Wednesday, 11 September 2019

RIP Daniel Johnston




I’ve just now found out that the Vincent Van Gogh of underground rock & roll, the late great Daniel Johnston, has died, apparently of a heart attack.

The man had been a grotesque physical and mental wreck for decades, and yet it somehow still seems very sudden and unexpected.

He first came to public attention in the early 1990s, at the height of grunge, and in the middle of all that whining, self-pitying and mumbling angst, Johnston stood out as the real deal, a genuinely schizophrenic, regularly institutionalized tortured poet struggling to cope with the voices in his head whilst also writing the most beautiful, wide-eyed, open-hearted, painfully honest songs perhaps ever penned, and drawing endless pictures of an Hieronymus Bosch-like hellscape, peopled with superheroes and impossible creatures of his own invention.

The musical well - along with his singing voice - dried up in his final couple of decades, most likely because of all the very heavy medication and just plain old physical deterioration, but the songs he recorded at home in anonymity throughout the 80s are now rightfully treasured among those who know as scratchy classics comparable to all the great, mysterious blues recordings from the 1920s and 30s: unique historical recordings of an authentic American artistic voice.

There’s a lot to his story, too much to try go into here, but his music has been a touchstone of truth in my life, and it means a great deal to me that he existed and made what he made. No-one ever sung truer.

So rest in peace, Daniel, and thank you.




Monday, 22 April 2019

Jordan Peterson explains the Post-Modernism/ Neo-Marxism connection to Slavoj Žižek

People always go after Peterson for his lumping these two, seemingly disparate movements together, but this is the best and simplest stating of his position I’ve seen.


Tuesday, 26 March 2019

RIP Scott Walker


So I’ve just found out that Scott Walker, one of the greatest, most influential, and uncompromising artists in all of pop music, has died at the age of 76. I guess that’s a decent innings but it still feels a blow, and too soon. It felt like he still had a lot more in him.

The newspaper obituaries all seem to be dwelling on his early mainstream success back in the 1960s with the Walker Brothers, with hits like ‘Make It Easy On Yourself’, ‘My Ship Is Coming In’, and especially the utterly magnificent ‘The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore’:



And that's to be expected, but the truth is, his most important work came later, with a long solo career that paid no attention at all to chart success or sales, or his movie star good looks, but instead fiercely followed his own obsessive, idiosyncratic avant-garde path into unknown realms, with deeply serious work that has no real contemporaries or precedent in the English speaking music world, and more easily discerned roots in French and German theatre and cabaret, as well as Russian writers of the past.


To me, more than anything, he resembles one of the great French film directors, like Bresson, or Cocteau, or Renoir, if they had instead chosen to work only in song. And like those great artists, the best of what he made will never age or go out of fashion, but still be encountered with new eyes and treasured a hundred years from now.




Wednesday, 23 January 2019

That idiotic Gillette ad may have turned the tide on ‘toxic masculinity’

Razor blade commercials aren’t supposed to make national headlines, but these aren’t ordinary times. Last week’s Gillette commercial playing on the #MeToo movement became the latest piece of corporate messaging to berate and belittle men.

The commercial implored men to “be better,” while juxtaposing scenes of boys wrestling at a cookout, bullies menacingly chasing a boy down the street, men catcalling women and making lewd jokes and generally acting like brutes.

Many Americans were angry, not least men, whom the commercial framed as universal aggressors and rapists.

Fans claimed that those who were upset by the Gillette ad should be asking themselves why. The implication was that, if you didn’t like being lectured by a company trying to sell you razors, it must mean that you are likely the bully and sexual assaulter the ad makers had in mind when they made the commercial.

Well, I’m a woman, and I hated the commercial, because I’m tired of the boy-bashing that has become all too common on our screens and in our world.

“It’s just an ad!” doesn’t fly. Would women shrug off “just an ad” that treated femininity as something inherently bad and in need of modification? They wouldn’t. Women accept far less criticism from advertisements than men do.

In 2015, a company called Protein World released an ad for a diet supplement featuring a fit model in a bikini and the words: “Are You Beach Body Ready?” The backlash was swift. The ad was defaced again and again in the NYC subways, and the city of London went so far as to ban “body-shaming” ads on the Underground.

If there was a moment in time when women collectively decided that they would no longer stand for being body-shamed, that was it.

Similarly, the response to the Gillette ad feels like a dam breaking. This might be the moment when men have finally had enough.

Men are constantly barraged with criticism. “Men are the worst” has gotten old. The word masculinity is only preceded by the word “toxic” these days.

Meanwhile, men have been on a downward trajectory for some time now. Fewer men go to college, more men commit suicide, more men live at home with their parents well into adulthood.

Men take the most dangerous jobs, they fight and die in our wars, yet they are told nonstop that they are terrible, and the future isn’t for them. They are expected to shrug it off because, well, they are men.

If men are traditionally stoic and impervious to criticism, and we like them that way, then the idea that men can take the shots simply because they are strong and manly flies in the face of the commercial — which bashes male stoicism.

Gillette implores men to be better because kids are watching. Yes, kids are watching men portrayed as bumbling idiots in so many ads and as violent misogynists in this one.

The worst part of the commercial is the group of men standing in a row over their grills robotically repeating “Boys will be boys.” The message is that men are all the same. They don’t think for themselves, and they excuse bad behavior in each other. They’re grilling just like your husband, father, brother — doing this activity they enjoy while simultaneously creating bad men out of their sons.

“We expected debate,” Pankaj Bhalla, Gillette’s North America brand director, told CNN Business. “Actually, a discussion is necessary. If we don’t discuss and don’t talk about it, I don’t think real change will happen.”

No, what we need is to stop insulting men. We can’t elevate women by knocking men down. Some men will nod along with ads that insult them, but, in general, these companies are offending men and doing damage to their own stated cause. On the Gillette YouTube channel, the commercial has garnered more than double the number of “dislikes” than “likes.”

This wasn’t a win for the company.

“Isn’t it time we stopped excusing bad behavior?” Gillette asked in the tweet introducing the commercial. Yes, it is. And that includes the bad behavior of corporate salesmen treating half of the population as monsters, all to sell a product targeted at precisely that segment of Americans.

Monday, 21 January 2019