I Hope It Was A Nice Package, D. Bianco

Did I break a mirror on Sunday? Or accidentally kill a fairy?

Yesterday, I cancelled my normal office hours. This was partly due to not wanting to speak or see anybody ever again, but mostly it was because of a nasty sore throat which made it very hard to talk. So I rescheduled the time for this morning, as I thought (correctly) that I would be feeling better by then.

As I walked into my office, I saw the flashing voicemail light on my phone. I don't think I've spoken at length about my voicemail (and I'm sure you're all devastated by this lack of knowledge); my inbox seems to receive many messages that aren't meant for me. These come in two types: there's the short *click* as the person ringing realises that they've dialed the wrong number, and there's people who leave messages on subjects as disparate as "wanting to restart the mailserver" and wanting me to "fix the guttering on the Greenlaw building". One day, I'm going to go over to Greenlaw and start working on that guttering. They did seem rather anxious. Perhaps it's a trap; when I get there, I'll find myself confronted with a zombie workforce, all led to their doom by the odd phonecalls that the Zombie-Master of Greenlaw was leaving, all to build up a vast undead army which will rise up and defeat—

Oh. Sorry, I don't get out much.

Anyway, there was a message for me. At first, it sounded like another crossed wire, so I only paid cursory attention (getting the location of the zombie army's fortress for when the heroes have to go on a suicidal mission to save the Earth. Or waiting for the computer to boot up). It was somebody from the accounts department in the Computer Science building, wanting to know about some package which was sent in December, one which Kevin Jeffay—

(The professor who taught the course I was assisting last year. And I've suddenly become aware that this message is meant for me)

—has no idea why I sent the package, so could I come and see them about it?

I have no idea what they're talking about, but I go upstairs with a sinking feeling. I had thought this week couldn't get worse. But then they hand me an invoice from FedEx. They're asking for $141.50 for a package I apparently sent on the 19th of December, from my house to a D. Bianco, somewhere in New Jersey. At this point, I'm starting to think that joining the Greenlaw Zombie Army might not be such a bad idea. I don't even know anybody in New Jersey! I go back to my office with the invoice and start checking things out on the FedEx website. Which helpfully tells me that I sent the package, and that it arrived in NJ on the 23rd of December. But all I sent was the exam papers. Nothing else. Sure, I joked about how I had access to the UNC FedEx account, but I would never betray their trust in me by using the number for my own purposes. Who is D. Bianco? I'm becoming paranoid by this time, searching the Internet to try and find out something about this person, asking Bonnie if she knows anything (terribly sorry about that, by the way; I knew you'd probably be there to answer the mail, and I couldn't rely on anyone else). But I find nothing.

I eventually go back upstairs and tell them I know nothing about it. At all. They don't seem all that bothered, to be completely honest; but I feel terrible. And completely guilty. Even though I didn't send the package, or have anything to do with it, I must have done something which allowed this to happen. I've written an apology to Professor Jeffay, as I presume that this incident will reflect badly on him, considering he was the one who gave me access to the account number. I wish I knew what happened.

The week can end right now, as far as I'm concerned. I don't want to know just how bad Saturday and Sunday have to be in to top this. I imagine it'll probably involve a visit from Homeland Security and some rubber gloves.

Oh, and stop phoning me about credit cards. I have one. I'm not going to buy another. Besides, it's interferring with the zombie signals from Greenlaw...

currently playing: Slumber-Party - Fantasy

Warning: Self-Pitying Post Ahead

I keep trying to look on the positive side: although it took half-an-hour of staring at the phone, I managed to overcome my shyness and actually call her.

Which is more like a positive edge on a double-sided billboard of despair than a side, but I suppose it's marginally better than nothing. Marginally.

And, just to make things worse, I have this awful feeling that I ended the conversation rather impolitely. Not intentionally, obviously. She was being so nice after she had to let me down gently, wanting to know what I was getting up to and so on, but my brain was no longer able to form coherent sentences. So in order to save myself from total humiliation, I told her that I had to go (or something like that - my memory of the conversation is already becoming hazy), and that was the end of that. Of course, I'll probably never see her again; I can't apologise, so I feel quite bad about that.

The moral of the story? At the moment, I'm leaning towards "never trust anything when alcohol is involved". Or "don't leave it four days next time, idiot." The last one has an air of unwarranted optimism.

Now I'm going to return to my iTunes playlist of "The Most Depressing Songs In The World...Ever!" (with a running time of seven hours, fact fans)

currently playing: Kenickie - And That's Why

Train In Vain

I guess I'm just not John Cusack.

Broadcasting Live From The Palace of Delights

Well, nobody sent me any tracklistings, so I came up with two myself. The first is Standard Bearers:
  1. Oasis - Live Forever
  2. Kenickie - In Your Car
  3. Pulp - Babies
  4. Suede - Trash
  5. Supergrass - Richard III
  6. Blur - The Universal
  7. Babybird - Goodnight
  8. Echobelly - Great Things
  9. Manic Street Preachers - A Design For Lif
  10. Sleeper - Lie Detector
  11. Longpigs - Lost Myself
  12. McAlmont And Butler - Yes
  13. New Order - 1963 ('95 Arthur Baker Mix)
  14. Mansun - She Makes My Nose Bleed
  15. Bluetones - Slight Return
  16. The Charlatans - One To Another
  17. Ash - Girl from Mars
  18. Saint Etienne - He's On The Phone
  19. Super Furry Animals - If You Don't Want Me to Destroy You
  20. Echo & The Bunnymen - Nothing Lasts Forever

As you can see, there's nothing surprising in that CD. The second one is a little more interesting. Forgiven, Not Forgotten:

  1. The Auteurs - Lenny Valentino
  2. Alisha's Attic - I Am, I Feel
  3. Black Grape - Kelly's Heroes
  4. Charlie's Angels - It's Never Gonna Happen To Me
  5. Gorky's Zygotic Mynci - Patio Song
  6. Confetti - Who's Big And Clever Now?
  7. The Divine Comedy - Something For The Weekend
  8. Gene - Olympian
  9. Dubstar - Stars
  10. Dodgy - Staying Out For The Summer
  11. China Drum - Wuthering Heights
  12. Charlie's Angels - Things And More Things
  13. Dweeb - Scooby Doo
  14. The Sundays - Summertime
  15. Chest - Better Now
  16. theaudience - You And Me On The Run
  17. The One World Orchestra - The Magnificent
  18. Ultrasound - Floodlit World

Feel free to indulge in mockery down below in the comment section. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to go and reenact the telephone scene from Say Anything...

currently playing: The Clash - Street Parade

An Announcement

The Criterion Edition of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas is a thing of beauty.

That is all.

currently playing: The New Pornographers - Mass Romantic

On And On

Really, I have nothing to say today. It was sunny and warm. Er, and I walked in a big circle.

Oooh. Safari has tabs.

Magnetic Poetry for MacOS X

Tomorrow's Buffy is one of the funniest episodes ever screened. Bonnie will be sorry for mocking poor Ms. Espenson...

Warner Bros. considering suing The White Strips for lifting lyrics from Citizen Kane. John Peel heard to be cackling quietly...

Apparently, a source of cruel and unusual entertainment can be found on Sky channel 647, home to Bid-Up TV. Watch Peter Simon have a nervous breakdown in real-time!

North Korea fires missile into Sea of Japan; America responds by calling for the liberation of the Iraqi people.

Epic Comics is coming back, in what seems like an attempt to prevent any on-line comic news service from being able to report on Marvel ever again.

Cheers and Homicide: Life On The Streets to be released on DVD. MGM release The Unforgiven in May, making my bootleg obsolete (but still no sign of How To Steal A Million, Two For The Road or The Nun's Story. Grr)

Terror Alert Level: Oh My God, I Can't Take It Anymore, I'm Just Going To Curl Up Into A Ball Until I Wake Up From This Nightmare:

Why is it that after I have a good time doing something, I spend the next few days depressed?

currently playing: Cat Power - Good Woman

What Exactly Was In The Kool-Aid, Anyway?

I'm in the back seat of a car, heading to Raleigh with one hour of Saturday remaining. I was invited to a party by my next-door neighbour, Sona. Having excused myself from far too many of these things in the past few months, I felt that I should probably go along (although I changed my mind about five times during the day, but nevermind). One of my main concerns was the possibility of losing my ride and being stranded in Raleigh; yes, I think about things far too much. And funnily enough, I did lose my ride. But more on that later...

Even now, I'm still a little unsure what the party was supposed to be celebrating; I think it was Mardi Gras, but the impression I got was that it was just something Sona wanted to do, and he only needed the flimsiest excuse to justify the gathering.

Anyway, after getting lost in Raleigh, we eventually made it to the house. My first proper American house since arriving here in August! Yes, I actually keep track of milestones like that. And people accuse me of having no life. Pah to them, I say. Once again, there was much flouting of the law, with a beer keg and a strange Kool-Aid concoction. After reaffirming my hatred for beer, I settled on the mystery Kool-Aid, which worryingly had no taste of alcohol at all. Somebody mentioned that it was mixed with Everclear. I have no idea what that is; let's go Googling!

Everclear is 95% pure grain alcohol, odorless, tasteless, and very potent.

Ah. Well, that might explain a few things, I suppose. Having taken care of the drink, I decided to use Ian's Patented Party Survival technique: find a few people that you know, sit down, and don't move until it's time to go home. I know several of you have seen this masterplan in action many times. Did I mention that I'm shy? To the point of almost being a social misfit? I'm just really uncomfortable at parties. But Sona asked me to come, so I put on a brave face.

Twenty minutes or so pass, and the person sitting in the chair next to me gets up and disappears somewhere. Out of nowhere, a girl swoops down on the chair, and starts talking to me. For about an hour. Her first question is what university do I go to, and her eyes light up when I say UNC. Then there follows a long, rambling, slightly drunken conversation about Britain, war in Iraq, where she works, my TA horror stories, and many other things. During the course of this conversation, my ride disappears, but he lets me know that he's organised another way for me to get home. Catherine overhears this, and decides that I can ride home with her friends, and goes off to find them. She comes back all apologetic; there's no room in the car for another person. I tell her not to worry, as something has been arranged (of course, at this point, I have no idea who is taking me home, or when, but I'm not exactly caring much, either). We carry on talking for another half-hour or so, and then she has to go. I am given a hug, introduced to her friends, and then she leaves.

Shortly after, I find out that I'm going home with two people called Matt and Sarah. Who I've never actually met before. But that doesn't seem to matter too much, as they seem to know all about me. And they want to know every detail of what happened, as apparently they'd been watching all evening (which is less creepy than it sounds in print - the living room wasn't all that big...). I'm chastised for not getting her phone number, but by the time we've made it back to Chapel Hill, they've managed to devise a plan to get around that (let's just say that the UNC directory system is easy to abuse). I'm given lots of encouragement, and then they take me to the Cosmic Cantina for a 3am meal. Bonus feature: an Irishman and Indian woman having an argument over English colonisation. An interesting discussion, to say the least.

I get home at 4am. And wake up at 7am, as normal. Even grain alcohol doesn't mess up my body clock...

currently playing: The Delgadoes - Mr. Blue Sky

Motown Calling

The high point of Standing In The Shadows of Motown occurs during a discussion in the Detroit theatre where the Funk Brothers are playing their reunion concerts. What was responsible for the Motown sound? Was it the arrangers? The producers? The singers? The acoustics of Studio A? The band simply goes to their instruments. First the drums kick in, then the bass, then lead guitar, and finally the piano and percussion. And then there's no need for any more discussion.

Standing In The Shadows of Motown is a documentary focussing on the career of the Funk Brothers, the backing band on most of Tamla Motown's releases during the 1960s. They were responsible for hits such as I Heard It Through The Grapevine, What Becomes of The Brokenhearted, Jimmy Mack, Reach Out (I'll Be There), and hundreds of others. Despite this, hardly anybody knows who they were. The film tells the story of the group, but also contains footage from their reunion concert in Detroit. Sadly, most of the Motown acts who were approached either declined or were too ill to participate; instead we get a mix of contempoary artists (Ben Harper, Joan Osbourne, etc.), Chaka Khan, and the demurely-dressed Bootsy Collins.

I would have liked to have seen more of the documentary side of things, as at times it seems as if the film was glossing over points far too quickly (we're never told exactly why Motown left Detroit, for example), but a major aspect of the film is that these guys can still play, so I suppose we needed all the present-day performances (plus, as a bonus extra, you get to see what Bootsy Collins wears for those 'casual' occasions...). Hopefully, the upcoming DVD will rectify this slight flaw. Otherwise, this is a fascinating look at the most successful band in music history.

What really surprised me was the lack of bitterness. From the final credits, it's clear that they worked on almost every classic Motown song from the late 1950s until the start of the 1970s. When they were dumped by their record label, and left to rot in obscurity. But there's no anger in their stories of the past; they just celebrate the good times, happy that their story is being told at last.

It's a period in music history that I know very little about. I'd like to find out more, but I'm not sure where to start. If you're interested in other music from the 1960s, for example The Beatles or Bob Dylan, it's fairly easy; you buy Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Heart's Club Band, or Bringing It Back Home, and from there you go on to buy the other albums. But there doesn't seem to be an equivalent for the Motown acts. I can name tens of albums from that era, but I don't know the name of any Temptations album. Was Motown really just a singles outfit, meaning that there's no point tracking down obscure releases?

Martha Reeves & The Vandellas - (Love Is Like a) Heatwave

Standing On David Gale

If someone knows what The Life of David Gale was trying to communicate during its two-hour running time, please let me know.

SPOILERS

The plot is fairly simple; David Gale (Kevin Spacey), an anti-death penalty campaigner is going to be executed for murder on Friday. Bitsey Bloom (Kate Winslet) has five days to prove his innocence, based on three two-hour interviews with Gale, and what her investigative skills can uncover, with the film's narrative splitting between flashbacks representing the interviews and the increasingly desperate attempt to save Gale's life. To help the audience understand the switching, we get awful swirling camera effects and amateur-looking montage sequences in transitions.

As I've said, I really don't understand what the film is trying to say. Is it, as the marketing seems to indicate, an anti-death penalty film? If so, it's a ham-fisted attempt at best; the plan behind the framing of Gale is completely ludicrous, and the final reveal makes it even more so.

Kevin Spacey can do this type of part in his sleep by now, and turns in a decent performance, but nothing outstanding. Kate Winslet is hampered by the dual indignities of having to affect an American accent and dyeing her hair blonde (okay, so that might just be me - and, hey, her accent isn't that bad), but she acquits herself quite well, despite the odd clunky moment that the script throws up. The rest of the cast is competent, but nothing outstanding.

In the end, it just seems very confused. I'm trying not to give any too many details, especially about the ending, but too many parts of the framing plan, supposedly executed by intelligent people (the film goes to great lengths to remind of this), rely on complete chance, or are simply too far-fetched to maintain credibility in the eyes of the audience. As this is an Alan Parker film, I'm expecting Empire to give it wide coverage when it comes out in the UK, so maybe he'll explain things there...

The trailer for Bruce Almighty makes me want to wipe out the human race.

currently playing: Black Box Recorder - Uptown Top Ranking

Civilisation At Last!

Look at that goodness.

I'll think I'll have one—WHAT WAS THAT? The fondant has separated into a clear gel? "Mfd. in England for Hershey Foods"? Is there a special American section in Bournville where they produce vile versions of Cadbury's chocolate? A plan to keep the good stuff inside the border? I'm not against this in principle, but there needs to be a secret handshake or special marking, so UK residents abroad are warned of the dangers.

BOOM BOOM BOOM!

currently playing: Dexy's Midnight Runners - Let's Make This Precious