A day later than usual thanks to the oddness that was Tuesday – A day which, by the way, has completely thrown off my internal clock for the entire week. Yesterday simultaneously felt like Tuesday and Thursday, and today feels like a Wednesday. God knows what tomorrow will feel like. I’m just holding on until the weekend – here’s this week’s Time essay, about zombies as romantic and sexual leads. Unusually, there was a lot cut out of this one at the last moment (Pretty much as much as made it in, to be honest), but it’s been cut in such a way that there’s not really a worthwhile chunk of “deleted material” for me to run here. When that kind of thing happens, I always wonder just how much I end up overwriting these things…
Street art: pedestrians walk past an office building with a decorative light display in the City of London, on a windy day in the capital. Photograph: Kirsty Wigglesworth/AP
Clearly, someone is trying to hypnotize Londoners as they go about their day for some kind of nefarious scheme, right…?
The odd flip of yesterday, today was insanely busy workwise, with the various delays of yesterday turning into a crush of thingtodo today; at one point, I was writing two articles, rewriting another and being taught about the back-end stuff necessary for me to post to Wired all at the same time, just because everything had to be done by a particular deadline. On the plus side, everything got done in time, and my Wired story was apparently the #1 story on the site after it went up, which was… nice? And an entirely welcome boost to my writerly ego after yesterday’s hurry-up-and-wait bump. These new work rhythms are going to take some time to get used to, I suspect.
No Time link for today, because it’s not going up until later this week, so instead, you get this link to my second (of two) drawings I did for Dylan Todd last week. Those who do not understand Jaxxon… Well, he’s a giant green rabbit who appeared in a Star Wars comic just after the original film. Suffice to say, those who saw him at the time have fond memories.
The other day, I tweeted something to the effect of “Gorillaz started with Blur’s ‘Cowboy Song’ in 1998,” in response to the marvelous Jeff Parker suggesting that the roots of Damon Albarn’s magical merry-go-round of a supergroup could be found in “Music Is My Radar,” the Blur single from 2000. Annoyingly, it’s something that’s stuck in my head ever since, because it’s not exactly right, but it bears thinking about for a second or two.
For those who haven’t heard “Cowboy Song,” you shouldn’t feel too bad; it was essentially hidden away on a movie soundtrack (for a film called Dead Man on Campus which I’ve otherwise never heard of), and stayed in the vaults otherwise until last year’s massive Blur box set reissue that had everything that band had ever released included. It’s a fairly minor song, for the most part, as you can hear for yourself:
Because I know that you’re breathless with anticipation to know, there’re three reasons why this track always makes me think of it as an origin of Gorillaz. First off, the vocals, which showcase Albarn’s two Gorillaz styles for, maybe, the first time in a Blur track (and, therefore, anything that was released): Mumbling-sing-song and Falsetto-whining. I say that as a fan, for what it’s worth, but you know what I mean; Albarn’s Gorillaz vocals tend to be messier, lazier and sloppier than his Blur vocals for the most part – perhaps the Think Tank vocals aside – and this feels like the earliest example of what would later be described as his “2D” vocal persona making a public appearance.
Secondly, there’s the fact that “Cowboy Song” appears to have been constructed after-the-fact in the studio from bits and pieces of other songs, most obviously “All We Want,” a song recorded during the time of the 1997 self-titled Blur album that would eventually show up in 1999 as a b-side for “Tender” (The bass and drums for “Cowboy Song” are, as best I can tell, from “All We Want,” but it’s most obvious at 2:13 of “Cowboy Song,” which starts a section that’s pretty much exactly the same as the portion beginning 0:13 of “All We Want”).
The move from… “traditionally-performed/recorded” songs to something constructed after the fact, for want of a better way of putting it, struck me as the beginnings of the flexibility in Albarn’s mind as a songwriter that felt important to the development of Gorillaz, if that makes sense.
And then, finally, there’s the extended outro of “Cowboy Song,” which in both “outstaying its welcome” value and the appearance of what sounds like a melodica down in the mix, feels particularly reminiscent of the outro to “Clint Eastwood”:
(Seriously, I love “Clint Eastwood,” but that outro is far, far too long.)
Parker wasn’t wrong, though: “Music Is My Radar” does have a lot of proto-Gorillaz in there, in terms of melodica and nonsense lyrics (“Tony Allen got me dancing” also offering foreshadowing to the Albarn/Allen collaborations on The Good, The Bad and The Queen, Rocket Juice and The Moon and Dr. Dee), and the same year’s “Time Keeps on Slipping,” Albarn’s guestshot on Deltron 3030 is even further along the road to the band’s existence, a Gorillaz track in all but name thanks to the Albarn/Del tha Funkee Homosapien/Dan the Automator combination:
The missing link between “Cowboy Song” and these later songs is likely 1999’s “X-Offender,” a remix of the 13 track “Bugman” credited to “Control Freak” – who was, of course, Albarn himself. There’s a mass of future Gorillaz DNA in this one, whether in the faux samba rhythm (and reggae drums in the background), synth bass lines, jazzy piano break (Shades of Gorillaz‘ “Latin Simone”) or the laid back, increasingly meandering lead vocal or harmonized backing vocals.
Think about all of this now, it’s no wonder that I was kind of disappointed with that first Gorillaz album when it came out; it really wasn’t a radical departure from what had come before after all, just more of a sidestep in a direction Albarn had been quietly thinking about for some time…
A man fishes near a temple beside a river on a heavy hazy day in Beijing’s Gaobeidian village, China. Beijing has temporarily shut down over a hundred heavily polluting factories to combat danger levels of air pollution. Photograph: Jason Lee/Reuters
Simultaneously beautiful and terrifying, when you think about it.
Man, I’m not sure today could have gone stranger if someone had tried to make it that way. Without going too much into work-related detail, it was one of those days when things didn’t go anywhere close to plan, with delays on some things, complete rethinks on other things, and an unexpected waste of a morning in terms of working on something that ended up being unnecessary. Such things happen, of course, but them all happening on the same day ends up giving a particularly depressive, apathetic feel to that day, a sense of What am I doing? and Clearly, I made some wrong choices along the way.
Amusingly/not-really-amusingly, said frustrations happened on the same day that Kate was having a similarly rough day. We had lunch together, and pretty much just moaned at each other about the kinds of days when work gets you down so much that you want to walk away and come back when it’s better, but deadlines refuse to let you. Sometimes, being a freelancer is rough, and it’s normally down to this kind of thing; the feeling of being a particularly unimportant cog in a machine that you can’t quite see, or even understand the shape of.
A derelict house sits alone in a once-thriving neighbourhood in east-side Detroit, Michigan. The story of the city’s decline has become a symbol of America’s recent economic troubles. Photograph: Rebecca Cook/Reuters
What really gets me about this photo isn’t the run-down house – That’s nothing new, sadly, and I feel like I’ve seen many such houses in San Francisco and Portland over the years – but the space surrounding it. Where are the other houses? It looks as if it’s dropped into an entirely abandoned cityblock, like something out of a magic realist film. Beware of that house, everyone: There’s danger and mystery in there.
In his first appearance, Fero is described as a scientist of the occult, a super-detective of the nether world, who is the one man who can thwart the evil doings of vampires and werewolves that have invaded earth from Pluto. Fero’s later adventures had him working on cases involving more standard criminals.
Fero operated out of an office in New York at some point in the distant future. He was a skilled detective and a good fighter. He did not seem to carry any weapons, but did wear a “ray proof jacket.” He also had pills that allowed him to temporarily transform into a giant ape-like creature with superhuman strength. He owned his own interplanetary ship, full of scientific equipment, including a device which could record images of a person’s memories.
I am currently fascinated by the treasure trove of comic characters that are in the public domain.
In Russia, nuts eat squirrels.