Sunday, October 30, 2016

Nyponbuskar... - Jan Gradvall

Once you are done listening to Gradvall's podcast and reading at least some of his previous books, you will most certainly want more of him.

It so happens that this is Sweden's probably most clear-sighted, outspoken and articulate music journalist, and consequently this collection of texts - interviews, editorials, opinion pieces, articles... - is 600 pages pure pleasure.

What stands out with Gradvall is his open-mindedness : Contrary to many of his colleagues, he appreciates quality, notwithstanding the genre. He does not automatically take to Neil Young or Van Morrison, nor necessarily frown upon the Swedish House Mafia.

He is also a feminist, pointedly taking interest in female talents, be they musicians, journalists or others.

Plus, he is the only culture journalist I have ever read to link the subway ticket prices to cultural integration; or to glorify the humdrum existence of a taxpaying parent as opposed to sex, drugs and rock'n'roll.


Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Aelita - Mando Diao

Very regularly, the most determined, not to say dogged, of my Swedish friends tries to convince me of the Mando Diao greatness. 

No success so far, I'm afraid. Except for the occasional pop gem ('Dance With Somebody' if you want to Youtube them. Plus, on this album, 'Black Saturday'.) I tend to find them a bit - what? Lacking in dynamic? Mediocre? Un-inspired?
The one thing I can determine with certainty is that they are Not My Cup Of Tea. Sorry.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Liv Till Varje Pris - Kristina Sandberg

That I actually sat down to read part three in a trilogy after only moderately appreciating part one says loads about the booming second-hand book market in Sweden. 

Luckily for me, as it turned out! I found this last part infinitely superior to the first novel; not sure why. I guess either my previous judgment was heavily influenced by my private life at the time - I distinctly remember the situation and time of year - or Sandberg just stepped up her heroine in part two?

The main character has by now grown up to be a housewife in 1960s smalltown Sweden. Despite appearances, this has a lot in common with Elena Ferrante's hyped up yet disappointing 'Brilliant Friend' in that it highlights ordinary lives of ordinary women, so very much less frequently described than those of their male counterparts (probably because the women had kids to tend to...). 
However, contrary to Ferrante's, Sandberg's writing is as ambitious as accomplished, adroitly skipping between different narrators and points of view.

Brilliant, indeed!

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Agnes Grey - Anne Brontë

Quite evidently, Agnes is a close cousin (or sister?) to Charlotte's immortal Jane Eyre; their conditions and personalities are so similar I can't help assuming this was the typical Brontë mindset (their brother Branwell was apparently the exception to this rule). 
Agnes's subdued love interest, however, is exceedingly different from fierce Mr Rochester; Mr Weston probably has more in common with StJohn Rivers, whom Jane so firmly turns down.

Likewise, the same motifs underlie both books; modesty and religion, but also diehard independence and feminism, all presented in their idiosyncratic tongue-in-cheek sense of humour. 

Where 'Jane Eyre' keeps the reader constantly on her toes, 'Agnes Grey', however, lacks a bit in adventure and conflict... It becomes very clear why Anne is not one of the prominent Brontës.

This was my first recording! Books from the public domain, read by volunteers = Free audiobooks! Brilliant idea, though in the future, I will be more careful with what I download. Whereas the collaborative reading of 'Agnes Grey' did expose me to a range of accents (Indian, Australian, American, British! All in one book!) it also somewhat took focus off the book itself.


Thursday, October 20, 2016

Klimt - Nathaniel Harris

Although Harris presents 50 major works in chronological order, commenting them all separately, this is in no way any sort of thorough analysis. 

It's more of an introduction to Klimt and to his early 20th century Austria, moving from chaste, Victorian values to more explicit, Freudian representations of sexuality. 
Klimt was one of the forerunners of the avant-garde Secession-group, which is very clear in his most famous works, the portrait of Adèle Bloch-Bauer (above) and 'The Kiss', for instance.

I knew less about his early paintings, of which this multi-portrait (of authentic Vienna nobility) is my favourite.

Zuschauerraum im altem Burgtheater, Gustav Klimt, 1888

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Musée des Arts Forains, 12ème arrdt

For y-e-a-r-s I have walked by this mysterious place - a museum closed to visitors! - having to settle for a peep through the gates at the turn-of-the-(last)century merry-go-rounds and fairground games.

Obviously, when the opportunity to visit presented itself, I was delighted.
No such thing as a low-expectations principle was possible nor, fortunately, needed.
The lightning, the objects and the surroundings were all rather breathtaking!

Open to the public during Christmas! Warmly recommended.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Café des Chats, Paris 11th arrdt

The smell of cat's pee is overwhelming and takes some getting used to, even for a seasoned cat-owner like myself. Once your nose is accustomed to it, this is very much you average Parisian café - except for the cats who wander around freely on the premises, sleeping on benches and armchairs, playing and eating from your plate if you let them. (Provided you are having a dish they are interested in. They prefer meat to dessert, I noticed.)

It was cozy enough, especially if you don't have a cat at home, I suppose.
A piece of advice : Eat quickly. That will avoid cat hair on your plate.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

The Red Hot Chili Peppers, at Paris, Bercy

Easy listening this certainly was not, but then on the other hand the RCHP had the audience in rapture long before the concert had even begun.

We were still in rapture after a modest 90 minutes, though nothing but the length was modest about it : The sound, the energy, the light show and the set list were all a skillful mix of ambition and know-how, and I loved it!

(And that's despite remaining rather undecided regarding their latest album).

Friday, October 14, 2016

BBC History Extra Podcast

If you are an aficionado of the new-generation mainstream history magazines, then this should appeal to you, as well. 

True enough, the podcast passes for little more than a promotion device for the magazine in question and the sound is often very mediocre. 
Still, twenty minutes feels like a decent length for a lightweight yet correct treatment of various and engaging subjects, such as the Romanovs, Agincourt, Shakespeare in 1606, Benjamin Franklin's London visit...

Nothing too in-depth but rather OK when you are on the move.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

On The Road - Jack Kerouac

The title is as brilliantly simple as it is self-evident; Kerouac's alter ego main character relates his hitch-hikes across 1940s America, including an incursion into Mexico.
For all its Beatnik bravado, this iconic road-novel feels deeply patriotic; Kerouac's love for his country and its people pervades the whole book (like "air you can kiss").

It is also a tale about friendship - a bromance, if you will - in its both clear-sighted and heartbreaking portrait of the narrator's confused friend Dean, who no doubt would today have been diagnosed with some sort of mental disorder, and who blends in with the country, implicitly throughout the book and explicitly in the final, dazzling, paragraph.

Just like 'The Catcher in the Rye' and 'The Bell Jar', this narrative is emblematic of a the generation who grew into adults in postwar America. 
All three novels share the same idiosyncratic charm, making them virtually impossible to resist.  


Tuesday, October 11, 2016

A Place For Us To Dream - Placebo

Oldies are indeed goodies as far as Placebo is concerned. 

I still think the world of iconic songs like 'Pure Morning', 'Without You I'm Nothing' and 'Nancy Boy'. 

I still cannot wrap my head around the change they went through after 'Sleeping With Ghosts' but nothing has been quite the same since...

I still have faith, though! Molko and Olsdal will work it out! (Yet that time has not yet come, judging by the latest single 'Jesus' Son'. And my hopes were up after 'B3'!)

Monday, October 10, 2016

Prometheus - R. Scott 2012

This could have been a very OK sci-fi movie, had it not been for that so typically Scottian taste for action gore. Or cheap thrills, to use my term.

(Incidentally, I have the exact same views on Scott's classic 'Alien'.)

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Suicide Squad, the Album

Rap + Rock + Noir + Quite a lot of posing = Totally listenable!

Skrillex, Twenty One Pilots, Wiz Khalifa, Panic! At the Disco and an old Eminem.


Thursday, October 6, 2016

Elizabeth's Bedfellows (An Intimate Story of the Queen's Court) - Anna Whitelock

To my mind, Elizabeth I is one of the most intriguing royalties; her Tudor House is the second most captivating (after Gryffindor) and her period the one which bred Shakespeare

More probably needn't be said about this fairly detailed biography, except that I found the title rather disgraceful. I do realize selling books about well-studied historical figures is probably no picknick, but to make it sound as though she slept with lots of men - which she most likely did not - is a cheap trick. Although Whitelock does go into Elizabeth's long-standing affair with Robert Dudley, the Queen's most frequent "bedfellows" were her chamber ladies, who shared her bed every night, as was common at the time.

The book focuses on court life, and I took great pleasure in learning about :

- The numerous conspiracies to her life. 
Being an unmarried Protestant queen in a recently converted country, surrounded by Catholic neighbours and bearing no offspring certainly was an unsheltered position. 
The Pope was not the only one - nor necessarily the most powerful - to want her dead.

- Her Advisors' desperate and feverish marriage plots
Preferably with a royal neighbour, of course, but as time passed, they would have gladly accepted nearly anyone. Anyone with a penis, capable of producing offspring! 
It sounds laughable now, of course, but as previously stated : A country without an apparent heir was extremely fragile. Why she so stubbornly refused remains a mystery.

- Her diseases; the collective panic they caused - a panic reinforced by the fact that she (at the risk of repeating myself) had no heir apparent - and the attempts at curing her. 
A true miracle how anyone at all survived medical care in the 16th century.

- How her enemies persistently resorted to her sexuality to undermine her legitimacy and authority as a ruler, depicting her as lewd and over-sexual. 
Renaissance slutshaming, no less.

- The desperation she felt about aging (for reasons stated above) and the ingenious means she resorted to in order to look young. 
Good thing for her plastic surgery was not yet available, though I wonder whether a decent nip/tuck would not have been preferable to using toxic mercury powder?

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Duel - S. Spielberg 1971

Well, it has aged, though for some extremely unfair reason, antiquated male fashion feels slightly less ridiculous than outmoded ladies' fashion. Or perhaps I'm just too ignorant in  / bored stiff with suits to spot the difference.

At any rate, costumes, dialogues and music are clearly outdated; but still! 
Still, this is a masterpiece. 
In my not always so humble opinion, 'Duel' is probably to this day one of Spielberg's top five.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Margot - Bengt Ohlsson

Margot Wallström is a Swedish politician - currently serving in the government - of a rather atypical kind, as she long served in the UN (and the EU) rather than taking over the post as leader for the Socialist Party, which would have landed her the title of Prime Minister by now.

Much like her, this book is a bit unorthodox :

- It is more of a portrait than a biography, although it does provide Wallström's life-story.

- It is penned not by a journalist but by a skilled writer, author of a number of novels (good ones, too!) even if he also dabbles in freelance journalism.

Loved it! Real literature dealing with real facts! A rare treat.