Archive for August, 2008

I used to not have much time for Pink. When the former Alecia Moore first emerged in the late ’90s, she seemed like yet another pop starlet, but one with a contrived, “alternative edge”. Her music was cheesy, bland pop, but she had tattoos. Ooh, edgy! There are few things that annoy me more than manufactured alternativeness (see Lavigne, Avril). But over the last decade, I’ve grown to kind of like her. Sure, her music was much blander than her supposedly rebellious image suggested, but Pink herself seemed kind of funny and cool; she didn’t take herself too seriously and some of her singles weren’t half bad, in a cheesy way. And her ridiculously catchy new single, ‘So What’, and its accompanying video, makes her like her even more.

Pink recently broke up with her husband Carey Hart, and the song – and video – are all about the breakup. It’s kind of an awesome break-up song, the perfect mixture of triumphant “screw you, I’m brilliant!” and angry “waaaaaah, I feel so sad and bitter!” But what really makes the video extraordinary is the fact that the tattooed bloke Pink sings to throughout the video is the man she’s actually singing about – her ex. Despite the rage and bitterness of the song, it seems like the couple have managed to deal with their breakup and stay friends. Which I find strangely touching. Want to see for yourself?

Anyway, it’s been a while, thank heavens, since I’ve needed the services of a break-up song. But I did spend the entire summer of 1996 listening to ‘Halah’ by Mazzy Star (anything by Mazzy Star, really), ‘You Will Miss Me When I Burn’ and ‘(Thou Without) Partner’ by Palace Brothers, ‘Everybody Has Been Burned’ and ‘I’ll Feel a Whole Lot Better’ by the Byrds, ‘Oh, Lonesome Me’ by Neil Young and ‘That’s No Way To Say Goodbye’ by Leonard Cohen. When I felt particularly angry I listened to PJ Harvey’s ‘Rid of Me’. I also smoked loads of Consulate cigarettes and wrote angsty letters to my friends who were enjoying themselves in foreign parts while I was stuck at home in pre-boom Dublin, my summer plans scuppered by the fact my ex had broken up with me the day after I finished my exams. My best friend had been dumped by her boyfriend as well, and we spent our days listening to the music above and feeling sorry for ourselves. It was a fun summer, as you can imagine.The next breakup, a few years later, was one of those slow, dragging out ones and saw me just listening miserably to music that reminded me of the good old days, so there was more ironically jaunty Arthur Lee and less Will Oldham.

But although in retrospect that list of ridiculously angsty songs seems slightly embarrassing, at the time listening to music that really seemed to reflect how I was feeling made a huge difference. Some of the more optimistic songs gave me (slightly ill-advised, as it happened) hope that things would out with me and my ex, some of them gave me hope that I would get over it (I did, obviously) some of them reflected my miserable bitter rage, but all of them made me feel better. They made me feel less alone. Which is one of the best things art can do.

So now I’ve confessed, to both smoking Consolate in my youth and sobbing along to Neil Young warbling about everyone else was out there having fun while he was a fool for staying home and having none, what tunes have you turned to for consolation in your hour of need?

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One of the worst things about the weather this godforsaken summer is that I can’t cycle into work every day (well, I could, if I wanted to cycle in lashing rain, but I don’t). When I got my bike last year and started cycling regularly for the first time since I was in college, a few people told me that once you start cycling, you realise how often it doesn’t rain, and over the winter months I discovered that they were right. I actually cycled to work more often in February than I have over the last month.

Me on the way to work, yesterday

Me on the way to work, yesterday

So, although I did take the bike to work yesterday and today, I feel like I’ve been on the bus far too often recently. I miss my bike. As someone who can’t drive, I was surprised by how liberating it was to get back on the saddle last year. Back in the late 19th century, the bike was seen as an important tool in the cause of women’s emancipation – for the first time, ordinary women could travel under their own steam and go where they wanted. When I started using a bike again, I understood how they felt. At last I was free from the tyranny of Dublin Bus and its whimsical attitude to timetables! If I left the office at 5.40, I knew I’d be home by ten past six at the latest. Sure, I’d have to cycle up a hill to get there, but it was better than standing at a bus stop for up to forty minutes and then squashing myself onto an overcrowded bus.

Cycling would, of course, be easier if it weren’t for all those pesky cars. And potholes. I don’t really know which is worse. Potholes are bad enough when you’re actually in a car, but on a bike they’re potentially fatal. Also, whenever there are roadworks that are covered over in tarmac, the workpeople seem to have given up on, I dunno, smoothing the tarmac out and seem content to let it just lie in whatever lumpen state it lands on the ground. That’s the only reason I can come up with for why there are so many random lumps and dangerous bumps on the verges of our urban roads.

And then there are the cars. I’ve got to admit I was secretly almost glad to have my prejudices confirmed when I realised that the most arrogant, cyclist-unfriendly drivers seem to drive vast SUVs. There are a lot of SUV drivers on my route to work, and they do lovely things like drive in the bike lane (perhaps because their ridiculous tanks take up most of the road), park in the bike lane, and drive so close to the curb that a cyclist is in danger of being pushed off her bike.

Of course, the real danger comes from the huge articulated lorries that rumble through Dublin suburbia, unable to see small cyclists trundling along in their blind spot. The first time I cycled to work last year, I was so freaked out by every lorry that tore past me that I was tempted to just dump the bike at the side of the road and start walking. But I persevered, and now they only scare me a little bit, instead of sending me into a state of mortal terror. Progress!

Despite the potholes and the arrogant drivers and the vast trucks of terror, I love my bike. It’s served me well over the last year. And although there are few experiences more miserable than cycling uphill in pouring rain, there’s nothing more exhilarating than zooming down a hill on an empty road on a fresh sunny day. Now all I need are a few more of those…

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"I love eye-er-land, Fenian rebel songs and tiaras!"

"I love eye-er-land, Fenian rebel songs and tiaras!"

Tonight on RTE 1 the beauty pageant relic that is The Rose of Tralee kicks off. Growing up I loved its beauty-with-brains-and-jigs approach to making women don pastel coloured dresses and compete against each other. This was mainly because along with the Eurovision and the Late Late Toy Show, it was one of three events in the calendar year you were allowed to stay up late for. It was full of OTT ex-pat Nationalism, woeful poems about people’s grannies missing the oul sod of Ireland, women belting out ear-splitting versions of Danny Boy, bad party pieces and lots of ostentatious shoe-removal to dance out-of-time hornpipes.

It’s never been the same since Uncle Gaybo stopped presenting it and I can’t ever think about it without the Father Ted send up, The Lovely Girls, elbowing its way into my brain. Rememember the qualification rounds of “walking”, “sandwich making” and the “lovely laugh tie-break”? The same episode also features the feminist singer who is obviously modelled on Sinéad O’Connor (“What’s ‘clit power’? I knew a Father CLINT Power once”).

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So, all this talk of Liz Phair’s album yesterday got me thinking about her song ‘Fuck And Run’. Romantically speaking, I don’t think there is anything worse than the feeling of someone edging you out of their gaff after a night of passion. Unless that is the feeling of trying to get rid of someone from your own gaff after a night of passion.

Liz Phair’s song details all the excuses that we come up with to make an awful situation better – I’ve a lot of work to do today; you should call me… sometime. There are lots of great things about one-night stands but there are lots of bad things too, such as the morning after awkwardness, and, of course, the ‘walk of shame,’ the cringe-making journey back to your own place with flaking make-up, panda eyes, inappropriate evening dress in the cold light of morning and catty breath. *Shudder*.

We’ve all been there. Right?

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I Want To Be Mesmerising Too

I fell in love with Liz Phair in January 1995. It was a year and a half after the release of her debut album Exile in Guyville, but until a friend lent me the album I hadn’t had much interest in listening to it. Phair had received scant attention in the British music press (which I still took very seriously in those days, being a devoted reader of NME and Select), and what little attention she did get left me with the impression she was some sort of crappy poor-woman’s-PJ-Harvey. Also, she had what I considered to be “an annoying face”.

So, yeah, I didn’t really care about Liz Phair. When my friend gave me the album, he warned me that it was a genuine grower and that it would take a few listens for me to really get into it. He was right. I listened once, and wasn’t really impressed. The music seemed boring, and Phair’s deadpan delivery didn’t impress me. But I persevered, putting the album on in the morning while making my breakfast. And as my friend had predicted, the album grew on me. After a few days of casual morning listens, it suddenly struck me that ‘6’1″‘ was one of the best songs I’d ever heard. There was no going back.

Maybe it was because Exile came along at the perfect time in my life. It became the soundtrack of my melodramatic, angsty yet incredibly fun second year in college. In almost every song, from ‘Divorce Song’ to ‘Flower’ to ‘Fuck and Run’ to ‘6’1″‘, Phair’s lyrics summed up all the drama and romantic messiness of my 19 year old life. It was harder to be friends than lovers, and you shouldn’t try to mix the two! All the bridges I’d blown away did keep floating up! I did want to feel like I was standing 6’1″ instead of (my actual height, conveniently) 5’2″! And yeah, when I saw the faces of certain boys…well, you know the rest.

Musically, Exile is brilliantly lo-fi – mostly it’s just Phair and her raggedy electric guitar. She uses an electric where most singer-songwriters would use an acoustic, and this arrangement is the perfect setting for her stark vocals. She’s sometimes joined by drums and bass, sometimes just drums, sometimes keyboards, and the result is startlingly immediate and raw. Which is probably why so many women of a certain age (ie mine) feel such a strong connection to this album. Maybe Phair’s not being honest when she sings so frankly about unabashed sexual desire, about being friends with your ex, about fucking and running, about asserting yourself, about stupid boys, about wanting a boyfriend for “all that cheesy old shit, letters and sodas”. But it sure feels like she is.

Liz Phair never made anything as good as this album again. Whip Smartwas pretty good, and even whitechocolatespaceegg had its moments. Then came the cheesy collaborations with Avril Lavigne’s songwriters the Matrix and the depressing metamorphosis into a sort of Sheryl Crow who sings about sperm. And yet there’s hope – a few years ago, unreleased songs from the original sessions for her funderwhelming self-titled 2003 album made their way online, and they were amazing. Sadly, her follow-up album Somebody’s Miracle was more cheese. But whatever Ms Phair does next, we’ll always have Exile in Guyville. I still know all the words to every song. And it still makes me feel tall.

To celebrate the 15th anniversary of its release, Exile in Guyville is being rereleased on August 25th with extra tracks and – yay!- a documentary. So if you’ve never heard it before, now’s your chance.

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Am off on holidays and desperately looking for book recommendations to bring with me. Now, here’s the caveat: I’m a ridiculously fussy when it comes to books. Someone bought me – actually bought me (I don’t know which word to italicise for best effect there) – a Claudia Carroll book a while ago. Friend, do you know me at all? I’m anti chick-lit in a way that most people are anti-racism, but am prone to the odd biography, occasionally like crime fiction but can’t abide sci-fi. Recent book purchases, gifts and borrowings have all been fairly old titles, but the following which might give you an idea of what floats my literary boat.

Tove Jansson – Fair Play (thanks Penny!)

F. Scott Fitzgerald – The Rich Boy (had never heard of this one until I saw it in a nice edition recently)

Claudia Carroll – Do you Want To Know a Secret? Hmmm.

Carson McCullers – The Member of the Wedding (read an interesting article about this book a while back and mentioned it to a friend who loaned me her copy)

Jack London – The Call of the Wild (have never read anything by him, but another writer I like swore that he was the bee’s knees)

So please hit me with your favourite books, summer reads or anything else that might help me as I lie basking in sunshine next week.

Speaking of bewks, regular commenter Women Rule Writer posted about a new blog, the tongue-twistery Women Writers: Writing Women – Rooms of Our Own, that’s looking for some support and will be looking at writing from women. In her first post, Nessa lists “Louise Gluck, Anne Stevenson, Eavan Boland, Paula Meehan, Virginia Woolf and Elizabeth Barrett Browning” who have influenced her as a writer.

Stop by and check it out.

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Gok knows how to be kind about body image

Gok knows how to be kind about body image

I’m a relative newcomer to the joys of Gok Wan. Previously, I had only seen him as a panelist on quiz shows or a judge on reality shows and never quite knew who he was or what he did. Last week I read an interview with him, watched How To Look Good Naked and his other programme, the fashion fix one, and have come to the conclusion that he’s great! When I watched his show, what struck me was how nice Gok is to the ladies he features, telling them their good points, explaining why certain clothes make them look bad, and the whole ‘body dysmorphia line-up’ is amazing. Basically, a woman will say ‘I hate my bum, it’s huge’ and Gok then gets a line-up of ten women ranging ten inches in bum size from the lady in question. He’ll then say, ‘which bum is the same size as yours?’ and the woman will invariably pick one that’s four inches bigger than hers. He then points out the one that is the same size as the woman’s and the look on her face when she realises, ‘hey, that bum’s not bad’ is so wonderful. I guess Gok has known what it’s like to be have a body that’s not so perfect – he weighed 21 stone when he was just 20. He also uses non-skinny minnies in his campaign for his underwear.

Anyway, all this was brought on by reading today that Trinny & Susannah have lost, like 4.5m viewers. No surprise, I thought to myself, when you compare their ‘Your tits are so saggy, hee hee!’ approach to Gok’s ‘actually, you’ve got really good legs, let’s focus on those’ approach. (Having said that, I did watch their show and enjoy it, although my favourite show was the one where they got couples to strip naked and talk to each other behind a screen. There was even an episode where they had to blur out the guy’s erection. Lord, I was mortified for him.) Anyway, I guess what I’m trying to say is, all hail Gok and his crusade to make women love themselves just that little bit more.

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