28 January, 2011

On the Genius of Spinal Tap

It is undeniable of course, that Spinal Tap are the greatest rock and roll band in history.  This is not in dispute.  But for decades, millions have wondered just what it is that makes Tap the greatest.

In fact, Tap are so cool that they gave the secret away in the single from their reunion album, Break Like the Wind.
And that’s the majesty or Rock,
The mystery of Roll.
You see, only Spinal Tap have perfected the delicate balance of rock and roll.

There are thousands of bands that rock.  Purple?  They rock.  Floyd rock.  Zep?  They totally rock.
But they don’t roll.  And that’s why they never quite made it to Tap’s brilliance.

To their credit, at least Led Zeppelin know it.  They have admitted as much.  As the song goes,
It’s been a long time since we rock and rolled.
Too true, Robert!

As Tap have explained, Roll is more mysterious and there are less bands who understand it. An obvious example is The Rolling Stones.  The name says it all.  They have Roll down pat.
But they don’t rock.
A lot of people will tell you the Stones rock, but they don’t.  I mean, it’s not The Rock and Rolling Stones, it is? QED!

You can just imagine the discussion,
’Ere Mick, I think we forgot something.
 - What’s that, Keef?
We forgot to rock.
 - Ah, bollocks! You’re right.
Only Spinal Tap have discovered the perfect combination of rock and roll.  And they have put the formula out there for anyone who knows where to look for it.

25 January, 2011

Australia Day

There is nothing wrong with taking pride in your country, just as there is nothing wrong with taking pride in your family.  However, it should be recognised that both are accidents of birth.  As with family, there are aspects of our country that we love, aspects that make us cringe, and aspects we want nothing to do with.  It does not mean we love our country or our family any less to acknowledge the other two.  Also, it doesn’t mean we love our country or family any more if we go lauding it just because it is there.  As with family, we tend to defend our country from criticism from outsiders, even when we’re inclined to agree with that criticism on some levels.  Brothers may fight between themselves, but if you attack either one, they will immediately unite to kick the crap out of you, and then go right back to fighting with each other.  People who develop foreign policy would do well to remember this.

Celebrating your birthday, or a family member’s, doesn’t mean you’re better than anyone else.  It doesn’t mean everything you’ve done is good and it doesn’t mean everything you’ve done is bad.  You get to have a party and indulge a bit, but if you overdo it and start acting like the sun shines out of your arse, people are still going to think you’re a tool, birthday or not. 

January 26th is modern Australia’s birthday, and there’s nothing wrong with celebrating that.  We’ve done some good stuff and we’ve done some bad stuff.  Some will celebrate quietly.  Some will make tools of themselves.  Some will ignore it, which is fair enough.  Some will make a conspicuous point of ignoring it in ways that are almost as vulgar as those who use the day as an excuse to be flag-waving idiots.

There’s a pretty wide line between national pride and moronic jingoism.  Perhaps if we had less of the latter, there would be less opposition to Australia Day.  Observing an anniversary doesn’t mean we have to be blind to the darker side of our history and equally, acknowledging that darker side doesn’t mean we should be forbidden from celebrating what’s good.  If you attend a birthday celebration for your grandfather, you know full well he couldn’t get to such an age without having done a few things worth being ashamed of.  It doesn’t mean you love him any less, and it doesn’t mean you’re pretending he has always been pure if you celebrate his birthday.  However, you would be doing him a disservice to act like he is the greatest thing ever and that you are better than the next person simply for being part of his family.

Patriotism is not the last refuge of a scoundrel.  It’s usually the first.

How not to show pride in your country

21 January, 2011

Peasant Food

Some of the poshest restaurants in New Orleans do what is essentially peasant food, done to perfection and the menus haven't changed in 100 years.  If that's not what you're interested in, then go somewhere else.  Anyone who says Commander's should change their menu or that Galatoire's should start taking reservations, just doesn't get it.  They do what they do.  If you want trendy stuff, then there are plenty of Abblebees and Denny's around that you can go to instead.  In fact, you could argue that it's the Applebees, Denny's and IHOPs that are the peasant food restaurants of today - and I don't mean that in a pejorative way, it's just an observation.

Thinking about it a little more, it seems to be yet another unique things about New Orleans - the way they embrace and support businesses that stick to what they're good at and don't try to be all things to all people.  Take Cafe Du Monde: They do coffee and beignets.  And chocolate milk.  That's it.  If you want a soy latte and an apple bran muffin, then there's a Starbucks around the block.  Or preferably PJ's since you're in New Orleans.  Then there's the burger restaurant Port of Call.  They do burgers and baked potatoes.  Would you like fries with that?  This ain't McDonald's.  The legendary Hubig's Pies make their own style of pie and nothing more, except occasionally King cakes.  Even Huge Ass Beers on Bourbon Street is the same.  They sell beers.  Huge ass ones, in fact.  That's it.  It's not even a bar, they sell beers to go.

There is a lot to be said for doing what you do, doing it well, and not complicating things by trying to do other stuff.

Idolising New Orleans

So one of the local NOLA stations was all gooey this morning over about interview w/ Steven Tyler for the New Orleans American Idol auditions and right now, the New Orleans American Idol show is on nationally. Now, just think this through for a moment.... It's NEW friggin' ORLEANS!! The birthplace of jazz. One of the musical capitals of the world! What do they need American Idol for? If you want to see and hear undiscovered talent, you don't have to hold Hollywood auditions, just walk down the damn street. Within two blocks, you'll hear a dozen performers with more talent and more guts than anyone on these manufactured shows. And there's something for everyone in New Orleans. It's possible to make a living as a musician just playing in N.O. The only thing they don't have a place for is the sub-Mariah rubbish that Idol presents. Can't we keep one place above that?

Seriously, if you're from New Orleans and you need Steven Tyler and Simon bloody Cowell to give you a break, you ain't trying hard enough.

03 January, 2011

An Ode to Bob Ellis

The conventional wisdom tells us that the Labor government in New South Wales is going to be annihilated at the next election.  Even the normally circumspect Antony Greene called it for the coalition a year out from the election.

However, if the last twelve months has taught us anything about Australian politics, it’s the conventional wisdom can get it profoundly wrong, and that the cycles we have be used to seeing don’t necessarily apply any more.  Be that as it may, Bob Ellis’s assertion today that it’s still possible for Labor to win NSW remains pretty fanciful.  The main reason is that all the factors he quotes are not factors that many people change their vote over.  So the Liberals are taking money from big tobacco.  There’s no excusing that, but who is going to change their vote because of it?  Likewise, who is going to swing away from the Liberals over Vietnam or Jørn Utzon?

A friend on Twitter suggested there ought to be some kind of epic poem to describe Bob’s delusions.  Well, this is about as ‘epic’ as I get:

There once was a writer named Ellis
Who had special insight to tell us
But readers, perplexed
At his reasoning vexed,
Concluded he might just be jealous

02 January, 2011

Suck it up, iSnobs

2010 may have been the year of the iPad but it was also the year Apple really tarnished its brand.  By far, the greatest number of complaints I saw about technology, were not about what a beast of a thing Windows is.  Instead, they were mostly about people being screwed around by their iPhones.  Does this mean iPhones are crap?  On no!  They’re still the greatest thing since the last Apple product, despite the fact that you have to hold them just so or they don’t bloody work at all.

Oh really?
Steve Jobs’ petulant talk – oops, sorry, “keynote address” in response to the ‘death grip’ problem further damaged Apple’s reputation for things that simply work.  (Funny how none of the reviews of the leaked prototypes mentioned that). He said that all smartphones have similar problems.  That may well be, but that kind of makes a mockery of the “This changes everything. Again,” slogan, doesn’t it?  Now you’re saying it’s the same as all the others.  Besides, I had video calls on my Nokia two years earlier - that was hardly a new innovation.  Sure, the problem may have been blown out of proportion, but so is the hype surrounding every Apple release.  The backlash was entirely proportional to the expectations Apple had set up.

It all serves to remind us of something Douglas Adams said, which is that “technology” is stuff that doesn’t work yet.  We don’t regard a chair as technology because the principle has been established and perfected.  Things like computers and mobile devices are still evolving and as such, they have problems.  All of them.  Even Apple products.  It would probably be churlish of me to suggest that there is something karmic in the iPhone being humiliated by something as basic as not knowing that Australia has daylight saving.  And again today, social media is abuzz with another iPhone bug, again related to the alarm clock.  I mean really, the alarm clock?  How basic is that?

I’m not here to defend Microsoft or to diss Apple but I think it’s time someone called bullshit on the notion that with Apple, the shit just works and everything else is crap.  Any time there’s a problem with PCs, you can take bets on how long it will be before someone offers the constructive suggestion, “Should’ve bought a Mac.”

In that spirit then, my suggestion to all those who were woken early or slept late because their iPhones is,
You should’ve bought a Nokia or Android.
That shit just works.