Sunday, February 28, 2010
Friday, February 26, 2010
Today also sees the release of the second (and, it would seem, probably last) posthumous collection of songs from the fabulous series of recordings he made during the last decade of his life with Rick Rubin's American Recordings label - American VI: Ain't No Grave.
I began listening to music - playing records for myself - when I was little more than a toddler, left alone for hours at a time to amuse myself with my parents' venerable Pye Gramophone and their big collection of (mostly) 45rpm singles. Their tastes were very, very middle-of-the-road (absolutely NO rock'n'roll, not even any Beatles), so Johnny's Live At San Quentin album was a decidedly outré component of the collection - but one that had a deep impact on me. I don't think they had anything else of his, though; and my musical tastes developed in other directions. It wasn't until I went to law school in the mid-90s that I began listening to him again, but I assuredly became a convert. These days, I think I'd align myself with Kid Rock, who said of him: "As far as I'm concerned, his face should be on Mount Rushmore."
Johnny himself once said of his output: "I love songs about horses, railroads, land, Judgment Day, family, hard times, whiskey, courtship, marriage, adultery, separation, murder, war, prison, rambling, damnation, home, salvation, death, pride, humor, piety, rebellion, patriotism, larceny, determination, tragedy, rowdiness, heartbreak and love. And Mother. And God."
I can live without the strong Christian undercurrent in his work, but it's hard to argue with the rest of that list. He would, in fact, make a fine, inspiring addition to my 'Unsuitable Role Models' hall of fame. He had some major problems with drink and drugs, especially early in his career, but he got them under control - while continuing to write and sing about that experience with a charisma and conviction that can send shivers down the spine. Here's his quietly devastating version of Trent Reznor's Hurt, from the American IV album, recorded late in his life.
And to honour the memory of The Man In Black, we are all being encouraged to wear black today. I wear black most of the time anyway, but I've been holding off all week, just to make today a little special. I wonder how many other people in Beijing will be joining the tribute.
[I notice that Johnny's ominous, 'Book of Revelations'-inspired When The Man Comes Around - also from the fantastic American IV album - has spawned a large number of video tributes on YouTube. All of them, naturally, are fairly grim viewing; but this, I think, is one of the best.]
Thursday, February 25, 2010
Wednesday, February 24, 2010
Thus, they get a lot of use. And, often, not very much cleaning.
And whatever they do clean them with is often even more unpleasantly pungent than the bodily effluvia it is trying to erase. Beijing toilets have a very particular whiff. (Well, I haven't made a close study of this; but I do rather think that different regions and major cities of China probably have distinctive toilet stenches of their own, affected by variations in local cuisine, local gut flora, local cleaning products.)
Most laowai gripe endlessly about this, citing it as a pet peeve right up there alongside the rampant public spitting and toddlers in their backless pantaloons taking a dump on the sidewalk.
But me..... well, somehow it never really bothered me that much. I soon got used to it. I started to appreciate the utility of it (when the call of nature is insistent, desperate, surprising.... it's never a problem to locate a toilet in a hurry in Beijing: you just follow your nose). I spent so much time in the hutongs - jogging, taking photographs, staggering home drunk - that this nostril-stretching pong became bound up for me with a lot of pleasant memories. It became something of a nostalgia-trigger for me.
Tuesday, February 23, 2010
Monday, February 22, 2010
On one occasion - way back in our first year here in Beijing, the winter of '02 - he somehow happened upon a great public toilet. Well, it was still a Chinese public toilet, so not particularly impressive by the standards of some we know in 'the West', but pretty damned nice by comparison with what we were used to in the neighbourhood.
At that time, most Beijing toilets were still extremely primitive: trenches rather than urinals (and, as often as not, these trenches were out in the open air); the crappers all squat-style, scarcely ever a sit-upon (there was occasionally a token one - for "the disabled", rather than for us pernickety foreigners); seldom any tiling, only bare cement (often cracked and crumbling cement); seldom any stalls, just one big communal crapping zone; there didn't even seem to be any running water in them - maintenance guys would come around once or twice a week to flush them out with a hose. No, not very wholesome.
It was one of the major pluses of the preparations for the Olympics that all the city's public toilets were substantially upgraded. Now they all have tiled floors, partitioned stalls, and running water; most have at least one urinal (although the outside trench has not completely disappeared); many have a live-in (I kid you not!) attendant to clean them regularly; a few even have such exotic refinements as piped music and pot-pourri (the Beijing Tourist Authority introduced a 'star' rating system for toilets; I believe it goes up to '4 stars', but I've only ever seen '3 stars'; in a 4-star loo, I imagine they have a liveried flunky to wipe your bottom for you). This was an unimaginable transformation in the space of a few short years.
And what The Chairman had so fortuitously stumbled upon was a prototype - one of the very first of these new-style loos to be built in our neighbourhood, a good year or two before they started to become at all commonplace.
In fact, it was - in those days - even nicer than the common run of these new loos today because it was almost completely unused: nobody knew it was there! You see, it had been built - somewhat surreptitiously and very hastily - in a spot where nobody would have expected a loo to be: between two blocks of hutong housing, with only a very narrow alleyway - a rather dauntingly featureless canyon of bare brick, no more than about 18 inches wide - giving access to it. God knows why The Chairman would ever have ventured down there, unless there is some masochistic streak in him that seeks out likely places to get mugged.
Saturday, February 20, 2010
Friday, February 19, 2010
Thursday, February 18, 2010
Perhaps another griping post will prove cathartic.
1) Trespassing into the kitchen
I suppose some people meant well; they kept asking if there was anything they could do to help with the cooking. But, really, once you see how cramped and cluttered my kitchen is, it should be obvious that the most helpful thing you can do is keep the hell out of the way. And, unfortunately, a lot of the intrusion into the kitchen was directly linked to point 4) below.
2) Standing in really stupid places
If not in the kitchen, then immediately outside the kitchen. Or in the narrow corridor leading to the kitchen. Or right next to the table with all the drinks on it. Or immediately inside the front door. Really, people - I know it's quite a small apartment, but it does offer quite a wealth of places to stand where you wouldn't be in the way of something!
3) Being cheap
Many of my guests brought me quite generous gifts of booze and/or housewarming presents. But quite a few brought me only a very puny offering (two bottles of Tsingtao?!) or nothing at all. That is pretty miserly. (But at least I managed to warn people off trying to fob off their unwanted Chinese table wine on me this time.)
4) Being greedy
A lot of people seemed to expect to get a complete dinner from me. A lot of people were wolfing down as much food as they could, hovering predatorily outside (or inside) the kitchen to try to get their hands on each new batch of barbecued treats as quickly as they could. That's rude and selfish. I was not offering you a meal, only snackage - you should realise that and limit your consumption, so as not to leave others short. (I realise the quantities of food available were not that generous even for the 25 or so people who showed up, and would have been dangerously inadequate for the 40 or 50 who were expected to show up. But this was not down to any miserliness or bad planning on my part. It was purely a matter of logistics: I have a tiny oven, incapable of cooking more than about 15 to 20 pieces of meat at once. Therefore, to cook the 80 wings, 60-odd ribs and 20 large drumsticks - not to mention the savoury mince, johnny cakes, sweet potato chips and dip, homemade ginger beer, etc. - I was able to offer had taken me ALL DAY.)
5) Being ungrateful
There wasn't a lot in the way of thanks or compliments about the food. Some, but not much. Quite a few people seemed to be resentful that there wasn't more of it, rather than thankful that there was any at all.
6) Not drinking enough
I'm a boozer. I throw boozy parties. It's all FREE - what's the matter with you?!
7) Bombarding me with phone calls and text messages while the party's in progress
I have some sympathy if you're apologizing for running late (most weren't - apologizing, that is) or need help with directions (though not much sympathy, since my place is easy to find; and I had sent out to everyone in advance a detailed description of how to get here - by both e-mail and SMS). But, really, do you not think that I have a million other things to be doing right now? You don't phone a party host during the party unless it's absolutely the last resort.
8) Bringing additional guests (without asking)
The new apartment is fairly small. And I like to keep these gatherings fairly intimate. And, if I'm catering, I'd really like an accurate idea of total numbers. Of course, bringing a 'significant other' is always OK. Or an attractive single woman you think I might like. In fact, if you ask me nicely, I'll probably say yes to anyone. But don't just assume you can turn up with two or three total strangers in tow.
9) Hiding stuff
Lots of prominently placed bins and trash bags around, people. Absolutely no need to be putting empty glasses and used paper plates under sofas and so on.
10) Asking to use the computer
It's a party. My computer is closed, switched off, disconnected from the Internet. I'm up to my eyeballs with stuff in the kitchen. It is not a trivial thing to ask me to take time out to set up my computer so that you can use it. And if one person starts getting online, others will follow. And a lot of these people are drunk, and have sticky fingers. Now, I might not have minded if this were a close friend, and they'd asked me nicely, and given me a pressing reason. But it was one of the total strangers who'd tagged along with someone, and she asked with an air of entitlement rather than supplication. I nearly went ballistic on her.
Wednesday, February 17, 2010
Tuesday, February 16, 2010
The food was a bit of a mixed bag: the patatas bravas were foul (nuggets of deep-fried styrofoam, presumably shop-bought), the chicken wings indifferent; but the Spanish omelette was excellent (if somewhat untraditional, very mushy in the middle), as were the lamb chops (although staff defied requests to cook them anything other than very rare; fine for me, but one of my companions wanted a little less blood). Service was good (although there was no-one else in the place, so...), and the prices not unreasonable. I think it's worth giving another go.
However, the worst - almost intolerable - aspect of the evening was the music playlist: it was the most cheesy, pappy, horrendous, middle-of-the-road romantic mush - 90% boy bands. On the rare occasions when a half-way decent song came up, it was invariably in a mushy boy band cover version rather than the original. They even managed to find a "re-mix" of Louis Armstrong's What A Wonderful World with Kenny G saxophone ladled all over it - which is a crime against humanity.
Really, we would have been quite happy to hang out and drink some more there, but the muzak was offensive, insufferable.
Monday, February 15, 2010
Not nearly as bad as last time, at least (that's what comes of having less than half as many people come!). Still, not an appealing prospect to wake up with the next morning. Or the next afternoon, I should say. I was very good about it, though: I did do nearly all of the cleaning and tidying straight away.
Sunday, February 14, 2010
Saturday, February 13, 2010
I developed a bit of a weakness for Country & Western music when I was living in North America for a year-and-a-bit towards the end of the '90s - not least because the female singers all tend to be rather gorgeous. (And I was based most of the time in Toronto; C&W is also very big in Canada, and their music video TV station for it - CMT, Country Music Television - I find rather better than its cross-border equivalent, GAC [Great American Country].) And Faith Hill is one of the most gorgeous of the gorgeous; she made a particularly big splash that year ('98, I suppose it must have been) with a rather poppy album, from which this infectiously catchy number, This Kiss, was the main hit single. (I'm sure many C&W purists denounced her for jumping on the Shania Twain 'crossover' bandwagon and deserting 'true' country music. And I gather she has subsequently returned to a more traditional style.) In addition to its hookiness, though, it's also got some very clever rhymes - always something I'm a big fan of (how can you not love a song that includes the word 'subliminal'??). It even includes aposiopesis - now how many songs can you say that about?
I was reminded of this song by the improbably mind-bending - if disappointingly brief - smooch I enjoyed with an old flame at New Year this year, so I've been meaning to root it out and post it for a while now. Unfortunately, Faith Hill's "people" at Warner Records have got YouTube well locked down, so you can only view her original video for it here. However, there are quite a lot of good "homemade" videos accompanying the song; this anthology of clips from Disney cartoon romances is probably the best. I just hope the Warner Records killjoys won't demand its deletion too soon.
[For some reason, anime video compilations for this song seem to be especially popular. Well worth checking some of these out, too.]
Friday, February 12, 2010
Thursday, February 11, 2010
My parties, you see, are not like most other people's. And most of my invitees ought to appreciate that (but seem not to!).
Most - or many - house parties seem to be held at really large apartments, shared by groups of people. They are therefore able to invite the world at large: friends, and friends of friends, and workmates, and casual acquaintances of each of the housemates. Thus, they usually guarantee a strong turnout by being fairly indiscriminate, promiscuous in inviting guests - and so most absences go unnoticed or unregretted. With me, I'm doing these things entirely solo. And I'm trying to restrict myself to manageable numbers, so - for the most part - I only invite people I know quite well and really want to come; every absentee is noticed and regretted (especially if they've RSVP-ed in the affirmative).
Also, most house parties don't usually splurge a huge amount on booze. I know from bitter experience that I can't trust most of my guests to be particularly generous in "bringing a bottle", so I endeavour to lay on enough booze for everyone. That entails quite a significant expense. And it means that it's really useful to have a fairly accurate idea of how many people are intending to come.
Similarly, most other parties don't do much, if anything, in the way of food - chips and dip, maybe sending out for pizza. I usually attempt to cook food myself. I am not by any means a great chef (and I don't have much of a kitchen), but I make a big effort to produce tasty and unusual (and, mostly, hot) snacks for everyone. Again, this means that having an accurate idea of numbers is pretty important. So is having people turn up reasonably punctually ('cos I'm slaving away in the kitchen to produce hot food which won't, you know, stay hot for that long...).
Finally, it seems that most other parties tend to run later in the evening. Perhaps this is to allow people to get dinner first, so they won't be bothered about what snacks may be available at the party. Or perhaps it's just that the hosts don't give a damn about provoking angry confrontations with their neighbours, and maybe having to close things down abruptly when the police make their second or third visit to complain. Me, I do care about my neighbours (and I'd rather avoid having visits from the police); so I generally aim to wrap things up no later than 10pm, and, ideally, by 8pm or 9pm. The late evening party thing doesn't really seem to work in Beijing, to my mind (since most Chinese go to bed so early, and are going to be bothered by the unaccustomed NOISE from the laowai apartment). I much prefer to go for late afternoon or early evening gatherings (which have the added advantage of leaving people free to go on to other events, music gigs and so on, later on).
Unfortunately, it seems that I am swimming against the tide of fashion here.
People get used to turning up at parties where the hosts don't remember having invited them; parties where no-one's doing any substantial cooking; parties where you're expected to bring most of your own booze; parties that might keep going towards midnight if the neighbours are out of town and the police aren't feeling too cranky. People here, it seems, often tend to treat parties as anonymous and casual affairs, open-invitation mass events that are not that much different from spending a night out at a bar. They get into the habit of thinking that they can show up any time they like - or not at all - and no-one will much care, or even notice.
Yeah, well, my parties aren't like that. If you don't come, I do notice, I do care..... and you put me to considerable f***ing inconvenience and expense. And I get greatly disheartened at the lack of affection, respect, and even basic courtesy that this seems to evidence on your part.
If you said you were going to come on Saturday, and didn't...... keep out of my way for a few weeks, because I am extremely f***ing GRUMPY about it.
Wednesday, February 10, 2010
The All-Time Top Five Parties Thrown Chez Froog
And....... the wildest Froog party ever was.....
Then, of course, there was the after-party. And the after-after-party. And the after-after-after-party..... I didn't make it home until dawn.
Then - unwisely - I ended up having a huge hair-of-the-dog night at 12 Square Metres on Sunday.... and once again stayed up until past midnight (in the hope that CCTV5 would be showing the Chelsea v. Arsenal game live, but they weren't).
Then, of course, I rolled out of bed at 6am to go and watch the Superbowl at Luga's Villa...... and the storming Saints victory (first time I can remember for quite a while that the team I was pulling for managed to win!) led to another all-day partying session. And I mean all day: I didn't get home until after dawn the next day (I think that has probably eclipsed the epic day-long drinking spree I got into with Big Frank on Superbowl day four years ago). I tried to restrict myself to a couple of catnaps during the day, because I wanted to avoid getting my bio-rhythms completely Weeble-ized (my friend The Weeble is a translator; and, for some reason, translators just don't sleep at normal times); but by mid-afternoon I'd lapsed into a coma on the sofa..... Waking early evening, I thought - hoped - just for a moment that it might still be Monday. Er, no.
Sort of getting back in the right 'timezone' now, but still exhausted. Where did this week go??
Monday, February 08, 2010
Sunday, February 07, 2010
It's just that.... well, it was - by some margin - the most disappointing party I've thrown.
Amongst the reasons....
1) A much smaller apartment
(The old Froog Towers was Party Central because it was f***ing huge. I could accommodate 50 or 60 people in the living room, without spilling over into any of the three bedrooms! The new place definitely feels a bit cramped by comparison.)
2) The proximity of the Spring Festival holiday
(A lot of people have left town already. Others discovered [only in the last day or two - ah, last-minute China!] that they were expected to work this weekend, to lessen the impact of the upcoming long holiday on the nation's productivity.)
3) The curse of Marley Day
(It SNOWED! Snow is a further major discouragement to people coming out. The last time I had a Marley Day party [three years ago], it also snowed [though at least not until midnight; during the day it merely pissed with rain] - even though I was having it four weeks late, at the beginning of March. I think God hates me. Or He hates Bob Marley. God has no taste.)
4) An early start
(People don't deal well with 'early starts' in this town, apparently. I thought the logic was sound: enjoy drinking while it's still daylight; clear out early, so as not to annoy the neighbours too much; leave people room to go on to something else - dinner, gigs, other parties, whatever - in the mid-evening. But no-one wanted to show up until 7pm. And a lot of people were threatening to come at 9.30 or 10pm - long after we were supposed to have finished.)
5) The most unreliable friends in the world
(I think I may have elaborated before [though I can't now find the post] on my 60% Rule: only two-thirds of people you invite to a party reply at all, two thirds of those reply in the affirmative, and two thirds of the affirmatives actually show up - which means you can budget for about a third of your total invitation list. I think that ratio would be higher - at least 70%, maybe even 80% - in most other environments; but in expat Beijing you're lucky if you hit 65%. You just have to accept it and deal with it. However, I think yesterday my percentage was even lower than that. And that was particularly galling since, because of the limited space in my new flat, I'd largely restricted the invitations to good friends - rather than inviting everyone I've ever met, as I'd typically done in the past at Froog Towers. Of my closest friends..... one showed up 4 or 5 hours late, half a dozen more suddenly had "something better to do", and.... well, several others just vanished without trace. Heartbreaking.)
Saturday, February 06, 2010
It's Bob Marley's birthday! My day in Beijing opened with an 8am snow flurry, but inside I'm starting to feel all sunshiney. This is a day to be celebrated with RUM, jerk chicken, RUM, certain substances, RUM, reggae, RUM, and reggae....
Friday, February 05, 2010
Thursday, February 04, 2010
Wednesday, February 03, 2010
Tuesday, February 02, 2010
Monday, February 01, 2010
This occurred to me when I was petting the kittens in Amilal a few weeks back.