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Here’s an extract of something I wrote for the above. Click this link for the full thing.
The drab, yellowy walls at the edges of the photograph are what I remember best, perhaps because what dominates the foreground is so horrific: a young woman smiling at the camera, leaning over the corpse of a prisoner on a black sheet. His face is cut and bruised; crop the image and hers wouldn’t look out of place on a pinboard in a student dormitory. She makes a thumbs-up gesture. It’s hard not to turn away.
A decade since that picture and several others started to trickle out of Abu Ghraib, the cruelty on display is no less repulsive. The Iraq torture scandal was a reminder of the fragility of civilised behaviour. The smiling woman, Sabrina Harman, was the Virginia-born daughter of a homicide detective. Charles Graner, another of the disgraced soldiers shown posing among the abject prisoners, was once a member of his Pennsylvania school’s drama club. They weren’t psychopaths or bogeymen. If their actions were evil, that evil was both banal and unknowable.
The photographs were published in the spring of 2004. It was a visual moment, replete with instant icons: the towers of naked men, the hoods, the metal bars, the characterless corridors. When, a few months later, James Wan’s horror movie Saw was released in the US, the New York Times reviewer Stephen Holden noted its “uncomfortable resemblance” to the scenes captured at Abu Ghraib. The spartan, squalid-seeming room, the arbitrariness of the victims’ situation, the killer’s “impulse to humiliate and torture … and justify it with some twisted morality”—the comparison suggested itself, even though the film, as Holden acknowledged, had been completed before the Iraq images emerged.
It wasn’t long before horror directors such as Eli Roth were claiming that their work could trace a direct lineage to the “war on terror”. “I really try to load up the films with ideas,” Roth insisted, citing with pride the university seminars discussing his Hostel series as “a post-9/11 response to Iraq and torture”. The ecstatic violence of that franchise at first attracted the scorn of many reviewers, who dismissed it as “torture porn,” but Roth’s articulate justifications for his on-screen cruelties seem to have won over the academy …
The rest is here.
So, after we launched “Bye Bye Blackbird” at Power Lunches, we went in to play a session at Resonance FM for the Hello Goodbye Show. You can stream/download it here. The picture above shows me and Ben in the tiny room where we did the songs. Ben engineered like a pro - he is a pro after all. My sister sang with me really well, too. I forgot some lyrics.
We were also played by Steve Lamacq on his BBC 6 Music show, which was the icing on that weekend’s cake. The best cake in the world, fact fans, is the “castella”, a Nagasaki speciality. It has no icing on it.
…OK. My single “Bye Bye Blackbird”, taken from the forthcoming album It Never Entered My Mind, was launched at Power Lunches, Dalston, on 8 May. I don’t know why it’s taken me till now to write anything about it. Anyway, it is available now as a one-song single download from iTunes [click here] or with a B-side (my most Pavement song ever, the skateboarding tune “Video Days”) from the Eidola Records Bandcamp [click here, yeah].
Here’s the “video” for “Bye Bye Blackbird”:
This one is more recent; it appeared a few weeks ago in the New Statesman magazine. An extract below; the full version can be viewed [here].
'…To be Japanese today is to negotiate the conflicting dreams of east and west. Old-fashioned reserve and collectivism jostle with assertiveness and individualism. Visit Tokyo as a foreigner and much of it feels unreal: the sheet glass, air-conditioning and underground shopping districts alongside the Shinto shrines, street-food vendors and coin-bearing good luck cats. Perhaps it seems unreal to the Japanese, too. The country has worked hard to modernise – and to “modernise” has often meant to “westernise”. The homeland has become a strange place.
It’s not surprising, then, that alienation is a persistent theme in much of the country’s fiction. Shuichi Yoshida’s debut novel, Parade (2002), newly translated into English, is a curious entry into the canon of Japanese anomie literature. Unlike, say, Taichi Yamada’s In Search of a Distant Voice (1986), which follows an immigration officer’s attempts to track down a woman with whom he may have a telepathic link, Parade shows us a world where disconnection has become a paralysing norm. The characters here are not interested in interpersonal bonds, telepathic or otherwise…’
I wrote this for Valentine’s day - it’s a rambling piece about how to write a song to mark the occasion, featuring some advice from my old friend Sam Ritchie of Sam & the Womp, Ross Palmer of the Songs From So Deep blog and Jerry David DeCicca of the Black Swans. Below is an extract; the full article (which has embeds for a couple songs I recorded) can be found [here].
'If music is the food of love, it works the other way round, too: love is often the food of music. Some years ago, a University of Florida study found that 60 per cent of all song lyrics written in the US took love as the theme. “American culture is in love with love,” said Chad Swiatowicz, who lovingly wrote the report. If anything, I’m surprised the figure isn’t higher. Bob Dylan alone has written or performed 193 songs that include the word “love” in the title or the lyrics, from “Love Is a Four-Letter Word” to “Make You Feel My Love” (recently resurrected/murdered by Adele). I suppose there’s nothing like the all-encompassing drama of love – the longing, the heartbreak, the wonder of it all – to get songwriters writing.
Almost every musician I know has attempted a Valentine’s Day song at some point in their lives. Christmas aside, it seems to be the day of the year most thoroughly explored in music form: from Chet Baker’s stark interpretation of Rodgers and Hart’s 1937 show tune “My Funny Valentine” to Tom Waits’s mournful “Blue Valentines” and Bruce Springsteen’s “Valentine’s Day” (yet another aural heartache)…’
This appeared in the most recent issue of the great New Humanist magazine. Below is an extract; the full version can be viewed online [here].
'…what we hear, as Trevor Cox writes in Sonic Wonderland, is often overlooked in favour of what we see. Even our language seems to align our understanding of the world with sight: when we comprehend something, we say “I see”, not “I hear”; we habitually use words such as “insight” (and, of course, “overlook”, as I just did) to denote thinking. “We need to explore beyond the visual dominance of modern life,” Cox writes, and here he makes a strong case for the importance of our aural sense, traversing sea and desert in search of the “sonic wonders of the world”.’
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