the very latest. "Shake it like a polaroid picture." Indeed.

12. Outkast (Big Boi) - The Rooster

And from the Big Boi CD..."Throw your neck out, throw your back out"...a George Clinton-esque phreekazoid rap is thrown against an irresistable rising chord sequence and some stabbing, squelching mariachi brass. The hip hop rule book has been torn up and thrown out of the window.

(Incidentally, both Outkast tracks are markedly superior to their over-fiddly and slightly wearing current single, Ghetto Musick.)

13. Peaches - Tombstone, Baby

Dark and sleazy, stark and stripped-down, with an obvious debt to Suicide along the way. Doesn't make me want to rush out and buy the new album, but a perfectly enjoyable three minutes all the same.

14. Pleasure feat Justine Frischmann - Don't Look The Other Way

It's the electroclash revival! The former Elastica singer comes over all Giorgio Moroder meets Bobby "O" meets DAF, in a Berlin nightclub, in 1983. How could I not like that?

15. Ragga Reyes - El Papichulo

How did this end up on my hard drive? I have absolutely no idea, but I'm so glad it did. A Hispanic ragga dancehall version of the Deee-Lite Groove Is In The Heart riff, with a fantastic stop-start rhythmic pull to it. Compulsive, utterly unique, and over in less than two minutes.

16. Richard X feat Jarvis Cocker - Into You

One of the few tracks worth bothering with on the deeply underwhelming "so what?" non-event that the Richard X album has turned out to be. Based around Mazzy Star's classic Fade Into You, this is up there with Pulp's best work.

17. Rosenstolz - Herzensschoener

Don't ask me why I've got back into this stately ballad from 1998 (which nearly ended up representing Germany in that year's Eurovision) - I just have. In fact, I think I like it more now than I did five years ago. They've recorded with Marc Almond, you know. There, that's shut you up.

18. Ruffus - Eighties Coming Back

...and four months after this year's Eurovision, I find myself belatedly realising that this might just have been the best tune in the contest all along. A deft, breezy, widescreen arrangement, which still reminds me of Voyager's Halfway Hotel for some reason. Estonian Pop Roolz!

19. The Saints - Know Your Product

Along with The Quads' There Must Be Thousands, this 1978 single has to be the best 10p I've ever spent in a bargain bin. Greasy garage punk from Brisbane, with a pre-Dexys horn arrangement to kill for. "Let's shoot the professor!"

20. The Strokes - Meet Me In The Bathroom

On the first hearing only, my favourite track from their forthcoming album - which is a definite case of Is This It? Part Two (does EVERY SINGLE TRACK have to have those trademark chugging one-note rhythm chops?), but not without some nifty new "musicianly" flourishes along the way. It won't win them any new fans, but it should tide them along respectably enough for the time being. If they're prepared to settle for that, of course - and something tells me that they won't be. Oh dear, is it build-em-up knock-em-down time already?

Thursday, September 25, 2003

Things which I yadda yadda yadda (a severe case of Blogcrastination, basically). Part 4.

(With all due acknowledgement to londonmark for inventing the term "blogcrastination" in the first place.)

Ah yes. The adolescent drinking games. Good grief, this happened weeks ago. Well, no matter.

DISCLAIMER: What I am about to describe should ON NO ACCOUNT be tried at home, next time you throw a dinner party. I am posting this merely as AN AWFUL WARNING. Do I make myself clear?

Ingredients.

· 1 bottle of sambuca
· 1 candle
· 1 wipe-clean surface
· 1 plastic drinking straw
· At least half a dozen participants
· One wine glass per participant, plus one spare glass.

Directions.

· A generous measure of sambuca is poured into the glass of each participant.
· The candle is lit, and placed in a central position on the wipe-clean surface.
· All participants arrange themselves around the wipe-clean surface, within easy reach of the candle, and of each other.
· All participants immerse their index fingers in the sambuca provided.
· Important safety note: to commence play, the fingers of all participants must all be thoroughly soaked.

· The first player inserts their index finger into the candle flame.
· Once the index finger is successfully lit, the first player rubs it against the index finger of the player on their left, thus transferring the flame.
· Note: some discomfort may be experienced at this point. Do not be alarmed by this.
· As soon as the flame has been transferred, but NOT before, the first player may now extinguish it from his/her finger.
· Hint: it is advisable to do this as quickly as possible.

· The second player now transfers the flame to the finger of the third player, and so on, around the group, maintaining a clockwise direction.
· If the flame should accidentally be extinguished during transfer, then the receiving player is eliminated from the game, and must pay a forfeit (see below).
· Play continues until only one player is left. This player must then also pay the same forfeit. There is no reward for "winning" this game, other than the admiration of the other participants.

Forfeit.

· The forfeitee tilts his/her glass at an angle of 45 degrees, and places the rim of the glass into the candle flame - thus igniting the sambuca.
· From a height of at least 1 foot (30 cm), the forfeitee pours the flaming sambuca into the empty spare glass.
· This produces an attractive "column of fire" effect, which may be admired by the whole group.
· As soon as the liquid has been transferred, the forfeitee places the original (and now empty) glass face down on the wipe-clean surface, thus trapping the remaining fumes inside.
· The forfeitee drinks the entirety of the transferred sambuca, in one single pass. (Encouraging cries of "Down in one!" may be supplied by the rest of the group at this point.)
· Safety note: before attempting the previous step, any residual flame must first be extinguished.
· The forfeitee inserts the plastic drinking straw underneath the rim of the second upturned glass, taking care not to release any of the fumes by lifting the glass up too high.
· In one single pass, the forfeitee inhales the fumes from the upturned glass, using the drinking straw.

Effects.

· Each player in turn will experience a sudden sensation of euphoria and light-headedness, possibly accompanied by a giggling fit, and repeated exclamations of "Oh my God, oh my God, oh my God..."
· If these effects are not judged to be sufficiently powerful, then the player may optionally move on to Emergency Stage Two.

Emergency Stage Two.

· Ingredients: one bottle of vodka, one teaspoon, one comparatively sober "doctor", with a steady hand.
· The "doctor" pours a measure of vodka into the teaspoon, and holds the spoon stretched out in front of them.
· In one pass, the "patient" inhales the vodka into either the left or the right nostril, according to taste.
· A burning sensation may be experienced. To alleviate the unpleasantness of this sensation, some mild swearing may be permitted at this point.
· Effects: strong and sudden. Following the administration of the "medicine", the power of speech may be lost for anything up to thirty minutes. Do not be alarmed at this. It is all part of the fun of the game.
· VERY IMPORTANT WARNING: when the power of speech eventually returns, the "patient" may experience a strong urge to go out clubbing. DO NOT, UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES, SURRENDER TO THIS URGE.

Troubled Diva will not be held liable for any physical scarring - or loss of dignity - that might be suffered as a consequence of ignoring the above Disclaimer.

Wednesday, September 24, 2003

Nottingham Mini-Blogmeet.

(Because when more than two bloggers meet for a drink, we can legitimately call it a "mini-blogmeet".)

Boo-nay and I met Nixon (of New York London Paris Mizzy) for drinks last night. An inter-generational summit meeting, so it was. (Nixon: early twenties. Boo-nay: early thirties. Self: just past late thirties.)

Naturally, I'd love to tell you all about it, but the three of us made a kind of non-disclosure pact - thus enabling us to, um, talk frankly and freely across a wide range of subjects. Besides, I'd hate to blow Nixon's carefully constructed enigmatic online persona out of the water. (Although I can exclusively reveal that his hair's a bit shorter than it looks on the photo. Sorry, that's all you're getting.)

I did find out why he calls himself Nixon, though. Unfortunately, I have since forgotten. It was that kind of night. However, I can remember why he calls his blog Popdizzy. Hahahahaha! Hahahahaha! It's a classic! You'd die laughing! Sorry, my lips are sealed.

A nice night. I'll shut up with the irritating coyness now. As you were!

These are the things, these are the things...

K has always suffered from nightmares, usually in his first hour of sleep. This morning, however, he woke up traumatised.

"I dreamt that Molton Brown had launched this awful new product: chickpea and seagrass shower gel."

Meanwhile, I had been dreaming of being given a personal guided tour of a newly re-designed and re-conceptualised Marks & Spencer flagship store, by none other than humpy little Evan Davis, the BBC's economics editor.

We don't get any better, do we?

Yes, it really is a new word...

...and since I've been asked to provide a definition of it:

Blogtrospective (adj.) - from blog and introspective - excessively analytical about the phenomenon of weblogging. See also Blogtrospection (n.)

Example:
"Much as I enjoy The Guardian's weekly Online section, there are others who are irritated by its constant blogtrospection."

Go forth and deploy.

Tuesday, September 23, 2003

Marc Quinn meets Delia Smith.

Apparently (it's just been on Radio 4's Front Row), the artist Marc Quinn has just been commissioned to do a portrait of Delia Smith. Quinn was, of course, the artist who rose to notoriety by casting a model of his head in his own blood. (It's on show at the Saatchi collection at London's County Hall, if you're interested.)

So what is he going to use to cast Our Delia, one wonders? Raspberry coulis?

Ker-TISH. I could do stand-up, you know. I could, I could...

Update: Here's the BBC press release.

Things which I never got round to blogging about, even though they happened ages ago, because I am the King of Procrastination. Part 3.

image: bridget rileyYesterday, Diamond Geezer talked about the Bridget Riley exhibition at Tate Britain, which ends this Sunday - so I guess this is absolutely my last chance to plug it. (We visited the exhibition over the summer, and both loved it - but I was on Hitzefrei at the time, so said nothing about it.)

Arranged chronologically, the exhibition starts with Riley's heavy duty monochrome op-art work, with which she made her name in the 1960s. The cumulative effect of these pictures upon the eyes is so physically intense that if you're not careful, it can actually make you feel slightly sick. Consequently, we both found ourselves staring at soothing patches of bare white wall every now and again, just to calm our poor little eyes down; the optical equivalent of a "palate cleanser" in a posh restaurant.

image: bridget riley


Moving through to the "multi-coloured vertical stripes" section, our first reaction was disappointment. "Cuh, swizz, nothing's happening with this lot." Because by now, we had come to expect every painting to f**k with our vision, Magic Eye style. Maybe, in the early 1970s, this had become a general expectation amongst Riley's public. Maybe she had begun to feel burdened by this expectation. Maybe this was one of the reasons why she changed direction.

image: bridget riley


Our favourite section of the whole show was at the point where the strict, formal stripes had progressed into curvy waves, containing twists of colour. Warm, expansive, serene, mature, intensely pleasurable, and vaguely reminiscent of late Monet water-lilies in some inexplicable way.

image: bridget rileyThe subsequent "diagonal cross-hatching" phase - although I loved it 10 years ago, when it provided my initial entry into Riley's work - now seemed a bit stale, a bit over-familiar, a bit too - dare I say it? - Late Eighties Habitat Duvet Cover. On the other hand, that's hardly Riley's fault. Indeed, over the years, she has consistently objected to the way that her work has sometimes been co-opted by the world of fashion and style (in particular by Mary Quant and the mods in the 1960s). It's strange how these shallow imitations have at times posed genuine threats to the purity and the power of Riley's original vision.

Next, I would have banged on about the Wolfgang Tillmanns exhibition in the next door gallery, but it's far too late for that now (it shut a while ago). Excellent in a very different way - and in a way which appealed far more to me than it did to K, what with its sexy sheen of oh-so-stylish, aren't-we-just-living-the-life, bleeding edge metro-homo fabulousness. Anti-glamour glamour, which finds as much beauty in everyday random rawness as it does in studied, posed artifice.

Some of this work had originally appeared in trendy style mags, such as i-D. Did it therefore even belong in an Art-with-a-capital-A Art Gallery? The simple answer: no-one ever seriously objected to a Norman Parkinson retrospective. Or a Richard Avedon. Or a Cecil Beaton. Like Tillmanns, they all dealt in supposedly transitory images, which were very firmly rooted in their own particular time. And yet, somehow their photographs simultaneously managed both to capture that time (definitively, iconically, fascinatingly) and to transcend it. I would contend that it's going to be the same with Tillmanns. An originator (along with Jurgen Teller) of that whole anti-supermodel "gritty realism" aesthetic in fashion, I suspect that his work will endure for far longer than his detractors might imagine. But, as I say, no point in banging on about that now.



Right at the end of the Tillmanns exhibition, a video installation piece. Inside a large, pitch black room, pumping techno music blared out. Bloody good pumping techno music, at that. Grade A stuff. Mid-nineties vintage, at a guess. My era, in other words. It drew me in, like a moth to a flame, even as K started nervously looking at his watch. ("I'm not sure we've really got time for this...") The far wall was a giant video screen, showing various images of club lighting. The lights were synched perfectly to the music. The camera never panned down to the crowd below.

I was transfixed. In my disco-biscuit-munching Glory Days, I would sometimes - as so many did - "have a wobbly" early on in the night. A sort of mini-anxiety attack. At times like these, one of my best coping strategies was to tune out from the mashed-up crowd around me, fixing my gaze instead upon the light show. I would then calm myself down by focussing all my concentration on the various complex lighting patterns that were being created, and the way they followed and reflected the music - reminding myself all the while that these effects were being carefully orchestrated by people who weren't "on" anything at all: the lighting jocks, the DJs, the musicians. These were the people upon whom I would then train all my newly minted "empathy" - the sober, straight, creative ones. I found it deeply reassuring that they were all in charge, quietly directing the madness from behind the scenes. Thus stabilised, I would then eventually train my gaze back down towards the roiling throng around me - and joyfully reconnect.

"I don't feel comfortable in here at all, Mike. Can we go? The riverbus leaves in five minutes..."

Another, deeper, more enduring level of sanity punctured my reverie. Torn by conflicted feelings of yearning nostalgia and slightly shamefaced foolishness - which I covered up as quickly as I could with self-deprecatory mockery ("Good job you're here - I'd have been stuck in there for days otherwise, haha"), I stumbled towards the light.

Labels:

Ego-googling the blogroll.

Partners and Weblogs - poll results.

With 151 votes received in the past 6 days (a large enough sample to be meaningful), and with the number of new votes reduced to the merest of trickles, I'm now calling a halt to the "partners & weblogs" poll. Let's take a look at the results, shall we?

image: pie chart 1


Firstly, let's examine the split between readers with weblogs and readers without weblogs. My prediction for this was 80% to 20%. In reality, the split turned out to be 77% to 23% (117 bloggers, 34 non-bloggers) - or, as dear old MS Excel would have it, 78% to 22% (bless its endearingly non-mathematical little heart). Meaning that nearly a quarter of you might be a little less interested in All Things Blog, and a little more interested in All Things Mike. This statistic might be worth bearing in mind the next time I feel the temptation to come over all blogtrospective. (New word!)

Okay then: junking the non-bloggers and the "single" bloggers (and goodness, judging by your comments, what a charged little word "single" turned out to be), let's examine the stats for bloggers with partners a little more closely.

image: pie chart 2


I don't know what you were expecting here, but these figures certainly surprised me. Only a quarter of you have partners who more or less read your every word - and of that 25% (21 readers), several of you have partners who also have their own weblogs - in which case "almost always" is practically a given. Conversely, a whopping 28% of you (24 readers) have, like me, a partner who almost never reads your weblog. And what about the statistically significant 11% of you (9 readers) whose partners don't even know you have a weblog, then? You secretive bunch!

If we bundle the "almost always" and "more often than not" votes together, then we make the (to me, at least) startling discovery that only 40% of you have partners who could reasonably be described as regular readers of your blogs.

Time for a Carrie Bradshaw moment, as I lean back from the screen, fold my arms behind my head, and stare into the middle distance with a quizzical, mildly concerned look, as I struggle with my one Serious Thought of the week.

Why don't our partners read our weblogs?

Perhaps it's time we consulted a typical non-reading partner (that would be K, then). So why don't you read my sodding weblog, you bastard?

His reasons were these:

1. He has no interest in using the Internet for non-professional and non-practical reasons. Why, the man barely even sends a personal e-mail from one month to the next. So it would never even occur to him to go and look at a computer for "leisure" purposes.

2. He hates reading words on a screen for any extended period of time. (The vari-focals probably don't help.)

3. If something happens to me which is of interest, then I'll tell him about it. He doesn't need to sit down and read about it as well. (I also keep him abreast of anything particularly newsworthy which happens on the blog - favourite postings, big stunts, memorable comments, what people are saying about the site, that kind of thing.)

4. Like a Venn diagram, our interests overlap. Some are shared, some are separate. It is a curious feature of this blog that I tend to write far more about my separate interests than our shared interests. Particularly when it comes to the whole Pop Culture thing. I suppose that in this respect, the blog is an outlet for the sort of conversations that I otherwise wouldn't get to have on such a regular basis. Anyway, the upshot of this is that vast tracts of my blog are of no interest to K whatsoever.

5. What you're reading - for all its open-book, this-is-myyyy-life, "emotional honesty" - is, of course, a carefully edited and artfully presented version of The Real Me. Which is not to say that I'm giving you a deliberately false impression of my character - it's just that what you have here is my Public Face. It's the identity (or, more accurately, one of the several identities) which I let the world see. This is not the person who K is interested in finding more about. His access levels are altogether different. To him, all this Public Face stuff is more or less irrelevant. The relationship which we have with the outside world (both seperately and together) is very different from the relationship which we have with each other.

Having said all this: if K ever started a blog, would I read it? Of course I bloody would! Every single last word of it! Even the boring bits! But that's an area where we differ - and we're perfectly fine with that. As, I suspect, are most of the other 49% who fall into the "almost never"/"only from time to time" category.

Thanks to all who voted. So I've had 151 "real" readers (as opposed to casual visitors, random Googlers and repeat viewers) over the past six days, have I? Cool. That's another useful figure to know.

A final thought: a lot of the above could equally apply to real-life, pre-blog friends as well as partners. Only yesterday, I was reading about the annoyance that a six-months-old blogger felt when best friend said that she "didn't have time" to read her blog. It was much the same for me when I started out: I couldn't understand why my friends "hadn't got round" to reading Troubled Diva yet, or - at best - that they'd "taken a quick look a few days ago". I really got quite huffy about it at one point. But, as I came to understand, it takes a particular sort of person to be a blog-reader: a certain mind-set, a certain arrangement of interests and priorities. So, if you're a new-ish and pissed-off blogger reading this: chill, dude. We all get that.

Monday, September 22, 2003

Last week's Linkrack archive.