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30 decimal points I would like to make about Simon Bookish - click opera
February 2010
 
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Thu, Oct. 2nd, 2008 03:30 am
30 decimal points I would like to make about Simon Bookish

1/The Dewey Decimal System is a system for classifying books.

2/Today, however, I would like to classify the English singer Simon Bookish, who has a new album out next week, his third, "Everything/Everything" (Tomlab), "a big band song cycle about science and information".

3/The Devo-ish sleeve (which is very good) is by Anthony Stephinson.

4/Before Bookish released Everything/Everything he released Unfair/Funfair (2006) and Trainwreck/Raincheck (2007). Generic titles containing consistently quirky punctuation are good.

5/Simon Bookish is the stage name of Leo Chadburn. Leo/Simon (as I expect he would enjoy being called) is very tall and always looks more interesting than anyone else in the room.

6/Pitchfork called him "the long-lost son of Jarvis Cocker".

7/Other people (I still love you, powpowpow!) have said "he thinks he's Momus" and "but Simon Bookish is quite a bit better than anything he's done in years". Grrr!

8/Tracks on the Simon Bookish Myspace page make it seem as if this new album -- played by a fifteen piece band rather than Bookish's usual digital synths -- is a great leap forward, a coming-of-age.

9/It is therefore time to say some things about Simon Bookish.

10/But first, let's watch him performing a song called Interview, from his previous album.



11/ I like the way the backing track is almost Brian Eno's Golden Hours, which is probably my favourite Brian Eno song ever.

12/ The repeated refrain "Queen Victoria", and Bookish's outlandish garb, make me think of him as a futuristic "New Victorian Dandy" type.

13/A typical Bookish lyric: "the royal meteorologist's expression is pained". This is refreshing as a break from "let's hump and grind one more time", but not refreshing if you set your watch by Divine Comedy lyrics.

14/Reviewing Ocky Milk, Simon Bookish SLASH Leo Chadburn kindly called me "one of the most ingenious, pranksterishly self-aware musicians around". He criticized my Jamaican accent (correctly), though, and thought some of my friendly songs were mawkish.

15/If I might be allowed to criticize back, I would say that I find something emotionally attenuated (not mawkish enough) in Simon Bookish songs. Where, gentlemen, is the soul?

16/If Interview has the sound of Golden Hours, it certainly doesn't have the soulfulness of the Eno song.

17/People Simon Bookish has been compared to in reviews: Pulp, The Divine Comedy, Momus, Steve Reich, Marc Almond, David Bowie, Laurie Anderson.

18/People I would compare him to: David Cunningham, Wire, Penguin Cafe Orchestra, The Books, Dickon Edwards, Idle Tigers.

19/Artists I would not compare him to, but might compare to each other (because they're all out of control, dark, subconscious, soulful and fascinating to me): PiL, Tricky, No Bra.

20/No Bra's Susanne Oberbeck might be the only person in the room more extraordinary-looking than Simon Bookish, if a room were to exist where they both were.

21/I don't know why, but No Bra songs like She Was A Butcher and Doherfuckher touch me in a way Simon Bookish songs don't. Perhaps because, as Susanne says, "for me music is about relating emotion". There's something vulnerable and dangerous there. No Bra songs are "bad", but in a good way.

22/Boomkat classifies the new Simon Bookish album as "laptop folk / americana", which is completely weird, especially since the American empire has this week officially fallen. Laptop folk / Americana is the category my Folktronic belongs in, but not his Everything/Everything.

23/Simon Bookish asked John Talaga -- Fashion Flesh -- to do a remix for him for a single called Leo Being Simon Bookish.

24/Simon attended the Guildhall School of Drama and Music in the Barbican.

25/In 2004 Simon presented Fear of Music, a deconstruction of the work of Talking Heads at Limehouse Town Hall.

26/David Byrne played a track from Everything/Everything on his podcast recently.

27/Not Wanting To Say Anything About John Cage is an art piece Simon Bookish has presented.

28/He has also made a new score for Bertolt Brecht's The Caucasian Chalk CIrcle at the National Theatre, and appeared in the production as The Singer.

29/I would like to inform you that I approve of Simon Bookish's new Tomlab release wholemindedly.

30/But perhaps not, alas, wholeheartedly.

62CommentReplyShare


(Anonymous)
Thu, Oct. 2nd, 2008 02:13 am (UTC)

Is it just me, or is this another one of Momus' thinly-veiled putdowns?

Also, Bookish totally looks like James Spader in Mannequin on that cover.


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Thu, Oct. 2nd, 2008 08:12 am (UTC)

Why must people interpret mixed and nuanced responses as putdowns? This is mostly a positive report, but I have some reservations. C'est tout!


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(Anonymous)
Thu, Oct. 2nd, 2008 02:21 am (UTC)
ha!

One of his tracks came up during my commute today ("Synchrotron"), and I found myself thinking, hey, this sounds like something Momus would probably like... -2fs


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(Anonymous)
Thu, Oct. 2nd, 2008 07:47 am (UTC)
Re: ha!

As soon as you quoted someone comparing Momus unfavourably to Bookish, I already knew what your response to him was going to be: damning with faint praise. You\'re so predictable! He\'s got no soul? What an absurdly rockist thing to say, particularly coming from you, Momus. To my ears, he is indeed better than you have been over the past few years. I think it\'s partly to do with something you have no control over, namely age. There\'s a tremendous freshness and energy to his material. Whereas there\'s a certain weariness to yours, a weariness with the whole genre of pop music which pushes you to an academic concern with experimentation for experimentation\'s sake.


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dmt81
dmt81
Lorenzo
Thu, Oct. 2nd, 2008 03:18 am (UTC)

Youtube is the shit.


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rhodri
rhodri
Rhodri Marsden
Thu, Oct. 2nd, 2008 03:40 am (UTC)

He is also, I should add, a lovely chap. He has this flair for telling stories (I would have said anecdotes, but that would make him sound like Peter f*cking Ustinov) that's just extraordinary. He makes the most mundane horseshit sound fascinating.

I would call him "charming", but that would make him sound like Gregory f*cking Peck.


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Thu, Oct. 2nd, 2008 09:00 am (UTC)

Congratulations on your birthday and your new book, Rhodri!

Love the sleeve -- it's exactly what my house looks like!


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spincyclescream
spincyclescream
morgan
Thu, Oct. 2nd, 2008 03:54 am (UTC)

I set my watch by Divine Comedy lyrics.


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cap_scaleman
cap_scaleman
cap_scaleman
Thu, Oct. 2nd, 2008 08:20 am (UTC)


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(Anonymous)
Thu, Oct. 2nd, 2008 10:25 am (UTC)

It's all about you, though, isn't it? You can't just talk about Leo's new album. You have to go on about how people have compared him to you, how he's used the same producer, how Leo has praised you in the past - ooh, he's swiped it all from you, hasn't he? Then again, David Byrne likes him and has played him - how you'd kill for that kind of attention! So, of course, true to the Oedipal subtext, you now have to kill him before he kills you. But not in a way that makes you look bitter or anything, oh no! His lyrics are "not refreshing"; his songs are "emotionally atenuated"; he has no soul; his songs don't touch you, etc. Your heart says no. Oh dear!


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Thu, Oct. 2nd, 2008 11:36 am (UTC)

Now, tsk, I didn't say Leo's lyrics were "not refreshing". I said they were not refreshing if you set your watch by Divine Comedy lyrics. I personally don't.

For the record, Byrne has come to my live shows and enjoyed them, so I have no reason to be jealous on that score.

Really, what is the problem? Do we live in such an age of hype now that anything less than a rave is seen as character assassination?

And am I really supposed to crop myself out of the picture? Leo has been to many of my gigs and would be the first to admit a connection to my work. We can have mutual admiration combined with mutual reservations like the ones he expresses in the Playlouder review I link -- was that an "Oedipal subtext" too? And do parents really kill their children in your reading of the Oedipus myth?

It always interests me to mark ambivalence in my reactions to something, and it interests me when people feel comfortable marking their ambivalence to my own work -- I declared Leo's criticisms of Ocky Milk "correct", after all.


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(Anonymous)
Thu, Oct. 2nd, 2008 11:14 am (UTC)

Bookish and the new generation of dandies has made you somewhat redundant, methinks. Be content to rest on your laurels, Momus! Be the Bowie of your generation - ie his best is perhaps behind him, but it is no less astonishing for that.


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Thu, Oct. 2nd, 2008 11:38 am (UTC)

My new album is a lot better than Earthling, though! Just you wait!


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Thu, Oct. 2nd, 2008 11:49 am (UTC)

At least we're not discussing Why the music world needs Oasis, anyway. The Guardian's music coverage is stuck in the stone age.


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Thu, Oct. 2nd, 2008 01:20 pm (UTC)

Actually, Simon's interview on TMCQ is very, very interesting. Simon talks about being victimised for looking strange on British streets and subway trains, and contemplates moving to Berlin, then says he thinks the tension with "the pink-faced British public" (as well as the bad weather and crap temp jobs) might be good for his lyrics, whereas Berlin -- where he'd be just another weirdo on a conformist scene of weirdos -- would be bad for them. But then he sees that this falls into the cliche of saying you need to suffer for your art, and backs away from it.

That interview really confirms that Simon is a "pale young man" or "sacrificial dandy" in the classic British mode which goes back to Quentin Crisp (and no doubt much beyond). The intellectual and the aesthete, especially the "effete" one, hasn't really been tolerated in Britain over the last two hundred years. The "pink-faced British public" bullies the "pale young man" into a very specific corner. He thinks he's there of his own accord, painting his fingernails white or black and wearing funny hats. But he's been forced there, and if he makes art in that corner it will be all about his relationship with the pink-faced ones.

"It became clear to me," I wrote here last year, answering a question from Kumakouji about my feelings about Britain, "that, with my values, I could only survive in Britain as a "sacrificial dandy", an aesthete you kicked, an embittered satirist or a super-marginal eccentric. My values are at odds with the values of Britain, especially post-Thatcherite Britain. You just have to look at TV or the big-selling UK newspapers or magazines to see what those values are. I do retain some Britishness, though. I listen to Sherlock Holmes stories every day on Radio 7." (Ha, does Sherlock Holmes make me a neo-Victorian?)

The "sacrificial dandy" idea is investigated further in my piece about Sebastian Horsley, which also mentions Dickon Edwards.

Of course, it may be that Berlin has become "the corner" the pink-faced Britischers force their sacrificial dandies into. It may be that it's no escape at all; it's a district of London, for some of us. We've no more escaped London than Kafka escaped Prague: "The little mother has claws".

Edited at 2008-10-02 01:22 pm (UTC)


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(Anonymous)
Thu, Oct. 2nd, 2008 02:25 pm (UTC)

huh? Rhodri Marsden has a "radio show"?


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frank - (Anonymous) Expand




electricwitch
electricwitch
For anything, oh! she´ll bust her elastic
Thu, Oct. 2nd, 2008 05:15 pm (UTC)

I don't think I can endorse a man who slashes abstract concepts. It's just sooo FanLib backlash.

Plus, he's not at all like Jarvis. For one thing, I don't think he's going to make any fangirls wet their seats. Moar eyeliner and longer hair and less hipster twattishness and maybe I'll think about it.


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thomascott
thomascott
Thomas Scott
Thu, Oct. 2nd, 2008 07:17 pm (UTC)

Well I'm certainly intrigued, those cultural markers have whet my interest. Liked today's comment line by the way, you are quite the acerbic wit, you are.


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count_vronsky
count_vronsky
Thu, Oct. 2nd, 2008 08:02 pm (UTC)

It's not soul he's lacking, but talent and the instinct to evoke pity that lies at the root of all great art. he struts around like a country preacher dreaming of a sermon. more pierrot. needs to turn the dial up about 4 degrees on the glam factor too.


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drywbach
:-Þ
Thu, Oct. 2nd, 2008 08:37 pm (UTC)

Oh, I like SB. I think I'm going to like him a little more with the new record. I also like that sleeve picture -- the way it evokes the "mystery of science" in a playful way: his Rorschach world map and the way he's laying out element cards as if he were about to do some kind of alchemical tarot reading with them. idk, that's how it looks, anyway! That one he's holding is for antimony, the first one in the Tom Lehrer song, so that's another fun thing that image evokes for me.


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(Anonymous)
Thu, Oct. 2nd, 2008 08:54 pm (UTC)

Did I hear someone say Thomas Dolby, it's all so old sounding got anything good for us Momus, less trad please.


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robinsonner
robinsonner
the maven
Thu, Oct. 2nd, 2008 09:38 pm (UTC)

heh heh


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