Day 1: In Which Our Hapless Hero Is Harangued And Hassled

Things are getting really bad when even the check-in assistants mock your packing skills. "That's an awful lot for two weeks," he said. Ho ho ho. I've never been able to master the fine act of packing lightly. To be fair my trolley bag is quite a bit smaller on the inside than it looks on the outside, and there's a few bulky items which take up a lot of space, hence the need for the second bag. Coupled with the confusion over my visa (which didn't seem to be a problem last September), I raise enough attention to get my bag searched.

No problem. Except there's a very suspicious looking parcel right in the middle. It's only full of sweets, but looks like either a box of drugs or a bomb. I'm not looking forward to explaining that. The inspector performs the search right in front of me — and doesn't find the parcel. I am at once releived and terrified/ I'm pleased not to have to go through explanations, but I'm now concerned about blowing up somewhere across the mid-Atlantic.

I continue to make a fool of myself in the duty free shopping area, throwing money all over The Body Shop, fumbling for my boarding pass, and other general clownish behaviour. I'm convinced that my arms and hands have an evil sentience. When I try to do something normal, like open a wallet, they interpret this as "flail limbs wildly and hit shop assistant in the face with a penny."

At the gate, my visa once again flags me for special attention; a search of my backpack and a pat down. I've come to look forward to the question "Do you have any electrical items today, sir?" I just reel them off, stopping short of throwing my arms into the air and screaming: "I worship at the altar of Electricity! Tesla and Edison are prophets of a new dawm!" One day, I'm going to crack. You'll no doubt hear about a crazed Englishman threatening to take the world on with his electric toothbrush and copious MP3s.

When you start recognising waitresses, you know you've been on the same flight a little too much. That was weird. The flight itself wasn't too bad, just long. I slept a little, read "The Man Who Was Thursday, tried to go back to sleep again, and listened to music. Much the same as ever.

The immigration at RDU was also annoyed that I had a visa. But he helpfully cancelled it when I explain, so it shouldn't be a problem in the future. Then it was off to the "take all your clothes off and walk through the scanner" bit. I like to think that the airport-wide alarm that went off when my bag went through the scanner was a simple coincidence.

Kavi met me at the airport, and took me back to her house to get settled in. Then, back to campus! She had to practice for the Sangam dance today and tomorrow, so I amused myself by walking to Carrboro and back, ending up back at the computer building. Thankfully, I wasn't there too long; Laura offered to rescue me. I helpfully suggested to meet at the union, forgetting that it probably has the most entrances and exits of any building on campus. I'm practical. Oh yes.

Eventually we met up, and found Stacie a little while later. There then followed the "what are we going to do?" period, which ended up with us going back to Laura's, bumping into Rebecca, and hanging around there for a while. We watched Laura's re-enactment of a scene in "Boys Don't Cry" that she did for a class, guest starring Leigh, Rebecca and the important role of Natalie Teague, and certain individuals revealed embarrassing details about their inability to spell or say their name. We managed to decide on a course of action (okay, a course of action was suggested, and I said "sure"), and headed off to the Irish pub W.B. Yeats on Franklin Street. I then gave a shameful trivia performance, not even managing to to get a question right for ten rounds. There was some mocking involved over that…

currently playing: New Order — Fine Time

Leaving On A Jet Plane III

Back soon…

currently playing: The Stranglers - Golden Brown

The State We're In

The UK album chart for last week:

  1. Call Off The Search — Katie Melua
  2. Feels Like Home — Norah Jones
  3. The Jukebox Years — Daniel O'Donnell
  4. Twentysomething — Jamie Cullum
  5. Just For You — Lionel Richie -Mercury
  6. Only You — Harry Connick Jr
  7. His Greatest Love Songs — Engelbert Humperdinck
  8. Thank You — Jamelia
  9. When It Falls — Zero 7
  10. Friday's Child — Will Young
  11. Ultimate Manilow Barry Manilow

Is this it? Is this what 2004 holds for the music industry? Endless iterations of Terry Wogan-approved jazz-lite singers and repackaged Greatest Hits collections, forming a Julia set of mediocrity? With the advent of the 50-Quid Man, it certainly looks that way (in case you were hoping for solace from the rest of the chart, I must point out that Barry Manilow is number eleven. There's no good news to be found, I'm afraid).

Surely, though, things have always been this way? Well, not really. Here's the chart from ten years ago, before the big Britpop explosion, during a time when the halcyon sales of the 1980s and 1970s were a distant memory:

  1. Music Box — Mariah Carey
  2. The Cross Of Changes — Enigma
  3. Debut — Bjork
  4. Everybody Else Is Doing It, So Why Can't We? — The Cranberries
  5. So Close — Dina Carroll
  6. Bat Out Of Hell 2: Back Into Hell — Meatloaf
  7. Elegant Slumming — M People
  8. Tiger Bay — Saint Etienne
  9. Ten Summoner's Tales — Sting
  10. Under The Pink — Tori Amos

You can see the difference instantly; rock, dance, MOR, indie, and the goth audience all share the honours, instead of the rather bland, samey line-up of today. And yet, in the past ten years, the amount of albums sold has increased considerably since then, to the extent that the single market is now less important than it used to be. It's just that all the excitement and interest seems to have vanished.

Perhaps the singles chart provides a glimmer of hope? Well, it does, but not really. It has much more variety than the album chart, but this is because hardly anybody is buying singles any more. Consider Graham Coxon's new entry this week, "Freakin' Out". With a placing at #37, it looks like a poor showing at first; he's reasonably popular with the indie crowd, and he should have done a little bit better. But this single is a limited edition 7". Only 2500 copies have been made. And yet it still managed to enter the Top 40. The singles chart is not doing well at all.

To make matters worse, the record companies refuse to adjust to this new reality; relatively established names like Sophie Ellis-Bextor and Emma Bunton are under the threat of being dropped from their record labels unless they generate hit singles. But their fanbase no longer buys singles in any significant amount, instead going for the better value album, watching the video on one of the many satellite music channels, or downloading it from the Internet. With the change of who's buying albums, album sales that would have looked respectable a few years back are dwarfed by the big name collections and this month's Radio 2-approved fad. They will find themselves dropped by the end of the year, as the record companies shed bands to save money, decimating the mid-list and concentrating solely on the big names who can guarantee sales.

Most of the independent labels of yesteryear that nurtured new talent are now themselves part of the big companies, and are little more than a storefront to project an image of cool. Perhaps we've reached the end times of pop music. All we have left is nostalgia mining; endless ways of convincing the public to buy a resequenced version of Engelbert Humperdinck's greatest hits.

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


I don’t understand. Are we living in a time where Renee and Renato’s “Save Your Love” has been erased from history? Hoddle and Waddle’s “Diamond Lights” is no longer with us? Was there a reality-wide cataclysmic event that involved altering the time-stream, leaving us with a new world that is bereft of Northern Uproar’s back catalogue?

Come on, it's not even the worst Take That song (which is Do What U Like. Easily)!

currently playing: Bis — Theme From Tokyo

"It was breezy…Oh, gosh, what if it wasn't breezy?"

  • The Postal ServiceClark Gable
    This is the reason why this week’s music entry is late (see!? Postal Service! Ha ha ha (You’re fired. Again. — Ed.)). Probably straying dangerously close to the dreaded emo territory, but this is my new discovery for the week. Americans in London! Writing your past via film! A fun echo effect! And so on.
  • Camera ObscuraLunar Sea
    I've written about this elsewhere, but I thought I'd stick it up so people can actually hear it. If The Postal Service are dangerously emo, then Camera Obscura are Belle & Sebastian after getting high on pixy stix and having their faces painted like tigers. This is from their latest album, Underachievers Please Try Harder, and harkens back to the childish wonderment of Low's Just Like Christmas. Or so it says here.
This will probably be the last MP3 post for a while; I'm heading off to Chapel Hill again this Thursday (which means the blog might start having longer posts again, for a little while at least), and UNC is closing the account I use to store the files at the end of March (not that I can complain, after having use of it for almost a year longer than I should have done), so getting songs up will be a problem for the foreseeable future. Don't worry, I will find another way to subject you to the horrors of my music collection…

currently playing: Jimmy Buffett — Margaritaville

Danny The Hypertime Street

currently playing: Kenickie — Millionaire Sweeper


Last week: Clinton as VP.

This week: McCain as VP.

Next week: The eldritch-animated statue of Abraham Lincoln as VP!


currently playing: ESG — UFO

Link Mix

Expect police raids for your mix-tapes in a year’s time.

Oh, the fun you can have with a Barbie doll.

Oooh! A shed!

Hmm. Screen-printing.

I wasn't making it up! This show exists!

currently playing: Patti Smith — Gloria

Back In The Hat (Although I Don't Have A Hat)

Hmm. Sorry about the lack of updates. Here’s a special music day in order to make up for that.

Firstly, have a listen to this, Travis's new single "Love Will Come Through" (yes, I know, but I'm making a point here, so you can take the pain). Then, after you've done that, download Godspeed You Black Emperor's "Moya". It takes a while to get going, so you might want to fast forward to around eight minutes in if you're in a hurry.

They sound suspiciously similar, don't they?

currently playing: Idlewild — American English

It's Been A While

Here’s a preview of a short thing I’m working on, which currently has the rather awkward title of “The Thing With The Supervillains Who Share An Apartment”.

currently playing: Courtney Love — Mono