Piece from “Future Returns” by Dan Rawlings, 20-21 Gallery, Scunthorpe, 12/06/2021
This edition of the newsletter got away from me somewhat. I’d written 3,000-or-so words mostly on the topic of cynicism: defending it as a worldview (one which is not, in my opinion and as it is often mistaken for, the same as pessimism or nihilism), talking about it with regards to what I think of self-help books, talking about Anthony Bourdain and his public persona (especially post-death) and that cause célèbre documentary, how the ongoing wearing of masks has either emboldened me to me more confident when dealing with rude members of the public (or has perhaps just made me ruder). The subject became unwieldly; I may return to it, and what I wrote, at a later date, with a clearer head and a more assured hand. People I know and love are struggling at the moment, and the world continues to be Quite Shit, and I hadn’t really the heart to indulge on how we’re exactly right to expect everything is shit, even if my overall argument was of the existentialist/absurdist bent: if everything is shit, then it’s up to us to make the good. Instead, this month’s newsletter is just going to be some things I think are good. Hope that’s okay.
Some things I have been reading
- I’ve been making my way through Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö’s series, commonly known as the Martin Beck novels but more accurately under their original subtitle of “The Story of a Crime”: ten standalone, superbly written crime novels with a brilliantly realised ensemble cast (one of the other reasons I don’t like when they’re referred to as the “Beck books”; and besides, Lennart Kollberg is the thinking man’s favoured cast member) which also serve as a powerful, trenchant and convincing Marxist critique of then-contemporary Swedish society, neoliberal rule and police corruption without ever being hectoring, or anything less than thoroughly entertaining
- The Ringer’s oral history of Terminator 2, which includes this transcendent image of James Cameron’s writing process: “I remember sitting there once, high on E, writing notes for Terminator, and I was struck by Sting’s song, that ‘I hope the Russians love their children too.’ And I thought, ‘You know what? The idea of a nuclear war is just so antithetical to life itself.’ That’s where the kid came from.” The absolute mad lad, etc
- The Paris Review published some early love letters sent by Shirley Jackson to her future (shit of a) husband, Stanley Edgar Hyman, and regardless of your opinions on publishing the romantic correspondences of a dead person (I bought and read a collection of Kathy Acker and Mackenzie Wark’s amorous emails, but at least I felt bad about it and gave it away after), they’re great
- Lucy Schiller’s essay “The Visitor: Wizards of Loneliness” is a wonderful, discursive meander through solitude, its romantic-depressive connotations, and the tragicomic Comedy Central mockumentary series Nathan for You
Some things I have been watching
- Hopefully it’s not too controversial to suggest that Bob Rafelson’s Five Easy Pieces and The King of Marvin Gardens are bonafide masterpieces, because I watched them back-to-back the other night and they are. Two very different, but related, films about (as Kent Jones puts it in his elegant essay about the earlier film) “men, sometimes women, who refused to settle on a place, a role, a ‘stable’ identity…discontented with the choices offered to them…acutely aware of their discontent, and they were trying to find a way to act on that awareness.”
- I’ve watched this very silly Joel Haver sketch a half dozen times in the past fortnight
- A busker drumming along to Aphex Twin
- Wanting to keep abreast of current trends, I’m finally watching the first season of Succession, Jesse Armstrong’s (Peep Show, The Thick of It, Fresh Meat) HBO dramedy about a vicious family of privileged backstabbers who are definitely not based on the Murdoch family, its cast even more gleefully sociopathic and self-serving than…well, most of the other characters Armstrong has written
- The National Theatre’s adaptation of Hirokazu Kore-eda’s film After Life, about the waystation between life and death were the recently deceased have to pick one significant, peaceful memory to be reconstructed and exist in forever. I weirdly hadn’t thought about what my memory would be when I watched the film a couple of years ago, and I’ve now forgotten the one I thought of while watching the play. Anyway, it was quite good!
- After seeing the wonderful Summer of Soul at Rich Mix I’ve been listening to a lot of the artists featured. I’m particularly fond of this Stevie Wonder performance from German TV in the seventies, which ends with a crackerjack rendition of “He’s Misstra Know It All”, my fave.
Wot I’ve done this month
- I’m continuing to trundle along with Cinebloc, my hate-fuelled movie blog, with gags at the expense of the bad Loki TV show, Amazon’s evil, and the unnecessary Space Jam sequel’s equally ill-judged use of the likenesses of dead actors
- I probably didn’t get enough sleep
- Went on holiday, which is where I took all the photos in this edition!
- I rebooked my second dose of the Moderna vaccine, which I’ll now be getting this coming Monday rather than the night of my work social do/the day before my first gig in nearly two years
Some things I have been listening to
- “Raw Meat Radio” is a brilliant, three hour retrospective of Chris Morris’s radio work (which I’m far less au fait with than his film and TV stuff), originally produced for BBC Radio 4 Extra, and it’s full of gems
- Having loved his (highly controversial) episode of “Desert Island Discs,” I listened to basically every episode of Alexei Sayle’s podcast this month; very angry, very funny, some good kicks in at King Cop Keith Starmer, and his barely-disguised antagonism to the podcast format in the age of highly-polished celebrity podcasts is a delight
- Emma-Jean Thackray’s debut album, Yellow, is a wonderfully inventive trippy work of psychedelic contemporary British jazz, a genre I am in no way an authority in, but I do know I like this!
- I’ve been working my way through Australian comedy troupe Aunty Donna’s extensive archive of online sketches and shows since their Netflix series debuted, but only just got round to trying their podcast; the episode “Rusty Sheep Stations” is a textbook example of my favourite genre of comedy podcast episode, where the premise is so thin as to be entirely waylaid by a minor technical hitch which throws the whole thing into chaos, with the performer in the straight man role barely containing their genuine distress at trying to get things back on track while their fellow cast members deliberately wind them up
- Somehow I never realised that the main riff from Sleigh Bells’ “Rill Rill” is a Funkadelic sample
The Cheese Society, Lincoln, 16/06/2021
- Hollow Ship - “Take Off”
- Paul McCartney and Stevie Wonder - “What’s That You’re Up To?”
- bôa - “Duvet”
- The Flaming Lips - “Okay I’ll Admit I Really Don’t Understand”
- Emma-Jean Thackray - “Venus”
- Summer Camp - “I Want You”
- Louie Zong - “Good Morels”
- Yard Act - “Fixer Upper”
- Robert Wyatt - “Pigs…(In There)”
- Grover Washington Jr - “Passion Flower”
- Mazzy Star - “Fade Into You”
- Beck - “Jack-Ass”
Miscellaneous internet link round up
That’s all I’ve got. Take care of yourselves, be kind, and I’ll see you in September.