Tough Love

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Ah go on, go on, go on

More Guilty Pleasures.

Sometimes good taste just wants to be offended. In fact, were Good Taste a girl we suspect she’d own quite a few Sonic Youth albums and green tea, when all she really wanted to do was down a few Bacardi breezers and tit around to Dancing Queen.

So, in the spirit of liberating Dame GT from the grind of her Observer Music Monthly existence, we’ve been drinking the dregs from the pop culture bottle for her.

And this is what we like: -

Jentina – French Kisses

We got the promo version of this for 50p, so even if it had been shite in three minute form we wouldn’t have minded. Thankfully, however, it’s fabulous (and not just for the high-larious PR puff on the label which refers to Jentina’s “rapping nouse” – sic).

You’ve probably seen this girl mumble her way through a few interviews. You know the kind: the ones that make you cringe, change channel or at the very least think “Who’s this clueless bint and why is she clogging up my telly?” Either way it’s a safe bet you haven’t bought this, because the poor lass seems to be as popular as smallpox.

This might have something to do with the image. Being the self-confessed ‘pikey-popstrel’ is not too bright an idea in ChavScum’s heyday, nor is having a management company who shove you out into the spotlight way before you’re ready.

But for all this – French Kisses, wow! Touched by the hand of Cathy ‘Toxic’ Dennis (why she could never write this kind of stuff for herself is beyond us), it’s three minutes of Arabic rhythm-inflected perfect lust-pop. A simple story: girl sees boy on dancefloor, girl proceeds to practically rape the poor lad there and then. True enough, there is a rubbish rap tacked on to the end and the chorus does sound a bit like the middle-eight from Dirrty, but what are you waiting for? Buy buy buy. The girl needs to get herself a new caravan, bless her.

Monday, September 20, 2004

Never mind the quality, feel the pain

Oh dear. We’re going to a Writers’ Group tonight and don’t know how good an idea this is. Yes, we do have pretensions to becoming a proper writer (and we have the MA and the first draft of the first novel mouldering away on our hard drive to prove it), but is it worth the pain and frustration?

And we’re not talking about getting published there either. The publishing industry is indeed a barrel full of poisonous snakes but it can’t compare to the hotbed of mutual jealousy, recrimination and bitterness that is your average Writers’ Group. They make the average Tory Party leadership challenge look like a Methodist barn dance.

We admit they do have their uses. Plugging away, writing for no certain audience on your own and with no one but the (also fictional, seeing as your tenancy agreement has a ‘no pets’ clause) cat for constructive criticism is hard. Keeping your focus on something as diffuse and open-ended as a novel is infinitely harder. Consequently, a group of people offering to keep you on track sounds like heaven.

(If only it was like this - at least James Last is worth looking at)

Unfortunately, this reckons without the politics and group dynamics these things run along. In fact we suspect there’s a quota system tucked away somewhere in the archives of the Ministry for Culture, Media and Sport. This requires each Writers’ Group to contain the following: -

i. A HUGE Goth girl who always waits until she has two roots of (usually blonde) regrowth before dying her hair auburn / black. She will expend her creative juices (urgh) on either poetry or attempting to hijack Anne Rice’s career.

ii. A disappointed poet / middle manager, with beard and pronounced Croydon accent, who has lost the urge to write but not to ‘manage’. He will therefore turn up every week in order to run the meeting as though he’s getting an update on the filing system.

iii. The bore. Again, usually a poet. More often that not a poet who writes poems about how difficult it is to write poetry, and then wishes to discuss them at length. If not poetry, non-fiction which goes into great detail on how the truth is “an unattainable quantity”, or somesuch other undergraduate drivel.

Of course you may wonder why, given that our prejudices are so strong, we bother in the first place. This isn’t easy to answer. The best we can come up with is that even criticism that’s one step away from drivel is better than nothing, and few things motivate us more to write than irritation at bad writing. So if it’s a choice between the Group and a diet of Jeffrey Archer or Dan Brown (he may be popular, but he’s not any good, you know) novels, we’re plumping for sitting next to the Goth Girl.

Moreover, watching (from a distance) while people tussle for supremacy, shag each other’s partners and diss each other’s work can provide an inspiration in itself. We are dubious, however, if anyone would want to read a novel about a writers’ group. Other than people who go to the things, but that’s a circular argument we can’t be bothered getting into.

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

Start by admitting from cradle to tomb / Isn't that long a stay

Fred Ebb (1933 - 2004)

Musical theatre-lovers the world over (so this means 90% of the gays) are or should be in mourning this week. Fred Ebb, the lyricist in the Kander & Ebb partnership, has died at the age of 71.

Kander & Ebb are/were one of the greatest musical writers of the post-War era. They brought us Cabaret; they brought us Chicago; they brought us 85% of Liza Minnelli's listenable output. This makes them great. Fred Ebb also wrote the lyrics for Ol' Gangster Face Eyes' schmaltz-fest New York New York as well, but everyone's allowed an off-day, aren't they?

But seriously, his death (along with Stephen Sondheim's, which can't really be that far away) effectively marks the end of an era for Broadway and the West End musical scene. Kander & Ebb were one of the few surviving exponents of the hit bespoke musical. By which we mean they looked at a show from the perspective of "What story can we write songs and lyrics for", rather than "What story can we fit a load of reheated pop hits around?" (Thank you for that Ben Elton, may you burn in a hellfire stoked by your own novels.)

The partnership will no doubt be best known over the years to come for Cabaret and Chicago. And deservedly so, as both are black diamonds of shows: dark, glittering and decadent. Also, all the more remarkable for musicals whose success rests on their theatricality (Cabaret constantly references Weimar era German cabaret, Chicago vaudeville variety theatre) they were both turned into successful feature films.

At their best, Kander & Ebb succeeded in turning the sentimental view of musicals on its head. Accompanied by John Kander’s unnervingly sharp ear for musical pastiche, Ebb’s equally incisive lyrics could skewer ideas far bigger than a simple “I love you”. Chicago in particular presents a view of a shock-celebrity obsessed world that Rebecca Loos would recognise as much as Roxie Hart.

Similar themes were carried over into their less well-known work, some of which has unfortunately been eclipsed by Cabaret’s and Chicago’s success. Kiss of the Spider Woman is a witty, gothically camp adaptation of the Manuel Puig novel (its original soundtrack also sports a cracking performance from Chita Rivera – the original Velma Kelly). Seventy Girls Seventy, a more eccentric piece involving a group of clapped-out showgirls, a retirement home for vaudeville entertainers and a bank heist is frothier, but just as satisfying.

Kander & Ebb’s biggest brush with the stars, however, had to be with the one they made: Liza Minnelli. Their first full-length show, Flora The Red Menace gave the trademarked Queen of Gays her breakthrough role. They also went on to write the signature tune of her early career, Liza with a ‘Z’ before writing her two additional numbers for the Cabaret movie that transformed her from stage to movie star in one leap.

Their collaboration didn’t stop there either. The Kander & Ebb early 80s musical The Rink (another neglected classic) was written for Liza and Chita Rivera, as was the theme tune for Liza’s last real film hit, Stepping Out.

Of course, Fred Ebb’s death now rules out the juicy possibility of another Kander & Ebb / Minnelli vehicle. Which leaves us wondering “What does Liza do now?” (this may well turn out to be the rhetorical question of our time).

So let’s leave it at this. Fred we’re sorry to lose you, but you left us plenty to enjoy along the way. As for you Liza, well, Rufus Wainwright’s number can’t be too hard to come by.

Monday, September 13, 2004

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Sand Gets in Your Eyes

We've just got back from a weekend of dedicated Rubbish Gaying in Wales. Well, Shell Island to be exact: Europe's biggest campsite, which is 'famous for shells' (funny that) and in possession of what must be the world's windiest nudie beach.


Now we don’t want to start making spurious remarks about hurricanes seeing as people in the Caribbean might accuse us of lacking perspective, but Lord it didn’t half blow a gale there. So much that it cruelly exposed the Rubbishness of our tent, which turned out to have age-related erectile dysfunction. The merest suggestion of wind was enough to make it need a lie-down.

We were, however, thankful to have been out-Rubbished by our travelling companions in the following ways: -

Travelling Companion A: Who awoke at 3am feeling a bit cold only to find his tent was stuck in a tree 100m away.

Travelling Companion B: Who was officially named as Britain’s most middle-class camper. His attempts to cook a two course dinner (plus cheese and olives) in the pitch black and on a one-ring camping stove were incongruously delicious. And it’s true what they say – balsamic vinaigrette really does taste better in the open air.


Wind, wind and yet more wind. This time with sand in it: nature’s natural exfoliant.

Saturday took us to Barmouth in search of a tent that didn’t spend more time on its back than a call girl with ME. For the uninitiated, Barmouth is a Rubbish seaside resort: heavy on antique shops, short on the end of the pier delights (usually some refugee from Bad Boys Inc in a 70s revue on roller skates) designed to placate tourists temporarily starved of ITV light entertainment programming.

We even had our own brief encounter with cult TV the same day, as the nice ladies who gave us a lift to the pub revealed they had driven all the way up from Reading to see Most Haunted: Live, which was being filmed nearby.

Now this surprised us. As far as we thought, no one sane was going to drive five hours to watch Yvette Fielding tighten her cardigan and say: -

“No, you’re right Derek. It definitely has got colder in here." 'Posted

But how wrong we were, seeing as the roads were thronged with cars and the pub full of the overspill who’d arrived too late to get seats.


Colwyn Bay . . .

Is very quiet on a Sunday. At least Hell is warm and the people are interesting.

Friday, September 10, 2004

"You'll have someone's eye out . . ."

This book: -

Is quite possibly one of the freakiest things we've read all year.

It's a memoir about a boy (Augusten Burroughs) who spent his late childhood and adolescent years being brought up by his mother's psychiatrist. Following his parents' (an alcoholic maths professor and southern belle chainsmoking would-be poet) divorce, his mother suffers a series of breakdowns and comes to depend more and more on her freaky hippie Santa Claus shrink, Dr Finch.

Then, when his mother embarks on a series of lesbian affairs and decides she no longer has the 'emotional space' to cope with Augusten, she makes Dr Finch his legal guardian. So he moves more or less full-time into a house where there are no rules, no one cleans and the children play with the old electroshock therapy machines in the basement.

The critics called this book 'The Brady Bunch on Viagra'. We'd say it was closer to 'The Addams Family on PCP, valium and Freud for Dummies'. The part where Augusten loses his virginity at the age of 13 to Dr Finch's 33 year old adoptive son, and finds the relationship accepted by the Finches and his mother made our skin crawl. Then there's the passage where Dr Finch begins to divine the future using his own faecal matter. And a scene involving a six year old called Poo and a dog . . . The list goes on.

Needless to say, this book is funny, disturbing, moving and the kind of car crash read that will keep you turning pages well into the small hours. Plus, like most American stories it has a wilfully happy ending, to reveal the (blackly funny) bleakness, so what more can you ask for? And it's in Waterstone's 3 for 2 offer at the moment too.

Thursday, September 09, 2004

How do you start a blog?

Now, given that there's little more tedious in this world than reading / listening to / enduring a writer whinge about how difficult it is to get down to business, I'll make this brief.

Welcome to Tough Love.

I'm not totally sure what it's going to say for itself yet but hopefully we'll find out soon. You never know, in time it could become an interweb renowned repository of sage wisdom on the subjects of art, literature, music and why Olympic athletes should go the whole hog with the retro look and perform in the buff . . .

Or it could end up just being me moaning about hangovers and Virgin trains.

We'll see.

Is it 'cos it's wrong?

Life is full of guilty pleasures. They can range all the way from watching Sunset Beach repeats in bed to getting post-coital love bites from a miniature stallion, just like that man with the David Lee Roth hairdo we saw on a C4 documentary a while back.

Thankfully, liking music you shouldn't isn't quite as shameful as either of these, though try telling that to someone who's had to buy a Jamie Cullum album (as a present, honest).

A few examples of some songs we're loving in spite of ourselves.

The Thrills - Whatever Happened to Corey Haim


We know they're a tad dull, and that basing an entire 'noughties career on two Crosby, Stills and Nash albums and the few non-crap bits on the Byrd's Greatest Hits is neither big nor clever. This song, however, still manages to get under our skin.

It's bright, breezy and has a nice string arrangement. It could also have done with being released a month and a half ago now that autumn's on its way, but there you go.

Incidentally, this song also shows up the fact that The Stills guys are clearly technologically illiterate. Anyone who's spent any time online in the past two years would know that Corey Haim has ended up as some sort of Celebrity ebay sadcase, selling his hair and toenails to keep body and, erm, habits together. Which makes us think there's enough of Corey Haim floating about out there to make several Lost Boys-themed voodoo dolls. So, Corey, consider yourself warned. Next time you get a bid from an ebay user with a screen name like dr_santiago, run the hell away.

(Plus there is the added bonus of the lead singer being quite fit, though in an indie not fitting into normal fanciable parameters way.)

2. Mousse T feat. Emma Landon - Is It Cos I'm Cool?

This should have been so very very wrong. After all, Horny was every Greece Uncovered obsessed slapper's late 90s theme tune (and we could never work out which of the singers was 'Hot' and which was 'Juicy', as billed). Moreover, Sex Bomb was also the song which revitalised Tom Jones' reputation as a viable sex symbol. (This proved our theory that he is the music biz's equivalent of Mr I-may-be-X-million-years old-but-I've still-got it Ick, Sean Connery.)

Nevertheless, Is It Cos I'm Cool manages to rather marvellous despite its questionable pedigree. One of those jumps all over the place songs that mixes strings with a dodgy guitar solo and comedy lines such as "Is it cos I'm fly?", it never fails to induce a smile. Yes, that's even in Kasabian fans, and we've seen the proof dancing in front of our eyes last Saturday night.