Cool girl on the web
Last night I watched You’ve Got Mail for the 156th time (though it was my excellent friend Bethany's first viewing!), which caused me to recall My Unfortunate Early Life In Email Addresses:
sleepoverspice [at] yahoo [dot] co [dot] uk because I liked the Spice Girls
funkycyberchick [at] aol [dot] com because I wanted people to know I was a cool girl on the web
muddyarse [at] yahoo [dot] co [dot] uk because god knows
all_aboard_the_good_ship_albion [at] hotmail [dot] co [dot] uk because damn it if I was going to be contained by pro formas’ limited email address spaces
Also in “you know you’re a 90s film when…” observations:
- You know you’re a 90s film when there are four staffers working in an independent bookshop (h/t Bethany)
- You know you’re a 90s film (about the early days of the internet) when none of the characters can touch-type yet
“Whatever you now find weird, ugly, uncomfortable and nasty about a new medium will surely become its signature. CD distortion, the jitteriness of digital video, the crap sound of 8-bit, all of these will be cherished and emulated as soon as they can be avoided. It’s the sound of failure: so much modern art is the sound of things going out of control, of a medium pushing to its limits and breaking apart. The distorted guitar sound is the sound of something too loud for the medium supposed to carry it. The blues singer with the cracked voice is the sound of an emotional cry too powerful for the throat that releases it. The excitement of grainy film, of bleached-out black and white, is the excitement of witnessing events too momentous for the medium assigned to record them.”
Brian Eno, A Year With Swollen Appendices (via fleurlungs)
fantastic (via hazelcills)
“For Willis, if your revolutionary thinking didn’t accurately reflect reality, it couldn’t change reality. In her version of liberation, sexual revolutionaries aren’t smug, performative hedonists who play out their fantasies in villas on Mustique; they wonder instead how thin the line is between courage and delusion while drinking coffee alone in their apartments or sitting on benches outside the Laundromat. And rock writers don’t turn their prose up to 11 to compete with the bands they’re covering, or get so bound up in the role of gnomic wizard that they can’t just shrug their shoulders and say, as Willis did, well, I was wrong about the Ramones; they admit to communing with what she called “the screaming teenager” inside. To Willis, acknowledging the real meant acknowledging that we are minds connected to bodies, and that what may not seem real at all — the unconscious and the psyche — are very powerful forces. Nearly every piece is a reminder that the culture we live in, even when we don’t profess its prevailing beliefs, has an effect on the psyche; that we internalize expectations even when we think we’re free; that we need to gather in groups to change our minds and the minds of others, because otherwise we stand alone in our pain and confusion, thinking that we’re the problem.”
– NYT, on The Essential Ellen Willis (via katherinestasaph)
You could have it all if you wanted
From the age of seven, I operated a very strict regimen when it came to fandom. The first step was saving any articles about my favourites and storing them in a cardboard flap folder until The Day. Once every couple of months, always on a Sunday, I’d sit down with the inky bounty and prepare to commit everything to my meticulously organised annals: images and articles would be precisely snipped out, glued onto the blank side of a piece of scrap paper, two sheets of which would be placed back to back in a plastic wallet, and entered into the correct lever-arch folder.
I once made the mistake of leaving the auxiliary folder at a friend’s house. We fell out that weekend. She told me she burned it, though even 16 years later, the image of a nine-year-old girl warming her hands and cackling as she stoked a small pyre of the Spice Girls’ quickly ashing faces seems inconceivable. She had rich parents. She was probably allowed to have bonfires whenever she wanted.
The next level couldn’t be contained by lever-arch folders. My parents mounted two large pinboards on my wall so that I could put up pictures without gumming up the paint with Blutack. Unfortunately, my desire to look at 300 photos of Avril Lavigne, tAtU and Alex Parks at all times – from poster-size to barely visible thumbnails – overrode any concern I might have had about being told off for spotting the walls with grease.
Around a year and a half later, it was time for another change. I carefully peeled off the pictures, preserved the Blutack for reuse and put my old self in the recycling bin. I spent an afternoon meticulously redecorating every surface, reinventing from the small pile of NMEs, copies of Vice, FACT and The Fly that I had amassed and some free posters I was given by the local record shop: The Libertines, Kings Of Leon, Razorlight. I redid the coverings on my school folder and textbooks. After several hours, I called my mum in to show off my handiwork. “Great,” she said bluntly. “From lesbians to drug addicts.” The Libertines poster I’d stuck in my window, facing out onto the street, was removed on pain of grounding.
At the end of this month, it’s 10 years since Razorlight released their debut album, Up All Night. I first discovered them back in the pinboard era, when Daniel Radcliffe (pictured with a bowlcut and a broomstick) said he loved them in an NME interview. I think my logic for seeking them out went something like, “if that Harry Potter guy knows who they are, I should too.”
On Wednesday I went to Camden’s Electric Ballroom to see them – or Johnny Borrell and three hired hands – play the album in full. It’s a record I hadn’t listened to in eight or nine years, so I couldn’t remember a lot of the words, but the lyric I was listening out for was conspicuous in its absence. In “Vice”, the third song of the record, Borrell gives out his phone number and sings, “call that number and I’ll call you right back”. I hadn’t forgotten the phone number: “0h-seven-seven six-one-oh one-oh two three-threeeee”. Maybe the sound was muddy or the line was obscured by his new woodsman’s beard, but he seemed to skim over it at the gig.
After a lot of haggling and establishing of terms, I was allowed to get a mobile phone when I was 15. I used some of my hard-earned credit (I worked weekends in a café cleaning toilets and picking baked beans out of the sink) to call the number and leave a no doubt very breathless message asking when Razorlight would play in Cornwall. Then we went on a family holiday, and the phone had to stay at home. It was the first thing I thought of when we got back; I remember taking it out of my little rainbow-striped bag and calling voicemail. There was a message from Borrell, sounding potentially wasted or maybe just sleepy, promising they’d definitely come and that it’d be cool, man. I played it every day until it expired.
I had forgotten this until I read it again today, but back in 2004 Borrell was pictured on the cover of NME with the phone number from “Vice” scribbled across his chest. A colleague of mine interviewed him a couple of weeks ago and brought this up. After initially claiming that he had never called anyone back, he apparently went on to suggest that it was an early example of social media. Stripping away the unimpeachable Borrellness of that statement, there’s something there: it was certainly the first time that there was any sense of immediate gratification to my fandom.
(It’s interesting to listen to Up All Night with that in mind, too – it’s full of mobile phones. Beyond “Vice”, there’s “Leave Me Alone”, where Borrell can’t get any rest for some girl calling him off the hook. On “Golden Touch”, he’s the one desperately leaving “a thousand” unreturned messages for an in-demand scenester. A message on his phone is “blowing [his] mind” on “Get It And Go”, and “In The City paints a scene of boys figuring out the best way to get high while the girls are desperately “trying to get reception” in search of a different kind of instant high. Up All Night could be one of the first records about how we’re always connected, for better or worse, in the 21st century. Whether it was conceived this way or not, the people in these songs are up all night because they never let each other go to bed; a night never has to die when you can continually communicate to plot your next destination and pester someone until they pick up.)
Razorlight did come to Cornwall: they were the not-so-secret guests at the 2004 Surfers Against Sewage ball, an annual charity party on the cliffs in St Agnes. I lied about my age to get in and got to the front of the stage. Borrell held my hand and sang “Don’t Go Back To Dalston” to me, a song I found particularly moving despite knowing nothing about Dalston and thinking “up the junction” was a euphemism for getting pregnant. It was the most romantic moment of my life to date, and I got a bottle of his half-drunk water as a trophy for my shelf of snapped drumsticks, crumpled setlists, dirty towels and other stage junk.
The following year, they supported the Manic Street Preachers on tour. My parents drove my friend Katy and I to Plymouth to see them. After Razorlight were done, we watched two Manics songs, called my parents to say we were bored and happy to go home now, if they were ready. Later that summer, Katy and I saw them at the Boardmasters festival in Newquay. At this point I had a summer-long work placement with the BBC and had secured an interview with Borrell. I turned up and heard he didn’t want to be interviewed by a kid (I remember it as “some fucking kid”, though that may have been an embellishment of memory), and got drummer Andy Burrows instead, who was very nice. I went home and poured Borrell’s bottle of water in the toilet, a ceremonial purging.
Nobody is really commemorating the 10th anniversary of Up All Night, and there’s probably not a great case for it as a classic of the canon. But Wednesday’s gig reminded me of how strong some of those songs are, and how they must have lubricated my listening brain to receive Blondie, Patti Smith (“In The City” is just “Gloria” with different, worse words, the audacity!) and Television with ease when I discovered them later on. Borrell played it pretty straight– not topless, preening or self-aggrandising, a small, pleased smile occasionally peeking through his facial thatch. Without projecting too much, it seems like he’s made peace with himself, even while journalists still do their utmost to prime the best-value mouth in music for pull-quotes.
There is a case to be made for him as one of the last entertaining figures in British indie, even if he was essentially a cleaner Pete Doherty that teenage girls could take home to mammy. That early quote about Dylan, chips and champagne is pretty excellent, though perhaps the attendant outrage (a rock star with an ego?) is one of the reasons that a lot of young British indie bands have become so mealy mouthed and keen to avoid causing offence. But saying that, Razorlight are a band I think of a lot when I’m at work, doing a job that they and the rest of the class of ’03 – ’04 made me want to do. When faced with a slightly daft but essentially harmless band of boys playing derivative songs, my first impulse is to roll my eyes. Then I remember that they’re all someone’s Razorlight, a gateway drug to other things - or even the be-all-and-end-all of their relationship with music - and try and suspend my cynicism.