Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Delayed culture: Plan B, Imperial Bedrooms & Douglas Adams

Yesterday it was Buddha's Birthday, and so I bought myself some presents. I didn't buy Buddha any, but I'm pretty sure he treated this with equanimity, being an enlightened sort of chap.

First, I picked up Plan B's second album, The Defamation of Strickland Banks, which I warned my fiancee she wouldn't like. I mean, I like glottal stops and swearing, but I know her well enough to realise if she heard Kidz she'd not be happy (and that would be before she caught me singing along). I was surprised to find that instead of ten more obscene songs about the grim side of life, The Defamation turns out to be a 60s inflected concept album, like a big band version of The Streets's second album. Which is no bad thing, although it's odd to strut down the street listening to a cheery song about dying relationships.

Then I bought Imperial Bedrooms, which I know I shouldn't have, because there are still stacks of books from last year to read, but it was cheap and it's Bret Easton Ellis and it's a sequel to Less Than Zero, a book that contains at least one sentence so well-written that it stopped and smacked me in the face, to say 'this is a beautiful sentence'.  (Unfortunately, it hit me so hard I forgot which sentence it was, and never found it again. Maybe it was hiding from my retaliation.)

Imperial Bedrooms turns out to be a bit metatextual, if the first pages are anything to go by, as the narrator was a character from Less Than Zero, complaining about the writer doing a job on him and his friends, and annoyed that the film wasn't as true to life as it should be. This does a good job of referencing the earlier book and the film in a way you don't often see: it's not like people in Eastenders are ever spotted watching telly. On the other hand, if every twenty years or so Bret Easton Ellis writes another book referencing the previous one, then you worry the whole exercise is a very slow journey up its own arse. It's only a short book: I'll report back soon.

Living in Hong Kong, a city on the crest of a wave from the Future (ah, but which Future?) but slammed by expensive book pricing, I don't often get to read books when they're first published. I'd like to think this makes me more selective about what I read, rather than just grabbing books when they appear, but it hasn't modified my reading habits, just put them six months' behind everyone else. Maybe next year will bring an e-book device and I'll catch up, or else slip further behind than ever.

Finally, I persuaded my fiancee to pick up The Hitch-hiker's Guide to the Galaxy on DVD - the original TV series, rather than the Hollywood version. It's dated in parts - the smaller special effects budget and cheap sets are quite obvious, although as a pastiche of crap 1980s sci-fi they work perfectly well. Marvin the Paranoid Android works much better as an angular, gloomy robot probably built by British Leyland than he does as a big shiny white thing, and the book itself - well, it looks as good as I ever remembered. It is still hard to believe that it wasn't computer generated (just somebody handy with a rostrum camera), but it still looks like something from a very special future. One with dials, and valves, and everything.

Sometimes I find the rhythyms of the jokes a bit slow (like the Babelfish proof that God does not exist) but I think that's more from all these years of over familarity than because they're bad per se. Or perhaps I'm just more used to humour that involves a man putting his foot in a bucket of custard and falling downstairs.

We'll have to see what my fiancee (an Adams aficionado) makes of it all. As I discovered today that it's the tenth anniversary of Douglas Adams' death, maybe we'll watch all six episodes in tribute.

Or at least until we see Hotblack Desiato, the only major figure in contemporary fiction to be named after a North London estate agent. "Foxtons" as lead singer of Disaster Zone would not have been the same.


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