Tuesday, 21 September 2010
The man who once took us to the Candy Shop and invited us most cordially to join him In Da Club is pretty darn funny just by being a walking reality show, but then someone set up English50Cent which translates his tales of bitches and hoes into musings on lady dogs and gardening equipment. Very amusing stuff. Not for the kids though, as 50 thoughtfully broadcasts over and over again. He also tweets as and to his dog, Oprah. You can't make this stuff up. Enjoy!
There has been a flurry of negative pre-release assumptions, from some of my favourite female writers amongst others, dismissing both book and adaptation on Twitter and in the press. The brilliant Lindy West was not a fan (the savvy Telegraph snapped her up for this cutting review) and I’m sure others will follow. Gilbert is accused of being smug, self-obsessed, hypocritical and clichéd in a ‘moany rich woman finds herself’ sort of way, and on these grounds the book is deemed worthless chick lit. I can’t say I agree. While, on paper, her New York existence prior to her travels might be deemed privileged (published author & journalist, wealthy husband, big house, friends, parties) the point of the opening is exactly that – on paper, her life is perfection. Her chronic sadness is openly based on her guilt that she isn’t happier, that she can’t make her marriage work and that she finds she doesn’t want a baby to complete the domestic picture. I have rarely read a writer more frank about her own shortcomings, selfishness and neuroses. This is, I believe, why so many women found the book refreshing and absorbing: we all have meltdowns, panics and periods of unhappiness. Yes, a lot of it is described in group-therapy schtick, but that’s how contemporary Americans communicate. This self-awareness makes us Brits uncomfortable, but also with a slight hint of envy at being able to admit to your own issues. The writer dwells on her own self more in this book than most people will in a lifetime, but she does it with an educated finesse that makes it palatable.
Whatever her motives, a newly-single Gilbert decided to end the pretence of her glossy city life and visit places that fascinated her. The tripartite structure of the book reflects the poetry the narrator finds in everything she encounters; the neat introduction describes how her tale is divided into 108 small stories, the number having spiritual significance in Yogic philosophy. Whatever her sentimental reasons for conveying her story thus, it worked for me. The small, almost isolated anecdotes are each a charming peek into a completely self-centred adventure (in the best possible way.) We meet her new friends, hear their stories, but more often than not we are privy to her own thoughts and ponderings on life. The narrator is shaken up time and time again by natural beauty, the range of human experience and the ability of others to remain smiling, in a positive look at self-discovery if ever there was one.
But the snobbery over this memoir and its subject matter is not only mystifying, it has eclipsed all critical and public acclaim the book attracted when published in 2006. I was really annoyed when the Daily-bloody-Mail ran a ‘novelty’ feature about their egotistical columnist Liz Jones taking the same trip, making a direct comparison to Jones’ preoccupation with herself that disregards all the beauty of the original. Elizabeth Gilbert is apologetic many times in the novel for her overthinking of things, and relays her joy and satisfaction with the world and its inhabitants far more than her misery at her own situation. Her gift is her ability to tell the stories of others and to put the vividness of a moment on the page. The only thing they have in common is daring to think their own lives might be worth writing about. Maybe the problem is that women are not supposed to be selfish, in any circumstances. But regardless of background, money earned and property owned (and Gilbert started life on a Christmas tree farm in Connecticut, not Park Avenue) I don’t think the book is just a whinefest about her rich Western malaise. She gives good reasons for her escape, including her dependence on men for happiness - having been in relationships basically her entire adult life - and her husband’s venomous approach to their divorce flattening her self esteem. I have nothing but respect for someone who is determined to lift themselves out of the torpor of depression, be that with a U-turn in career, ending a relationship or just taking off in search of something new. But some women seem to be embarrassed by such shirking of domestic responsibility. It is puzzling to me, as there seems no better time to take off than following the painful end to a childless marriage. There is an argument that we don’t all have the money to traipse off and sit on mountains every time we feel sad, but she paid for the trip with the publishers' advance for the book – offered to a result of her own reputation as writer, built up by years of hard work.
Gilbert's choice of destinations was also interesting to me. Rome I can completely relate to, where she essentially indulged her taste for fresh, rustic Italian food, the Italian language and the stunning architecture. This was the most moving part for me, as she nurtures new friendships and finds freedom in pursuing nothing but pleasure. There is a sublime passage where Liz and her new friends celebrate Thanksgiving in the Italian mountains, and she realizes just how many things she is thankful for. At another point, she finds the strength to persevere with her Yogic studies by focusing on a nephew she is fiercely protective of. In moments like these I found myself so in tune with Gilbert’s voice that I felt the lump in the throat, the tear in the eye or the surges of happiness as she narrated them. Make what you will of the cliché of a Westerner dabbling in Yoga, religion and Eastern philosophy, but you can’t deny the power of the writing. In India, her language was more difficult to me as her openness to the idea of a non-specific God as well as energy, meditation and enlightenment are so far from my own views on the world. But it is her hope that something greater than herself can enrich her life, rather than a preachy ‘knowledge’ of this, that still managed to charm me. In Bali, her love affair with its quirky and laid-back population is filled with admiration rather than touristy condescension, and the charismatic medicine man she learns from is one of my favourite figures. Perhaps I found the book so arresting because the thought of leaving my world behind and venturing out alone is both terrifying and alluring to me; in all honesty I don’t think I currently have the balls, but I’d love to in the future, and the fact is so many people’s responsibilities and duties prevent it from ever being an option.
Whether the film is fabulous or a flop, I hope people will still read the book if they find themselves intrigued, as I did this month. Whether you are going through an introspective period yourself or simply want to travel vicariously, this is a fascinating example of someone taking themselves out of their comfort zone and actively trying to widen their perspective. Not only this, but the uncommon spirit of Gilbert’s diary-memoir style shows an appreciation throughout of the beauty, poetry and wonderful contrasts of the world and its communities, something rare and to be cherished in a book. I hope the coven of female media types scoffing at the whole concept stop and think about such things now and again; if not, I know which experience I’d rather have. Review of the film to follow...
Tuesday, 14 September 2010
…but what’s this? He has another song you say? The ‘sing another song’ gimmick is this year’s WHO IS DEAD and I am so, so over it already. The Bitch Factor
[Lauren] just makes me wonder if she can do any extreme emotion other than VERY ANGRY. I do enjoy her face on the word "confused", though, which denotes confusion in a Joey Tribbiani style. Over the Rainbitch
Jessie's Cockney accent is even worse; Dick van Dyke is watching this and sighing with relief that the worst Cockney accent committed to celluloid will no longer be his. I’d Bitch Anything
Ads. Cheryl tells us we’re worth it. Alexandra tells us her deodorant keeps working for 48 hours, the shower-avoiding weirdo. The Bitch Factor
Backstage, Jessica reminded us that she's just so privileged to be here, because she is REALLY REALLY NORMAL. Expect to see her running up a mountain and showing us her bra any day now. Over the Rainbitch
Olivia is next, and her zombie picture is hideous, in a good way. Elle loves it because "I haven't seen you look like this!" Well, yes, because this isn't Britain's Next Top Zombie (although I would watch the shit out of that show if it existed). Bitching’s Next Top Model
Do have a read, especially if you are a closet trash-TV lover like myself. Some others rocking my blogosphere at the moment:
My New Favourite Thing
Olivia writes about all things beautiful and quirky, from fashion and cupcakes to travel and teen crushes. This gives me regular bag envy but it’s worth it for the stunning photographs and our shared love of Dolly Parton.
West End Whingers
In their own words, ‘Phil and Andrew begrudgingly cut into their wine time to tell you whether it’s worth missing the Merlot for the Marlowe.’ A cross between the Muppets’ Statler and Waldorf and Sex and the City’s Anthony Marentino, these two go to see West End shows and report back scathingly or excitably on their findings.
Susanna ‘Susie Bubble’ Lau takes us on a whirlwind tour of the catwalk, her shopping adventures, street style and anything she thinks is cute. What started off as an underground consumer blog is now an established comment on the fashion world.
One of the best blogging concepts out there, PostSecret is a project where people anonymously send in their secrets (some funny, some shocking, some sombre) and they are posted here for all the world to see. Fascinating.
Monday, 13 September 2010
I love Gaga. I have mentioned many times on this blog my love for her music, her boldness of performance and costume, her immaculately-maintained pop art persona... but this time, Gaga, you have gone too far.
Yep. That's right. You are not seeing, as on first glance, a strangely textured reddish-cream dress. It's meat. Raw, stinking meat that should be on a cow's bones, on the grill, on my plate, but categorically should NOT be worn to the VMAs. After my initial disgust, I was a tiny (tiny, tiny) bit impressed with the inventive use of a whole steak as a headpiece and the meat shoes bound with string. But I'm afraid to say this one has tipped the taste scales for me, especially as La Gaga doesn't seem to be sure what message she's promoting with this avant garde creation:
"If we don’t stand up for what we believe in and if we don’t fight for our rights pretty soon we’re going to have as much rights as the meat on our own bones. And, I am not a piece of meat.” she stated broadly when questioned by veggie Ellen Degeneres. If this is a comment on the pornification of culture (valid) then why not come as a blow-up doll, or lose the porno-platinum locks. If it's genuinely a reaction to fears someone might eat her, to Gaga I say this: you have very little flesh on your bones and would therefore be an odd choice for a lurking cannibal. But until she explains a valid reason, and perhaps showers off the greasy film no doubt left by raw beef under hot stage lights, I cannot look at Gaga for a while. It's not over - I just need a little space.
Friday, 10 September 2010
I love Taylor not only because I'm a confirmed Gossip Girl addict, but because as a kid, she used to do this
But instead, at 17, she's decided to do this
And I never thought I'd say this, but I really like their music. The Pretty Reckless' first album, Light Me Up, is strictly grungy, sexy, angry rock - and not Avril Lavigne rock-lite, but a harder sound more than matched by Momsen's gritty vocals. I like her style because where it would have been really easy to swallow painkillers like they're Haribo and get a boob job in order to say 'I never wanted to be the kid in The Grinch, F*CK YOU!' she's saying it with a creative outlet, and one I want on my iPod at that. Lohan was the kid in The Parent Trap even before her cringey Herbie years (enough to give anyone a drinking problem) and Mischa Barton was the little ghost girl in The Sixth Sense, as well as grinning her way through a host of commercials. Both have become Hollywood clichés with their partying, their DUIs and substance abuse issues, but savvy Momsen seems to be more in control of her own destiny.
I think the problem is where cutesy looks give way and the talent underneath is doubtful (remember Lohan's short-lived music career? If you want to, here it is). Momsen has been honing her voice and the band's 'sound' for a couple of years now, and co-wrote every track on the album. I recommend downloading My Medicine and Makes Me Wanna Die to start with, but I think the band as a whole have real potential. There are the obvious Courtney Love comparisons with Taylor's platinum, smokey-eyed vibe, but to me she looks much more together than the mad auntie of rock' n'roll. She works the vampiric style, hopefully minus the self-destruct button. I loved her as the sweet-then-scheming Jenny Humphrey in Gossip Girl, and I really respect the fluidity of Taylor's next career move, when she could probably party comfortably for a few years on the LA scene before having to raise her profile again. Have a listen to TPR and tell me what you think!
Thursday, 9 September 2010
Monday, 6 September 2010
You probably know this if you’re a regular reader, because I reference Moran’s wit and wisdom quite a bit. It’s hard to describe her if you haven’t read any of her stuff, but as a freelance writer, interviewer and all round journalistic firecracker, she inspires me to work harder or risk never being as well-read, articulate and funny as her. She’s also from humble beginnings and the state school system but works for The Times, as well as having fabulously punky tastes and a penchant for overexcited capitals (usually when tweeting the word *SCREAM*). If you’re still not sure, follow her on Twitter and I guarantee she will have you howling in minutes.
*Sigh*, no, not for the husband-stealing or the wafer-thin calves, but because the woman’s a bloody phenomenon. Jolie shows that no amount of personal craziness or bad PR record can obscure true talent, and looking at her you just know she’s never stopped to think ‘What if this wrecks my chances of getting that next big part?’ Because she’s hypnotic as a psychotic teen in Girl, Interrupted, she’s harrowing as a courageous mother in Changeling and funny as an assassin with a suburban double life in Mr and Mrs Smith. Because she’s the only choice for icons as diverse as Marilyn, Cleopatra and Lara Croft, and because she kicks more ass per movie than most Hollywood males put together. When I read she’d turned down a Bond Girl role because she’d rather be the next 007, I could’ve kissed her. As well as being a thrill-seeking badass and a stellar actress, Ange also manages to be wonderfully chic and feminine on the red carpet. I'm going to ignore all the 'rainbow mom' stuff as i'm sure it's just too many years in Hollywood, but she is also genuinely and deeply involved in the UN and not afraid to speak up on important matters. If you hate her, I'm pretty sure it’s just because you want to be her.
My mum is the most direct inspiration for me because she has always seemed to ‘have it all’ – not in the material sense, but in terms of style, intellect, friendships, work ethic, ambition and maternal brilliance. So I suppose she’s always ‘balanced it all’, and taught me the equal importance of further education and being able to whip up a sublime bread and butter pudding. She was an amazing stay-at-home mum (due to being creative with working from home and sacrificing lots of luxuries) for years, studied her socks off to get a degree, worked her way up to management level in fewer years than anyone I know and even managed to wedge in an MA this year as well as getting her dream job and celebrating 30 years of marriage. Need any more reasons? She’s also the best hugger in the entire world – fact.
There’s been a bit of a Gaga backlash of late and I honestly can't understand it. People seem to think she’s a fame-whorish type who is all exhibitionist and no substance, but I can only assume they haven’t listened to a note of her music. It’s pop, but it’s crazy, bold, lyrically sharp pop, vocally challenging and endlessly catchy. She’s also absolutely incredible live – I won’t hear a word against this – just watch this for starters. She has famous fans ranging from Elton John, the hard-to-please Perez Hilton, Janet Jackson and Helen Mirren, and is a very vocal gay rights activist, as well as giving all her little teenage ‘freaks’ and ‘monsters’ a powerful role model to identify with during adolescence. In an industry filled with bland, girly, autotuned one hit wonders, we should surely regard Gaga as some sort of female messiah? More than anything, she just seems fearless – I love that she puts all of her money back into her live shows and designs her performance concepts. More vulnerable than Madonna and saner than Michael Jackson, a better songwriter than Kylie and ten times more talented than Britney; she’s just a tiny little thing under all the glitz and theatrics, but Gaga’s a budding icon and should be recognised as such.
I have only had the pleasure of meeting Chris once, but I follow her blog and have watched the well-deserved publication of her brilliant book Turning the Tide in the last year. She is inspirational because she decided it wasn’t too late to do the thing she’d always wanted to do, and proved she had the metaphorical balls to do it. Not only do I respect her as a writer, but she has reminded me that the urge to write never goes away; so on those days when a nondescript but well-paid job beckons to me with its perks of a stable life and steady income, I know I shouldn’t give in so easy. Follow her on Twitter and look out for her next book!
Oh well... there had to be a fictional one. Gossip Girl's Blair is a purely aesthetic idol of mine, a perfectly groomed Park Avenue princess with pearls, gloves and a pout to match. It's funny as it isn't really my style, but the first time I saw actress Leighton Meester as the scheming anti-heroine of the show, I just fell in love with Blair's buttoned-down look. If you're unfamiliar with the addictive trash TV that is Gossip Girl, this blog explains Blair's look pretty well. She may not be the 'world peace' type, but she's impossibly chic and I can't help but covet her from her beret to her Mary Janes.
Jason Robert Brown
Finally, an inspirational male! Brown is one of my favourite composers (and in my opinion, one of the best in musical theatre), and I'm practically hyperventilating at the thought of seeing him performing his work live in less than three weeks' time. His musicals and song cycles, including Songs for a New World, Parade and The Last Five Years include some of the most beautiful songs I have ever heard, so technically complex and lyrically witty, moving and brutal that I never get tired of listening to them and always hear something new each time. JRB is so good that I bought two of his piano books - and I can barely play Happy Birthday. If you're not a fan of the genre (described amusingly in Bridget Jones' Diary as 'men standing with their legs apart, bellowing') I suggest you listen to Lauren Kennedy's album Songs of Jason Robert Brown, but if you do like a musical - and a real story, none of your Sweet Charity nonsense - I would recommend The Last Five Years.
I adore Nigella. I adore her buttercreamy, olive-oily, chocolate-saucey TV shows and cookbooks, her cooking community website, and her glorious sex bomb image that confirms that 50 really can be your prime. They say that after a certain age you have to choose between your face or your arse (the logic being, I presume, that plumper women have a sort of natural collagen effect happening) but I think Nigella is living proof you can have your cake and eat it.
My favourite literary heroine, a tomboy with a hot temper and a desire for independence who never lets the fact that she is a girl push her to give up her dreams or conform to a small-town ideal. I like Jo because she's flawed, impulsive and has big dreams, as well as being the at the centre of one of my favourite childhood books. If Louisa May Alcott and her literary avatar Jo could pick up a pen and compete with the male novelists of their time, hindered by huge petticoats and cultural prejudice, I really don't have a reason to moan in 2010.
Another writer, brought to most people's attention with her less-than-rave review of Sex and the City 2 (some harsh language, folks) and who keeps me smiling regularly with her original style and ponderings on the world. Her column in Seattle paper The Stranger is a cult hit, and many of my favourite writers have followed her work since that review. Why do I love her? Because no subject is too obscure to comment on, from hippy rituals to liquorice. She can transform anything into excellent reading, and that inspires the hell out of me.
This ended up being a slightly weird combination of the very real, the loosely acquainted, the fictional, the obscure and the mega-famous. But it's all true, and I don't think a girl should have to pretend she's only inspired by Mother Teresa or the Lorax. Feel free to drop me a comment with your own inspirations.
Last Friday early morning classic GMTV was laid to rest in favour of a dire new concept called Daybreak, and like so many things (Opal Fruits, Woolworths, my youth), I just didn’t realise how much I’d miss it until it was gone. It’s a good thing of course, lifestyle-wise; I used to chop and change between BBC Breakfast and GMTV during my toast-munching time, thus missing out on valuable current affairs snippets in favour of red carpet gossip and stories about heroic pets. It’s a new dawn, and that dawn will be filled entirely with disheartening news about house prices and graduate jobs. But I forced myself to watch a good six minutes of the first Daybreak this morning, just to see if it had any of GMTV’s trashy warmth, silliness or unintentional hilarity.
Reader, it did not. Even if you can stomach the toxic combination of Bleakley and Chiles (really?), they are wedged in far too close to the camera in an uncomfortable ‘we get on great!’ proximity. Her rubbery spitting-image smile and his melting caveman expression make it difficult to decide which side of the screen is less painful to focus on, and while today’s weather probably wasn’t a production decision, the vast greyness behind their heads just added to the notion that this was a dark, dark day for breakfast television. The news (and I know no-one ever watched GMTV for the NEWS) was like any other third-rate channel’s news – dull, read by an attractive but nondescript woman and with the same terrible 80s-looking graphics as the rest of the show. Purple and yellow? Outside of an Easter Hat Parade these colours have no business appearing side by side. It’s hard to believe this is the big shift in ITV’s morning schedule, months in the planning. It looks like they had to come up with something in 24 hours, planned using only post its, purple crayons and a perpetual soundtrack of James Blunt in the background.
It’s not that GMTV was a sensational piece of topical television; it simply stood for a time when I had options. Bleak day, hungover day, can’t-bear-to-hear-another-economic-reason-my-life-is-about-to-suck day? Ben Shephard’s boy-scout charm and the ramblings of their (clearly on crack) TV guy Richard Arnold would momentarily disperse the challenges of the day ahead. Bad satellite links, verbal stumblings and crying babies drowning out interviews were all part of its wayward charm. Transparent timewasting – during their World Cup coverage, Shephard had a troupe of vuvuzela players competing with an English brass band for a number of minutes I will never comprehend – provided a good opportunity to flick over to the real world, aka BBC Breakfast. But while I know many of you were always exclusively Breakfast watchers, there is a small part of my brain, the same part that enjoys reading Cosmo in the bath, that just doesn’t know how it will get through some segments of a purely-BBC morning. The other day one of their correspondents was wedging himself through small tunnels in a cave for what seemed like hours, as some sort of topical nod to a big cave-related story. I can’t even remember what the point of it was, so traumatic was the coverage. It also doesn't help that the hosts are as forgettable as they are professional, and the business and sports presenters are snoozeworthy even when sipping your first caffeine fix of the day.
So farewell, GMTV: farewell to the interchangeable blondeness of Penny, Kate and Emma, farewell to the Pussycat-Doll-esque weathergirl, farewell to Real People interviews marred by grizzling babies, to Andrew Castle’s valiant stabs at being ‘cool’ and ‘hip’, to Fiona Phillips’ inability to be remotely likeable, to Richard Arnold’s pun-a-minute, ‘ooh matron’ TV coverage, and to many other little moments of lightness in my weekday mornings.
Thursday, 2 September 2010
Some recent Dollyisms include:
I hope people realize that there is a brain underneath the hair and a heart underneath the boobs.
Find out who you are, and do it on purpose.
Some of my dreams are so big they would scare you!
Smile, it enhances your face value!
and my personal favourite,
Don't get so busy making a living that you forget to make a life.
Even if you think this sort of mantra just puts the twee into tweeting, I implore you to stick a bit of '9 to 5' on your iPod and just feel it erase all the tension of even the vilest working day. Dolly, I salute you.