Are ‘Friends’ Electric?



Back in February, The Grauniad had Gary Numan look back at how he wrote Are ‘Friends’ Electric and what it meant:

All my early songs were about being alone or misunderstood. As a teenager, I’d been sent to a child psychiatrist and put on medication. I had Asperger’s and saw the world differently. I immersed myself in sci-fi writers: Philip K Dick, JG Ballard. The lyrics came from short stories I’d written about what London would be like in 30 years. These machines – “friends” – come to the door. They supply services of various kinds, but your neighbours never know what they really are since they look human. The one in the song is a prostitute, hence the inverted commas. It was released in May 1979 and sold a million copies. I had a No 1 single with a song about a robot prostitute and no one knew.

Of course now it is thirty years later and while its vision of the future never quite came to pass, it still sounds as futuristic and chilling as it must’ve done in 1979. That both Ballard and Dick were influences on Numan doesn’t come as a surprise; it’s clear from the music.

Bonus: Nine Inch Nails invites Numan up on stage for Cars.



Grief comes in spurts



Tomorrow it will be exactly 21/2 years since Sandra died, so it’s no wonder she’s been on my mind the past weeks. It’s funny about grief, it stays away for days or weeks on end and then suddenly it stabs you in the heart again. in popular culture it’s supposed to be this massive, all overpowering emotion, something that hits youn in the guts and keeps you down for weeks, then mostly disappears apart from late nights spent with the whisky bottle and the handy portrait of your lover whenever it’s convenient for the plot.

Real life is different. What I remember emotionally from the weeks just before and immediately after her death was sadness, but also peace and even a bit of relief that it was all over. For three-four years we’d been living with her illness and the hope that finally her health would improve. When that hope turned out to be futile and Sandra choose to put an end to it, after denial came relief. An ending was better than more sleepless nights listening to her crying out in pain and anguish. The week after she died there still wasn’t that grief the movies had taught me would be there; instead I had to be relentlessly practical, set myself to tying off all the loose ends her death left behind.

It’s only in the months and years after that, when life had turned back to normal again that the emptiness hit. Four years fighting for Sandra’s health, always with that goal of getting her better in mind, not to mention over a decade of having been with her and suddenly it had all ended. Suddenly there wasn’t anybody I needed to take into account anymore, suddenly it was just me and the cats and being able to everything I want but nothing really to come back home for. I’ve never been as comfortable as i’m now, but what’s the point when you’re just living on your own, day in day out without purpose?

That’s how I feel whenever the reality of living without Sandra hits me again; late at night going to bed with just the cats, in the supermarket staring at the vegetables, every now and again seeing something she would’ve Had an Opinion About. That’s when the knife hits. It hits with the little things, remembering the small touches of living together, of having somebody other than cats to talk to.

(There isn’t much pop music that does well with grief, but Sinéad O’Connor comes close.)

Aaaaaaaciiid!



So I’ve gotten a bit obsessed with this song the past week, which anybody of the right age will of course recognise as one of the first house megahits, Coldcut featuring Yazz with Doctorin’ the House, from that great 1988-1990 period when suddenly house broke into the pop charts. I turned fourteen the year this was a hit so at the perfect age to appreciate this revolution in music, had I not been a teenage metalhead already. Real appreciation for house would only come years later and it was only by going through the Popular archives that I realised what a golden age the late eighties and early nineties were for electronic dance music. Take this for instance:



That’s the other song that’s been obsessing me, the one that seemed to kick it all off at the time. The first acid/house song I’d ever heard and which set the pattern for all those other hits that would follow:



(That’s Krush, with house arrest, briefly making Sheffield fashionable). Danceable beat, preferably using some old soul classic as the base, lots and lots of samples, some electronic weirdness and a pretty woman doing the vocals. Though of course the woman in front may not actually be doing the vocals you hear on the record. Case in point:



No, that’s actually the voice of Loleatta Holleway, whose vocals from minor hit Love Sensation were chopped up and moved about to create a much tighter. arguably better song, the only problem being that she wasn’t credited for it until she made a fuzz about it; a later mix of Ride on Time would have Heather Small sing instead. Let’s end on a high note though, with the most mellow hit of 1990, about halfway through the transformation of ex-Housemartin’s Norman Cook into Fatboy Slim, Beats International with Dub be Good to Me, which took the formula of reworked soul classic with danceable beat, crazy samples and female vocals and perfected it:



EDIT: is this really already twentyfive years ago? But that would mean the Second Summer of Love is now older than the original Summer of Love was at the time. Which would mean I’d be turning forty this year and that’s clearly wrong.

Kick out the jams motherfucker!



So in 1989-1990 when the KLF broke through with their Illuminantus! influenced house I was in the perfect position to be susceptible to them, having just myself gotten Robert Anton Wilson and Robert Shea’s classic hippie drugs, sex and conspiracy out of the secondhand bookstore myself. For a while when I was fifteen-sixteen it was my bible (could’ve been worse, at least it wasn’t Ayn Rand), so hearing the Justified and Ancients of Mummu refered in dance music just knocked me off my feet. It felt dangerous and modern and nerdy but in a cool way.

Dressing queer in the office

Carolyn Wysinger writes about fitting in with the office dress code when you’re queer while still staying true to yourself:

As fate would have it, my first week on the call-center floor fell on a weekend, which is a casual dress period. I made friends as soon as I hit the floor because c’mon, who doesn’t love me?! The very next day I came in and did all the dapper bois proud. Black slacks, white dress shirt with a pink/black/white silk tie. Hair freshly twisted up with my shades on. And yes I turned many heads. I walked in and saw all the women in the office look over to watch me walk down the aisle. I got to my group and nobody said a word. And then finally one of the women supervisors said “Ooh I like your tie.” And so my journey as the first boi in began.

Of course, the image she puts forward here immediately reminds me of:



That kind of gender separated dress code — or even having an explicit dress code — is somewhat less common in the Netherlands and you see as many women professionals in what y’all would call pant suits as in skirts. The other uniform, common to women in non-representative roles are the slightly too short white leggings, which seems to be the fuck you, I dress for comfort symbol of the (older) Dutch woman. It’s ubiqitous enough and annoys enough people that it has had facebook campaigns launched against it.

Oenga oenga oenga



Gruppo Sportivo, punk as fuck in spirit, but always just a bit too strange, too Dutch for the real punks. Not just one hit wonders abroad, but rather know for just that one cult underground “hit”, still plugging away, still making albums and touring long after you’d written them off. It would never be as good or fun as in those late seventies though.