Just from listening to Nerd Hurdles, it’s easy to see how I got this reputation for hating everything. Or, if that’s putting it too strongly, a reputation for harbouring mild to complete disdain for most things on the planet, living and dead. In an attempt to dispel this myth and give listeners a little perspective on why I’m so critical on the various arts and entertainments we cover, we thought we’d do an episode devoted to the stuff I like.
Well, if you don’t attempt it, you can’t fail at it.
Which is why we have shownotes. And here follows a brief explanation of my very narrow ideal of the ideal form in various arenas.
Dairy: We start off the episode with a little joke about my love of cheese. I do love cheese. But you’d think a cheese lover would love a wide variety of cheeses. No, I love a select few cheeses passionately, such as Abbot’s Gold. Generally, I like sharp, hard cheeses (10-year-old cheddar). But I don’t like blue cheese at all (not even the rind on brie). Nor do I care for creamy, buttery cheeses. Though I do absolutely love an extremely creamy havarti, especially when it’s a little above room temperature, sweating slightly and soft like butter. I do not like actual butter. Or milk. Or yogurt. Or cream. Though ice cream is something I can never get enough of. And milkshakes are divine.
You can see where this is going can’t you? This kind of seemingly arbitrary particularism also manifests itself in everything else I supposedly love. Chocolate, music, cupcakes, beer, movies, books, coffee, and comics all get the extreme thumbs up or down from me for subtle variances most people wouldn’t notice and connoisseurs would revel in as these are the very subtleties that give things a richness worth applauding.
In variably, I don’t like ’em. I am a six year-old child.
Film/Television: My suspension of disbelief generator has been acting up for years and barely chugs along. There’s very few movies it can keep up with nowadays. Especially genre films which rely so heavily on suspension of disbelief and those are generally what I like to watch. Films have to walk an impossibly fine line for me to whole-heartedly enjoy them yet the films I do miraculously adore must appear to suffer the same faults of those I deride.
How can I pan the absurdly poor Tron: Legacy while defending the original hokey, slowly paced and ridiculously-premised Tron? How can I make a statement like Kill Bill 1 & 2 is a flawless and beautifully executed epic but the Lord of the Rings Trilogy is all a bit shit. How can I praise Star Wars and claim Empire Strikes Back is a weak, poorly made film. How can I put The Warriors on one pedestal and want to knock The Dark Knight off the other? How can I loathe musicals yet Jesus Christ Superstar and Absolute Beginners are two that I’ve watched more than Wrath of Khan or any Star Wars film? Terminator gets a pass, T2 is one of the worst films I’ve ever seen.
I’m not sure I have an easy answer to those questions. Listeners know I can certainly list off reasons why I don’t like individual films, but is there an over-arching theme to movies I enjoy? Ultimately, a lot of it comes down to being character-based instead of being action-based. Something all the films in my “pass” list have in common is developing characters I care enough about to be invested in their peril. The films in my “fail” list weren’t able to make me care about the characters enough. Even at the beginning of the film, I cared if Indiana Jones got squished by that big rolling rock. Similarly early on, I couldn’t care less if Qui-Gon Jinn got blasted by a Trade Federation battledroid.
Music: My musical tastes are no less particular. I suppose everyone’s are. I own a relatively stupid amount of CDs. About 500. Not the largest collection (though these day perhaps unusual), but one where most people would assume I’m not very discriminating. The crap Amazon suggests to me based on pervious purchases says differently. “You own Black Sabbath, you might like Richie Blackmore’s Rainbow.” No I would not like fucking Rainbow. But I can see why Amazon might think so. I’m sure a lot of people like both and that’s the only kind of music they like.
Here’s a breakdown of my somewhat particular, nuanced (douchie) musical tastes:
- Early, fuzzy acid-rock, proto-metal, but to a very specific aesthetic. Pretty much it has to sound like the first three Sabbath or Zeppelin albums or perhaps the live disc of Pink Floyd’s Ummagumma.
- Krautrock, but it better sound like the first two Neu! albums.
- Jazz, but only free and avant-garde jazz from 1962-1969.
- Gay synth-pop duos, not too keen on the straight stuff.
- Acid House. I love acid house, not too wild about any other house and techno.
- Hip-hop 1987-1993 — definitetly no later and very selective about going earlier than 1985.
- Punk/Post-punk no later than 1982 and I’m very particular about the singing style — PiL and Siouxsie, yes, The Slits and Buzzcocks, no. How does that work? I dunno.
- Ethnic. I really dig traditional Japanese and Indonesian music but have little taste for other ethnic music, even India (unless it’s solo tambura). Mostly I like Gamelan and Taiko.
- Classic psychedelic pop from Turkey and Asia 1968-1972 but not anywhere else in the world.
- Garage-rock and psychobilly if it’s a completely off-the-rails train wreck like early Blues Explosion but not as off-the-rails as Pussy Galore.
- Modern minimalist composers such as Adams, Glass and Reich, but only when it sounds like Terry Riley’s In C — relentlessly repetitive and actually minimalist.
- Dub reggae 1968-1972 (and, good god, not Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry).
- Shoegaze. I’m pretty indiscriminate here. I like classic gaze and nu-gaze. So long as it’s not too “rock” like Catherine Wheel or Amusement Parks on Fire or too “Brit-pop” like Boo Radleys. Name another shoegaze band and I probably like them.
- My five favourite bands, in order, are: Pet Shop Boys, Radiohead, Underworld, Einsturzende Neubauten and The Birthday Party.
- Current runners-up (subject to change five minutes from now): Generation X, A Flock of Seagulls, Brian Jonestown Massacre and Soundpool
Books: I like to read genre fiction. Specifically young adult adventure stories (Various Phillip Pullman books, The Hunger Games), dystopian sci-fi and noir detective novels. Get all those things in the same book, I’m happy. Otherwise I can’t be bothered. Even if it’s a great book. This might be because I read exclusively on the subway—that changes how “deep” a book I want to get into. When I arrive at work, I don’t want to be crippled by depression. So I’m perhaps more forgiving of books than I am of TV and Film. But I could still tell you why book X I just read was shite. I just don’t care that it was shite. It doesn’t anger me the way shite film and TV does. Nuanced.
As far as comics go, I don’t like superhero comics or any graphic novel drawn in the style of a superhero comic, regardless of content. Unlike my interests in fiction, I like my graphic novels to be non-genre or closer to depicting real life. Even non-fiction and biography which I avoid in both prose and film. I like the art to be stylized, often in a hard black and white “graphic” style, regardless of content. I don’t like “sketchy” lazy-looking indie comics, regardless of content.
Some of my favourite authors/artists: Lindsey Davis, Raymond Chandler, Dash Shaw, Max Allan Collins, Adrian Tomine, William Gibson (though he lets me down every time), Chris Ware, Charles Burns, Agatha Christie…
Beer: I like dark ales and stouts. Unless I’m enjoying like a cold lager or pilsner. Bottle-aged anything is good.
Cake: I like cheap white or yellow cake and hard, sugary icing. Excessively rich chocolate cake is fine too. So long as the icing isn’t fluffy.