The busy-ness world

Wall Street workers: Will relate to this blog.

So I’m going to blog about being busy all the time.

For months, I promised myself I wouldn’t write one of those self-reflexive blogs for one simple reason: I hate reading them. No matter how witty, talented and the intelligent the author is, they nearly always seem like egotistical, self-indulgent and (worst of all) boring rants.

So why did I decide to undertake the unthinkable? Well, there are several reasons, most of them pretentious: boredom, the lack of things to write about, sheer unbridled narcissism. However, in my defence, there’s nothing like a good vent. And if I don’t engage in said narcissism online, I fear I may do so in print.

Have you ever seen Federico Fellini’s 8½? Thought not. Basically, there’s a scene where the film director protagonist is surrounded by an array of people vehemently questioning him and trying to get his attention. The scene is played in nightmarish fashion. That’s sort of like my life and in particular, my email inbox at the moment. To suggest the past few weeks have been chaotic would – on a no-shit-Sherlock-scale of 1-10 – be like saying Charlie Sheen isn’t the most stable of characters.

Being busy has its pros and cons. For instance: ‘Oh hi old friend (who has invited me to their birthday despite my not having seen them for the past five years), I really would love to attend and spend the night awkwardly conversing with a bunch of strangers, but I’m working tonight.’

On the other hand, there was the night when Rambo was on and I didn’t get time to watch it, or even tape it, on account of my never-ending workload. Even more tragic was the time Rambo 2 was on.  

Another virtuous side-effect of busy-ness is that it usually stops you from asking yourselves questions such as whether what you’re doing is worthwhile. And if what you’re doing isn’t worthwhile, you’re busy-ness at least makes you less inclined to dwell on this thought.

Oz: The best TV show you'll never see.

But sadly, perpetually being occupied usually makes you a less interesting person.  For instance, questions such as: ‘Seen any interesting films?’ ‘Read any good books?’ ‘Been following the football?’ or ‘Written any blogs worth reading?’ are all answered with a negative by busy people. Therefore, on the rare occasions when busy people do return to normal society, all they can talk about with any vague vestige of passion is their work. And unless they’re Tom Cruise or their work entails being within the vicinity of Tom Cruise, then what they discuss will inevitably seem tedious to those intent on dissecting the latest Lady Gaga single.

Forgive me for throwing in another obscure frame of reference, but the matter is exemplified by an excellent TV show named Oz (a programme so excellent that I still have yet to encounter a fellow avid fan, nonetheless I will determinedly continue to mention it whenever I can until people finally start watching the bloody show).

Anyhow, in Oz, the protagonist (McManus) is idealistic, fiercely intelligent and quite good at his job as manager of Emerald City – the notorious prison in which the show is set. However, he randomly appears on a TV game show at one point and is subsequently humiliated, as his lack of general knowledge causes him to perform poorly. The point is that the obsessive attention he devotes to his job renders him boring.

So how do you cure the dreaded symptom of busy-ness? Well, one solution is to quit working and go on the dole. Income may be a problem, but at least you’ll have time to catch up on the latest must-hear bands or refine your dinner party anecdotes.

Personally though, I’d take busy-ness over boredom any day. After all, busy-ness alleviates your own boredom, whereas having nothing to do but watch TV shows ultimately enhances it. And also, being busy does not necessarily stop you from listening to bands you loved during teenagehood – a mandatory, prolonged bout of boredom that everyone must experience.

And if you never listened to music extensively as a teenager, then just listen to Girl Talk – music for people with OCD and others prone to boredom according to critics.

Or watch Badlands – better than Apocalypse Now according to Martin Sheen, who starred in both.

Or read David Foster Wallace – the best writer of the past 20 years according to yours truly (and especially ‘Shipping Out’).

http://harpers.org/archive/2008/09/hbc-90003557

Engaging in any of these activities will render boredom a thing of the past, no matter how infrequently you get the opportunity to do so.

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How to be a music nerd

Yo La Tengo: a group of music critics who decided to form a band and thus, have unsurprisingly since become every self-respecting music nerd's favourite group.

On the frequent occasions when I refer to myself as a music nerd, people often ask what I mean by this term… Okay on second thought, that’s a lie, I was simply looking for a quirky, hopefully-somewhat-interesting opening sentence to this blog. In reality, they never ask, they merely shrug or laugh politely at the mention of the term. Anyhow, I still have a compulsion to explain myself, so the following is what I like to think of as the definitive manifesto for being a music nerd.

Of course, some music nerds may read this blog and, being nerds, they’ll undoubtedly feel the need to intricately explain why I’m wrong and why their concept of what being a music nerd means is infinitely superior to my own impromptu set of guidelines. But feck it, here goes anyway…

One of the primary rules for being a music nerd lies not just in what music you listen to, but how you listen to it. Indeed, the very fact that you are liable to worry about how you listen to music in the first place means you are quite probably a music nerd deep down… or just pretentious… or both, the two often go hand in hand.

Of course, normal people will primarily focus on a song’s vocals, but then normal people will have never come across Godspeed You! Black Emperor – a Canadian post-rock collective who, as music nerds will know, tend to eschew vocals. Thus, music nerds formerly accustomed to simply focusing on the vocals are faced with a considerable dilemma and are forced to alter their listening habits entirely. Yet, they secretly love this type of revolutionary music, and by ‘revolutionary’, I mean music which most people would pay to avoid listening to.

For instance, GYBE’s seminal double album, Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas To Heaven, consists of only four tracks, each of which are broken into movements, with the shortest track being just over 18 minutes in length. In order to pass my own, made-up-on-the-spot test for being a music nerd, listening to this album all the way through in the dark without distraction is mandatory. And if you don’t enjoy it, you can never rightfully call yourself a true music nerd.

Mainly because I’m currently sounding like a hipster, it is important, at this point, to distinguish the difference between music nerds and hipsters. Although to the untrained eye they possess similar music tastes, the two groups are in fact decidedly different. Hipsters, let it be clear, are not necessarily big music listeners. They may even be fans of the uncoolest band on the planet (Status Quo, closely followed by Kings of Leon).

However, what’s important as far as hipsters are concerned is that: a) They never admit to their covert Quo obsession and b) They memorise a substantial list of music nerd favourites which they can consequently rely upon when their credibility is put under scrutiny e.g. Danielson, The Beta Band, The Shins and so on… although I suppose the latter group don’t really count ever since consummate hipster Natalie Portman name checked them in Garden State and they got, like, totally commercialised.

Godspeed You! Black Emperor: Canada's best apology yet for Bryan Adams.

The Natalie Portman effect is a common scourge of music nerds. Oasis are another perfect example of a band whose cool and edgy debut album remains appreciated by music nerds to this day. However, they acquired proper commercial success upon the release of follow-up album, (What’s the Story) Morning Glory?, and subsequently, as their general popularity increased, critics and ‘real’ music fans lost faith with the band (as is nearly always the case in such circumstances). Noel Gallagher himself pithily summarised this phenomenon as the moment when “all the dickheads start buying your records”.

And finally, hipsters’ appearance is much different to that of music nerds. Namely, they’re actually conscious about what they wear and generally always end up looking incredibly punchable, even to normally non-violent music nerds such as myself. They are the type of people who wear weird glasses, drink Pabst Blue Ribbon beer and hate anything mainstream (okay that’s me basically, but there are other subtle differences, I swear). Music nerds, on the other hand, are far too inveterately self-conscious to engage in such shenanigans. Think of Steve Buscemi’s creepy character in Ghost World rather than Duckie in Pretty in Pink – the archetypal hipster movie (again, apologies if these references are lost on non-music/movie nerds reading this blog).

Also, look at this definition I just came across on Wikipedia: “One commentator argues that ‘hipsters fetishizes the authentic’ elements of all of the ‘fringe movements of the post-war era—beat, hippie, punk, even grunge,’ and draws on the ‘cultural stores of every unmelted ethnicity,’ and ‘regurgitates it with a winking inauthenticity.’” Isn’t that hilarious? Admittedly, this is probably how a hipster would react to such a definition, although I wouldn’t really know being a music nerd.

Aside from listening to Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas To Heaven, another making-it-up-as-I’m-going-along rule for being a music nerd is that you must be an avid fan of The Fall. And by ‘avid fan’, I mean you should learn off the bass rhythm for every track from each of their studio albums (all 28 of them). And you must learn to decipher all of the lyrics for every song in Yo La Tengo’s discography, no matter how incomprehensible they may seem and without looking at the lyric sheet (and excluding the numerous tracks of theirs which don’t feature lyrics obviously).

Finally, in order to be a music nerd, you are required to know, without doubt, the answer to the question which has dogged mankind for several decades now: whether it’s pronounced David Bo-ey or David Bow-ee (it’s Bo-ey). It is only once these integral tasks have been completed that you can truly claim to have established yourself as a genuine music nerd.

I’m aptly ending this blog with a link to a song, which music nerds will undoubtedly admire, by the founder of the quintessential music nerd band (The Velvet Underground), Lou Reed, who is looking worryingly like a hipster in this video:     

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Why This is Happening by LCD Soundsystem is the album of the year

LCD Soundsystem’s recent show in Tripod was unquestionably the gig of the year.

“Just do it right, make it perfect and real,” sings LCD Soundsystem’s James Murphy in the opening lines to This is Happening’s final song on (supposedly) the band’s final album. If Murphy never makes another record again, then this exquisite climax is a more than fitting finale to the band’s career.

While the other eight songs encompassed the prevailing excellence of the record (‘All I Want’, ‘Dance Yrself Clean’) as well as the occasional forgettable moment (‘Pow Pow’), nothing matched ‘Home’ in terms of style, elegance and panache. Therefore, while the overall album is not quite as perfect as 2007’s career-transforming Sounds of Silver, ‘Home’ is to my mind the best and most important track Murphy has ever written and the primary reason for this takes me back to those aforementioned, integral opening lines to the song.

“Just do it right, make it perfect and real,” will resonate primarily with the hardest of the hardcore LCD Soundsystem fans. It works on a number of levels and its sentiments are quite personal ultimately.

LCD Soundsystem’s self-titled debut album was ‘perfect’ in a sense. It was a double disc comprising of 16 of the most danceable songs this side of Daft Punk, even going so far as to namecheck the French duo in the album’s first single, just in case we didn’t gauge the band’s aesthetic initially. ‘Daft Punk is Playing at my House’ inferred that the band’s primary intention was to party as if it were perpetually 1999.

The record received near-unanimous critical acclaim and Murphy was earmarked as dance music’s great white hope. Yet, in conjunction with all this praise, there existed a palpable whiff of suspicion among critics. Sure, Murphy had boundless talent, but there was a question mark over whether he could add substance to this style. His music was seen as fun, though lacking soul on some level. He was considered too sarcastic in his vocal delivery, too cool to ever be taken entirely seriously. Yet all these songs were in fact deeply sincere – ‘Losing my Edge’, for example, was a soaring critique of hipster culture that was perceived, in most quarters, as essentially a novelty song.

In subsequent interviews, Murphy seemed obsessed over critics’ unwavering tendency to take his undoubtedly impressive music with a pinch of salt. And so, with the release of his second album, Murphy delivered songs such as ‘All My Friends’ and ‘Someone Great’ in a far more plaintive fashion than was the case with their predecessors. Suddenly, critics sat up and took notice, realising there was more to Murphy than his initial caricature as the epitome of cool.

And so in Murphy’s resplendent adieu to LCD Soundsystem, he manages to seamlessly blend the stylish ‘perfection’ of his first album with the brutal, unabashed ‘realness’ of his second record, thereby encapsulating the two foremost components of his music in the course of one seven-minute slice of nirvana.

In interviews following the release of Murphy’s third record, he spoke at length about notions of cool and its inextricable ties with a sense of fakeness. He related how ever since he was a child, he had abhorred this notion of cool, and how it invariably separated kids in the playground in terms of status – namely creating distinct groups encompassing ‘cool’ and ‘uncool’ kids.

You get the feeling therefore that Murphy interpreted his newly-acquired status as an arbiter of cool to be an insult rather than a compliment, consequently electing to alter his musical persona and thus, setting about radically changing how people generally perceived him. Hence: “Just do it right, make it perfect and real.”

Other honourable mentions: All Day – Girl Talk, High Violet – The National, Cosmogramma – Flying Lotus, Have One on Me – Joanna Newsom, Thank Me Later – Drake, Sir Lucious Left Foot… The Son of Chico Dusty – Big Boi, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy – Kanye West, Swim – Caribou, The Lady Killer – Cee Lo.  

Also, check out this link to James Murphy’s brief-but-awesome Guardian blog:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/music/musicblog/2007/feb/16/murphyslorethatsfightingta?INTCMP=SRCH

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Don Van Vliet has died at the age of 69.

Today marks the sad passing of Don Van Vliet, aka Captain Beefheart – a legend among music nerds such as myself. I won’t write too much on the subject, as words can hardly convey the utter genius of his music. All I’ll say is this – if ever I feel in danger of losing faith in music amidst this X Factor-obsessed world, a record such as Trout Mask Replica never fails to remind me why I fell in love with it in the first place.

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The films of the year (warning: contains spoilers)

Nicholas Cage starred in The Bad Lieutenant and delivered arguably the year's best performance as the morally duplicitous cop.

N.B. Since I can’t be bothered writing a basic plot synopsis of each film, I’ve included links to all their original trailers to complement my reviews.

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1. According to the late Infinite Jest author David Foster Wallace: “Good fiction is meant to comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable.” Rarely have I have ever seen Wallace’s sentiment so cogently captured by a film as it is in Gaspar Noé’s aptly-titled Enter the Void.

Following on from Noé’s previous film, the operatic rape-revenge drama Irreversible, released in 2002, in which audience members (and not just any audience members, film festival audience members) reputedly fainted during screenings, cinemagoers could barely conceive of a film that could trump it in terms of intensity levels. And yet somehow, Enter the Void managed to do just that.

And yet despite the endless nudity, despite the clitoris shot, the aborted foetus shot and the scores of horrific images that routinely infiltrate this film, Noé manages to craft a palpable beauty amidst the pessimistic and dogmatic, though inherently moral worldview conveyed onscreen.

After viewing the film, I could not help but recall a similarly controversial work of art, JG Ballard’s X-rated investigation into the connection between sex, death and celebrity, Crash, and one of the accompanying quotes about the book upon its release, which stated: “The author of this book is beyond psychiatric help” (a criticism that Ballard interpreted as the highest compliment possible).

There is no doubting that Noé is a tortured soul, but a talented one nonetheless. The film is continually thrilling on a visceral level; some of the shots of a neon-lit Tokyo are among the most beautiful I’ve ever seen on the big screen. The music which complements the film’s dazzling energy evokes the hallucinatory obfuscation which a drug-fuelled life in Tokyo would inevitably inspire.

Moreover, it has a kind of muffled classical music soundtrack constantly providing an alluring background buzz to proceedings, and one which perfectly mimics the film’s unique sensibility. Specifically, it adheres to a deeply subversive sense of art’s possibilities, serving as it does, as the middle ground between art-house and pornography, between pretension and genius, between compelling and unwatchable, all the while consolidating Noé’s status as the heir to throne of another notorious agent provocateur – Pier Paolo Pasolini. 

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2. The Social Network may have been more of an Aaron Sorkin than a David Fincher film (screenwriters nearly always deserve at least as much credit as directors in my view), it may have borrowed heavily from the Citizen Kane template and its story may have been largely untrue (Zuckerberg has had a steady girlfriend since before he started Facebook, thus making its premise – that he was driven to conceive of Facebook in order to improve his chances with women and secure a long-term girlfriend – false), but with drama this superbly constructed, it hardly matters. Just as Shakespeare did with Richard III and Oliver Stone did with JFK, Sorkin and Fincher have every right to create a fictional tale out of real-life events.

Some critics have argued that the film’s final act lacks the potency of its opening two thirds, but I disagree. The shot of Zuckerberg alone typing away at his computer, reverting to obsessive-compulsive stereotype as he works hard at improving Facebook even whilst faced with an anxiety-ridden situation (namely: a lawsuit), exquisitely captures the loneliness of the Facebook generation writ large.

Jesse Eisenberg excels in his personification of Zuckerberg, as does Justin Timberlake who plays Napster supremo Sean Parker. The latter is perfectly cast as the villainous Parker, and displays his acting chops in particular in the film’s penultimate scene (another late highlight which those aforementioned critics inexplicably ignored) in which he spars with Eduardo, the individual who co-founded Facebook and who was unfairly cut off from the benefits that ensued once it garnered worldwide renown (at least, according to the film’s depiction of events).

All this and I haven’t mentioned the unwitting comedic gold, as provided by the brilliantly-named Winklevoss twins, along with the best trailer of the year replete with one of the best cover versions (of ‘Creep’ by Radiohead) you will ever hear. It was a tough task to make a film about an entity which essentially defined a generation, but with The Social Network, Sorkin and Fincher deserve praise far greater than the somewhat apathetic-seeming ‘like’ button for which the site is known – a 21st century Great Gatsby perhaps?   

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3. Following his descent into relative obscurity owing to financial troubles and a loss of artistic form, Werner Herzog returned with one last engrossing film to remember him by – Grizzly Man. Or so everybody thought, until he followed this work with Rescue Dawn, Encounters at the End of the World and The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call – New Orleans. Suddenly, a last hurrah had become a fully fledged, highly unexpected late golden period, with each film serving as an excellent addition to his already legendary canon.

And unlike many other auteurs that tend to largely stick to one cinematic philosophy, Herzog has demonstrated an ample degree of versatility in his most recent projects. For instance, whereas Encounters, his cinematic love letter to the oddballs and strange sights encompassing life in Alaska was quite serene and elegiac, Bad Lieutenant was, in a word, bonkers.

While certain critics and fans considered Bad Lieutenant as Herzog placing one foot firmly within the cinematic mainstream and thus betraying his original movies’ principles to a degree, this film contained a level of subversion which is rarely seen in Hollywood cinema, while also bearing resemblance to his earlier works in ways that one might anticipate would be impossible with a film which features Nicholas Cage.

In fact, it is Cage’s Klaus Kinski-channelling performance on which this film’s success ultimately lies and most people would surely agree that rarely has an actor captured the level of manic charisma which Cage displays since Jack Nicholson’s demented turn in The Shining

In addition, the film contains the best line of the year in terms of pure wtf-ery – “his soul is still dancing”, the best and most idiosyncratic recurring motif – the intermittent iguana-starring hallucinations – and arguably the year’s most impressive and gorgeous climax to a film in the form of Cage’s morally-depraved/heroic character sitting contentedly with his criminal companion amidst a fish tank backdrop. The film therefore succeeds in matching and arguably surpassing Abel Ferrara’s cult classic of the same name (therein lies the two films’ sole similarity). Kinski would have loved it.

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Best re-release:

What is Jack Nicholson’s greatest performance? Most people would argue either for his aforementioned role as Jack Torrance in The Shining, his Oscar-winning portrayal of Randle McMurphy in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, or his late career blooming period as seen most clearly in Terms of Endearment. A few people might even have the temerity to suggest his performance as the Joker in Batman as his greatest moment. None of these films, though, constitute the correct answer, wonderful as they all are.

Nicholson’s best performance remains one of his earliest onscreen appearances – his turn as a feckless, directionless drifter who has been overly pampered in his youth and continually searches, seemingly in vain, for a raison d’être.

Originally released in 1970, Five Easy Pieces is not only the most entertaining, relentlessly sardonic and innovative film which I’ve seen all year, it is also hugely influential in a manner akin to The Velvet Underground’s debut album in that everyone who came across it appears to have formed a band/made a movie thereafter. The film’s deeply affectionate, staunch love for its protagonist in spite of himself coupled with an underlying, unyielding misanthropy as far as the rest of the human race is concerned, practically invented the Coen brothers, for example (the brothers have often paid homage to the film, most notably with certain scenes in Burn After Reading, while John Malkovich’s character in the film essentially acts as a stand-in for Nicholson’s drifter).  

The film is one of the most bittersweet paeans to a subsection of American society ever produced – a subsection comprising of the country’s aimless, over-privileged yet still somehow searingly disillusioned youth. Nicholson takes on the daunting voice-of-a-generation role and succeeds in evoking America’s inner tragedy with the type of consummate, laconic ease which would eventually become his trademark – mannerisms that would sadly subsequently descend into little more than self-parody in films such as The Bucket List.

And in the grand tradition of actors winning Oscars years later, when they deserved the accolade for earlier films, Nicholson eventually got his award for essentially playing an older version of the exact same character only in an insipid cover version of Bob Rafelson’s masterpiece – James L Brooks’ As Good as it Gets being the guilty party in this instance.

While director/studio maverick Rafelson would never again even come close to recapturing the magic of his debut film – a situation possibly explained by the fact that Carole Eastman, the film’s screenwriter and a rare example of a female writer working in Hollywood at the time, was swiftly ostracised from Hollywood circles thereafter – this ingenious effort is enough to end all debates on whether or not the 1970s was indeed the best decade ever for film.

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The 10 Most Memorable Simpsons Moments in No Particular Order

The Simpsons: In a world of its own.

Of all the films, books and indeed TV shows I’ve loved over the course of my life thus far; The Simpsons is the one slice of entertainment/art which has had a recurring presence. And yes, it is art, I know it sounds pretentious, but it is.

I recall my formative Sunday evenings, as I breathlessly awaited the arrival of the latest half-hour slice of magic. Strangely, the memory which resonates most is one of disappointment following most episodes’ culmination.

I would always feel the episode in question had not been up to the shows’ usual high standards. Of course, I now realise that my reluctance to embrace the given programme was, in so many instances, owing to the fact that most of the episodes primarily reward repeat viewing. There are just so many ingenious jokes that it’s almost impossible take them all in at once. This was also why critics were slow in proclaiming the series to be the masterpiece that it was.

And so, given that its immeasurable repeatability renders the show ageless, I have decided to list my all-time personal favourite moments in the show’s history. I wrote personal in case you missed it the first time. I’m not pretending to be a critic-at-large or definitive authority on the show. I’m merely presenting the moments which I have the best memories of.

Before starting, I’d just like to mention that my favourite episode when I was younger was the ‘Itchy and Scratchy Land’ one; whereas nowadays the cineaste in me tends to marginally prefer the ‘Bobo’ one. In the case of the former, it is one of the few episodes I can actually remember watching for the first time and basically laughing all the way through. I love the latter mainly on account of the numerous sly Citizen Kane references which simply make the film nerd in me swoon. Hence, my own personal case demonstrates how The Simpsons will more than likely satisfy simpleton kids and pretentious adolescents alike.

Anyway, without further Apu, here are the 10 most memorable Simpsons’ moments in no particular order:

1. ‘I’m On My Way’– Season 4, Episode 14: ‘Brother from the Same Planet’  

When asked to collect Bart by Marge, Homer says the immortal words of above. It subsequently turns out, however, that Homer is in fact watching TV while reading a caption from Wheel of Fortune which happens to say these words. Of course, Homer ignores Marge’s request, leaving Bart to wait for a lift in vain in the freezing cold rain. Not for the first or last time, this incident causes strife in the show’s central father-son relationship.

2. French-baiting – Season 8, Episode 2: ‘You Only Move Twice’

Not only is “You Only Move Twice” one of the best episode puns ever, it would also unquestionably figure pretty high in the pantheon of great Simpsons episodes. Moreover, I could write a whole separate blog dedicated to the top ten jokes about the French in the show, with ample “cheese-eating surrender monkeys” references and what not. Anyway, the following is my own favourite amongst many contenders:

Scorpio: By the way, Homer, what’s your least favourite country, Italy or France?

Homer: France.

Scorpio: (laughs) No one ever says Italy.

3. Troy McClure’s Endless Idiosyncrasies – Season 7, Episode 19: ‘A Fish Called Selma’

Troy McClure was undoubtedly one of the best Simpsons’ characters ever. And it’s not entirely a coincidence that the death of Phil Hartnell (the actor who voiced McClure) coincided with the show’s descent into irrelevance. From his hilarious infomercials advertising ludicrous self-help programmes (‘Smoke Yourself Thin’, ‘Get Confident Stupid’) to his inexorable incompetence (‘No, money down’), practically everything McClure said quickly became laugh-out loud funny and enabled the character to acquire cult status in his own right. The ‘A Fish Called Selma’ episode arguably constitutes the quintessence of McClurian witticisms. The following lines are my favourite from memory, as they hilariously highlight his shady relationship with fish and perfectly encapsulate the wry humour which lurks beneath the show’s cartoon veneer.

Marge: What are you talking about?

Homer: You know, his bizarre personal life. Those weird things they say he does down at the aquarium. Why I heard…

Homer: Oh, Homer, that’s just an urban legend, people don’t do that kind of thing with fish.

~

Louie: Troy McClure!? You said he was dead!

Fat Tony: No, what I said was he sleeps with the fishes! You see…

Louie: Uh, Tony, please, no. I just ate a whole plate of dingamagoo.

4. The Batman/Scientist Dichotomy – Season 4, Episode 12: ‘Marge vs. the Monorail’

A little known fact is that this episode was written solo by Conan O’Brien. He also wrote ‘Homer Goes to College’ (which we will come to later) amongst a few others. This is another vintage episode containing one of the show’s wittiest musical numbers (The Monorail song), one of its best visual gags (the suicide elevator) and one of its greatest minor characters in the strangely Arsene Wenger-esque Sebastian Cobb (“How fast are they going?” asks Marge. “Yaaaaow!” screeches Homer. “Judging by your husband’s cowardly scream, I’d say 180 miles an hour,” Cobb answers. Furthermore, consider this masterful, oft-quoted exchange:    

Marge: (over radio) Homer, I have someone who thinks he can help you.

Homer: Batman?

Marge: No he’s a scientist.

Homer: Batman’s a scientist?

5. Homer Nixon – Season 7, Episode 14: ‘Scenes from a Class Struggle in Springfield’

People always look at me strangely when I tell them this is my one of my favourite Simpsons moments ever. They tend to find it vaguely amusing rather than scream-inducingly so. Yet something that I can’t quite put my finger on causes it to touch the deepest reaches of my funny bone. Perhaps it is Burns’ exquisite incompetence and characteristic obstinacy, facets of his personality which contrast perfectly with Smithers’ all-too-self-aware and eager to please nature. In other words, Smithers somehow refrains from exposing Burns as the fusty old idiot that he is, despite his blatant old-man incompetence (see also, Grandpa Simpson’s brief tenure at Krusty Burger) and failure once again to remember Homer’s name.

Mr Burns: (while discussing Richard Nixon) I wonder if this Homer Nixon is any relation?

Smithers: It’s unlikely sir, they spell and pronounce their names differently.

Mr Burns: Bah! Schedule the game and I’ll ask him myself.

Richard Nixon: One of the many former US Presidents that the show caustically mocked.

6. Homer and Marge’s Prom Night – Season 2, Episode 12: ‘The Way We Was’

It is often said that the new episodes of the show are inadequate owing to their lack of emotional resonance with the viewer. Well, this is a perfect example of the earlier episodes’ expertise in incorporating this trait. Moreover, Homer getting the girl over the far more brainy and talented Arty is the epitome of what the show has always been about – celebrating/critiquing ordinary, good-hearted Americans who, for all their faults, deserve their life’s lot because they are honest (sort of), hard-working (sort of)and well-meaning (always). Below is a distinctly unfunny but lovingly heartfelt moment.

Young Homer: Marge I have problem. When you stop this car, I’m gonna hug you. And kiss you. And I’ll never be able to let you go.

Present-day Homer: And I never have.

Me: Awwww!

7. Homer’s Space Venture – Season 5, Episode 15: ‘Deep Space Homer’

At the risk of sounding repetitive, pretty much every scene in this episode is perfect. Highlights include James Taylor’s wonderful self-parody, Homer floating in space to a 2001-aping soundtrack and the ensuing the glorification of the inanimate carbon rod amidst the culmination of his space trip. However, below (another movie reference incidentally) is the clincher which seals its status within the realm of classic episodes.

Reporter: Uh, question for the barbecue chef. Don’t you think there is an inherent danger in sending underqualified civilians into space?

Homer: I’ll field this one. The only danger is if they send us to that terrible Planet of the Apes (pauses contemplatively). Wait a minute, Statue of Liberty – that was our planet! You maniacs! You blew it up! Damn you! Damn you all to hell!

8. The Numerous In-Jokes – Season 8, Episode 14: ‘The Itchy and Scratchy and Poochie Show’

The Simpsons, possibly more than any other show in the history of television, specialises in in-jokes. These include constant sly digs at Fox and Rupert Murdoch in particular (“You are watching Fox,” comes the sound from the TV screen. “We are watching Fox,” reply Bart and Lisa in unison.), ironic references to the programme itself (see ‘Behind the Laughter’) and the occasional slagging of the shows’ all-too-nerdy fans. This is exemplified in the character of Comic Book Guy and in the example below from the ‘Poochie’ episode, which is itself a subtly brilliant critique on the unforgiving nature of television.

Doug: In episode F209, when Itchy plays Scratchy’s skeleton like a xylophone, he strikes the same rib twice in succession, yet he produces two clearly different tones. I mean, what are we to believe, that this is some sort of a… (the nerds chuckle) a magic xylophone or something? Boy, I really hope somebody got fired for that blunder.

June: (with discomfort) Uh, well, uh…

Homer: I’ll field this one. Let me ask you a question. Why would a man whose shirt says “Genius at Work” spend all his time watching a children’s cartoon show?

Doug: (embarrassed pause) I withdraw my question. (Starts eating a candy bar).

8. Speaking of Itchy and Scratchy… – Season 6, Episode 4: ‘Itchy and Scratchy Land’

One of the show’s many recurring motifs (see also: Moe being prank-called, different opening credit couch sequences etc) and probably its best is the intensely violent Itchy and Scratchy cartoons. Practically all of these delightful vignettes are hilarious (I’ll give a special honourable mention to the one where Scratchy jumps out of a window to successfully recover his bodily organs only to land on a cactus and die), but the amalgamation of all this hilarity is the ‘Itchy and Scratchy Land’ episode. Again, there are so many moments to choose from (further honourable mentions to ‘possibli go wrong’ and ‘’I was just trying to entertain’), but the example below wins purely because I remember nearly killing myself with laughter whilst watching it first time around:

Tannoy: Attention Marge Simpson, we have arrested your son. Attention Marge Simpson, we have also arrested your older, balder, fatter son.

9. The Best Laid Plans of Homer – Season 5, Episode 3: ‘Homer Goes to College’

From the ‘Homer Goes to College’ episode as promised earlier, Homer’s scheme to have the nerds he has befriended save the college dean’s life ends with predictably disastrous consequences. In addition, the plot (which they successfully implement) to kidnap and inebriate the college mascot (Mr Piggy) accurately captures the ludicrous shenanigans which college students are often prone to adopting. The peak in humour occurs after the worse-for-wear pig is lifted into an awaiting helicopter as the mock seriousness of the situation is conveyed. The dean then explains to the nerds that he has no other alternative but to expel all of them.

Dean: I’m sorry boys, but that pig had some powerful friends.

Richard Nixon: (appearing out of nowhere) Oh you’ll pay, you’ll pay!!!

10. Sideshow Bob Perpetually Stepping on Rakes – Season 5, Episode 2: ‘Cape Feare’

Explanation is futile.

 Conclusion:

Thus, according to my calculations, The Simpsons is the greatest TV show ever (hardly a revelation), season 5 is the best season (with 3 entries in my list) and Homer is the show’s funniest character (as he features in almost all of the aforementioned moments).  

Anyway, as Bart might say: see you in the funny pages!

* In keeping with the sense of absurdity, here is video for all you Twin Peaks fans. It’s so funny that it deserves to be mentioned in the same blog as one dedicated to The Simpsons’ best bits. Spoiler alert btw.

* On a darker note, I recently went to the cinema to see Enter The Void and departed from the two-and-a-half-hour screening minus a soul. However, it’s one of those films that gets better every time you think about it and is well worth a look for anyone with a serious interest in cinema. Here are the near-infamous opening credits which only go some way towards preparing you for the stark intensity that follows.

 

 

 

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Technology and Me

 

An image synonymous with my childhood.

Technology hasn’t always been my enemy. There was a time, in fact, when we were very close friends. Although this romance only flourished intermittently, it had its fair share of memorable moments.

I am an inveterate night owl and this unsavoury tendency to stay awake late can perhaps be directly attributed to my early affection for technology.

I can recall two occasions in my life during which an onset of hyperventilation became so intense that I damn near passed out. The first time was when I got a toy fire truck for Christmas. The second time was when I got a Game Boy for (again) Christmas. The latter event was also my first experience with a vaguely hi-tech device.

To this day, I still blame my mild case of obsessive-compulsiveness on the endless hours I spent playing Tetris. My old football manager used to say that smoking his first cigarette was the biggest regret of his life. In a way, I have similar feelings towards this odd, brilliant, superfluously silly anomaly in which an array of strange-looking blocks descended towards the bottom of the screen, as the game-player haplessly tried to fit them into tiny spaces amid the increasingly frantic levels of speed at which the process unfolded.

In short, Tetris was surely a concept inspired by someone with far too much time (and drugs) on their hands. And more importantly, it was the start of a glorious but sporadic love affair.

The following Christmas, I was the envy of my male classmates (all four of them), as I acquired the much-coveted Super Nintendo. On this occasion, I refrained from hyperventilating so profusely.

Nonetheless, from what I recall, my retrieval of the elusive Nintendo ma-jig coincided with a Coke-fuelled period of my life in which I basically spent the entire time laughing and screaming with excitement amidst the ever-so-slightly crazy, ever-so-slightly elegant Super Mario Brothers soundtrack.

Some day, I will write a novel about the existentialism of Koopa Troopers based on these latent lingering childhood dreams/nightmares. And don’t get me started on the ineffably exquisite beauty of Princess Peach, or the sordid machinations regularly employed by the dastardly Bowser. I even caused my mother great anxiety by constantly speaking of my fondness for mushrooms.

However, I gradually grew bored with these magic mushrooms and games in general. There was nothing resplendent or addictive enough to fill the void in my life left by this flailing compulsion. I tried, Lord how I tried. But replacing Super Mario with Star Fox was like compensating for a lack of alcohol with copious caffeine – it just wasn’t quite the same. 

In addition, I also had acquiesced to attempt an endeavour far more arduous than completing ‘Chocolate Land’ (the Mario game’s most taxing level). Yes, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I was cheating on Super Mario with Tottenham Hotspur. This respective obsession has been a consistently harrowing, sporadically rewarding experience. It is one which I have persisted with to this day, despite the likes of Justin Edinburgh being the primary cause of my latter-day nervous disposition.

Supporting the perpetually useless Spurs was a full-time obsession which I slowly allowed to become a part-time hobby in order to remain sane. The starkest example of the perils of this tribulation occurred when Tottenham captain and all-round legend Sol Campbell disgracefully defected to arch-rivals Arsenal. Thus began my brief flirtation with atheism. 

Having finally assuaged my seemingly unshakeable addiction to supporting Spurs, I returned to the familiar comforts of gaming. I acquainted myself with the delights of the Nintendo 64, or the Nintendo “sixty-quadra” as the Spanish student spending the summer in my house referred to it (a description which I found hilarious for some reason – I was a weird child).

Undoubtedly, this period of my life constituted the peak of my gaming prowess. The contention can be proven by the simple fact that it was the only time when I made conscious and occasionally successful attempts at actually completing games. There was nothing like the allure of securing all 120 stars and being granted access to Yoshi at last, or finally killing that bastard Ganondorf and escaping into the sunrise with Zelda via Epona.

Goldeneye: The more mature player's game of choice.

As adolescence approached and various bodily mechanisms altered accordingly, so did my gaming proclivities. Essentially, it was out with the trivial, childish preoccupations of Super Mario and in with the worldly cynicism of James Bond and specifically, Goldeneye.

Forgetting the revolutionary multi-player settings that were the toast of a dozen Coke-fuelled parties (I just couldn’t resist using that joke twice) and in which my even dorkier friends continually beat me, the single player mode was highly underrated and equally compelling in its own right.

Finally completing the level known aptly as ‘Complex’ seemed like the greatest moment in my life at that point (I subsequently discovered girls and such). Moreover, discovering 008 was actually Trevelyan at ‘Statue’ was a moment which was executed so perfectly by the game’s makers that it sent shivers down my spine and remains as one of my greatest gaming memories.

Ditto Final Fantasy VII – the three disc extravaganza and gaming equivalent of Ulysses – and the wonderfully novelistic Final Fantasy series in general (I’m pretty sure I’ve attended plays with less dialogue than Final Fantasy IX). Also, Aeris’ song = Greatest. Game-related composition. Ever.

So what quashed my gaming infatuation? Perhaps it was the realisation that all those hours playing Championship Manager didn’t exactly aid my academic progress. Maybe it was the numerous films based on games which offensively assumed that the audience was dominated by brainless two-year-olds. Or it could’ve just been as a result of the change which growing older inevitably brings.

Alas I am now rather technologically deficient. Despite my internet addiction, I am invariably inept when it comes to using Macs, I barely know what an Ipad is and all these new-fangled mobile phones get more bloody confusing by the day. Moreover, I throw my proverbial hissy-fit on about a monthly basis, in conjunction with my beaten-down laptop refusing to work for a reason that is, of course, beyond me.

I guess technology and me can no longer co-exist in harmony. Oh well, we’ll always have Super Mario.

Finally, I have three songs/music videos as a reward for finishing this blog.

Elvis Costello’s ‘The Man Out Of Time’ perfectly sums up my predicament:

The excellent new unofficial video for one of the songs of the year, LCD Soundsystem’s ‘Home’, is also vaguely technology-related:

And finally, to celebrate the upcoming release of Belle & Sebastian’s new album, I have embedded their best song (in my humble opinion) below:

Blog Post Over.

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For Want of a Better Title

The internet: As depicted in South Park.

First off, let me just say that I was originally intent on writing an article entitled: “10 Reasons why Cosmo Landesman is the Greatest Film Critic Going.” However, I soon remembered that The Times no longer offer online content free of charge, leaving me unable to quote this most able of film critic’s hilariously vitriolic rants. So THANK YOU RUPERT MURDOCH!!!

Sorry, I just had to get that out of my system.

Anyhow, last week I wrote about fantasy football addiction. This week, I’m writing about internet addiction. I have consequently left myself open to the criticism that I am addicted to addiction. Hence, this piece shall now be called: “10 Signs of Internet Addiction.” The blog is vaguely relevant for a change, given that a splendid-sounding new book is on the brink of being released, entitled: “The Shallows: How the Internet is Changing the Way We Think, Read and Remember” (by Nicholas Carr). The signs in question are as follows:

  1. Compulsively checking e-mails. E.g. Oh my God, I haven’t checked my emails in like, 5 minutes. Maybe Martin Scorsese has finally gotten back to me about that script I sent him. Maybe the UCD hierarchy have unleashed their latest metaphor for watching paint dry. Maybe that Poker site I’ve relentlessly told to stop spamming me has actually stopped spamming me.
  2. Gchatting ad nauseaum. “So, how was your day?” “It was good. How was yours?” “It was also good.” “What’s your favourite colour?” “Red.” “Really? Mine’s orange.” This type of correspondence I find strangely compelling. I guess it’s just subconscious preparation for the black hole of eternal nothingness that awaits me in the next life.
  3. Spending too much time on Facebook. Wow, my hair appears slightly messier in that picture than it was in last one. Oh my God, that guy I was briefly introduced to last night and will definitely never see again wants to be friends with me. I feel so validated. Ooh look, another link to another blog in which I can waste another five minutes of my life reading.
  4. Staying up until midnight so you can check out the next day’s football transfer gossip on the BBC Sport website. Okay, maybe that’s just me.
  5. Watching YouTube videos when you really should be working. Admittedly I’ve already taken several breaks to look at YouTube while writing this very blog. I can’t help it; obscure hip hop videos, classic David Lettermen shows and random Margaret Thatcher speeches are just too damn addictive.
  6. Accidentally writing essays in internet speak/Twitter update style. Lol cant wait 2 c wot King Lear does next. Goneril and Reagan r such bitches. I luv Cordelia tho wot a hottie.
  7. Failing to get away from it all. Going on holiday to escape the stresses of work/a failing relationship only to find yourself constantly Skype-ing your work colleague/loved one, spending an excessive amount of time explaining how to work the photocopier, or clarifying that when you said you had a crush on Zooey Deschanel, you only meant it in a kind of ha-ha, sardonic, something-to-talk-about-at-lunch kind of way.  
  8. Chronic Laziness. Waking up with an irresistible urge to spend the entire day doing nothing other than watching online poker, eating gone-off spaghetti hoops and drinking tea as if it were a nervous habit.
  9. Chronic Dementia. Suffering a nervous breakdown/being unable to function in the most basic ways imaginable/weeping uncontrollably whenever you’re internet connection is down. You just lose your whole goddamn raison d’être. 
  10. Being unable to concentrate on anything for more than two seconds. Before the internet, people thought television was dumbing us down. Now, Fair City seems indistinguishable from an Ingmar Bergman drama. The ability to read a book from cover to cover will soon be sole requirement for graduating from Harvard. And attempting to converse with someone for longer than a minute will lead to you being regarded as freakish and utterly lacking in social intelligence.

Fair City: Not exactly Ingmar Bergman. Or is it?

Conclusion:                                                                                                    

The internet is vile. However, all resistance is futile, as any attempts at concerted rebellion will be relentlessly disrupted by one of the numerous distractions pervading the net (as Sandra Bullock likes to call it). And as Oscar Wilde once proclaimed (according to Metropolis): “The only way to get rid of temptation is to yield to it.” Or “fuck it,” as that other personal hero of mine, The Dude, was liable to say – the internet is here to stay and idiosyncratic personal behaviour is just one of the many unavoidable consequences.    

* Pitchfork (i.e. the only music site I can be bothered reading) recently produced a list of their 50 greatest music videos of the 1990s. Here is my own favourite video of that decade:

It finished a highly creditable 8th in the aforementioned list.

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