I come from a long tradition of Rose & Crown Fridays, Rake Tuesdays and the occasional Market Porter Thursday. I think Draft House Wednesdays might become a thing. It’s got me watching old, funny, YouTube videos. (Hic.)
“On holidays. Back on the 9th.”
…as a sparkly haired David Lynch.”
There’s a nice bit in Stephen King’s writing book where he says that if in doubt you should use the verb ‘to say’. Not declaim, not exclaim, not interject, not ejaculate. Say. Admittedly it’s hard to take vocab lessons from a man who has no qualms using the word ‘seed’ (give me ‘cum’ or ‘semen’ any day), but he’s definitely onto something. Here are three words that once peppered my personal lexicon but whose use I’ve since learned to temper.
I was walking across Kings, towards the bridge and then on to the English Faculty with Zack. We were in our third year. We were talking about dissertations; mine was still in a bit of a state, but Zack had some really interesting ideas about systems of law and King Lear (for context, he ended up getting one of the highest Tripos scores in our year, and he’s now – in the real world – a highflying barrister). I nodded enthusiastically at what Zack was saying, and said sincerely, ‘Oh that’s really cute!’.
Zack looked slightly aghast. I had meant cute as a high compliment, not an arch one. I had meant to say ‘Oh, that’s great! What a unique spin, what a delight that would be to read if it were done well. If I were a marker, I’d be putting double ticks all over the margin.’ But I learnt that day to be wary of how I use the word ‘cute’.
Resolution: try to carry off the more American, but in other ways similar, ‘neat’. Or just say ‘That’s good’.
This one surprised me. During summer I was working on something with a partner, and a team we weren’t familiar with. Coming out of one review, one of the CDs turned to the other and they started cracking up about the word ‘interesting’.
‘What’s wrong with interesting?’, I asked, less rhetorically than those around me inferred. Well – to answer my own question – if the person saying it isn’t, if what they’re saying isn’t, and – in fact – the only thing distinctive is the way they say the word… Well, if you take that and repeat it over a period of months on a three-day cycle, I can see how the word ‘interesting’ could get tarnished. I’m still going to use it, I just thought it remarkable that a perfectly innocuous (in a good way) word had been tarnished.
Resolution: resist ‘interesting’ and prefer ‘fascinating’. It will be far more obvious if you’re being delusional or taking the piss. And the compliment will be all the greater for employing the greater stakes. Or just say, ‘Oh, that’s good.’
I’m still on the fence with this one. I love it when it’s meant in a businesslike writerly way. Ben Blacker uses it a lot. But ‘fun’ is a functional descriptor in a writers room. At other times it can come off dismissive. In a recent Nerdist podcast, Nick Offerman’s talking about an incident early on in his courtship of Megan Mullally and, yeah, let’s just say ‘fun’ can be loaded…
Resolution: fuck it, stick with fun. Life’s too short, but remember to use it meanly from time to time. Or just say, ‘Ohhh. Gooood.’
What an ending!
I’ve had Life’s a Riot With Spy Vs Spy on repeat recently. My old flatmate Elliott used to play ‘A New England’ (track 4) a lot, but rarely sung along to the words. Which is a shame, because they are brilliant.
Apparently this particular song was indeed inspired by Bragg looking up into the sky for inspiration, and only seeing two satellites. The way that almost-but-not-quite-adequate-metaphor is handled – the words, all their syllables, packed into that line is so bloody witty. Along with all that goes with it; the sense of a frustrated poetic soul concerned with what’s ‘wrong’ and missing the point. Not seeing the trees for the wood.
Earlier this month, NASA announced that mankind had become an interstellar species, thanks to Voyager. On board Voyager – or VGER as it will come to be known when it makes a destructive return journey to Earth – is the Golden Record. There’s no Bragg on board – no Beatles either, since EMI refused to release the rights to ‘Here Comes The Sun’. But bugger me if the text on board doesn’t represent some of the best copywriting ever.
It’s elegant and deliberately clumsy at once. Consciously stripping away at rhetoric. It’s self-awarely naive yet genuine at the same time. It’s precocious. It wishes on Space Hardware.
Microsoft’s sheer lack of taste is almost constantly surprising, but with Bing I wish they’d just sort themselves out and come up with a decent alternative to Google. Which leads into problem / challenge one.
Unless they steal, Bing’s search results will never be exactly the same as Google’s. And for many that will just mean straight off that Bing’s results are worse. Who wants to un-learn how they search? Google became a verb for a reason.
So, while the “decision engine” language that surrounded Bing’s first launch was a bit of a flop – ‘Bing and decide’ feels so cumbersome, like ‘boot up and Start’ – the idea of putting a bit of intentional distance between Google and Bing isn’t a bad one at all.
Self-identifying recommendation engines and serendipity engines (shudder) will never catch on in the public imagination. Amazon is in the best place to break through with a universal recommendation engine. It’s the only big system where universal wish lists don’t feel creepy. (Facebook missed a trick there, and especially Yahoo had they only been able to service Delicious well and acquire Hunch in their 2.0 blooming phase.)
So what kind of engine should Bing market itself as? For me there’s no doubt about it. Translation. Go hard and go fast on translation. Build an app for every platform. Carpet bomb on marketing. Try to make it so that ‘Bing’ is a command at the end of a phrase – like ‘return’. Experiment with how that feels – Bing constantly listening, analysing, parsing, ready to execute at the drop of a hat. Like the ping when you change lines on a typewriter.
People like to be able to dominate the technology they use. For all Sergey’s bizarre chat about mobile phones having ‘emasculating’ touch screens, Google’s voice interfaces have replaced the command with a servile request: ‘OK, Google’. Start with OK? It sounds so resigned. So lower-status. Best would be not having to use a trigger word. Second best, have it at the end and work towards eradicating its need by getting shit-hot cadence analysis.
Bing needs to become synonymous with being translated. Or better, being understood. “Blah, blah, blah, capiche?”
You bing, right? We cool.
"And hang the bandwidth."
Sometimes I get sick with excitement thinking about ideas. Or reading ideas. Or having ideas. Perhaps the truth is today I’m just, like, sick sick and don’t realise it yet.
Anyway, right now all I want to do is read and absorb everything Ray Bradbury had to write about Disney (especially Disneyland).
I’m in LA which means I’m in the US which means my Netflix overnight became exponentially more awesome. And as a result I’ve binged on the first two seasons of Louie like Louie bingeing on ice cream and masturbation. Sadly, the Ritz-Carlton room service is light on ice cream options, but they do have a nice turndown.
The last series I binged on before Louie was Seinfeld. Four months ago, I'd seen no episodes. Now I’ve seen them all: DVDs bought, videos ripped, and all hundred-and-whatever living on my iTunes. I don’t get why people hate on the the finale, but it’s pretty unarguable that the show lost something in the later seasons. For me, things started to shift when they got rid of the opening stand-up pieces. Those bits made the show honest, they set the tone, and also – underratedly – gave context for the studio laughter. I don’t believe in the whole “laugh track bad, no laugh track good” argument; but I do think a laugh track that begins with a piece of stand-up equals better.
Then it struck me (as it's no doubt struck dozens of people, but I'm late to this, I'm a fast catching up binger), it struck me that Louie and Seinfeld are basically completely the same show told through comics who are basically completely different.
And yet not. The Ricky Gervais Talking Funny HBO special is pretty good value throughout, but my favourite section is where Jerry gives a completely “Seinfeld-ed” version of one of his favourite Louis CK bits (the vacation walking around the car). Then Chris Rock complains about kids who underestimate the value of good jokes underpinning any comedy (alternative or otherwise). Then Louis reminiscing about opening for Jerry in the 80s, getting freaked out by applause, and the career-changing advice Jerry gave him on how to handle the applause. “Stay in the bit.” Then Ricky jokes in all honesty about how that lesson had been second nature to him and, it’s implied, all Brits.
And that is the beautiful, beautiful thing about Louie. It allows us to stay in the bit, beyond the confines of a stage. Especially since, as “Louie” the comic says on stage at one point, 80% of his life is made up of moments that he’d never ever share with anyone, and just take to his grave. I think it’s also “staying in the bit” that makes for all those great moments where we keep with a song from beginning to end. That busker on the subway, and “Who are you?” on the freeway.
As a final point, I love how Louie like Seinfeld builds up its universe with each episode. Whether it’s that mom who wants to be spanked and called Daddy in one episode who pops up much later in the season just to give Louie a filthy look, or the “bag of dicks”, or wanking off to Hotlips out of M*A*S*H which pre-empts the crazy good Duckling Afghanistan episodes.
I look forward to seeing Jerry in season 3 – I read somewhere that that happens. And I look forward to Louie’s neighbour popping up again (played by the same actor as Seinfeld’s aggressive Puerto Rican armoire stealer Bob) – I haven’t read anywhere that that happens, it’s just a hope. And I hope season 3 will be good, but I’m sure it will be. I’m a bit sad that I’ll probably have to wait until I’m back on Netflix USA soil to see it. But that’s the flipside with binges: you’ve got to build up to them. And besides, I could probably do with going out a bit.
Just been delivered of this little bundle of joy. Alas, mere hours before I have to board a plane to LA, so won’t have time to set it up before hand. *sigh* #firstworldproblems
And these were my top, top finds:
- The Lolita Soundtrack
- A Combination of Cribbins
- The L.S. Bumble Bee by Peter Cook and Dudley Moore
- Bouquet of Love by The Percy Faith String
- Oh, Happy Day by Tab Hunter
- 7" Singles by Kishi Bashi
- The Lord Chamberlain Regrets…!
- The Ray Conniff Hi-Fi Companion
And best / most baffling of all is a three-track album narrated by Kenneth Horne (as in Round the Horne). It’s a public information album – about the telephone, commissioned presumably by the British Post Office – but I’m so used to hearing Horne be the straight man in comedy I keep expecting Julian and Sandy to chime in. Anyway, wonderful.
My favourite track is the exceptionally product demo-y ‘Everyday Life Montage’.
Ring up the doctor. Telephone for the ambulance. There’s a message for you to ring your office. Give me the police please, quickly! Have you telephoned mother? Did you ring granny? Emergency? Give me the fire service please. Has Daphne phoned? Good morning. Your alarm call.
Life-cyc, y’all. Life-cyc.
This video is an old favourite. So old that I’d lost the favouriting system I used to use, and just spent the last 40 minutes trying to find it again. But it was worth it.
What I like most is the poetic sentiment of the subtitles. A recognition that whilst some nuances are necessarily lost in translation (and there’s a whole bunch of unsubtitled VO)… that despite or because of that loss, there’s a feeling you get of some deeper humanity being found, acquired in the process of translation.
It’s so much nicer to read some of those clumsy sentences than it would be to hear them. I’ve emphasised particular moments in the transcript below, but hopefully it’s clear to everyone how textually delicate the whole piece is. If I knew what I was talking about, I might propose the term wabi-sabi.
And that last line is fantastic, obvs.
In 1962 I was born in old town Tokyo.
I was brought up surrounded by the smell of oil and steel
and the sound of machinery.
I think this is why this life suits me well.
I have images but I am not inspired by any particular thing.
I don’t draw either.
I cut steel or bend aluminium listening to how I feel at that moment.
I use my own hands and break my back making the bikes
I believe that speaks to people’s emotions
and makes them want one.
A bike should look good on its own
but it’s incomplete until a person rides it.
It’s something that brings out my instincts
the wildness and vulnerability in me.
It feels nothing like
how violent it looks from the outside.
It’s very serene.
The ground and the sky are so white there is no boundary between them.
I have never flown
but it feels like flying in an airplane using a reciprocating engine.
I can’t tell you how peaceful it is.
Stayed up last night watching this. Smart, funny, respectful, compelling people.