MONTH END PROCESSING FOR MAY 2016
Books: Thanks to YouTube, images from your past that have stayed in your memory after a single viewing can be instantly pulled up for reappraisal. Here's an example: comedian John Dowie, performing his single British Tourist on the punk-era music show Revolver. Back in 1978, we were so ankle-deep in actual racism that it was hard to get your head around the idea of satirical ironic racism. But it's a prime example of how Dowie was always a man out of time - an alternative comedian several years before the term was even invented, who announced his retirement just as stand-up comedy was about to make the leap into arena-sized respectability. I attended his farewell shows at Edinburgh in 1990: I saw his sort-of-comeback in collaboration with Neil Innes in 2002: and then last month, I watched him share a tiny stage with Dave Cohen at the Poetry Cafe for the launch of his proposed autobiography, The Freewheeling John Dowie. From the half-hour reading we got, Dowie hasn't lost his ear for a sharp turn of phrase, and he's got a lifetime's worth of anecdotes to tell. Like all the best people these days (from Chuck Palahniuk to Jan Švankmajer), he's relying on crowdfunding to get the project out into the world, with a wide range of splendid rewards in exchange for your contribution. This is a book I really want to read, so I need you all to click here and fund it. Off you go.
Music: This would usually be the point where I post up a Spotify playlist of songs that have recently tickled my fancy, so that you can listen to them yourselves for nowt. Of course, not everything is on Spotify these days: other online music platforms are available. Riz MC's new album Englistan, for example, is on Bandcamp and Soundcloud. Mind you, he's insisting it's a 'mixtape' rather than an album, to the extent that you can download it for free if you like. He's barmy: Englistan is better than most of the officially released records I've heard so far this year, and completely worth paying for (which is still an option if you choose to download it from Bandcamp or Amazon). Up until now, I've only really known Riz Ahmed's work as an actor, and appreciated the sharp intelligence that comes through in his performances, even in a brief fragment like this. I've not really had a chance to listen to his music before now, and it's great to see that his tunes are equally smart. This is a solid collection of tracks, but the ones at the beginning and end of the set are the ones that really stand out. The opening Englistan lays out the theme of cross-cultural integration in as wittily direct a fashion as the album's cover image: the more challenging material comes towards the end, with the controlled fury of Benaz followed by the darkly sarcastic poetry of I Ain't Being Racist But... Scroll down a bit and press play to hear for yourself - the most you have to lose is 45 minutes.
Telly: It was 2010 when Rachel Bloom first burst onto the internet with a song about the multiple pleasures of science fiction, the ridiculously catchy Fuck Me Ray Bradbury. It didn't seem likely that her rude approach to musical comedy would transfer into the mainstream, and yet six years later a show she co-created has become one of the major hits of the US 2015/16 telly season. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend stars Bloom as Rebecca Bunch, a fantastically successful New York lawyer who feels there's something missing from her life. She abruptly walks out of her job and into a much lower-paid one in West Covina, California - the town where her childhood sweetheart Josh now lives, as she learned just a few minutes before her resignation. This is either exactly the sort of behaviour we'd expect in a romantic comedy, or evidence of a major nervous breakdown on Rebecca's part, and Bloom carefully pitches the character as a balancing act between the two. I've seen half of the first season of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend on a plane - thanks for cutting out all the dirty bits, Emirates! - and it's remarkable how she's managed to sustain this as a dramatic conceit so far. But what sets it apart from other TV romances, as you'd expect given Bloom's past, are the songs - every episode features two full-scale production numbers, parodying old-fashioned musical theatre tropes or modern pop song cliches. All the songs are out there on YouTube, but you'd really be better off seeing how they fit into the show before spoiling yourself with them. The problem is, though, that you probably can't do that - at present, no broadcaster in the UK seems to be interested in picking the show up for transmission. I know this Month End Processing feels like it's just a list of demands now, but somebody really needs to sort that out, and soon.