Thursday, 31 July 2008

The pornogrification* of mainstream culture

Apparently, I have no sense of humour. I love the Marx Brothers and Bill Bryson and laugh at all sorts of jokes, but, no, according to some, I have no sense of humour. Why?

Mostly because:

– I don’t think pole dancing is an ‘empowering’ activity for young women, let alone little girls.

– I don’t think calling a perfume Putain des Palaces is either witty or charming; it’s a cynical marketing ploy on the part of Etat Libre d’Orange (a French perfume company), aimed at épater le bourgeois, that’s all.

– I don’t think choosing the word ‘brothel’ (albeit in its Latin/French version) as one’s message-board username is cute.

I’m told I get my knickers in a twist for nothing; that I take myself too seriously; that I should ‘relax’. It seems I’m not ‘a good sport’.

But then neither is that old feminist Rosie Boycott, who, a couple of years ago, reported that, in a lads magazine she had been reading, ‘every woman who had achieved something in her own right – other than possessing a great pair of boobs – was routinely dismissed as a boot-faced minger or dyke. Dame Ellen MacArthur, who had just achieved another nautical first, came in for a particular drubbing: “a miserable, sobbing, whining bitch in a boat... basically a frigid dyke-looking, yachting c***”.’

Ariel Levy, who wrote Female Chauvinist Pigs: Women and the Rise of Raunch Culture, is not amused either. She asks, ‘How is resurrecting every stereotype of female sexuality that feminism endeavoured to banish good for women? Why is labouring to look like Pamela Anderson empowering? And how is imitating a stripper or a porn star going to render us sexually liberated?’

As the journalist Fenella Souter says, ‘Sexiness has become the new political correctness.’ Woe betide the woman who finds it objectionable!

Well, I would rather be in the company of those humourless ‘harridans’ than that of any ‘team player’, who, brainwashed by men, objectifies herself.


* Does anyone know where the term comes from? I read it first in an article by Ginny Dougary in the Times, but I don’t think she coined it.

Update (2/08/08): If you don’t agree with me, and – obviously – know nothing about the Suffragettes, who fought for women’s equality, back in the last century, go and see Her Naked Skin at the National. You will learn a few things that will make your hair stand on end and possibly make you feel a bit guilty for betraying their ideals (they certainly didn’t fight for women to behave as badly as men). If, on the other hand, you do know what you owe these brave women, don’t bother: apart from a history lesson, it is one of the shallowest pieces of drama I’ve seen for a long time. There is a play to be written about the subject, but Her Naked Skin ain’t it.

Friday, 18 July 2008


I made it!

A minuscule taste of what it was like at the O2 Arena earlier tonight.

More about it later...

Update (25/07/08): One of my commenters asks, ‘I hope it wasn't entirely spoiled by being with 19,998 other people?’ The answer to that is, ‘No, not entirely.’ The O2 Arena is absolutely HUGE, but it feels quite intimate from the stalls (I got cold shivers down my back when I looked up and pictured myself on Level 4, in what would had been my original seat: I could hardly see it, it was so high up). My partner and I were still a long way from the stage but the two large screens on each side of it enabled us to see the faces of the performers (and the people operating the camera knew exactly what to shoot so we didn’t feel we were missing anything). And the seats were surprisingly comfortable. In fact, if it hadn’t been for the constant stream of people going to the bars because they couldn’t listen to music without having a glass in their hands, the evening would have been utter perfection. I was hoping I wouldn’t have cause to slap anyone on that occasion, but those people were so disrespectful to the artistes on stage and to the rest of the audience that I must. Slap!

Yes, yes, yes, but what was Leonard like? What can I say that hasn’t been said before? He was wonderful: funny, charming, boyish, ironic, warm, courteous, wise – just lovely, skipping on and off the stage between the four encores, obviously delighted with the rapturous reception he was getting: the sound of 20,000 people on their feet cheering and clapping was exhilarating even for the audience. The energy that man has!

Oh, and the voice! Deep, low, soft, rasping, caressing... He sang some of my favourite songs, and others I didn’t know so well but now love as much as the others. Sharon Robinson, who was the ‘star’ of the backing singers, was fantastic: intense and focused. I adored her intro to Boogie Street. I’ve always loved Julie Christensen and Perla Batalla, his previous backing singers, but, although they don’t quite have the same ‘rapport’ with Lenny yet, the Webb Sisters were superb: they have beautiful, pure voices and their rendition of If It Be Your Will was very moving. All the members of the band – you know, those musicians one usually doesn’t care much about – were virtuosi in their own right, on some very strange instruments. And we got to know their names very well too. LOL! (There are some extraordinary videos on YouTube now: you can practically watch the whole concert.)

What amazed us was the wide range of ages in the audience: lots of grey-haired people, like me; lots of younger adults; lots of older teenagers; I even saw a couple of children. LC’s music really appeals to everyone. Who would have thunk it back in the ’60s, eh?

Only a few hours before the concert, it was announced that Leonard was coming back to the O2 on 13th November. I am tempted, but I would rather hear him again in a smaller venue, where buying drinks during the performance is not an option and the audience listens to the music instead of trying to get sloshed. I don’t need to be drunk to appreciate a great artiste, do you?

Wednesday, 9 July 2008

A few people I won’t be slapping

Brian of BRIAN SIBLEY: the blog tagged me the other day. Sorry for the delay in responding to the challenge.

The brief was: List seven songs you are into right now. No matter what the genre, whether they have words, or even if they’re not any good, but they must be songs you’re really enjoying now. I can’t really do the ‘enjoying now’ thing because I don’t listen to music all the time: I can’t work with it, although I can perfectly well with the radio or television on. Furthermore, I’m not that au fait with what’s currently ‘in’ (I hear songs that are in the charts in shops or cafés, nowhere else), so I can only talk about singers and songs I’ve always loved.

Thanks to all those nice people who upload videos on YouTube, I am able not only to tell you about my favourite singers, but to let you hear them too. I am a YouTube fan, just like Norman Lebrecht, who enthused about it recently in the Evening Standard. Funnily enough, he singled out the singer whom I listened to most when I was a teenager (at the same time, I was learning English with Frank Sinatra and the Rat Pack). Her name was Barbara. All her life, she was a huge star in France. She died in 1997. I remember seeing her for the first time on television in 1959. I was 11 years old and she frightened me a little bit: she was dressed all in black and looked like a bird of prey. She was an auteur-compositeur in the tradition of Georges Brassens and Jacques Brel. I saw her on stage several times in Paris in the ’60s; she had an amazing, if slightly affected, presence.

Serge Reggiani is mostly known abroad as an actor (he played opposite Simone Signoret in the wonderful Casque d’Or), but in the late ’60s he started singing. His parents were Italian so he had a head start. He was fantastic.

I am a fan of so-called World Music, or, as my partner’s mother says, ‘songs in languages no one understands’. That’s true. It comes from not really listening to the lyrics and not being able to remember them at all. I could never quote a verse from a Beatles song, for instance, to illustrate a point. Still, as you can see, not all my favourite songs are in foreign languages (obviously, French isn’t a foreign language to me, LOL!).

I couldn’t find any of the tracks from my favourite album of Joan Baez on YouTube, but here’s a lovely old ballad in a recent interpretation. Her voice is as limpid as ever (and she looks as gorgeous as ever too).

I love folk music. So there. My favourite English folk singer is John Tams. I heard him for the first time in the National Theatre’s production of The Mysteries , back in the ’80s. He was extraordinary. I was very chuffed last year when I had to translate the script of a BBC programme entitled The Song of Steel, whose music and songs had been written by John Tams. You can't hear that fascinating programme any longer, unfortunately, but some of the songs are still here: The Song of Steel

But if you don’t know what John Tams looks like, here he is (he is the walrus on the right). Oh, one more thing: he always makes me cry (just like Anthony Hopkins).

The singers that follow express themselves in languages I don’t understand (and you may not either), but they never cease to charm me.

Lhasa de Sela (she’s Mexican): I heard her for the first time on France-Inter, some years ago. The song was ‘Los Peces’. I missed her name when they broadcast it and spent the following week ensconced in the Nice FNAC, listening to masses of CDs and trying to describe to the sales assistants what the song sounded like. Finally, on the eve of my departure, a clever young man persuaded me to listen to just one more CD and there it was – no.6 on the album entitled ‘La Llorona’. Here Lhasa sings another track from that album (there is no YouTube video of her singing ‘Los Peces’, unfortunately).

I will never forgive myself for missing her concert at the Shepherd’s Bush Empire – only a few hundred yards from where I live.

Paolo Conte: a long time ago, one of my partner’s colleagues, who is Italian, made us a CD of one of his albums. We subsequently heard him live at the Barbican. He was wonderful, of course.

Esther Ofarim: there is no purer voice. Here she sings – with her then husband Abi – a song written by my ‘famous uncle’ (as opposed to the ones who were not celebrated writers). The song is so well known that most Jewish people think it’s ‘traditional’.

Another Israeli singer, but one who, unlike Esther Ofarim, never got a worldwide audience, even though he deserved it (perhaps he wasn’t cute enough) – Arik Einstein. I first heard him in Israel, in 1977. He was a big star there at the time. He probably still is. (The sound on this clip is quite faint: you’ll have to turn up the volume.)

I know I’ve already gone beyond my brief and mentioned eight singers, instead of seven, but I want to talk about one more: Petru Guelfucci. I discovered him somewhat like Lhasa, during a short stay in Nice, about ten years ago. The night before I left to return to London, I saw a documentary about the marvellous ballerina Marie-Claude Pietragalla. They showed an excerpt from her ballet ‘Corsica’ and I became haunted by the music and the voice (I especially love the polyphonic choral bit). It took me several months to find out what it was. This is the song I couldn’t get out of my head. Pity Petru Guelfucci can’t actually be seen singing on this clip.

The one singer that is missing from the list is, of course, Leonard Cohen, but I have mentioned him often on this blog so you all know I adore him. I don’t like to wish my life away, but right now I can’t wait for next Thursday to come.

I am supposed to tag seven more people, but, just like Brian, I’m finding it difficult because I don’t read that many blogs these days, so if you’d like to tag yourself, please feel free to do so – on your blog or here.

Addendum: I have to add two more singers (because they belong together and with the others). Milva. I saw her in Paris in the mid-’70s in a show entitled Io, Bertolt Brecht devised by the great Italian theatre director Giorgio Strehler. She was unbelievable. But I only like her when she sings Brecht and Kurt Weill. And while I’m talking about those two, I can’t possibly omit Lotte Lenya (Weill’s wife), who obviously knew better than anyone how to perform their songs. Here are Milva and Lotte Lenya singing the same repertoire – the former in Italian (the clip is from the above-mentioned show), the latter in German. I can’t choose between the two.