Andrew Hickey's Blog

December 24, 2014

For some reason this didn’t post on the 22nd…


I hope everyone’s having an enjoyable Winter Holiday Of Their Choosing. Sadly, while I’ve done most of the fun part of Xmas already (it was my wife’s birthday today, so we did things over the weekend with friends and family) I’ve now got to fly to the USA, and while I’d planned to get a proper post done today, I’ve had to do more sorting-out of stuff than I’d planned for, so you get links.


I’ll be leaving for the airport at 7:30AM tomorrow, and not getting in to Minneapolis until midnight my time, so don’t expect any blog posts tomorrow. I’m going to try to get a CalDream post (on Once I Was, by Tim Buckley) up on Xmas eve, assuming my laptop doesn’t get lost in transit. I’ve also got a post on Wonderful Christmastime by Paul McCartney planned for Christmas day itself, if I get time to write it.


To tide you over until my return, links:


A good set of links on health at every size


A semi-random Christmas story by Philip Purser-Hallard


An oldie — the best comments on Four Lions ever


A fascinating look at the way big data interacts with Christmas music listening habits


Another Christmas story — Fester and the Christmas Mouse, by Paul Magrs


The rise of the shitpic — memes that keep getting copied imperfectly


Scott Aaronson on The Imitation Game


And Simon Bucher-Jones has put out his own “translation” of the play The King In Yellow, along with the “original French text”


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Published on December 24, 2014 03:55 • 1 view

December 21, 2014

On my Patreon, those of you who donate money to me can find out my views on the third Batman ’66 story, The Joker Is Wild/Batman Is Riled, while those of you who don’t even have any Christmas spirit at all and are probably due to be visited by ghosts on Wednesday night can read an earlier piece, on the 1949 Batman serial, over at Mindless Ones.


Also, my apologies for the light posting over the last week or so — I’ve had some family problems to deal with (nothing irreversibly bad, but stressful and time-consuming). I’m hoping to get a CalDream post up tomorrow, and ideally a couple more posts queued up, but on Tuesday I fly out to the US to spend Xmas week with my in-laws, getting back to the UK on New Year’s Eve. I’m *hoping* to get a lot of writing done while I’m over there, but I can’t guarantee it, as while I’m there I’m at the whim of others, so expect either a *LOT* of posts or absolutely none for the rest of the month.


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Published on December 21, 2014 16:10

December 19, 2014

I was going to call this a Christmas mix, but given that there are songs about New Year and Hanukkah, and several generic “winter” songs, this is The Sci-Ence! Justice Leak! Generic Winterval Holiday Mix




The Sci-Ence! Justice Leak! Generic Winterval Holiday Mix by Andrewhickey on Mixcloud




Tracklisting:

I’m Walking Backwards For Christmas — The Goons

Happy New Year — Beverly

Back Door Santa — Clarence Carter

Blue Christmas (To Whom It May Concern) — Miles Davis

Snowflakes — The Honeys

We Three Kings Of Orient Are — The Beach Boys

Santa Claus Is Coming To Town — Little Richard

Rock & Roll Winter — Wizzard

New Year Carol/Residue — Waterson: Carthy

I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day — Frank Sidebottom

Wonderful Christmastime — Paul McCartney

White Christmas — Charlie Parker

Shake Hands With Santa Claus — Louis Prima

I’m Spending Hanukah In Santa Monica — Tom Lehrer

The Santa Claus Crave — Elzadie Robinson

Auld Lang Syne — The Beach Boys


The spoken linking passages are all taken from I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Christmas Carol!


Last year’s mix is here, and 2012’s is here


Tagged: christmas, music
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Published on December 19, 2014 16:46 • 1 view

December 16, 2014

In this one, I discuss Church & State Vol II. Trigger warning for those who need it — the comic, and therefore this post, discusses rape. It’s here


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Published on December 16, 2014 17:33 • 8 views

December 15, 2014

I was working til gone 10PM today, so you get links:


You’ve probably seen this, but if not, the parable of the polygons is a fun use of economics and cellular automata to put forward a social justice case. Of course, me being me, I’ve spent most of the time since I saw this finding ways in which it breaks or doesn’t match reality (for example, set everyone to 100% bigoted and you get a perfectly integrated community), but it makes its point well.


. This looks more like cockup than conspiracy to me, but either way it needs to be fixed.


Amazon goes to war against hyphens


The case of Neli Latson, a black autistic man who has so far spent four years in prison for, effectively, being a black autistic man.


A few months ago Virgin announced an open vacation policy for employees, and some people mocked me for saying this was a bad idea. Another company that did that found it was making employees take too little time off and become ill.


Custard creams are cheaper than couscous, but you can’t expect a fucking baroness to know that. I can vouch for this. I’m comfortably off financially now, but I remember days when a packet of custard creams was all I ate, when I was on the dole or working minimum wage.


And the Guardian questions Jack Straw over torture. Unsurprisingly, his answers are not very helpful


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Published on December 15, 2014 16:03 • 16 views

December 14, 2014

After the problems of getting Absolutely Free released, Frank Zappa quickly ran into more record label problems, this time over an album to be titled Lumpy Gravy.


Zappa had signed with Capitol records as a solo artist and, working with Nik Venet as “producer” (although Venet was very hands-off, and essentially left Zappa to his own devices) recorded an album of his orchestral compositions. However, Verve took the view, not unreasonably, that as Zappa was signed to them as a band member he should not be off making albums for their competitors (Zappa, on the other hand, pointed out that he didn’t play a note on the record and that “my contract did not preclude me from doing that. I wasn’t signed as a conductor.”


The result was that while he was working on the next Mothers of Invention album, he also found himself re-editing the tapes of Lumpy Gravy, turning the straight orchestral album he had delivered to Capitol into one for Verve that would fit into the “conceptual continuity” of the Mothers’ releases, including spoken-word sections and collage elements. He spent so much time working on editing the spoken word sections that he later claimed that his daughter Moon Unit’s first word was “werp” in imitation of the sound of the tape being played backwards.


When Lumpy Gravy finally got a release on Verve, Zappa’s photo on the cover had a speech bubble added, saying “Is this phase two of We’re Only In It For The Money?”, and the albums did appear to be linked.


In particular, both featured versions of a song titled Take Your Clothes Off When You Dance that Zappa had written some years earlier. Originally conceived as a Dave Brubeck-esque jazz number, it had later been reworked as a surf instrumental (a 1963 recording of which was used in the finished Lumpy Gravy) and finally recorded with vocals as part of the Money sessions.



We’re Only In It For The Money
, the Mothers’ third album, was recorded at the start of a long run of sessions which would also produce two other projects — the largely instrumental soundtrack for the Mothers’ film, Uncle Meat (while the album was released in 1968, the film was unfinished until 1987), and the doo-wop album Cruising With Ruben & The Jets (of which more later).


While these projects all overlapped, though, We’re Only In It For The Money had a very clear concept — it was a satire aimed at the hippy movement, and especially those in San Francisco. Zappa believed, largely correctly, that the LA “freak” scene, people like Franzoni and Vito and the bands they followed, were genuinely trying to create something new and different and, most importantly, individual; that they were expressing their own ideas in their own way. By contrast, he saw the hippy movement as a commercialised, conformist, watered-down version of what the LA scene had been doing, a bunch of hedonistic conformists thinking they were different from their parents because their drug of choice was dope rather than booze.


That said, Money is also fundamentally more sympathetic to the young than to their parents, and certainly more so than it is to the police and other authority figures, and the overall feel is one of frustration at lost potential — that the hippies were only rebelling cosmetically when they could have done so much more.


The first release from the Money sessions, though, didn’t give much indication of this. The single of Lonely Little Girl (a vastly different edit from that which eventually appeared on Money) is almost, but not quite, radio-friendly for the time. After a guitar intro which is the Mothers’ first venture into the heavy rock that was just starting to become popular, the song settles into something which feels almost like an ultra-conventional pop song. In two-part Everly Brothers harmonies, they sing “you’re a lonely little girl/but your mommy and your daddy don’t care”, and the seventeen-bar verse/bridge/chorus here could easily have been a song by Chad & Jeremy or Peter & Gordon, sounding like the commercial pop of about eighteen months earlier, had it not been for the heavily-processed vocals, sped up to give the entire track a faint feel of a raised eyebrow.


After this initial verse/bridge/chorus, though, we get a sudden edit into a snorting noise and a tinkle of tuned percussion (taken from a commercial for Luden’s Cough Drops for which Zappa had written the music), before the song goes into Take Your Clothes Off When You Dance, a song which in this version both satirises and celebrates the hippies’ rather narrow vision of utopia — “who cares if you’re so poor you can’t afford to buy a pair of mod a-go-go stretch elastic pants?/There will come a time when you can even take your clothes off when you dance”, and “there will come a time when you won’t even be ashamed if you are fat”. Finally, we get another, short, section of two-chord fuzz garage rock that doesn’t appear on the finished album.


While the single was released in November 1967, further record company problems meant that the album itself didn’t get released until March 1968. The main reason given by the label was that Cal Shenkel’s cover, which parodied that of Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, was too similar to the Beatles’ (while Zappa got Paul McCartney’s promise that they wouldn’t sue, that was apparently not good enough, and the original vinyl release had the photo originally intended for the inner gatefold on the outside, with the intended cover relegated to the gatefold), but Zappa later discovered that the record had, without his knowledge or approval, been censored by the record label. Some of the censor cuts were at least understandable (the word “balling” removed from someone saying “I don’t do publicity balling for you any more”, or the engineer calling fellow Verve act The Velvet Underground “as shitty a group as Frank Zappa’s group”), but others were just inexplicable (a reference to a waitress “with her apron and her pad/feeding all the boys at Ed’s cafe” was deleted because someone at the record label thought she was feeding people sanitary towels).


Despite this interference, We’re Only In It For The Money remains, along with Lumpy Gravy, possibly the finest thing Zappa ever did. But it was clear that he was going to have to find a way to have his records put out without record company interference…


Lonely Little Girl


Composer: Frank Zappa


Line-up: Frank Zappa (guitar, vocals), Jimmy Carl Black (drums, vocals), Roy Estrada (bass, vocals), Billy Mundi (drums), Don Preston (keyboards), Bunk Gardner (woodwinds), Ian Underwood (woodwinds, keyboards), Motorhead Sherwood (saxophone).


NB this is the line-up of the band as featured on We’re Only In It For The Money, not all of whom are audible on the track. Zappa later claimed on CD reissues of the album that the only musicians to play on the album were Zappa, Underwood, Estrada, and Mundi. The fact that Preston, Gardner, Black, and Sherwood, along with other members of the Mothers from later lineups, sued Zappa for $16 million in unpaid royalties around the time of the CD release had, I am sure, absolutely nothing to do with this.


Dick Barber provided snorks.


Original release: Lonely Little Girl/Mother People, The Mothers Of Invention, Verve VK-10570


Currently available on: The Lumpy Money Project/Object, Zappa records CD


Tagged: california dreaming, frank zappa
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Published on December 14, 2014 03:43 • 5 views

December 13, 2014

On my Patreon, the wonderful, generous, people who like giving me money can find out what I think about Fine Feathered Finks/The Penguin’s a Jinx!, episodes three and four of the Batman 1966 TV series, while cheapskates can go to the Mindless Ones site, where I talk about the 1943 Batman serial.

But seriously, me talking about the 1943 serial is *SO* November 24th 2014. All the cool kids want to find out my thoughts on the Penguin…


Tagged: batman, me elsewhere
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Published on December 13, 2014 15:53

December 12, 2014

As you might be able to tell from recent posts, I’m suffering from exhaustion, which is causing stress headaches and random bursts of crying, hence the few days off from posting recently. Tomorrow is an actual day off, where I don’t have to do anything at all, so I plan to get a backlog again then, but for tonight you get links.


Watch the first British science fiction film, A Message From Mars, free online (If your browser supports it — my particular combinations are the versions of Iceweasel and Chromium that come with Debian Wheezy, and I don’t have Adobe’s Flash installed but do have Gnash, and I can’t get the BFI player to work. More normal combinations probably will)


Millennium on judicial review




A zombie story
(NB, Slate Star Codex, so comments not checked and not a safe space)


TED talks are lying to you


The “Make A Dredd Sequel” campaign has made a free comic available with a couple of classic Dredd reprints



A great YouTube collection of truly horrible novelty records, including Reginald Bosanquet’s disco single, Jim Bowen doing Walk The Dinosaur, and Come Outside by the supergroup of Frank Bruno, Bruno Brookes, Samantha Fox and Liz Kershaw


Various Doctor Who-related items on BBC Radio iPlayer


And I’m sure I’ve linked this before, but the recent discussion about The Imitation Game brought it back to mind, and it’s worth linking again: Oracle by Greg Egan, one of my very favourite SF stories ever; a story that is basically about “what if Alan Turing had lived and had an argument about the nature of the soul with C.S. Lewis?”


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Published on December 12, 2014 16:39 • 1 view

December 10, 2014

(If you’re the kind of person who needs trigger warnings for things, the following post almost certainly contains a mention of whatever triggers you, but doesn’t contain any graphic descriptions or endorsement of those things…)


There have been many things in politics that have depressed me over the last few years — the loss of the AV referendum, Labour playing silly buggers and blocking Lords reform, the Lib Dems’ collapse in the polls… there have been a lot — but I don’t think I’ve ever been as thoroughly, utterly, depressed by politics as I was today when filling out a YouGov poll.


After the standard questions came:

Which of these policies do you think would be better for the country:

a) Raising the minimum wage to the living wage

b) Banning all immigrants from claiming benefits until they’ve been here for four years?


In case anyone’s wondering, I chose a. I don’t know what the effects of ensuring people in low-paid jobs earn enough to feed, clothe, and house themselves would be, other than some poor people having food, housing, and clothing, but I suspect overall there would be fewer negative effects than there would be from letting people starve to death on the street because they’re foreign.


Then there were a whole bunch of questions about torture. “Do you think torture is ever justified?” “Should the UK co-operate with other countries in the use of torture?” “Should the UK make use of information it knows to have been obtained by torture?” and so on.


In case you’re wondering, the correct answers to those questions are “no”, “no”, and “no”.


Because this is what we’ve come to, in 2014, that these are questions that need to be asked. These are partisan political questions, about which there is debate.


I had hoped, until relatively recently, that we had as a society decided that it was probably a good thing not to let people starve to death if they lose their jobs. Apparently not, if we’re talking about waiting *four years* before people can claim benefits. Apparently if someone moves to this country, say to marry someone she loves, follows all the rules, becomes a citizen, pays her taxes, works hard and contributes to society, but then after being here three years she gets hit by a car and paralysed from the waist down, it is a matter for *debate* as to whether society should allow her to keep paying rent and eating food.


And note the wording of the YouGov question (as best as I can remember it) — the question implicitly accepts that both choices offered are good ones, it’s just that one might be a bit better than the other.


And again — torture? As a matter for debate, where people can argue in favour of torture without having people scream “holy shit, get away from me you fucking monster!”?


And this has been happening over and over again recently. The big political debate of the last few months — in the US, but infecting our politics too, as US politics is prone to — has been “is it OK for the police to gun down unarmed teenage boys in cold blood if they’re black? How about choking unarmed black men to death? Is that OK?”


Again, this is not something that we should be having a debate about. This is something that should be settled.


So a few pointers to add to the political conversation at the moment:

Leaving unemployed and disabled people to starve to death is bad. Yes, even if they’re foreign.

Leaving people to drown is bad. Yes, even if they’re foreign.

Murdering people is also bad. Yes, even if the murder is racially-motivated. In fact that’s one of the worst kinds of murdering. Don’t do that.

Raping people is also bad. Yes, even if you’re rich and powerful.

Torturing people is bad.

Revealing the most intimate details of people’s lives, like naked photos of them or (if they’re trans) their pre-transition name, without their consent, is bad. Yes, even if they were in a film.

Threatening strangers that you will do any or all of the above to them or their families is bad. Yes, even if they disagree with your opinion about a video game.


Those are the ONLY correct opinions on these matters. I am not normally much of a moral absolutist, but these are not things that really admit of any nuance. There are many, many, *MANY* grey areas in politics and morality, but those aren’t among them.


If we can’t, as a culture, even agree on the wrongness of murder, rape, and torture — if we can’t take those as axioms from which we can proceed — how the hell are we ever going to get the ability to solve the *hard* problems?


(CalDreaming posts tomorrow and Friday, Batman and Cerebus this weekend…)


Tagged: depression talking, politics
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Published on December 10, 2014 17:03 • 2 views

December 9, 2014

The last few days I’ve had a pretty constant stress headache (hence the lack of post yesterday), but when I’m feeling stressed, there’s always the Beach Boys, and thankfully the new copyright extension releases came out a few days ago, and I’ve been listening to them pretty much constantly.


These copyright extension releases, as the name suggests, come from a fairly morally dodgy place — two years ago, Paul McCartney, Cliff Richard, and EMI records, terrified of the prospect that one day they may stop getting tens of millions of pounds a year in free money for work done before my parents were at primary school, got the term on sound recordings made after January 1, 1963 extended from fifty years to seventy years, because otherwise the Beatles in 1963 would have no incentive to record anything new…


But there was a “use it or lose it” provision in the new rules — any recording that had not been published would become public domain at the end of the calendar year fifty years after it was recorded. This meant that both last year and this, the few recording artists of the early 60s who still sell in big numbers today rushed out download-only compilations of unreleased recordings, last year from 1963, and now this year from 1964. This year, the Beach Boys’ have been the first to drop.


While last year’s compilation, The Big Beat 1963, was fairly inessential (though completist that I am, of course I have it), this year’s releases are far more interesting, as 1964 was the year that the Beach Boys went from a band with a couple of decent singles to being arguably the best band in the world.


This year has seen two releases, so far only on iTunes (though other sites are likely to follow). The first, Live In Sacramento, will probably be of more interest to the casual listener. The Beach Boys’ first live album, Beach Boys Concert was made up of recordings from three shows, one in 1963 and two in 1964, along with doctored studio versions of Fun Fun Fun and I Get Around. The two 1964 shows have been available on bootlegs for years, as just raw dumps of the multitracks, but now they get a properly mixed and mastered release, and allow people to see just what a good live band the Beach Boys were.


Instrumentally, they’re relatively tight, but nothing special — they played on more of their records than many people believed even a couple of years ago, but they were still never going to win awards for their playing — but vocally, they’re astonishing. On these early shows, Brian is obviously the standout, and hearing him sing Don’t Worry Baby live, falsetto intact, is worth the price of the downloads itself. But Mike Love, who takes most of the leads, is also far more impressive than you would expect — his perfect Igor voice on The Monster Mash is absolutely hilarious (and comparing this version and the original by Bobby “Boris” Pickett, it sounds like the version on Beach Boys Concert is the version the Bonzo Dog Band learned from, as the Beach Boys’ backing vocal phrasing is far closer to what the Bonzos would later do).


But the whole band sound vocally gorgeous, in a way that is all the more impressive when you remember that they were harmonising in a time without foldback speakers or in-ear monitors, and with thousands of screaming girls making it almost impossible to hear themselves. The shows are good enough that the casual fan could listen and enjoy them — and certainly could put together an exceptional live album by playlisting just their favourite version of each song (the two shows had the same setlists), and all the early hits are here.


It’s raw, of course — there are mistakes, and asides, and reactions to the crowd — but it’s the only extended live document of the five original Beach Boys performing together, without anyone to augment them, and with Brian Wilson still in good voice.


Beach Boys fanatics, on the other hand, will be more interested in Keep An Eye On Summer, a collection of outtakes, vocal-only mixes, and BBC live recordings, covering the sessions for Shut Down vol 2, All Summer Long, The Beach Boys’ Christmas Album and the first sessions for The Beach Boys Today!.


Much of this has, of course, been bootlegged — but here Alan Boyd and Mark Linnet, the archivist and engineer responsible for the project, have culled the session tapes to what is listenable. While the bootlegs have things like All Summer Long (takes 20-42) or Girls On The Beach (vocal overdub takes 1b-8b), here there’s just enough studio chat to get a flavour for what it was like in the studio, and only the musically interesting stuff has been kept.


And some of it has never been bootlegged before, notably the Shut Down vol 2 material and the BBC recordings, the tapes for which were lost for many years.


The result contains some genuinely sublime moments. The a capella (more or less — the instrumental track is mixed down to *almost* inaudibility) mix of She Knows Me Too Well is spellbindingly beautiful, the instrumental Let’s Live Before We Die could have been a classic Beach Boys ballad if vocals had ever been recorded for it, and the a capella In The Parking Lot is revelatory — never a favourite of mine before, but the harmonies in the massed vocal sections jump out in this new mix.


There’s also stuff that’s of more academic interest. We’ve known for a while that the Beach Boys played on more of their tracks than they’re usually credited for, but I didn’t realise that Denny’s Drums was actually played by Dennis Wilson — like almost everyone, I’d assumed that Hal Blaine had played that track. And Pom Pom Play Girl, another song I’ve never had much time for, seems in its remix to reveal that either Mike Love is a far better vocal impersonator than I’d credit him for or Jan Berry of Jan & Dean is doubling him, uncredited.


I’m not at all persuaded that these releases are ethical, and I abhor the change in the law that has brought them about. But given that they exist, thanks to Boyd and Linnet they at least are worthy of existing, and are worth obtaining (whether you want to pay for them, given the circumstances of their release, is up to you, though I did). Together they’re a record of a band that was as good as any band in the world. The music the Beach Boys produced in 1964 — songs like Fun Fun Fun, I Get Around, Don’t Worry Baby, and All Summer Long — is still the basis of their commercial, if not their artistic, reputation. These sets show why.


Tagged: the Beach Boys
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Published on December 09, 2014 17:10 • 2 views