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.


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.


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

Salvaging The Past

I imagine this will fail miserably, as only about five people read this thing regularly, but anyway…

Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to compile an 80-minute CD, themed around the Britpop Era.

The rules:

  • For the purposes of this CD, a song is classified as Britpop if it was released by a British band during the period 16/11/1993 (release of Blur's Modern Life Is Rubbish) through to 21/08/1997 (Oasis's Be Here Now). This allows you to include many bands that were never classified as Britpop. You may be asked for justification.
  • A band can appear no more than twice on the compilation; furthermore, if you do have two tracks from the same band, they must be from different albums or singles (this is to prevent Ian from sticking 20 Kenickie songs on a CD and declaring victory)
  • The inclusion of Ocean Colour Scene, Northern Uproar, or Kula Shaker will be rightly mocked.

Deadline is a week from today. Send the list to my email, or post below. If you can't be bothered to create a whole disc, then track suggestions will be welcomed in the comment section.

currently playing: Gene - Don’t Let Me Down

Dangers of The Internet

There you are, hunched over the keyboard, and the thought pops into your head. You’ve never gone on a web search for Saint Etienne. Less than an hour later, you’re downloading obscure Japanese releases and scouring websites for information on fan-club only albums. You’ve found live sessions, discovered that the US version of Tiger Bay is completely different from the original UK one, and been surprised to find out that Sarah Cracknell doesn’t sing on Only Love Can Break Your Heart.

It's a sickness. And there's no cure.

By chance, I read the UNC newsgroups today. Which was good, because they were promoting a Creative Commons talk in Wilson Library that was going to take place this afternoon. I had read about most of the things discussed at the lecture, but it was nice to actually meet somebody behind the effort. The new idea of bringing back the Founders' Copyright seems interesting, and it's great to see that O'Reilly is backing the effort.

currently playing: Yeah Yeah Yeahs - Maps

She's The One

It’s the electric thrill the rips through my spine every time Sarah Cracknell sings the chorus of Nothing Can Stop Us:

I’ve never felt so good, I’ve never felt so strong, Nothing can stop us now! (no no, no no)

The song turns up on far too many of my compilations, even though I often get the title wrong, adding the 'now' (I would link to evidence to the latest example of this, but I won't for fear of incriminating myself). Is it a declaration that nothing can stop us anymore, or that we are invincible only for this moment?

Once again, not a lot to talk about today. The window in my office appears to be slightly broken and refuses to shut properly. Not useful when it's below freezing outside. I decided to cut my office hours short by fifteen minutes and find somewhere offering warmth.

I have the tax forms of DOOM. They don’t look all that scary, after a quick glance, but I’m sure there’s a lurking horror somewhere between lines 1023 and 1320…

currently playing: R.E.M. - Texarkana

Snow Again

Everybody got President’s Day off after all. I celebrated by watching Patton. Must remember to get some happy films every now and again.

  1. Beth Orton - I Wish I Never Saw The Sunshine
  2. Confetti - It's Kinda Funny
  3. Aimee Mann - Wise Up
  4. Cat Power - Good Woman
  5. Gene - Olympian
  6. Radiohead - Exit Music (For A Film)
  7. The Beat - Save It For Later
  8. Jeff Buckley - Hallelujah
  9. Kate Rusby - I Wish
  10. Kenickie - Acetone
  11. Yo La Tengo - Our Way To Fall
  12. Joy Divison - Love Will Tear Us Apart
  13. Low - Point of Disgust
  14. Sleater-Kinney - A Quarter To Three
  15. Spiritualized - Cop Shoot Cop

I have Cat Power tickets!

currently playing: Ash - A Life Less Ordinary


If yesterday’s entry seemed a little confused, don’t worry — half of it is so cryptic that even I’m not sure what I was talking about. I blame part of the downbeat mood on my watching Get Carter after I came back from the protest. My, that’s a depressing film. Or did it start on Friday? Or Thursday night? I’m being annoying again. Anyway, sorry about yesterday.

We're going to lead an assault on the fourth floor. It wasn't just setting off the fire alarm. It was setting off the fire alarm when there's a blizzard of freezing rain outside. Ready the Tomahawks!

Google buys Blogger. Didn't see that coming.

Reviews indicate that I did the right thing by going to see Punch-Drunk Love and Breakfast At Tiffany's on Friday instead of Daredevil (although I was worried that the BaT print wouldn't survive the showing; frames were missing, sound cues were obliterated at various points. I know that the BFI did a restoration on the original print last year, but obviously UNC can't afford the shipping). See, I told you it looked awful...

I came late to the Bis party, but i'm sad to see them go. There's just no place anymore for small indie bands, is there?

In a bit of good news (it's been a little gloomy, don't you think), Priest has a new comic coming out later this year: The Crew. While I'm a bit suspicious about the motive behind this (it does look as if Marvel has said "Well, he's black, isn't he? Let's give him a title with all the second-rate black guys"), if Priest can make the Black Panther interesting, then I'm sure that this'll be a good read.

currently playing: The Clash - 1-2 Crush On You

The Universe is Sick And Twisted

Pictures from today’s rally in Raleigh (do you see?)

My first protest, amazingly enough. Reports indicate that there could have bee up to 4,000 people taking part in today's march. I'm not sure how I feel about it, to be completely honest. I suppose the old saying is true; sometimes going to a peace rally makes you wish that the B-52s would start bombing, just to be contrary. I don't really mean that. I don't know what I was hoping to get out of the march (okay, again with the honesty; I was secretly hoping for one thing—which went as well as you'd expect), but at the end of the hour-long circular route, I just felt empty.

What had I achieved by coming to the the protest? An hour spent trying to discern voices from the woefully inadequate sound-system, another tied up with wandering around the site looking at the different placards and encountering the counter-protest (complete with a marine yelling that he wasn't going to take a bullet for us. The effect was slightly spoiled when somebody in the pro-war crowd recognised a counterpart in the anti-war side, leading to an unexpected friendly wave), and then a final hour walking the streets of Raleigh. Not exactly world-changing. But I suppose that wasn't the intent. We were just pointing out that a lot of people aren't convinced of a case for war.

But is that enough? Should Tony Blair announce tomorrow that after seeing a million people in Hyde Park, he's decided to call the whole thing off? Do we want that precedent? What happens if a million turn up the week after, demanding the reintroduction of the death penalty?

I'm not against war at any price. Surely that's not a good policy, suicidal for a nation-state. All I want is a persuasive argument from the US/British Axis; one that doesn't rely on lies, half-truths and exaggerations. And that the decision doesn't split NATO in half.

I'm rambling, I know. I'm impressed that a million people demonstrated in London and that only five people were arrested. A nice contrast to the typical anti-globalisation protest. I also like the BBC's new policy of welcoming photos from the general public. Mob-Journalism here we come. Or is it Strangeways? I can never remember.

Is my music too loud? I think it isn't loud enough. But I don't think the speakers can get it as loud as I need it to be. And I doubt that it would matter anyway.

currently playing: Dexy’s Midnight Runners - Jackie Wilson Said (I’m In Heaven When You Smile)