Monday, October 12, 2009

by way of apology

I was dashing off for a last-minute visit to the loo with a friend of mine, prior to us running the Royal Parks Foundation Half Marathon in London (it hurt), when I asked him if he'd been watching X Factor. He scoffed, and then exclaimed how much he hated "that one with the afro" and how he loathes "Sex On Fire". I mumbled something in agreement, because I do actually agree with him, ...but I also have bad taste. Paddington was the perfect gent and didn't blow my cover. It's times like this I'm relieved my friends don't ever check my blog. However, in case he does, I hope this link to a very lucid and intelligent look at the influence of Studio Ghibli's Howl's Moving Castle and Laputa on Pixar's Up does something to restore his confidence in me.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

SOTW - Sex on Fire - Kings of Leon

The Kings of Leon video is "disabled by request" so we shan't plug them and their silly record label. Pah.

This week’s SOTW has been a slow-burner, as on its release I pretty much refused to listen to it. I think this band is overrated, and I thought the song was too silly. But ever since that bloke Jamie performed it for his “first” audition on X factor, Kings of Leon’s Sex On Fire has been in my head all week. No one is more acutely aware of this than Paddington, who has had to endure me wailing the one thing that makes this song brilliant– “Yeeeeewwwwwww-ooooooooooooo, uuurrr sexxx iz on frrrrrrrrrrrr!”

It’s not so much a lyric as a primal scream, or at the very least, a muddle of the English language which takes some heavy cues from Lolcats.

Ever since Molly's Chambers came out I've remained unconvinced by Kings of Leon. Caleb’s [real name, Anthony what’s with the middle-name thing? If people knew me by my middle name I’d have an entirely made-up name that’s a composite of my mum’s maiden name and her actual name. Which, by the way, I actually think is quite cool. But KOL don’t even have interesting middle names. Huff ?*?] Sorry, I’ll start that again...

Caleb’s gravelly whine has never done much for me, and the opening of this song is about as generic as radio-friendly rock comes. It has a chugging bass, a crunchy guitar, a plodding drum beat, a half-hearted strum thrown in, and that predictable progression of quiet and moody to BIG AND LOUD, usually employed by half-arsed rock groups to signify depth of feeling. [Unless you’re The Pixies, whereupon it actually represents true genius and greatness.] But gollygeewhiz if that ain’t the damned catchiest chorus ever.

By now everyone’s probably familiar with the story about how this song was called Set Us On Fire or something until some sleepy sound engineer misheard it as Sex Is On Fire. Yeah, right. If the lyric to this song was actually 'set us on fire', it would sound like any other U2-cum-Killers wannabe stadium rock track of stinky cheesiness. But the fact it’s actually 'Sex Is On Fire' elevates it into dizzy new heights of silliness. Suddenly this song about the euphoric, intense, violently unmanageable flush of new love/lust feels immediate and impulsive, and it’s that ridiculous OTT-ness that gives it such potency, enhanced by the fact Caleb-Anthony insists on delivering it as if he means every word . It’s a joyful, noisy, hand-clapper of a choon and I love it.

All together now...

Yeeeeewwwwwww-ooooooooooooo, *grrr* uuurrr sexx iz on frrrrrrr!

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Song of the Week: Call the Shots - Girls Aloud

Next to the recent glut of antiseptic nineties revival euro-dance, this 2007 offering from Girls Aloud is a refreshing slice of quality. But next to earlier GA tracks, such as the rambunctious multi-chorused The Show or former SOTW Biology, Call the Shots is, at first glance, an incredibly conventional number.

Opening with a rather generic mid-tempo dance beat of synthetic, echoey ‘ah-ooh’s that swirl into that ubiquitous washing-machine-fuzz, it’s so far, so heard-it-all-before. Nasal Nadine delivers an unemotional, polished pop opening verse...and then as the low-key lead-in to the chorus speeds up into a defiant floorfiller, this becomes a little bit special.

The stupidly simple backing track, with its electronic booms and jabbing keyboard chords, calls for overenthusiastic grooving on the kind of light-up dancefloor you find at Infernos in Clapham. However, the song’s melody and break-up lyrics make this a decidedly plaintive, grown-up affair.

The song’s very basic structure means that the classic GA formula is stripped of all its usual playfulness and irreverence, and what’s left is an equally melancholy and catchy pop song. Trimmed off their 2006 Best Of album for being too downbeat, Call the Shots, while perhaps less innovative than some of their earlier output, arguably offers the most conclusive proof of GA’s status as the best new pop act to come out of...well, anywhere since Kylie.

Deliberately tinny and artificial, but with a sincerely sad anti-girl-power sentiment at its core [I’m over you, except I’m obviously not, as I’m singing this song and it’s coming off more Carly Simon than Gloria Gaynor], Call the Shots shows up the differences in the five girls’ voices. There’s diva Nadine, belter Sarah, husky Cheryl, poppy Kimberley and angelic Nicola. As a result, instead of delivering the kind of deliberately characterless dance pop that’s fashionable at the moment, their distinctive voices give a solid, but perhaps unexceptional, song depth and immediacy.

No where demonstrates GA’s strength better than in Call The Shots' middle eight. In lesser break-up songs this would soar into the heights of defiance or the depths of heartbreak, but in Call the Shots it stays in almost exactly the same sparkly place it began, and shifts moods by shifting singers. Cheryl’s rich Geordie boom is replaced by GA’s unassuming and overlooked star, Nicola. Her girlish, icing-sugar voice is clean and vulnerable following Cheryl and Nadine’s beefier, sassier vocals. Without a whiff of Mariah-melodrama, she deftly takes the song to a lonesome place.

As the track closes up into an ambient fade out, the middle-eight’s faux-naive rhyme of shimmer and glimmer stands in stark contrast to the dumb beat of the dance track, which punches its way back into the limelight with an irresistible hammering knock. And - ta-dah - we’re back to the circular euro-beats of the song’s opening.

All-too-soon it fades out unassumingly, but although no one’s made a big fuss or done any clever pop pastiches, Call the Shots cries out for a repeat listen.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

In Nunhead Cemetery

In Nunhead Cemetery

by Charlotte Mew

It is the clay what makes the earth stick to his spade;
He fills in holes like this year after year;
The others have gone; they were tired, and half afraid
But I would rather be standing here;

There is nowhere else to go. I have seen this place
From the windows of the train that's going past
Against the sky. This is rain on my face -
It was raining here when I saw it last.

There is something horrible about a flower;
This, broken in my hand, is one of those
He threw it in just now; it will not live another hour;
There are thousands more; you do not miss a rose.

One of the children hanging about
Pointed at the whole dreadful heap and smiled
This morning after THAT was carried out;
There is something terrible about a child.

We were like children last week, in the Strand;
That was the day you laughed at me
Because I tried to make you understand
The cheap, stale chap I used to be
Before I saw the things you made me see.

This is not a real place; perhaps by-and-by
I shall wake - I am getting drenched with all this rain:
To-morrow I will tell you about the eyes of the Chrystal Palace train
Looking down on us, and you will laugh and I shall see what you see again.

Not here, not now. We said "Not yet
Across our low stone parapet
Will the quick shadows of the sparrows fall.

But still it was a lovely thing
Through the grey months to wait for Spring
With the birds that go a-gypsying
In the parks till the blue seas call.
And next to these, you used to care
For the Lions in Trafalgar Square,
Who'll stand and speak for London when her bell of Judgement tolls -
And the gulls at Westminster that were
The old sea-captains souls.
To-day again the brown tide splashes step by step, the river stair,

And the gulls are there!

By a month we have missed our Day:
The children would have hung about
Round the carriage and over the way
As you and I came out.

We should have stood on the gulls' black cliffs and heard the sea
And seen the moon's white track,
I would have called, you would have come to me
And kissed me back.

You have never done that: I do not know
Why I stood staring at your bed
And heard you, though you spoke so low,
But could not reach your hands, your little head;
There was nothing we could not do, you said,
And you went, and I let you go!

Now I will burn you back, I will burn you through,
Though I am damned for it we two will lie
And burn, here where the starlings fly
To these white stones from the wet sky - ;
Dear, you will say this is not I -
It would not be you, it would not be you!

If for only a little while
You will think of it you will understand,
If you will touch my sleeve and smile
As you did that morning in the Strand
I can wait quietly with you
Or go away if you want me to -
God! What is God? but your face has gone and your hand!
Let me stay here too.

When I was quite a little lad
At Christmas time we went half mad
For joy of all the toys we had,
And then we used to sing about the sheep
The shepherds watched by night;
We used to pray to Christ to keep
Our small souls safe till morning light - ;
I am scared, I am staying with you to-night -
Put me to sleep.

I shall stay here: here you can see the sky;
The houses in the street are much too high;
There is no one left to speak to there;
Here they are everywhere,
And just above them fields and fields of roses lie -
If he would dig it all up again they would not die.

with thanks to Paddington, Sasha Goblin and Lady Quinoa for helping me find this...

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Lost Girls: Wendy Darling III

When Wendy is ‘captured’ in S&M roleplay with Peter and Tinker Bell, placing her in the position of Barrie’s Native-American character Tiger Lily, she imagines herself, quite literally, taken by pirates:

I couldn’t sleep for cabin-girl fancies, the maddest, filthiest things. On tilting decks they’d make me watch while pirates fondled and sucked each other, or all spent into a tankard I’d be forced to drain. All through the creaking night they’d fuck me, old negro men and little Malay boys...

And that hook of a hand, dragging down my underthing, probing my bottom. I’d frig myself there in the darkness, horrified and ashamed at the thing I wanted done to me. A-and the shame was exciting. The shadows slipped their long fingers up me, and could feel for themselves that I was ready...

Shame, degradation, violence and loss of control characterize Wendy’s fantasies. It is when she is at her most debased that Wendy feels most empowered by her own sexual potency, and effectively ‘allowed’ to enjoy it, sexual abandon being forced upon her, absolving her of any responsibilityand thereby enabling her to sublimate and harness her sexual guilt for her own pleasure.

With this comes Wendy’s own horror as she becomes aware of her parents’ sexual games with the nanny. Wendy is both disturbed by the exposure of their Edwardian upper/middle-class hypocrisies, and aroused by it, remarking 'I suppose that was how everyone must secretly behave.' However, Wendy cannot reconcile her sexual pleasure with her sense of self. Her repression leads to her inability to believe that sexual desire and goodness can coexist, undermining her conception of her whole world:

After everything my brothers and I had been doing, our family’s respectable façade seemed such a sham. So did society. How could everyone act so normally when they all had this heat between their legs; these things they wanted so to do?

Although sometimes joyful and capable of inspiring love, for Wendy, desire can also be violent and ugly. As Wendy masturbates, remembering her father kissing the nanny, her disgust at her father’s betrayal and her own arousal manifests itself into ‘a crashing, angry passion which I didn’t quite understand myself.’ Wendy’s shame is compounded by the voyeuristic intrusion of the Captain, who spies on the lost boys and the Darlings in the spinney. When Wendy realizes this in the most violating and intrusive way possible, with the Captain ejaculating onto her back, Wendy suddenly sees the desire of others as disgusting and ridiculous, saying; 'it was suddenly so silly and so ugly I almost wept.'

Moore and Gebbie cleverly juxtapose Wendy’s fantasies of submission, borne out of her guilt, with the experiences of Peter, who we discover is a child prostitute, servicing the paedophile Captain. The Darlings’ games in the spinney are brought to a crushing halt when Annabel (Tinker Bell) is found raped, we presume by Captain Hook. When Wendy finds the Captain masturbating in the spinney, in the place where Tinker Bell’s body was found, she is plagued and disturbed by her own rape fantasies: 'I was so afraid that he’d catch me, rape me, hurt me...but wasn’t that what I wanted? What I’d dreamed about? What I’d gone there for?'

Wendy’s self-disgust at her fantasies leads her to question, 'I-If I could think such things, then didn’t I...deserve them?' But as the Captain closes in her on her, Wendy is brought to the realization that ‘I could think about what I liked. That didn’t mean I wanted it to really happen to me.’

The power and freedom of the privacy headspace of sexual fantasy enables Wendy to confront Hook, for in defining her boundary separating desire and fantasy, she is able to attack him for his abuse and violence against the lost boys and Tinker Bell. In a wry play on Barrie’s characterisation of Hook as plagued by the agent of his death, the crocodile with the ticking clock buried in his belly, Wendy defeats the Captain, reducing him to tears and impotency when she says:

Children won’t realize you’re inadequate. You can pretend you’re still young like them, that the clock isn’t ticking. That’s why you fuck children, why you dye your hair. You’re afraid of women. And you’re afraid of getting old.

Gebbie’s final fantasy spread shows Hook being swallowed by a large jawed, fleshy crocodile, its mouth painted to resemble an adult vagina (it even has a beard and moustache) swallowing the Captain whole. Although not exactly what you’d call a happy ending, there is something triumphant in Wendy recognising the split between her real and fantasy desire. But the inherent risk and danger that comes with the potential happiness of sexual maturity and fulfilment remains.

In Neverland, one need never age. Eternal youth and escapism awaits those who dare to fly free from all parental control. But Neverland is a place of freedom, not innocence, and freedom can be a dangerous thing. The lost boys’ desire for Wendy as a real, flesh and blood mother, is as heartbreaking in Lost Girls as it is in Peter Pan. In her maternal, and sexual love for them, she both redeems and comforts, corrupts and threatens. While Moore and Gebbie remain woolly on whether the children’s sexual games actually occur, for our heroine, they are presented as threatening only in so far as they threaten Wendy’s sense of herself, as we are never offered the perspective of any other character. What we are told though, is that the figures of Peter, Tinker Bell and possibly the other lost boys are exploited and abused by the Captain. The last time we see Peter in Lost Girls, soliciting outside a public lavatory, “his face looked...harder. Although still a boy, Peter is quite literally, lost.


Although there is a strong case for the argument that Wendy’s story of Peter is simply her fantasy, one could also read it as her way of sublimating the very real, unseen, abuse that she actually suffered from her father’s business associate, the Captain. This secret, repressed pain may lurk, still buried beneath fantasy and narrative, at the heart of Wendy’s confession. Her defeat of the Captain as a young woman supports this argument, and it goes some of the way to explaining her anger at her parents throughout the story and her own feelings of guilt and self-hatred. I think it’s entirely possible (although also reductive) to read Lost Girls as three testimonies of abuse, for exploitation of power never lies far from the centre of its protagonists’ fantasies/recollections.

However far you choose to take this interpretation, ultimately, although able to confront the Captain’s sexual abuse and corruption of the children in the spinney, Wendy is not able to reconcile and distinguish this perversion of sex with her own desires. Terrified and repelled, Wendy retreats;

My own desire had scared me so badly that I locked it all away in the darkness beyond those railings. Married Harold, twenty years my senior, because desire...w-well, frankly, it wouldn’t be an issue.

Thanks to Top Shelf for letting me use the pics...i.e. please don't sue me....

and no thanks to blogger, which always messes up the formatting on my blog posts :(

Lost Girls: Wendy Darling II

In Lost Girls, Neverland is replaced by the spinney in the park; a place for Wendy to begin her own sexual discoveries. Again, Gebbie and Moore suggest that Wendy’s stories are just fantasies, or at the very least, operate with different rules to normal, non-spinney interaction: “…it felt like a dream, as if the real world were a different country altogether. All the rules were different in the spinney.” This is echoed later in Lost Girls, when Alice describes the hotel in which she, Dorothy and Wendy are staying in as “our island, like your spinney”; a place where each of the women is able to confess and explore their sexual fantasies and experiences without fear of reproach or rejection.

In the spinney, Peter introduces the Darling children to his friends, a ramshackle bunch of boys (the lost boys), and his lithe, gorgeous sister, Annabel (Tinker Bell). Spied on by a vicious, yet publicly respected, paedophile, a man associated with Wendy’s father (Captain Hook), Wendy’s teenage sexual experimentation enables her to indulge her fantasies of becoming like Tinker Bell, who is worshipped and degraded by the boys.

However, as happens throughout Lost Girls, the line between reality and fantasy is constantly challenged and blurred. Thus, as Wendy’s sexual games with the lost boys and Tinker Bell become increasingly elaborate, they collide more forcefully, and more farcically, with Barrie’s Peter Pan. For example, Wendy’s mature female body shocks the lost boys into silence, buoying her up with sexual bravado as she undresses for them before playing their ‘mother’;

I went to each of them in turn, to tuck then in and give a goodnight kiss. The first one was a boy called Tuttle, that they nicknamed ‘Tootles’. When we kissed, my nipples brushed across his hard, bare chest. I put my hand in his trousers, and he called me Mother.

In Barrie’s Peter Pan, Wendy stands in direct opposition to the boys in the story. As a girl approaching adulthood, she stands on the cusp of those permitted access into Neverland. Paradoxically, despite her love of fairytale and her reluctance to grow up, it is only after Wendy travels to Neverland and is dumped into a pit full of little lost boys, that her mature, maternal side is triggered. The boys flock around this sudden injection of female comfort and kindness, begging her to become their mother and Wendy quite literally becomes their “old girl”. She goes from child to mummy in the time it takes her to fly out the window.

Tinker Bell is, of course, Wendy’s nemesis. She is girlhood epitomised, so tiny and full of tantrums, all sparkle, vulnerability and female cunning. Totally overwhelmed by her feelings for Peter, Tinker Bell deeply resents Peter’s affection for Wendy and will stop at nothing to beat her love rival. No female solidarity here. Furthermore, in Peter Pan her wild mood swings and extreme behaviour are excused due to the fact that she is a mere fairy, and so her small stature prevents her from containing more than one feeling at the same time. In other words, she is a child.

She is also the archetypal bad girl. After all, she can make people fly... Heck, she’s such an archetypal male fantasy even her Disney version is a blonde, sexy Marilyn-eqsue hottie. However, when Peter returns to the Darling house in Barrie’s book, (and he keeps on returning, taking first Wendy, and then her daughter and granddaughter in later books) it is revealed that Tinker Bell ‘is no more’ since ‘fairies don't live long, but they are so small that a short time seems a good while to them’. You can’t marry girls like that.

In Lost Girls, in contrast to the nubile, girlish Tinker Bell, Wendy’s body is full, womanly and maternal. When Peter approaches her as whore, not mother, Wendy feels these two competing sides clash, saying of Peter’s first kiss; ‘it wasn’t an ordinary kiss; the way you’d kiss your husband’. As we see, the adult Wendy’s sexually unfulfilling relationship with her husband is the product of her (and his) inability to reconcile the two.

Lost Girls: Wendy Darling I

continued from 17th October 2008 (sorry for delay...)

One day while playing in the park, sixteen-year-old Wendy Darling and her younger brothers John and Michael spy a young boy and girl having sex in the bushes. As the boy comes, his eyes fix upon Wendy. Later that night, the same boy climbs through their bedroom window. I hardly have to tell you his name is Peter.

When Peter comes to the Darling children’s bedroom, Moore makes it clear that Peter’s desires are fixed primarily on Wendy. As Peter initiates her brothers into the 'games' he and his friends play, Wendy watches in fascinated, horrified silence. Eventually Peter guides her into mutual masturbation before finally having sex with her in front of her brothers. As Wendy recounts this tale to Dorothy and Alice, everything she writes is qualified with an apology.

First, she apportions blame on Peter, focusing on his coercion of her: “Then Peter smiled and everything seemed all right, as if we both knew that this was only a harmless game.” As Wendy’s story progresses, she distances herself from her own experiences by placing it in the realm of fantasy or dream.

He…he put his hand between my…o-on my private parts, and…and then nothing seemed quite real anymore. I didn’t believe it was happening.”

Shamed by her own behaviour, Wendy asks her audience; “Oh, how could I?”, Peter’s seduction of her treading a fine, and at times uneasy, line between persuasion and exploitation. However, as Peter brings her to orgasm, her shock is replaced by momentary bliss, and a sort of bittersweet sadness:

“I realized that I was…moving myself against his hand, then everything in me seemed to burst and there was such joy. Such perfect joy…

Afterwards came a quiet dreamy time. He told us to visit him in the spinney, but that we must never, never tell anyone. He then left us, through the window, but in my dreams he took us all with him, out over London, up into the sky, like a wish…and that’s how both my real adventures and my dream adventures began: with a vision of flying.

And everyone knows how we’re meant to interpret flying...

If we read Wendy’s account of her tales as pure fantasy, we can see her conflicting feelings of elation and guilt around her sexual fulfilment, matched with her latent, unsettling interest in, and desire for, her brothers. Peter’s insistence to the Darling children that they keep their adventures a secret can either be read as an actual instruction, or a restriction she places on herself to keep her sexual desires secret. Either way, both of these interpretations reinforce her experiences with Peter as private and sacred but also potentially threatening and dangerous. There is, of course, another more upsetting explanation; that Wendy is recounting the first instance of sexual abuse.