Multiplayer! In which we set our brave contributors a question, and they attempt to give a semi-structured intelligible answer. And the question is…What are your essential pieces of Christmas popculture? Sam Lewis:My favourite piece of Christmas pop culture has to be Die Hard. Sure, it might not be directly be about Christmas. It wasn’t released in time for Christmas (3 February 1988 if you want to be geeky), it’s primarily about one man taking on a group of terrorists, and there isn’t any holly or a single drummer-boy to be seen. However, in many other ways it is exactly what Christmas is about. John McClane (Bruce Willis) has travelled to LA on Christmas Eve to be reunited with his estranged wife at her work Christmas party. Love is rekindled, everyone is drinking and being merry, and snow is falling. It sounds like a Christmas card, until it gets ruined by a group of terrorists mercilessly taking everyone hostage, executing members of the group and demanding $640 million in bearer bonds. The Christmas spirit is challenged by the selfish and the greedy. It’s like the Grinch, but if he had an accent and an AK-47. If you aren’t convinced by this interpretation, know that it reminds me of Christmas for other reasons. Without sounding too old, Christmas TV today isn’t what it used to be. I once spent hours poring over the bumper Christmas TV Guide with a pen organising a recording schedule, before telling my Dad how many VHS tapes he needed to add to the shopping list. Unbelievably, I still have the Die Hard VHS taped from ITV and it is one of my most watched. It’s my favourite action film by quite a distance; a simple concept well done. Christmas simply wouldn’t be Christmas without Die Hard. Alex Spencer:Remember when I opened the …&-Friends! season with a piece on Christmas songs (and the attendant problems)? If you want to simulate the Alex-Spencer Christmas Experience (and why the hell wouldn’t you?), that came with its own Spotify playlist. I think it’s important that everyone listen to the Pokemon Christmas Bash album, however, which is both hugely, fittingly novel and surprisingly catchy. Battling for the position of Most Prominent Festive Medium is the Christmas film. I’d obviously pick A Muppet Christmas Carol which, regardless of the Lovely Girlfriend’s crippling Muppetophobia, I have already watched once this holiday, and aim to watch again before the Actual Big Day (which gives me, what, around 18 hours and counting…). But being entirely truthful? As usual, it all comes down to a videogame. Four Christmasses ago, a big box-shaped present lies under the tree. The idea of a second console had been much grumbled about. Enter the Wii Sports series. That Christmas Day, a common narrative unfolded, as it did in thousands of other households. My parents got their hands on Wii Tennis, and that was it. Before you knew it, the whole extended family had Miis and were trading tips about bowling (“no, you’ve got to press right and then curve left“). It’s one of the few times videogames have ever been allowed to dominate my family’s living room space, and everytime I come home for Christmas, the Wii comes with me. Nowadays, Christmas Eve is nothing without the post-curry competitive bouts of Golf between my dad and Dom. Family life is organised around a quick spot of Wii Tennis. We all spend the holidays honing our skills in a series of virtual sports, until the time comes to wave a teary goodbye to everyone’s favourite little white box. I think this is a pretty common experience. I think Wii Sports have received short shrift in the years since it first emerged. It was a thrilling novelty, to be sure, and it remains the one game a lot of the older generation will play. But I think people miss that there’s more: the classic Nintendo design that permeates both games. Things unlock slowly and in the background, not signposted or driving the addicted playing, just there. Since Wii Sports Resort entered my life this time last year, I’ve grown a real fondness for its island setting. It probably seems insane to say but the Resort island is probably one of my favourite gaming spaces ever. Forget Liberty City and Hyrule. It’s a hyper-compacted world which is only hinted at in the majority of the game, but which places the dozen activities in a real, logical space far removed from the world outside the frosty windows. At the moment, my festive thrills are largely to be found in Resort‘s ‘Island Flyover’ mode, which puts a plane between your thumb and forefinger. It’s a very slow plane, and it’s not perfect to control. But exploring the Resort island, ticking off place markers one by one, and being rewarded with a quick two-line description (warmly, wittily simple, in the traditional Nintendo mould) is about the most relaxing gaming experience I’ve had. Pop on that Christmas playlist, melt into the sofa, and feel the Christmas spirit. Tim Mayton:Coca-Cola holds too much sway over Christmas. They were responsible for changing Santa’s outfit from green to red, and nowadays thousands of people across the nation proclaim, “It’s not Christmas until the Coca-Cola advert has been on TV!”. Maybe if they were still using the advert I remember from my childhood, I’d be one of these people, but they keep tinkering with it for maximum saccharine impact, and it now just feels like a callous viral marketing trick, some kind of Pavlovian response we’ve been hoodwinked into. No, for me, if you’re going to define the festive season with an advert, it’s Mr Frosty. Mr Frosty is such fun! He makes treats for everyone! Or so the adverts would have us believe, in their 80s-tacular way. This twenty second slice of absolute cheese has remained the same for the entirety of my life, and can still occasionally be found on kids’ channels near Christmas. Each year it becomes increasingly hard […]
[You have selected: Sam Lewis] Sam Lewis continues his look back across the year that kept him down, betrayed him, and forced my sorry self into his life. Part One – A Glass Half Full – was published yesterday. So where the hell were you? A Glass Half Empty: New York is Killing Me – Gil Scott-Heron Of course, 2010 wasn’t all sunshine and lollipops. For all the fantastic music and film that seemed to arrive all at once, it certainly had its fair share of downsides that will dominate any historical narrative to come. For those who know me, I can’t stop banging on about Gil Scott-Heron’s I’m New Here. It’s a deeply personal portrait of a man who was heralded as a voice of a generation, but disappeared off the musical radar for 16 years due to frequent jail sentences. Although the album clocks in at just under half an hour, it still manages to get more emotions (both positive and negative) into it than some artists do in their entire careers. The scope of feeling expressed and the atmospheres created by Richard Russell’s excellent production makes this a really satisfying listen. If Empire State of Mind paints New York as a picture of bright lights and inspiration, New York is Killing Me sketches the city as a hole of excess and dirty living. Mr. Scott-Heron voices the experiences of an altogether different class in New York compared to Mr. Carter and Ms. Keys. Its a reality defined by the drug and crime culture of New York, something that cannot be empirically diagnosed (“Bunch of doctors come around/don’t know that New York is killing me”) yet is very real for those living it. The distorted hand claps and gospel chantings echo the archetypal sounds of the New York streets, but Russell’s production strips it down to something less positive, more run down. The term “underdog” has never had so much meaning to me as it has in 2010. Tuition fees are increased as education continues to be considered in economic terms rather than its personal and cultural value. Haiti is left on the brink of civil war after the international media circus up and left once it had sucked the newsworthiness out of the situation. Julian Assange, founder of Wikileaks, sparked a worldwide manhunt based on accusations of sexual assault, despite thousands of people still out there waltzing around wanted for worse crimes. It all seems so one-sided, so unjust. I’ll be the first to admit these are starry-eyed and cliché judgements. Many of these reflections are because of the stage I’m at in life. This year the responsibility has become mine to actually make something of what I’ve got. Entering the big bad world, everything seems huge in scale. I grew up thinking that everyone older knows what’s going on, what problems there are and how to solve them. I’ve only been out of education for six months and it turns out that, somewhat obviously, no-one actually has a clue. Its a free-for-all with predecided winners and losers. But whatever ends up happening, 2010 has been a time that will define the rest of my life. Thankfully, I’ve got a great soundtrack and collection of films to accompany it. People don’t seem to know how good they’ve got something until its gone. Well, let’s break the mould and celebrate 2010 for how good it’s been. Choose one of the great records or films that came out this year and let’s make the most of it, yeah? About the author: Sam Lewis is an angry, angry man who,if the prophecies prove true, will watch theworld burn. His constant rages against thecorporate machine cannot currently be foundanywhere else online but you can see himfrolicking in the snow with his bandmatesover at the July Days website.
[You have selected: Sam Lewis] Sam Lewis takes a looks back over the year he opened his heart to cinema, bought a lot of albums, and throw his lot in with my sorry self. In traditionally unusual Alex-Spencer.co.uk fashion, he’s done it in two halves. Check back tomorrow for the second installment. 2010 has been a strange year. As a LibCon government clashes with social groups, 80’s fashion becomes the norm and a nostalgia for over-produced electro-synth music thrives, 2010 has been dubbed either “our 1968” or quipped as “the 80’s called: they want their decade back”. I disagree. All these constant references to the past irritate me. 2010 has had its own character, both culturally and politically. However, I’m still left feeling bewildered. On the one hand, 2010 has seen one of the most consistent streams of good music and film releases in years. Meanwhile, I’m troubled by my dawning realisation that this world is a far more complex mess than I could ever have comprehended. So, when reflecting on 2010, I’m torn. These are confusing times; only with the power of hindsight will 2010 have any kind of solid definition. To illustrate my dilemma, I have chosen two tracks released this year that offer polar opposite perspectives. One is a knees-up celebration, the other a desperate cry for help. Between them they represent what I’ve loved and had to endure in 2010. A Glass Half Full: Empire State of Mind – Jay Z feat. Alicia Keys A highly-charged tune singing the praises of New York that has everyone on the dancefloor with their arms around each other belting out the chorus at the top of their lungs. If you haven’t heard it, it’s a bit like For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow, with the ‘fellow’ being New York. I can see why it’s so popular. Alicia’s soulful sucker-punch chorus is used like a secret weapon, delivering euphoria every time. Instrumentally it’s a constant tease, hooking you in ready for that big chorus before taking it away again at the last moment. Jay Z’s style gels nicely with this. He’s the guy who knows that he has something you desperately want, yet smugly enjoys holding it back just to see you squirm. Not a bad thing; it’s flirtatious, with those on the receiving end loving it. Overall, a real feel-good pop tune. 2010 has been a great year for music for me. I can’t remember the last time that I looked back over the music I’ve accumulated over the year and found that most of it was released this year. In his celebration of the post-punk era, Simon Reynolds writes: “As I recall it, I never bought any old records. Why would you? There were so many new records that you had to have that there was simply no earthly reason to investigate the past… There was too much happening right now.” When I first read this, I didn’t get it. The idea of only buying new releases was alien to my 16-year-old self. Now I understand Reynold’s sentiment. 2010 has seen a huge range of new and exciting music released across a range of genres. I can’t even scratch the surface here, but my personal favourites include Gil Scott-Heron’s I’m New Here, Pantha Du Prince’s Black Noise and Bonobo’s Black Sands. I still have a huge list of stuff I haven’t got round to getting. New releases from Liars, Kanye West, Dels, Big Boi, Konono, Aloe Blacc, The Jim Jones Revue… The list goes on and on and on. (To illustrate this point further, all the other contributors to this here blog will have their own excellent recommendations for you to check out.) Not only has 2010 been exceptional for music, it has also seen a fantastic stream of film releases. I’ve been to the cinema more times this year than I can remember. There has hardly been a film that I wasn’t prepared to ditch all other plans to go and see. The biggest blockbusters have been worthy of their praises; Inception proved that audiences aren’t as dumb as Hollywood thinks they are, Toy Story 3 concluded a great trilogy and The Social Network managed to make a story of hateful characters bitching and moaning about rights to some computer programming compelling and entertaining. My personal favourite film of the year is The Secret in Their Eyes. The best films for me are the ones where you leave the cinema exhausted from having had your attention, thoughts and emotions drained out of you. The previous films did this, but The Secret in Their Eyes did this and then some. I still drift into day dreams thinking about it; the themes of unrequited love, justice (both socially and politically), loneliness, betrayal. It’s dark and the build up of suspense is great. It also contains one of my all time favourite chase scenes in which the protagonist and his companion frantically track down the suspected murderer through a rammed Argentinian football stadium. The scene is uncut for nearly ten minutes, but the tempo is so well balanced that you barely notice. As with all things, pace is the trick. Even if you can’t be bothered for all the film-lover hyperbole, it’s simply a great thriller. A definite personal highlight of 2010. About the author: Sam Lewis is a bundle of polite enthusiasm andoptimism, as articulate with words as he isinarticulate with his hand gestures. He is a cogin the July Days machine, but doesn’t yet have ablog to call his own. Sources suggest that mightjust change, come the Year of Our Lord 2011.
Okay. So it’s the first Monday of December. That’s got to be something important, right? Right here, right now, it is. For the rest of the month of December, Alex-Spencer.co.uk shall be exploding into a crazy new format. The traditional end-of-year list is a bit boring as a format, innit? And I’ve been working the Quarters all year, so you could probably take a good guess at what I’d pick and see what lengthy rubbish I’ve got to spout on the matter. Having spent a while thinking it all through, I had a suddenly-awake 3am revelation. It was a lot like Batman’s recent moment of epiphany (unlike Batman, however, I didn’t need to vomit a load of black stuff that transformed into a demonic bat to reach this conclusion). I’ve realised how much I rely on my allies, my online brothers in arms. Bruce Wayne launched Batman Inc. I’m launching Alex-Spencer … & Friends! This is my blogging superteam, the Justice League of words, the Online Avengers. What exactly does that mean? Well…-Articles on all manners of seasonal stuff: from festive food to, hopefully, at least one guide to Christmas ukelele tunes.-Discussion of all the best stuff from the last year: 2010’s essential reading, listening, viewing and every conceivable type of cultural fallout.-Essays. Lists. The odd stray review we’ve been looking for a reason to finish.-And most importantly, an even wider range of specialities/insanities. Allow my to briefly introduce our players for this entertainment: More on each and every one of these characters as they (hopefully) submit stuff. Stuff that will sear off your eyeballs with its brilliance, I promise. See you at the aftermath. Peace.x Danny Stoker has posted his intentions for the …& Friends! season over on his exceedingly tasty-but-difficult-to-type-into-an-address-bar blog Lunch&DinnerMadeMe. They’re rather exciting, and I say that only 50% as someone who’s likely to benefit from his cooking experiments.
Sam Lewis is the tender heart of The July Days and an all-round very polite boy. One thing that has struck me most about Mr. Spencer’s blogathon over the last 30 days has been the honesty in choices of songs. For many of them I smirked at his choices for being a bit, well, poppy and stupid (see Britney Spears, Tenacious D). Yes, I’m fully aware that this is a very elitist attitude, but this is why I’ve enjoyed reading these blogs over the last month. These songs aren’t bad at all and have actually made me rethink about why I tend to have this blinkered prejudiced attitude to pop music. If I’ve learnt anything (and I like to think I have) there is such a thing as good pop music and that it is okay to like it whoever its done by. Which brings me to my choice of favourite song: Ex-Factor by Lauryn Hill. Lets make this clear: this isn’t my favourite song of all time. However, it definitely is up there in the list. I can vividly remember hearing this in the car on the way to school at the age of 10. I used to hate everything that got played because I wasn’t that interested in music and so nothing really grabbed me, but this song was different; I didn’t actually mind it. I then heard it randomly a couple of times throughout school, and it got to the point where I used to like it but could never admit it because Blink 182 was ‘the thing’ and carrying a skateboard meant that this sort of music was off limits. Being an insecure teenager, music taste meant everything and any signs of weakness would be exploited (not much change there mind…) Fast forward to university and, once again, this song popped up on a long car journey back to the Shire. This time it was different; I could be open about liking it without embarrassment. I actually bought this album from a charity shop for a quid the other day and this song has been pretty much on repeat ever since. I can finally be open about my unashamed love for it, and my gosh does it feel good. I guess that’s one of the reasons its one of my favourite songs; it’s the only song that’s stuck with me for 12 years and the one of the very few songs I have liked throughout my youth. If that’s not testament to a personal favourite song, I don’t know what is. So, like those old school tales of suppressed love like a García Márquez story, I can finally stand tall and proud and say I love this song. Without being accused of brown-nosing too much*, I’d like to think that Mr. Spencer’s blog for helping me recognise this and reminding me that sometimes, pop music can be fun and that you can like anything (within reason) and not feel the hot pangs of worry and anxiety that many know me for. Cheers Alex. *He is, but that’s alright. We love you too Sam!