culture consumption: the greatest show-month;

I began my April on a plane to Dubai so that I could surprise my sister for her birthday, and ended it celebrating my best friend’s marriage at Gretna Green. It’s really hard to imagine a better month.

Cheers to the wedding of the year!

For me, April really was all about joy: spreading it, witnessing it, and rediscovering what brings me it. For all my big words about living more enthusiastically this year I’ve found myself in a bit of a rut, work-wise and writing-wise, these past few months: it seems I pruned back some commitments in the name of self-care a little bit too enthusiastically at the same time as paying arts journalism work became increasingly more difficult to come by. You know how I said I need a fair bit of stress to function? Well, the opposite is also true: when I’m not battling 15 different deadlines I basically transform into a sloth. The less I do, the more tired I get – and then, when I do do stuff? It knocks me out for days.

And then, a couple of weeks ago, my old Herald Arts buddy Jonathan dragged me out to a midweek gig, and I had such a good time I forgot I ever saw the attraction in staying home.

So I’ve started, tentatively, saying yes to things again. I’m writing this at the end of the first May bank holiday weekend (sure, Monday freelancers don’t get bank holidays in the traditional sense, but you know when I mean) and I have had the best few days. A steak dinner at my dad’s. The sort of drunken night out that makes you question your life choices the next morning, followed by an iced latte coffee date with my mum. An ice cream sundae with Bobby. And, in between, I filed my thirtieth column with The Scots Magazine.

And I went to a gig last week (it would have been two, but I’m still fumbling my way into a new sense of “balance” and I ended up at home nursing a migraine instead). I’m going to a gig this week, too. And I’m rediscovering the kind of writing that I’ve always been best at, even if falling arts budgets mean it by necessity doesn’t make for much of a living.

 

And you still get these mini reviews too, because I am just the best to you.

WATCHING (FILM):

Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017): …did I put the hyphen in the right place? So, I missed this when it first came out, the MCU’s introduction of Tom Holland’s take on teenaged Peter Parker not being sufficient to override my complete apathy towards the earlier Spidey movies. So I appreciate that this may not be the hottest take, but: this one was Marvel does Trump’s America, right? With Michael Keating as a sort of sympathetic everyman Big Bad? Cool. Fun fact: Stringer stayed up late watching this again the night before I went to Dubai, so I promised him I’d finish it on the plane. He told me to keep an eye out for the Captain America high school PSAs. Which were magnificent. But more on that later… ****

The Greatest Showman (2017): Something else joyful happened to me in April: I saw what it turns out is my all-time favourite film. Three times.

Guys, I know PT Barnum was a pretty appalling human being. But it turns out that this big budget musical is actually a completely fictional work about a fictional person, who happens to share the name and eventual occupation of a historical figure who was a pretty appalling human being! (If your objection to the film is based on its being a big budget musical cheesefest, and your being above that sort of thing, well I spent five days singing the songs with my little sister who I barely ever get to see and also fuck you). It’s also, in its fiction, one of the loveliest portrayals of a loving marriage I’ve ever watched, and you all know how much I’m here for those grown-up love stories. All I’m saying it, three viewings in and I’m still crying at the same three beats. But if you’ve made up your mind, I’m not going to convince you otherwise so go watch the absolutely brilliant Honest Trailer instead. *****

My own grown-up love story: Lis, Jay and an origami unicorn at Jehane's wedding

Ingrid Goes West (2017): The wonderful Aubrey Plaza plays a woman in recovery from an unspecified mental health condition who spends her inheritance from her mother’s recent death moving across the country to befriend an Instagram influencer played by Elizabeth Olsen by any means necessary. This cinematic equivalent of a that-escalated-quickly meme had been on my to-watch list for ages, but I can’t decide if it was darkly comic or just… fucking dark. It whiled away a couple of hours on a flight well enough though. ***

Ready Player One (2018): So this was about as close to the source material as The Greatest Showman was to the life and times of PT Barnum – but it was nice to see Art3mis get a back story and, um, some agency? Ernest Cline and co-writer Zak Penn excised some of my favourite parts of the book in their adaptation for the screen, but their choices weren’t all bad: I can imagine Steven Spielberg looking at some original draft of the script and going “contemporary audiences aren’t going to sit through 40 minutes of Rush bootlegs until you get to the point, Ernie”. Engaging enough, no need to see again. **

A Quiet Place (2018): Idk guys, if your automatic response to horror movies is running sarcastic commentary, you maybe won’t get a lot out of this? I get why your pals are all raving about it, I really do, but the whole thing left me either pissed off (for what I guess is a spoiler of a reason?) or just pretty unmoved. A great achievement by John Krasinski as co-writer and director though: there’s one creepy shot, in the cornfield, in particular that still haunts me. ***

Avengers: Infinity War (2018): Of the many, many Avengers-related hot takes I have consumed over the past week and a half, the New Yorker’s review – which described Infinity War as a two and a half hour trailer for every other Marvel movie – is among my favourites. Like, what did you think you were going to see, dude? I suppose I get it in a sense, because unlike my other favourite MCU movies it doesn’t really stand well on its own for me – once you’ve experienced That Ending once, you’ll never be able to again, you know? But I liked it well enough, even if I have no need to see it again. ***

I would, however, happily sit through another two and a half hours of Steve Rogers’ Beard.

Bearded Steve Rogers is the best Steve Rogers

The Rachel Divide (2018): If you’re wondering whether Rachel Dolezal, the former NAACP Spokane president who, in 2015, was “outed” as having falsely portrayed herself as a black woman, has developed any self-awareness in her time out of the public eye, Laura Brownson’s new Netflix documentary firmly answers that question in the negative. While I would love to see the documentary a woman of colour would have made, Brownson did well to portray in startling, painful detail the impact her subject matter’s… deception? delusion? has had on her sons, her sister and her ex-NAACP colleagues in particular. Worth a watch. ***

WATCHING (TV):

Big Little Lies: A beautifully-made, all-star, seven-part argument for why every woman needs a life outside of her home, which I binge-watched across two Emirates flights this month. A murder mystery, or so we are led to believe, set in a seemingly idyllic California community where everybody knows – and has an opinion on – your business, unless that business is whether your husband is kicking the crap out of you on the reg. Clearly a piece of culture that was Not Made For Me, but as women who have each other’s backs is 100% my favourite genre I showed up anyway – plus, the difficult scenes were sensitively portrayed and I found the conclusion really satisfying. ***

Wild Wild Country (Netflix): Meanwhile, the latest Netflix documentary to get everybody talking was definitely made for me because I fucking love cults, and lost-to-time true stories of the relatively recent past, and Complicated Female Characters along the lines of the unapologetic, larger-than-life Ma Anand Sheela. I’m now working my way through the Oregonian’s original 20-part series about the Rajneeshees’ modern-day Shangri-La in the Oregon countryside, which promises to go into tonnes of stuff that the documentary makers missed out. Like, perhaps, how Smiley Sex Cult Jesus Santa was only 58 when he died in a bathtub full of Rolexes or whatever, despite looking like a museum piece. ****

READING:

Gail Honeyman – Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine (2017): You know a book’s reputation precedes it when the woman behind you in the immigration queue taps your shoulder to ask if it’s any good, because she’s reading it next. And yet, Eleanor Oliphant caught me completely unawares, convinced as I was that it was something very different (see Kaite’s recent Guardian piece, which talks about the book’s mis-filing in some made-up category of “single women’s fiction”). Beautifully realised, quietly compelling and more than a little triggering thanks to its realistic portrayals of loneliness and mental illness, which is probably something you should be more aware of than I was going in. I left my airport purchase copy for my sister, as was always the plan, and I really wonder what she’ll make of it. ****

This plane is gonna take me somewhere cool

Carrie Fisher – The Princess Diarist (2016): From Postcards From the Edge onwards, Carrie Fisher’s writing has always been unapologetically her – frank, funny, a little bit fucked up, vivid reminders that she is no longer with us. The Princess Diarist managed to break my heart even more thanks to its extracts from Star Wars-era diaries, full of earnestness and poetry and Carrie-before-she-was-Carrie, but still larger than life. Combine that with some really smart discussion on the impact of fame, and what it means when people continually confuse you for a fictional character, and, god. I miss her. ****

Reni Eddo-Lodge – Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race (2017): That this had the potential to be one of the most important books I’ll ever read became obvious even in its first few pages. Here, Reni Eddo-Lodge talks about Britain’s role in the slave trade and the way in which empire, particularly in India and the West Indies, fed into the concept of “world” war in a way that had never occurred to me before – and a way that, frankly, we all should have been taught in school. Reading it as the Windrush scandal broke made it even more vital. The history, and present, of racism in the US has been “globalised” to the point that they “eclipse” black British history, Eddo-Lodge says. All the more reason why everybody should read this meticulously researched, depressingly eye-opening book. *****

LISTENING:

Did anyone actually listen to my wee Spotify playlist last month? Because I liked the idea so much that I’ve decided I’m going to keep adding to it every month, neverending mix tape style, since the Evernote file I make notes for these posts in is practically turning into a mix tape tracklist as I fall back in love with new music again.

New additions this month: the entire Greatest Showman soundtrack! (jokes) (but I can have one) New Jenny Hval! “Above the Bodega”, from the new Titus Andronicus album, because it makes me miss the shop at the end of the road where our last flat was and it also flipping rocks; and this dreamy new Jessica Risker album, even if I can’t remember where I came across it.

Anna Burch‘s “2 Cool 2 Care” is one of my favourite songs of the year so far, though the rest of the album continues in the same deceptively simple, delectably smart slacker-pop vein. Whatever Greta Kline has done on the latest Frankie Cosmos album speaks to me in a way her music has never done before; and for all the chat about the new Kacey Musgraves album (which I still haven’t heard) it’s her dueting with her new husband by way of some rediscovered Johnny Cash lyrics that reduces me to a blubbering mess.

DOING:

Flint & Pitch Presents: This Script (and other drafts) – a night of new work by Jenny Lindsay @ The Glad Cafe, Glasgow, 22nd April: It’s billed as purposefully a work in progress, but there’s an argument that Jenny Lindsay’s Script should remain a draft – there’s a deftness, an open-mindedness to the work that makes it feel more like a dialogue between performer and audience than a recital. But that’s not to say it’s not brilliantly done! God! I laughed, I cried a little, and there was even one moment that caused a sharp intake of breath and not just from me. The suite of “univocal” poems that give the whole thing structure are particularly breathtaking, and a testament to Lindsay’s formidable skills.

Manic Street Preachers @ SSE Hydro, Glasgow, 25th April: “I think I missed the last three albums!” I snarked to Jonathan as they opened with a new one – but any snide comments I was tempted to make about this band I used to like faded beneath my fingertips in favour of increasingly hysterical texts to my brother by track #2 (“You Stole The Sun From My Heart”). Unabashed Richey Edwards tributes! Glitter cannons! James Dean Bradfield doing a solo acoustic “Faster”! Sure, everything post-Know Your Enemy labours more than the yer-old-Communist-da-got-a-new-projector sloganeering on the giant video screens (seven. I missed the last seven albums), but “Motorcycle Emptiness” remains a fucking TUNE.

Manic Street Preachers at SSE Hydro, Glasgow, 25th April

Manic Street Preachers backdrop, reads HELLO IT'S US AGAIN WE'RE STILL IN LOVE WITH YOU

CLICKING:

LOVING:

  • Calum, the Emirates flight attendant who kept sneaking me Bacardis;
  • that The Greatest Showman rehearsal video, in which Hugh Jackman can’t resist bursting into song against doctor’s orders (let’s not talk about how he had to have his stitches redone afterwards;
  • Steve Rogers’ beard;
  • low-key nights playing Shithead on the balcony on the other side of the world;
  • unplanned, unexpected Tantrum Doughnuts dates with old friends

Coffee, Tantrum Doughnuts and The Scots Magazine

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