Friday, August 17, 2018

Vale Aretha (1942 - 2018)

Aretha Franklin's singing was so special, so spiritual, because she grew up singing in her father's church.  She soars, she touches the soul.

Most of the tributes that will pour in on her death will focus on her well-known songs (the BBC overnight was endlessly rehashing extracts of I Say A Little Prayer, Respect, and Natural Woman).  Few will demonstrate why they think she was unique.  Here's a good example: Call Me.

Released in 1970, this performance comes from the Montreux Jazz Festival in 1971.  She especially shines towards the end of the song.

Sadly, it's not her best performance of this song to be captured on tape.  That one was available online in 2011, but has probably been removed for copyright reasons.  It was a television performance circa 1971; the audience was seated around tables - and it's not the one on the Tom Jones program, which you can still find online.

For me, her other most notable high point was the 1973 single Angel.  Also worthwhile amongst many others is her recording of The Band's The Weight, which is also quite a spiritual song.

Friday, April 13, 2018

Sydney Climate Change report: We're a full season out of whack

35 degrees today.  That's truly awful.

This is the middle of autumn.  Sydney is seeing a week's worth of temperatures hovering in the 30s - temperatures that should be gone by the beginning of February; today's peak should sit squarely in the middle of a bad, hot summer.

Autumn leaves are blowing around while elsewhere spring flowers are confused into coming out for a second season.

And this is a population safely ensconced in a large, safe, wealthy metropolis.  Never mind the rest of the world that lives at the margins.

We knew about this over 25 years ago.  We could have stopped it if we'd done the right thing.  Conservative politicians are beholden to a self-centred support base that's in denial because they don't like to be disgusted [by reality], and while things are okay within their immediate circle.  So-called liberal politicians are likewise captive to a voter base and marginal voters that doesn't want them to make the hard choices.  Voters who do not vote Green are culpable.  Non-voters are absolutely culpable.

Phew.  Now that I've got that off my chest... no, I don't feel better.  But I will offer a couple of sparks of hope today.  And one evil signpost of complacency.

First, the global investment in renewables - half of which comes from China, a command economy - is now double the investment in fossil fuels.  Too little, too late for a two degree rise in temperature, but the catastrophe is slightly lessened.  And a possible forward is flagged by the increase in climate change litigation.  This is the path that had demonstrated success when tobacco companies were fostering political paralysis: courts may help achieve what couldn't be done by those you voted for.

The evil signpost of complacency: Marketing makes our favourite animals seem common as they slide towards extinction.

17-Apr-2018 Sydney bushfire:  The "Holsworthy" fire has a far more direct, tangible impact.  It was raging over the weekend; on Monday, a colleague who lives in Menai stayed home, messaging me: "Sore throats and noses from the smoke.  The fire has formed an arc around us.  All depends on the winds and ember strikes.  We just watch and wait."
At Jannali station on the way home last night, the plume was only a few suburbs away:

The smell of the smoke is novel for a while, but then makes breathing laboured.  As an asthma sufferer, I couldn't survive it up close.  All asthma sufferers would clearly need to get away early, and stay away until the smoke dies away completely.  Climate change?  Because this happened so far out of season, response was not as good as it could have been.  Some specialist firefighting aircraft could not be used because they had been sent back to the U.S. at the end of the season.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Mark E Smith: No More Mr Cranky

Mark E Smith is dead.  I was quite taken aback.

Thus The Fall is no more.  A band whose only constant was Smith, over a period of 40 years there were, at last count, 66 other members, a third of whom lasted less than a year.  Smith famously said "if it's me and your granny on bongos, it's The Fall".  Or, as a recent reviewer said, it's "Mark E Smith and whoever he's barking orders at".

The music was harsh, challenging, rambling, sometimes discordant, always distinctive, sometimes even pleasant.

One of the few bands I've seen in three different countries, I was fortunate not to see them when he had his back to the audience the whole time.  Apparently.  These days, the only albums I have of theirs are Bend Sinister, Infotainment Scam, Extricate, the A-Sides compilation and, hopefully still findable, Slates.  There's a lot to like if you persist, but my personal favourite is Domesday Pay-Off, a rejigged Bend Sinister that excludes Dktr Faustus and Bournemouth Runner, but adds singles There's a Ghost In My House and Hey! Luciani.  Look for the tracks R.O.D., Gross Chapel and Riddler.

My current album favourites are Slates, Bend Sinister and Extricate.  All have much to recommend, but there's so much catalog (31 studio albums) you'll always find something to like.

The cause of death has not been stated, but it's probably due to long years of drinking and smoking.  And crankiness, no doubt.  The above reviewer's characterisation of Smith/the Fall was:

"a shambolic artist whose astonishing productivity, creative restlessness, and utter disdain for the niceties of civil society know no bounds. This is Mark E. Smith’s lawn, and we’re all invited to get the fuck off of it."

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

American Football: Nick Foles is Carson Wentz? Super Bowl here we come.

The NFC Conference Championship was the last playoff game before the Super Bowl.  It was exciting, but it was also strange and totally unexpected.  The underdogs came through in a big way, and the only people who were happy with the result were the bookies and the denizens of Philadelphia - oh and anyone who loves a great game of gridiron.

The Philadelphia Eagles were the best team this season, and the best chance to defeat the New England Patriots at the Super Bowl.  But then star quarterback Carson Wentz was injured for the rest of the season.  Roll on up second stringer Nick Foles, and everyone expected the Wentzless Eagles to die in the dust.  But they didn't.

Instead, the NFC Championship was an exciting game, where Foles - after an indifferent string of games - seemed to channel Carson Wentz.  How could this be?

Credit must be given to the Eagles coach Doug Pederson.  The team he built was strong - as strong as you like - but nothing can help you if you have an average quarterback.  When Foles took over, he seemed pretty average.  But Pederson must have done some serious work on him: in this last playoff game, Foles played like Carson Wentz incarnated.  Seriously.  Earlier this season I remember seeing Wentz lose the pocket, move around and throw the ball as he was being sacked - and still connect with his receiver.  A magnificent effort.  And in the process of winning the Eagles the Championship game and the Super Bowl berth, Foles did exactly the same thing under great pressure.

Of course, the Patriots have been the team to beat for over fifteen years.  Their run must come to an end, but they still have a sterling coach  in Bill Bellichick, an effective and game-changing quarterback in Tom Brady, and an absolutely solid roster throughout their offense, defense and special teams.

Foles, er...

Will Foles pull off the unexpected again, at the Super Bowl?  The odds are against him.  And the pressure, too: the Super Bowl is a whole different level of game, with a supercharged crowd and the eyes of America (and a few other places) watching for another Patriots comeback if the Eagles even pull ahead at all.

Look out for an exciting, explosive Super Bowl.