I Aten’t Ded

But I aten’t well, either. Some combination of my new blood pressure medication, a bad reaction to a flu jab I had on Wednesday, and my arthritis has meant that I’ve basically been non-functional since Wednesday afternoon.
(I’ll spare you most of the details, but for example my feet swelled up so much and became so sensitive that I couldn’t put my feet flat on our carpet, so had to walk on the sides of my feet, knees sideways — at least until that set my arthritic knees off. You will be unsurprised that I didn’t move much from the couch).
I picked up a couple of weeks’ worth of comics on Wednesday, and *will* be reviewing them for Patreons tomorrow, and I also want to get some thoughts down over the next day or two about the Richmond Park by-election and in defence of Paul McCartney’s “Wonderful Christmastime”, but as I don’t know how long this bout of horrible health will last, I don’t know when I’ll return to normal posting — though I’m now just about OK enough to go out with some friends tomorrow, so I’m on the mend…

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The Beach Boys On CD: Songs From Here and Back

In 2006 a rather odd, limited edition, release came out, which would (according to Mike Love’s on-stage announcements around that time, anyway) be one of the band’s best selling albums of the last few decades.

Songs From Here And Back is a compilation that was on sale only through Hallmark stores in the US, for a two-month period leading up to Father’s Day 2006, with a discount when purchased with a sufficient number of greetings cards. It consisted of seven previously-unreleased live tracks from two different shows at the same venue (five from a 1989 show featuring Brian Wilson and Bruce Johnston, two from a 1974 show featuring Dennis Wilson and Ricky Fataar, and all featuring Mike, Carl, and Al), and one solo track each from Brian, Mike, and Al.

The live tracks are fairly clunky run-throughs of “Dance, Dance, Dance”, “Wouldn’t It Be Nice”, “Surfer Girl”, “Kokomo”, “Little Deuce Coupe”, “I Get Around”, and “Good Vibrations”, showing more than anything else just how joyless the 1980s version of the band could be – they’re all perfectly competent, although Mike Kowalski’s cymbal work can be a little unsteady, but they’re mostly taken at too slow a pace, with any interesting arrangement ideas stripped away and replaced with cheap-sounding synths. Only Alan Jardine and Jeffrey Foskett show any sign of life at all in the vocals (except on “Good Vibrations”, one of the two 1974 recordings, which is a genuinely good version of the track, but not so good as to make the CD a worthwhile purchase absent anything else).

These tracks are clearly intended for much the same audience as the NASCAR CD – people impulse-buying a rough approximation of music they heard on the radio in their youth, who don’t really care about the quality – and on those terms the CD is certainly a better purchase – but it’s the three solo tracks that got Beach Boys fans interested.

The Spirit Of Rock & Roll
Songwriter: Brian Wilson, Gary Usher, and Tom Kelly
Lead vocalist: Brian Wilson

Of all the solo tracks, this one had the longest gestation. It was originally recorded in 1986 as a track for the Beach Boys, during Wilson’s sessions with Gary Usher, and was a collaboration between Usher (who came up with the original idea), Wilson, and Tom Kelly, the co-writer of “Like a Virgin”, “True Colors”, and “Eternal Flame” among other songs, who Usher had brought in to the project to make Wilson’s songs more commercial for the 80s. That recording was used, briefly, in a TV special the Beach Boys did to mark their twenty-fifth anniversary, but otherwise remained unreleased.

Another version – with what sounds like much the same backing track – was recorded for Wilson’s unreleased solo album Sweet Insanity a few years later. That version – a duet with Bob Dylan, featuring Belinda Carlisle and Paula Abdul on backing vocals (no, I’m not joking) – also remains unreleased, though it’s widely bootlegged.

This version is a remake, featuring members of Wilson’s backing band (along with Joel Peskin on sax, who also appears on Love’s track), but is very close to those versions – slightly less synth-heavy, a less oppressive drum sound, and better guitar tone, but otherwise almost identical (although it has a nice a capella tag missing from the earlier recordings). In any version, it’s simply not very good, being as it is a dull piece of 80s Boomer nostalgia, and it sounds like the throwaway it is.

PT Cruiser
Songwriter: Al Jardine
Lead vocalist: Al Jardine with Matt Jardine

This track was the only one on the album to have been previously released, as it was released as a promotional single (along with an a capella version of the track) by Chrysler in 2002 to promote their then-new PT Cruiser range of convertibles.

As one might expect for what is essentially a song-length jingle, this isn’t the greatest recording ever made. On the other hand, it’s more fun than it needed to be. The song doesn’t even pretend to be original, being made up of stitched-together bits of “Little GTO”, “Hey Little Cobra” and “Shut Down”, but the band (mostly the better members of the 70s and 80s Beach Boys touring band, along with Jardine’s sons Matt (himself a touring Beach Boy for much of the 80s and 90s) and Adam) give it a surprising amount of life, and Jardine’s vocal is strong.

Cool Head, Warm Heart
Songwriter: Mike Love
Lead vocalist: Mike Love and Christian Love

And surprisingly, Mike Love’s solo track is the best thing on the album.

It’s relative, of course – this is by no means a great track – but it’s a very, very listenable mid-tempo ballad, sung in Love’s relaxed low baritone (the part of his range that has held up best, especially in the studio). This was originally recorded for a still-unreleased solo album that at various times was titled Unleash the Love and Mike Love, Not War, and Love, like Jardine, features one of his sons on the track.

Christian Love, who would later join the touring Beach Boys for several years, sounds here quite extraordinarily like Carl Wilson; Mike Love’s vocals are slightly over-processed at points but are some of his best studio vocals of the last few decades; and Adrian Baker, who I’ve criticised with good reason before, does a good job with the vocal arrangements.

The production (by Paul Fauerso) is uninspired but not unpleasant, and the same could largely go for the song itself. It’s based on a saying of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, and like many of Love’s songs about transcendental meditation it relies too much on Love’s sincere belief in the song’s message and not enough on actual craft.

It would have made a perfectly serviceable album track for any post-1980 Beach Boys album, and while it wouldn’t have been the best song on any of those albums, it would have been closer to the best than the worst on all of them. As it is, the song remained an occasional appearance in Love’s touring Beach Boys’ shows for the next few years

Songs From Here and Back might be the least essential Beach Boys release of new or previously-unreleased recordings ever. It is not, however, anything like the worst. It’s a perfectly listenable collection. It’s just rather pointless.

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OK, I Mean It This Time: What Comics This Week?

So last week I intended to restart the weekly comics reviews. Unfortunately a variety of comedy mishaps, including my feet swelling up to nearly twice their normal size and making walking impossible for a couple of days, intervened.
My feet are down to their normal merely gargantuan proportions, as far as I know no TV crews are coming round tomorrow, and my fingers have allowed me to type several sentences in a row (unusual for the last couple of weeks), so I can safely say that there is almost a 90% chance I *will* get to the comics shop tomorrow (and write that piece for We Are Cult, James!). So what should I review for my Patreons? The list of new releases is here

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Looks Like I Picked The Wrong Month To…

Agree to write a piece for We Are Cult, try to NaNoWriMo, try to keep up with comics reviews, or, really, anything.
This is just a general apology for my lateness on several different things at the moment. Only a few weeks ago November seemed to be a month where only Thought Bubble would interrupt my writing. Instead the Trump election meant my blood pressure went up to over 200/90, my wife felt even worse than that (she’s American), and general stress affected my other health problems.
And then various other things have happened that have thrown me — for example on Friday a TV crew turned up to at the house, on an hour’s notice, to film my wife and dog for BBC TV (they’re on BBC Breakfast tomorrow at about 6:50 AM, if anyone wants to see what my house and family look like). It’s been that sort of month.
I’ve barely slept in three weeks, my blood pressure being high makes me aphasic, and the new medication I’ve been on for the last week or so lowered the pressure so fast I’ve been exhausted. All I’ve been capable of is binge-watching Deep Space Nine on Netflix. I don’t even *like* Deep Space Nine, but I don’t have the brain for things I like.
I’m going to try to get the We Are Cult piece (a review of Philip Purser-Hallard’s exemplary Devices trilogy) done tomorrow, and with luck my health should stabilise again in a few days, once I’m used to the tablets.
But in the meantime, I apologise if my posts have been less coherent than normal, and if I’ve let people down when I’ve committed to do things I haven’t done.

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Ten Things You’ll Only Get If You’re A 50s Kid

This is a story I had published a year ago, the rights to which have now reverted. I’m publishing it here in order to have a “canonical” location if the site that published it goes offline, but I suspect they’d rather you read it there.
I’m also making it into an ebook, primarily to check out a new, better, epub-selling site. If you want to pay $2.99 for this very short story, it will be available soon through this universal link.

Ten Things You’ll Only Get if You Were a 50’s Kid

1) Upload Glitches
Remember these? Back in 2052, when people were first starting to upload themselves, you’d get glitches in the process. These days, of course, malformed data is a fashion statement, and people deliberately disable their checksums in order to produce that cool stuttery effect, but back then it happened by accident!

People even sued over it–saying that by corrupting their personal data, the uploading app had infringed their right to personal integrity!
Twenty years on, and it’s hard to see what the fuss was about.

2) Feet
It’s hard to believe it now, but back in the 2050’s there was a massive fad for having feet. These were weird knobbly things that stuck out of the bottom of people, and they were considered so important that you’d even buy special feet-coverings, called “shoes.” Some people had as many as five “shoes!” There were whole special buildings that you’d go into, called “shoe shops,” just to get coverings for your feet!
But that’s not all. As well as shoes there were a whole range of other accessories for feet–nail varnish (a special paint for changing their color), odor eaters (for changing their smell), and more. For a while there, everyone had feet, but now no one even talks about them. Bring back feet, we say!

3) This guy
Recognize him? That’s Tom Wyndham. Or Tom Windbag, as everyone called him. He was all over the news in 2051, telling us all that nanomachines were about to turn the world into grey goo, and the only way we could escape would be to upload ourselves. Remember the comedy song Tom’s Talking (But We’re Not Listening)?

4) The games
Football (those “feet” again!), baseball, catch, Grand Theft Auto XXVI, sex… 50’s kids had all the best games. Yes, they relied on only six senses, and at a low bandwidth, but that just meant that the gameplay had to be better and more imaginative. Games these days are far more immersive, but just not as fun as those old simple games.

5) Unhappiness
Remember being unhappy? Kids growing up today don’t know about unhappiness, but 50s kids can remember when things used to happen that you didn’t want, and there was no “undo” option, and you couldn’t even rewrite your own personality so you wanted the thing that had happened.
Back then, we had unhappiness, where liquid would come out of your eyes (remember eyes?) and when people said things like “Australia’s been completely destroyed by the nanomachines” you’d have emotions you didn’t want to experience, and feel “sad” that there were no more kangaroos (remember kangaroos?).

Nowadays, of course, we have much better emotions, like loyalty to the control algorithm, but some of us still remember what it was like to be sad. 70’s kids just don’t know what they’re missing!

6) Googel
Back in the 50’s, your mum would smear you all over with googel before you went to school every day, to protect you against the nanomachines. If you smeared it thick enough, it was supposed to interfere with their connections to their command and control systems, and stop them from assimilating you.

Of course, it was later proved that it didn’t work, and that it was just petroleum jelly stuck in new jars, but by then the owner of the company had fallen victim to the grey goo himself, so there wasn’t much point being upset about it.

7) Talking
Back in the 50’s, people were still individuals, rather than being interconnected. You had to make sounds if you wanted to communicate information to them–making a sort of code that they had to interpret. Remember these? “Hi,” “Good morning,” “watch out for the nanites!” “What’s for tea?” Only 50’s kids can remember the thrill of making words with mouths.

8) Old people
Remember these? There were people whose existence had lasted more than thirty years! Of course, that was before we invented self-spawning competitive algorithms, so you could still outcompete younger people even when you were that old, because your mental functions hadn’t been rendered obsolete by the younger models. The new 70’s kids won’t have the experience of knowing someone older than them who cares about them, rather than seeing them as an existential threat that must be eliminated.

9) Hope
Remember back before the prediction systems were in place? Back then, believe it or not, people didn’t know the future! They actually had to “guess” what would happen to them, and things like what work they would do, or how long they would live, were just not known! Back then, there was this thing called “hope,” where you’d think of a bad thing that was going to happen in the future and say “Well, that might not happen,” and that would make you feel good. How mental is that?!

10) The mulletache
Remember these? Mullets, but with huge sideburns leading to handlebar moustaches? What were we thinking?!

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On Structures

My apologies if this is not wonderfully coherent — my blood pressure has been ridiculously high for a couple of weeks, and has made me aphasic, so all the writing I’ve been doing has involved endless hunts for words that are just out of reach.

But both Trump and Brexit have me thinking a lot about a quote, from A Man For All Seasons:

Roper: So now you’d give the Devil benefit of law!
More: Yes. What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?
Roper: I’d cut down every law in England to do that!
More: Oh? And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned round on you — where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country’s planted thick with laws from coast to coast — man’s laws, not God’s — and if you cut them down — and you’re just the man to do it — d’you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I’d give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety’s sake.

Now, I don’t use that quote here, as so many do, as an argument for one’s personal behaviour or activism — there, I’ve always agreed with Doctor Who that “bad laws were made to be broken”.

Rather, I’m using it as an example of how we should think about institutions. My own political activism has mostly been around structural concerns, rather than issues that directly affect people. I’ve signed petitions and marched and written to MPs and generally done the minimum necessary to be a decent human being by my own standards when it comes to things like hospital wards being short-staffed, cuts to disability benefits, and so on, but they’re not the issues where the bulk of my efforts have gone.

Rather, my efforts have been towards things like electoral reform, constitutional reform more generally, human rights law, and stopping the growth of the surveillance state.

Now, I want to make very clear that I can do that because I have the privilege to, and that I am *not* saying other people who choose different priorities are wrong to do so. But I had a very strong illustration of how few people think the way I do about these things when campaigning for the AV referendum five years ago. The question I was asked more often than any other was “will this make it more or less likely for Party X to get in?”

Now this is of course a valid concern if you’re trying to protect yourself or others from Party X. But I think that treating it as a *more* important question than “is this democratic?” or “does this make sure that minority voices have adequate representation?” or “does this minimise the power imbalances that allow the rich to distort results?” or other such questions is the wrong priority when talking about a voting system. Because if you have that priority and you don’t *completely* eradicate your opposition, eventually they’ll get into a position where they can use the same kind of tools to minimise *your* chances of winning.

Now, when terrible things happen in politics, this can seem like the worst kind of cluelessness, and I *absolutely* understand the need to focus on immediate, short-term, damage limitation. If your husband is bleeding from an artery and will bleed to death in minutes if a tourniquet isn’t applied, you want someone to apply the tourniquet, not someone to set up a think tank to publish a policy paper that suggests a better way of incentivising people to go to medical school so that in ten years time there’ll be a 3% increase in qualified doctors, thus reducing pressure on the NHS and ensuring more lives are saved. You *need* to stop the bleeding *now*.

But for too many on “my” side, the recognition that you need to stop the bleeding now is *so* important that it makes everything else seem like an utter frivolity, when it really isn’t. Yes, if your husband’s bleeding to death, you need to stop that, but once you’ve stopped it (or if you’ve lost the battle and he’s died) it’s still a good idea to also have people building hospitals so that other lives, including your own, may be saved in the future.

I’ve often been told that my concerns are too abstract, too wonkish, too disconnected from people’s lives. They are all those things, but what they’re not is unimportant. And you only need to look at the US elections to see that.

The US has “elected” a fascist even though he came second in the popular vote, because the stupid electoral college system gives vastly disproportionate weight to the votes of rural people (the same people we’re constantly told aren’t listened to *enough*), and vastly underweights those who live in cities. The party supporting that fascist have control of the US Senate because the electoral system for the Senate gives disproportionate weight to the votes of rural people. That same party also have control of the House of Representatives, because while that is *supposed* to give equal weight to every voter, it was blatantly gerrymandered after the last census.

That party also benefited from laws which prevented members of minorities from voting, and *may* also have benefited by voting machines in swing states being hacked.

This is, in short, what happens when people don’t pay enough attention to the constitutional and governmental mechanisms, and all the wonky abstract stuff. And it is something that can *only* happen when people don’t pay enough attention to those things. If the US had a functioning democratic system, it wouldn’t be going through the crisis-induced spasms it is now. And the same *definitely* goes for the UK, the only supposed “democracy” in the world to have a system that’s actually worse than the US’ (Canada’s is somewhere between the two in awfulness, but their Prime Minister has said he’s going to fix their system).

Now it’s entirely right that people right now want to mitigate the short-term problems caused by the resurgence of the hard right throughout the Western world in any way they can, and the immediate priority should be preventing immediate damage from getting any worse.

But if you, like me, are one of those who has the immense privilege to not be in immediate danger, help those who are in the way they say is most useful, but if you have any time or energy left over, please try to put it into helping to sort out systemic problems, and please don’t criticise those who prioritise those problems as being unconcerned. Many things are important, at many different levels.

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Flash Sale, and Comics Suggestions?

For the next twenty-four hours (from when the pricing change propagates through Amazon’s servers) all my Kindle ebooks will be available for only $0.99 (apart from An Incomprehensible Condition, which because of the file size Amazon won’t sell at less than $1.99). The prices will go back up tomorrow, so get them while you can from my Amazon author page (UK) (US)

Also, for Patreons, I haven’t done my usual comic reviews in two weeks because I’ve been too stressed by the Nazi winning the US election. I’ll be starting again tomorrow, though, so give me your suggestions…

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