Archive for June, 2009

Since I heard about social proof, and more specifically Joshua Bell’s famous busking experiment, I’ve wondered what in fact determines my own musical taste: how independent is it of others?  Like anyone, I want to think I’m a free spirit.

This may not be helpful, but the only sure example I have where I responded independently to a piece of music was Michael Jackson‘s Billie Jean.  I really did not like his music in the period up to 1983 for very particular reasons: Off the Wall had been played in our house for several years till it drove me up the wall.

From what may have been the very first UK airplay of Billie Jean, I immediately went out and ordered the 12″ version, making the record an outlier in an LP collection of otherwise orthodox neurotic-boy-outsider (NBO) teenage angst music. That’s if you exclude the bootleg Buddy Guy album that found its way to small-town Lincolnshire by some miracle or another.  Much is made of the revolutionary impact the accompanying video had on the success of Billie Jean, and that may all be true, but I know that did not influence me.

It didn’t stop there.  Soon after, and in a similar fashion, I heard the roughly contemporaneous Walk Right Now, penned and performed by Jackson and brothers.

Walk Right Now certainly does illustrate my early experiences of social proof in action.  I upset and embarrassed a good many of my adolescent chums with this one, particularly one who was a dyed-in-the-wool Joy Division and Morrissey fan. He loathed it, until his big brother (whom he worshipped) returned from Cambridge porting it in his own diminutive singles collection.  Things were crossing over fast in 1983 for those of us with parochial musical tastes and where the only good record shop occupied the tiniest of former corner stores.  Within a few months of Billie Jean’s release, my friend found his erstwhile NBOs, New Order, going all techno-dance on him, creating a yet more legendary 12-inch.

It seems impossible to know the truth about Michael Jackson.  Maybe, with Billie Jean, he flew too close to the sun.  I understand New Order, meanwhile, retired and went yachting.

And here, as promised, we cross over from maudlin to up-tempo.

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It’s perhaps time to end this maudlin phase on the blog, but before we go up-tempo, here’s an excuse to post another picture of ’80s Soviet rock icon Viktor Tsoi.  Nearly forgotten him had you? Newbies can start an excursion here to learn more about my chance encounter with Tsoi nearly a quarter century ago.

I may be wrong but I believe this photo was taken on Kodachrome transparency film.  I know I used a bit of Ektachrome in those days too, but I suspect this was 200 ASA, out of the red packet. Tuesday saw the demise of this much loved film brand.

On a happier note, I was recently reunited with my long lost Nikon FM, with which the above photo was taken.

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2009 Jun clouds sports day 003

2009 Jun clouds sports day 004

2009 Jun clouds sports day 005

2009 Jun clouds sports day 006

There is now a cloud appreciation society. You may have heard about it on the radio a few weeks ago. They have named a new cloud — undulus asperatus — from the Latin, which roughly translates as “agitated waves“. And the roughness is what matters. They are highly disturbed, heralding a storm, and yet tend to disperse without one. The pictures above are nothing of the sort: just cumulus or perhaps nearer cumulonimbus.

I’ve looked at clouds from both sides now, and it is true what they say: that some clouds do have a silver lining, though I’m hesitant to agree yet that every one does. More research is needed.

It was sports day when these photos were taken earlier this week, and for the first time in a while it was not rained off, not even just the once. So these clouds were silver-lined if you were the harassed head teacher. But the sun did not shine for the smaller Chip off the Hack who came away with no honours. Last year, if memory serves, he won the egg and spoon race. This year, although the video evidence is incomplete, it does look like he finished the course without dropping the egg once, compared with his fellow competitors who all seemed to have at least one upset. Had the eggs been real, this would have been a feat in itself, but that day it was not the one being measured. Shall I add that the spoons were not institutional dessert spoons of yore, but wooden spoons with barely any dish? Ah well. He is his father’s son.

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One of the most unanswerable questions you’re likely to be asked in a job interview is “Do you think you’re tough enough to stand up to Piers Morgan?” Unfortunately I’ve had that question put to me.

Several years ago, by dint of having the two words “managing” and “editor” next to one another on my CV, Trinity Mirror called me in to see them in the possibly mistaken belief that I could help dig them out of a very big hole. I was pretty sure I could help in some way, but I think we had a different view of what type of hole they were dealing with. Given Piers Morgan‘s inexorable rise on two continents as the mean-spirited arbiter of folksy talent, might I humbly propose that this is the mother of all interview posers? Top it if you can.

To be sure, I was in the wrong place at the wrong time, as usual. There was a small coda to this interview conversation which involved another legendary Fleet Street figure: an experience which finally persuaded me it was time to steer a reciprocal course to the one Fleet Street was headed down and, boat-hook in hand, retrieve my bedraggled dignity. As tabloid journalists allegedly say in potentially compromising situations: “I made my excuses and left.”

Rightly or wrongly, and with rare exceptions, my approach to news management had been unusually low-key: a function of personality combined with the demands of real-time, I think.  I was always more interested in process than result. That’s what I offered in that interview, and I suspect that it was mistaken for weakness and (worse still) inexperience, whereas for them it should have represented a diverse perspective. My interviewer, I could tell, was not convinced.

Mercifully one of us escaped. I think it was probably me, though maybe it was Piers. So, in my sotto voce way, this  knackered hack is finally taking a hyper-linked opportunity to stand up to Piers Morgan: something that in real life only a handful of people seem ever to have done, and the Fates denied me the opportunity to chance my arm at.

Morgan was honoured this week with a slot on the BBC radio show Desert Island Discs: the longest-running music programme in the history of radio. It is the mama of all mixtapes: you get to choose the records that define your experience and broadcast them to the nation. Although Bob Geldof famously said that it is only a radio show, I reckon an invitation to appear is greeted by most in the same way as being tapped by Buckingham Palace for the Queen’s birthday honours.

Piers Morgan’s life is a catalogue of rather ghastly errors, none of which seems to have been a setback to his advances to fame and fortune: a modern day Bel Ami, perhaps?  So it seems like a category error for our public service broadcaster to accord him such high-quality attention. But hey, there goes the neighbourhood. For those who want to see if theirs is a match for his musical taste, this link should do it. Me, I’m averting my eyes.

In at least one of those counter-factual universes of infinite mathematical possibility, the Knackered Hack has himself been granted the honour of discussing his own desert island discs before an eager nation. In this same universe, Piers Morgan blogs and nobody reads.

Here’s a small taste of what my list contains. Until a few weeks ago Haydn would not have been on my modest mixtape.  For undisclosable reasons he has now hopped in.  The words, courtesy of the ChoralWiki, are below.  And for those who read me for stuff on decision-making, Haydn seems to have been on to heuristics and biases long before any of us.  You may have to think about this one a little bit.

Insanae et vanae curae invadunt mentes nostras,
saepe furore replent corda, privata spe,
Quid prodest O mortalis conari pro mundanis,
si coelos negligas,
Sunt fausta tibi cuncta, si Deus est pro te.

Vain and raging cares invade our minds,
Madness often fills the heart, robbed of hope,
O mortal man, what does it profit to endeavour at worldly things,
if you should neglect the heavens?
If God is for you, all things are favorable for you.

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Ye Olde Cheshire CheeseAcross Fleet Street from the Tipperary and up a narrow alley is Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese. I’ve been set up in that pub before now too.

I’m old enough to remember it as a somewhat run-down labyrinth haunted by the last remaining hacks, before Fleet St was repopulated by accountants and bankers.  The Cheese was refurbished.  After that it was a principal hang-out for Goldman Sachs, whose European headquarters stands more or less next door.  Don’t get me wrong: I still liked it.

But my fondest memory of the Cheese is the first time I drank a porter beer: Samuel Smiths’ Taddy Porter, if I recall correctly, though it could easily have been their Imperial Stout. Just a half, mind you, with the Knackered Hackette, near the roaring fire in the quiet snug bar on the right, within sight of Dr Johnson’s favoured seat. We were on our way to see Jane Campion‘s film The Piano.  It must have been 1993 when I was Knight-Ridder‘s much-too-young London bureau chief. It was a dark winter’s evening, and somehow the beer, the pub, the piano, the days of print: everything was a kind of black and white.

Michael Nyman may not please everyone, but I liked the music to that film.  I have been flipping past the CD for the best part of 20 years until 12 months ago, when I started to listen to it again, and with enthusiasm.

Yesterday, courtesy of the independent journalism site Frontline via Twitter, I came across the following short film at the composer’s homepage.  Nyman is offering film-makers free music to accompany their creative efforts as part of a competition being run by Shooting People.  The prize is £750 of video training with Frontline.

The title of the film — We Are What We Lost – struck me hard; how better to define the process of delivery that is grief? When young, if we are lucky, we tend to think we are defined by our accomplishments or their symbols; when older, if we are lucky, we will eventually be disabused of such notions.

It’s an affecting film, so perhaps something really for home viewing, not the office.

The filmmaker, Srdjan Mitrovic, describes it thus:-

This short film is moving reconstruction of a specific personal experience within a given tradition to remind us of the constant interconnection between life, food and death.

Cheese sign photo credit teamaskins

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