Behind the lying eyes of Mark Regev
Using a prototype Truth Rectification Processor, the words of Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev have been filtered through a complex algorithm that strips away lies.
There is no intellectual exercise that is not ultimately pointless. A philosophical doctrine is, at first, a plausible description of the universe; the years go by, and it is a mere chapter - if not a paragraph or proper noun - in the history of philosophy. In literature, that “falling by the wayside,” that loss of “relevance,” is even better known. The Quixote, Menard remarked, was first and foremost a pleasant book; it is now an occasion for patriotic toasts, grammatical arrogance, obscene deluxe editions. Fame is a form - perhaps the worst form - of incomprehension.
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“Let me tell you something about bullshit. It’s everywhere. You hit me with a little, I buy it. I hit you with a little, you buy it. It doesn’t make us idiots. That’s what makes us buddies.”
Dogfight (Nancy Savoca, 1991)
Misty’s Big Adventure, Fashion Parade
This song by Misty’s illustrates some of the stuff about Birmingham that I wrote about here. The song and video attack unoriginal revival music ‘scenes’ in the UK where crowds pack in and do little more than bob their heads and frown. The digs at Franz Ferdinand and Kaiser Chiefs might be a bit low (especially considering that, in lifting those bands’ riffs in a mocking way, they acknowledge that they make for pretty good tunes), but it’s an on-point critique of music that has no sense of fun.
Also, it has Noddy Holder, who is on the Birmingham Walk of Fame.
Along with Ozzy Osborne.
And Jasper Carrot.
Yes, that is a real thing.
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"Most thoughts are memories. And memories deceive."
I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead (Mike Hodges, 2003)
A childhood in Birmingham is something that can’t quite be explained. Like an incredible holiday or an awkward car journey, you just kinda had to be there. England views its second city variably with ridicule, pity and contempt – but mostly, Birmingham just gets ignored. It doesn’t have the geography to share in the cultural nostalgia of the North or South, and who has time to hear about the intricacies of what it’s like to be a Midlander? Call yourself a ‘proud Brummy’ and you’ll get laughed out the room. Although, in these sincerity-phobic days, who wouldn’t get shot down for local pride?
Yet Birmingham – Workshop of the World – gifted to my adolescence a live music scene that, with the retrospect of my scanty adult years, was a little out there. Between the ages of fifteen and nineteen, my evenings were spent in the back rooms of various pubs, dodging the staff to avoid getting asked for ID. I went to those pubs to see local performers pour their hearts, souls and minds into these tiny, sweaty, smoky (until 2007) gigs. What all of those performers shared was a commitment to delivering an energetic and fun performance – without conceit, shame or hesitation, but with a lot of silliness and nonsense. Having been ignored for so long, Birmingham decided to act the fool.
Dogfood performed in their pyjamas, shouting more than singing their harmonies while running up and down the stage. Bom & His Magic Drumstick used stuffed toys and eclectic instruments to deliver one-man political satire, which drifted casually from the mundane to the sublime. The Modified Toy Orchestra snubbed traditional instruments altogether, instead making their music only from ‘hacked’ children’s toys. Even the typical man-and-guitar acts seemed to resist convention – you’d be more likely to hear a song complaining about the number 11 bus than a love ballad.
At the top of this wobbly heap of acts were Misty’s Big Adventure, a colourful brass-and-bass pop outfit influenced by Alejandro Jodorowsky and Raymond Scott whose main trade was ‘grumpy fun’. The grouchy misanthropy of frontman Grandmaster Gareth – receding headline, heavy coat, deadpan voice – battled onstage with the exuberance of Erotic Volvo, the six-foot-six, red-and-blue, hand-covered, permadancing Misty’s ‘mascot’. You kind of just have to see it. Coursing through all of their performances was the strange energy produced by a) joy that life is a wonderful thing and b) frustration that it could be so much better.
The best venue for Misty’s Big Adventure – for anyone, really – was the upstairs room at the Jug of Ale pub in Moseley (now an Indian restaurant). That tiny space was host to every musician in Birmingham at some point or another, and Misty’s continued to play there long after they outgrew them in audience capacity. There, Misty’s would find a crowd who knew the words to all of their songs – they could even anticipate the points at which Erotic Volvo would start a certain dance move. Without fail, the room would swell with sweat and cheering that tumbled down to the confused drinkers below.
Even the more ‘serious’ groups embraced the carnivalesque – the experimental Pram wore extravagant masks on stage, such as when they played at an overnight marathon of forgotten Birmingham TV show Gangsters in a Digbeth warehouse. Somehow, it was their perfect venue. When two of Pram’s songs were featured on the soundtrack of British thriller Hallam Foe – alongside Franz Ferdinand and King Creosote – my friends and I went to see the film, because that was exposure.
An invariably electrifying live group were The Destroyers, an international circus of hats, face-paint and exceptional musical ability cloaked in chaos. They were a formidable 15-piece Eastern European folk-rock band, led by mischievous poet and wordsmith Paul Murphy, spinning out tales of mad scientists and apocalypse. Every member of the all-male band looked (and played) like they had heard a thousand strange stories from around the world, and sang in a whole range of languages to fit. Out of Babel, one of their big hits, is a rousing ode to Birmingham, and they were often joined onstage by equally energetic local Bangra drummers The Dhol Blasters. I never saw one of their gigs where the entire audience wasn’t up on their feet by the end – soon to be joined by the band, who crept out with their violins, accordions and hurdy-gurdies onto the dance floor. In fact, inhibition on the dance floor was a rarely a problem in Birmingham, even at the smallest gigs.
For pure originality and showmanship, though, I place the crown atop the bobbing head of KateGoes…, whose career I tracked with mega-fan interest from their very first gig at Rooty Fruity’s in the Custard Factory. Mentored by Misty’s Big Adventure, and inheriting their fancy-dress party mantle, KateGoes…. produced tightly arranged 3-minute pop songs with witty lyrics and playful instrumentation (their love song ‘Heartbeat’ makes a rhythmic dog’s squeeze toy sound achingly poignant).
Their particular strain of nonsense was based on the premise that each gig represented a different adventure for frontwoman Kate Thompson. Hence KateGoes…To Hospital, KateGoes…Elderly, KateGoes…To Oz, KateGoes…Yellow, etc… Each theme would be accompanied with corresponding costumes, props, sets and performance styles. KateGoes….Down the Rabbit Hole had the band perform in costumes that barely allowed them to move. KateGoes…Superstitious featured a live projection on the wall at the back of the stage, filmed by a camera in the same place, so that the backdrop behind the performers looked like a gigantic cracked mirror. Each new show seemed to beat the last for inventiveness.
With so many young bands under pressure to ‘make it’ as musicians, they tend to pour their energy into marketing themselves right or imitating hugely successful acts. KateGoes…. gleefully showered their energy over props and costumes, because their big priority was putting on a good show for the neighbourhood. And, almost without fail, their gigs were packed out. Existing fans gloried in how much fun they were having; newbies marvelled at how easy it seemed to do so.
Despite - or because of - how it’s ignored and maligned, Birmingham has grown to foster a culture of quiet eccentricity. I’m glad that in my teenage years I could witness that genuine, sincere, unironic excitement in performing, that let me see the crowded back room of a pub on a Friday night as a playground.
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"The stars are God’s eyes."
To Live and Die in L.A. (William Friedkin, 1985)
"If I die with my eyes open, will you close them for me?"
I Come with the Rain (Tran Anh Hung, 2009)
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Rebirth Brass Band, Feel Like Funkin’ It Up
This is the tune from the very first scene of the very first episode of Treme - starting as they meant to go on.
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"If we had enough information, we could predict the consequences of our actions. Would you want to know?"
Code 46 (Michael Winterbottom, 2003)
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"Procedure becomes whatever you gotta do on the day."
The Limey (Steven Soderbergh, 1999)
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