Archive for October, 2008

The Sound of Santa Coming

Posted in Music on October 10, 2008 by Johnnie

I freely admit that I’m a sad Smiths anorak.  Sorry, aficionado.  I always get those confused.  Anyway, every book, magazine, not to mention record, that I could find and afford bearing their name which was released during the 1980s, I own.  Up to six different versions of the same single, 7″, 12″, different sleeve images, tints, fonts, release territories, mispresses, alternate takes, edits… the list is almost endless.  Since 1992, however, it all gone a bit weird and unsavoury.  Following the collapse of the original Rough Trade, The Smiths’ back catalogue went up for grabs and fell into the laps of Warner.  Despite an initial masterstroke (making ‘This Charming Man’ available as a single for the first time since 1984, including its long-deleted b-sides and the infamous New York mix, and thereby turning it into the Top 5 smash it always should have been), they have proven themselves to be incompetent in the extreme when handling the back catalogue.  The 20th anniversaries of all the original albums, including the (ahem) ‘seminal’ The Queen Is Dead from 1986, have come and gone without any reissues, remasters, repackages or tacky badge distribution.  Instead, they have released four compilation albums, only one of which, Singles from 1995, had any artistic or catalogue merit whatsoever.  And now, on no particular anniversary and without any real point, comes a ‘new’ one, The Sound of The Smiths.

Never mind the single-disc version, which rounds up the singles (including the actual single version of ‘Hand In Glove’ this time) and several almost entirely random, chronologically-inserted tracks, there’s a two-disc version as well, which claims to contain “rarities”.  Never mind that this was an open-goal opportunity to include entirely unreleased versions of songs, or even a complete b-sides round-up (there are some glaring omissions, most notably ‘Accept Yourself’, ‘Rubber Ring’ and the instrumental once described by Geoff Travis as “five minutes of instrumental magic from Johnny Marr”, ‘The Draize Train’), there are only a couple of songs which actually count as rarities.  There’s the live version of ‘Handsome Devil’ from 1983 which made the b-side of debut single ‘Hand In Glove’, the Troy Tate-produced ‘Pretty Girls Make Graves’ from the unreleased The Hand That Rocks The Cradle album (which SHOULD have been given an official release long before now) and the band’s live rendition of James’s ‘What’s The World’, recorded at Glasgow Barrowland in 1985 – a gig I just happened to be at as a spotty teenager.  Apart from these paltry nuggets, though, who is this compilation actually aimed at?  Not new fans, surely?  Well, it’s me, really, and my ilk, the original fans who feel practically duty-bound to purchase every last reissue, reissue, repackage they throw at us.  I know, I know.  And so do they.  Clearly, those with the power want to wish us an unmerry Christmas.

Tutti per Stefano Borgonovo

Posted in Calcio on October 10, 2008 by Johnnie

Former Fiorentina and Milan striker, Stefano Borgonovo, was awarded a benefit match between his two former clubs at Stadio Artemio Franchi in Florence this week.  The 44-year-old has been diagnosed with the motor neuron disease amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, the illness which claimed the life of former Genoa player Gianluca Signorini in 2002.  By way of tribute, many former stars of both clubs turned out in his honour.  It was particularly touching to see Viola heroes Giancarlo Antognoni, Gian Matteo Mareggini and Roberto Baggio back in the shirt, while amongst the glittering stars of Milan’s past were Franco Baresi, Daniele Massaro and Frank Rijkaard.

Capped three times for Italy, Borgonovo had the most successful season of his career with Fiorentina in season 1988-’89, where he scored 14 goals while playing alongside Roberto Baggio (who scored 15).

Purple Reign - Baggio and Borgonovo

Purple Reign - Baggio and Borgonovo

Honestly, I’m Fine With It…

Posted in U Lads on October 8, 2008 by Johnnie

Originally published in U Magazine, August 2007

My good friend, the self-elected font of all knowledge on the subject of women, has surpassed himself again.  You can tell what an expert he is by how sweet he seems when he and his beloved are together – followed by how vitriolic he is about her as soon as they’re apart.  He knows only too well that if he let slip to her any of the subjects he whinges and rants to me about, it might lead to the disintegration of what he freely admits is a rather cushy life.  He reasons that if he didn’t just pretend to be cool with all these things, she’d join the dots and reach the unnecessarily drastic conclusion that they were over.  In spite of his blotto bravado, he’s never left me in any doubt that he completely adores her.

So it’s perhaps as well they don’t have such discussions.  On another of our ‘quick pint’ nights, the ones that tend to last until the next morning, The Expert and I started discussing those things men ‘put up with’ for the sake of peace; we actually had an astonishing number of them in common.  Unfortunately, by the time last orders came around, the sozzled Expert had started going off on one.  Trying to draw a line under our evening’s work, I asked him:  “So, if there was just one thing that you pretend to be OK with that drives you privately mad about her, what would it be?”  He swayed slightly, composed himself as best he could, pointed his finger into infinity and answered, with an expression of arseholed defiance: “The fact that she won’t just GO.”  I decided he’d better stay at mine than night.

The next morning, I fished a wilted beer mat from my jacket pocket and could just about read the list we’d compiled between us…

Your mate and her “issues”…
Now, your friend really is a lovely girl and it’s always nice to see her… but could she maybe arrange to see you when she doesn’t have some raging problem going on in her life?  You don’t see her for weeks on end, when she’s obviously in good form and things are going well – so just exactly what ‘friends’ of hers are seeing the best of her?  As soon as she’s in the midst of one of her ‘issues’ (whether it be with men or work or men or health or men or her flatmate), she suddenly needs you to sort her life out for her.  Stop being so bloody nice to her, for God’s sake – tell her the truth! Naturally, it’s not my place to say anything…

When you wear our clothes…
I wouldn’t complain about this because it started out as a kind of tribute – all that, ‘ooh it smells of you, it’s like hugging you when you’re not there’, etc.  But after a while, when it comes to wearing a shirt I rather fancied wearing tomorrow, it’s almost like you’re saying, “you wouldn’t go outside wearing this, would you?”  Plus, you start to change the shape of our beloved clothes too – what was the point of me getting that slimfit t-shirt when now there are permanent lumps and bumps in it where I don’t actually have any lumps or bumps?  Anyway, the actual issue is – what happened to those sexy things you used to wear to bed?  Are you trying to look and smell like me simply to repel me?

Your hairy legs…
Making an effort all the time is hard work, we know.  It’s perfectly understandable that you might like some time away from your beauty routine, that’s fine.  It’s just that we still hold dear those memories of when we started – the days when you were a baby-soft, satin-smooth love goddess who would envelope us in permanently silken limbs of an evening.  Now that you’re ‘comfortable’ with us, your leg seems to ambush us in the night like an uprooted, animated cactus, sending us flying towards the ceiling in fright.  Obviously we wouldn’t make an issue out of this either…

Your giggly, girlie chats on the phone…
Why did men pay extortionate rates to listen to a woman talking titillating rubbish on the phone in those frustrating days before the internet?  Beats me.  There’s very little more excruciating than listening to a woman natter on the dog.  Inconsequential clap-trap, scurrilous, sanctimonious scandal-mongering, gasps of ghastly gossip-gathering; you’re the modern, living room versions of the old, garden-fence busy-bodies.  And since the proliferation of crap American TV programmes, the language, intonation and exaggerated use of superlatives are all more irritating than ever.  We have to leave the room to let you get on with it.  And to bite our lips.

Your Ex(es)…
Oh, he’s sent you another text, has he?  What does he need your advice on this time?  Why he can’t  sleep, still can’t cook, some new girl on the scene (who probably looks like you anyway) – or maybe a new paint job for his bedroom?  Yes, I know you’ll think I’m being paranoid or just plain jealous for getting irritated by this, that’s why I’m not saying this out loud – but I know boys better than you do and you shouldn’t think there’s anything remotely innocent about him getting in touch at 3am.

Waking us up when you come in drunk
We know we can’t make an issue out of this either – mainly because we do it too, and probably more often.  But really, why is it that you always have some revelation or epiphany while waiting at the taxi rank, which then requires you to wake us up and force us to listen to every slurred detail of your new slant on life?  In three hours’ time, it’ll be replaced by a brain-warping hangover anyway and honestly, we’ll be far more receptive when it’s not being blown at us on a fragrant breeze of second-hand Corona.

Your makeup…
Another point I’m going to keep entirely to myself –  I’ve seen you first thing in the morning, I know you already have a face, why do you insist on then painting a new one on from scratch?  And who exactly is supposed to clean up this mound of powder and other assorted debris you keep leaving behind?  And you call me a nerd for my DVD collection? What about your arsenal of makeup brushes?  Isn’t this little one for archeologists to painstakingly flick pieces of Sahara off ancient Egyptian artifacts?  And what’s this one for – Artexing a ceiling?

Your cat…
What is it about this evil, dusty, smug, idle, volatile, utterly repellent sofa-hogger that you love so much?  And why does he always stare at me like that?  Wait… he knows what I’m thinking, doesn’t he?

Your list-mania…
You are organiser-in-chief and everything is about lists.  Your day is listed for you.  My day is listed for me.  Daily timetable.  Morning checklist.  Grocery list.  Cleaning list.  To do list.  Done list.  Books to read list.  GI index list.  GM index list.  Current danger foods list.  Christmas card list (in September).  Must-watch TV programme list.  Bedtime checklist.  When are you going to stop writing lists and enjoy some form of life?  But obviously I’d never, ever actually say that…

State Is Back! Back!! Baaack!!

Posted in Grave News, Music on October 2, 2008 by Johnnie

And it’s more beautiful than ever.  Read all about it or, in fact, read it over at

Fatman Deserves a Ribbin’

Posted in TV on October 2, 2008 by Johnnie

Committed Batman fans have to admit that it’s a miracle the ‘franchise’ is still with us in 2008, considering what a comedy-caper crusader he was back in 1949.  No harm to Robert Lowery, the second actor to portray the character on TV, but his costume and physique are nothing short of risible. Myself, I’ve never been a big fan of this particular cartoon character, I always thought he was a little effete compared to Superman, who could at least write and fly.  The modern film versions of Batman may be dark spectaculars but now the lead character has been embellished with ‘issues’ – the usual, self-absorbed ‘woe-is-me’ moans and groans you’d expect from some wimpy singer-songwriter – which are entirely designed to make modern women doe-eyed, rather than over his straightforward heroics.  None of that fluff in Lowery’s day, where he and Robin (who’s never been anyone’s idea of a hero) would stuff themselves full of burgers and chips and leg it through public parks in lukewarm pursuit of baddies, who’d normally remain entirely stationary in their underground lair just so they could engineer a climactic face-off.  Biff, whap, kapow to that.

Book Review: The Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson

Posted in Books on October 1, 2008 by Johnnie

The Gargoyle is a stone-cold classic
From The Sunday Business Post, September 28, 2008
Readers in possession of a pitch-dark sense of humour will find much to adore about Andrew Davidson’s magnificently wicked debut novel of love, death and redemption, The Gargoyle.

From the first page, it wastes no time in arresting our attention and gaining our sympathies as the unnamed narrator describes, in graphic and gruesome detail, his terrible car crash and consequent injuries that have all but destroyed his once much-admired body.

Driving under the influence of cocaine along a dark road, he swerves to avoid a sudden ‘‘volley of burning arrows swarming out of the woods’’, resulting in his car plummeting down a mountainside.

Trapped inside the burning vehicle, he tells of how his ‘‘flesh began to singe as if I were a scrap of meat newly thrown onto the barbecue’’ and how he could ‘‘hear the bubbling of my skin as the flames kissed it.” He then candidly suggests how the reader might show empathy, by laying the side of their face on a hot cooker hob until they too can hear the ‘‘snap, crackle and pop’’ of their flesh.

The cynical self-confessed drug user, murderer, womaniser and porn star may not be the most sympathetic character ever created, but it’s impossible not to feel for someone who, when faced with such disfigurement and medical treatment involving maggots and the flesh of dead humans and pigs, feels forced to devise for himself quite the most horrific suicide ever described in print.

With all hope of redemption gone, and an evil serpent taunting him from within his spine, he concludes that ‘‘Heaven is an idea constructed by man to help him cope with the fact that life on Earth is both brutally short and, paradoxically, far too long.”

Thankfully, into his life walks the bewitching Marianne Engel, a mysterious sculptress of gargoyles with ‘‘riotously entangled hair’’, chameleonic eyes, and angel wings tattooed on her back.

She instantly recognises the narrator in spite of his condition – and all too convincingly explains how she and he were once lovers in medieval Germany. She captivates him with lively, horrifying stories and fables from her past, taking in Germany, Italy, England and Japan, complete with her skills in text translations and Icelandic folklore until, gradually, his cynicism evaporates and love takes hold.

So far, so preposterous, but Davidson weaves these disparate elements together with such enormous elan that his seductive prose removes the reader’s own cynicism and disbelief. Certainly, it’s a novel about the redemptive and undiminishable qualities of love, yet even when the protagonist utters the saccharine line, ‘‘being burned was the best thing that ever happened to me, because it brought you,” we are still willing him on to a beautiful conclusion.

Davidson employs device after device to continually surprise and haunt the reader throughout the novel: tales of doomed lovers, a tourist trail through Dante’s circles of hell, complete with an array of fascinating type fonts and recurring characters, and a peppering of secret messages with which to enthral and amuse the reader to the final page.

The characters of the hideous burn victim and the gorgeous Marianne, with whom we cannot help but fall in love, are a modern Quasimodo and Esmeralda, every bit as unforgettable. ‘‘Love is as strong as death, as hard as Hell’’, we are told; would that we could all explore such a mad, enticing and rewarding Inferno for ourselves. The Gargoyle is a rich and glorious first novel from an imaginative talent who is destined to be found on bestseller lists for many years to come.

Credit Crunching

Posted in Food & Drink, Grave News on October 1, 2008 by Johnnie

Baked bean manufacturers could end up being the real winners of this lovely economic downturn we’re all enjoying.  It seems that so-called ‘recession cuisine’ is booming in the UK and, as soon as former Celtic Tiger cubs get used to the idea of not being able to shell out €10 for a flavourless ‘deli’ sandwich at their local convenience store, Ireland will surely be following suit.  I’m surprised some of our take away chains haven’t been a little quicker to capitalise on everyone’s financial misfortune.  There could well be major ‘pizza’ wars “out in” Tallaght, where melted plastic cheese and reconstituted pig/cow slices on tomato puree-sodden slabs of thick, spongey toast is the staple diet;  but what of the sandwich outlets?   Where are their bargains going to come from?  I know – why not sell two slabs of sliced pan stuffed full of crisps and accompany that with a bite-sized Crunchie?  Call it the ‘Kredit Kruncher’, and mark it at €2 a pop (with optional student/staff discount) – cheap, cheerful and, most importantly, not even remotely good for you.