Elsewhere: Blitzed! The Autobiography of Steve Strange

In some respects it’s a fascinating tale of fame and hedonism. If, however, you’ve read biographies of other Eighties pop stars then you’ve heard a lot of it before. The story seems to have been repeated: humble beginnings drive creativity which lead to fame and then there is a some-kind of fa

I’ve just finished Blitzed! The autobiography of Steve Strange and posted my review to Amazon:

Steve Strange was an icon of the Eighties music scene, a visionary and a leader. I suspect he’s often over-looked but his contribution was vital. His clubs kick-started a movement and the band he fronted, Visage, were pioneers of – what became – the New Romantics: make-up, big hair, big hats and even bigger shirt lapels and cuffs. From the beginning of the decade, and out of the punk movement, came the classic Fade To Gray. Visage and Steve Strange were combining fashion and music in a radical new way.

Blitzed has an informal style which makes it quite readable. Strange name-drops his way through a decade and apologises quite a lot for his behaviour. It’s a cautionary tale of a rise to fame, money mis-management and drug addiction. It’s the story of London squats and club-land rivalry and of a community who knew they were changing nightclubs, the fashion scene and music – and doing it all in a few short years. It is a struggle to stop a man falling over the edge and trying to make sense of a life where once his name was in lights but the money is long gone.

In some respects it’s a fascinating tale of fame and hedonism. If, however, you’ve read biographies of other Eighties pop stars then you’ve heard a lot of it before. The story seems to have been repeated: humble beginnings drive creativity which lead to fame and then there is a some-kind of fall (usually, drink or drug induced). Blitzed is an enjoyable read but Boy George will give you more and Marc Almond will take you further. If you knew the club scene of the time there’s a insight into the door policies of the new breed of Eighties clubs and how they worked. If you are looking for the story of Visage then, obviously, it’s covered here and this will be a valuable reference – but it’s more about the man than the band.

If you remember the decade then you’ll read this book regardless but, sadly, I felt there could have been a little more. Nonetheless, Blitzed reinforces Steve Strange’s rightful place as a leader of a movement who’s certainly not about to fade away.

Piccadilly Circus, March 2003

I acquired a new mobile ‘phone earlier in the week and it has a tiny camera in it which I used to take a picture of Piccadilly Circus at night

Piccadilly Circus At Night
From A Mobile Phone

I acquired a new mobile ‘phone earlier in the week. I didn’t actually choose the model because I was sent it. It’s bigger and heavier than my previous mobile and it doesn’t have a radio – which I really liked when I was walking to work. It does, however, have a calendar function which I am finding quite useful and it does have one of those built-in cameras that people rave about.

It’s not the greatest camera in the world but it is quite cool having a camera that you carry with you all the time. For no real reason, on Tuesday night I decided that I wanted to take a shot of Piccadilly Circus (I work just round the corner). I have just pulled the image off the ‘phone. It’s not a great photo (in fact it’s a pretty poor one) but I am really quite happy with it. There is something about the colour and the light that suggest the real buzz you get from walking across Piccadilly Circus at night. Now, let’s see how many more photos I post.

Obviously, I am not the only person in the world to have a camera in a ‘phone, I am not the only person to get excited about it and I am not the only one to blog it. Guess there’s very little unique about me!

Small Screens Look Good

You know, I am really impressed by the new version of Opera (which has always been a browser I have used).

You know, I am really impressed by the new version of Opera (which has always been a browser I have used). I love many features while others, like the new M2 mail client, I am not too sure about. I think they may have something in the different approach to mail but I may just be too stuck in my emailing ways. Still, if you want to check out how your pages may look on smaller screens (phones, pdas etc.) if the vendor has selected Opera then boot up Opera 7, go to your site and SHIFT F11 for Opera’s small screen rendering. Left is my site as it looked the other day. I think it proved the power of style sheets as the whole thing is still quite browsable (is there such a word) and readable in the reduced format. I may even browse all the web like this!

A New World Order

America is the only real super-power with the economic and military force to pretty much try and do what they like around the world

Where does Britain go next? Polly Toynbee wrote an excellent piece in Friday’s Guardian [via Politix] about the state of the Union (European) and our (so-called) special friendship with America. Sadly, I really believe that the friendship is now very much a one-way street. We support the US or we don’t. They don’t much care.

America is the only real super-power with the economic and military force to pretty much try and do what they like around the world. Yet a European Union – in several guises – could be a threat to that power and, therefore, a stabilising influence on a very one-sided world. And, if we are honest, even the Americans should understand that could be a safer way for the world to be. A second democratic super-power born not out of ideological fights but pieced together from a similar model to that from which the US grew. In essence, a powerful and united European Union (united by stance and not necessarily under one flag) would provide the series of checks and balances the United Nations seems unable to provide at the moment.

Depending on your viewpoint, this war may (or may not) be right in many ways. Regardless we are there now and we are fighting alongside the US and other nations. When the dust settles on Iraq – as it eventually will – what will the new world order be like? Will we follow the US into any nation they care to wage war against (rightly or wrongly)? Can we still hold our head high at meetings of the EU and look our neighbours in the eye? Are we capable of stepping back and looking for our appropriate place in the new world order? I hope we can.

To Be A Politician

On Iraq, I believe that the prevailing mood of the British people is sound. They do not doubt that Saddam is a brutal dictator, but they are not persuaded that he is a clear and present danger to Britain.

It must be an odd career being a politician – whatever you do somebody will disagree. After all, there is there is always somebody with a different coloured rosette. If your opinions are not being shouted down in some debating chamber due to political differences then you run the risk of being called self-serving. It’s one job where you know you will not be popular everywhere.

So is Robin Cook, former Foreign Secretary and now former leader of the House of Commons, a man of integrity or self-serving? I don’t know him so I can’t answer that. What I do believe is his resignation speach last night was one of the best speeches I have ever seen by a politician. It wasn’t bitter (although there was a sadness to it) and there were no personal attacks (even though he resigned because he disagreed with Government policy). He is not leaving his post because of some scandal but because he feels he can’t continue to serve in a Cabinet that supports a war he does not. With it he loses the trappings of office (house, car, staff?) and returns to the back benches.

I don’t know much about Robin Cook. I know that last night’s address was remarkable. He was eloquent and appeared to speak with a sincerity and conviction you do not see often in the modern politician. His argument (regardless of your stance) was delivered with a calm clarity that is, also, unusual. I admired the fact that he spoke to the House of Commons before the press and seemed, genuinely, to respect the workings of the British democracy. Isn’t it a shame more politicians don’t do that?

Now, some have suggested throughout the day that he was positioning himself for a role if all goes wrong for Tony Blair. But doesn’t taking a stance and having the integrity to declare when you believe something is right or wrong mean that you are positioning yourself. You can’t do anything about that. If he is proved to have been right then it’s only proper that people turn to him in the months to come. If he is wrong at least he has his integrity intact. If more of our elected representatives cared more for the policies than public opinion or their image and more spoke with the passion that Robin Cook did, I think British politics would be a better place.

Perhaps Claire Short should take another night to think about it.

Continue reading “To Be A Politician”

Dreams of the Downsized

Today I understood how the internet was built up and how it failed to deliver on those dreams for many people. What was sad were the changes that have happened to the online group over the last year. Gone are the product managers, most developers and many of the other staff. They are now much, much smaller than they were.

I went to see a client this morning: nothing too unusual in that fact. It was a client I have worked with over several years – the internet arm of a well-known organisation. Again, nothing too exceptional. Nice chat, coffee and new product overview (from my part). As I had not seen them for a while, I thought it would be nice to go back. Now, don’t get me wrong, it was great to see people there. What was sad were the changes that have happened to the online group over the last year. Gone are the product managers, most developers and many of the other staff. They are now much, much smaller than they were.

Again, nothing to unusual in this but today it struck me as sad. The ideas and the passion, the desire to make something happen and be part of it that all those people had – gone. How many people in so-called new media industries have been through it (some, several times)? I have been through the cut-back mill as people around me are “downsized” in order to allow companies to survive. Yet, today – I think – was the first day the scale of it struck me. I can’t really explain it and I am not sure that I want to try but today I think I understood how the internet was built up and how it failed to deliver on those dreams for many people.

The “why” of it all is a different story for a different day. Today is about the good people who have moved on. Hopefully, they’re doing better.

Thoughts on Blogspace

I believe I might be attaching a purity to the weblog concept that is misplaced. I wouldn’t place those same ideals on population as a whole, so why should I do it to the blogged world? Freedom to write whatever I want is a fine thing and, perhaps, I imposing concepts of integrity that are incompatible with this freedom?

Yesterday’s post has started a whole train of thoughts about the concept of blog integrity and why should we care? I am sure it’s the idealist in me that is attaching a great deal of importance to the billions of words blogged on a daily basis. Perhaps I shouldn’t care because the power of blog-space is that people write opinion and thought in an way that they want to. It’s not for anybody else to say that I shouldn’t be allowed to promote a new mobile ‘phone because either I want to or the company sent me a free ‘phone.

I believe I might be attaching a purity to the weblog concept that is misplaced. I wouldn’t place those same ideals on population as a whole, so why should I do it to the blogged world? Freedom to write whatever I want is a fine thing and, perhaps, I imposing concepts of integrity that are incompatible with this freedom?

I’m not sure where these thoughts are going but they are challenging my blog ideals. I mentioned in one of my posts yesterday to the UK Bloggers list that, perhaps, blogs were just catching up with other media. I suspect that is true but in a way I hadn’t thought – the fact that they are as exploitable, commercially, as any other media.

Where does this leave my online ideals?

In related reading, Rebecca Blood talks about these issues in Weblog Ethics.

Elsewhere: Blogging & Advertising

Over on the ukbloggers-discuss at Yahoo Groups, we’ve been having a discussion about advertising, prompted by Tom Coates asking, “Did we ever come to any conclusions about the appropriateness of advertising?” in the context of blogging. In essence we’re saying that blogging is personal and, if you decide that your audience will accept advertising, what does this mean and how iwll it work for a blog?

Over on the ukbloggers-discuss mailing list at Yahoo Groups, we’ve been having a discussion about advertising, prompted by Tom Coates asking, “Did we ever come to any conclusions about the appropriateness of advertising?” in the context of blogging. In essence we’re saying that blogging is personal and, if you decide that your audience will accept advertising, what does this mean and how will it work for a blog?

I started quite open to the concept,

I believe advertising is a compromise. Are you comfortable with a reader questioning your independence? I know it’s a very grand term but, nonetheless, it’s at the heart of the advertising debate. It may not matter to the vast majority of readers but it could (should?) to some. I don’t think anybody but me cares about my independence but it is the reason why I wouldn’t want any advertising on my blog.

But is it that simple? Blogging generally costs something – hosting, bandwidth, time and effort. Should a blogger be entitled to get a little something back? I don’t think advertising is a bad thing on blogs,

When typing my previous post I was being very careful not to say that I felt the acceptance of advertising is inappropriate (because I don’t think it is) but I do believe that while it shouldn’t change what you do or what you say, it may very well change the way you are read. And for some people, that’s a consideration (admittedly, probably not for many).

Or am I putting an undue emphasis on editorial independence for bloggers? Perhaps I am. Is it a silly notion to (try to) apply to weblogs in all their forms?

But then Tom introduced me to projectblog.com, a site aimed at recruiting bloggers with reasonable audiences “who would be willing to help advance their marketing efforts”, and introduced the concept of blogging about products you may have been sent as freebies or paid to write about. I think I turned cynical,

My first reaction was that it proved my point about editorial independence. Then, I was going to cite traditional broadcast media. There are some rules there to ensure clear distinction between programme and advertising content.

However, when you think about it, how many morning DJs talk about having seen new blockbuster that’s not released yet? Many of them. And most of them went for free. You do not consciously think their opinion is biased.

Perhaps the online world is playing catch up with traditional media. And I can’t decide if that a good thing or not.

Maybe it’s sad that I cling to the notion that connected networks somehow empower people. I am not against the commercial web but weblogs are a great example of a (generally) positive use of the technology. When the marketers get involved it changes my expectations. It’s not a surprise but the next time somebody raves about something new won’t you question it (even a little bit)?

Is it possible to turn into a world-weary cynic in the space of two hours?

And now? Well, I stand by my thoughts that you should be clear about what you write. Blogging to me is the fulfilment of the web’s promise of personal publishing for everybody. But, of course, money always gets in the way and there’s nothing wrong with advertising online. After all, it’s what I do, isn’t it?

A Quieter Life

It’s time for my friends to give me a quick injection of reality.

Thank goodness that tonight I am going out with a group of friends. They are some of my oldest friends in London (by that I mean I have known them longest and not that they are all ancient). I’ve just decided that I am quite relived as I am having one of my “why do I stay here” days?

I love London. There is no doubt that it is one of the most vibrant and wonderful cities around. I love the dirt, the pollution and the travel chaos. I love the way the British put up with congestion with some quiet mutterings. There would be riots in some counties.

I don’t use London as much as I should. I work and I travel home to my little zone three house. Sometimes I go out with friends and visit a much larger range of bars than I ever would in a smaller town. I see films before they hit the screens in the rest of the UK and, even, get to see films and theatre that never make it outside the West End. Occasionally, I will visit a gallery or museum or wander the historic sites. I adore the view from The London Eye, think St Paul’s is a great place for quiet contemplation, the South Bank is a wonderful place to relax and believe the Thames Barrier is one of the finest structures around. Oxford Street, Covent Garden and surrounding areas have every shop you could ever dream of – and many you couldn’t (or wouldn’t). If I lived here for the rest of my life I probably wouldn’t have time to see and do everything I would like to.

Yet today I am having a “get me away from here” day. Take me somewhere were the pace is slower, people are friendlier (but not as pushy), where I can see the sky and not commute an hour each way on an over-crowded train. I think it started last night when I watched one of those programmes about people who give it all up and set up home in France or Italy or Spain. They seem to live off the land and suddenly develop gardening talents that would make Alan Titchmarsh proud. They rebuild old barns and turn them into holiday accommodation that pays for their entire existence. They spend all their days on the land with the one they love and are at peace. Wouldn’t it be idyllic?

I imagine I would be bored. It’s not really a life for me – yet. I would miss Theatreland and Soho but today I feel I want that stillness and peace and that de-stressing lifestyle. I know it’s a lie but I want the dream. And that’s why I am glad I am off to the bars of Soho tonight. It’s time for my friends to give me a quick injection of reality.

Ben Affleck In Tight Leather

Ben Affleck in tight leather – why are you looking for those pictures?

Ben Affleck in tight leatherLooking at the referrer logs for this site, a lot of people are getting here thanks to my mention of Ben Affleck in tight leather (I assume in my Daredevil review). If you really want a picture of Ben Affleck in tight leather, go here, here or here.

The official Daredevail site is here. Enjoy

Dear Mr. Secretary

The sacrifice of global interests to domestic politics and to bureaucratic self-interest is nothing new, and it is certainly not a uniquely American problem

U.S. Diplomat’s Letter of Resignation

I am surprised the resignation letter of John Brady Kiesling (political counselor at the United States Embassy in Athens) has not been more widely reported (New York Times | ZNet). In the letter he says:

“The sacrifice of global interests to domestic politics and to bureaucratic self-interest is nothing new, and it is certainly not a uniquely American problem. Still, we have not seen such systematic distortion of intelligence, such systematic manipulation of American opinion, since the war in Vietnam”.

Many good points are made, some of which I believe we in Britain ought to be asking ourselves. Why, Mr Blair, have you been unable to convince your fellow MPs? Why has America and the UK failed to convince a great deal of the rest of the world that this is a proper course of action? While I have no doubt that there is much that can not be made public, the fact that we have failed to convince foreign leaders of the rightness of our approach is, to me, the most serious cause for concern. If we have to go to war, I would like to believe that it is being done with the backing of the world. The current talk of re-building the Middle East seems to be the worst kind of message coming from the West, and especially the US. Who gave them (or, indeed, us) the right?

Although I don’t like it, I am not anti-war. But war only if appropriate and only when all other reasonable actions have been taken. Then, with the support of the rest (or at least a majority) of the world, I would concede war is necessary. Until it does, we have to be very careful indeed.

As Mr Kiesling says, it all smells suspiciously like something in Vietnam. And we know how that ended up, don’t we?

Continue reading “Dear Mr. Secretary”

Elsewhere: The Kenneth Williams Diaries

The diaries are very well written and Davies’ editing not intrusive. Williams certainly didn’t appear to edit himself and the result is a frank and articulate book.

In my quest to ensure that I review every book that I read for Amazon (because I find other people’s reviews very useful) I’ve added my latest. It’s for the Kenneth Williams Diaries. I seemed to be reading them for ages – there are forty years worth of entries. It’s interesting for me because, during the time I was reading them I have also been maintaining this blog. While this isn’t quite a diary, the process is very similar and one paragraph in the diaries struck me as interesting:

The preoccupation with diary writing is caused by various things: the desire to keep a record which can be useful later, and committing to paper what can’t be communicated to a mentor … oh! all kinds of reasons, but fundamentally it is about loneliness.

Is it? Maybe it is. Who knows?

The Kenneth Williams Diaries, Edited by Russell Davies (Harper Collins, 1993)

Kenneth Williams DiariesI honestly think Kenneth Williams was unique. He certainly seemed to hate much about himself and didn’t have a great deal of time for a lot of other people. Sadly, the Diaries’ reputation precedes them and I expected more of the bitchiness that he is – supposedly – famed for. Despite that, there is plenty of Kenneth’s acid tongue in this book. His barbs are aimed squarely at his fans, his colleagues and the shows he felt obliged to work in. Some of the most intriguing insights are those that relate to the Carry On film series. Before Carry On made him famous, he was a well-respected stage actor. The Carry On films made him legendary (and wealthy) but he often felt they were beneath him.

Kenneth is well aware of his own nature. On 20 March 1987 he writes, “Everyone was v. nice to me … it is extraordinary that I’m so liked because I’m invariably rude & tetchy” and that sums up much of the book. You get a sense of love for the theatre, plays, and poetry and even for some of the work. However he is also offensive to many and seemed to have few good words for much of British Theatre. Much of the hate is due to an inner turmoil over the lack of companionship in his life (“Never to speak of my love for a man”) and some from the frustrations of his nature. Obsessed by noise and cleanliness the very act of living seems painful – and in the end his illness and genuine pain appear to get too much for him.

The diaries are very well written and Davies’ editing not intrusive. Williams certainly didn’t appear to edit himself and the result is a frank and articulate book. Words seem to flow easily which is, perhaps, not surprising for a man who made a living in the final years of his life from his large collection of humorous anecdotes. Spanning over forty years it’s hard to keep track of the players in Kenneth’s life and at 800 pages it’s not a light read. Nevertheless, the diaries are a vivid, malicious and (at times) very funny read into the world of a man who, in his day, was considered outrageous.

Film: Daredevil

I really can’t be sure what made this film fail for me. Maybe it was too dark for a super-hero flick or maybe that the story was not compelling. Maybe it was the fact that at least one villain survived for a sequel in a far too obvious fashion.

I was very surprised that I did not enjoy Daredevil more. It’s darker and more disturbing than many a super-hero flick and while this, for some, may be the appeal, it just didn’t do it for me. It’s also oddly constructed. We first meet the superhero as he collapses on the floor of a church. Why? Well, he’s half way through a battle with one of the villains – Bullseye (an Irish hitman capable of killing talkative old ladies on planes with nothing more than his finger and a peanut).

And so the film lurches backwards as we are told Matt Murdoch/Daredevil’s story. He grew up with his father -a boxer – and singled out for the bully treatment when he was a kid. Blinded in a dockside accident by a hazardous chemical, Daredevil’s face remains remarkably unmarked as he matures in the talented pro-bono lawyer played by Ben Affleck.

Once the Flashback sequence is over we return to our hero in mid-Organ scaling (as in church organ) battle. Who considered the middle of the narrative a sensible place for us to join? I guess it has worked before, but not here. In true super-hero style, our almost dead star rises and battles to the end. Of course, as in all such movies one wonders why the world hasn’t worked out that Matt Murdoch and Daredevil are the same. They are Ben Affleck in red leather.

Ah, dear Ben. I appear to be in the minority who were not convinced by his portrayal of a super-hero. He was too “leading man in a romantic comedy” for me, despite the tight leather gear which didn’t seem to turn him into the sex-hunk that I thought it might – Chris O’Donnell looks better in tight leather in Batman and Robin. Colin Farrell tries hard to be brutish with sex-appeal and he almost pulls it off, especially considering the target on his forehead isn’t really that great to look at.

I really can’t be sure what made this film fail for me. Maybe it was too dark for a super-hero flick or maybe that the story was not compelling. Maybe it was the fact that at least one villain survived for a sequel in a far too obvious fashion. Daredevil may be a comic hero but you don’t have a super-hero “thing” to latch on to (Superman flies, Spideman has a web and Batman has a utility belt). Daredevil’s other senses are enhanced. Big wow. Maybe it was the violence that felt too real and not comic-book enough or maybe it was that the supporting characters never really moved from being one-dimensional support.

I guess, in the end, I would have been disappointed if this crime-fighter had come to my rescue. I’d have been happy with Batman, thrilled if it was Superman and delighted if Spiderman liberated me. If Ben turned up in red leather I just might have laughed.

An Email From Space

We should continue to push the boundaries of technology and exploration.

While the investigations into the loss of the Space Shuttle continue, some argue that the Shuttle itself should be scrapped,

The space shuttle is impressive in technical terms, but in financial terms and safety terms no project has done more harm to space exploration. [Source: Time.Com]

For me, the most compelling story in the media today is from BBC News who have the text of an e-mail from shuttle victim Laurel Clark.

I feel blessed to be here representing our country and carrying out the research of scientists around the world. All of the experiments have accomplished most of their goals despite the inevitable hiccups that occur when such a complicated undertaking is undertaken. [Source: BBC News]

Pop

I am currently listening to pop. This is a difficult thing to write. Pop is not considered to be a credible music genre by people who listen to lots of music. Pop is considered the home of the boy band. Pop is the cheap and nasty side of music.

I am currently listening to pop. This is a difficult thing to write. Pop is not considered to be a credible music genre by people who listen to lots of music. Pop is considered the home of the boy band. Pop is the cheap and nasty side of music. People, especially people of my age, should have grown out of pop, but I have not. I enjoy the throw-away nature of it. The three-minute perfect pop song can take you away from your day and, if this week’s other entries are to be believed, away from your fellow commuters.

Actually, I hope, the current music I am listening to is considered the good side of pop (see, I am joining in the criticism of the genre). Not for me the sounds of the Cheeky Girls or S Club Juniors. No, I hope my current selection is a little more discerning.

I own a reasonable amount of music but I don’t purchase CDs weekly like some people. But I am listening to three recent albums which must be the first time that has happened to me in a long while. My current favourite is Justin Timerlake’s Justified. That is followed closely by Erasure’s new release (just last Monday), Other People’s Songs. Finally, I been unable to resist Will Young’s From Now On. Yes, unable to resist!

Continue reading “Pop”