Archive for the ‘ Life ’ Category

The problem with comic book films.

My favorite comic book has always been 2000AD. I like American comics but overall I have always preferred this British Sci-Fi anthology. In a word 2000AD is anarchic. Anarchy permeates its world view. It has been a home to some classic stories: Rogue Trooper, Strontium Dog, Slaine, Halo Jones, Zenith etc etc. It’s most famous character is Judge Dredd and he epitomizes the outlook of the weekly. Dredd isn’t a superhero, in fact he is the complete opposite but I’ll get into that anon. In this day and age we live in the Marvel cinematic universe: they produce sleek and slick films by the bucketload. I enjoy them for what they are and what they are are high-concept films.  These are films that have one broad concept that can be easily distilled into a sentence thus eschewing nuanced character development and the layered, the ambiguous and the  difficult. The high concept film works. Dredd should work within this framework for he is a lawman in a post apocalyptic America that has the power of judge, jury and executioner. With that in mind the money should flow and the films find a ready made audience for comics equal big bucks but it hasn’t worked out that way. Here is my take on why. 

Judge Dredd first came to the screen in the 1995 eponymous film starring Sylvester Stallone as the titular character. It was a mess but remember this was the 1990s and comic book films weren’t ubiquitous and streamlined like the Marvel megaliths today. As discussed Dredd should be an easy sell for he is a lawman in a post apocalyptic America that has the power of judge, jury and executioner. However, his problem is a stark one namely Dredd is a fascist not a hero. He is a clone that comes from a long dead Chief Judge called Fargo. America has been destroyed in a nuclear war and those that remain live in mega cities that are controlled by the judges.  In Dredd’s world America is no longer a democracy in and since Hollywood produces films with an American-centric view that’s a massive problem. Particularly when trying to sell a film to an American audience.  Basically, then the villain in Megacity One is the public. The judges have big bad’s such as the Sov Bloc and the inter-dimensional Judge Death but by and large the public is the enemy. The film is aware that selling an anti-democratic fascist American anti-hero that loves busting heads is a problem. Their solution: go to a story that sees Dredd start as a fascist but ends up as a democrat. It failed because it wasn’t true to the character and it was a flop. 

Most of us fans thought that was the end of that but in 2012 ‘Dredd’ was released. This was a darker film and more in keeping with the comic. The premise was simple: a day in the life. It looked like a high-concept film but again Dredd isn’t a hero so violence abounded and it flopped. It is a pity as the world of Dredd has so many possibilities but hey why produce that when we can have three different Spider-Men in as many years? I don’t know where comic book movies are going anymore. I don’t know why I’m paying to go and see them. I do know that Marvel are a monopoly and their fanbase picks apart any other franchise that doesn’t adhere to it formula (hey it’s all connected! We have the bit at the end that shows this explicitly! Aren’t we clever!) Dissent is not allowed. Star Wars is following the same trend. It is a franchise I love but a large part of the  fanbase cannot tolerate a story that doesn’t chime with its world view. Sci-Fi is in a bad state. The high-concept rules and the adherents are not happy with feminist voices, left-leaning voices or indeed anything that supposedly deviates from canon. Dark days indeed. 

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The desire lines on a mythical map or the art of complicating simplicity.

My first band (as regular readers know) were called Mythical New Underground. As curator of our story and our ephemera it should fall to me to write this retrospective. Indulgent? Yes. Merit of said piece? Well it gives an insight into the progression of music over the last quarter of a century. So, here we go. Mythical were formed back in the summer of 1994; grunge was still on the throne, yet fading after the death of Kurt Cobain, Britpop was gathering a full head of steam and music was still a viable industry. We gathered ourselves together during the death throes of our local scene. Band such as Little Sally’s Dead, The Haggard and Genital Mishap has been and gone and it was from the ashes of  latter that MNU were formed. We were out of step with the music of the time playing a hybrid of punk/thrash/ reggae/ska with finicky rhythms and changes. The guitar player and I were from the hinterland of two bigger towns: Kildare and Newbridge and it was from Newbridge that the other members hailed. 

We were dreamers, all musicians are and our music was ambitious both in terms of scope and lyrics. We wanted to change our world. Ireland was still a drab country largely known for terrorism and Catholicism. Socially conservative but morally bankrupt. There seemed to be little hope of change. I can only speak for myself but I wanted to write music that would change things and I wanted to be a professional musician. Back then the record companies controlled the flow of information, they owned the means of production and the majority of musicians were on the outside looking in. We practiced in sheds, standing toe to toe with shovels, buckets, toolboxes and paint thinners. We had a small PA and cheap guitars. We made a glorious noise. That summer was magical. I felt like I had arrived. We managed to bag gigs. In hotels, in the back rooms of bars and we’d bundle into an old post-office van to get there and play. Booze flowed after. Life was good. We recorded in a small studio and produced our first demo: Newspeak. We were in thrall to Orwell, 1984 was a reality and the state could not be trusted. Four songs made the cut: Start a Revolution, Concrete, Proof and Confessions. Our names inside: Poggy (Vocals) Byrnie (Drums), KON (guitar) and Head (bass). It cost 60 quid. It is muddy but it is ours. 

Released in 95 we were soon to lose our singer Poggy. There was a wilderness period but we ploughed on. Songs were written which are now lost to time. Some I remember and others are gone for good. We did replace Pog at first KON took to the mic and then with a guy called Derek. I can’t remember his second name. Our friend Murf played as a second guitarist once. We could have carried on but Byrnie left for the States and KON and I wound it all down in ‘97. That was that(I’m leaving out details because somethings should remain private). How many bands have a similar story? All the dreams give way to reality. The search to be recognized gives way to a deeper love of the music. Bands of my youth flash before my minds eye: Brinskill Bomb-Beat, Cuinus, Arnheim, Scum of Toytown, Coitus, The Blue Babies, Striknein DC, SMH etc etc. bands that meant so much. There are nameless others each with their own story. 

Flash forward to 2008: we reformed for a one off gig for Pog’s 30th it is raucous and rowdy and it lifts us up and onward to the next phase of our life. It is fun and we all think that is that for a second time. 2018 roles around and we celebrate his 40th and we do it again. We are older and wiser. We can harness the energy, know when to rise and when to fall. How many times do you get to play with your first band again? To weather the storms of 24 years of history. Not often. We are lucky. The gig is modestly attended but that doesn’t really matter. It’ll be the last time…until Pog’s 50th. 

edge of the night

Soften the edge of the noon
into the night
yesterday comes too soon
a heart on fire.
Reason gives way to mood
falling to life
a melody whispers the tune.

In the loss of reason
Love gives way to a lie
you and I together
getting lost.
We know nothing
except the edge of the night.
Open up to a life
that we’d forgotten
as we danced against time.
Elemental feeling
aches from the void
in an age of reason
how we long for the night.

A whisper in a storm

Did you know
that everything we ever were
was only a whisper in a storm?
A candlelight in the pouring rain?
That when you pick over it
nothing real remains
Do you know?

All those words
and all those empty pages
were only childish wishes
the ink is all gone dry,
Everything is gently stained
with all the lies we said
nothing else remains.

Thinking bout it now
ain’t it funny how we see
that you belonged to you
and I belonged to me.

Be honest
and admit it’s a game we played
let’s tell each other there will be another
and go our own way.
That means letting go
coz we can’t be the same
dragging our hearts around in the rain.

Pay to play…please.

Living on the bottom rung of music is a difficult place to be. Starting out as a young musician you have aspirations to make a career out of that which you love. However, Ireland doesn’t really have the avenues to make a living out of music. There are many reasons for this but there are three major ones that I believe hamper the scene and creativity in general: (1) a lack of dedicated places that put on original music (2) too many bands and (3) unwillingness to pay bands. The first two points are difficult and impossible to solve respectively. Pubs are the venues for gigs in Ireland and the punter wants music that they recognize. On the second point, you can’t stop people playing so, an overcrowded market exists. Point three is the kicker and it is the one that really stifles the Irish musician.

Firstly, we all have to admit that we have devalued music. All of us. We don’t think we have to pay for music. Spotify, YouTube etc. etc. pay very little we all know this and now we are beginning to see the fruit of this as even successful bands have to tour constantly to make money. ‘Well screw them’ you might say ‘they have enough money already’. That may be the case but I’m thinking more about the bottom rung musicians and in Ireland, when you are there well money doesn’t exist.

‘What system does exist?’ I hear you ask. For the most part, exploitation. A tad dramatic? No not really. You see I come from a working class background and my parents couldn’t afford to bankroll my dreams. ‘Never stop believing’ is easy to say but let’s be honest that doesn’t pay for guitars, amps, PAs, strings and petrol. Look at point two again. Yes, too many bands. You see there will always be a band that will play if you don’t. Starting out I never cared about money, of course I didn’t I was 14 when I started. But when I turned 18 I was expected to work. Nothing dulls a dream like an empty pocket and nothing kicks you in the stones like working on songs only to be told: ‘We will give you the gig , we can’t pay you but (and every bottom rung musician knows the next line) it’ll be great exposure!’ We all believe this at the start but only a fool believes it down the road. Or so you would think.

I’m writing this because I believe that most musicians live in a bubble or suffer from a psychosis. I’ll never forget my girlfriend asking me ‘How much did you get for that gig?’ I was in my thirties and playing in the Temple Bar area of Dublin. I’ll never forgot the look on her face when I replied ‘Nothing’ (I lie we each got one pint). She looked at me like I was mad. I was. You see that look pulled me out of the reverie but to be honest that had begun to happen a long time before.

It happened one night in a pub in the inner city, I won’t name names here as I’m classy like that ah what the fuck they probably need the exposure. It was The Mercantile and we were waiting to go on and the drummer turned to me and he said: ‘I’m sick of playing up and down in the same places for nothing’. He looked so dejected that I knew that night his heart was gone out of the band and truth be told mine had begun to. It wasn’t really the band. It was more that I had to try to hold down a job and then get to a venue and play to about fifty people who didn’t really care. I’m from the punk school of music so I put on a show but it was hard. What was harder was the realization that when you don’t pay for something you don’t appreciate it. We weren’t getting paid, and we weren’t getting paid for all the hard work that we had done and because of that people treated it as next to nothing. Harsh? Yes. True? Search your feelings, you know it to be true.

I’ll leave it on this, I was in another band and we got an opportunity to appear in a short film. You know the story, it’ll be great exposure yadda, yadda. So, I ring to find what we would need (as I’ve never been in a movie) and the most ignorant waste of space has the temerity to start getting snotty with me as I’m asking are they providing a PA for us to play through. He starts to launch into an attack about how I should know and why am I ringing. I stop him dead in his tracks and tell him in no uncertain terms to never talk to me like I’m an errant child and remind him we are doing him the favour. Against my better judgement I borrow a PA to bring with us to the shoot. We drive fifty miles to a pub at the designated time of one o’clock. No one is there. When they do arrive three hours later we set up etc by eight that evening we have still not started the shoot. I talk to a guy back stage ( I don’t want to embarrass my band mates) he has a word and eventually at around 9:00 the shoot begins. It’s all over by ten but we have to pack up and get back. We were promised food. That’s all we asked. Food. They bought eight pizzas for about eighty people. I got one slice. I arrived home at one. I did twelve hours for a slice of pizza. That was two and a half years ago. The film has never been released and the band have since split. Exposure? When you’re on the bottom there ain’t no such thing!

Where swallows sing: psychogeography, lament and loss.

You probably don’t think of the crack of rifle fire and the rumble of tanks when you think of home. Growing up on an army base you might think I would, and I do somewhat, but more than that I think of birdsong and the trees when I feel home. I say feel home because I think of home as an emotion, a geography of the psychological. Psychogeography is the way in which an environment plays on the emotions and behaviour of the person. Strictly speaking it had its roots in the situationist urban landscape but whenever home returns to me I think of the psychogeographic.

image

 

Karl Marx once said that people can see nothing around them that is not in their image, everything speaks to them of themselves. In the Curragh Camp I see myself in the animate and inanimate objects of my youth. They form part of my being and my being forms part of the Curragh Camp. The patch of land where the barbed wire coiled like a snake ready to bite with its rusty teeth. We would tie a rope around the branch of the giant tree, pulling it taut, letting it go then we would swing upwards and outwards over the wire. I was always terrified. Not too far away there was an old toilet, bald on top from the collapsed roof, we held contests to see whose piss could reach furthest up the wall. Urine spraying everywhere.

As the brightness of a summer night gave way to purple tinged dusk the cawing of hundreds of crows settling in for the night would assault the ears. A great cacophony that heralded bedtime was near. Swallows would nest in the eaves of the houses, swooping dangerously close to the roads in between the blocks. As summer sneaked away school sauntered in. Who remembers now the little path where a gang of us walked as we wound our way out of MacDonagh? Memory pain.

Teenage years spent in the disused houses as the old lady began to creak under the weight of a new world coming. We kissed in the shadows, cigarettes glowing in the dark winter nights, love was proclaimed on Lover’s Rock and the plantation bore silent witness to the fumbling hands of lustful youth. Bon Scott RIP AC/DC graffiti on the laundrette wall. Traces of an empire fading in the pencil lines of men that would go off to see the blood of Europe spread on Flanders field. Some never to feel the warmth of home again.Sitting on the hill of the ranges with Kildare spread out under your feet and the sky stretching forever. Everywhere I see my image: our image.

It is the stillness that gets me now. Noise only existing in my half-formed memories and fragments of dreams. Home populated by absence rather than wholeness. Each time returning I promise it will be the last, however we are forever linked. It is a symbiosis. It is dreamtime. We are a people fading. The last of us receding. I wonder did the migrating swallows think: ‘where did we they go’ when the terrace that was ours and theirs disappeared?  I wonder where they sleep now? I wonder do they dream of us like we dream of them?

Dedicated to the memory of my childhood friend Anthony Frahill 1976-2017. Rest softly in the dreams of our hometown.

A wave that breaks.

Generation X was the label of my generation. We were/are the slackers, the cynics, the ones that had lost all trust in authority and just kinda shrugged at it all. Well at least that was the cliche. Who knows what we were or are for labels are handed out in an arbitrary fashion usually at the whim of journalists or sociologists. What is true is that the movement known as grunge brought the underground overground as it were. There were many bands involved but there were four that stood out for me: Pearl Jam, Nirvana, Soundgarden and Alice in Chains. Well we all know what happened to Kurt Cobain and Layne Staley of Alice in Chains died after. That left Eddie Vedder and Chris Cornell. Unfortunately Chris Cornell died in May. There is a deep sadness that the bands that changed so much lost their frontmen. Of all the four Soundgarden were my favourite and I had the pleasure of seeing them live in Dublin some years back. Sleep well Chris and thank you for the music.

A Wave That Breaks

The remnants of my youth
carried on the updraft of your voice.
It echoed through the rooms of my thoughts.
Images formed of fragments
the possibility of the now,
the slow trudge of an ending
and the beginning of newer age.
What gifts the seer brings
harnessing the whisper to create the scream
showing the believers the worth of their dreams
knowing the unknown
keeping us alive
measuring the distance
of rooms a thousand years wide.

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