Archive for October, 2003

elliott smith

Last week Elliott Smith took his own life after battling for several years with both heroin and alcohol addiction. Although I’ve never considered him one of my favourite artists, I’ve probably returned to his third album Either/Or, a truly beautiful, haunting, brilliant record, more than any other release over the last ten years. You’d think that this alone would propel the singer into my list of all-time-greats, but it doesn’t. And why? Because I also saw him play more than half a dozen times and, quite frankly, he always sucked. This may well be the the most wildly inappropriate moment to reveal this, but I always thought he butchered his songs live, clumsily destroying all the grace and atmosphere present in the original recordings.

My favourite Elliott moment came in the most extraordinary circumstances, when I accompanied my good friend Dr. Wendy Fonarow, Instructor of Anthropology at Glendale Community College, California, and author of an acclaimed academic paper entitled “The Spatial Organization of an Indie Music Gig” (seriously), to an Elliott Smith show at The Roxy on Sunset Strip, Los Angeles. We took refuge at the rear of the venue, seated next to a table adorned by a discreet sign saying “Reserved: Stipe.” Ha, we thought, as if! But no, in came the REM frontman, arm in arm with a very young “companion,” plus Courtney Love and the singer from Live, Ed Kowalczyk. Stipe and Love proceed to misbehave throughout the set, brazenly stealing my cigarettes and flouting California’s notoriously strict anti-smoking laws, Love occasionally breaking off to bawl “Goooooooo Elliott” at the stage.

After the show it’s next door to The Rainbow for a spot of late dinner, our meal interrupted once more by Courtney Love, looking increasingly worse for wear and behaving in a decidedly erratic fashion.

I’m then dragged off to the after-show party, held at the Brass Monkey Karaoke joint, where various friends and hangers-on take it in turns to belt out a selection of middle of the road classics. Elliott Smith is eventually tempted onstage to perform Harry Chapin’s Cats In The Cradle and suddenly, he’s magnificent. He’s obviously drunk and doesn’t really know the song that well, but the wistful vulnerability so evident in his studio work comes to the fore, and it’s a quite, quite lovely moment. RIP.

surreal madrid

My night in Madrid:

After being greeted at the airport by my friend Eva and her boyfriend Luismi (a celebrated poet in Colombia, believe it or not), it’s off to the Melacatin to sample some traditional fayre. The restuarant is perhaps unique in that an order of food for three people prompts the delivery of enough for ten. The main course is Cocido Madrileno, a type of stew which consists of chickpeas, cabbage, celery, carrots, turnips, chicken, beef and pork, lots of pork, more pork than I’ve even seen. I suspect that there’s an abattoir round the back of the kitchen where pigs are feverishly slaughtered in a desperate bid to keep up with demand. There are side-dishes of chorizo and plates laden with 2-inch cubes of lamb fat. It’s all a bit much, but I manfully eat as much as I can before being forced to give up without even reaching base-camp on the mountain of boiled grub piled high on the table.

Then it’s off to the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu to witness perhaps the greatest group of players ever assembled in one club side. First, the good bits:

  • It’s €20 to get in. This is about the same price as a ticket to see Northampton Town struggle near the foot of Division Three. You decide which is better value for money.
  • The stadium is magnificent – I can’t imagine there are many better places to view a game. The banks of seats seem to rise almost vertically from the side of the pitch, so that wherever you find yourself situated the sight-lines are perfect and you feel close to the action.
  • All the stars play from the start – Zidane, Ronaldo, Roberto Carlos, Raúl, Figo, and the famous blond fella with the lip-syncing harridan for a wife.

    And then reality checks in. There’s virtually no atmosphere, with the hardcore local support behind one goal conspiciously quiet throughtout the ninety minutes. The Partizan Belgrade fans have been coralled at the other end of the stadium under the rafters, so there’s no chance for the kind of combative chanting familiar to fans of British football to develop. I imagine this is what it’s like to see The Harlem Globetrotters play basketball, with the thrill of seeing some of the World’s best atheletes ply their trade somewhat diluted by the fact that this really doesn’t resemble a competitive fixture, with Patizan contributing to the entertainment dutifully but always aware that they’re not supposed to win. At one point Luis Figo places the ball for a free kick, then appears to argue with David Beckham about who’s going to take it. Beckham then re-spots the ball, and as he retreats to line up the shot Figo immediately takes over again, ramming the ball high over the bar. As tricks go it’s hardly the most subtle, but you end up half-expecting Zidane to hide the ball under his shirt as he sets off on yet another mazy run, before borrowing a handbag from a stooge in the crowd and playing head-tennis with it. The biggest reaction of the evening comes not when Raúl glances home a Figo header, but when the referee denies the team what looks like a cast-iron penalty, as if the home support are more upset at the temerity of an official preventing Figo from further humiliating the opposition than they are excited by their team actually scoring. It’s all a bit odd, less sport than entertainment, more pantomime than passion.

    Another thing: at half-time we decide to buy drinks (non-alcoholic beer only), which turns out be be an incredibly labour-intensive process. First of all you queue up to buy coupons, then you queue up again to swap said coupons for the refreshments, which are carefully poured, once can at a time, into plastic glasses. Out on the pitch the players might be running circles around the opposition, but the staff at the Chicken Run bar beneath the East Stand at Upton Park would wipe the floor with this lot in any beer-pouring contest.

    After the game Eva, Claudia and I head off to La Vía Láctea, a rock ‘n roll bar where I learn the Spanish for chocolate milk (I’ve already forgotten it), before retiring to the bar Eva owns, Madragoa (site still under construction). If you’re ever in the area, pop in and say Hi – and tell ’em Fraser sent you.

    Pictures here.

  • unreal madrid

    Bollocks to this, I’m heading back to London. Upon my return I’ll reveal why it’s better to watch Real Madrid on TV, and relate the celebrity-strewn tale of a night out with the very sadly departed Elliott Smith.

    animal planet

    After spending the early part of the afternoon in the company of birds, it was off across the Thames to pay a visit the the London Aquarium, where we stroke thornback, undulate and spotted rays before strolling along the South Bank to witness the human zoo surrounding David Blaine’s last day in captivity. It’s a strange evening – pickpockets are out in force, girls are shrieking, people are holding badly spelt signs aloft, and a small Chinese woman stops me to ask if the showman has actually been sleeping in the box. After I reply in the afirmative, she gives me a quizzical look and says, “Really? Where’s the fun in that?” After digesting probably the most astute comment I’ve heard about this entire circus, we stand in the cold for half an hour, but Blaine doesn’t pull any tricks. No rabbits from hats, nothing disappears, he doesn’t even saw anyone in half. What kind of magician is he? Rubbish, we think. Off home to watch his exit on TV and eat Chocolate mousse. Yummy.

    criminal commenting

    So here’s the thing. This afternoon someone left a series of abusive comments on one of my old entries – nothing too serious, but irritating nonetheless. The IP address of anyone leaving comments is logged automatically, in this case pinpointing the perpetrator to a company providing (somewhat ironically) IT solutions to the Criminal Justice sector, and I’m tempted to contact the firm and report the abuse. Is this a good idea, or am I just asking for further trouble?

    nasty sharp knives

    My flatmate scares me a little. She’s a really lovely girl, but her idea of retail therapy worries me somewhat. While most women quench their thirst for shopping with a nice pair of shoes or a trip to the manicurist, this lady buys knives – big, sharp, expensive knives, made from scary cold steel, the kind of knives that turn up on Crimewatch. Tonight she came home with two new blades, each the best part of a foot long, and lovingly toyed with them on the sofa as I nervously tried to watch The Osbournes.

    I guess I’m lucky she’s a chef. Or at least that’s what she tells me.

    comment on comments

    The most popular blogjam entries ever:

    The first post is full of people who say “fucking” a lot and argue about conspiracy moon theory. The second is stuffed to the gills with Japanese ascii art. The next is full of strange, possibly under-educated Americans and repeated use of the word “faggot.” Fourth up is some regular readers delightfully toying with my website in the full knowledge that I’m climbing glaciers in Chile and aren’t there to keep control of them, and the last (assuming this list stays in the order in which it started) features a variety of people engaged in witty discourse on the nature of sex and death.

    And just to think, this is a free service…

    homosexual rape necrophilia mallard

    On 5 June 1995 an adult male mallard (Anas platyrhynchos) collided with the glass facade of the Natuurmuseum Rotterdam and died. An other drake mallard raped the corpse almost continuously for 75 minutes. Then the author disturbed the scene and secured the dead duck. Dissection showed that the rape-victim indeed was of the male sex. It is concluded that the mallards were engaged in an ‘Attempted Rape Flight’ that resulted in the first described case of homosexual necrophilia in the mallard.

    Quite one of the strangest things I have ever read – be sure to check out the fully detailed pdf file. This particular study was a recent recipient of an Ig-Noble award, given to researchers whose work “cannot or should not be reproduced.”

    the manic street preachers

    Years ago, I tuned guitars for a band called The Family Cat. They were good – never made a record that really reflected this accurately – but good, really quite good. All in all I did something like 320 gigs with the band, humping gear and waiting for things to break. Over time they were supported by their fair share of artists who went on to achieve success to a greater or lesser degree, the likes of PJ Harvey, Blur, Carter USM, and Ned’s Atomic Dustbin, even glorious one-hit wonders like White Town got a look-in. The one band that really sticks in the memory, however, are the Manic St Preachers.

    If memory serves me correctly, it all started when the band received a letter from guitarist Richey, which went something along the lines of “Hello. We are Welsh punk. We are great. Can we support you?” Ever willing to oblige, they were provided with a pair of support slots, one at the Polytechnic of Central Wales and a second at Bristol’s long-running Fleece & Ferkin venue.

    They were absolutely shocking, quite possibly the worst band I’d ever seen. Apart from all the faux-punk histrionics, Richey was obviously miming, or at least turned down so low in the mix that no-one could hear him. All this from a band no-one had ever heard of. To be honest, I really didn’t get it at all.

    At the second gig I decided to give them another chance, but twenty minutes into the set my mind was made up. They were worthless, and I was going to let people know. I returned to the dressing room, almost apoplectic with rage and indie snobbery. “They’re shit,” I compained to the nearest person, before launching into a thoughtfully prepared critique of the band’s art. “They’re shit. The drummer is a midget. They’re shit. The singer is hopeless. They’re shit. The guitarist can’t play. They’re shit. The bass player is a cunt. They’re shit.” And so on and so on.

    So anyway, the Manics finished their set, wandered backstage, and turned off the tape recorder. Yes, turned off the tape recorder. This is in the days before a crew of nine hundred and their own toilets at Glastonbury of course, they’re by themselves, and they’ve decided to record their show on a boom-box left in the dressing room. A boom-box that I’ve been sitting next to for ten minutes.

    Suffice to say, you couldn’t hear much on the tape apart from me, and I kept an extremely low profile for the rest of the evening despite the apparent strength of my convictions. Years later I met singer James Dean Bradfield in a hotel bar and was too scared to bring the subject up, but I guess it’s safe now – this happened well over a decade ago, after all.

    Besides, they are shit. Apart from The Holy Bible. I liked some of that album very much. Oh, and La Tristessa Durea. That was nice too.