A World Cup lull

After just over a fortnight of the World Cup and unrelenting blood-pounding, arse-ripping, shorts-tightening football, there is a lull and it is weird. I can’t even troll England fans. There is a empty void.

I’m remembering there’s things like Channel4 News, or Netflix, or the PS4, or books or indeed, anything that isn’t football. It feels so terribly wrong…


Losing Harlan Ellison

I have a Harlan Ellison story. Lots and lots of people who’ve been in, or are fans of, comics, SF, fantasy or just fans of his writing have a story. I’ve told mine before but here it is again. In 1985 at a SF convention in Glasgow, Ellison was guest of honour and was having great fun pissing off and entertaining all the right people because even as a young lad somewhat awestruck at being even in the same city as one of his heroes, I could see that Ellison danced the line between genius and arsehole easily. One minute he’s be amiable and chatty, the next he’d be annoyed and angry but he’d never compromise himself. His comments about writers getting paid show this.

So back to the story. I was working a dealers table selling comics and Ellison came in to have a shufty at our stuff. He picked a few things up and much to everyone’s surprise knew more about British comics than I’d have suspected. I was wearing a Marvelman badge, and spinning off the conversation from Warrior, Ellison asked if we had any for sale which we didn’t. He then asked if he could have mine. I eventually gave him it because this was my hero and I didn’t want to disappoint.

Ellison later came over to me in the bar, offered to get a drink and we ended up chatting about how great Dreamscape was. Indeed, it still is.

Ellison then had to move on with his small entourage but I was a happy lad as he’d signed a copy of The Glass Teat which is one of the greatest books of criticism ever published.  That book is something that influenced why I started this blog, and in fact it wasn’t until Ellison’s death I realised how much he’d shaped me growing up.

See, that wee story I have is something I’ve pulled out often over the years because it is a great wee story. The part of the story I usually miss out is when Ellison talked about not compromising which is something I don’t think Ellison did once in his life which led him to do great things, not to mention some awful things.

But that idea that someone can’t compromise because once you do it then becomes a game as to how far you’ll go without fully compromising yourself. I can’t remember when I did start compromising and although my life was better in some ways, a wee part of me was dead.

I’ll miss Ellison not being around. I’ll miss not being able to see if there’s a new soundbite  that I can use to help me sum up current events, and with current events being horrible I think we’ve lost a guide at a bad time.We’ll still have his mountain of work but we’ve lost a voice who could be good or bad, arrogant and uncompromising but always had something worthwhile to say. There will never be another like him.

Goodbye and thanks for whatever small lessons you’ve given me. I’m going to watch Dreamscape later and wallow in the memories of 1985.

A World Cup dilemma

Apart from a pretty dismal game between France and Denmark this has been a fantastic World Cup so far, but those of us in the UK have to put up with some terrible commentary, especially from the likes of Mark Lawrenson who sounds as if he doesn’t give a fuck about the game, or the position he’s in.

Now the BBC do offer a commentary free track on their digital services, but some people don’t have access to this so they’re stuck with the wrist-slitting joy of Lawrenson. So would you rather the BBC employ a jaded old pro who treats viewers with contempt or a drunk who’s pissed himself and is desperately slurring words in the hope it makes sense so he can get paid?

Now, nobody say they’re both the same thing…

Netflix’s intrusive ads

One of the great things about streaming media in the year 2018 is that it allows you to catch up with films, TV, etc you’ve always been meaning to, in some cases you’re able to watch something you’ve had on a list for decades. One of those films in the Robin Williams 1998 film, What Dreams May Come.

I’d always kind of avoided the film as it looked like one of those films Robin Williams did for the cash, but the director Vincent Ward, isn’t an ordinary director. Somehow though the film fell through cracks and up until the other day I’d never sat down to see it which is a pity as it really is a fantastic film with a very quiet, restrained, performance from Williams who isn’t allowed to go off the rails. As a film it deals mainly with death, including suicide. It’s a pretty unique Hollywood film not without faults especially in the third reel when it becomes Orpheus in the Underworld.

It ends on a pretty strong emotional note and you expect as a viewer to sit there watching the credits roll so you can digest the film at your own speed, but this is Netflix so you’re given a trailer for ‘something you may like’ the millisecond the film ends. No chance of letting the film end and rest in you head before Netflix attempts to keep you watching.

Films made in an era where streaming media wasn’t even a dream or barely thought of suffer because of this urge to keep you binging until you burst, but some films need time to let them sink in. All Netflix is doing is ruining the end of films & they need to slow down their ads.

Next time on First World Problems, why does WiFi on trains have to be such a pain to log into…

Frost and Clough

I love old TV celebrity interviews from the 1970’s and 1980’s mainly because they take their time and guests are not shilling their latest film/book/TV series/etc (most of the time) but are on chat shows to discuss their careers, or something massive that they’ve been involved in.

In 1974 Brian Clough had been sacked from Leeds United after 44 days, which later became the core of David Peace’s quite brilliant, but controversial book, The Damned United, later made into a splendid film with Michael Sheen who also played David Frost in the also splendid Frost/Nixon. In 74 the top interviewer was  David Frost, then still young, and still in touch with his journalistic roots who when given Clough as a subject to interview used all his skills to coax a remarkable half hour or so where both men are clearly the intellectual equal of each other but to watch them talk at a time when Clough was in theory at his lowest, is just stunning television.

After this both men hit their greatest achievements with Frost become a global television icon and Clough the best football manager in the world which makes this interview a joy to watch knowing what was just hanging over the horizon for them.


The Old Grey Whistle Test revival was a remider as to why Punk needed to happen

Last Friday BBC Four broadcast a live Old Grey Whistle Test one-off revival show with Bob Harris presenting. Within five minutes I remembered why I hated the programme til it dropped endless sessions with Santana or Yes and started to bring on new Punk or early electronic music to give the programme a jolt of life because to be blunt, the show was mainly fucking tedious for much of it’s life, and when it did have something with a bit of balls it was sneered at.

When growing up the sound of Bob Harris used to fill me with dread because he may introduce Bowie or Marley (and lets not talk about how little the programme supported black artists) one minute.

We might even be luck and get a bit of Roxy Music weirdness.

But most of the time it was endless plains of Lynyrd Skynyrd and Emerson Lake and Palmer and endless Bob Harris whispering at you like that weird guy you’d later meet at Glastonbury in 1992 talking about that time he saw Lindisfarne in 1973.

Then at some point the BBC realised the programme needed dragged into the present, brought in Annie Nightingale and started giving more and more Punk and new bands a chance.

Most of all the programme on the whole stopped speaking down to kids like me who gave zero fucks about how long it took to record one guitar solo when I wanted to hear stuff that was exciting and felt alive. By the mid 80’s it was essential telly for things like this wonderful Jesus and Mary Chain performance

For a generation the show wasn’t tired old men talking earnestly about rock music but it returns with this version of the show that reminds me of being bored, annoyed and fed up wishing something exciting would happen but it’s time has past and it should remain locked in the cupboard.

So please don’t bring it back. The last thing we want to do is expose a new generation to Bob Harris talking about Dire Straits.




Superman Returns

Action Comics is due to hit its 1,000th issue in April. In it Superman finally ditches the armour he’s been wearing since The New 52 revamp and returns to his traditional outfit.

Superman after being away for so long is back, and Action #1000 also feature the wonderful José Luis García-López, an artist who I’ll be blogging about in more detail soon as one of the finest, but yet under-appreciated, artists of the last 40 years.

There’s a lot of people who hate Superman quoting anything from the character being boring or too good, or powerful, but yet this is the basis for the genre of super heroes and done right, Superman is a character than can show us the best of who we. He is also escapism and he can also be used to deal with issues of the day as he was 1,000 issues ago in Action Comics #1.

When Superman started it was dark times with an economic recession and the rise of the far right threatening us, and we’re in similar times so Superman can stand as a beacon of hope rather than the arsehole he was in The New 52, or the brooding killer of Zack Snyder’s imagination. Instead we’re hopefully back to having a heroic figure for people to aspire to which is what we need in a genre full of ‘edgy’ anti-heroes as sometimes you need to point to a moral standard to aspire to rather than just accept lazy cynicism passing for ‘cutting edge’.

We shall see but regardless, hitting 1,000 issues in an American comic (British comics use to pass that milestone regularly) is an achievement and if that includes the proper Superman returning then all the best for it.