I apologise in advance for this month’s post being heavy on the films and light on the books. For both of these things, I blame Emirates: it’s a consequence of the breadth of their in-flight movie selection, and the fact that I left my copy of Nasty Women on my flight to Dubai.
After a 2016 in which I barely read at all, I’d been having such a good run at making time for books – even if just on the Kindle app on my phone – until, this month, I abruptly stopped. I remember stretching out on my sister’s sofa, the four-hour lag meaning that sleep would be beyond me for at least another couple of hours, flicking through the extensive library on my Kindle and none of it appealing. I ended up killing half an hour with the Chat magazine I’d grabbed for MC in Tesco before I left (cover story: THE POO OF SHAME).
It’s easy to get into lulls like that, but I want to do my best to avoid them. I bookmark so many blog posts and articles for later reading that I could lie awake until 3am every single night catching up in the blue light of my iPhone screen (I lost an hour and a half on Saturday night, for example, in a Wikipedia hole prompted by a Buzzfeed list of some of the creepiest pages). But some stories can only be told in books, and if I want to start building some of my own it’s only right that I spend time getting lost in other people’s.
Anyway, I’ve finished one book for every day in April so far (as of, um, the 2nd) so hopefully that’s my lull good and done.
Where You’re Meant to Be (2015): In which Aidan Moffat (of Arab Strap fame) sets out on a cross-country roadtrip to take a relatively light-hearted look at traditional Scottish music – but gets more than he bargained for, when he meets and butts heads with folk legend Sheila Stewart. No knowledge of the genre is required for you to laugh and cry your way through this one. ****
Bridget Jones’ Baby (2016): Why did nobody tell me Ed Sheeran was in this? The first – but not the worst – of my in-flight movie choices required a post-watch palate cleanser in the form of the original, to remind me why I was supposed to care about any of these people. Other than Emma Thompson at her dry best as the midwife, anyway. **
Beauty and the Beast (2017): Disney’s latest live-action remake – this time of my favourite of its animated classics – exceeded expectations, with Emma Watson’s quick-witted, feminist heroine an absolute joy (I actually preferred her not-quite-perfect singing voice, as it made the best Disney heroine even more relatable). I actually watched the original on the flight over, which meant I got a particular kick out of the filmmakers’ efforts to cross off its unanswered questions. Well, how DID you think Belle got the Beast onto her horse? *****
Jackie (2016): I had no intention of ever seeing this movie based, I’m ashamed to say, on Natalie Portman’s accent in the trailer – even if it was supposedly bang-on. But then I read this really powerful piece about contemporary critical treatment of Portman (who, being exactly one year older than me, is an actress I’ve always been fond of) and I figured I had nothing to lose picking it as one of my in-flight movie selections. It’s not a “fun” film by any stretch of the imagination but Portman’s powerful, dignified portrayal of a grieving young widow/woman in complete control of her media image is absolutely masterful. ****
The Edge of Seventeen (2016): I could watch coming-of-age comedy dramas about misfit teenage girls all day every day… ****
A Street Cat Named Bob (2016): …also films about ginger cats. To be honest, Bob (the real Bob, of the books of the same name) is such a beautiful cat – and is in almost every frame, after the first ten minutes – that this could have been the biggest pile of garbage and I would have watched it anyway. ***
Arrival (2016): This, on the other hand, was the biggest pile of garbage. I wanted an immersive science fiction story with a strong female lead; I got one woman and her magical uterus saves the world by talking to aliens and can also magically see through time? I passed up the chance to see Independence Day: Resurrection for this?! *
One Crazy Summer (1986): This month, Stringer got it into his head to make me watch a specific sub-set of 80s movies sent up in an episode of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia – which, themselves, appeared to be send-ups? Had I watched this drunk, I probably would have thought it the greatest movie ever – but I watched it sober, and thought that about the scene where Bobcat gets trapped in the Godzilla suit. ***
Trevor Noah: Afraid of the Dark (2017, Netflix): Specifically, the bit about why his first trip to Scotland caused The Daily Show presenter to re-think the case for Idris Elba as the next James Bond. ****
The Replacement (2017, BBC1): I shouldn’t have enjoyed this three-part psychological thriller about an architect who has suspicions about the motives of her maternity leave cover, taken as it was from my least favourite genre: Other Women Are Not To Be Trusted. Redeemed itself by the end, when it revealed its actual theme to be Men Are The Fucking Worst, Though. ***
Prime Suspect 1973 (2017, ITV1): Another show I shouldn’t really be hooked on, both because I’ve never seen the Helen Mirren original and also because it’s objectively bloody awful. The clanging period-appropriate musical cues! The scene-setting disbelief that a London copper hasn’t been following the Watergate revelations! Sam Reid’s single facial expression, even in the throes of passion! Will I be watching the final episode on Thursday? Abso-bloody-lutely. **
Dear Reader, Day Fever: It was really on the strength of a single song (“Tie Me To The Ground”) that I asked to interview Cherilyn MacNeill around the release of this album – but that interview, and MacNeill’s wonderful way with words, was all I needed to fall in love with the rest of it. Plus, magenta-coloured vinyl, guys. I am a child. ****
Song, By Toad Split 12″ Vol 6: Described by me in a recent Scots Magazine new music column as “a record whose every creak and sigh will be best enjoyed on vinyl”, I pretty much guaranteed I had to purchase a copy of these lo-fi Edinburgh recordings by some of the best acoustic songwriters from both Scotland and the US. The death of Willard Grant Conspiracy’s Robert Fisher a few weeks before the release made it even more poignant. ****
CHUMP: “At Least We Got a Song Out of It”: Glasgow three-piece deliver the dreamiest of “fuck yous” on this perfect single, the first release since – god, 2015? – on Gerry Loves Records. Another instant buy. Listen and swoon.
Jeff Zentner, The Serpent King (2016): I got to know Tennessee-based Zentner in his previous folk musician guise way back in the early days of this blog. His debut YA novel draws from the same Southern gothic influences, and – once you get used to a certain manic pixie dreaminess about one of his trio of memorable characters – will break your heart, then put it back together again. ****
Beauty writer Sali Hughes on the power of red lipstick (“non-conformity in a tube”); and this article on LiveJournal and the “creation of self-as-novel” – something I could probably write something of my own about, one of these days.
Pitchfork’s Jayson Greene spends the day with Phil Evelrum of Mount Eerie, and gets a heartbreaking inside look at the songwriter’s grief given voice on new album A Crow Looked At Me. I have the album but this, and the GoldFlakePaint review, is about as close as I have gotten to actually listening to it so far: I’m not sure I will ever be ready.
Laura Marling, Ethan Johns, O2 ABC, Glasgow, 10th March: Four stars from me in the Herald (not online for some reason) for an intimate performance on the day that captivating new album Semper Femina was released on the world. I’ve drifted from Marling’s music in recent years, but the new one – and “Wild Fire” specifically – is calling me back.
McGaffigan’s Paddy’s Day Party, Dubai Media City Ampitheatre, 17th March: Inoffensive Irish singer-songwriter Gavin James covered some Springsteen, and I danced like my life depended on it because: Dubai. Still not convinced that Walking On Cars actually exist though.
BBC6 Music Festival: The Shins, Grandaddy, O2 Academy, Glasgow: I lobbied so hard to review this one for The Herald, and then woke up the morning of remembering I’d seen them both in their heyday. I’ll tell you what, though: if you’ve forgotten how good those early Shins albums were, go back and listen to them.
- Bluebird Tea Co.’s chocolate digestive tea blend;
- getting to shake Ethan Johns’ hand and thanking him for the part he played in bringing my favourite album into the world;
- my new Olympus PEN E-PL7 – yes, I’m now one of those… but it captured my Dubai trip and my nephew’s first birthday beautifully so I don’t care;
- Jason Isbell and Amanda Shires (aka The Couple In Which I Am Most Emotionally Invested Even Though Only One of Them Follows Me on Twitter) return to the Death, Sex and Money podcast to take listener calls – including one with a woman who credits Southeastern for helping her to rebuild a relationship with her alcoholic father;
- lovely, cooling AloeClear lotion, helping to make the Great Pre-Holiday De-Fuzz a little more comfortable.
BONUS: MOST ANNOYING THING MY CAT ATE THIS MONTH:
The pink SkullCandy headphones you saw on my last post. Which serves me right for leaving them out – it’s not like she doesn’t have form – but was still incredibly annoying.
What did you love in March?