Monday, 21 December 2009

Fuck Killing In The Name, what are we sending to Number One next Christmas?

OK, so we got Rage Against The Machine to the top of the Christmas singles chart - but let's not get complacent. If we're to silence the critics who are citing the tradition of novelty festive number ones, and painting Zack De La Rocha as a kind of politically-conscious Mr Blobby, we have to make sure this isn't a one-off. We have to prove that this was not just one in the eye for Simon Cowell or a neat illustration of the potential of grassroots marketing through social media, but evidence of a real alternative that can do what the fuck it likes - with nothing more than 79p and impeccable taste. That's why Manflet is already making suggestions for Christmas Number One 2010:

Nirvana - Smells Like Teen Spirit
Appeals to the same generation that backed Killing In The Name: old enough to remember when the seasonal chart-topper was less of a shoe-in (if no less shit) than during the Xmas Factor era, but young enough to care what happens next year; with plenty of free time to spend on Facebook and, because we usually illegally download our music, loads of spare cash to waste on tracks we already own. And as with De La Rocha's, um, rage, Kurt Cobain lends a voice to our frustration with the music industry, his refrain "here we are now / entertain us" throwing down the gauntlet to whatever chump Cowell is fast-tracking to fame at the time.

Radiohead - Creep
Ticks all the same boxes as Nirvana, but with the added bonus that the songwriter is still around to enter into intelligent debate. And just like RATM, Radiohead are likely to lend the campaign some gravitas by dedicating proceeds to some charity that you and I are too selfish to donate to. Plus, can you imagine what fun the YouTube mentals could have making video clips of Simon Cowell mouth along to the lyrics "I'm a creep / I'm a weirdo"? LOL!

Peaches - Jump On Santa's Sleigh (Fuck The Pain Away)
Get this: we get Peaches to re-record her filthcore electroclassic with radio friendly lyrics about reindeers and snowmen and shit. She ditches the merkin and shaves her armpits and we market her as Lady Gaga's older, less edgy sister. Next, we book her on Wogan's Radio 2 show for a chat and a live performance. Take it away Peaches: FUCK THE PAIN AWAY FUCK THE PAIN AWAY FUCK THE PAIN AWAY...

Friday, 13 November 2009

Stag DON'Ts

Manflet don't do stag dos.
I didn't have one - it probably would've blown my secret wedding plans. Nick only had one because his bride kicked him out the house so she could have a hen do, and even then we just drank Red Stripe in a metal bar til closing time, then got the bus home. What happens in the Crobar stays in the Crobar. (mostly air guitar.) And when our resident swinging pimp bachelor Jason ties the knot, I won't expect any strip clubs - just a lot of scotch and a little spooning.

Until recently, I've managed to avoid all the real stag dos (sorry Nick) I've ever been invited to - having had other plans, no money and a whole host of other lame excuses. At best, they are a staggering waste of time and money. (If you don't have the decency to not invite me to your secret wedding, it's already going to cost me at least a few hundred pounds and a weekend - and you want MORE?) At their worst, stag dos wallow in blokeishness for its own sake, with predictably squalid or downright dangerous results.

But I was never going to be able to dodge my little brother's stag. It was pretty painless and I even managed to have some fun (it's hard to be grumpy behind the wheel of a go kart), but I could never quite escape the feeling of futility. If this was my bro's last night of "freedom", shouldn't we have done this while his fiancée was in labour? If this was a celebration of some sorts, then what exactly were the shots in the strip club toasting? After all, no one mentioned the wedding or the bride (or their own wives) all weekend. As time passed and drinks flowed, the "dos and don'ts" piece I was planning to write about bachelor parties became a big list of Stag DON'Ts:
  • DON'T have a stag do.
It's not compulsory. Marriage carries with it a lot of traditions, honourable and otherwise, but try for a second to think beyond the narrow confines of What Everybody Does. Do you really want a stag do - and why? You may want to celebrate your imminent marriage, but isn't that what your wedding is for? Or is a huge party at your parents' expense, followed by a free holiday and a household full of gifts, not enough? And if you're really taking one last stab at singledom, shouldn't you be alone, at home, with internet porn and a pot noodle?
  • DON'T ban women.
I'm not the blokeiest of blokes (shocked?), but I don't think I'm the only man who counts women among his closest friends. That some of my nearest and dearest friends should be excluded from my prenup rave-up because of their gender shows just how outmoded stag dos are. While we're at it, why can't my best friend - my wife - be there? We're far too classy for a joint "hag do", but if we'd done things differently, we would have had an engagement party and you all could have come - penis or not.
  • DON'T do anything you don't want to do.
The most depressing moment of my brother's stag do was one of his mates, who got married last year, asking, "can you go the strip club and just sit and drink, or do you have to have a private dance?" It seems that on his own bachelor party, his "friends" had forced him to get a dance in such a way that he assumed it was compulsory. Wa-hey. If you hang around with arseholes like that, and you're too spineless not to end up with a random woman's tits in your face, or your pants round your ankles, or black and blue and bloody from all the "fun" you had, then your wife ought to keep you housebound for the entirety of your married life.
  • DON'T do anything your bride wouldn't want you to do.
I didn't believe my brother or his mates when they said that their other halves were "cool" with them going to strip clubs. Why would they be? "You understand, don't you love? It's just that your tits and ass are so disgusting that I want to get one last look at a decent body before I tie the knot." And don't give me that "just for a laugh" line - go to a comedy club you deceitful bastard! I'd bet that my brother and his fellow stags haven't told their brides, wives and girlfriends about their time with the "rippers" (I didn't go). Lucky for them no one reads this blog...
  • DON'T go somewhere too "stag".
As a poor excuse for a Geordie, I did pretty well to conceal the shame of being part of my hometown's unofficial stag exchange with Edinburgh. English/Scotch relations beside, it felt like we had defaulted to the closest "party destination" with little thought to what we were going to do there. I love the city, its history, art and architecture - but we weren't there for that. And Glasgow has the clubs. Different cities have different things to offer, and the ones that don't rely on bachelor parties to stay vibrant are probably a good place to start.

So forget go karts and strippers and ritual humiliation... what do YOU want to do?

Thursday, 8 October 2009

You’re Fucking Out. I’m Fucking In.

Eastbound & Down is the latest reason that HBO have every right to boast, “Something Special’s On”. Created by Ben Best, Jody Hill and Danny McBride [The team that gave us The Foot Fist Way], Eastbound & Down is the funniest thing I’ve seen on TV since Del Boy falls through the bar - “Play it cool, Trig. Play it cool.”

Eastbound & Down is a comedy set around Kenny Powers, played by Danny McBride, a relief pitcher who was set to make it in the big leagues, but two things let him down: his fading fastball and his insufferable personality. We catch up with Kenny as he returns to his hometown to live with his brother and family with nothing to his name other than his truck and a purple and leopard-print Jet Ski. Refusing to sell either of his last two possessions, Kenny is forced to get a job as a substitute P.E. teacher in his hometown school.

As Powers himself boasts, “I’ve been blessed with many things in this life. An arm like a fucking rocket, a cock like a Burmese python, and the mind of a fucking scientist.” It is with these talents, oh and of course his very own self-help audio book, “You’re Fucking Out. I’m Fucking In.” that Kenny decides it’s time to try and get back to the big league.

The plot of Eastbound & Down may not be so different to many dumb underdog comedies, but the creative licence afforded to Best, Hill and McBride thanks to the backing of Will Ferrell and Adam McKay [executive producers] has allowed them to make a comedy that is truly a work of genius and free to break any taboo they so wish, which they do.

Despite being a despicable, foul-mouthed human being, there’s a certain sadness about Kenny that appeals. Only half way through the series, I eagerly wait for the next instalment to see whether it's possible for Kenny to succeed. I hope so, after all if there one’s thing he Kenny Powers hates, “it’s losing”. If there are two things he hates, “it’s losing and cancer”.

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

It's the shoes: Nike Air Jordan

Manflet's resident sneaker pimp Neil Sanderson shows love for the most iconic trainer franchise ever launched.

1985. A trainer drops that will change the way sneakers are made and marketed forever. Now is the time for the branding of an athlete and his signature shoe to dominate the globe.

The first shoes designed by Nike for one of the greatest basketball players of all time were nothing short of a revolution. No sooner were the Air Jordan 1s introduced than they were banned from league play, their red soles flaunting an old NBA rule that the base of all sneakers must be white. In black/red and white/red colourways to match Jordan's Chicago Bulls uniform, they were instantly recognisable and have been reissued and revamped countless times. These days, you can find people selling the originals on eBay for anything between £400 to £800. If you had the sense back in the day to buy a pair and keep them deadstocked the recession may not seem so scary for you right now.

The commercial success of the shoe led to another, designed in time for the next basketball season. The Air Jordan II was the simplest, in terms of design, in the entire franchise. Nike stitched “made in Italy” on the tongue of original pairs, an attempt to position them as a high fashion design concept, rather than sneakers to be bought by kids the world over. While still popular, they failed to match the impact of the Is, and by the time a third signature shoe was planned, it wasn't clear how long Michael Jordan would stick with Nike.

The Air Jordan III saved the franchise. An instant hit with Jordan himself, the sneakers' popularity was secured when he won his second slam dunk contest while wearing them. They were the first in the Jordan line to feature a visible air unit in the sole, and the "Jumpman" emblem - a silhouette of Jordan dunking a basketball, which has become one of the most recognisable logos in the world. The shoe's designer, Tinker Hatfield, went on to create the next 12 pairs of Jordans. To this day, the III is one of the most sought-after shoes in the range, not least since Nike started reissuing all of the Jordans in the mid 90s. The "true blue" colourway remains a firm favourite, and when it was reissued to the baying masses in 2001, it sold out almost instantly. Since then, dedicated trainer spotters like myself have been scouring the sneaker blogs for rumours of its next reissue. True Blue was finally called back for release this year, and I was lucky enough to bag a pair of these supremely well-made shoes, with elephant print running from heal to toe. A great day.

The brand has continued to thrive and the interest in, and demand for, Nike Air Jordans shows no sign of waning. As Mars Blackmon (the infamous Spike Lee character from the early Jordan commercials) once asked, “Is it the shoes?” It most certainly is.

Do my balls look big in this (pair of jeans)?

I've had the title of this post earmarked since Manflet began (yeah, it's that good), but a weird thing happened when I sat down to write it. No, I didn't pass out from the pressure on my groin - quite the opposite in fact. Because, disappointingly, the jeans that had originally inspired the idea didn't seem that tight anymore. I'm pretty sure that my junk hasn't shrunk (I'm still the full inch that my wife assures me is more than adequate), and my waist definitely hasn't. And I haven't washed my jeans the wrong way - judging by the look and smell of them, they haven't been washed at all.

So if my jeans haven't changed, and I haven't (physically), then what has? I think, in terms of tight trousers, I've simply broadened my horizons - or narrowed my seams, if you prefer. My latest pair of jeans may even qualify as "jeggings"- leggings either made of denim or made to look like denim (for a fuller description consult that beacon of enlightenment, the Daily Mail, which can tell you if you're too old to wear them - but not if you're too male). Whatever you call them, they're OBSCENE. You can see everything - in front, my "Cyril Sneer" (Nicholas Downes, 2007); round back, my buttcheeks and, because they're low slung (my jeans, not my cheeks), even my asscrack.

Sounds horrible, doesn't it? So what's the appeal? Put simply, tight jeans make me feel like a rock star. And not in a Russell-Brand-comedy-is-the-new-rock-n'-roll-oh-so-hedonistic kind of way. No, like Iron Maiden circa 1982: ludicrous, slightly androgynous (girly from the back, all man in the front), and with my NWOBHMs on show. I'm rebuilding a collection of metal t-shirts, and now I just need some giant white high top trainers to complete the look. Because I like the attention - even if it just consists of a Big Mo-alike on the bus wondering aloud "I wanna know how he gets into them" (*shudders*).

But I want to know what the Manflet readership† thinks:
When it comes to men's jeans, how tight is too tight?

†That would be you, Gadsby.

Monday, 14 September 2009

Fashionably Hate: The shoe-and-jeans combo

Guest Manfleteer Neil Sanderson lays into the staple wardrobe of the City boy on his day off: the combination of scruffy jeans and posh shoes.

I am not the most fashionable guy, but I found a style I liked back in my late teens and have stuck to it ever since.

My main beef is that the fashion choice for men is dire. And as you get on in age it only gets harder to choose something that doesn’t scream out Velcro shoes and elastic waist trousers you can get from those awful mail order catalogues you get through the post box.

I have a crippling dislike of the shoe-and-jean combo sported by most men aged nineteen and above. They seem to believe it looks smart but I cannot see what could be more uneducated than deciding to wear a pair of polished black or brown leather shoes with a pair of jeans (normally stonewash) that are slightly frayed at the back. You end up looking like a tit. One that has spent most of his money on flash Italian loafers, and was left with only enough to purchase some already shredded jeans to go with them.

The men who commit this fashion faux pas inevitably seem to be self-assured arseholes who are convinced of their flashy looks and swan around pubs and clubs thinking they look just like a bloody Topshop nonce or something. It is almost as if they cannot get away from the uniform of starchy suits they wear to their City jobs and therefore cannot bear the idea of dressing comfortably. Maybe to put on trainers, jeans and a t-shirt is slumming it too much and should only ever be adopted if attending Bestival or any other posh-as-the-hills festival.

Now some of these people would argue that it is a sign of wealth to maintain a pair of shoes with all kinds of attire but should they venture to find a rather fetching pair of trainers, which can cost upward of a hundred pounds if they want something more elaborate. And I don’t mean the faceless hiking-style trainer worn by many a thin-lipped, high-brow intellectual, but a decent pair of sports brand trainers. Nike, Puma, Reebok, Adidas, Vans and many others have all collaborated many times with fashion powerhouses to design one-off trainers that are very expensive and hip to the Nth degree.

Cutting a long rant short I think it is high time men broke out a few more styles of their own and allowed themselves to be different, without advertising/peer pressure confining them to a certain look that projects success. A culture of fashion among men that is entirely without order may well be quite refreshing, and wandering down your nearest high street would open up a whole new avenue of choice.

But saying that, if it all went too far we could end up looking like clowns for hire.

Sunday, 6 September 2009

Gay for Mickey Rourke

You know that urban myth about the guy who bets his friends he can get a girl to touch his dick on the first date, and wins it by poking said member through the bottom of his popcorn box? Well that guy was Mickey Rourke, in his breakthrough performance as "Boogie" in 1982's Diner.

What's so charming about this scene, what makes you fall in love with young Mickey, is not the dicky trick itself - which isn't big or clever, and more than a bit gross - but the way in which he explains himself to his date: he was just trying to relieve the pressure from the massive hard-on she was giving him. In a way (although he leaves this unsaid), the whole thing's her fault, and besides, it's a pretty huge compliment.

With his cheeky grin, Rourke sells this line - and you completely forgive the girl for buying it. Hypnotised by his dirty-dog, come-to-bed eyes, you think you can make out the faintest hint of guyliner. This juxtaposition of masculine and feminine features - the boxer's nose (before the boxing caved it in), sitting between sky-high cheekbones and above bee-sting lips, all framed with a strong jaw brushed with stubble - meant that women wanted to be with him, and men wanted to be him. And then jack off in front of a mirror.

Time hasn't been kind to Mickey Rourke, and neither have violent sports, substance abuse or plastic surgery. You have to agree with his character in The Wrestler, that he's an "old, broken-down piece of meat", and if you were feeling cruel you'd suggest that the meat he most resembles is bacon - a Francis Bacon. But behind all that bruised flesh hides a heart throb, and one who now sports arms the size of tree trunks. Put a bag over your head, Mickey, and hold us...

Thursday, 3 September 2009

The Manflet Metal Round Up... 2009 so far

If I’d known when I was sullen teen just how socially acceptable metal was going to become, the narrow minded little misanthrope that I was probably would have hated it. But thankfully in the early 90s metal couldn’t have been less popular which makes it all the more remarkable that it’s now the most popular music form in the world.

Still, you wouldn’t know that this was the case given the confused looks you get from most people if you mention a band other than Metallica, Iron Maiden, Black Sabbath etc. So, with Manflet being a veritable fountain of knowledge on so many subjects, I thought I would put together a list of my favourite metal albums of 2009 so far, so that the curious can dip their toes into the otherwise confusing maelstrom that is the genre, the poorly educated can add a few obscurities to their shallow library of metal knowledge and the disagreeable twats can tell me I’ve got it completely wrong.

1.Kreator – Hordes of Chaos
Who would have thought that one of the best thrash albums ever would be released in 2009 by Kreator of all the bands in the world. Kreator were somewhere very near the top of the pile of the German thrash scene in the 80s but following the world’s betrayal of metal in the 90s they went quite crap. 2001’s Violent Revolution was promising but Christ alive, dead, then alive again, Hordes of Chaos is truly jaw dropping. It’s catchy as hell, despite using the minimum of melody and the vocals sound like Reign in Blood era Tom Araya but seriously pissed off. I can’t believe this album isn’t part of a really cool dream from which I’ll wake up and feel slightly depressed at how dull reality really can be at times.

2.Heaven & Hell - The Devil You Know
You might think you haven't heard of these, but technically you have as it's pretty much the Black Sabbath line-up from the 1980 and 1981 and 1992 albums Heaven and Hell, Mob Rules and Dehumanizer respectively with tiny metal god Ronnie James Dio (beloved of Jack Black) on vox. It’s a fact that few are willing to admit, but Ronnie is a better singer than Ozzy by miles even though he’s miniature and ancient – imagine if Bilbo had given in to the dark whims of the One Ring and you get the picture.

3.Crystal Viper - Metal Nation
What do you mean you've never heard of them? So what if they have less than 2000 listeners on Crystal Viper play metal truer than Manowar at Sunday Mass. Armoured skeletons on album cover - check, orchestral intro - check, song about Zombies - check and they're Polish and have a girl singer who occasionally goes by the name Leatherwitch. If Robert E Howard, author of the Conan the Barbarian stories, was alive today, Polish and into metal he would be in Crystal Viper.

4.My Dying Bride - For Lies I Sire
You haven't heard of these either? Okay, well I think you can guess from the band name what they're going to sound like. Now add violins and some keyboards and there you go. Probably too miserable for most, but they were/are one of my favourite bands ever so you'll have to live with it. I often refer to them as the Morissey of Doom/Death metal but to be honest that’s doing them disfavour as at their most morose they make Morrisey look like High School Musical.

5.The Gathering – The West Pole
Some less open-minded metal fans will decry me for including this release on a list titled ‘metal’, but I’m not doing some wanky post-metal roundup list because post- genres are just stupid. Anyway, this is like um... Okay there’s probably a whole book, nay a whole library to be written on the subject of whether music writing can ever come close to capturing the actual sounds of the music it tries to describe, especially in the case of bands who do their best to avoid categorisation. Put it this way, if you like moody, powerful, beautiful music with rich female vocals you might like this, if you don’t it’s because the descriptive terms I used are highly ambiguous and prone to idiosyncratic interpretation.

6.Madder Mortem – Eight Ways
Okay, I know you’re going to listen to this for ten seconds and say it sounds like Evanescence and call me a 16 year old emo faux goth but it totally doesn’t and I’m totally not. In a long tradition of metal bands that bring jazz-like influences into their music (well as far back as Atheist anyway) Madder Mortem do it in a distinctively Norwegian style, i.e. really fucking well with a disconcerting undercurrent of weirdness. By the way don’t be put off by the jazz thing, I’m not talking New Orleans or anything, more that it’s unpredictable and has some weird time signatures and stuff.

7.Revolting – Dreadful Pleasures
I couldn’t decide whether to include this or Denial’s ‘Catacombs of the Grotesque’ (oh the stress) as my favourite new old school style death metal album, this won simply because I happened to have listened to it more, such are the whims of fate. To be fair if you’re not a death metal fan you’ll fail to hear the sublime Entombed/Dismember/Grave/Carnage isms, you’ll just hear a god awful racket with a man bellowing in a Cookie Monster voice over the top. If you do like death metal you should love this because it’s just sooo death metal, no prog, no jaz, no posts, no acoustic passages, no keyboards, no singing etc.

8.Believer – Gabriel
Another thrash album makes the list and a bunch of Christians at that (James is not alone), who’d have thought it? It’s very easy to describe this as ‘progressive’ because it’s full of weird breaks and random passages of non-metal type sounds. But when it’s being less weird and very metal it’s a bloody heavy little bugger.

9.Wolf - Ravenous
Ah the Swedes, they just have a knack for making really good classic metal (see Grand Magus’ ‘Iron Will’ for further evidence). Maybe it’s because they don’t take themselves as seriously as the British that they feel comfortable playing this stuff or maybe it’s because they take themselves so seriously that the perfect replication of 80s metal has been transformed into an aesthetic pursuit that must be mastered. Anyway, there are bits of Maiden, Priest, Helloween and Running Wild (I had to mention a slightly obscure one) in here and some seriously catchy choruses, which lest face it is a must in the trad metal stakes.

10.Candlemass – Death Magic Doom
Back when doom metal was a dirt term Candlemass were being miserable and epic, and they continue to do so today and it’s made all the more epic because Rob Lowe of Solitude Aeturnus sings for them (did I lose you there?). 'Death Magic Doom' is also one of the best album titles ever and the song 'The Bleeding Baroness' is probably the catchiest thing they've ever written.

11.Amorphis – Skyforger
You thought I was going to stop at 10, eh, what do you think this is the Manflet RnB roundup, jeez. Anyway I absolutely love Amorphis and have done since I heard a track on an obscure metal compilation in 1992. So even though this album is not that different from their last two, that doesn’t mean that it isn’t a slice of pure genius, it just means it’s yet another slice of pure genius. As far as I’m concerned Amorphis are the last word in epic-ness. The (relatively) new singer does death growls and proper singing to perfection and the music is both heavy and melodic. As with all Amorphis albums the lyrics are based on the Finnish national myth cycle the Kalevala which makes for some interesting if not strictly intelligible song subjects.

Anyway that's it for now, tune back in in December for more. Actually come back before then December is ages away...

The day it all fell down

For a change, a Manflet man has decided to create something instead of deconstructing shit until it barely exists any more. He's called Neil Sanderson and he's written some prose. Enjoy.

As the day was drawing to a close I was beginning to feel slightly weak and drained. I felt otherworldly whilst being obviously grounded in this current world. I felt the uncontrollably human urge to intake some sugar to possibly level the wobbly feeling that had occupied my body. Having returned to my seat after retrieving a warm chocolatey beverage I sat and prepared to ease my suffering.

This is when it all went wrong. Reaching gingerly for my cup I already knew something bad was beginning. My grasp on the plastic container felt soft and childish and my movements felt like explosions under earth. As the cup melted into my fingers I could only observe as the brown sugary liquid floated over my stationery and my very being. I felt powerless to this torrent of wetness attaching to the very area where I sell my time. As the warm fluid dried its way into my clothing and notepad I began to shake with desperate horror of what this catastrophic event could symbolise. Whilst I sat there like a wasp’s wet dream I felt a sense of change had inadvertently thrust its way into my life and now I must facilitate these new emotions and let them take me where they will.

Thursday, 27 August 2009

Highway to... Heaven?

Life was tough as a teenage Christian metal fan. That is, a Christian who was also a fan of metal, not a fan of Christian metal - although they must've had it really hard, as the scene at the time pretty much consisted of Stryper, four gay ponies in spandex wasp outfits.

Not that I cared what anyone else thought of me (anyone who's seen my photo album can attest to that), especially not small-minded middle-class baptists. They could tut-tut all they liked at my Sunday best - Faith No More and Pantera t-shirts (a favourite all-over print featured both the words "Cowboys from Hell" and, tucked away on the side, subversive messages like "Sex"). But, like every good metal fan, I just loved to be hated.

But I did worry about what God thought. Say, when I settled down to pray, having spent the last hour screaming along to Nine Inch Nails: "God is dead /and no-one cares /if there is a Hell /I'll see you there". I used to wonder, if this really is the devil's music, and I have to give it up for Him, well... what if I can't? And so I've spent half my life convinced that I'm going to Hell, and not reveling in it the way a Slayer fan should.

Today's metal fans needn't worry - they can have their crucifix-shaped cake and eat it (although they should worry about indulging in such sacrilegious foodstuffs). Some of the best bands are God-botherers - Underoath, As I Lay Dying, Norma Jean - and they're as aggressive and uncompromising as the Satanists. In a scene still dominated by people who aren't keen on organised religion, being badge-wearing born-agains is the ultimate rebellion. A niche within a niche that defies all expectations, and guarantees that even your fellow Kerrang! readers will hate you? A metaller's dream.

Texan metalcore outfit Oh, Sleeper are leading the charge. Their debut "When I Am God" became my new favourite album long before I learned of its spritual undertones. (This might sound stoopid, given its title, but the use of religious imagery in metal is usually blasphemous.) The sing/scream style of Micah (good biblical name) Kinard gives voice to an inner turmoil, a spiritual struggle within, and makes the fairly hymn-book lyrics sound totally badass: "So when Hell is at the gates /who will stand and meet the waves /and take the fight to their graves /to end the dark campaign?" They're clever too - just check out Kinard's explanation of the broken pentagram symbol that adorns the cover of their new concept album "Son of the Morning" here. Smart.

Not so smart is Brian "Head" Welch. He dropped out of nu metal goons Korn to do a whole shitload of crystal meth, and then dropped the drugs for God. His music is a straight splicing of his former band and Marilyn Manson, his lyrics the worst kind of "walk in my shoes" testimonial, and his only real gift to the world is this unintentionally hilarious interview (taster: "So in my head I was like, 'OK, I'm going to accept Christ in front of everybody right now and I'm gonna go home and snort drugs until I don't wanna do 'em anymore'... ")

Both Welch and Oh, Sleeper headlined Tomfest 2009, the only festival I seriously considered this year. But I only found out about it the day before it started, and flights to Washington state, US, were on the pricey side. The line-up featured over 130 of the brightest and best underground metal acts (and "Head"), and they were all Christians. No doubt it would've been hard to get a drink and I would've had to take my own laughing gas, but even so, I'm sure it would've kicked Ozzfest and the Warped tours asses (but without using the a-word).

So does that mean you can now worship both God and heavy metal? Hell yeah!

Thursday, 6 August 2009

Ambition: The Drive of your Wife

Anyone who knows me knows that my wife wears the trousers in our relationship - while I sit around in my pants.

So today, while she was on a conference call with the director of a multi-national corporation, I was leafing through some magazines and contemplating me/her (and by extension men/women) and our differing ambitions. In my pants.

First up: GQ, which I felt like a fraud even buying, endowed as it is with desires that I couldn't dream of hoping of aspiring to. However, the cover story titled "Lie. Cheat. Steal: Why we'll do anything to get to the top" had a profound effect on me, albeit in a different way to most of the urban sophisticats who read it. The message I took away from this "guide to ambition" was a quote from the associate editor's dad: "you cannot fake hunger".

It's obvious, but also liberating - because, while I've been aware of my lack of ambition for years, I've never allowed myself to be... OK with it. I've felt like the underdog in the ultimate dork-umentary The King of Kong, who sets out to beat a Donkey Kong high score that had remained uncontested for over 20 years. His wife says, "he was smart, he was an athlete, he was talented - and for whatever reason he could never get those to fit." Sure, I'm no athlete, but I too am lacking something - focus, self-belief, the readiness to risk failure... some essential component of the drive to succeed.

So I'm destined to play second-fiddle to a smart, talented woman who has way more drive than me. And that's OK too. The G2 in today's Guardian features excerpts of interviews from Harper's Bazaar with sickeningly successful power couples, but ones in which the woman is the star. The other halves of the likes of Helen Mirren and Vivienne Westwood pay tributes like "the thing that turns me on... is talent", "she has a remarkable capacity for focus... she knows what she wants, and insists on making progress" and (bless you, David Bailey), "shit, there's something special about this one". Of course, all the women happen to be beautiful - depending on how you feel about wor Viv or civil rights campaigner Shami Chakrabarti (good hair for her pixie-like frame, but still...). But what attracted these men, who are no slouches themselves, to these women is their talent and ambition - precisely the kind of attributes that would make insecure buffoons like Silvio Berlusconi shit their tiny, tiger-print pants.

Hmmmm, back to pants. I, for one, am going to sit right here in my drawers and bask in my own laziness, and the reflected glow of the most talented, driven, destined-for-greatness woman in the world. And you all thought I was gay...

[Illustration: when I can be bothered]

Friday, 24 July 2009

Summer Hatin'

We might have but a small readership, I think they like to call it 'niche' in marketing, and as much as I don't want to lose the few readers we have, I have little doubt that this post is going to be very, very unpopular, yes even less popular than my other ones.

As you might have guessed from the title, summer and I don't exactly see eye to eye. While the majority of people complain that British summers are patchy and short-lived, I couldn't be happier with the situation. Nothing makes me smile like the sight of a storm cloud blighting an otherwise empty blue sky in the middle of July sending waves of panic across the scantily clad denizens of London.

But, before you accuse me of being a 'miserable fucking shit', let me explain.

I am, by all accounts, shockingly pale. On a recent holiday I was referred to by a friend as 'Count Dracula', I also managed to immolate my leg despite spending most of my time hiding beneath one of those flimsy looking umbrella things. Nevertheless, I ended the holiday looking slightly less undead, with a healthy glow to my cheeks and about seventy new freckles on my arms, so if there was a lesson to be learned from this it's that the sun can make even me look a tad jollier and healthier as long as I avoid third degree burns. So my stupid fair skin is not the reason I hate summer.

Another reason why I could hate summer would be public transport, particularly the mobile furnace better known as the Tube. For many people a typical morning begins by waiting on a platform for ten minutes because someone pulled the emergency alarm because they were on the verge of passing out through heat exhaustion. This means that by the time the next tube actually arrives, the platform is so busy that there is a three deep row in front of the yellow line and even though there’s clearly not enough room for a small hamster to squeeze on, some ovetly aggressive commuter will hurl themselves into the impenetrable wall of bodies using weight, momentum and stupidity alone to secure a place in the now completely airless carriage increasing the chance that somebody else will pull the emergency alarm by 50000000%. But sweating out half my body weight on the way to work is not the real reason I hate summer.

It’s no coincidence that the genuine villains of summertime public transport abuse are people, they’re the ones pulling emergency alarms, pushing their way onto the tube and generally pissing me off. Yes, the real reason I hate summer is the people.

The minute the sun pokes its unfamiliar face from behind our comfortably cloudy skies people turn into moronic drones incapable of demonstrating anything resembling free will. First up, why does everybody, and I mean literally everybody, go to the park? Parks were designed as little bits of nature in the city, places people could go to escape all the ills of urban life, including the millions of people they would inevitably encounter on a daily basis.

How is it possible to relax in an approximation of bucolic splendour when there are so many people you can’t see the grass and somebody is blasting ragga out from their shitty car stereo? On days like this I advise going to Oxford Street to take the air, it’s much fucking quieter for a start.

On sunny days what we need is a ticket system that every household has to abide by. So if you’re given a blue ticket you can go out on sunny days on Saturday, Tuesday and Thursday and if you have a red ticket you can go out on sunny days on Sunday, Wednesday and Friday. Nobody is allowed out on Monday.

Secondly, and this is particularly galling, is the whole inner city sunbathing thing. I’ll freely admit that during summer I become the worst kind of British prude, but dear god people, put some fucking clothes on. The other day in the cute little park next to the Museum of fricking Childhood, there was a topless, yes TOPLESS, girl sunbathing and next to her a girl in a bikini that barely covered the most intimate elements of her private parts. Then there was the usual sea of flabby white men in khaki shorts who are invariably going to spend the night writhing in pink-fleshed agony when their sunburn kicks in.

If parks are no longer the urbanites retreat they once were they should at least be the kinds of places where kids can throw things at each other, homeless people can quietly drink themselves into oblivion and nice middle class people can pretend they’re doing something wholesome, not hotbeds of soft porn.

Basically if you want me to enjoy summer, you’re going to have to stay in and keep your clothes on.

Friday, 17 July 2009

Gay for Cedric Bixler-Zavala (or: De-clothed in the Homo-torium)

OK, so rock has always flirted with the homoerotic, with prog the biggest sausage-fest of the lot. All that self-gratification - wanking off your instrument for no one's pleasure but your own, while a sweaty, writhing mass of men look on longingly...

Well, even with all the latent gayness at the Mars Volta gig at Somerset House this week, my subconscious managed to take things too far. About four minutes into a seven minute instrumental psyche-out, I shut my eyes for a moment. And what should pop into my mind but an image of - what's that? Lead singer Cedric Bixler-Zavala... doing... me?

Never mind that he looked like Gary Sinise with Anita Dobson's hair, or that he was wearing a shirt that a dart player would be proud off - but probably couldn't fit an arm into - or that my idea of sex with him was face to face (were we just rubbing our bits together?) and looked a bit like jazz dancing; that split-second between me and the Texican troubadour was totally freakaay. Man. 

Tuesday, 14 July 2009

Mike Tyson: The Saddest Man on the Planet. Part 3
Read Part 1.
Read Part 2.

The other documentary I came across was Fox’s Beyond the Glory – Mike Tyson.  Narrated by Ice T, the programme opens with Tyson’s loss to Lennox Lewis (a fight that broke the box-office record, grossing $104m), claiming that this was the moment Tyson “hit rock bottom”.   It includes footage from throughout his career and interviews with Tyson.  It doesn’t take long to realise that the Lennox Lewis fight was not the moment Tyson hit “rock bottom” he was already there. 

Teddy Atlas, one of Tyson’s original trainers describes Tyson as a young man who had amazing talent, but was emotionally unstable.  This is illustrated by footage of a young Tyson crying before his first bout at the Olympic games, seeking reassurance from Atlas who has to console him.  Tyson went on to win the fight in eight seconds, recording the fastest ever knockout at the Olympic games. 

The interview with Atlas goes on to describe a darker truth, that Tyson was accused of numerous allegations of inappropriate behaviour towards females when at school.  Atlas claimed that Cus D ’Amato used the promise that Tyson would one day make the area famous as a way to get the school governors not to take action.   With the allegations brushed under the carpet, Mike was taken out of school with the promise of home tutoring, something that never happened.  Atlas could see that Mike needed more discipline in his life, but Cus was getting old and wanted one last chance at training a world champion, so neglected this in pursuit of his dream.  Atlas didn’t remain in the Tyson camp long after an incident in which Tyson groped Atlas’ 11-year-old niece’s bum.  Atlas confronted Cus about the incident, but no action was taken and the two parted company.  

The man once called Iron Mike, no longer seemed indestructible.  Overweight and forlorn Tyson tells the interviewer that he has no friends, that people only want to use him, “they don’t love me, it’s all this [gestures to his house], it’s easy to fall in love with all this money”.  He claims that he’s a monster as that is how people view him that boxing had made him and consumed him. 

Whilst Tyson admits that his prison sentence broke him as a man, he contradicts this by saying he never wanted to leave, that he felt comfortable in prison.  Tyson is so angry at the world; the bullies from his youth; his ex-wife, Robin Givens; Don King and of course Denise Washington.  As the title of the documentary, “Beyond the Glory” suggests, this one hour and thirty minute documentary does exactly just that, placing the spotlight on his violent verbal outbursts, dirty tactics in the ring (including the ear biting incident), vulgar views on women, drug abuse and mental health.  It’s hard to see why Tyson agreed to this being made, I can only assume for the money. 

At the end of the documentary I’m left feeling uneasy by how blindly I had followed and supported him throughout and after his career, but equally sad for the Tyson that was put in front of me.  A Tyson who has no love in his life, “I have no chance to love anyone or care for anybody because I was so stuck in the past. The past is a glorious moment, isn’t it?”

I still believe that Tyson was a great fighter who should have had it all.  Despite all the evidence presented to me, it’s hard to see where it all went wrong.  This perplexes me as much as it does Tyson himself, as revealed in an emotional closing address to camera: “Why can’t I have what I want? I worked hard for it.  I sweated for it.  I didn’t steal it.  I bled in the gym for it.  I beat my body up and allowed people to beat me up. Why shouldn’t I have it all?”

Tuesday, 7 July 2009

Who's Sad?

Why am I crying at Michael Jackson's memorial service?

I mean, apart from the obvious - the death of an extraordinary man, a family's loss, the fact that one of my cats just scratched me...

I thought I was above - opposed to - these public outpourings of grief. When Princess Diana died, I was the guy reminding people that she was actually a bit of a slut who needed her hair sorting out. When Our Jade died, I was the guy pointing out that she was at best a moron, at worst a racist (but I didn't mention her hair). Yes, I was that guy.

But this is different. For one thing, Michael Jackson actually did something. There's no point me adding to the column inches/bandwidth by going over that again... but one of my earliest memories is of sitting in the dining room with my family and listening to Thriller and Off The Wall. Again and again and again.

Wrap up a lifetime of moments like that in a funeral service with a song from Stevie Wonder and a eulogy from Magic Johnson and you get me right now - a wreck. And no amount of Mariah Carey or on-screen messages telling me the Great British Foreign Holiday will be on some other time, or Paul Gambaccini saying things like "Usher has caressed the mother", can change that.

I hope you get to read this post before one of the hard, unsentimental bastards who also make up Manflet delete it (or me, when I come to my senses).

RIP MJ xoxo

Sunday, 21 June 2009

Western Philosophy

For years, I've resisted the seemingly natural, universal human emotion that is Hating Kanye West.

Sure, he's arrogant, even more so than other rappers - but, I figured, with good reason. While he's not the genius he clearly thinks he is, he is still capable of genius. Last year's 808s and Heartbreaks, for example, is not only one of the most emotional and experimental hip hop albums, but one of the most affecting works of pop ever. Even my parents love everything he does (apart from "the language"), so *hearting* the man my mum calls "Kanny" is a family affair.

Even if I could find it in me to hate Yeezy, it would be a pointless pursuit. As he explains in his book Thank You And You're Welcome, "I would rather be hated for who I am than loved for who I'm not". And "love your haters - they're you're biggest fans".

But this book could mark a turning point in my feelings towards West. According to him, this "entertaining volume of 'Kanye-isms' - the creative, humorous and insightful philosophies used in creating my path to success... captures the same wit, playful irony, and piercing insight found abundant in my lyrics". Well, if you usually turn to Dr Phil or Tyra Banks for your piercing insight, there's every chance that these 50-odd pages of trite self-help slogans could be your path to enlightenment. The only thing stopping the rest of us free thinking, sentient beings from ramming this book up the author's ass is the fear that it's so unsubstantial that he wouldn't even feel it.

You can "read" sample pages here or even buy a copy from Kanye's website, if "believe in your flyness... conquer your shyness" sounds like the kind of homespun homeboy philosophy you can embrace, so I'll focus on what I found to be the most disappointing spread, entitled "Embrace your flaws". Here West recounts the story of having eight teeth removed and braces fitted as a child, to illustrate the point that "I don't believe in accepting a changeable condition... sometimes it takes a little polishing to truly shine". One wonders whether his mum, whom the book is dedicated to, was thinking exactly the same kind of bullshit while she was wheeled into the cosmetic surgery operating theatre where she died.

Kanye's feelings of guilt and culpability about paying for the combined breast reduction and tummy tuck that killed his mum are well documented. In fact, it is his exploration of these emotions on ...Heartbreak that made it a masterpiece, and songs like Pinnocchio Story that led me to believe that the artist had completely re-evaluated his life: "There is no Gucci I can buy/There is no Louis Vitton to put on/There is no YSL they could sell/To get my heart out of this hell/And my mind out of this jail". But it seems that silver-lining benefits like self-awareness, sensitivity and an awareness of reality were temporary and short-lived.

After all (page 21), "You should be happy right?"

Saturday, 13 June 2009

Mike Tyson: The Saddest Man on the Planet. Part 2

Read Part 1.

It doesn’t take long for me to remember why Tyson was an easy character to like when he first entered boxing. Despite growing up in a rough neighbourhood and being involved with crime, just as I did, many people loved the rag-to-riches story of Tyson. Early footage of Tyson shows a man who is supremely confident that one day he will be champion of the world, and yet is softly spoken and a little in awe of the celebrity status he has earned.

At the height of his career, Tyson was a household name the world over. In his first year of being a professional boxer he had the impressive win record of 15-0. Having become the undisputed heavyweight champion on the world in 1987, many pundits predicted that he would go on to break all the record books, including Rocky Marciano’s record of 49 wins and no losses.

Having exhausted the many Tyson knockout video montages on YouTube, I find that the loss to Buster Douglas, the rape conviction and post jail decline have all been eroded from my mind and Tyson is once again my hero. Despite being 29 now, there was something electric about Tyson in his youth. I guess this is partly as it doesn’t seem real, just like when I was kid: Iron Mike Tyson, a small heavyweight who would inject fear into opponents, despite many of them being much bigger than him; Kid Dynamite, a hard hitting heavyweight who would destroy fighters in minutes, even seconds.

As an adult looking back it doesn’t seem real for different reasons. For a start it was the late 80s and explosion of consumerism, Tyson advertised cereal and trainers, and he even had his own video game. Dressed in fur coats, owning countless cars, Tyson had the appearance more of a hip-hop star than a professional athlete. Still hungry for more, I started to search the net for interview or television snippets.

It is here I find the most enlightening footage, a rude-awakening from my journey down memory lane. The Tale of Tyson Douglas – HBO’s half hour documentary on Tyson’s first professional loss, which left me heartbroken as a kid. Buster Douglas was only a warm-up fight before the highly anticipated Tyson/Holyfield fight. There was only one bookmaker giving odds on the fight and they had Douglas at 42-1 to win. The result of this fight sent shockwaves around the world, even threatening to eclipse the news of Nelson Mandela being freed after 27 years in prison.

Up until that moment I still believed the propaganda of Don King post fight. King appealed against the decision, claiming that when Tyson knocked Douglas down in the eighth round, the referee took a long count. Some news channels would back this up, having a timer in the corner, over-lapping the knockdown to show how long Douglas was on the canvas for – 12 seconds. Whilst the count was long, King’s appeal was rejected, with the Board of Boxing ruling that the referee’s decision was final. For the eighteen plus years, I always thought Tyson was cheated that night in Tokyo, and it was the start of his decline.

However, the documentary presented evidence that despite the count being long, the result was the right one. Firstly, no one in the Tyson camp, including the champion himself, was prepared for the fight. It was rumoured that Tyson hadn’t trained for the fight, but was instead living-it-up in Tokyo. Having parted company with trainer Kevin Rooney, the last remaining connection to the old training camp set up by Cus D’Amato, his new team were ill prepared – when Tyson got cut above the right eye, not only was there no cut-man in the corner, but no end swell, a basic piece of equipment used to stop the swelling of cuts. The other side of story is that Buster Douglas fought the best fight of his life that night. In a tearful post-fight interview, Douglas dedicated the win to his mother, who had passed away a few weeks earlier, saying it was she who gave him the strength and determination to beat Tyson.

Read Part 3.

Wednesday, 27 May 2009

If You Read One Book This Summer...

...You're an absolute fucking moron. Why would anybody read just one book? Summer is, what, three months long and all you can manage is one measly 350 page novel? And why summer? You never see a promo for a book saying 'if you only read one book this autumn, make sure it's...'. Is reading a book an activity exclusive to sitting on your lazy lard ass in the sun or for taking your mind off just how shit Easyjet planes are whilst travelling to some sleazy Spanish resort? Is that what books have become?

Think about it this way, the sheer volume of hours a writer puts into their work means that the book is quite possibly the greatest example of individual human effort congealed into a physical form of any man-made object, meaning that even the worst book in the world is worth substantially more than the best song or the greatest film, yet it is socially acceptable to read only one book per season. Books might not be as social as the internet or as easy on the eye as films, but they are too good to be treated like this.

I blame two things for the devaluation of books: 1) celebrity authors, especially ghost written ones. If Katie Price can churn out three autobiographies, four novels and a series of children's books by the tender age of 31 no wonder the public think writing is piece of piss. And 2) daily freesheets. I don't quite know where to start with this phenomenon. I could get all self-righteous about the waste of natural resources, I could complain about the so called news these things peddle, I could rail at the advertisers who pay for the damn things by explaining to them that nobody takes a blind bit of notice of their ads, but ultimatley I lay the blame at the feet of the people of London. Why is it that if they haven't got a tatty copy of The Metro in their hands they frantically scour the carriage for one? What exactly is it that they think they're missing, apart from last night's news? As if the content wasn't bad enough by itself, there's an even darker side to the free-sheet. Does anybody remember that article on the BBC website about a bunch of scientists from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine who went about checking for bits of crap on commuter's hands? And does anybody remember just how much crap they found on people's hands? If you don't, the figure was that more than one in four commuters have traces of faeces on their hands. Now while you're smuggly reading your copy of the London Lite think about how many people read it before you. From observation I'd argue that by 8.30am at least four people will have read any given copy of a freesheet, which means that, yes, you definitely have somebody else's crap on your hands. Ponder that one as you chew on your nails. So not only are the freesheets full of crap, they're also covered in it (I've been waiting to do that joke, like, forever).

Okay, so back to books. How do we solve the problem of our literature reluctant population?
Well, here's my ingenious list of solutions:
  • People on public transport who are reading books should get priority seats, if you're going to listen to your iPod you can damn well do it standing up.
  • Celebrity authors should be forced to take public exams so we know just how illiterate they really are.
  • Amazon should reduce the price of P&P for books bought from their sellers (book= £0.01p, P&P = +275%).
  • Everybody should have a reading week twice a year, not just students.
  • WoW players shouldn't be allowed to skip the quest text.
  • Comics should count as books.
  • Men with masculinity issues should be forced to read Jane Austen's back catalogue before reading anything by Andy McNabb or Rubert Ludlum.
  • Journalists should regularly admit they need to work on their writing skills, bloggers should do this even more often*.
So there you go, one major social problem neatly re-classified as fixed. Any further additions to this list are more than welcome.

* I so need to work on my writing skills.