Sunday 26 April 2015

Nine Inch Nails - The Meme

It’s that time of the month again, the time when I allow a little self-indulgence and pontificate about one of my favourite musical artists. This month it is the turn of Nine Inch Nails, the band fronted by Oscar winning musical genius Trent Reznor.

Yes, that’s right – Trent Reznor won an Oscar for the soundtrack to the Facebook film The Social Network, together with co-writer Atticus Ross.

In fact, quite a few Nine Inch Nails songs have found their way onto movie soundtracks and TV programmes.

Of all my music, Mrs PM finds Nine Inch Nails the least offensive and most palatable, probably because they incorporate elements of dance into some of their music. However, make no mistake, this is a band that produces angry songs ) sometimes very angry indeed) and that’s what I love most about them.

Anyway, without further ado, let’s plough into this.

1. How long have you been a fan?

I have been a fan since 1994 when I heard my first song by the band. In the early 1980’s, I was heavily into electronic pop music. Bands like Depeche Mode, Ultravox, Heaven 17 and Tears For Fears were huge favourites but they lacked the aggression I craved from heavy metal and rock music.

Nine Inch Nails bridged that gap. Their music is described as industrial but to me it is a fusion of that period from the early 1980’s with the menacing undertones that heavy metal and hard rock provide.

2. Do you remember the first song of theirs you heard?

The first song I encountered was Closer (see below). I first heard it at a rock club in Manchester called Rockworld that is now, sadly, no longer there. It was the only night club in Manchester that I could bear to be in and the patrons of the club were fans of punk rock, hard rock, heavy metal, classic rock and any combination of all of them. The dress code was non-existent and allowed everyone to express themselves in any way they desired.

When I heard the song I asked a mate who the band was. It wasn’t long before I bought my first Nine Inch Nails CD.

3. What’s your favourite album(s)?

My absolute favourite is the first album I ever bought – The Downward Spiral, which many regard as the band’s magnum opus. To be honest though I love every last one of their albums with the following standing out:

The Downward Spiral (1994)

Image result for the downward spiral

The Fragile (1999)

Image result for the fragile

With Teeth (2005)

Image result for with teeth

4. What’s your favourite song(s)?

This is an extremely difficult question, as always for a band that I love. My favourite songs are those that are the angriest. However, Nine Inch Nails have evolved over the years and while their music is quite heavy, I thought I would try to give a tour of the types of songs they produce.

Copy of A (from Hesitation Marks - 2014)

This is a recent song and is more electronic than some of the band’s earlier offerings. I find this to be a real earworm with it’s almost dance like beat. Recent songs seem to be less angry than earlier material because, perhaps, Trent Reznor is mellowing with age.

Discipline (from The Slip - 2008)

Moving back a few years, Nine Inch Nails offered an album for free on their website, an offer I simply couldn’t refuse. Nevertheless, I loved the album and this song is also a slightly dance-oriented song. I was watching a TV programme with a scene in a dance club and this song was playing in the background. Mrs PM didn’t believe it was Nine Inch Nails until Trent started singing.

Every Day Is Exactly The Same (from With Teeth  - 2005)

A while ago, when I was stuck in a bit of a rut, this song summed up everything I was feeling. The fact is I am still in a rut, but I can see a way out of it and I am a lot more positive. Every time I hear this song, it makes me consider what I want to do. I love it.

The Hand That Feeds (from With Teeth – 2005)

This is my favourite Nine Inch Nails song . It is angry but more subdued than the earlier material the band produced, which was full of rage and very heavy as a result. For me, this is the perfect Nine Inch Nails song.

Closer (from The Downward Spiral – 1994)

As I said earlier, this is the first song I heard by the band and I still love it. Mrs PM quite likes it too. However, be warned, the chorus is rather offensive with swearing. In fact, I was going to put up the official video, but I thought that might be a little offensive too. Despite all this, I think it is a fantastic song.

Warning - this song may offend.

5. Have you ever seen them live? (How often?)

Yes – I’ve seen them four times. The first time was probably the best because it coincided with the album With Teeth in 2005, but the most recent concert last year was another superb couple of hours.

6. Have you ever met them?

No. But I would love to.

7. Do you have a favourite era of their career?

Not really. Each album has its own merits.

8. Is there a song or album of theirs you dislike?

Strangely no. All of their albums appear frequently on my iPod and I like most of the songs I hear.

9. What do they or their music mean to you?

Let’s face it, Nine Inch Nails are the antithesis of happy-clappy music and that’s why I love them. Their music, on the whole, is dark and explores the negativity that exists in all of us. When I have had a bad day, I like nothing more than to pop on a good old angry Nine Inch Nails song because it has a cathartic effect and dissolves the negativity. You may think that’s a bit weird, and maybe you’re right, but it works for me.

10. Do you get annoyed when other people don’t like them?

Not many people I have met totally dislike them –even Mrs PM. So really, I don’t care.

11. Which artist do you want them to collaborate with?

Trent Reznor has collaborated with one of my favourite artists, David Bowie. I really wish this had been the start of more work between the two of them. Nine Inch Nails added something special to a typical David Bowie song – I’m Afraid of Americans is the result. Trent Reznor is the stalker in the video.

12. Are they underappreciated/unknown?

Not at all. In fact, they are more popular than ever, it seems.

13. Is there a song of them that everybody likes but you dislike?

No. I don’t really dislike any of their songs.

14. Do people think you are too obsessed with the artist?

I wouldn’t say so – unless they release a new album, in which case I do tend to overplay it.

15. Do you pre-order their new albums without having heard any music from it?


And Finally ...

I hope you like some of the music above and thanks for allowing a little self-indugence.

Sunday 19 April 2015

Molto Bene

May is approaching and with it, improved weather and the holiday season, the time of the year when the days are longer and brighter and I get to enjoy the prospect of a trip or two abroad that isn’t work related.

The first of those trips is a long weekend to Bologna in Italy. Mrs PM and I plus five friends are popping across to the home of spaghetti bolognese and I can’t wait.

You may also know that this year I have decided to attempt to improve myself by adopting several 30 day challenges throughout the year. My reasons for doing this are as follows.

First, I have been tired of the same old tired New Year’s Resolution because I fail miserably. By forcing myself to concentrate on something for 30 days.

Second, other bloggers have attempted something similar and it yields results.

Finally, I am aware that this challenge is probably a bit of a midlife crisis. When I analyse my reasons for wanting to do it, I simply want to add a few more strings to my bow. Regular readers will know that I really want to do something other than my chosen career and by trying a few other things I get a sense of relief and a little bit of hope that something will appeal to me so much that I take a chance and go for it.

Anyway, enough of that crap; it’s early days yet.

My current 30 day challenge is to learn basic Italian in time for our trip to Bologna. And I am thoroughly enjoying it. One of the things I’ve always regretted is my limited knowledge of languages and the struggle I have when immersed in a culture that speaks little or no English, and I can’t even begin to make myself understood.

I’m really lucky that I speak English, American, Canadian and Australian fluently. My French is good enough to make myself understood, my Spanish is improving rapidly and my German needs some work.

Before April 1st this year, my Italian was limited to molto bene, scusi and ciao

But now I can say a lot more and I understand the basics. And all this from between 20 minutes and an hour a day learning from the internet using two tools that are absolutely free to use.

The first is Duolingo that offers lessons in the form of challenges, a bit like a game. Gradually you learn phrases, sentence structure and vocabulary, writing out translations in English and Italian and also practicing listening and speaking.

The second is Memrise that helps improve vocabulary with flashcards and repetitive tests with picture and prompts to help to jog your memory if you forget.

I have been using these tools to great effect to strengthen my Spanish skills and I am now able to have a very good level of understanding of online Spanish magazines as a result. I’m not fluent by any stretch of the imagination but I can get the gist of what I am reading.

I have 12 more days of Italian and then a real test when I actually go there and try to speak with the locals. Wish me luck; I think I’ll need it.

I have so far completed five of these 30 day challenges.

(1) Walk at least two miles every day – This was easy, In January I made a real effort to force myself outside every single day no matter how cold and miserable it was. As a result, I achieved a little more fitness than I would normally have done and since then I have continued to walk on average two miles a day on most days since then.

(2) Improve Spanish – I concentrated on my Spanish using Duolingo and Memrise for the whole of January as well as attempting to read Spanish web sites and watch Spanish videos. This was tough and still is but I have improved my vocabulary and reading skills.

(3) Photography – I spent February trying to improve my photography skills, reading books and trying to get to grips with Mrs PM’s digital SLR. I had an ally with this because Mrs PM is a great photographer and explained a lot of techniques she had learned on a course she attended a few years ago. I am attempting another photography challenge in May because of holidays. This time the emphasis will be to actually take Mrs PM’s camera and try to take as many cool shots as possible.

(4) Creative Writing – A few years ago, I bought two creative writing books and I have never read them. They have simply gathered dust on my bookshelf. In March I decided to blow off the dust and read them from cover to cover. Also, in March I write down lots of notes for writing ideas including a novel. I thoroughly enjoyed this challenge and it has sown the seed of a massive challenge later this year.

(5) Life Coach – When I found the creative writing book, I also spotted a book about being your own life coach. Both Mrs PM and I have no idea where it came from (she thinks I bought it and I think she bought it – perhaps it’s a survivor of my time with my ex-wife – I can’t remember). Anyway, I decided to read this too because, the author claimed, the book can change your life and make you grab your desires by the scruff of the neck and totally change its direction for the better. The truth is, that while I found it vaguely interesting, the book was full of Mr Motivator ideas like “JUST DO IT!!!” and while I could relate to some elements of it, most of it was aimed towards those of us who can burst into a room and announce “I’M HERE!!” with no fear of the consequences. All of the stories of success were a bit too contrived for me. It was good to read though – not something I would normally even consider picking up.

What’s next?

Our big holiday this year is Brazil in October so, depending on how successful I am with Italian, I am planning to spend 30 days learning Portugese.

One challenge I have been dying to try, but lacked courage and belief in my own ability to do so, is to write a novel in November (National Novel Writing Month – or Nanowrimo). This is a 30 day challenge just waiting to happen – so I am going for it.

Mrs PM can play a piano so she has been talking about buying a digital piano for a couple of years now. We’ve chatted about this and I said that if we buy one, then I will spend 30 days trying to teach myself how to play it. I can read music (well I used to be able to) so how hard can it be? Don’t answer that – I know it’s hard.

Anyway, enough of this nonsense for now.

Wish me luck with my Italian and I will let you know whether I made a complete arse of myself in Bologna or not in due course.

Monday 6 April 2015

The Time Of Liars

How can you tell when  a politician is lying?

It’s easy; he’s talking.

The time I dread is upon us;  that’s if you live in the United Kingdom. Yes, it’s election time again, when we are subjected to a parade of lying politicians appearing on the television, on the radio, on the internet and, if like me you are unlucky enough to live in a marginal constituency, on your own doorstep.

It’s time for an election and for the next few weeks the British people have to endure a bunch of double-talking, dishonest and deceitful hypocrites promising the world and delivering nothing but their own agenda.

Over the coming weeks, the news will be full of these people using scare tactics or worse to get us to put a tick in a box next to the name of a lying representative of their party, all so that one of the leaders can become our next Prime Minister and spend the next five years shafting us all in one way or another.

So what array of liars do we have?

Allow me to introduce them to you.

David Cameron is the current Prime Minister and leader of the Conservative party, a party who love rich people. With his Chancellor, George Osbourne, you have two former public school boys who think that they are one with people, declaring “We’re all in this together,” while at the same time allowing the rich to get richer and the poor, via a savage austerity programme, to get poorer.

David Cameron
Osborne - Smugness Personified
Ed Miliband is the leader of the opposition and has become a laughing stock, simply because he looks like a melting waxwork and speaks as if he has a huge ball of cotton wool up his nostrils. While he claims to stand for fairness, it’s difficult to believe him and not just because his rhetoric is delivered from his funny face and lopsided mouth.

Which one is the leader of Labour Party?
The current Deputy Prime Minister and leader of the Liberal Democrats is Nick Clegg, a man whose party is currently in government as the tiny party in coalition with David Cameron’s Conservatives. He made promises before the election but his party realistically couldn’t get elected with a majority on their own. They formed an unholy alliance with the Conservatives and when they had a taste of power all of their pre-election promises were completely broken. He made an impassioned film apologising for his deceit but all this did was make his party even more unpopular.

Nick Clegg
Nick Clegg's  apology was quite rightfully mocked:

But the really bad thing is that thanks to his broken promises my younger son will leave university in a few years’ time with an enormous debt.

Clegg’s party is now floundering and this has let in a very scary party called UKIP (UK Independence Party) led by “man of the people”, the beer drinking, smoking man who “tells it like it is”, Mr Nigel Farage. Like Ed Miliband, he is a strange looking guy but he resonates with the little Englanders up and down the country who blame every problem in the UK on one thing: immigration.

Farage - Looney Leader
While Farage tells his scaremongering lies very eloquently, claiming that he does not lead a racist party, certain UKIP councillors and other members of his party have exposed their true colours.

Like this lady:

She was sacked. But what about this man?

He was sacked too. How about the UKIP councillor who blamed a series of severe floods in the south of England on David Cameron’s decision to legalise gay marriage?

He too was suspended. It seems to me that Mr Farage has his work cut out trying to apologise for the loonies in his party.

Nigel Farage - nothing more needs to be said
There are other parties too, most notably Plaid Cymru (“The Party for Wales”) and the Scottish Nationalist Party, neither of whom I can vote for, who are totally driven by issues for their own country and the break-up of the United Kingdom.

Usually it is a two horse race between Labour and the Conservatives but this time there seems to be no party that will get the required majority. This means that we will almost certainly end up with yet another coalition, lots more broken promises and, if we are really unlucky, a lunatic party like UKIP having a say in government policies.

As I said, I live in a marginal constituency which means that the only likely winners for my seat are the Liberal Democrats or Labour. There will be a stream of leaflets from these two parties through my letterbox and if I am really unlucky, the party activists and/or prospective MPs themselves will come-a-knocking hoping that I will promise to vote for them.

When I get my ballot paper, I want another option. I know I won’t get it but you can hope, can’t you?

The option is “None of the Above”.

Alternatively, I could vote for The Official Monster Raving Looney Party (“Vote For Insanity”) – and yes they really do exist (click here if you don't believe me).

With candidates like “Sir Oink-a-lot”, “Baron von Thunderclap”, “R.U.Seerius”, “Minkey the Drummer” and “Baron Barnes von Claptrap” they will make more sense than the liars we have to suffer.

Hopefully, on the night, TV coverage will be like this:

We can live in hope, can’t we?

Friday 3 April 2015

Watch Them And Weep

My two lads and I were forced by Mrs PM to watch a terrible movie at the cinema. It was payback for us dragging her to see a full on action film the previous month.

The film was Marley and Me, a movie about the relationship between a man and his dog. While funny in places, the basic purpose of the film was to take a hold of your heartstrings and wrench them as hard as possible, opening the tear ducts and allowing them to dispose of their contents in a flood down your face.

I sometimes hate those kind of films because although they are primarily targetted at women, they have an effect on men too.

Not all tear-jerkers are bad films. I can see the merits of some of them. For example, The Elephant Man, made me blub like a baby but it was an excellent film.

I challenge anyone not to shed a tear over this scene from the film:

My problem is that I do not like to watch sad films as a rule. I prefer to feel uplifted and happy when the closing credits start. After Marley and Me, I felt wretched, cheated and pissed off.

Needless to say, Mrs PM loved the film. As we left the cinema, my two lads were moaning that there were much better films on the other screens. Mrs PM simply wiped tears from her eyes and told us why we were all wrong. The film had everything she wanted; romance, comedy and sadness.

While I like comedy, the bias in Marley and Me was clearly towards those who wanted to blub into their popcorn.

Like many men, I am confused by this need for the fairer sex to crave misery in movies. I simply don’t understand why feeling sadness and grief during and after a film is a good thing. The kind of films I watch have lots of death and destruction but the emotions are stifled in favour of the good guys being triumphant over the bad guys.

My kind of film

The long drawn out death of a Labrador, while its owner talks to it as if it were a human being is just not something I want to have to endure as the climax to a movie that is at best a poor romantic comedy.

However, an article in last week's Sunday Times has gone some way to explaining why such movie scenes are more appealing to women than they are to men.

Evidently, tear-jerkers allow women to bond with their friends. The theory is that watching a movie filled with abject misery is a way for a woman to share a more positive emotional experience with her female friends, resulting in a positive bonding experience.

I suppose it goes a long way to explaining things to a man like me who has no idea why a long drawn out weepy would make you feel positive in any way whatsoever.

I guess, in a similar way, a typical bloke movie like, for example, The Fast and The Furious franchise cause men to bond. While the plots and action scenes may require a massive suspension of disbelief, the amazing stunts will produce as much testosterone in men as the tears produced in women by a half-decent weepy.

Perhaps this also explains why men do not want to show their emotions in public when watching a weepy. When I watched The Elephant Man for the first time, I was on my own in the house and I cried continually. Had I seen it in a cinema, or even with Mrs PM, I would almost certainly have suppressed my tears.

Does this mean that I am an emotional Neanderthal?

Not at all.

Maybe it’s just a personal thing but I think most men do not like to show their emotions and anything that tries to force the issue is not a good thing. That’s not to say I won’t ever watch another weepy again; I will just watch it on my own or, grudgingly, with Mrs PM and a handkerchief to cover any tears under the pretence of having a sniffle.

That said, Mrs PM has seen me blub at a film. I remember one Christmas Eve, when we had been out for lunch and a couple of beers. I was slightly merry from the alcohol and we opted to relax in the Christmas spirit with the classic movie It’s a Wonderful Life. I think, because I had had a couple of beers, my defences were down and the two of us sat on the sofa and cried our eyes out.

It's not a bad film and not the kind I would normally watch,  but at least it was uplifting and totally got me in the mood for Christmas despite the blubbing. Had I been with a bunch of mates, we would probably have watched an explosive action movie with gallons of beer and testosterone, cheering every explosion and punching the air as the hero punched the villain.

Dear female reader, if you think I am an emotionless buffoon, you are wrong. I have deep emotions but the idea of having them brought out by a weepy movie in front of mates is an abhorrent concept to me. I consider that to be a trait for most if not all men – so I am not alone.

To be honest,  a good piece of music stirs my deep emotions probably more than a tired, contrived tear-jerker aimed to stir female emotions.

But that’s a tale for another post.

So what about you, dear reader?

Guys, am I wrong when I describe what men think of tear-jerkers?

Ladies, do you think I’m an emotionless idiot?

Hopefully, this will go some way to help me on my quest to understand the fairer sex.

Nevertheless, I still have a long way to go.