Wednesday, December 31, 2008

2008: My Soundtrack

1. Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds - Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!!
'Cause people often talk about being scared of change/But for me I'm more afraid of things staying the same/'Cause the game is never won/By standing in any one place for too long


Standout tracks: Jesus Of The Moon, Moonland, We Call Upon The Author
Soundtrack for: almost everything I thought or felt in 2008

2. Portishead - Third
I'm worn, tired of my mind/I'm worn out, thinking of why/I'm always so unsure/I'm always so unsure

Standout tracks: Plastic, Small, Threads
Soundtrack for: getting drunk and still not being able to say what you really want to say yet easily being able to say what you really don't, then watching Peep Show

3. Tom Morello: The Nightwatchman - The Fabled City
I'm surprised you didn't come forward when the cops dragged me away/There's a museum in the Netherlands I hope to see again someday/There's a painting of a woman gathering wood/It's almost dark/In a world bereft of meaning there's a flicker in the hearth

Standout tracks: Midnight In The City Of Destruction, Saint Isabelle, Whatever It Takes
Soundtrack for: doing whatever it takes

4. The Verve - Forth
Will those feet in modern times/Walk on soles that are made in China?/Feel the bright prosaic malls/In the corridors that go on and on and on

Standout tracks: I See Houses, Love Is Noise, Valium Skies
Soundtrack for: sitting and silently contemplating everything as the summer sun dips behind the rooftops

5. Filter - Anthems For The Damned
I'd like to wake up/In a dream/Where they don't scream/Without misery

Standout tracks: I Keep Flowers Around, Only You, Soldiers Of Misfortune
Soundtrack for: the damned (of the earth)

6. SoulflyConquer
In the heavy side of life we live/It's not how we chose/But it is how it fucking is/Unleash! Unleash! Unleash! Unleash!

Standout tracks: Fall Of The Sycophants, For Those About To Rot, Unleash
Soundtrack for: blood, fire, war, hate...and love

7. TiamatAmanethes
And now that we're clean/Our souls can be free/Our love is the only drug we need/And now that we're one/We don't need any God/Divinity flows in our blood

Standout tracks: Circles, Meliae, Via Dolorosa
Soundtrack for: struggling to survive in a world of things that actually exist, but which you don't have enough control over.

8. Nine Inch NailsThe Slip
And this is not my face/And this is not my life/And there is not a single thing here/I can recognize/This is all a dream/And none of you are real

Standout tracks: Echoplex, Head Down, Lights in the Sky
Soundtrack for: surfing the waves of alienation...and then remixing them!

9. Isobel Campbell & Mark Lanegan - Sunday at Devil Dirt

When the world steals all hope from you/Wonder where you dreams have gone to/You're the one I still belong to/Listen why I love you

Standout tracks: Back Burner, Salvation, Trouble
Soundtrack for: a quiet, gloomy, anaesthetised night in

10. Cavalera ConspiracyInflikted
Born from war and tension/Fed up and fucked up/Feeding on frustration/Fed up and fucked up/Unleash devastation/Fed up and fucked up

Standout tracks: Bloodbrawl, Nevertrust, The Doom Of All Fires
Soundtrack for: fighting!

The full version

Saturday, December 13, 2008

William Blake: The River of Life

Tate Liverpool (12th December 2008 - 29th March 2009)

It was an extraordinary privilege to get up close and personal with some of William Blake's most celebrated artwork at Tate Liverpool. Unfortunately though, the selection presents a limited view of a man who was a visionary in every possible sense.

Born in 1757, at a time of enormous changes in English society, Blake's output was full of contradictions, but he embraced this, believing that "Without contraries there is no progress". The son of Christian Dissenters - who resented the state's interference in religion and vice versa - his approach to faith was very much an anti-establishment one, and he drew upon traditions dating back to the English Civil War to create often apocalyptic images, reflecting the turmoil that surrounded him throughout his life.

The religious artwork chosen for The River of Life appears - without further explanation - to be quite conventional. There is Blake's interpretation of Dante's Inferno, which comes from the medieval Catholic idea of Hell. There are also many depictions of events from the Old Testament. One in particular, Satan Exulting over Eve, might seem like a standard Garden of Eden painting. However, Blake's mythology went way beyond 'God is good and the devil is evil'. For him, the church was a restrictive body which damned and divided humanity, and priests were “Dishonest, Designing Knaves who in the hope of a good living adopt the State Religion”. On the other hand, Hell and demons were associated with vital, passionate energies like anger and lust. Blake saw the biblical Satan as having set humanity free to be like the rest of creation, so a serpent 'exulting' over a female form was groundbreaking symbolism at the end of the eighteenth century.

Another fascinating subject for Blake was what role religion would play in a world that was starting to be explained by rational, calculating, profit-seeking science. This is given a small airing in the exhibition. He wasn't against technological development - he made great use of it on many occasions - but disliked the direction that many of its backers were pushing it in. Like his fellow Romantics, he believed in the power of imagination and emotions, claiming that even the greatest scientists (like his Isaac Newton, above) were missing out on a world that could not be measured.

Actually, there is no room in The River of Life for Blake the philosopher, whose thinking perhaps reached its most dizzying heights in The Marriage of Heaven and Hell (1793), and especially The Proverbs of Hell, which turned conservative Christianity on its head to create a manifesto for life that still looks gloriously wild and yet far-thinking over two hundred years later. Neither is there space for Blake the poet, whose beautifully illustrated texts still fill many schoolbooks (sadly, my teacher told me The Tyger was about a tiger, and not the spirit of the French Revolution). In fact Blake the radical, anti-slavery campaigner and free love advocate is totally banished from the Liverpool Tate this winter, which is a shame, because Tate London exhibited him in 2000/01.

A display even repeats the fiction that Blake was some kind of jingoistic English nationalist, and imagines him cheering on Prime Minister William Pitt's 1793 attack on France (see The Spiritual Form of Pitt Riding Behemoth). The source of this insulting claim is usually Blake's poem 'And did those feet in Ancient time', a full-blooded incitement to revolution that was turned into the dirge-like patriotic anthem 'Jerusalem' by Christians and reactionaries who can't have spent much time wondering what "arrows of desire" might be. Here, Blake pledges "not to cease from mental fight" or let his "sword sleep in [his] hand", until the "Satanic mills" have been destroyed and a heaven on earth worthy of Jesus the rebel has been created "in England's green and pleasant land".

William Blake was the artistic representative of a layer that was constantly on the margins of society, and yet he artistically engaged with it to the best of his enormous ability. His New Jerusalem is far from being created on earth, but his inspirational ideas echo on.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Wirral Against Service Cuts

A crowd of two hundred or more Wirral residents gathered at Wallasey Town Hall last night, to show their anger at the council's planned cuts to vital services.

The Labour/Lib Dem coalition have been pushing a 'Strategic Asset Review', which Council leader Steve Foulkes claims will 'support regeneration'. However - as many Liverpool people know - the word 'regeneration' is code for putting the needs of business before those of working class people.

The coalition plans the closure of twelve libraries - Birkenhead Central Library and many local branches - plus two leisure centres (including Guinea Gap Baths, right next to the Town Hall), Pacific Road Theatre and the Wirral Museum at Birkenhead Town Hall. As a replacement, the Cabinet want to build eleven new buildings, at the cost of £20 million. They claim this will mean "better but fewer" facukities. However, Foulkes (who got a 500% pay rise this February) has admitted he is looking for ways to save money. Libraries, cultural venues and recreation centres are clearly not considered a worthwhile investment.

The protest was arranged when Conservative Councillor John Hale, Chair of the Culture, Tourism and Leisure Overview and Scrutiny Committee called a special meeting to examine the Cabinet's proposals. Though the Committee has no powers to overturn the proposals, the Conservatives are seeking to use the dispute as a wedge issue in the run-up to the local elections next May.

At present, the Tories are the largest single party, having made significant gains from Labour this year. However, the coalition between Labour and the Liberal Democrats has kept them out of power. They would need a swing of a further nine seats to win overall control, but local leader Jeff Green and his councillors are keen to make political capital by opposing the hated cuts.

It is measure of these crisis-ridden times that the Labour/Lib Dem proposals are so right wing that the Conservatives - many of whom reached political maturity during the reign of Margaret Thatcher - are to be able to position themselves to their left. However, should they win power, the Tories would face similar - or maybe even deeper - economic problems, and would have to find money from somewhere, either by service cuts or higher taxes.

Yesterday's protest included many workers from the various facilities, as well as young children on perhaps their first demonstration. If the campaign is to be successful, it must ignore the siren songs of both the Tories and the Labour Party - which many trade union bureaucrats are linked to - and focus on concerted workplace-based action, which would have huge backing from Wirral people.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

The Mad World of Work

"In short, it has become an article of the creed of modern morality that all labour is good in itself - a convenient belief to those who live on the labour of others. But as to those on whom they live, I recommend them not to take it on trust, but to look into the matter a little deeper."
William Morris, Useful Work versus Useless Toil (1884)

Work eh? Can’t live with it, can’t live without it. Every product or service we use is created by work, by people deliberately changing one thing into another, transforming the world around them. But that isn’t the definition of work we normally hear about. Usually an activity isn’t called work unless someone else stands to make money off it, which means that looking after your children isn’t normally called work, but looking after another person’s children normally is, and government policy is currently aimed at getting single parents ‘into work’, as if they don’t have enough! It also means that if you create a piece of art for the enjoyment of yourself and others then that isn’t work, but when stockbrokers place bets on the success or failure of businesses it definitely is!

Now, as a recession unfolds, politicians are telling us there’s ‘not enough work’, and people around the world are being sacked in their hundreds of thousands, even though things clearly need more transforming than ever. We’re also seeing taxpayers’ money being given to those at the top of the pile, in the name of keeping the economy afloat. Something doesn’t add up.

Clearly, we need to examine what work means in 2008, and that’s what Nerve 13 does.

Nerve 14 will look at issues around the environment and food. Please get in touch if you would like to contribute something, or have any ideas. Contact us by emailing mail@catalystmedia.org.uk, or phone (0151) 709 9948 during office hours.

We’ve worked hard on this edition of Nerve, so we hope you enjoy it.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

The Baader Meinhof Complex (18)

Directed by Uli Edel
Written by Stefan Aust (book) and Bernd Eichinger (screenplay)

On general release from 28th November 2008


The Red Army Faction (renamed the 'Baader-Meinhof gang' by press keen to downplay any political significance) were a West German guerilla group who launched a failed insurrection campaign during the 1970s. Their aim was to jolt the urban working class into revolutionary action by attacking what they called 'paper tigers' - symbols of capitalist rule.

Uli Edel and Bernd Eichinger (Downfall)'s account of the RAF's history is nothing if not detailed. Every major event in their formation, rise and fall is documented, from journalist Ulrike Meinhof (Martina Gedeck)'s anger at police attacks on 1967 demonstration, through various bombings and assassinations, to the suicides of the 'first generation' in Stammheim prison ten years later. A strong cast - particularly Moritz Bleibtreu as Andreas Baader and Johanna Wokalek as Gudrun Ensslin - play their parts in excellent reconstructions. However, through the hail of bullets and flying glass, a viewer would be forgiven for asking one unanswered question: why?

Almost all of the young people who would become the Red Army Faction were from relatively well-off backgrounds, and attended university. The events of the late sixties - which saw protest movements worldwide against the war in Vietnam, as well as many different university, street and workplace-located struggles, radicalised them at a time when West German radicals found themselves very isolated. The development of traditional socialist ideas - based on the primary role of the working class in revolutionary struggle - was being blocked by disillusionment with 'actually existing socialism' throughout Eastern Europe. The future RAF fighters saw the West German state - which had former Nazis in prominent positions - becoming more repressive, and helping the new dominant power, the United States, extend its empire around the world. Influenced by the ideas of former Marxists such as Herbert Marcuse, they saw the western working class as being integrated into the capitalist system. The only way they could stir workers - or so it seemed - was by bringing the war home, and adapting the tactics of peasant and desert fighters to an urban setting.

Of course, these individualistic acts of terror did not create a spontaneous outburst of solidarity and class-based struggle. Though the RAF gained a fanatical following amongst some people of their social background, many others were understandably disgusted by workers such as librarians being killed in the name of socialism. In an important sense, the RAF terror campaign was not so much an expression of solidarity, but an expression of hopelessness in solidarity.

These issues are too big for the team behind The Baader Meinhof Complex, so we are left with nothing more than terror porn, albeit extremely well made terror porn.

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