fri 25/07/2014

theASHtray: Douglas Adams, the petty tyranny of Saul Zaentz Co., and KONY 1987 | Comedy reviews, news & interviews

theASHtray: Douglas Adams, the petty tyranny of Saul Zaentz Co., and KONY 1987

Yeah butt, no butt: our columnist sifts through the fag-ends of the cultural week

Douglas Adams: 42... + (18... - 11)

I spent a fair chunk of last Sunday evening at Douglas Adams' 60th birthday party. This was a bit of a curve ball, not only because I'd never met the author of The Hitch-Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy - but also because he's been dead for nearly 11 years. But there he was, all the same, selling out the Hammersmith Apollo with a little help from Stephen Fry, Clive James, Jon Culshaw, a couple of thousand nerds in dressing gowns, and a posse of dancing rhinoceroses.

The Supreme Hitch-Hiker, author of a five-part trilogy (now six-) and creator of Dirk Gently, was by all acounts a classic bloke as well as a brilliantly alternative thinker. And his spirit was well honoured by Robin Ince doing physics jokes ("Schrödinger's Nostalgia: if you buy a DVD box-set of a series you loved as a child, it is better never to open the box"), the Heebie Geebies singing some truly meaningless songs, Simon Singh offering mathematical proof that the Telly Tubbies are evil, and veteran comedy producer John Lloyd reading extracts and updates from the hilarious Meaning of Liff.

A great night, and a great tribute. Would that we might all warrant this sort of thing a decade or more after we've gone.

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Huzzah for the hundreds of thousands who in the last fortnight heard about Joseph Kony for the first time. Better late than never, I suppose. Yes, Kony is a nightmare warlord. Yes, his head belongs on a spike. No, this didn't just happen: Kony and the Lord's Resistance Army have been doing their murderous thing now for nearly 25 years.

Super-citizen-power is all well and lovely; but unfortunately, as reports on Kony's strategy have already begun to argue, the sudden surge in publicity created by the worthy KONY 2012 is likely, if anything, to make him harder to catch. Still, thanks for playing.

[NB Jon Snow this week released a sequel to his perfectly professional Sri Lanka's Killing Fields film of last year, the central thrust of which was a) "See, I was right!" and b) that his being right had achieved absolutely nothing. What can you do?] 

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In the last couple of days, Sir Ian McKellen and Stephen Fry have both come out - so to speak - in defence of a little pub in Southampton called The Hobbit, currently facing legal action from American film-producer Saul Zaentz over an alleged infringement of his rights.  

The opinions of mash-up artists, teenagers and Lewis Hyde notwithstanding, copyright - i.e. the right to be paid for the work you have done, even if you do work in the arts - is a thing to be assiduously protected. But even if there has been some technical infringement (and actually it seems questionable that Zaentz has a serious case, in English law, anyway), it goes beyond the bleeding obvious to point out that a small pub on the South Coast has not pocketed a penny that was rightful Tolkien's, let alone anyone else's. Somebody please remind Zaentz's flesh-eating lawyers that the central theme of the Middle Earth stories is a collective of plucky little people causing major embarrassment to evil empires - and tell them to wind their frigging necks in.

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Here's a fun way to kill a couple of hours. Next time you happen upon a rip-roaring piece of music, hop across to Spotify and see just how different a recording you can find. My personal favourites - if only because I was listening to them recently - include the album and live versions of "Dog Days" by Florence + the Machine, and the single and demo versions of Amy Winehouse's "Rehab" (sans Mark Ronson's brass pizzazz, but already incl. the trademark clapping). You'll find old arrangements, missing lyrics, and orchestrations that didn't exist back when the artist's weren't big enough to afford 'em. The sort of fun that used to be had by people who purchased singles in record stores.

Variant forms of the game include hunting down the most oblique cover versions and remixes (MUSE hotwiring Chopin, for example, or Queens of the Stone Age turning Carly Simon's "You're So Vain" inside out) and/or counting the number of musicians who've shamelessly pilfered "Hallelujah" without so much as changing a single note. For the more adventurous, why not enter your musical search terms and marvel at just how badly Spotify's automated cataloguing software can miss the mark? My best FAIL so far has to be typing in "M.I.A." and being offered results for Pierce Brosnan and Stellan Skarsgård... singing Abba.

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