Monday, December 16, 2013

Celebrating the Lost Art of Imperfection

Murky and mediocre - how our
pictures used to look.
The other night a friend of mine told me that he and his fiancé had been planning to invite myself and the family round for something to eat, but that his betrothed was hesitating. “We’ve been having work  done on the house, and she wants it to look perfect,” he said. “She’s a perfectionist.” I told him not to worry. If there’s one thing I can’t tolerate, it’s perfection. I’ve been practicing the imperfect all my life. “Please,” I said, “invite us round while it still looks like crap. I’ll be much more comfortable that way.”

Everything goes to pieces in the end anyway. The consolation for mortals contemplating impossible beauty is the knowledge of its inevitable decay. The afternoon wedding’s picturesque bridesmaid with her exquisitely fashioned dress and fairy-tale hair will be all fucked up on drink by 10pm and lying in a pool of lonely tears and speckled vomit. And why spend hours sculpting a complex, eye-pleasing dessert for the cooing delectation of dinner guests, if those same guests are going to immediately demolish it, digest it, and excrete it before the sun’s up, when we all know it won’t look (or taste) half as pretty.

Which brings me, logically enough, to a new book of football photography. Except that although the book is new, the photos are old. They’re mostly terrible, but impressively so. Their lack of quality highlights the fakery involved in digital photography. Nowadays, you delete the bad shots the second after you’ve taken them. Even if you keep a bad picture, it only takes a few techno-tricks to make it look good enough. Nothing comes out bad any more. That’s why I love this book: ‘What A Shot! Your Snaps of the Lost World of Football’ by Gary Silke and Derek Hammond, the two excellent gentlemen of Leicester responsible for producing the ‘Got, Not Got’ and ‘Lost World of Football’ encyclopaedias of football memories and memorabilia.

The mainly blurred book consists of pictures that fans took with proper cameras in football stadiums 30 or 40 years ago. Heads get in the way. Some objects are massively over-exposed, some are murkier than a cup of Bovril on a foggy night in Workington. A few are quite impressive, most are shit. Because football back then was largely shit to watch, and so was the experience of watching it. And so were the amateur photographers who had the desire and patience to take a camera to the game and risk getting it nicked or confiscated. Furthermore, you had to ignore the hard stares of suspicious punters that you might be an undercover cop slyly snapping wanted or wannabe hooligans. And then you took the time and money to have the film developed, only to undergo “the slight twinge of disappointment” the authors describe in their introduction when you sat on the bench outside Boots the Chemist and opened up the envelope to see what you had hoped would be award-winning action shots.

One of my moving, iconic stills from Lincoln City v
Gillingham, January 1982 (pic: SAHIP)
Three of my own sorry efforts, taken on a dull day at Sincil Bank in early 1982, stretch across pages 60-61. I couldn’t understand why Mr. Hammond was so keen to see them, and then to publish them. Now that I’ve seen the book, I understand. Back then, everything seems faded, washed out, shabby and slightly derelict. And all the better for it. If we look mediocre and far from perfect, it’s because that’s just the way we were. And still are. Though now you just need a digital sleight of hand to hide it.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Mazzy Star at the Fillmore, Silver Spring

Reluctant Stars: I suppose a smile's out of the question?
The bloke behind me at the Mazzy Star concert last night had a profoundly cerebral reaction to the band’s first song. “Whoooooooo!” he shouted, about five seconds in. He knew the song, you see, and was excited to hear them play it live. It turned out that he knew all the songs that Mazzy Star played, because five seconds into every song, he shouted the very same thing, his hands cupped around his mouth to enhance the volume of his message. Which was, “Whooooooo!”

He was genuinely pleased, I’ve no doubt about it, and wasn’t just wanting to let us all know that he knew every single Mazzy Star song. There was also an element of surprise contained in his “Whoooooooo!” Like he really hadn’t expected them to play that song at that particular moment. As if, coming to a Mazzy Star concert, he’d thought they might play their version of Beethoven’s fifth Cello Sonata. Or a few Gene Autry numbers. Perhaps something from former Orange Juice drummer Zeke Manyika’s long forgotten solo album, or their take on Herbie Hancock’s Watermelon Man. But no, get this, Mazzy Star ended up playing nothing but Mazzy Star songs. “Whooooooo!”

It goes without saying that I felt ill-will towards The Fan Behind Me. And as the night went on, this ill-will extended towards Mazzy Star, despite the beauty of their drowsy, reverb-swabbed ballads about… I’ve no idea what they’re about. One song is about how far away California is. For all I can understand, the rest could be about singer Hope Sandoval’s recommended temperature for washing light colours. This, however, is the least of the band’s communication issues.

Aside from half a dozen candles, the band played in the dark, so we couldn’t actually see them. Granted, this meant that there were very few wankers thrusting their phones into the air to record precious footage for the delight of friends and family over Thanksgiving. On the downside, we couldn’t see them. You know when you say, ‘I went to see Mazzy star last night’? Well, I went to not see Mazzy Star last night. Mazzy Star are too sensitive to be seen on stage. This means the tickets were extra cheap because they passed the savings from not having to employ a lighting technician directly on to the fans. Or perhaps they would have, if they didn’t treat their fans with such disdain for being fans.

As well as shrinking from the horror of light, they also can not bear verbal contact with the audience. They’re just too otherworldly, high up in their own elevated realm of distant stars and celestial musical musings (otherwise known as ‘their own arses’). Not that I’m expecting folk club banter, but would a muttered ‘Thank you’ be too much to ask? Or is that an overly mundane expression for these delicate artistes? Would pronouncing such a commonly used phrase irredeemably besmirch the purity of their counter-cultural compositions? That’s probably why they have no lighting technician – they overheard him saying thank you to the cashier at Starbuck’s and fired him. Hey, we don’t say thank you in Mazzy Star.

I realised about three songs in that the way to enjoy this concert (which I’m sure MS would tell you – if they spoke - that this is absolutely not what their music is there for) would be in the state known as monged-out-of-your-box (unfortunately, I wasn’t). “Interviews are difficult,” Sandoval told The Guardian recently. “Performing live is difficult. But nobody's forcing us to do it.” Really, Hope (who’s 47, not the 17-year-old she comes across as), it’s no big deal if you want to stay at home in a room full of candles. I’ll do the same, and be $30 better off, listening to your gorgeous voice without the intervention of Mr. Whoo.

Thursday, September 05, 2013

Josh Burdette - DC's Favourite Bouncer

Why do good guys have to die? (Pic: Semi-Charmed
Not many people claim to have favourite security guards, and I would never have thought about having one either if Josh Burdette, head of security at the 9:30 Club, hadn’t died earlier this week in his premature 30s. From the photo you’ll see why Josh was hard to miss, but he was nothing like many in his profession who like to needlessly throw their weight around. As I discovered the very first time I went to the club.

I’d just arrived in the US and went to see Billy Bragg on my own at the 9:30. Being British, I just stuck a few dollars in my pocket, never for once thinking that a man of my distinguished greyness and thinning top would need to show proof of being younger than 21. On the way in, the woman at the door asked to see my driver’s licence. I began to squeak in protest, but before I could even finish my sentence she stamped my hand and said quite emphatically, “Try to buy an alcoholic drink and we’ll throw you out.”

The first thing I tried to do was to buy an alcoholic drink. It was a wet night, and I was wearing a raincoat, so I ordered a beer by cunningly pulling the sleeve of my jacket down over the stamp on the back of my right hand. “You don’t look under 21,” said the barmaid truthfully as she poured me a beer, “but can I just see your hand?” I sheepishly pulled back the sleeve to reveal my inky stigma and she angrily tossed the drink away. 

Incredulous, and still thirsty, I went to one of the toilets and scrubbed the stamp off. It took several minutes, and made me even thirstier. I went to the basement bar and sat down and ordered a beer, and the barman began to pour it. Nice. Sitting next to me was Josh, who on hearing my accent politely asked me where I was from and what I was doing in DC. “By the way,” he said, “you should have gotten a stamp on your hand when you came in here.” It was at this point I realised that there were two kinds of stamp - one for drinkers, and one for non-drinkers, and that my ingenious ruse was in fact as transparent as my teenage daughter’s story that the weekend we were away in Chicago, 15 of her friends “just happened” to pop by our house on a Saturday evening with beer and sleeping bags.

I stammered out an excuse about being from Britain and just wanting an evening out with a couple of leisurely pints, all the while backing out of the bar, then turning to run up two flights of stairs to the club’s farthest corner. I sat down and tried to look inconspicuous, but a few minutes later Josh had tracked me down - it was still early and the club was quiet, so hiding wasn’t really an option. He sat down next to me and patiently explained why the club had to adopt such a strict policy on under-age drinking. I said I understood, and apologised for running away, but added that when I’d come in they’d told me that if I tried to get served, they’d kick me out.

“I know,” he replied, reaching over for my right arm. “That’s why I brought this stamp up.” He gave me a fresh imprint that would continue to ban me from the bar. I didn’t resist, and he didn’t throw me out, no doubt out of sympathy for my age, my status as a foreigner in a new town, and perhaps my general stupidity too. I thanked him, and off he went, and me and my driver’s licence have been regulars at the Club ever since. And I managed to bribe a student who’d been sitting nearby - and watching with some curiosity my exchange with Josh – to go to the bar for me all night in exchange for free drinks, so a double happy ending.

No happy ending to an anecdotal obituary, though. His unmistakable presence was reassurance that things were always under control, and would probably remain so throughout the evening – I’ve never once seen trouble of any kind at the 9:30 Club. Great bloke, great shame.  

Monday, July 15, 2013

Great Suburban Traditions: Number 13 - The Sunday Morning Trip to Home Depot

Where reluctant men spend their
midlife Sunday mornings
When I was young, single and running free from all responsibilities, Sunday mornings meant three things: late awakenings, extended breakfasts, and uninterrupted, hours-long reading of newsprint to a soothing soundtrack of Music for Hangovers. There was little movement involved, and certainly no heavy lifting.

Accumulating years brought with them all the trappings of what is comically termed a ‘settled’ lifestyle: three females, all of them fucking nuts in their own sweet ways, and - most burdensome of all - a garden. This latter symbol of having made it all the way out of town pre-supposes hours of musing and relaxation in an idyllic, naturally perfumed sub-utopia. In reality it’s a combination of rampant horny weeds, stunted and tasteless vegetables, vicious and feral insects, and mud caused by daily storms and perpetual drainage problems. To solve the latter problem, Mrs. Pop has started laying down flagstones so we can step through the mire.

Aisle be buggered - paving away for no returns
This has meant being recruited for trips to Home Depot on Sunday morning – the sort of intra-marital chore you can only avoid by feigning a mid-life crisis, inventing a 19-year-old mistress, and driving off for good in the open-topped twatmobile you bought by cashing in your only life insurance policy. I escaped Home Depot for several years by maintaining that I was boycotting the company for contributing to George W Bush’s 2004 election campaign, but my marriage has finally outlived this excuse.

One recent trip was endured, and several heavy flagstones were hauled on to a trolley, heaved into the back of the car, then removed at the other end ready to pave the soggy slope down the side of our house. But it turned out we didn’t buy enough, so this past weekend we went back for more. Back to Home Depot, filled with hundreds of other people who don’t want to be there, resenting each other’s existence, facing off with sullen expressions behind trolleys in aisles where only one can pass. How to get out and away as quickly as possible is the only thought inside the head of every single customer. At least it is for the remotely sane ones.

We loaded twelve very heavy flagstones. Sweating and feeling ready for a major back-related incident, we left them unattended for five minutes to go and pick up some paint we’d ordered earlier. When we came back, the trolley and the flagstones were gone. We looked around, but there was no sign. We checked the pile of flagstones on the shelf, but no zealous, muscle-packed employee had swiftly re-stacked them. After stalking through the store with no success, we wondered if we’d died and gone to a fate worse than hell, trapped for eternity in a DIY netherworld on a futile circular quest for the Twelve Lost Flagstones of Aspen Hill.

I ran to the cash tills. A little old guy had just pushed ‘our’ flagstones through the checkout and was heading towards the car park. I ran up beside him and asked him why he’d nicked our trolley. Forget those wars and protestors in Syria, Egypt, Brazil and Turkey, right at this second I was feeling the intense hurt of a most immediate abuse of my human rights. You could say that my perspective had been narrowed by the thought of having to haul another dozen flagstones off the shelf.

The little old man waved a receipt at me as he did his best to beetle off with his load. “All paid for,” he said, failing to look me in the eye.

“You just swiped our trolley and ran off with our flagstones!” I observed accurately, if somewhat pathetically.

“All paid for,” he repeated, waving the receipt again.

In some ways, I’ve never really assimilated to the US lifestyle. In other ways, though, I definitely have. “You fucking asshole,” I told him. “Just go and fuck right off.”

If someone had been quick enough with a cell phone, there could now be a video of me on YouTube harassing an elderly man half my size, pushing a heavy load as I swear at him. It’s not my proudest moment, but he had to be told. I backed off and went to give the latest flagstone news to Mrs. Pop.

We hauled a new load of flagstones on to a new trolley, slowly becoming amused at the old cunt’s audacity. On the way out we spotted him getting help from a member of Home Depot’s devoted staff as they loaded the flagstones into the back of his Honda. I accelerated towards them, then braked hard just short of his knee-caps, then we shouted out some more ungracious parting words as we swerved away, shrieking like teens heading for the beach. It was such a successful bonding exercise that we might go back again next week.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Short Blaze of Praise

Another excuse to
print this cover
(design: Tim Bradford)
Writers tend to disdain critics who give them bad reviews, because the reviewers obviously didn't 'get it'. Or, if we're very disciplined, we ignore them. On the other hand, if they write a glowing appraisal, we reciprocate the applause. This person is obviously a highly intelligent, well-adjusted person with a sane and judicious world view. Much like ourselves. And so I link to Neil Nixon's write-up of The Chairman's Daughter this week at the When Saturday Comes website, in a wider piece about football books and digital publishing.

Authors also grab what little positive attention we can in a market so packed with niche-seeking tomes that the available royalties sometimes seem like the literary world's equivalent of twin fish and a clutch of loaves. Only it's not Jesus generously handing them out to the success starved authors, but a tightly stretched business that in some quarters is still peering at the e-market through the foggy monocle of a baffled, tweed-jacketed editor from the 1930s. Which is a long way of saying that, without apology, I here replicate Mr. Nixon's kind words in full:

"You don’t do these things for money, but there is money to be made, and the small sums on offer are expanding. It’s open season for anyone with knowledge, skills and the time to craft a book. The Chairman’s Daughter, by WSC regular Ian Plenderleith, is a Kindle-only delight published in 2012 imagining a lowly factory team, their millionaire owner (rich on the back of a device for scooping dog shit), a 4,000-seat stadium and a 29-year-old former England international on the comeback trail. He signs with one condition: he must avoid the chairman’s daughter. It looks workable, until she shows up.  The book has held its sales to the point it frequently appears in the offers at the bottom of an Amazon page for another book.

"The Chairman’s Daughter is gloriously old school, built on description, action and crowd pleasing plot-twists, and it’s selling in a market in which anyone can load and publish their own Kindle item. If you’ve read this far, maybe you’re football’s next Kindle cult hero author."

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Should You Give A Bum A Buck?

Sticking plaster on a suppurating wound?
Here’s an every day scene from my every day life. I drive up to a T junction where the traffic light is on red. A man holding up a tatty cardboard sign saying ‘Hungry and Homeless’ shuffles towards my car. I feel troubled by his hunger and his homelessness. A dialogue starts in my head. Should I wind down the window and give him a dollar? Aside from the immediate alleviation of his hunger, why would I do that?

The charitable side of my brain says: “What's wrong with immediately alleviating hunger, you tight-fisted, mean-hearted bastard, all warm and secure behind your locked car door listening to your alt country indie-pop hard bop yadda yadda wank. How can you ignore this man’s plight? He is hungry. He needs money for food. Now. You have more than enough money. Give him a buck. Now.”

“Oh yeah?” says the resistant (read: ‘cheap’) side of my brain. “You think that if I give him a buck now that I’m in any way helping the plight of the hungry and homeless? Or am I just giving him a buck to make myself feel better? Maybe I’ll even feel a frisson of superiority over the woman in the car in front of me who shook her head and refused his plea.”

“It’s not all about you,” says Charity. “It’s not about you at all. It’s about his need for food, right here and now.”

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Doing The Irony

The legs of Modern Man
 (pic: Paul Wetherell)
The latest trends in fashion have a habit of passing me by. This has saved me a ton of money down the decades, but has also left me feeling awfully excluded. From what, I’m not quite sure.

Fortunately, at the age of 47 I’ve just found out where to keep up with What’s New In Threads. It’s a big fat wedge of processed tree inside my Sunday edition of the New York Times called ‘T’. What does ‘T’ stand for? I don’t know, but I’ve a feeling it would be unstylish to ask. 

Inside the latest edition from last weekend is a photo feature called The Modern Man. This is the perfect guide for those of us who fear being laughed at in public by gangs of teenagers because we look like old fuddy-duddies. And here’s what you need to know: “From a clean shave to black socks with bare legs, there’s a frank irony to dressing stylishly today.”

The chosen model looks barely old enough to shave at all (oh, the irony). He’s wearing a $1400 plain white Prada shirt, the frank irony being that you could probably get a couple of dozen plain white shirts at less modern prices if you chose a different brand. But no one’s claiming that being authentically modern is a cheap affair.

Take our picture above, which is from the same feature. The socks (Falke) are $38, the shorts (Krisvanassche, as if you didn’t know) are “about $625”, and the sneakers

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Hollywood Gears Up For Oscar Sequels

The movies - where historical accuracy fears to tread.
Hollywood is pondering how to cash in on the success of this year’s Oscar nominees due to the lack of any obvious sequels to the main contenders. Fortunately, the SAHIP blog’s film and media creative arm has been working overtime on some new ideas, all of which have now been bought up by the major studios. Expect to see these big screen follow-ups before the end of the year:

Argo Back For More
Feeling that their first escape was a bit of a breeze, CIA operative Tony Mendez smuggles the six Canadians he liberated from Iran back in to the country the following year to film a fake sequel to the fake sci-fi movie Argo. It’s easy to bribe the witless Iranian officials with free Argo mugs, posters and bobble-heads, because deep down they all want to be Americans really. Things almost go disastrously wrong when the crew tries to film an explicit lesbian sex scene at a mosque during Friday prayers, while the team later makes its narrow escape as Mendez takes on the Ayatollah Khomeini in dramatic hand-to-knife combat on the under-carriage of their departing Swissair jet. Based on a figment of reality.

Lincoln Rises Again
Written after the emergence of new (though currently unavailable) historical evidence that John Wilkes Booth’s shooting of Abraham Lincoln may not have been as successful as commonly thought, this movie charts the political advances made by the unstoppably progressive Lincoln as he rises from the dead three days after his ‘assassination’. Peeved by the country’s reluctance to truly accept blacks as equals, he seizes back the presidency under the moniker of his newly founded Black Power party, and institutes a minimum hourly wage of $15 for all freed slaves. While he’s at it, he persuades both Congress and the Senate to pass bills legalising gay marriage, legislating equal pay for

Friday, February 08, 2013

Plaudits For The Pensioner Who Pulverized Pizza Hut

"Oops, did I do that? Oh my!" (Pic: CAPT258)
Old people never seem to get the credit they deserve. This week an 86-year-old woman crashed her car into a Pizza Hut in Arlington, Virginia, and the story was presented as though this was all a terrible accident. The wayward octogenarian had lost control of her car after she "apparently confused the gas and brake pedals". I don't believe a word of it. She pranged the chain food outlet on purpose, and I don't blame her. Pizza Hut serves food so bad that I've seen liberated chickens strut out of there and straight back to their battery farms for better chow.

It's not just their scanty, cardboard-based pizzas that offend all right-tasting palettes. It's the miserable atmosphere, the stingy dimensions of the serve-yourself salad bowls, and the understandably depressed demeanours of their under-motivated staff that make visiting Pizza Hut akin to a gastronomic wake. That anyone voluntarily walks into this chain and hands over their own cash in exchange for a series of culinary insults testifies to the rock-bottom discernment of your average western gut. Thank heavens, some of us are fighting back. 

Our blue-rinse heroine should be given a public service award for literally trashing this anti-nutritional fodder stall of flavour disenfranchisement. Where a customer comment of 'Mediocre service' on the feedback form will win you Employee of the Month. Where a

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Morrissey at the Strathmore

Financially eviscerated, and no one to blame but
 yourself (note to pedants: concert was re-scheduled)
Morrissey sings on You Were Good In Your Time, a song from a characteristically average solo effort called Years of Refusal (2009), “You were good in your time/And we thank you so/You said more in one day/Than most people say/In a lifetime…” Possibly paraphrasing his critics and former fans, it seems like a defiant, not to mention masturbatory, counter-attack to suggestions that he should call it a day. Last night at the Strathmore Concert Hall in North Bethesda, there was more than enough adulation in the air to blow away any plans he ever harboured to retire. Nonetheless, he really should. And people like me should stop spending $87.50 on tickets (including charges) just to have our view confirmed that his best songs were composed long ago, and he’s no longer much good at singing them.

Not that the concert was bad, if you forget about the price tag, and the seat high up in the balcony with a distant view of the stalwart vegetarian and his journeyman band-mates. For what it’s worth, it was much, much better than the two previous times I’ve seen him solo, at the 9.30 Club and at the sonically challenged outdoor Wolf Trap. The overall delivery was solid, the sound was strong, and like any middle-aged fool for the better days of indie-pop, I waited for the next old hit as though Steve Jobs had never invented playlists on shuffle. If I was Morrissey's music teacher making a neutral assessment, I'd give it a B minus.

It’s hard, though, to feel moved by the music when you’re stuck in a theatre seat, and the woman to your right spends the entire first half of the concert sending texts. At one point, five people directly around me were fucking about on their cell phones, and they