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April 2012
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June 2012

Yayoi Kusama

Yayoi Kusama flower sculpture, Matsumoto City Arts Museum, May 2010. If any of you are around that way, could you let me know if it's still there? Thanks.My first experience of Yayoi Kusama's work took place two years ago, during my most recent visit to Japan. (Information correct at time of writing.) As The Belated Birthday Girl and I wandered around Matsumoto - actually the artist's hometown, though we didn't realise that at the time - we came across a set of gigantic polkadotted flower sculptures outside the city museum. The dotty colour scheme was obviously a motif, as the museum's drinks vending machines had also been painted up the same way. I duly reported it here and thought nothing more about it.

Looking back at that brief review, as Kusama gets a London retrospective at Tate Modern (running until June 5th), the main thing that strikes me now is a big stupid assumption I made in the one sentence I wrote: that Yayoi Kusama was a man. The BBG keeps saying I should correct that error, but I prefer to let it stand as a monument to my appalling sexism. (I'll fix it when I reprint the piece in my next travel book, though. I'm sexist, not stupid.)

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Image shamelessly stolen from Wikipedia. Click for readability.In a little under two weeks' time, it looks like The Belated Birthday Girl and I will have to sing the Japanese national anthem in public. The reasons why need not concern you for now.

Have you ever listened to Kimigayo, the anthem in question? It's a bugger to learn, as it doesn't sit on the Western ear in an easy fashion. Its metre and key don't conform to our musical structures, and that's before you even get to the inevitable problem with the lyrics. Obviously, it'll require the aid of the internet to familiarise ourselves with the tune over the next ten days. There has to be at least one version of it knocking around on YouTube, surely?

Turns out, there are at least twenty. And you can listen to them all below.

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You Are Here. (handy ceiling marker in my room at Le Royal Meridien)It would have been so easy for me to get confused last week. Friday evening, I was travelling on a plane from London to Aberdeen: but just twelve hours earlier, I'd arrived in London on another plane from Abu Dhabi. The two places sound almost identical, don't they? Except that Abu Dhabi has prohibitive rules in place relating to alcohol consumption, and Aberdeen, well, you know.

Anyway, you've probably worked out where this is heading by now. I spent a week in Abu Dhabi on business, and while I was there I did my usual thing of trying to catch a couple of local movies in the cinema, even though I don't speak the language. The definition of 'local' needed to be stretched a bit on this occasion, but I've still managed to get a review piece together for Mostly Film, which appears on the site today under the appalling title Monoglot Movie Club: LOLs Of Arabia. (Previously on Monoglot Movie Club: Eindhoven, São Paulo.)

And for the benefit of my regular readers, you also get a backup piece with additional behind-the-scenes content. Or something like that.

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Simian Substitute Site For May 2012: Go Ape


Books: I've written about my love of The Pogues before, and my disappointment at how they've gradually (and literally) pissed their legacy away with a series of increasingly shambolic reunion gigs. But for a period in the mid-to-late-80s, they were unstoppable. Their lead singer told his side of the story in his 2001 book A Drink With Shane MacGowan, although the interview format and the author's short attention span made it more interesting as a laboratory experiment than a memoir. Now it's the turn of accordionist James Fearnley to have a go at documenting the band's history, and Here Comes Everybody makes a much better job of it. Fearnley freely admits in a note at the end that the book is "a work of creative non-fiction," in which he's recreated conversations and events to show the way he remembered them happening, rather than perhaps the way they really happened. It makes for a fascinating read: full of anecdotes and humour, but brilliantly depicting the exhilaration and frustration of the band's parabolic relationship with success. MacGowan may not have written a song worth a damn for 15 years now, but his cover quote is one for the ages: "it's just how I'd imagine I'd remember it."

Comedy: I only really discovered The Bugle Podcast last summer, when its protagonists Andy Zaltzman and John Oliver stormed a late night Edinburgh comedy show and made highlights of it available for audio download. I liked the idea of a weekly podcast featuring two guys attacking the news with a satirical sledgehammer: I was less comfortable with the podcast being hosted by The Times, and having to battle through their website and paywall in order to get at it. Well, since last summer, things have changed: Zaltzman and Oliver bit the hand that fed them once too often, The Times sent them packing, and the podcast is now a completely independent affair run through Soundcloud. The latest edition, Bugle 192, shows them enjoying the freedom to give Rupert Murdoch a good kicking while he's down. My one irritation with the whole thing is that I've also just discovered the weekly Radio 5 show 7 Day Sunday, which often features Zaltzman as a guest, cheerfully recycling topical jokes he's already used on The Bugle a couple of days earlier.

Travel: The other big discovery I made in Edinburgh last year was the deliciousness of BrewDog beer. The Belated Birthday Girl agreed with me, and for Christmas she bought me a small parcel of BrewDog shares as part of their Equity For Punks offering. As shareholders, we were therefore entitled to attend the company's Annual General Meeting, held at the end of April in Aberdeen. It was a unique combination of corporate presentation, gig and piss-up, plus a brief coach outing to the building site that will eventually become their new brewery. Plenty of beer on sale at reasonable prices (£2 bought you a pint of their lower end beers, or a half of their braincell killers), plus free tastings of some of their newer products, including a spectacular 15.1% Imperial Stout called Dog A. The bands weren't bad either, with The Little Kicks and Bombskare providing the highlights. I took lots of photos while drunk: these are the ones that were in focus.

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