For all the grammar sticklers, cunning linguists and word nerds out there, Weird Al Yankovic has written a song just for you (and me). It’s called “Word Crimes” and the melody is taken from “Blurred Lines”, however the lyrics are a million times better. He castigates those who spell words using numbers in text messages, those who say expresso instead of espresso, misuse of apostrophes and more. It’s well worth a listen.

Weird Al is taking the internet by storm recently having released eight videos in eight days, all from his new album Mandatory Fun, and Billboard are predicting that he might just nab the number one album spot later this week almost thirty years after “Eat It” made him a phenomenon.

Having been in the music industry for most of my working life, I have a lot of mates and family connected with the business. One of the great benefits of this is discovering new music. On recommendation I checked out IASCA Radio’s Spotify playlists and yesterday I found a track by Funzo called “Stalk This Way” which is great.

Some background: IASCA is the Irish Association of Songwriters, Composer and Authors and the work they’re doing for Irish bands is brilliant; Funzo is an Irish band founded by Liam McDermott in 2009, and as well as steadily releasing music, they’ve also played Oxegen, Electric Picnic and Hard Working Class Heroes. 

“Stalk This Way” is taken from Funzo’s new album The Great Lonesome released in May of this year. The song is an astute comment on social media and it sounds like a hybrid of Danny Elfman and Arctic Monkeys…in a great way! I can’t find the tune on Youtube or Soundcloud – members of Funzo provide me with some embeddable media for the blog please?! – but you can buy it for just €0.99 on iTunes here. Check it out.

 

Like many people, I have found my clothes shopping budget decimated as a result of the recession. Perhaps that’s why there haven’t been as many fashion posts of late; window shopping with no money is frustrating for someone who loves clothes as much as I do. However I do have lots of items in my wardrobe that I haven’t worn and that don’t suit me, but they’re too expensive to donate to a charity shop and selling on ebay seems like serious hassle.

A few weeks ago I visited Kingdom of Style (one of my daily reads) and I read Michelle’s post about Depop which immediately piqued my interest. Depop is a new app which allows you to sell your clothes via your phone; you simply take a picture, add a description and upload it to the app. You can then publicise this using your Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts, and you can follow other people on the site. Best of all the app is free and so is uploading items.

I joined about two weeks ago and have been browsing regularly. There’s a huge range of clothes and accessories on the site; vintage, designer and high-street. You can spend anything from a fiver to a grand depending on what you’re after. There’s a search function too so if you’re looking for something specific like a Vivienne Westwood jacket or stiletto shoes in a size 8 it’s easy to find.

So far I have two items on the site (I’m listed as Alex Donald) but my photography skills suck so I need to improve those before adding anything else. (The main reason my photography is so bad is that my medication makes my hands shake so much that it takes me ten tries to get one average photograph!)

I reckon this is a great marketplace and an app that has real longevity.  If you need to make space in your wardrobe and don’t want lots of hassle, it appears to be an easy way to declutter and make some cash. All the better to spend on those shoes you’ve been eyeing up!

I have raved before about director Alex Gibney’s work; to my mind he is one of the greatest documentary filmmakers of our times. I first became aware of him from his brilliant 2008 documentary about Hunter S. Thompson, Gonzo, and I have sought out most of his other films, in particular enjoying Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence In The House of God, and Client 9, a film about disgraced New York Governor Eliot Spitzer. (Click here for some other reviews of his work on the blog).

In The Armstrong Lie Gibney turns his focus to the world of sport and Lance Armstrong, the American cyclist whose name is now synonymous with doping. The documentary opens with Armstrong’s interview with Oprah in January last year. Oprah asked him a series of direct questions about his drug use and after years of accusations and emphatic denials, Armstrong finally told the truth; he had been doping throughout his career, and he had used performance enhancing drugs each time he won the Tour de France.

This was a huge revelation. Armstrong had repeatedly denied drug use when questioned by reporters. Throughout his career he submitted urine samples and complied with any and all testing, and at no point was he ever charged. When seen in the light of what we now know, Armstrong’s denials are Oscar worthy, his indignation and innocence appearing completely sincere.

Armstrong was a demi-god in the world of American sport. He was an inspirational figure, a cancer survivor who overcame a death sentence to win the Tour de France a record seven consecutive times between 1999 and 2005. His charity Livestrong raised over $300 million for cancer charities and victims, and seventy million people wore the yellow plastic wristband in support of his work. And solidifying his celebrity image, he had a string of high profile girlfriends including Sheryl Crow and Kate Hudson. But Armstrong’s dark side was well hidden. He was a power-hungry control freak who hated to lose, and had no problem intimidating people or lying to get what he wanted. After he won his first Tour de France in 1999 his career became about holding onto that power at all costs.

Gibney had originally intended the film to focus on Armstrong’s return to professional cycling in 2009 after a four year retirement. However the film stalled as Armstrong was investigated for doping. After his Oprah interview, Armstrong sat down with Gibney to set the record straight. What becomes apparent is that the use of performance enhancing drugs in professional cycling was widespread.

Armstrong realised in 1994 that although he was clean all his competitors were doping and therefore his team was getting annihilated. He came to believe that in order to compete he had to dope; it was the competitive standard and the only way he could level the playing field and win. As one interviewee says, this is a case of moral relativism. Professional cycling became a contest of who had the best doctor and who had the most money, instead of who was actually the better sportsman.

The Armstrong Lie is similar to Senna in that one doesn’t need knowledge of the sport in order to appreciate it. I hadn’t truly understood what a brutal event the Tour de France is; unbelievable endurance, speed and strength, all required for almost a month. The competition pushes the body beyond its natural capabilities and one can see how doping could become attractive to a single-minded sportsman.

Once again Alex Gibney has created a brilliant documentary; comprehensive, absorbing, and thought provoking. The Armstrong Lie is available to watch on 4OD for the next 27 days.

“Get Lucky” and “Happy” are very overplayed at this stage; I guess that’s what happens to really good pop tunes. Anyway looking for new tunes recently I came across this great mash-up of “Get Lucky”, “Happy” and “Lose Yourself To Dance” by Pomplamousse.

Pomplamousse are Jack Conte and Nataly Dawn from California, and they’re romantic and musical partners. They have lots of mash-ups and covers on their Youtube channel but I particularly like this one. It’s perfect for the summer with a light, fun feel, and I think they way they’ve combined and reinterpreted the songs is brilliantly original. I reckon it’ll go down well at DJ gigs.

 

Since the Great Recession hit I have developed an interest in economics and been devouring documentaries and movies on the subject. I suppose for an autodidact and a film-buff it’s the perfect way to learn! In 2009 two major American fraudsters, who used Ponzi schemes to con people out of a combined $18,400,000,000 (that’s eighteen billion four hundred million dollars) were arrested and ultimately imprisoned. The most famous of these is Bernie Madoff, a man now serving 150 years in prison for his crimes, but if it weren’t for Madoff than Marc Dreier would have been the Ponzi King of 2009.

Chasing Madoff is a documentary which focusses on Harry Markopolos, the whistleblower in the Madoff case. Markopolos was working at a company called Rampart as a portfolio manager when he was asked to take a look at Madoff’s incredible returns and asked if he could design a product that could compete. When Markopolos looked at the details he realised that a return stream like the one Madoff claimed to generate “simply doesn’t exist in finance.”

Markopolos investigated Madoff over a ten year period and he alerted the Securities and Exchange Commission three times in 2000, 2001, and 2005, providing supporting documentation each time to back up his claims that Madoff was a conducting a multi-billion dollar fraud. Each time the SEC did nothing. When the fraud was eventually uncovered in 2008, the SEC were taken to task by Congress for their failure to properly regulate Madoff and the scenes where the outraged senators are berating the SEC employees are some of the best in the film.

Chasing Madoff is a fascinating documentary which gives some insight into Madoff’s madness, but also paints a bigger picture of the lax regulations, unbelievable greed and insane risk-taking that characterised the boom before the bust. Harry Markopolos is deservedly the star of the film. He investigated Madoff at great personal risk to his own safety and without any compensation, financial or otherwise. He simply did it because it was the right thing to do and he was prepared to stand up and fight for justice. He’s honorable, noble and thoroughly likeable; a rare breed in the world of finance.

 

 

Unraveled is a profile of Marc Dreier which takes place during his sixty day house arrest before his sentencing. Dreier conned twenty-six individuals and hedge funds out of four hundred million dollars, ostensibly to invest the money in his own law firm. The film is largely made up of interviews with Dreier in his house, plus footage of him meeting his lawyers and spending time with his family before he goes to prison.

Dreier is one of the most repugnant people I have ever seen onscreen. He appears to be repentant only because he got caught, not because he has any real sympathy for the people he defrauded and the hundreds of staff members that were let go from his law firm when his fraud was uncovered. He doesn’t understand why people applaud bank robbers in the movies but then take a different attitude when it happens in “so called real life”. He is apprehensive about prison but only because he’s worried about being in a dorm with a guy who snores, getting bad food and having to work for eight hours a day in the prison kitchen. In short he comes across as completely delusional and very detached from reality.

Dreier believes that most people would do what he did if they knew they wouldn’t get caught. He seems not to understand that some people’s moral code or sense of justice would prevail. In a very telling scene with his lawyers, he attempts to minimise what he did, stating that he was not as bad as Madoff because he only defrauded “twenty-six victims…not widows and orphans…”. In fact he swindled the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Fund out of forty million dollars, the impact of which seems to have escaped him.

It has been said before that people with psychopathic traits often do well in the corporate world. They have what it takes to succeed in business; ruthlessness, monstrous ego, absolute self-interest, inability to feel compassion or empathy. Dreier fits this profile and in my opinion, no matter how long he spends in prison, he’ll never be fully rehabilitated because he’s simply not capable of feeling real remorse.

 

 

Both documentaries are available to watch on Netflix and I’d highly recommend them.

 

A couple of weeks ago I attended the launch of Thomas Morris’s Dubliners 100 published by Tramp Press. Tramp Press are an independent publishing company set up in Dublin this year by Sarah Davis-Goff and Lisa Coen, and their mission is to find brilliant new literary voices to nurture and publish. Dubliners 100 is their second title; the first was Flight, a debut novel by Oona Frawley. Thomas Morris served as editor of this collection and he invited new and established Irish writers to create ‘cover versions’ of their favourite stories from James Joyce’s Dubliners to commemorate the centenary of the original.

The list of contributors to the book is a testament to the fact that Irish fiction is flourishing in recent times. Included are established writers like Patrick McCabe and John Boyne, debut novelists Oona Frawley and Eimear McBride, and some favourites of mine like Peter Murphy, Paul Murray and Donal Ryan.

I had only read the stories in Joyce’s Dubliners a couple of times and so I decided to read Dubliners 100 in a specific way: reading the original Joyce story and reading the Dubliners 100 version immediately afterwards. It’s been a fascinating process as some writers have chosen to reinterpret the original story in a more obvious way, and others barely allude to the Joycean one at all. So far I have loved John Kelly’s version of A Little Cloud, and Eimear McBride’s version of Ivy Day in the Committee Room showcases again her incredible talent for language.

But don’t worry! Knowledge of Joyce isn’t essential and if you haven’t read the original stories in Dubliners you could certainly enjoy Dubliners 100 on its own merits. Plus it’s a great introduction to fifteen wonderful Irish writers. You can buy it in bookshops or direct from Tramp Press via their website.

Back in May I posted about Edward St. Aubyn and Paul Murray speaking at the Dublin Writers Festival and I managed to get tickets for the talk in Smock Alley. St. Aubyn read from his current novel, published last month, called Lost For Words. I picked up a copy at the launch and had it signed by the author, who proved to be a very funny, humble and sharply intelligent man.

Lost For Words is a satire on the Booker Prize in the UK (for which St. Aubyn was nominated in 2006 for Mother’s Milk). The prize is called the Elysian Prize and it follows the struggles of the panel of judges to whittle down the long list and agree on the prize winner. The panel are a motley assortment, most of whom are completely unqualified to judge a work of literature.

The chairman is a bored backbench MP, Malcolm Craig, who is attracted to the glamour of the literary world and hopes it will provide him with media opportunities. The only judge who actually cares about books and who wants the winning book to represent good writing is Vanessa Shaw, an Oxbridge academic. Penny Feathers is a busybody working for the Foreign Office who is also writing her own novel, a laughably bad spy thriller. Penny’s attempts to understand the books on the shortlist are occasions for great flashes of humour from St. Aubyn: “That was the wonderful thing about historical novels, one met so many famous people. It was like reading a very old copy of Hello! magazine.”

Lost For Words also follows the writers who are nominated for the Prize including Katherine Burns, a brilliant writer and a femme fatale who leaves a trail of broken hearts behind her, and Sonny, the six hundred and fifty-third maharaja of Badanpur, who is convinced he has written the greatest novel of all time.

Lost For Words is a huge change in tone for St. Aubyn, worlds away from the darkness and intensity of the Patrick Melrose novels. One gets the sense that St. Aubyn wanted to rediscover the joy in writing, exercise his comic muscle and have some fun. Lost For Words won the Wodehouse prize for comic fiction this year and while the book is very funny in parts, it also explores deeper issues; the place of art in our society, and how real talent rarely wins out over commerce.

Pic from edwardstaubyn.com)

(Pic from edwardstaubyn.com)

(Before you start to worry, this post contains no spoilers!)

Like most people who loved Season One of Orange Is The New Black, I devoured Season Two in about three days last week. I’m not one for spoiling the plot of movies or books, so I won’t go into detail about the story-line in case you haven’t seen it, however I can’t help but rave about some of the performances this season. The main characters from Season One are still in play (Piper and Alex, Red and her crew, Pensatucky, Gloria and Daya, plus the prison guards) but we get further insights into their backstories which are some of my favourite parts of the show. I loved the episodes focussing on Lorna Morello (played by Yael Stone), the lipstick addicted, uber-feminine inmate with a bizarre Boston-Brooklyn hybrid accent that’s strangely endearing.

This season a new main antagonist, Vee Parker played by Lorraine Toussaint, joins the cast. Vee is a ruthless career criminal, menacing, psychopathic and cold. She was a drug dealer and returns to Litchfield prison after an unspecified crime. I had never seen Toussaint before and was fairly blown away by her talent. She radiates charisma, helped by her considerable beauty, and plays Vee as a truly terrifying woman, capable of unthinkable acts of violence and betrayal.

One of the few characters not taken in by Vee is Poussey, played by Samira Wiley. Poussey’s amazing rendition of “Amazing Grace” was one of my favourite parts of Season One. Poussey’s history is revealed a little more this season, which gives Wiley further screen time, and I fell in love with her character. Wiley is a wonderful actress and her portrayal of the innocent, funny and very lovable Poussey lights up the screen.

Lastly I have to mention Natasha Lyonne. Ten years ago it looked like her career was in the toilet following a series of drug related arrests. I have huge admiration for the fact that she’s turned things around and I think she’s doing her best work this season. Nicky Nichols is a great character to play – bawdy, complex, brutally honest yet warm-hearted – and Lyonne does a sterling job.

For those of you who haven’t yet watched Season Two, you’re in for a big treat. I’m going to leave it for a couple of months and then rewatch Seasons One and Two – that’s how much I enjoyed it!

Everybody everywhere mostly knows Lykke Li from her monster single “I Follow Rivers” taken from her 2011 album Wounded Rhymes. The Magician remix was a huge club hit but I preferred the Dave Sitek remix which I played at gigs for months.

“No Rest For The Wicked” is the lead single from Lykke Li’s new album I Never Learn. In an interview with Rolling Stone she described the album as a collection of “power ballads for the broken”. I really like this chilled out remix by Joris Voorn which is one of the three remixes on the single. The original track starts off slow and builds into a wall of sound with additional vocals by A$AP Rocky, and the remix is a great reinterpretation. I’ll be playing it at gigs for sure.

The Multiverse

is a blog from an Irish writer and DJ which takes in a wide range of subject matter as follows: Monday’s blogs are related to literature and writing; Tuesday is fashion, style and beauty; Wednesday is music; Thursday is TV and cinema; and Friday is a miscellany.

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