Completing the 3000-Word “The God of Small Things” Essay Side Mission in “Identity Crisis” (2012, XBox 360 / PS3 / PC, Neutron Storm Montreal)

Obtaining a copy of The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy and writing a 3000-word essay about it is one of the most difficult side missions in Identity Crisis, but doing so is the only way to gain a passing grade in your university’s Postcolonial Fictions class, and thus attain 100% game completion. Please note that this mission must be completed BEFORE the raid on the nuclear facility, as [SPOILER] the Martian government will bomb the university’s humanities building in direct retaliation [END SPOILER].

The first step is to purchase the book. Run from the classroom to the university book store. There are piles of wooden crates blocking many of the hallways and doorways, so use your grappling hook to enter the ventilation shaft above the English department staff room, and switch on your odour detector to follow the smell of new books all the way to the vent above the book store entrance.

Once inside the store, you need to locate the book. Check the dossier and you will see that the author of The God of Small Things is named Arundhati Roy and that the events described in the book did not actually take place, meaning you will need to look for it in the fiction aisles under “R” (for “Roy”). When you reach this location you will find that there are no copies of the book on the shelf. Turn to your left and you will see a bookseller standing nearby. Ask him where the book is and he will refuse to tell you, so now it’s time for a fight. His punches are quite fast, so press the block button as soon as you see him raise his fist behind his head, then kick him before he recovers from the block. After a few kicks he will go down, tell you that the book can be found in the basement, and give you the basement key.

A note carved into the wall next to the basement door explains that books in the basement are arranged not by author name, but by nationality. Check your dossier again, and you will see that Arundhati Roy was born in India, so search for the book under “I”. It’s there, but the shelf is too high up for you to reach, and your grappling hook does not work underground. Find the wooden crates stacked up against the wall nearby and move them one at a time so that they are positioned in front of the bookshelf in a staircase formation. Some of the crates will be full of venomous spiders that will scuttle out onto the floor as soon as the crate is disturbed. Shoot them all with your pistol before any of them can bite you. If you get bitten too many times you will faint and wake up in hospital. If this happens, just steal one of the cars parked outside and drive back to the university. You won’t have to fight the bookseller again, but you will have to re-stack all the crates.

Once the crates are stacked high enough for you to reach “The God of Small Things”, walk to the top of the crate stack. Now you must remove the book from the shelf, a task made more difficult by a sudden recurrence of your sporadic vertigo. Use the left control stick to reach carefully for the book while using the right control stick to keep yourself from looking too far up or too far down. Otherwise you will fall from the crate stack, knock your head and wake up in hospital (see above).

Leave the basement with the book. Try to exit the store, and the bookseller, still nursing his wounds from the fight, will tell you that you can’t leave without paying for the book. Enter item viewing mode with the book, rotate it horizontally and zoom in on the bottom right corner to see that the price tag reads $17.50. Now switch to your wallet and open it up. If you try to use your credit card you will find that it doesn’t work indoors. You will need to combine the notes and coins in your wallet to reach the required value. If you’re completely stumped you can just use the $20 note, but to achieve an S-rank on this mission you must provide the exact amount. The easiest solution is to use the $10 note, the $5 note, the $2 note and two quarters. (Note: this solution only works in the American version of Identity Crisis. For people in other countries, please refer to my other guide, “Purchasing The God of Small Things from the University Book Store Using Non-American Currency”, last updated in November 2013 to include the ringgit, the new shekel, and the Rwandan franc.)

Steal one of the cars outside the book store and drive it home, disposing of the pursuing book store goons in the usual fashion (ram them off the road, shoot out their tyres etc). Once inside your home, collect your paper, pencil and highlighter pen from on top of the wardrobe in your bedroom (this is a more challenging redux of the book retrieval section from the previous area; the wooden crates are located in the ensuite, and the spiders now take two shots each to kill).

Now comes the task of reading and analysing The God of Small Things and writing the essay about it. If you have already completed the abseiling mission and remembered to grab Aida Balvannanadhan’s analysis of the novel from the bird’s nest you will be able to quote from it a few times but you can still obtain an S-rank without it. Firstly, read the novel. Its story is not told in a linear fashion, but temporally distant events that hold thematic resonance are often placed in close narrative proximity, so I suggest you start at page 1 as the author intended. Pages are presented in pairs, one on the left and one on the right. When you have finished a page on the left, use the right control stick to move your eyes to the page on the right; when you finish this page, use the left control stick to move your hand to the bottom-right corner, press X to grab, and pull the corner of the page all the way to the left. Sounds complicated but you should be able to get into a rhythm before too long. It should take an estimated 8 to 12 hours to finish the novel.

Next comes the analysis of the text. Turn to page 298, then select the highlighter pen and use it to highlight the paragraph beginning “Father Mulligan’s death did not alter the text of the entries in Baby Kochamma’s diary” and the paragraph following. From the menu that appears, select Draw Comparison, then select Chapter 21: The Cost of Living. There are other solutions, but I prefer this one, as it shows women of two generations of the same family, one spending stolen moments with her lover well outside the constraints of her daily life and the social conventions of her culture, the other at last feeling as though she is in possession of the object of her affections, now that he has passed away and thus belongs to no other; it also shaves precious seconds off your mission completion time and lends itself well to speedruns.  A cutscene will follow in which your character completes the essay, submits it, and graduates with honours from university. Neutralise the four poison gas canisters in the graduation hall (behind the podium, beneath the rightmost seat in the fifth row, inside the middle C of the pipe organ, and under the vice-chancellor’s gown) and the mission will be complete!

Army of War 4, Mission 1, “Start As You Mean To Go On…” Strategy Guide

At the start of the mission you’re being driven along in a roofless army car with all of your guys. All of a sudden there’s other roofless army cars full of guys, and they get all of your guys with their guns. They don’t get you though. The first thing to do is to get your guns, then use your guns to get the guys that got your guys with their guns. After you get those guys, start walking to where it says for you to start walking to. Soon there will be more guys who will try to get you with their guns. Get them with your guns first. Next is a bit where you have to stop to feel bad about the war. Once this bit is over you should keep walking to where it says for you to keep walking to.

Soon you will find some more guys who will definitely get you with their guns if you’re not careful. Luckily there is a little wall for you to be behind. Be behind the wall until their guns stop for a bit, then be out from behind the wall and get them with your guns. Once you have got them all with your guns, you have to stop and feel bad about the war a bit more. Then start walking again to where it says to start walking again to.

You should see a guy with a huge gun that’s stuck to the floor. He’ll try to get you really hard with it. Luckily there are lots of little walls between you and the guy with the huge gun that’s stuck to the floor. Be behind one of the little walls while the huge gun that’s stuck to the floor is going, then when it stops for a bit, be behind the next little wall. After you have been behind enough little walls you should be close enough to get the guy with your gun. Then you can use the huge gun that’s stuck to the floor to get all the rest of the guys. Once you’ve got all the guys you have to stop and feel bad about one more time. Then you see one of your guys from the roofless army car at the start who says something that makes you feel okay about the war. That’s the end of the first mission but remember to save as there are still a lot of guys to come.

Sorrow: Anguish of Melancholy – Boss Strategies

The Sorrow series of medieval action RPGs have long been renowned for their brutally challenging gameplay and ingenious boss battles, and Sorrow: Anguish of Melancholy, the fifth game in the series, is no exception. By popular demand, I’ve put together the following strategy guide, which should give you at least a fighting chance against this cavalcade of arguably the most formidable foes gaming has ever seen. Read on!

BOSS 1: FORLORN ARMOUR

After battling your way through the Dungeon of Dread you will come face to face — or face to helmet! — with a haunted suit of armour. This spirit has a score to settle with you and his sword swings require timing and dexterity to avoid. Your best bet is to crouch within the alcove in the eastern wall where he is unable to hit you, and throw daggers at him until he dies.

BOSS 2: WRETCHED BEAST

When you have completed all the tasks in the Cave of Tasks, the door to the lava pit will open, and you must defeat the Wretched Beast in order to collect the second golden ruby. This is an exciting one, as he moves faster and faster as the battle wears on, and alternates between hurling giant boulders and spitting fireballs that home in on your position. Neither of these can hit you if you crouch within the alcove in the western wall, and from here you can throw daggers at him until he dies.

BOSS 3: GARGANTUTHAN

Just as you are about to claim the third golden ruby from the chalice at the end of the Hall of Cursed Portraits, it is snatched away by the mighty Gargantuthan! He is ten times your height, each stomp of his stone boots shakes the cave and causes rocks to fall from the ceiling, and if he gets close enough to grab you and hurl you at the nearest wall, you can lose half your health in one hit. If you crouch in the south-east corner of the hall the first time he charges at you, there is a chance his arm will become permanently stuck in the wall, leaving you free to throw daggers at him from a safe distance until he dies. This is a glitch and will not always occur; if his arm doesn’t get stuck, simply start the battle over and try again.

BOSS 4: TRUE FORLORN ARMOUR

Upon returning to your hut after the Gargantuthan battle, you are knocked unconscious by a strange mist and wake up in a nightmarish replica of the Dungeon of Dread. The Forlorn Armour has returned also, but this time he reveals his true form and tells the shocking and tragic story of your shared past (press X to skip). Now you must face him for one last epic duel so that the winner may prove his supremacy once and for all. Crouch in the alcove in the eastern wall again and slash at his knees until he dies.

BOSS 5: MISERABLE SANDSNAKE

To claim the last golden ruby, you must battle the Miserable Sandsnake in the Mournful Desert. There are no shields or hiding spots, so you will have to be quick on your feet to dodge its wide array of attacks. Another option is to pelt it with daggers as you stand completely still and replenish your health with a potion whenever it gets low. You will need about 40 to 50 potions to last the entire battle, which you can buy from the merchant at the southern end of the Mournful Desert (I would suggest backtracking to the Frozen Forest and slaying ice foxes for a couple of hours until you have enough gold).

FINAL BOSS: VIKERNES LEKMAN

Throw the five golden rubies into the blood fountain outside the Castle of Sorrow and the gates will open. Inside you will finally meet Vikernes Lekman, who will reveal the shocking truth behind his single-minded pursuit of the Anguish of Melancholy, shed light on some of the darkest and deepest mysteries surrounding your arrival in Förtvivlan, and throw in a couple more unexpected plot twists in the process. If you pause and unpause the game right as he starts speaking, you will regain control of your character, and if you start tossing daggers at him now, he will collapse and die before even finishing his first sentence. You are victorious!!

Bullet sponge fever

The first thing you find in Bioshock Infinite that you won’t find anywhere else: a barbershop quartet singing the Beach Boys’ “God Only Knows”. They stand on the deck of a floating vessel roughly the size of a bus, and they sing the whole song, if you’d care to stand and listen. You know the year is 1912, over half a century before the song appeared on Pet Sounds, but you also know you’re standing in a city floating hundreds of miles above the United States, so it’s unclear just how deeply you’re meant to be thinking about this. It’s eventually explained, in a snippet of found correspondence almost entirely unconnected to the main plot (so I wouldn’t call this a spoiler, is what I’m saying), that a citizen of said floating city is earning a pretty penny by plagiarising popular music from the future and passing it off as his own.

Here’s the unspoken detail, though: all he uses are the lyrics and the basic melody. Everything else about the songs as we know them is altered or lost entirely in the translation to the popular music styles of the era. “Shiny Happy People” is performed as Jolsonesque vaudeville, “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” becomes a ragtime waltz. (I could be way off with “ragtime waltz”, for all I know, but I figure it’s still more kosher than “old-timey”.) After all, lyrics a few decades ahead of their time are one thing, but imagine popular music fans of 1912 being confronted with synthesisers, or jangly guitars. They’d claw their ears out!

If I’m grinning like the cat that got the cream, it’s only because that whole sidestory within the game serves as a pretty handy metaphor for — wait for it — the game itself. Pow! Because by the end of Bioshock Infinite I was quite sure that Irrational Games had stolen a lot of tremendous ideas from, say, the 2066 Game of the Year, but sadly felt it necessary to bury those ideas in the kind of reheated muck that we in 2013 can’t be trusted to buy a video game without.

There is a truly rewarding and affecting and thought-provoking story in Bioshock Infinite, but most of the important details are revealed before the first gunfight and after the last, and most of the character development takes place between gunfights. That may seem an odd complaint to make, as though the preferred alternative would be to have all vital exposition and quirky interaction take place during combat, but: Imagine a tense and paranoid film with a suitably tense and paranoid score. Now imagine that score slowly and relentlessly growing louder and louder for the entire film, until it gets frightening, then distracting, then so loud as to drown out all dialogue, then so loud that you become unable to even focus on the screen. That’s the effect that the shootouts with ever-increasing waves of guys have on the story. If only there was a way to:

  1. Play the first half-hour of the game, before everyone starts trying to kill you;
  2. Go to a theatre and watch a one-woman show, in which an actor playing Elizabeth speaks to the audience as though speaking to the player-controlled character, Booker DeWitt, with the sound of muted gunfire and Comstock’s voice only where necessary;
  3. Play the last fifteen minutes of the game, after nobody remains to try to kill you.

What gets excised in this version? Slate, Fink, Daisy Fitzroy and the Vox Populi. If a MacGuffin is a plot device that exists solely as a loose motivation for characters’ actions, what does one call a plot device that exists solely to make a video game longer and generate more shootouts with ever-increasing waves of guys? Sure, they also serve the themes of “American exceptionalism and class warfare and bigotry and neato propaganda posters and such”, but those themes don’t even serve the story so much as provide more aesthetically-pleasing rooms in which to stage shootouts with ever-increasing &c. than any currently operational three-word franchise where the second word is “of”. Bioshock Infinite makes about as much of a bold statement on religion and racism as the video for Madonna’s “Like a Prayer” does, which is to say, religion and racism are visible. At the end of the day, for all its pretentions of being a game about something, all you’re doing 90% of the time is pulverising heads against the backdrop of a randomly and maliciously edited Wikipedia entry.

The conflict between Comstock and the Vox Populi is a particularly notable failure in this regard. As John Teti notes in his excellent review for The Gameological Society, “The takeaway is that anyone who seeks power is a scoundrel, a moral steeped in the easy cynicism of false equivalence.” Or, to put it another way: the ruling class and the oppressed workers are just the same, man; one side tries to murder you with chaingun-wielding robot George Washingtons, the other side tries to murder you with chaingun-wielding robot Abraham Lincolns. (Not sure which was more surprising: the introduction of the robot presidents, or how they became so tedious so quickly.)

But the story of the Prophet, the Lamb and the False Shepherd is a great one, and I hope I’m still alive in 2066 to see it the way it was meant to be told.

Toro

Thinking for the first time in a little while about James M. Cain’s Serenade. It’s one of my favourite novels, although I’m such a PC sook that I’m not even sure how much of the old hasten-to-add I need to throw in so as to maintain my reputation as a Dude Who Reckons Mexicans and/or Women Oughtn’t Be Spoken About That Way, Fella. It’s the only Cain I’ve ever read, I picked it up because Dave Graney cited him as lyrical inspiration for the Moodists’ “Six Dead Birds” — as much as I dislike being mired in the culture of meaningless ranking of art: probably in my top five favourite songs of All Time — and Serenade was the first thing I found.

The subject matter is so unusual that I found myself forgetting at times that I wasn’t reading some recent darling of postmodernism applying an ancient literary mode to a theoretically ill-fitting story, but one of the original Monsters of Noir, following The Postman Always Rings Twice and Double Indemnity (i.e. moody crimes and such) with the tale of a near-fatally down-on-his-luck opera singer, John Henry Sharp, rising from exile and obscurity to film stardom, spurred on by the love of a complicated woman. And how can I put this, without spoiling an 80-year-old book before everyone’s had a chance to read it: the tension of the latter half of the story hinges on (a) a very surprising revelation about the protagonist, and (b) a certain derogatory myth pertaining to human sexuality which (as far as I’m aware, having never heard of it before in my study of two thousand years of bigotry) was invented by the author and treated as solid, inescapable truth within the fiction of the story. A modern author would not do this; a modern author would thus end up with a much less interesting book.

Emily Collette Wilkinson, reviewing Serenade for The Millions, agrees that one of the magical ingredients in this extraordinary novel is its flagrant stereotyping (including, as mentioned above, one stereotype that I’ve never heard before or since), and concludes that “we’ve all become so nervous about being offensive and our sensitivity to offense is so heightened that we’d all just rather not talk about sex and race in any real way, certainly not explore the murkier side of things“. That’s a deeper conversation than I’m qualified for. My train of thought goes somewhere else entirely.

I watched the recent HBO miniseries adaptation of Cain’s following novel, Mildred Pierce, not long ago, and as great as it was, all I could think about by the end of it was how I’d love to see Serenade get the same treatment, and how it’ll never, ever happen, just because of that one myth and how it applies to John Sharp. (That’s the last time I’ll tease you on the subject; if you aren’t desperate to read it by now, I give up.) You could make Juana Montes more of a human being and less of a caricature, you could render 1930s Mexico City as it was rather than as a white man would see it, but if you don’t embrace that mid-story twist in full spirit, something vital is gone, gone, gone. But to film it would be to tacitly endorse it…

I could spend hours on a more seamless (sorry, imaginary grammar police: less seamful) transition to my final point, but because I’m impatient: I’d like to see more fictional authors. The conversations brought on by contentious works of art can be so inspiring and far-reaching that it seems a shame that half the time they only begin by accident, with a subconscious pattern of prejudice, or an indefensively boneheaded lyric. What if there could be entire albums, novels, films, long-running TV series presented as though written by fictional characters, and part of the goal of engaging with their work was to psychologically unpack the conscious and subconscious intentions of the creator? We already do this with our real, living and once-living authors, but to have this element carefully constructed and fictionalised too could bring the satisfaction of total narrative resolution even outside the confines of the work itself.

I know this isn’t an entirely new idea, as there have been countless books-within-books and films-within-films, many of them with that exact question of “how does the life of the author affect the life of the character?” squarely in mind. And I know that real humans would need to create these fictional creators, and there’s no way they could do so without complicating them a little themselves. And I know that there’s a certain safety to the point of sanitisation in what I’m asking for, at the expense of truly challenging art from truly dangerous artists.

But what I’m really trying to say here is that I’ve found, and you might too if you try, that there are people in the world — usually public figures of some kind, but not always — who seem tedious and even despicable, but become compelling and extraordinary the moment one imagines them as a purely fictional character. Try it with the toxic narcissism of Kanye West. The context blindness of Amanda Palmer. The how to even reduce it to a couple of words of Morrissey. Eminem still bores me, even through this filter, but I’m open to being shown an interesting angle on him should one exist.

There’s a recurring sketch I’ve thought a lot about but barely started writing, for a comedy series I’ve thought a lot about but barely started writing, called Starship Hobbyhorse. It’s presented as brief excerpts from a sci-fi television series, and the joke is that the unseen writers are using the show to shamelessly and hamfistedly promote their own views on certain issues of varying degrees of importance, from common grammatical errors to circumcision. The one episode I’ve written so far has the crew boarding another vessel and finding the entire crew dead from malnutrition due to their consumption of white bread. “If only they had paid heed to the old proverb… the whiter the bread… the sooner you’re dead.”

Call me crazy, but part of me wants to turn this idea, unseen agenda-driven writers and all, into weekly, hour-long episodes. For eight seasons. Did you call me crazy yet?

Stuck in the mud

(This will be a long one. I’m sure there are things that more considerate bloggers do when they know they’re writing a long one; I think overall I’m just a little bit impolite.)

I’m 27 and I think I’m past getting scared of anybody’s music ever again, but I still remember how exciting it was. Liars scared me to begin with. I saw the clip for “Mr. Your On Fire Mr.” on Rage in 2002 and it was a catchy little thrill. So I did what any impressionable youngster would do and turned to Pitchfork to learn more about the band and their debut album, They Threw Us All in a Trench and Stuck a Monument on Top. The first paragraph was a hyperbolic warning (“These guys eat ground glass. They’re that nasty. You may like their music, but don’t forget that they hate you.”) and the last paragraph served to confirm it, by describing the album’s closing mean, mean trick, the very thought of which would haunt me for the next two years, during which I never heard another note of their music:

At roughly the moment any other song here would end, the band fades into a four-second loop, and once the machine’s going, they take off and get a beer while it plays over, and over, and over, for more than twenty minutes. You can leave whenever you want, but then you’re quitting before the album does. Maybe this is a statement, maybe they’re killing time, and maybe it’s just the sound of a band crawling up its own ass. But when’s the last time a record dared you to blink first?

Who were these teenagers that actually approached the art that frightened them? I didn’t have the money to risk on a record that hated me on sight. Rocket Science and Spiderbait were as rough as my music collection got, and even then I generally felt more at home with the chilled-out beats of Groove Armada and Kinobe. I had friends online who were into some of yer actual difficult music, of which I had heard enough to know it wasn’t for me. But Liars had that one song that I understood and enjoyed, and yet they were still gonna destroy me if I got any closer. My friends’ avant-garde heroes were like dragons — fearsome fire-breathing monsters, yes, but only brave heroes of medieval fantasy ever had to confront them — whereas Liars were a neighbourhood danger, local bullies or a vicious dog behind a flimsy gate. So I stayed away.

Then in 2004: Rage on Friday night again. All the week’s new videos. I check the playlist in advance and see there’s a new Liars video. There’s Always Room on the Broom. I do my very best to anticipate.

My hope is that the description of my late adolescent self in the preceding paragraphs has been of sufficient quality that my reaction at the time to the above video is immediately apparent. I will say, though: when the chorus, such as it is, began at 1 minute 38, that was the moment at which I gave up on the possibility of the song ever “turning out okay”. Pitchfork, which still felt to me like an older sibling with a broader perspective on everything, were almost as lost for answers as I was when reviewing their second album, They Were Wrong, So We Drowned (although the review is actually a lot more sensible and forward-thinking than I remember).

New Year’s Day 2005, living in Edinburgh, having spent the previous few months aiming to be as adventurous with my music purchases as I was with my international move (thus beginning my obsession with the Fall, among other things), I went down to the basement level of the HMV on Princes St and bought both Liars albums. And do you know what? I was excited to learn how much I loved the scouring-pad-to-the-brain sensation of the broken keyboards and demonic chanting of Drowned, but it wasn’t nearly as revelatory as the joy of hearing the last four seconds of the last track of Monument, playing over and over and over.

The song is called “This Dust Makes That Mud”. It goes for eight minutes before the loop, which is almost half the length of all eight preceding songs put together. It’s moody, which is an instant plus for me. It borrows a line from Walt Whitman, “These are the days that must happen to you.” And then it loops.

Here is my lengthy review of four seconds of music released over a decade ago, in unnecessary but visually pleasing bullet point form:

  • It’s about as seamless as a loop of one bar of live instrumentation can get. (Or is it two bars? I’ve never been sure how one decides these things when there isn’t any sheet music present.) I almost wish I hadn’t known about it in advance at all, let alone been so preoccupied with it for years before ever actually hearing it. I think it would’ve taken me a little while to notice what was going on. And even then: how long does it do this? Does it ever turn into anything new or does it just stop dead?
  • It’s funny, the strategies you come up with to cope with listening to the same four seconds of music over and over. The most important one is to study and learn everything about it, the way a prisoner in a dungeon learns his cell. I say “dungeon” because I imagine your average modern prison cell is pretty bland and featureless. This is a cell with character: sturdy enough to prevent escape, but with interesting arrangements in the bricks, rust shapes in the bars.
  • As far as I’m aware, they’ve never spoken publicly about the loop — in fact, they more or less disavowed the album entirely in the process of digging themselves out of the, ah, monumental trench that was Early Oughts New York Funk-Punk — but my guess as to their intentions, for what it’s worth, is that this was their way out of having to write a proper ending for the song and a chance for an ambiguously confrontational “statement”, and that they just coldly, cruelly jammed for a while after the body of the song was done and picked a vaguely suitable point to loop.
  • My point in assuming that they didn’t write and play this bar with the specific intention of looping it for 22 minutes is that theoretically you could have an equally rewarding experience with the same amount of anybody’s music. I’ve never tried it, but I have watched this scene from The Comic Strip Presents… Four Men in a Car many times over the years. Indestructible… indestructible… indestructible.
  • Except then it wouldn’t be the artist’s intention to inflict it upon you, would it? You’re just initiating a dumb exercise all on your own. But although you wouldn’t be engaging with a controversial statement and deciding for yourself as to its worth, you’d still be picking up on little details in the audio you may never notice otherwise. In the case of the Liars track, it wasn’t until the loop that I even gave the bass a second thought.
  • When I talk about the 22-minute duration of the loop, I am of course referring to the CD version of the album. To spoil the very last surprise: the loop takes the track to 30 minutes exactly, and then slows to a complete stop, like a record player being halted. Which is great, because I’m told that the vinyl LP has those same four seconds as an actual locked groove, meaning that it will play indefinitely and only stop when you choose to stop it yourself. I wonder how long anybody bothers to listen to the locked groove when there’s no fixed end to it.
  • One morning when I had the Edinburgh flat to myself, I put the CD on the stereo, and when the loop started I left to buy the groceries. I was gone for about 10 minutes, and when I came back it was still going. I hadn’t missed a thing.

As for everything since:

  • The story told in the press release that accompanied They Were Wrong, So We Drowned is inspiring not just for Liars’ eagerness to abandon everything that was just beginning to bring them notoriety, but also for their frankness about the serendipitous Google typo that gave the album its German witchcraft concept. A more pretentious band would have fudged the details and claimed to have been reading a book about the legends of the Brocken at the time of recording; I now think of Liars every time a Wikipedia spiral inadvertently leads me to something artistically inspiring.
  • Drum’s Not Dead is boringly great.
  • A suggested title for their self-titled fourth album: Various Artists. There is almost nothing to indicate that any of the songs are by the same band. It’s like the opposite of Drum’s Not Dead; it’s compellingly hit-and-miss.
  • Sisterworld is good and scary. I hope timid teenagers are legitimately scared of it, like I was once upon a time.
  • Don’t know if I like Wixiw or not yet.

Beginner

How about a hilariously embarrassing story that isn’t especially funny nor even all that embarrassing?

A couple of weeks ago I did another round of my experimental-ish solo-ish comedy show Pinball at Hanging Rock (next show: 7 June at the Grand Poobah!). The sketches went well but there was a long stretch of undisciplined stand-up at the start, based around what I still think are some great ideas, all of which were lost in unnecessary background detail and improvisational dead ends. Pretty straightforward outcome, lesson learned, even when I’ve got an essentially unlimited amount of my own time to work with, I still need to tighten it up.

I also decided to bring back a segment which had been the highlight of an otherwise pretty dismal Pinball back in March, entitled “A Conversation Between Two Women About Something Other Than A Man”, in which I gracelessly earned my show a passing grade on the notorious Bechdel test by selecting two female audience members and facilitating a conversation between them about anything at all, so long as no men were involved. As tediously obsessed as I am with comedic theory, I would still be hard-pressed to explain the point of this, other than that the Bechdel test makes an important and complex point about gender disparity in popular fiction and I thought it’d be funny to address that point and then miss it completely. (In case it needs to be said: it’s not about passing, it’s about escaping the culture of screenwriting that doesn’t trust an audience to pay attention when men aren’t on screen or even being discussed.)

In March it was short and silly, and didn’t ask too much of the unsuspecting women in question, and it worked out well on a night when not much else did. The second time around, however, I wanted to make it bigger and better, but I had even less of a plan, and I filled in the blanks rather embarrassingly. March’s show, as I recall, produced about a minute of stilted but friendly conversation about chips, but this time I started asking things like, “What’s your motivation? What drives you?”, and even though that kind of dumb arrogance on my part was meant to be the butt of the joke, that’s still way too much to throw at somebody and expect anything back.

As it went on, I got further and further out of my depth, and had the awful realisation partway through that I didn’t even know what sort of character I was meant to be (dude with a genuine respect for women’s rights, yet still bothering them with a microphone and asking vague personal questions against their better wishes??). It was a mess. Not a total disaster — as far as I’m aware, I didn’t upset anybody, and I think people enjoyed it about as much as they would have enjoyed anything unpredictable and unplanned — but still unfortunately messy all the same.

So I took two relatively new arrivals to my thick ol’ head — an interest in feminism and a desire to incorporate more audience interaction into my comedy, or at least get a lot better at it should the need/opportunity arise — and I unwisely combined them with very little forethought. It leaves me with a mild variant of the shame I felt at age 11 when a kid at my school was hassling me and I lashed out at him with white-belt taekwon-do. Then, as now, the result was thankfully so inept as to be unidentifiable. But I knew!

I wish we were allowed to see more beginners. First drafts. Nervous activists. A 50-year-old Nick Cave, on stage, learning guitar.

“Haw haw!”

I’ve spent the afternoon writing something that functions as a sort of cross between an artist’s CV, a pub brag, and a vain, desperate plea to be allowed entry into the Kingdom of Heaven, like an atheist in a Jack Chick tract, stammering before the Lord, “B-b-but what about all my good deeds?” We all know how that turns out. But no matter — here it is!

Peter Escott, Explained (and thereby Spoiled)

Which in turn led me to finally put all my demented press releases in the one place:

Press Release Anthology

The Magnetic Fields, “Love at the Bottom of the Sea”

The magic is fading. The cracks are starting to show. Devoted fans will love it but anyone else should give it a wide berth.

Ugh. Those words!

The magic, when it comes to the Magnetic Fields, is a collective term for the little things that distract you from the epic intellectual exercise, that make you think wistfully about love rather than think critically about love songs. The ukulele, the psychocandy, the gender-ambiguous frisson. Love at the Bottom of the Sea is largely bereft of magic. It sounds like a propaganda broadcast from a Party ministry Orwell neglected to mention. Ministry of Authenticity? Ministry of Realism?

Love at the Bottom of the Sea brings back electronic instrumentation for the first time since 1999′s 69 Love Songs, and consists of songs 41 through 55 released since 69 Love Songs. (The numbers are debatable, because they’re wrong, but they’re not very wrong.) People say it follows a “no-synth trilogy”, but to me it’s the fourth Magnetic Fields album in a row that just sounds like the one thing, after that three-disc masterwork that sounded like everything. This time everything sounds like something electronic that I’m unfamiliar with. Claudia Gonson is credited in the liner notes with “fun machine”; is that what that is? Here’s what it sounds like:

“Andrew in Drag” is the instant classic, and serves as a reply of sorts to the gender ambiguity of past instant classics, your reward for thirteen years of puzzling over the possible meanings and implications of the word “unboyfriendable”. In this case the gender and sexual preference of all parties is unusually crystal clear: two narrators, a gay dude and a straight dude, both of them “turned” by the one-night-only vision of Andrew putting on a wig and a dress for a laugh. Even as pure concept there’s nothing about it that is not brilliant. Everything but the above is left completely to the imagination; one’s first instinct is to place the action in a sophisticated East Village performance space, but it could just as easily be some footballers engaging in post-season horseplay. Stephin Merritt: international treasure.

Then there are fourteen other songs! Some of them deal with a timely topic: “God Wants Us To Wait” has the potential to be an ironic hit in its own right among the kids that have been forwarding Garfunkel and Oates’ “Sex With Ducks” video to all and sundry for the last couple of years, but “The Machine In Your Hand” is a touch more cryptic about its smartphone lament. Some of them cross off a few more items on the knowing genre pastiche checklist: “Goin’ Back to the Country” and “Infatuation (With Your Gyration)” really don’t need to be here (although I’d be surprised if anybody bothered to skip them, as I sadly do with Realism‘s pointless “We Are Having A Hootenanny”), but the faux-Mexican faux-grandeur of “All She Cares About Is Mariachi” closes the album with baffling poignancy. One of them goes like this:

I love Hugh, and Hugh loves you
You love me, and he does not
I don’t love you, you don’t love Hugh
What a sad gavotte!

Sigh. Oh, you.

I meant that broken Macintosh icon as a compliment, by the way. I don’t think I’ve ever heard anything exactly like it. If I didn’t know a word of English (and sometimes I get so exhausted thinking about the Magnetic Fields that I wonder for a moment if maybe I don’t), my favourite song here would be “I’ve Run Away To Join The Fairies”, a medieval folk song compressed into an overheated computer and subsequently corrupted, with every line punctuated by piercing random atonal noise. This excites me.

In summary: well, I liked it.

(I really liked Realism too and was sad to see it received relatively poorly! “You Must Be Out Of Your Mind” was the instant classic there; “Everything Is One Big Christmas Tree” was the slice of daft genius; “Always Already Gone” was the song that badly needed to be written, and thankfully was; and “The Dada Polka” is groovy Bokononist pop!)

Upswing

The following is a list of paragraphs in what I am writing right now:

1. Lists calm me, even when thoroughly unnecessary. Writing in the form of a list is one part of my plan to overcome my fear of writing. And the other parts of the plan? Perhaps one day I will list them for you.

2. In January this year I begat, and began, a live comedy show taking place on the first Thursday of every month at the Grand Poobah here in Hobart, entitled Pinball at Hanging Rock. It was to be an exhausting and ambitious project inspired by other exhausting and ambitious projects undertaken by people who (a) have a much greater “following” than I do, and (b) do not have full-time “work work” jobs, and in nearly all cases do not have children. Can you see where I may have set myself up to fail?

3. I’ve failed!

4. Well, it’s not quite as bad as all that. January’s debut was a ludicrously overstuffed success; prominent lilting grouch Kevin O’Flaherty noted that it broke records for “most performers in a solo comedy show” (about a dozen) and “longest hour” (the bits that I thought would make up half an hour ended up taking an hour, and then the final sketch, which I am still fiercely proud of, lasted another hour). February was a more modest affair but felt more like something I could produce on a regular basis. March’s effort was compromised by (a) the disappearance/unavailability of many collaborators, and (b) weeks of unexplained, all-pervading depression. Rather than cancel the show, I put my remaining energy into an hour of patchy but ultimately passable new stand-up. By the time I went to bed that night I was feeling relatively okay about it, but it was hardly a victory. And now I’m putting the whole thing on hold indefinitely.

5. A reminder: please remember to regularly assess and update the labels that you have placed on yourself. It was not long ago that I would still describe myself as “shy” and “socially awkward”, years after both of these had ceased to apply to me (at most, these days, “reserved” and “socially obsessed“). And I was so pleased to self-identify as “emotionally open” that I truly did not even notice myself slipping gradually into that Australian archetype that community service announcements have only recently brought to light, that of the farmer, on his farm, standing alone at a fence next to an empty field, black clouds forming, representing the dark thoughts that he refuses to mention to anyone, because man, and men. So to clarify: I’ve been clinically depressed, in a “not that bad, could be worse” kind of way, since about the age of 11 (I am now 27 and impatient for 30). I want that on public record, if only because it is a factor in certain decisions I make and an element in certain stories I tell, but I will try my damndest not to be an “oversharer”.

6. Pinball at Hanging Rock will return once I work out a long-term plan for its continued excellence.

7. ‘night.