Monday, December 17, 2007

Literary retrospective 2007

Yes, the first of its kind in these parts, and more a conscious attempt to inspire me to read more in the coming years. Let the fear of having a blank retrospective keep me up at night, giving plenty of time for going through my latest whimsical read!

Now, unlike the musical retrospective, which distinguishes itself with its clearly mature and philosophical views of albums, songs, and what have you, this is decidedly the work of a neophyte. So do forgive any clumsiness in the writing, not to mention the sparsity of what I have to work with. While I didn't read a whole lot this year, there were a couple of good periods when I had lots of spare time that I filled with my old pastime.

The short yet dense Notes From Underground really captivated me at the start of the year, but I hope I didn't completely misunderstand it, because I found some parts of it unbelievably funny. I recall the description of the UM pacing up and down for hours on end to be particularly amusing. But on the other extreme, the way he expresses a choice towards the end (no spoilers!) was one of the saddest things I read all year. I read it twice just to check whether the fool hadn't done it, hadn't thrown away all he had, no avail.

One of my occasional "random" reads, with no compelling backstory behind them, was Londonstani. Well, alright, that isn't entirely accurate, because my interest was piqued by a list that ranked it one of the best novels by an Indian author, but that doesn't seem particularly interesting. Anyhow, after reading it I wrote about how I felt somewhat unsatisfied; yes, the twist at the end is very well done, and yes, it does turn a lot of things on their heads. But I didn't like having to grapple with all the loose threads by myself, and I certainly didn't think that the twist made all of them irrelevant. Maybe I didn't appreciate the implications fully enough - unlike S, I really didn't feel like it questioned a personal prejudice or way I see the world, but perhaps that's because my prejudices are so entrenched as to seem normal, eh? ;) The writing itself is realistic and "authentic" enough, but you're probably going to have to embrace the volte-face with open arms to really love the book.

I came across Farrukh Dhondy entirely by chance - for whatever reason, he became the reigning expert on the racial row that ensued in the Big Brother house. He rose to the occasion, starting with the immortal (paraphrased) lines: "As I read about this, I felt like Napolean, watching the ruins of Elba". Anyone capable of beginning an interview with a line like that is clearly special, and so I became obsessed with him for a fair bit. It was cemented when, again by pure luck he contributed an opinion piece in the newspaper. Once again, he started off strong by providing an answer to Yeats' famous question in "The Tower", that asks where the imagination dwells. At this point, I simply had to read something of this man, and so found some of his writing with a bit of effort.

I like Poona Company better, though I usually seem to love well-crafted short stories (do they remind me of aspirations I once held?). The rich childhood stories cannot help but remind me of my own, even though mine are relatively tame. My favourite in the collection is the final one, "Rose de Bahama", which manages to be profoundly sad yet inspiring - depending on my mood, one trumps the other, but I'd like to think the inspiring is the overall winner. Indeed, let the Bahama ride again. I only realized that this means there is an obvious connection between my idiosyncratic favourites for song and story of the year. This be the year of empathy, 'twould seem.

Ah, and there was that existential explorer, Patrick White, who was introduced by way of a discussion of The Solid Mandala, which sounded like just the ticket for a pseudo-intellectual like me - dense, impenetrable, and about the natures of man and art. Wary of starting off with a cold shower, I instead went after Voss, the tale of the German explorer who tries to make it across the desert in a great existential quest, where the desert in all its sparse majesty is to reveal the truth about the human condition and Voss' place in the world. It is a very dense novel, but not entirely impenetrable. The power of the writing is inescapable, as it the harshness and horror of the descent into isolation. Or is that the descent into the human heart? It grapples with too many ideas for me to have grasped them all, or even notice them all, but the staggering force of it all was something else. Like I mentioned in my "review", the three stages of the book neatly reflected the stages of my journey in reading it, with the section in the desert being as unforgiving to read as the travel that is detailed. Clearly the most challenging read of the year, but consequently one of the most special ones.

There was more still, but nothing that particularly springs to mind as being strongly memorable or important. I'm aware that I have work to do yet when it comes to reading, because I probably heard more albums than read books - and given how little I listen to these days, that isn't a good sign. Perhaps the coming year needs more of a break from the classical canon, which is beautiful, touching, inspiring and everything, but inescapably consuming and occasionally dense. I'd hate to end up only knowing about the many books that capture my attention, but which I never seem to get the time to read.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Musical retrospective 2007

Lord knows that another slow musical year hardly deserves an entire post dedicated to it, but now that it's so deeply entrenched in the rich, historical tradition of this blog o' mine, it seems unfair not to indulge once again. So here I go.

Yes, as hinted in the prologue above, I think there has been an exponential decrease in the volume of music in my life, but as I argued a few times with S, this doesn't mean that it matters less to me. It's a truism that what really counts is how much you engage with whatever you do or experience, and so I don't think things are all that more different in the only sense that really counts. Maybe I seem to talk about the same artist or album a lot, but I enjoy this deep study of a few specific things. Early on, I was too entranced by the thought of having an "opinion" on anything and everything that critics and listeners deemed "important", or just "worthy of one's opinion". Nowadays, I have (consciously?) shifted away from that. There really isn't an obsession any more to know about, say, all the Can records (nothing against Can, they're just an example of someone a fair ways outside my sphere), or the true progenitors of each and every genre, or what album best captures the end of the '70s, and so on. The sort of encyclopaedic knowledge that many listeners possess is beyond me, should I want to keep my methods of detailed analysis; and at the moment anyway, this is the way I'd like to go for a while longer.

Indeed, I think I've become somewhat elitist, but it's not in the usually understood sense - yes, much to my shame, I do sometimes clutch onto certain records and think that my knowledge of them puts to shame the idols that others erect, but this happens less nowadays (through training!). The elitism I deal in is mostly about me not caring - not caring about things like I mentioned previously, as opposed to the many I see who wear their knowledge with pride, but express their knowledge in such an unconvincing way that I suspect their treatment of the music is mostly peripheral. By which I mean it really does sound like it has just been on in the background, and whatever half-baked impression it creates is put down as a definitive opinion. I tend to imagine then that these listens are simply so that an opinion can be formed and put forth proudly, to increase one's cred or whatever. I sometimes like to imagine that my level of distancing somehow puts me "above" such listeners, but I recognize this as a failing - I think elitism is almost always the wrong way to go. In this regard, I need to interact with people I perceive to have fallen prey to this "affliction", because I sense that at least some of them possess a far greater appreciation than my flippant judgement allows. Really, it's the same old issue of my inability to take music in large quantities, making me overly defensive and desperate to seek out flaws in the patterns and habits of the majority.

Ideally, I suppose I'd like to be able to keep the deep study but also stamp out the remains of my "preservation" principles (which earlier posts will tell you refer to a ridiculous policy of saving albums for "just right" occasions, that invariably never turn up). I'm looser about them nowadays, but I still find myself not listening to certain albums for no rationally defendable reasons - what I tell myself is essentially along the lines of "Wait till it comes to you", but it sometimes never does. Of course, changes in my environment this year mean that finding time for such leisures as listening to albums may become scarce, but I hope that whatever time I do find is put to proper use. Not quite a resolution, but it's something I'd like to put into practice, so that if nothing else, next year's retrospective is more interesting ;)

Onto the records then? Let's see, memory (and the archives) tell me that last year was Simon's, due to the sheer number of his albums I listened to, and the one before it the Roxy's, which was the result of just one album. This year? No clear "winner" as such, but if we go by my favourite album this year, I guess it'd have to be Morrissey. Which is surprising, because I long thought that his solo career was a step down from the days of the Smiths, but that was based on hearsay, and no actual listening of my own. You can't compare the two, of course, but Viva Hate is the Queen Is Dead of his solo career, in my opinion; by which I mean that it's an album where everything seems to turn out just right, and it just so happens to be his first solo album. This was one of those albums that just presented itself to me in the most unlikely of places, and I got it expecting some competent experiments by Morrissey to try and see what he could do without the Smiths. Instead...! I might be the only one who thinks it's as potent as his Smiths lyrics, but that's in no small part due to the fact that I love the underappreciated songs, treated as frivolous distractions by most reviewers. I hesitate to dwell on them too much, for fear of sounding as though I have completely lost it - after all, these are songs that people either cite as being exactly the kind of nonsense that makes Morrissey's solo career nothing compared to the Smiths', or simply don't bother to mention. But..."Little Man, What Now?", as I noted in my RYM musing, I firmly believe captures a more fundamental and deeper sense of sadness, empathy, and failure than simply the tale of a once famous TV star. I once thought it was an example of excellent sequencing, following the wonderful opening track ("Alsatian Cousin"), until I found myself listening to it more than the other tracks! And "Break Up The Family", which walks by without troubling many people, is another song I find moving for rather personal reasons. For whatever reason, I really respond well to the "growing up" that the song seems to suggest (yes, of course there are parallels with my own journey, which obviously creates special bonds). Objectively speaking, I could probably do without some songs towards the end, but they don't really matter during the listen. By the time the end comes, I feel so satisfied that they happily pass by without a hitch.

Viva Hate's cousin also got a lot of listens - Bona Drag is like Hatful Of Hollow (I can't stop the Smiths comparisons, it seems) to me, in that the reason I like it so much is basically due to a few of the songs being flat out great. As singles compilations go, of course one can argue about some of the other ones being relatively weak, but I'm far more lenient on these sorts of albums in this regard. The wit and humour! Beautiful. One disappointment was Vauxhall and I, however, which I was expecting to be his masterpiece, but which turned out merely good. Actually, it may well be a personal masterpiece, and I can easily imagine him thinking it to be his best album, just looking at how it expressed his state of mind at the time. I normally join the artist in such cases and appreciate it from "their" point of view, but not this time I'm sorry to admit. Yes, there are three excellent songs that make the album well worth any fan's time, but I cannot see it as his finest hour the way most fans do. For me, it's Viva Hate (assuming of course the people aren't lying to me about Kill Uncle, say).

More exploring of old favourites was done with me pal McCartney. For once, I can claim to be relevant in that I did hear Memory Almost Full, released this year. And it's pretty good. I remember thinking that most of the panning reviews were probably the result of very cursory listens, because none of them seemed to pay any attention to the very respectable tracks I found only over a long stretch. The day after release saw RYM filled with reviews dismissing it as mediocre, which I found quite unfair. Agreed, no-one's going to cite this as the Ram of this century, but I don't regret making time for this at all. And yes, I should get around to Chaos And Creation sometime...

Red Rose Speedway, which I packed away with bitter disappointment last year, made a huge turnaround. I now consider it, in a word, grooovy! It's actually interesting in its construction, for I find that the album gradually gets better and better as it moves along, until one reaches "Little Lamb Dragonfly", which is unjustly unknown, for it is one of the best ballads McCartney wrote. After that, the material stays at a basically equal level, until the ending medley which is silly, simple, yet oh so melodic and interesting. I don't mind the potpourri nature of it all, because the sections are just delightful. Particularly "Lazy Dynamite", which comes off as one of those melodies you feel you've always known (McCartney does that a lot with me), and also the unabashedly sweet "Power Cut". You don't have to tell me that the pieces couldn't have survived by themselves, but it doesn't really matter. The stitched together suite seems rather at home among the rest of the tracks, and I don't doubt that this positive end note has no small part to play in making me consider Rose a fine, fine album. Sure, as an Amazon reviewer pointed out, there must've been a lotta drugs going into the album, and sure, it can sometimes be messy, but neither of those things come across in a negative light for me.

As I was preparing for this retrospective earlier, I was thinking that Tug Of War might be Viva Hate's prime competitor, but somehow as time has passed, the album has fallen ever so slightly from my heart. But it's still in a fine place, because I think it's the most consistent McCartney got since Ram (yes, in saying so I conveniently ignore the ones I haven't heard, writing them off as possible gems for die-hards that can't possibly be revelatory - such is my arrogance). The other thing that really strikes me is how well-crafted and complex the songs are - there isn't anything that I'd call straightforward pop, as everything has just that little extra twist that you only realize after many listens. I still think of the album very highly because it is just so consistent. But (you knew it was coming!), the one complaint I can make is that there isn't anything, well, truly special. A "Little Lamb Dragonfly", if you will, is missing, even if all the tracks are as good or better than your average McCartney song. "The Pound Is Sinking" is my favourite, as a McCartney mini-suite typically is, and the third verse is the most powerful moment on the album; but I suppose even this beautiful number can't provide the required elevation. And so, Tug sits in the second level, behind Ram, but perhaps unfairly, alongside something like Red Rose, which is so sprawling and loose that it feels just wrong to put it alongside so tight and meticulous an album. Yet how can I deny the emotional resonance of Rose!?!

Given the volume of his work I listened to last year, it isn't surprising that I eased up on Paul Simon this year. But I still had the energy to hear There Goes Rhymin' Simon, whose association with me goes back many a year, and whose first listen was such a letdown that I don't think I brought myself to mentioning it in last year's retrospective. But time dealt with this injustice, as I got around to retrying the album, and finding myself liking it more with each subsequent listen. What I once took to be missteps from the brilliant constructions on Paul Simon slowly revealed themselves in their own way. Yes, there is some filler that I cannot deny, but one cannot deny something like "Tenderness", which displays all the characteristics that I loved off the debut. Nor something like "Was A Sunny Day", which seemed to be nothing more than a simple reggae shuffle the first few times I heard it, but somehow started to shine through the rest of the material later on. Probably one of the earliest examples of his writing being obtuse - of course I don't know why she calls him Mr. Earl! A commentator on GS' site remarks how it seems to take a meaning of its own, which is something I am fond of quoting, even if I don't know how far one can take the argument.

Ah yes, I also filled in some gaps in my Cave collection. Henry's Dream seems a fitting enough successor to The Good Son, though it's really nothing like it at all. The imagery is at its most vivid, but the music is back to Tender Prey days, and interestingly enough I don't find myself listening to either record all that much. Which is not to say I dislike either; I pretty much agree with the view of Prey being a career highlight. It did take time to appreciate the more aggressive style of Dream, but I think it was worth it, just to understand Cave a bit better. But there's no escaping your inlication, and I'm not entirely sheepish to admit that I usually return to the softer ballads ("Straight To You" and "Loom Of The Land"), even though "I Had A Dream, Joe" has also left quite an impact on me.

Strictly speaking, I haven't given Let Love In enough of a chance yet, but as of now I think it to be a fair to good album, all things considered. Lord knows there are enough good songs on here to justify its place in Cave's catalogue, but right now, something just seems missing. It might be that I've been reading too many reviews, because I'm not sure whether the lyrics are great or if there is a lot of the same old material being repeated. I hope time and wisdom will help me decide this matter. And I hope time will afford a listen to Your Funeral...My Trial, which I've only heard the one time, and so really don't have much to say about. But (I can't resist)! "The Carny"! A very impressive first listen it was.

You know, usually albums that get their first listen in late October/November end up basically stranded in no man's land, getting passing mentions in respective retrospectives. Cave's fine double album, Abattoir Blues/Lyre Of Orpheus deserves not such a fate, and even though I don't think I've listened to it enough, I know enough about it to affirm those who praised the first disc. The second? Moments of greatness, but a lot of it is currently wringing on my patience a little bit. "O Children" just about makes up for it though. One of the best for sure, "Hiding All Away", is just a joy to listen to, even though I initially found it terribly boring and meaningless. We'll get to the ending later, but I should first mention that even without it, I'd still love the song. The intonations can't help but remind me of Dylan, as do the images; hilarious, as Nick rarely is (I like how he emphasises that he really isn't in the oven, for instance). As for the ending! I obviously didn't see it coming, and it's interesting how it seems to put what came before it in a completely new light. The next listen gives the seeming nonsense more of a message (or perhaps that's part of the charade?). Thank the lord he can still write songs like this!


Favourite album: Viva Hate I think, but I won't reflect on this for too long.

Favourite songs (standard):
1. Afterglow (Small Faces)
2. Tenderness (Simon)
3. Little Lamb Dragonfly (McCartney)

Favourite songs (idiosyncratic):
1. Little Man, What Now? (Morrissey)
2. Lazy Dynamite (McCartney)
3. Ouija Board, Ouija Board (Morrissey)

Best discovery: Though I didn't talk too much about them above, I'll say The Small Faces. Like the Roxys before them, they came out of nowhere and floored me.

Best rediscovery: Red Rose Speedway, as noted above.

Best opener: Hmm..."Alsatian Cousin"? Not a particularly strong year for my album openers, because as much as I like the song, it isn't a master-stroke.

Best first listen: I'd probably go for Tug Of War, even if it didn't end the year as high as Viva Hate. Even now I can't escape the amazing melodies. And I try!

As always, I love the predictions for next year! Once again, I failed to do most anything on last year's predictions (although I did get some Cave albums). Perhaps next year will feature...more Randy Newman and John Prine? That's all I got, I'm afraid - things aren't looking up for the year ahead!
All these years on, and some things just don't change. I once again provided entertainment to the poor comrade who happened to run into me after it was done, as I was imagining aloud the various hoops I've have to jump through in order to make up for that joke of a performance. He took it all very well, and he had enough foresight in him to claim that my mutterings of B+'s were tantamount to, how should I put it, s/+/S/g. Unlike that great southern land, the land of the free took very little time to prove him right. The discrepancy between expectation and result wasn't as bad as one particular incident the astute reader will recall, but it was bad enough for me to realize that I still have a loong way to go. At least I can provide more entertainment as I stumble through.

Friday, December 07, 2007

On occasion, I imagine that I somehow receive an insight into another's character and taste, and imagine these to be true with a conviction that, on reflection, is somewhat surprising. It took a split-second for me to decide that yes, R would not disappoint, he of course knew the origins of the song that played on the radio, and we could spend the rest of the journey comparing our opinions of the band's development. Such was my confidence that I had already begun smiling, expecting my glee to be unbounded when he confirmed my instinct. So, sure of the answer, I chanced my hand and asked him what he thought of the track. Indifference, he said, after a half-bewildered pause that conveyed as much. Equally quickly, my fanciful dream was robbed, and I was forced to smile weakly and blather about some tangential topic, trying hard to mask the very real disappointment I felt. Another loss, yes, but it isn't all that bad, really. If I ever achieve a straight hit, the rewards will surely be worth any embarassments incurred along the way.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Haunting eyes struck me from across the bus, cutting through the pathetic overstated laughs that I feigned in hopes of avoiding his sight, in hopes of pretending that all was well. What I thought was a casual act of no consequence, I could see I grossly misestimated. I thought of exchanging another smile, to pretend as though nothing had happened, but I knew he would never forgive. How quickly his sweet face turned to anger and hate! It is too much for my heart to bear.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

I should have known better than that, of course. The dimmed lights let them revel, but my eye only sought to find my role model. I found him, drink in one hand, the other jiggling loosely in a state of total inebriation. The only goal he had his sights on was shouting louder than the rest of those gathered. I felt a great sadness, but not as much surprise.
I am forced to wonder sometimes - could I have once turned out like these people strewn before me? A small huddle seemed requisite in the cold, though the drinks they had in hand more than made up for that. The alcohol fuelled every bawdy joke and fabrication that their minds held till that point. I could only sit back and wonder what I was doing in this world.

Friday, November 09, 2007

I could predict, when he attested to the lyrical qualities of the song, that it would end up revealing more about him than I had learnt in all the time we had spent curiously probing each other's pasts. "You've run so far and you still can't see", I think it went; something of the sort, anyway. His face had a sombre quality to it, and I could see the weight he attached to the lines. I thought of my pretensions and posturings, and smiled with genuine gratitude at being shown so pure an expression of appreciation. And while I did not forget the harrowing times we had because of each other, I knew that this was one moment which could not be denied.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

With a needlessly malicious barb that dripped with sarcasm, he fulfilled every bad stereotype that is placed on his countrymen.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Mid-air, as my eyes are about to close shut in hopes of shutting out the inplacable uneasiness that I feel, I sometimes really do feel as though I can accept just about anything in this world. But more disturbingly, I also imagine that I can just as easily yield all my principles, just in exchange for tranquility and terra firma.

Monday, October 22, 2007

There is a slow, charming Morrissey song that goes by the name "The Lazy Sunbathers", which tells the tale of people oblivious to the world around them, instead thinking only about how best to soak up the sun. Your situation was almost the reverse, right down to the commentator - he had nothing near the gentle understanding that Morrisey brings. No, this new narrator treated the matter with an acidic laugh and a mocking imitation, one which I suppose he thought I'd find amusing. The source of this entertainment was the most minor of acts, a gas mask to protect against fumes that we were clearly told about. It should go without saying that I did not find your caution in the face of a potential disaster at all odd. I could read your concerns, and was confident that your actions were from a pragmatic nonchalance, and nothing more.

As you walked past my window, mask neatly placed and most indiscreet amongst your calm features, I thought again of the secret insult he shared with me. I felt as though the world was too impossibly cruel, but also felt a surging sense of pride and hope in your confidence - I could sense an inspiring degree of indifference to whatever he said. My heart mixed with feelings of sympathy and gratitude, I only wished that I could have offered an embrace that suggested both. Yes, I know that you would care for neither of these things, but I will not retract my intent - let it be known that I would have gladly played the part of the fool, were it required. Respect though I now possess for you, ultimately, I only desire that the universe see just who it is I am.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

It would seem that neither time nor inspiration exist in abundance during this particular part of my life's journey. I sorely miss the former, but I can do without the latter for a little while longer. As long as a lack of inspiration does not impact my desire for appreciation, I can pull through for a while yet.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

And therefore I have sailed the seas and come
To the holy city of Byzantium.

Well, I'd like to think so anyway, but at least the possibility of it being more than just another city, just another country, seems open. I suppose the natural thing to do in such circumstances is to follow-up the teary farewell post with a down-to-earth rumination of the changes one perceives. But aside from being too obvious, I fear it will also prove to be too time-consuming. Instead, I figure, why not try to capture changes as they naturally occur, and capture them in my specialty (ultra-short prose)? We shall see what time and inspiration permits!

Monday, September 03, 2007

The third continent

Let me break the facade again, for some matters from my otherwise boring personal life do affect me sufficiently to be considered worthy of a post. This one entails the occasionally exciting, but usually terrifying prospect that awaits; a move to the third continent, where I am to seek out some sort of destiny. Naturally there is a part of me that wants to pour it all out, but that would descend far too quickly into the sort of maudlin, nostalgic writing that I would feel terribly embarassed about after a few days. Instead, let me just briefly wander around the streets of this town in my head.

I don't know what exactly constitutes one's formative years - I guess the answer depends on what exactly it is that is being formed. No doubt my moral compass and the like were very much a product of the early days (! how old I make myself sound!) in that wonderful, paradoxical land that seems rather distant now. But a lot of what I now consider to be important parts of myself were definitely cultivated in this land, which once seemed so foreign, so impossible to understand and accept. The early days of the move here were the stuff of the recent culture-clash movies; while there were plenty of things I knew about from the open media in my childhood, to see them first hand was more than a little disorienting. Naturally, it created a pining for the homeland I fondly remembered sans flaws of any type. I don't suppose I was the first immigrant who found the early stages sometimes impossibly daunting, and unsurmountable. Tough times, I reflect now, but something I needed to go through to have some of the...hardier characteristics I now claim to possess. What exactly kept me sane in the early days I am now not that sure - there wasn't much in terms of a support structure I could lean on. An inner toughness I didn't realize I had? More likely the gradual chipping away of defensive walls I needlessly constructed, actually.

But now, things seem to have settled down, and what was once the impossible is now fairly close to reality. Not only is there a sense of some kind of comfort here, there are small things that warm the cockles of my heart (I am not foolish enough to try and share them here - they would surely perish under objective scrutiny!). A second homeland? Probably as close to one as I'll know. Again like the cliches in books and movies, I find myself unsure of where exactly I fit in, with the answer most likely being nowhere in particular. In that sense, perhaps another "homeland" will make for an interesting three-way pull for my affection; the task of trying to rationalize then will hopefully prove Herculean enough for me to give up, and instead look at things with a more practical eye.

I suppose the most amusing thing of the situation is that what once played the role of the scary, isolating fortress in the distance now is the opposite; it goes without saying there is a lesson in that for me. And of course, I realize the platitudes are all correct, and that familarity is usually a matter of time. But I hope it also goes without saying that such aphorisms, wise as they are, crumble under the weight of the matter. Actually, surprisingly little time has been spent reflecting on just how much I now take for granted, and what will happen when I find myself transplanted without these things - my nearly foolproof strategy for dealing with change, whose only downside is that it tends to delay thought (and fear) till the last minute, wherein the implosion is near-terrifying! (I am being a little over-dramatic here, but conveniently, I feel like I am more than justified!)

So. Whether the third continent is the last, I cannot of course say. I don't think I have it in me to get throught another move, but one never knows I suppose. But I mustn't fix my sights so far, for this move alone is challenging enough! I deliberately don't want to write a whole lot about my fears right now; normally I do find it to be a useful way of conquering them. But I feel that in this case, the nature of what lies ahead is simply too daunting for a neat categorization and analysis to solve all my problems. A far more successful strategy, I am assuming, is to take a hint from a maligned Doors song*.

There is too much else going on in my mind for this post to contain anything more of substance, so I shall pause for now. My heart is full - yet onward and onward, and onward I go.

(Incidentally, I have toyed with the idea of letting this blog be a place solely for time here in the land down under (can't you hear the thunder, etc.), and have not yet come to a decision. Fear not, gentle reader, you will be notified should I move nests digitally too!)

* Obscurity was very much a product of life and music here.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Mud left buddy jam

Introversion can sometimes manifest itself at the most undesirable of times; and what frustrates the most is that I still haven't figured out whether these manifestations are natural and involuntary, or whether I have more control than I believe. My guess? I think it's "natural", only so far as it is familiar - which I guess makes it involuntary too. With proper training, I'm fairly sure it can be curbed, though I doubt it can be licked entirely.

A recurrent experience is a feeling of complete distancing from myself at completely inappropriate moments, where consciousness and reality are separate (that is unfortunately the best I can put it). There is no awareness of "myself", perhaps due to the fact that there is no time for thought. Instead, I am forced to rely on an increasingly rusty auto-pilot, whose technical limitations are showing themselves quite flagrantly of late. And usually, all of a sudden, there is a flash of clarity, where I become all too aware of this, and as a result I cannot help but feel that I have been stringing my companion on some elaborate ride when my heart is not in it. Truth, where does it lie? Not in half-formed blog posts, I know that for sure.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Why exactly do I keep writing here?

Saturday, July 28, 2007

I sometimes wonder whether the reactions I observe are simply normal, or whether they indicate that some of my fears are founded; that my dealing of human relationships is far too clouded by personal insecurities for any of them to have the sort of depth that I feel others experience. As always I seem doomed to be at the pathetic end of the relationship, almost sycophantic in my praise of the other party, who shows but a mild tolerance to my presence. It is a burden to try and keep the flames still burning, and when I move into the territory that I am now, I wonder whether there is much point to it. Am I just shifting focus away from the real problem, that the diminishing flame indicates I have, yet again, suffocated the thing from the start? But I still dream on though, of having someone care enough to display the initiative to take that first step to resurrecting a dying relationship.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Many moons ago, I used what I thought was foresight and some connection to that realm of the beyond to proudly claim just what it was I was in this life for. Naturally, I said, it is to understand! Implictly, I suppose, I meant that I wanted to understand the grander fabric of it all. There was no scope for nihilism at that age, and so meaning was taken as an assumption (nowadays, I feel it need not be an assumption, but anyhow). I thought of that incident today and wondered whether I have done that version of me justice. I feel there have been gracious moments that have gone towards such a goal, but much remains unexplored and hanging, waiting for contemplation and comprehension. The naivete of those days I have lost a little, but I still hope the sentiment holds strong in the years to come.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Silent moments while sitting in the midst of a sizable crowd are special. A part of me uses them to affirm certain existential truths it feels it has unearthed.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

For once, it didn't work! I tried to get rid of those thoughts of you by putting them in writing, but I just had to take one look at your friend to realize I was deluding myself.

Her cold eyes and my rapidly weakening smile...sometimes I wonder what this life is all about.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

The poor recipients of my correspondence during some of the roughest days I faced. If only it were possible for me to track every one of them down, sit them down to the place my mind now inhabits, offer a cup of tea or what have you, and explain with simple words (plus some new ones I have since learnt) that I am not that person anymore. I cannot, of course, but I will still sigh and dream, only sometimes asking why people are so unfair as to pigeonhole each other.

Update '08: But then I read again the things I wrote, that I thought I meant at the time. I cannot honestly say that I would forgive such talk, even at this, my "mature" period.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

"...I think it's a good idea - I actually want what I do to be criticized. Because if you do not want criticism, what are you doing here?", he asked, and all those around me smiled knowingly at his decidedly rhetorical question. I was the only one who took it to heart, however; and after a moment's thought, I calmly collected my belongings and quietly left the room.

Friday, July 06, 2007

If there is a meaning to it all, and if isolation in all its majesty can reveal to us truths we would rather not seek, surely such things need to be greeted with at least some level of humour, as though they were part of a cosmic joke perpetrated on us. A perennial shrug and chuckle can sometimes be an unassailable strategy.

Friday, June 29, 2007


"And what about you, Frank?", he said, or shouted again, so recklessly that one old mare pricked up her drowsing ears.
"Have I not taught you anything?", he asked.
"To expect damnation", said Le Mesurier, without considering long.

I don't consider the above to touch upon the true "meaning" of Patrick White's Voss in any sense, but it is something that I found particularly striking. The novel is far too dense for one reading, spread over two months, to discover its secrets - and so I will not attempt to analyze its deeper meaning or central themes. Certainly, to paraphrase Voss himself, it uses the narrative as an opportunity to provide some insight on the human condition, and as it goes with such novels, there is precious little I can offer that is not a mere quotation, followed by a sigh of pleasure. Suffice to say it is powerfully written, and more than satisfied my expectations.

I guess I really wanted to remark on why I started the book in the first place, which, as is often the case, was due to a pure whim on my part. Well, this was a whim that actually turned into something of an infatuation. There was something about the description of White's work, Voss in particular, that I felt drawn to. Perhaps it was the excitement of seeing how he might use the desert as a device to reveal great existential truths. Or something like it goes with my whims, I am all to eager for some great universal revelation to be presented to me, without much knowledge about truths that have passed by me before, and an almost child-like (winsome?) fascination that does not really seem befitting of the subject matter.

It was a tough read, but I am glad I pulled through. The first third took next to no time, which seems appropriate given that this is pre-expedition. The middle third was a long, arduous journey for me, much like the book. And the last third...well, you get the idea. There were most certainly times when I gave serious thought to putting it down, and admitting defeat; somehow, though, I persevered, and reached easier terrain!

Anyhow, a second read seems inevitable, even if I cannot place the time. It will be revealed to me, I am sure.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Recently, on seeing a valiant fellow traveller's rewards on the journey thus far, I have thought about the place that time has to play in listening to music. I might be the only one who likes to place a substantial gap between listens to albums, for the simple reason that I feel like it gives the material some chance to percolate. This is done on the back-burner, and I know that it's done when a line or melody comes to me at some odd time, usually with me being completely unable to place the source. I take this to mean that I have somehow subconsciously assimilated the material, and that I am ready for another listen.

Putting this into writing, I realize how strange this must be - even weirder than my principle of listening to entire albums. One unfortunate consequence is that the amount of albums I can say I have listened to is rather small, by all accounts. However, that is a rather banal metric of listening - what is more important, and more interesting, is whether this addition of time is artificial, or whether it does help create some space for the music to grow. I suspect that as always, the answer is wholly dependent on the individual; given my particular wirings, and my past foibles, I am fairly confident that for me the experience is more enriching.

But even so, I cannot fully shake off the ghouls that ask why it is I listen to so little, yet profess to love so much. Part of my struggle with this question is the admittedly juvenile, but somehow resilient equation of volume with "knowledge", or some such vapid notion. The internet* has helped provide some grounding for my suspicion about how anomalous my listening habits must be in this regard., for instance, coolly tells me of countless people who in a month listen to as much as I have the past year. Now, who exactly it is I need to prove knoweldge to, I am not sure - is it similar to the obsession that drives collectors in the first place? Why, for instance, do I feel compelled to complete certain parts of my catalogue (aside from borderline OCD, that is - and I do not mean that in an entirely flippant manner)? A natural explanation is the imaginary creation of an uber-critic or collector who watches over the collection as it forms, passing judgement on weak spots that are evident to all. Why this fictional creation should be given any time at all is another matter...

It seems only natural that I should respond to these volume-heavy listeners with a broad dismissal of them not "understanding" or "appreciating" as much as I do, but frankly that's a bit of nonsense. I cannot deny that more than a few of them really do seem to have a deeper knowledge and love than the caricature of this type of listener I'd like to imagine. For them, however, time seems to play little to no place - back to back listens of albums are no problem, whereas for me they are nigh impossible, as the second listen would simply wash over me - I'd hear the same thing I heard the first time. I find I need time to collect my thoughts and feelings before that next listen, in order for it to hit home harder.

So what then is the insecurity that makes me feel as though I ought to be listening as much as these other people? It is, I think, a consequence of me getting a little too caught up in the game. With this sort of attitude, music loses its personal charm and "true meaning", but instead becomes the end of some inane competition. Who listens to the most, who knows the most, who has the most eclectic tastes...all rubbish, really. I am glad that in my calmer moments (I'd count this as one), I'm able to stay true to the motivation for time-separated listens (giving more meaning to something that deserves it), but I do wish that it were able to put a stop to these nagging doubts about inadequacy. It's easy enough to blame the internet for this too, but that doesn't even fool me!

I suppose that like most things when it comes this subject, I am not entirely sure whether my theories are fabrications of my mind, or if I genuinely believe them. Of course, it doesn't matter whether they are or not, but some sort of confidence in my technique would nonetheless be reassuring. It would save you the trouble of wading through such half-baked posts too.

* Ironically enough, I sometimes feel that the internet has provided a mechanism that can sometimes rob the fun out of certain endeavours. I owe virtually everything in my catalogue to the advice of the internet, but I suppose I am also referring to both the ease of information and, of course, the ease of downloading - something I have deliberately avoided out of some potentially archaic (yet, conveniently, legally supported!) set of principles. Like many an old coot before me, there is a pleasure associated with going through some effort in waiting for a CD, finding it and then purchasing it. It is also a very useful way of curbing excessive listening, you know!

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

It hits me hard, this cruel fact. If only they could understand it was not my choice... But why did I let myself go through with it? Perhaps stupidity is the reason I am punished the way I am.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Weary - I wish there were more time to collate, to compress. There is too much cluttering my head, I need to give it time to settle down. Jokes and fantasty worlds occupy every thought, and sometimes reality is unclear. There is nothing unique in the observation, but does not the personal experience validate its importance? As you might expect gentle reader, I pose this potentially complex question with no intention of answering it myself. All I hope is that morning brings focus, even if all my questions remain.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

I am a little concerned with my foray into classical music, in particular with my perceptions of it. I would like to think that my interest stems out of the musical qualities themselves, but I sometimes wonder whether it is what I proudly proclaimed wouldn't happen - namely, being motivated by thoughts of it somehow making me more "informed" and knowledgeable. Rather pathetic, really.

Regardless of whatever ulterior motives I fear I may possess, there has been some actual time spent on listening, thankfully. Mozart has proven to be rather easy on the ears, and it's no wonder he's usually the first choice for "initiation" into the fold. Almost like pop songs, sometimes; at least, the ones I've heard. Bach, on the other hand, seems like he requires far more dedication and patience. It might take a good, oh I don't know, fifty listens to get through The French Suites. Beethoven finds himself somewhere in between, but is a bit closer to Mozart for my comprehending abilities. Of course, my judgements do not presume to be about the actual quality of the music, for I know far, far too little about classical music to say anything meaningful on the topic; as such, they are just initial sketches which I can only hope get clearer in due course.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Sometimes, I think, one's life can appear to have elements that are lifted straight out of a class of literature that I would struggle to define. I refer to pieces that can be written in a way that seems strangely beautiful and overpowering when it is read, but which come back during silent moments in the future and seem to be stuff and nonsense, lacking any sort of coherence. I suppose one could say that they require sufficient abstraction on the part of the reader for them not to be dismissed as nonsense. Oh, and there is certainly an overlap with that body of work which requires an intellectual capacity far beyond me; but it also encompasses many things I do consider dear to my heart, but which are vulnerable because of their nakedness.

At any rate, I have come across such situations occasionally, ones blessed with both an innate artistic beauty that is clear only on reflection, but more obviously with an element of randomness and discordance that defies even the most careful study and scrutiny, but nonetheless makes its presence felt. Sometimes it is worth thinking about the questions that such events pose. Sometimes, though, it is best to accept the insanity, and hope with a wry smile that they keep coming.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

I really do miss the days when I used to listen to actual CDs on my CD player, rather MP3s on the computer. Nowadays, my CDs typically see the light of day only for that first time when I convert them to MP3 form, which is added to my digital collection. I rarely, if ever, put a CD into my player; since my computer is connected to my speakers and headphones, it is convenient to listen to music either way! Of course, it does mean that my CDs are nice and clean, with no smudges and what have you. Still, all that lying around can't do much good for their dust resistance...

The convenience of my digital library I cannot question, but it does feel like something is missing. It is strange to talk of the tactile aspect of an audio-medium, but that plays no small part I think. I find that even the joy of flicking through liner notes is shoved away till the mood hits me, usually at a completely arbitrary moment where there is no music being played. Even the album art itself used to find itself subject to careful scrutiny, along with every aspect of the track listing. Looking at some old CDs that I remember studying carefully as the music was playing, I can't help but feel that convenience is most certainly not everything.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

When I first came to town

I should be a bit more careful writing stuff like this, expecting everything will just "know" my sources and intentions - don't want to be accused of plagiarism! Anyhow, it is based on Nick Cave's song of the same name, and I suppose one could call it an "interpretation", although perhaps it's just a CliffNotes version of it!?! There is a deliberate point of difference with the song, though, in the very first line (which was in fact my inspiration for writing this).

When I first came to town, people didn't gather round; no drinks did they buy. Their cold silence whistled through my bones, and I knew then what it was to be alone. Those dark rumours followed me till the end, when, with tears, I knew the heavens would send me no mercy. I knew though that my curses were in vain, for the next town, as always, would be the same.

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Gabriel Knight in Windows XP

Thanks to this site, I am now able to play the original Gabriel Knight (the Windows CD version) on Windows XP! And in fullscreen, too, voices and everything...beautiful!

Friday, May 25, 2007

Sometimes I don't like my writing, and wonder why I project the image I invariably do with a lot of my work. I am also a bit disappointed that I've actually noted in specific terms how I can improve, but putting it into practise has proven to be a difficult task, it would seem. Maybe it's time to close shop altogether!?!

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

The gentle lilt, oh so perfect! The secret boys' word? No, it is now yours to keep.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

I couldn't help thinking while listening to "Eat At Home", just one of the effortlessly charming numbers on Ram, how lucky we are to have a melodicist like McCartney in our lifetime.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Did Jim Morrison reach his peak with LA Woman? Sometimes, I think so - the writing is very focussed, ain't it?

Probe launch successful

I've been playing a few oldie-games recently, for no real good reason. I guess it all started when I saw a screenshot of Eric The Unready on an adventure games forum, and read someone saying how it featured one of the greatest opening sequences in a (presumably adventure) game. Of course, offhand comments are pretty much all I go by in my whimsical decisions, and so it was settled - I would get every old game I could get my hands on. Or at least, I would get Eric The Unready, only to discover that my appetite would not be so easily satisfied...

Oh, and it is a fine intro, and the first "scene" if you will starts off looking like it is nothing particularly funny - in a slight twist on the fairy tale, you need to kiss a pig in order to bring it back to human form. But the scene does end very funnily; well, at least I think it was funny! It left enough of a good impression for me to continue playing.

I also tried, and to my surprise, finished Ringworld: Revenge Of The Patriarch. I started off really impressed with the game, as it features King's Quest V style graphics, except that it has character close-ups for important conversations where the portraits are usually quite pretty. However, I found this to be an unsatisfying game, for quite a few reasons. The first has nothing to do with it, and all to do with the vagaries of playing old DOS games on modern computers - it is simply that on DOSBox, I found the game to be too slow. I cranked the cycles all the way up, but to no avail!

With the gameplay, the story and depth was lacking, but then again this was made in 1992 (hmm, is that an excuse? Ultima VII...!). I didn't really feel like the story was explored in any great depth - the threat of the villain was very, very understated, and aside from your faithful companion Seeker, don't feel like you get to know anyone.

Anyhow, I still have a soft spot for this game, since I was really impressed with screenshots of Seeker talking. Who knows, maybe if in the future I can run it at true game speed, I will write about how it's a lost classic!

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Thanks to this post, I got Albion working in DOSBox without the right part of the screen getting cut off. One way to solve this is to not run the game in fullscreen; the other is to set aspect = true in dosbox.conf. Now the game runs fine!

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

A line from "Simple Twist Of Fate" seemed appropriate recently, and it gave me the incentive to listen to parts of* Blood On The Tracks again, after a long time. My old favourites remain, but I have been happy to find that I enjoy the other tracks more than I thought I did. Songs I remembered as sad, gloomy, and painful, but powerful, turned out to be anything but - well, sad and powerful, sure, but not without some cool sense of beauty. I don't know if that made much sense, but 'tis best not to try and analyze these things too much (especially when you can't write...!).

Incidentally, I don't know why "Lily, Rosemary & The Jack Of Hearts" is so maligned. I loved the song from my first listen! Repetitive in some sense, yes, but it is a lyrics song to me - "Desolation Row" could also be seen as repetitive, but I don't think too many people complain about the lyrics there. So I guess people don't like the narrative? Ah well.

Dylan seems to have sent shockwaves through his fanbase in Chronicles, where he claimed that one of his albums was based on short stories on Chekhov, while critics thought it was autobiographical. Naturally, the most obvious candidate for this album would be BOTT, which has always been taken to be about his marriage. Some people seem to feel that this means a lot of what has been written about the album is now wrong, but I don't think this is necessarily true. While I initially felt that this was a big development, on reconsideration I think it is more an interesting backstory. I don't know if I ever felt that the songs were explicitly about his marriage, in an autobiographical sense - as in, I don't think I thought, for instance, that the story of "Tangled Up In Blue" was based on what happened to him. But I did think, and still do think, that the underlying material itself was forged from what was happening in his personal life. For starters, it surely isn't a coincidence that he chose to write an album almost entirely about loss (loosely speaking) when his own marriage was dissolving? Even if they were based on Chekhov stories, the particular stories he chose seem to have a thread that is surely the influence of marriage! Or do I just not know my Chekhov...!?! :)

I guess what I am arguing is that even if, say, "Idiot Wind" doesn't necessarily imply that he was angry at Sara at the time, it doesn't make it any less of a powerful song (which I think most people would agree with), and it doesn't make it any less of a personal song (in a different sense, of course).

* I don't know if I have it in me, just yet, to listen to any of my old Dylan albums in their entirety, for some strange reason.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

For nearly four years, I thought that the riff from Yes' "Syberian Khatru" was in fact from Television's "Marquee Moon", for reasons not entirely clear to me. I know I've heard a sound clip of the latter a long time ago, and I might even have heard the whole song itself on online radio. The former, of course, was part of one of the first albums I ever heard. I found it very, very amusing when I found this out today, after my first proper listen of Marquee Moon the album. All through the title track (which on first impression, incidentally, is very pretty) I was waiting for that riff to finally kick in. 2 minutes, 5 minutes, 8, and then...nothing! I had to seek the advice of an elder statesman in rock for identifying this mystery riff, and I was quite bemused that Yes' Close To The Edge should be involved in another curious incident (the first, if you remember, was where I got in my head a melody from "And You And I" some two years after hearing the album one late night). I wonder how many people can say they've mistaken Yes for Television...!?!

People rightly talk about how pretty the guitars on Marquee Moon sound; even in my first listen, I was able to pick up several really nice sections. But I can't help but feel like that riff reigns over them all!

Thursday, May 10, 2007

I sometimes wonder whether I really am thick after all. There are moments when I try desperately to analyze just what I was thinking at a particularly stupid moment, and to the best of my memory, the answer is...nothing at all. Working on auto-drive is essential sometimes, no doubt, but only when the system really works. In my case, it seems to involve shutting down of not only self-awareness, but also thought (and the two, I think, can sometimes be disconnected).

A pivotal moment*

I always suspected that since my knowledge of Excel was entirely self-learned, and at that out of needs no more complicated than sorting a list of data, there were bound to be large gaps in my knowledge of the program. The fact that I only just discovered pivot tables, by accident in fact (I was trying to do with a macro what a pivot table does for you automatically) makes me quite worried - if such a powerful feature slipped by completely unnoticed, what else is there to the program that I am not aware of? Granted, all it buys me is more opportunity to create interesting lists based on my catalogues of books/music/games, which are hardly the sort of thing that I really need to do; but I can't help but feel that such knowledge will be of use when I have to use the program in the real world (hopefully I'll get there someday!).

* I should have tried harder to resist, I know. But at least I got it over with quickly.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

It's funny - all those years, I thought it was just me, that no other was capable of such thoughts, and certainly not given to expressing them. But seeing you deal with matters that I would have treated far more gravely, and poorly, with a few simple lines and a warm acceptance of uncertainty, I realized how much there is I still have to learn.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

I'm surprised I hadn't heard of Conquests Of The Longbow before; it is a KQ5-style adventure game by Sierra, but one that has completely slipped past my radar. A quick survey of the game makes me think that it might have potential, even though, as I loathe to admit, but must, as I grow older I find it harder to play these types of games. I haven't lost the ability to appreciate them, mind you, but I think I have lost the attention span required to sit through and play a game like this. No doubt at the fore-front of my mind is the infamous "Sudden Death Sydnrome" that plagued early Sierra games, not to mention the surprising ease with which one could get stuck in the endgame after realizing you were supposed to pick up an item a good three hours earlier in the game. They make for great memories, no doubting it, but they do make me wary of attempting to complete a similar game nowadays, where time is scarce for any type of game.

Who knows, maybe it will just take the "right" game for me to get back into the swing of things? I did manage, after all, to replay Serpent Isle a few months ago, without so much as a second thought. This leads me to think that it could just be the adventure game genre that I find it difficult to get back into - although, through it all, I still firmly believe that such games should exist, and should continue to be made. I feel one must be vigilant to not call for them to become quicker at the expense elegance (no matter how nebulous a term that is), and so I guess my interest in these games is rather "theoretical", which I suspect is something of an oddity. I have been surprised how many people there are (online) who are still interested in adventure games; the internet is nice that way. The thing about most of them is, they all seem to be rather active in engaging with games, whether new or old. I wonder where they find all the time...!

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Henry's Dream

My past experiences with "album posts" tell me that they are invariably doomed from the start, in that the end result is usually inextricably linked with the time of the listening, and is usually a result of me being far too excited after a listen. But now I tell myself this is not really about an album as it is about my thoughts concering a fine songwriter, and so I shall march on...

Henry's Dream is an interesting installment in my relationship with Nick Cave, because I remember almost vehemently disliking it the first time I gave it a listen. Seeing as how it follows the much mellower Good Son, there was probably a part of me hoping for some of the beauty of that album, even if I hadn't exactly read anything to strengthen such a view. But, of course, it is quite a different album, even if it was released not that long after. Louder, angrier at times, and, well, furious imagery for lack of a better description. Any hope of a repeat of The Good Son was immediately struck aside with the opening track. No Portugese hymns here, my friend!

No doubt this played some part in me finishing the album with a sense of deep disappointment and frustration. But the comparisons to its predecessor only went so far, and for the most part I simply didn't like the songs. "Where is the underlying elegance and beauty?", I asked (clearly, I hadn't paid much attention to the softer songs, like "Loom Of The Land"), and kept thinking about how unnecessarily angry the music sounded - I felt as though it was unable to communicate anything effectively. Indeed, this dislike of the album made me think about whether I really like Cave's work, or whether it is just a song here and there that captured my imagination. After all, I asked myself, is this not the sort of music he is known for? I took my dislike to mean that maybe I had just convinced myself that I liked his work, when in fact I was at best a casual fan. Give me some of his ballads, and keep the rest at a respectful distance, say what?

The fact that I was unable to convincingly answer these questions meant that I was quite unhappy about the whole thing. Here I had gone and told myself that this was a songwriter I held in high regard, and now I thought this might be one of my delusions - more worrying, of course, was that I had invested so much time in his catalogue with this potentially being the case! But with time, I think this was perhaps a bit hasty. I think all Henry's Dream is is an album that requires a dedicated listen. 'Tis a little dense, sure, but that is not to say one cannot learn to love it. One needs the right time and place, of course - "Papa Won't Leave You Henry" will otherwise come crashing down on your quiet night! I find that I do not mind the hard, driving force of the tracks as I used to, and indeed I actually like most of them! The album is a good example of one where the sequencing comes to the rescue; "Straight To You" providing a breather (and what a breather! Reminds me of "The Ship Song", and the lyrics are as sharp as...well, the sparrow's beak!) after the powerful, but draining, first two tracks.

Like I mentioned, the lyrics here are far more florid when compared to the previous album (where he claimed to be "sick of words" - I know the feeling!). At first, I only really took towards "Brother, My Cup Is Empty", which has a clear reference to "Invictus", but mostly reminds me of something out of Dostoevsky. The scene in the bar from Crime and Punishment, I think, though my memory is a bit foggy. Perhaps the parallel is purely imagined on my part, but imagined or not it makes the song more interesting! With time, though, I have found myself able to appreciate the apocalyptic "Papa Won't Leave You Henry" (I wish I could write something like the first stanza), and even at times "John Finn's Wife" (though I still do not find myself fond of the last stanza). My natural inclination is still towards the ballads, "Straight To You" and "Loom Of The Land", but I no longer find myself turned off by the songs that dare to, you know, be aggressive.

I guess the reaction to these types of songs is not the same as one has towards the more balladsy-material. The latter has what I would call innate beauty, an obvious poetic touch that comes through and is familiar territory for me. But the denser songs? I suppose one starts to respond to the powerful style of expression that is a trademark of a Cave song. Like I said, it does take the right mood for this to be possible, but it is possible to get past the initial trepidation. I cannot say that I find "I Had A Dream, Joe", say, to be a highly resonant or traditionally "beautiful" song. And yet...the frantic pace, the dream-like (by which I mean nightmare-like) lyrics, and the vocal melody, they paint something very unique, and clearly "pleasing", if not in the traditionally understood sense.

The experience has left me richer, and has renewed my faith in Cave the songwriter. That tiff I had with him after the first listen has been resolved, and he can rightfully take his place amongst the list of my favourite songwriters, and is still one of rock's finest lyricists in my book.
S really surprised me today with a comment about albums, and how listening to an album the entire way through is essentially dead. Words to the effect of "You're probably the only one in the country who does that anymore"! Wow!

It got me thinking as to where I developed this habit in the first place. I suspect it is because of the hours upon hours my impressionable young mind spent taking in George Starostin's reviews. I seem to remember him making a few remarks as to how his reviews really were specifically about albums, and not just collections of songs. It didn't matter if there was any thematic or conceptual structure to the album; after all, that would strike out far too many albums from consideration. It was more to do with the overall feel that the album produced - listened, of course, from start to end.

There was a point in time when listening to an album the entire way through was the only way I would listen to music, and I think such an "extremity" is probably rare among listeners these days. I for one no longer belong to this group, for I have since been cured of this affliction, and now enjoy the pleasure of random playlists. But that is not to say that I have lessened my appreciation for the album as a separate experience, which I guess is also somewhat of a rarity. I of course accept that this is not at all the best way to listen to music, but I do think it provides an experience distinct from a randomized (or even personalized) choice of playlist.

One of things I like about it is, funnily enough, one of the points made by S against it - the continuation of mood, and occasionally the great arching structure the artist puts above it all. Again, I don't think this proscribes one to listen to the album in order, but that doesn't mean that there's nothing it offers that you can't get from a random playlist - which is all I argue, and which for some reason S seems to be implying to the contrary.

Actually, the only time when I feel like I have to listen to an album the whole way through is the first listen. In fact, while I am not entirely opposed to adding a track to one of my randomly chosen playlists after an initial listen, I do feel rather clammy about it until I feel I've properly listened to the whole album. Maybe in the space of an album, tough nuts have lots of protection around them, and are saved harsh criticism? Or (and this is probably more towards the truth), perhaps I think too much about albums, and get too excited about the times where the first song, chosen wisely by the artist, turns out to be a mini-masterpiece of sorts, shutting out all of the world for a moment or two. But there is also the fact that a shuffle seems so disjointed to me if I'm not at least somewhat familiar with the tracks. Of course, this is more a personal foible than anything else, and again I don't think I would ever argue that it is somehow "wrong" to have a different type of first listen. All I call for is a sense of balance!

Maybe all this talk about it being a separate experience in my head after all. It could just be that I place too much worth on the album as a concept, leading to all sorts of quirks like this. Still, I don't feel like it's something particularly restricting, nor something that closes doors to me; not yet, anyway!

Friday, April 13, 2007

Streets of your town

Let me walk these streets,
For it is a town I hardly know
Let me forget the thoughts that ask
Whether it always turns out just so.

Open them unto me,
Your silent streets and cafes,
Let me stare and ask myself
Why I claim I can never stay.

Be it under the Sun,
Or as the day retreats once again,
Let me see the world as I wish it
Let goodbye never be a matter of when.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Yes, unfortunately, it is true, I shall soon have to follow the footsteps of many a great student before me as I tread to the uncertain lands of the US of A. Apologies for the break in the facade.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Red Alert In Windows XP

I had more luck running Red Alert (one of the early Command and Conquer games, doncha know?) in XP than I did with Bad Mojo. It takes a bit of work, but it is worth it since it lets you play one of the true classics among strategy games, or so I hope ;) I thought I'd make a note of how I got it to work, in case I need to do it again - these are not my own ideas, of course, and are paraphrased from here.

Assuming you've uninstalled any previous versions of Red Alert, first, you need to install it via the SETUP95 folder, not via the autoplay system. In the SETUP95 folder, set the compatibility settings for INSTALL.exe to run in Windows 95 Compatibility mode, and then install the game. I did not install DirectX 3.0, but I did install Westwood Chat (which you might be able to do without, but I don't think it hurts).

Next, in the folder where the files have been installed, you need to make all exe files run under Windows 95 Compatibility mode. Just sort the files by type, and select all files which are labelled Application in the Details view (for me, there were 11 such files).

Now select the RA95.exe file, and change its Compatibility settings to "Run in 640x480", "Disable visual themes", and "Turn off advanced text services". This is the main game executable file, but we can't run it just yet! The game needs to be patched first - there are two patches that are needed.

The first patch, C& can be found here, and you just need to overwrite the THIPX32.DLL file in your install directory. The second patch, RA108USP.exe, can be found here, and you need to run it once to extract the file PATCH.exe, which you then run (this has to be in your installation directory!) to patch Red Alert to v1.08.

Now after all this, running RA95.exe should start the game! No dwwin.exe errors or anything...simple as that ;)

Saturday, April 07, 2007

You might laugh if you knew the motivation behind some of these writings. Is that what makes my writing mediocre at best; the inability to get across some of the deliberate bathos? Well, that, and the inherent banality I suppose.

Lying idle now, though meant for all to see,
Precious jewels I had eagerly gathered.
There was not even a blink - another loss,
But as if that ever mattered!
Well I had to try and make something not totally serious out of it, for the alternative would have been no fun.

It is in some sense funny that before the hilarious chain events that led him to hate me forever, I was the one who felt some sense of discord when thinking about him; I could never place my finger on it, but I felt that there was something to him that was wholly incompatible with me. It is hard to say now what exactly the cause was - jealousy, most likely, for I am ready to admit that his talents far dwarfed my own. But all those moments where I would attempt to rationalize this feeling, followed by me admonishing myself for thinking such things about someone I didn't know, what happened to them on that day? The answer is, quite simply, that they amounted to nothing. He came into the day without knowing who I was, except maybe as a face that moved in circles somewhere near his own. And it took a misheard remark for that to morph into a dislike far worse than the one I imagined that I held against him. I suppose I should feel slighted, but I know it was a misunderstanding, and further, one which I will never be able to explain.

But, even though it is ludicrous, what I really feel upset about is the fact that he managed to trump me without any forethought. What a waste to harbour those half-formed thoughts about him, seeing as how in an instant they were defeated by a snap judgement on his part! Perhaps it is simply the punishment for reflecting too much - the lesson from this experience must surely be that when it comes to matters such as hate, or at least dislike, it is best to not plan its hatching. Fate, I have found, seems only to reward the impetuous, and has no appreciation for planning, no matter how delicate.


The most earth-grounding exercise I perform when it comes to my attempts at writing comes from reflection on how I tend to express thoughts and feelings as compared to other works that I am fond of by writers of varying statures. So blunt, so devoid of humour, so lacking secret or subtlety, so...obvious. I think subtlety is the biggest lapse in my palette, but this is not a new realization, sadly. I hope I can get past the all too familiar hyper-serious, suffocating style of prose that I seem to have perfected over the years whenever it comes to something that almost cries out for careful, poignant treatment. I think the reason I do not naturally gravitate towards the latter is because whenever I have tried it, I end up being overtly maudlin and again, hyper-serious (but in a different sense). Maybe the problem is that I am just no good at these things ;)

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

I still find that the first listen is the hardest. Of an album, that is - and I wonder whether it's to do with me, or if it's just how it has to be sometimes. It seems too easy to just call such work "subtle" and leave it at that, because I suspect there are other forces at play.

It is interesting to me that a non-trivial number of times, I have found myself either completely indifferent or actively disappointed about an album after my first listen. Sure, there are many times when I feel "Well, there is some good stuff here", confident that future listens will help bring out something - but far too many times for my liking, I have been scared away from future listens because of bad first experiences. And, in recent times, every time this has happened I have subsequently come to really like the album - we're talkin' becoming borderline devotional towards it, you know. I have to ask, is it the material, or is it just me? Or, better yet, is it just the way it has to be!?!

I don't think the material alone can explain this phenomenon, because it doesn't happen to "serious" albums alone. There's no doubting that a dead-serious album with complex themes really requires the right frame of mind if it is to be accepted with open arms the first time, and this can be a hard thing to summon up sometimes. But I have also had negative first experiences with albums that are essentially pop, ones featuring what I now consider to be very good melodies. No really complicated themes, just a lot of pretty melodies floating around, but...not a smile from me! I can remember the first time I heard them, where I would be itching, just itching for the darn thing to finish so that I could go clear my head and forget that I wasted my time on something so unworthy of it ;) The melodies, it would seem, did not make themselves all that well known on our first acquaintance*!

This leaves me to more or less conclude that it's either to do with me, or it's just a struggle we all have to sometimes go through. I wouldn't say I don't pay sufficient attention the first time around - I actually try and make it a point to give the album my full attention, especially I'm really excited about it. I suspect it's more to do with the fact that the first time around, the album needs to cut away any pre-conceived notions one has when coming into it. And in my case, albums usually have high expectations attached with them, and in the past I even used to expect specific songs to be knockouts based on reviews I had read. With such expectant listening, unless something is immediately, obviously good, one is bound to be disappointed that it didn't meet whatever lofty standards were set. I actually remember how before listening to Morrissey's Your Arsenal, I told myself that I had got it just for sentimental reasons, and that it was probably going to end up disappointing. And lo - I had a good first listen! Hardly scientific proof of my offhand theory, but it adds credence in my own subjective eyes.

Anyhow, it does leave the second listen in an interesting position. The first at least leaves open the possibility that it's one of these famous tough nuts that requires perseverence; the second is fraught with the peril that you are left in the exact same state as the first! This, in my experience, has been pretty rare. Even if I've left with a similarly unfavourable opinion the second time around, I usually manage to discover something that passed my careful ears the first time.

But wait, thinking about it, if we are to be precise (and we must, we must!), perhaps it is the pre-listen that is the hardest. Even the most eagerly anticipated album seems to require an extraordinary effort for me to sit down and prepare for the first listen. Put it down to one of my many foibles - I seem to require that things be "just right" for the first listen, for the all-important first impression. Which, more often than I'd like, ends up with me thinking "Well that was a waste of money"**.

Perhaps this sort of post is symptomatic of the problems I have with listening. It could just be that I think too much without sufficient listening time to give the thinking any reasonable form. I mean, the hours I've spent reflecting on how music I've never heard will probably sound...! Yes, there is a lesson here, but one which I haven't been able to learn well enough to put into practise. But then again, what are we really talking about - how to listen to albums? To paraphrase Zappa (again), "Just shut up 'n play it".

* Love's Forever Changes is what I am thinking of - the first listen I found absolutely dreadful, and I think I was so bored the first time that I stopped listening halfway through, and let it become background noise. For shame!

** Only half-seriously, mind you! For I don't think I have yet given up entirely on an album, no matter how atrocious the first listen was. True, getting myself to sit down and prepare for that second listen is tough, but I've been fairly diligent thus far.
One of the problems I had with my first viewing of Rushmore was the feeling that Wes Anderson was looking for reasons to include some songs he really liked into the movie. I guess this is in part because I felt they were maybe too frequently used, and started getting distracted.

But you know, thinking about it, I wonder if I can blame him. I think I'd do exactly the same thing if I had the opportunity! Of course, that is because I have no filmmaking talent, but still. It is actually very tempting to start to imagine film scenes where songs would seem beautifully appropriate...

Although, I think I still hold my criticism of the movie, and I am still left wondering whether I like it for what it is, or whether the nice music plays a substantial part. As always, I am sure it is a bit of both in moderate measures, but is it good that I am unable to say so comprehensively?

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Sometimes I think it impossibly strange, and impossibly funny, that a non-trivial amount of the writings here are attempts at verses. I don't know if I can give you any explanation as to why I feel like making such attempts, especially given how dissatisfied I usually end up with them. Yes, there have been times when I have looked back on something and felt glad that I wrote it (by which I mean I did not feel embarassed reading it again, and I did not feel like it was obviously bad!), but I would have to say that by and large, I am left feeling quite sheepish with most of what I write.

Given how little poetry I read, I really do wonder where I get the inspiration to put my thoughts into this particular form of expression. I can excuse my prose seeing as how I do still read books from time to time, but the poetry? I suppose it shows in the material - I can't say that they display any sort of finesse or well-honed style. And yet, I somehow do not feel overwhelmingly embarassed about most of them, which I suppose means that they are, at best, mediocre.

Sometimes, of course, I wonder why I bother thinking so much about such things; I say "Leave the poor lad be, let him express himself, pedestrian though it may be!". And of course, it doesn't really matter, but still, I suppose it is interesting because I can't quite pin down the motivation of this habit of mine. While I can try to explain its origins, its continuation is a mystery!

Who knows, perhaps they are my attempts at songwriting - the harsh street poetry of the modern day! Maybe in a few years my mode of discourse will become radical, experimental songs that eschew conventional verse-chorus structure and start a new branch of songwriting...!
I have so clearly been left behind by advances in gaming that I initially found it hard to believe that the reviewers at Good Game are able to see past the graphical brilliance of many modern games. To think I believed that graphics were still defined by Half-Life 2, maybe Oblivion - well, one quick look at Gears of War set all that nonsense straight.

What is worrying, however, is that this makes me ripe for the hype-machines, even though I try to be wary of them nowadays. Because really, what it takes is nothing more than a concept that I am half-interested in; given such a game, I am quite likely to lower my (clearly heightened) critical defenses against the horde of hype, even if momentarily. Then, all one needs to do is show me some really catching screenshots, and a few good reviews and the chances are good that I will get excited about the game, seeing as how I will probably be smitten by the graphics and let it override any critical judgement in me. 'Fristance, I do intend to play Oblivion eventually, but I sometimes wonder whether this is such a case where I have fallen for the pretty pictures. After all, I did not have it in me to finish Morrowind, so what is it that makes me think Oblivion will be any better? Drunk on the screenshots, I tell myself that they have probably made the quest system easier, and what have you, but I suspect it really comes down to the graphics...

A sad day when someone who roughed it out with Ultima Underworld falls prey to this common trap! Mind you, this is just speculation, and maybe I give myself too little credit. I don't think I have fallen for the trap completely just yet - after all, I haven't gone as far as buying any of these pretty games!

Friday, March 30, 2007

My dear lady, please do not waste the breath the Lord gives us all; no, let it never even cross your mind to come see us again.

Monday, March 26, 2007

I don't think I was in a particularly jolly frame of mind when I felt like writing this. It is hard to try and make anything of it, so I shall leave it as it stands.

It is a pitiful power I wield;
It creates a half-visible smirk
Every time I see him attempt to gain
The attention of those unworthy of it.

Don't believe them, I say, because not one
Will sit, like I do,
Separated by sea and time,
Clinging onto moments washed from all our lives,
Writing verses blank as their hearts.

Friday, March 23, 2007

The ease with which he drifted into our conversation was not surprising, because above whatever else I may say about him, he is a most intelligent man. He showed why this respect I give him (not in the least bit begrudgingly, might I add) is justified in the offhand manner in which he pulled it off, from the generalist's evenhanded opening to the specialist's esoteric exposition. Layers upon layers were shedded in his simple gambit, and I doubt the others suspected that there was a structure to it all. For the second time in as many weeks, I strove to ascribe those welling tears to the light-hearted merriment of the situation.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

It struck me today that it is actually a bit suprising, to me at least, that I don't write more often about the books I read, in stark contrast to music and (occasionally) games. I don't think it creates a particularly accurate reflection of my interests; it seems uncomfortably close to the writers I see on various other blogs where every post is a rave about a song/album/bargain buy. I don't think anything wrong with these blogs, mind you, I just feel like it is somehow misleading for me to fit into that category (for whatever reason, I am mildly interested in the image I project here!).

It is similar to how I rarely feel inclined to write about movies, although here it is probably more to do with the fact that I don't watch enough movies to have any interesting observations to make. But there is nonetheless, I think, a similarity between my silence on books and movies - as best I can make out, the reason is primarily a sense of humility taken to its logical conclusion, namely, a complete lack of faith in my tastes and opinions!

To an extent, it is of course well-founded, but it does make me wonder where I get the gall to write about other topics, given that I am objectively about the same level when it comes to exposure to them. Where does the embarassment to write about my thoughts on a book arise from? I find it interesting that I would not hestiate to say that I find, for example, Astral Weeks a difficult album to listen to, but I feel positively foolish admitting that I find The Sound And The Fury a difficult book to read*. Perhaps it has to do with the culture of those attracted to the different mediums? I guess in my head, I still have the antiquated (?) view of the posh literary scholar being the type of person most likely to read similar material (never mind that this is laughably inaccurate when it comes to me!), and I fear his/her...smug dismissal!?!

Such a picture is formed by chance glimpses of people like the one I saw today, with long hair and exotic clothes, well-thumbed copy of The Brothers Karamazov in hand. I initially get excited when this happens, and feel like striking up a conversation and remarking on how much I enjoyed the book. But at the same time, I fear it will lead them to realize how unrefined I am, and how unusual my recollection of a book can be. I shudder at being asked something like "Powerful stuff in that 'Grand Inquisitor' chapter, eh?", and having to fumble through a response that belies my reading of the book due to its lack of, firstly, sophistication, but also, genuine insight. Herein is another similarity to how I judge movies, because in both cases I seem to walk away with some sense of the overall picture of the piece, but it is not all that uncommon for me to fumble on the basics. This does not seem to have any relationship with the quality I perceive in the book, which is frustrating as it means that even with books I like, and ones I deeply admire, I am often unable to engage in meaningful discussions about them. The Brothers Karamazov is one good example of this, but one of the most embarassing ones is the venerable Hitchiker's Guide To The Galaxy, which I shudder to confess that I have read, as it is often followed by questions of the form "Remember the bit where ...? Hilarious!". I draw a blank, and forge laughter, trying desperately to change the subject!**

So essentially, it seems that while I have no trouble admitting to myself (or to you just now, gentle reader) my troubles with certain books, would I care to admit as much to the one who is truly learned? Never! :)

* I think I have forgotten what it is like to struggle with a book, so lax have I been with reading over the last few years. Back in the day, I would fearlessly stride through all manner of books hopelessly over my league, struggling to grasp even the basic idea of what was being said, but somehow not losing faith and insteading marching on. It is fun, to a point, to struggle again!

** Of course, there is the possibility that this is symptomatic of my complete inability to truly appreciate literature and film...but while I am normally quite happy to settle with such a blithe, self-deprecating answer, I do not think it is true in this case. While there are instances where this would be true, I still feel that even when I do find something incredibly affecting, with time my grasp on the specifics tends to weaken.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

"But if you're gonna dine with them cannibals,
Sooner or later, darling, you're gonna get eaten"
-- Nick Cave, "Cannibal's Hymn"

I really can't help it if it invariably turns out that a Nick Cave lyric seems most appropriate. "Everything that you say rings true", as a different lyricist would say!

If only I had the courage to stand up for what I believed in when the moment arises...

(Unfinished, I'm afraid!)

To think that before the whole thing got underway, I actually thought it would be interesting in the genuine sense of the word, and not in the way it is now. It wouldn't be right for me to make too much of my prior feelings toward it, since I only realized that it would commence a minute or so in advance. But that is still plenty of time to imagine how sometime will pan out. My main thought was that it would be heartening to see Fan talk, which was something I'd never seen him do. Even though our paths crossed more than a few times, I don't recall him ever saying anything, either to me or to anyone else for that matter. This made him quite an enigma to me, and I often wondered about what his story was. He seemed much older than most of us, and I don't know that anyone had any idea as to what it was he did all day. I imagined a backstory that involved leaving his home to bring pride to...but now I think I go too far. Such fantasies now seem too sorrowful to dwell on.

It didn't start off particularly well, and by the first minute I even suspected that I would tune off well before the end of it. If only! As it turned out, I would be in rapt attention till the very end. The doctor made himself known almost straight away, by scrunching his face and tilting it in all manner of angles, making it very clear to those of us fortunate enough to be seated by him that he was not happy with something. I was immediately irritated with such a brazen show of disrespect, never mind that Fan did not notice it. I suppose it is because it assumed the fault lay with Fan - "It is not that I do not possess the intellect to dissect it, it is that you do not possess the oratorical gift to explain it".

And yes, maybe it did. Let me be clear before I go any further - I did not think Fan did a particularly good job. Of course I admit it! My heart has not clouded my head so much that I am unable to see or admit that. It is irrelevant, though, because I think what the doctor touched on, what he did to elicit such a seemingly disproportionate reaction from me, was the person behind all of it. Fan, that is. You, doctor, have not seen Fan walking around in his faded jacket, making me feel like I had company in feeling that it was far too cold indoors. And you never saw him eating his home-made lunch at his desk, at around the same time I did. But somehow you think you know him? You do not!

As though particularly keen that Fan should notice his disapproval, the doctor interrupted him (rudely, I thought, but I will let that pass in the scale of things) to ask, in his best passive-aggressive tone, for a "clarification". It did not portend good - I could see from his face, slowly hardening, that he was not happy with what Fan was saying. It was about to explode I thought, once Fan had resumed talking again, and he couldn't contain it any longer, and so he...laughed! Laughed! The gall of the doctor, to laugh! Even now it amazes me that the rest of the council brooked such a display. Oh, they noticed it, I know that - I made a special point of looking at their faces when the ripples of laughter came. There was a tacit acceptance of it, probably more to do his standing in the community than anything else. I even noticed him look at Lin, seated next to him - he seemed to be imploring her, "Laugh along with me! Let us make known our contempt for this debacle! Do you not think the whole thing to be pure parody?". Lin, however, only gave a weak smile before staring at the book I am sure she was glad to have brought along. "Andsoanysystemmustbecarefullystudiedbeforeonededuces"...and then he looked away too.

The good doctor's laughter was, of course, sickening, but even though he had no part in it, I have to say, it was not as disturbing as Fan's polite smile at the derision, blissfully unaware of the smug, supercilious doctor mocking all that he had done these so many years. Of course, that was not the worst of the lot; no, the worst would have to be the...bleeding arrogance of the doctor's put-downs - as if laughing openly was not enough (perhaps he was further angered by the smile?), it was as if he was saying "I have put aside valuable time for you, and this is what you greet me with?". My indifference to the doctor turned to an intense dislike when I picked up on this haughty tone with which he was speaking. I half wanted to tell him that there was no reason for him to stay, and that there was in fact no reason for him to have attended in the first place. "If you feel your time is being wasted, dear doctor, I do not think that subjecting yourself to more clear torture is the smartest action". But enough of this nonsense...

I suppose what I would have liked to have done is ask the doctor to hold his tongue, and stop picking away at the specifics that detracted from the overall picture. Yes, I would say, Fan does not engage as another might have, but take his smile at your callousness to mean something. Take it to show what you have lost in the years you have spent helping others. But at this stage, perhaps I go too far...

There was respite eventually, and not a moment too soon, when Jane finally (finally!) stopped the barrage, using her soft, lilting voice to its full potential. She explained Fan's actions perfectly, gaining sympathetic nods and "Ohhs" all round. In a stroke of genius, she acted as though it was just speculation - "That's what I think he's saying". Would that I could pull that off someday. It took a lot of courage to do it, and I wish I possessed it. Of course, it would have been strange had I said anything - who was I to these people? The harmless visitor who didn't seem to have anything to do with the affairs of anyone gathered there, someone to whom smiles were exchanged, but nothing more. I don't know that Fan himself would have appreciated my support - he might think it most unusual that a relative stranger should stand up for his rights (and judging by his smile, he would think it more suspicious still that I should stand up for his rights when he didn't think they had been violated).

I try to imagine the doctor after the meeting concluded. He no doubt had a few words with the others on the sly, eagerly looking for someone to share in his glee at having found faults with Fan. He didn't say anything to Fan, though.

I realize also that a cynical (or is it pragmatic?) mind might question whether I am going too far with my condemnation of the doctor. What was his real fault? Does he really deserve such a quixotic retort from me? I wrestle with the question myself, I assure you. I too wonder - what really made me upset? I cannot answer - I cannot, because I cannot paint the scene clearly enough. Maybe you would understand if you stood there too, and saw the doctor laugh before proceeding to tear down everything that Fan spent the last few years of his life doing. You would also fight to hold back the tears, even if you did not know would feel that part of the weeping would be with joy at Fan's smile in the face of arrogance, at the innocence that lives on, at the lives that have not forgotten. As you can see, I have broken off again, unsatisfactorily. I do not blame you if you think it a typical outburst from me, which kicks off a pointless yearning for simpler times and what have you. The only reason I would humour such a view is that I suspect Fan himself might share it, even if in a gentler form. And maybe that smile was not one of pitiful surrender. It may well have been one of assured superiority.