Friday, May 27, 2005

Birthday Greetings... 

... go to the Virtual Stoa, which is four today. And, in the spirit of solidaristic greetings, I'll direct Chris and everyone else to a free web-card site from Solidarity Forever.

Birmingham Pride 

This is just a small advert for Britain's biggest free gay pride festival (and one which actually still calls itself Pride, as opposed to something stupid like 'Big Gay Out'). It's the one time in the year where our gay scene really gets its arse in gear and becomes very fun, usually attracting around 150,000 people from all over. The gay scene's much bigger here than people think, with around 15 bars and 3 clubs, but it's only this time of year that everything gets out onto the streets.

It starts with a Parade in central Birmingham tomorrow, and goes on 'til Monday in the gay village (aka Hurst St and the surrounding area). I encourage everyone to come down, since it's too sunny to stay indoors, and there's little else that's this good-natured and fun as far as gay stuff goes.

Well, it's got a good index, at least... 

There's a nice post from Adam Kotsko over at The Weblog on the subject of what makes a good index. He argues that it's the seemingly irrelevant details that help to remind us of particular articles, and that it's therefore good to link to 'elevator buttons' and 'Afghanistan' rather than 'phallus' and 'grace'.

But surely that's not the only reason for linking to such things. A far more convincing reason is that these things are really the most fun parts of the book anyway; they're what keep us involved. After all, once I'd done trying to work out with my friend Graham what the hell Zizek had been saying in his Amnesty lecture last year, all we actually remembered about it was his comments about chocolate laxatives. And I'm sure we weren't alone in that.

If it weren't for the small eccentric details, those of us who get real joy out of reading academic books in our subject (and I'll admit Zizek's not mine) wouldn't have half the fun we do. There's only so much reading of Aquinas you can get through without needing the rescue of a joke about the relative strength of women, wine, kings and truth, after all. And a good index should reflect this.

Did they all believe in liberty in those days? 

Michael Brooke has recently posted a marvellous selection of screenshots from a Soviet musical, full of sunshine, tractors and strong-muscled, enthusiastic workers. This timed well with my rediscovery of a CD I'd lost, featuring similarly earnest socialist songs and spirituals from Paul Robeson.

Easily the best of these - for entertainment value alone - is "Ballad For Americans", a straight-facedly patriotic song-cum-history lesson, which was very popular until it was learnt that its composer and singer were 'socialistic'. Fun parts include hearing Robeson get his tongue around a musical setting of the words to the bill of rights ("certain in-ail-ee-enn-able rights"), and his claim that he's "Baptist, Methodist, Congregationalist, Luthern, Atheist, Roman Catholic, (Moslem) Jewish, Presbyterian, Seventh Day Adventist,Mormon, Quaker, Christian Scientist and lots more"...

This song (and Robeson stuff more generally) is well worth a listen if you can get hold of it; though I doubt it quite matches up to Michael's tractors and golden hay...


I spent the day in Hay-on-Wye today (for various reasons I'm on a long break, which gives me time for such lazy things). It happened to be the first day of the book festival, and being an occasional Guardian reader - they sponsor it - I'd expected this to be quite a big deal. But there weren't that many people around, save for the usual American tourists who find their way to such things, and with programme highlights including "An evening with Max Boyce", the awful Timothy Garton Ash and Roy Hattersley, I can quite understand why.

And I've always wondered why people go to book festivals at all, even when the big name attractions are greater. Particularly at Edinburgh, where there's so much else to do, why would anyone want to spend time listening to people who are usually far less interesting in person than in print read out sections of a book you're quite capable of reading for yourself? I saw Jeanette Winterson at Edinburgh once, and while she was mildly entertaining, I'd rather not have spent that two hours sitting under swelteringly hot canvas, listening to erotic fiction in the company of a hundred middle aged women, even if they were mostly lesbians.

So who goes to these things, and why? My own excuse for going to events at Edinburgh is a desire to get in a bit of every festival each year, but that's an odd brand of completism rather than a real enthusiasm for spending time in tents with the floral print brigade. Books are great, but for me their appeal is pretty much restricted to the printed page (or, these days, screen). Beyond that, you're either listening to someone tell you how writing about little Johnny's work in the diamond mines changed their life, or arguing with someone about your interpretation of the rape scene on page 503. The one experience is better covered by TV soaps; the other by irritating graduates in seminar rooms. Why would anyone pay for this sort of thing?

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Ian Curtis 

Ian Curtis, the singer with Joy Division, died 25 years ago today. He hanged himself in his kitchen, having produced two great albums, painted his bedroom blue (after a Bowie song, "Sound and Vision") and cheated on his wife. His lyrics don't exactly make his death surprising. Take, for example, lyrics from "Passover":

This is the crisis I knew had to come,
Destroying the balance I'd kept.
Turning around to the next set of lives,
Wondering what will come next.

or "Isolation":

Mother I've tried please believe me,
I'm doing the best that I can,
I'm ashamed of the things I've been put through,
I'm ashamed of the person I am.

Joy Division has been one of my favourite bands for a long time now, and I remember sitting in my house on Christmas eve, 1999 - in a deckchair, oddly - reading Deborah Curtis' biography of Ian, and playing my scratchy copies of Closer and Unknown Pleasures over and over in the background. That's probably the most morbid Christmas I've ever spent (reading American Psycho a couple of days later, and learning that my grandfather had just died).

Of course, the next Christmas eve I spent watching Wham! videos on VH1, so I really have no claim to musical (or depressive) credibility...

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