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Pursuit of Happiness, Flowertown, True Stories

Listen: “Pursuit of Happiness” [Steve Aoki remix] – Kid Cudi (feat. MGMT & Ratatat)

I was at a mate’s house and he had Triple J’s Like a Version volume 6 as background music. Cloud Control’s cover of “Pursuit of Happiness” came on; I was struck (again) by Cudi’s lyrics, this time performed with a virtuosic minimalism. I could remember listening to the radio the morning Cloud Control performed this live on the radio. The elegance of their rendition caught me unawares. The Aoki remix was an accidental addition to my iPhone’s iTunes as I was after the original; a happy accident. R&B soul becomes indie/hipster and rock becomes bouncy nightclub anthem. I am impressed with Aoki’s skill in retaining the ‘soulful’ character of the track. The soulful lyrics combine with an epic synth cascade. Cudi’s ironically titled ‘Pursuit of Happiness’ is less about emotional wellbeing than it is about various coping strategies for everyday life. As I sit listening to the track on repeat trying to keep up with a massive ‘white collar’ workload the incongruous Aoki remix captures a sense of a different kind of coping mechanism. The repetitive energetics are tempered by an ironic bathos, which for me, captures a sense of working in academia. Result: 35 student essays out of 40 marked.

Read: Flowertown, S.G. Redling

This is from my relaxing, before-bed reading list. Flowertown is set in the near future/present where a chemical spill quarantines a small US town. I bought the book because ‘quarantined town’ seemed like a metonym for the ‘poisoned’ national myopia of the United States. It seems to have received positive reviews on Amazon, but now I am suspicious. It was published by Thomas & Mercer which is an imprint of Amazon itself. I was already suspicious of the Amazon algorithm being gamed by authors and their friends, and there is a distinct lack of transparency. The book itself has some interesting medical science fiction conceits. As a conspiracy thriller it doesn’t really work because the main characters are basically drug-fucked idiots and the ‘twist’ is obvious. (There is also a sub-twist about one of the main characters, but I didn’t care because both versions of the character were assholes, so I was happy when the good guy became a two-dimensional bad guy as it was obvious he would be killed.) It is a pity all of the characters of this novel did not die from their chemical exposure; that would have been a more satisfying ending. Or, to put it another way, my paranoid suspicion of the Amazon algorithm is more ‘thrilling’ to me than the plot of this book. Result: Good book to read if you’re reading to fall asleep, because it doesn’t really matter if you lose your spot. A half-closed-sleepy-eye out of 5.

Watch: True Stories (Byrne, 1986)

Look, I don’t watch broadcast TV, but I do binge-watch entire seasons sometimes. Anyway, David Byrne visits a typical (fictional) Texas town andthe 1986 film is still intriguing and funny in a way that is partially cerebral and partially on the level of a slow-motion clown-car-full-of-clowns car crash. On an intellectual level, True Stories is a postmodernist film par excellence. In a literal way, the grand meta-narratives of modernism have become incredulous, so David Byrne visits the town of Virgil, Texas, to document the stories the locals tell themselves so as to give their everyday lives meaning. These are ‘new’ narratives to do with consumer society, religion, aspirational ideality, interest-based communities, etc. The stories are presented as musical numbers by Byrne’s Talking Heads (the track Radio Head is where the band Radiohead got its name). Byrne’s comportment is a kind of David Attenborough of banality, involving a combination of frightful mid-1980s fashion, head-bopping pop and an affectionately piercing critique of everyday life. I mentioned this film to a mate and I want him to watch it. Result: 10 out of 12 awesome tracks.

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