puff puff puff, blow your cares away.

stephin and gia demonstrate how people look cool when they smoke

I don’t know what it was that made me change my mind. four years ago when I left new york, the smoking ban there had just gone into effect. I believed that pubs, clubs, bars and restaurants should face the challenge of providing smoking areas and ventilation, but also that the government shouldn’t be allowed to dictate what someone does inside their own space (what if you own the place? is it anyone else’s business?). but now that I’ve been back and forth between london and new york so much, I have to confess I love going out in new york and not coming home with hair, skin and clothing so smelly that I feel embarrassed people might think I am actually a smoker. maybe I’m just getting old and no longer can tolerate the smoke (being in a smoke-filled bar in london means I probably won’t get a good night’s sleep), but I don’t care. the smoking ban starts in london tomorrow, and while it couldn’t happen fast enough for me it is sure to cause total mayhem. there is no place to put all the filth and ash (imagine hundreds of ashtrays being dumped on to the streets of london at once and that’s just gross), and the government actually plans to fine people for stamping out a butt on the street. good luck, gov! (and of course londoners will soon discover that the smell of smoke in bars masks many other, even more frightening aromas.) timeout london once created an anatomical cartoon pointing to each part of the body and what smoking did to it, and I used to have it taped up next to my desk in case I ever craved an american spirit ultra light to go along with my fluteful of veuve clicquot. so if destroying your central nervous system, having decreased libido/fertility, creepy old lady smoker’s mouth, vile complexion and bad breath are not enough to keep you off the evil cancer sticks, here’s a similar chart demonstrating what smoking does to your body and a reminder of what’s in a cigarette (including lovely poisons such as hydrogen cyanide, butane, formaldehyde, methan, and arsenic: yum!). smokers look hot, there’s no doubt about it. and I associate smoking with some of the great bohemian heroes of our time (serge gainsbourg was so dedicated he smoke and drank himself to death!) but personally I can’t take it anymore, I need some clean air in my lungs (since I live in the most polluted town in the UK, near one of its most polluted streets). if you fancy quitting, here are some ideas and here is a link to the antismoking lobby group that my dad was a member of. my dad was so ahead of his time: he used to have me do calligraphy “thank you for not smoking” signs that he would display at dinner parties at our house, forcing his mates out into the freezing cold with their cigars.

photographs: gail o’hara, natch

liver die.

on september 11, 2001 I was asleep on a friend’s couch in san francisco (belle and sebastian was playing there that week don’tcha know) when my dad called from the east coast and woke us up. he wanted to make sure I wasn’t already at the airport or on a plane, but I’m not the early-flight type (unless it can’t be avoided). so my friend kevin and I turned on the tv and sleepily, surreally saw the twin towers turn to dust. kevin went to his job at the needle exchange, and I tried to go back to sleep. I had a dream where I was in some foreign town, and there were scary armed terrorists chasing us around, and while I have no idea what city it was supposed to be, the building looked familiar. a few years later when my friend roger forced me to go to a film at the cineworld shaftesbury avenue, I realized what the building in my dream was: the silly, sterile, loud, offensive, packed-with-tourists trocadero! a prime terror target indeed. when some car bombs were discovered here in london yesterday (and today), I kind of thought to myself, don’t terrorists realize how pointless it is to try to kill the locals here when (almost) everyone is drunk, depressed, pickled, self-destructive and killing themselves? okay, yes, I exaggerate. not everyone is like that. but to someone who just landed here, this society might seem like one big binge-drinking, public-vomiting nightmare. some of you may be saying, geez, gail, lighten up, london has always been chock full of alcohol enthusiasts. and that is true. maybe it just gets more media coverage these days. too many digital camera phones = too many photos of teenage girls slumped over and falling off their wedges in the street. too many inevitably drunken, testosterone-fueled brawls on essex road. at the risk of sounding like a concerned parent, may I provide some evidence:

uk number one in binge drinking!
police and national health service want to fight it
doctors want to fight it
people die from it in northern ireland too.
scotland is worried about it too.
some people die from it.
or they may die when mixing it with other stuff.
it may help you die.
apparently it increases cancer risk.
well, duh: there is a link between depression and drinking.
drunk people more likely commit assault.
even the ladies get scrappy while drunk.
teenagers eff shit up while drinking.
some teenagers made a film to discourage it.

over in these parts, we are probably a lot more likely to die of cirrhosis of the liver than of a terror attack (even if this latest car bomb meant to target debauched clubbers, or simply clueless tourists). I’m not sure it’s possible to endure life without alcohol these days — there are certainly many, many reasons to numb down. I’m not suggesting you should stop, maybe just spare an occasional thought for the future liver shortage and consider how much sauce you are knocking back. bottoms up!

rock star turn.

my friend travis was just speculating that rock stars become rock stars simply so that they can go and get columns in the newspaper (here in london beth gossip is a guardian agony aunt and both alex kapranos and alex “ex-blur” james are so-called food critics for the observer). over in the us of a at the washington city paper, where chickfactor founders pam and gail met and became friends and put together nearly 11 issues of the magazine, they have hired bob mould to answer the public’s questions. ask bob now!

the lodger.

it’s not like slumberland records puts out new records every week! so since they’re releasing the debut LP by leeds act the lodger, we thought it was worthy of a super-newsflash. it’s the kind of timeless pop that mike schulman used to recommend to me when I was a record shopper at vinyl ink records back in the day. download some samples on the slumberland site.

django, rip.

one of my favorite pals from new york city (some of you may know him as the dog who worked at other music) passed away this week. I will miss him.

worlds collide.

tracey, stephin. stephin, tracey.

you cannot really get any more chickfactory than tracey thorn. back when the early ebtg records came out, I think I even wrote her a fan letter. when some of you kids were in nappies, I was watching them at the 930 club in dc (their love not money album helped me through my summer of measles). when I worked at spin, I tried to get a tracey interview, but it wasn’t meant to be (I was not digging their early ’90s style anyway, truth be told). then! when I worked at timeout new york I did finally get to interview ms tracey (she: poolside; me: at my desk in the noisiest, penitentiary-chic office ever, with a failing phone-taping gizmo in my hand), and it was like one of the worst interviews ever. perhaps because it was 15 years after the time when I was a really big fan of her music. tracey has an amazing voice and that will likely never change. the choices that she and ben watt make (drum n bass springs to mind) don’t always make sense to me but sometimes they make sense to other people. the songs that they choose or write are not always up to snuff, if only because those first albums and singles were so damn good (even if my fellow college radio mates made serious fun of me for liking it!). so now, 24 years after her first solo lp, a distant shore, tracey has a new solo album, but you people may be even more interested to hear her magnetic fields covers. she has always been aces at covers (her “night and day” and “femme fatale” trump a lot of others). hey trace, why not just do a whole album of merrittunes? (I am sure there was a 6th-ing attempt way back when anyway…)

photography: stephin merritt by gail o’hara

edith piaf.

my father was a prescient man. he bought me an edith piaf album years before I was smart enough to realize that I was going to be a fan of edith piaf. how did he know? perhaps he knew me better than I knew… he did bring in a lot of those albums that went on to form my wimpy musical taste (roberta flack, barbra streisand, the fifth dimension, don mclean). anyway, it took a while, but now who reading this site does not like mlle edith? (okay, some of you…) the ladies and I went to see the new film la môme at the barbican the other night and what a sad tale! I would not have constructed it in that way if I had been the filmmaker, but it held our interest and made us weep. she sang so hard her eyebrows popped out! she could put some serious lungpower into any room. she looked so damn old at the end and she was only supposed to be 47! hard living lady, she was. anyway, the guardian went and got an interview with ginou richer, the woman who hung out with the little sparrow back in the day, in case you are interested. we are going to try to sing “non, je ne regrette rien” the next time we do karaoke (ah, but we won’t be able to do it as convincingly as she, because we do have regrets!), meanwhile, head to youtube and watch some lovely old footage of the voice of paris.