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I've learned from various authors and teachers over the years that the secret to writing is to write. Don't believe in writer's block. If you can't find inspiration for the piece you were hoping to work on, start on or finish something else. If nothing's happening there either, just write from your sub-conscious. Write write write anything and soon the words will flow.

That's what I'm having to do right now. I was hoping to post my review of TV On The Radio at Southpaw Tuesday night, but I don't seem to have the energy to write it properly. Not today. I'm feeling really spent right now, both physically and emotionally. I haven't slept well all week, and the insomnia's become self-perpetuating. I think I've also been over-exerting myself this last few weeks and it's exacting a toll. I haven't taken a 'sick day' in years - being self-employed makes them a matter of last resort - and while I don't feel physically ill right now, like I need to spend the day in bed or anything, I think I am suffering from the ongoing winter blahs that I remember being such a powerful foe during the particular grey, damp, long English winters.

If I am sick, it's that I'm totally fucking sick of mass murder, and all the people in the world who find justification for it to suit their own agendas. I'm not as depressed with the world as I was in the days following September 11, but I do feel similarly numb and dumbed by man's inhumanity. Maybe it's right that we don't know who caused the attacks in Madrid for the time being; maybe we all just need to sit and take stock of the horror so that we can think how far any of us want to go in our support of a cause.

I wrote yesterday that I spent 36 hours in Madrid last October; it was actually closer to 48 hours, I realize now. It included one of the longest and greatest nights out I've had in recent years, thanks very much to our hosts in Madrid, some of the warmest and funniest people I've hung with. I flew of that city on a Friday morning, sharing a cab for convenience sake to the airport with an Austrian businessman, a hotel manager based in the Middle East who was in town to see his girlfriend. He was an exuberant, effusive type – I guess you need to like people to be in his game – and he succeeded in engaging me in conversation. When he learned I lived in New York, and that I was there (here) on September 11, he started peppering me for my story.

I refused to tell it. Not because it was particularly dramatic, but because I've come to learn that some people get a vicarious thrill from other peoples' tragedies, and I wasn't willing to grant him that satisfaction. So I told him straight up that it was simply too painful a memory to broach with a stranger in a cab on a brief ride to an airport. I trust he understood. I imagine there will be many people in Madrid who will feel the same way in months and years to come. I hope we all understand.

If you can't find inspiration for the piece you were hoping to work on…just write from your sub-conscious. The process seems to work. I feel better for getting something down on paper (and computer), even if it's not the piece I originally intended to write. See you all next week, hopefully better-rested and rejuvenated.


TV On The Radio, Southpaw, Tuesday. They were in focus, it's me who's blurred. Formed as some kind of primal response to September 11, TV On The Radio have a song on their new abum called 'Bomb Yourself.'
It's playing as I upload this page. Everything connects .



Last October, I was fortunate enough to spend 36 hours in Madrid, a city I hadn't visited before. I found it to be the perfect European capital. Full of history, but not obsessed by it. Cultured, but not exclusive. Hip, but not overtly trendy. Outwardly wealthy, but not ostentaciously so. And of course, football crazy, as they should be. And because Madrid lay off the beaten path of the most popular European capitals – London, Paris, Berlin, Rome – it was not suffering from tourist overload. In fact, tourists were nowhere to be seen. (They were all on the coast in Barcelona.) Madrid was a thriving capital city going about its daily business without being under the international spotlight. It seemed to offer the best of everything.

So I want to pause today and express sympathy and condolences for the people of Madrid who've just suffered the worst terrorist attacks in their nation's history. 173 people dead and counting. And for what? As yet, no one has even come forward to claim responsibility – which means that, much like the Americans in the early hours of the Oklahoma bombing, the Spanish are currently uncertain whether to blame home-grown terrorism (the Basque separatists ETA) or far-flung terrorism (Al-Qaeda, which would presumably be in retaliation for Spanish involvement in the War on Terrorism). All they know is that innocent people were killed in somebody's name of freedom.

Whoever proves to have been responsible has no excuse. None. Slaughtering commuters on their way to work is a form of genocide. There is no justification. I applaud the words of Britain's European minister, Dennis MacShane, who writes in today's Guardian, "Those who find ways of justifying terrorism, who can talk of understanding the motives of terrorist actions, need to think hard and think differently. No progress in human affairs will ever be built on the blood of innocent people. Today, we are all Spanish."

It wasn't purely related to my brief time in Madrid, but we made a decision several months ago that our next European family holiday – when we can afford it and when we have time – will be in Spain. And it would include Madrid. That hasn't changed. I look forward to visiting that wonderful city again soon, and offer prayers that today is the last time its people will have to confront such cowardly mass murder.



Thanks to everyone who came out to Barnes & Noble in Greenwich Village last night. It was the first time I've read publicly from Hedonism without musical accompaniment, which freed me up to choose entirely different sections than in the past. That made it a whole new experience, one I thoroughly enjoyed. For anyone other than literary superstars, readings are notoriously poorly attended here in New York, where we're completely spoiled for choice: even on a wet Tuesday in March, I was up against readings by Roddy Doyle and Kinky Friedman. I know how rarely I get out to these things, even when it's my own writer friends on the bill. So again, I appreciate people taking the time out to attend.

In the past, I've come down hard on the New York humorous magazine Jest for being too true to its Williamsburg base, i.e. not funny. But every now and then, the magazine hits its mark, especially in its increasingly risqué fake celebrity interview. This month it's Christina Aquilera's supposed turn. Here's an excerpt:

Jest: What do you think about Madonna saying that Britney is a better kisser than you?

CA: She said that? Gimme a fucking break.

Jest: Are you saying she’s lying?

CA: Wanna try me? [Laughter]

[Interviewer leans in and slowly kisses Christina on the mouth. Sliding towards her on the sofa, Interviewer cradles her head in his hand as strands of silky blonde hair sweep across his face. Their bodies become entangled, and Christina trembles slightly as Interviewer’s lips travel slowly down her neck. Christina lets out a slight moan.]

Jest: You like that?

CA: Yeah…I don’t think I…we should maybe….

Jest: What is it, baby?

CA: Let’s get out of here.

It only gets hotter… And funnier…

Christina Aguilera jesting about: "Wanna try me?"

Jest's Oscar 'For Your Consideration' parodies also hit home, especially Viggo Mortensen's nomination for 'The Lord Of The Rings: The Return of The King' in the 'No Seriously – What's Your Name' Award, "For having an actual name that is sillier than the name Tolkien wrote for his character."

The Onion built a quick-hit publishing empire on such simple, politically incorrect gags, but in order to establish a long-term base of readers and advertisers, and to break into the crowded New York market, it's been forced to add a serious center section called The A.V. Club. (We assume that stands for Audio Video.) This week, its celebrity interview is... Viggo Mortensen. Sadly, the interview is entirely straight-faced. I think I'll wait for the Jest version.

That doesn't mean The Onion can't deliver when it needs to. Check these headlines from last week's edition

(Full story here)


(Full story here)

There's also another headline that I can't bring myself to copy and paste. Perhaps the word carries stronger connotations in the UK. Or maybe free speech in the States is stronger than we even want to believe? You can read it here

For all that I rag on Williamsburg, and not without some justification, the trust fund capital of New York occasionally delivers the goods. Last night TV On The Radio played a sold-out show at Southpaw and clearly established why they're the next New York band to get genuinely excited about. Full report tomorrow.



Been enjoying one of those long, "It's only worth living in New York City if you make full use of it" stretches. Thursday evening, I met with some long term American friends for a male night out. You don't need details, except for the fact we gathered at Freddy's – a notable, renowned, esteemed and cheerfully downbeat neighborhood bar that will be seized and demolished under the ludicrous 'Eminent Domain' laws should developer Bruce Ratner's plans to build over the Atlantic Yards get the full go-ahead. (Read more about Ratner's plans here. We'll get back to it at the end of the column.)

After a few pints of Guinness, appropriately enough, I went to the Knitting Factory in Manhattan to see The Undertones play their first American show in over 20 years. Generally speaking, I'm wary of reformed groups from the days of my punk/new wave youth, especially when the original singer is missing – and even more so when that singer was of the distinct calibre of the 'Tones Feargal Sharkey. But positive reports about replacement singer Paul McLoone, about the band's "comeback" album Get What You Need, and especially, about the live show, have been spreading by word of mouth and the Internet these last few months. It seemed only fair to give the other four members of the band the benefit of the doubt.

There was a certain sense of completing the circle, too. A couple of years back I went down to New Jersey to see a reformed Rezillos. As I wrote in a full-page review here at the site, I'd last seen that band at the Marquee, in 1978, when their opening act was...The Undertones. And as I wrote on that page, myself and some other fourth-formers walked backstage before showtime that night and had the 'Tones, who seemed barely more than a year or two older than us anyway, teach us how to play 'Teenage Kicks' on the guitar. (It's not hard to learn.) Fifteen years later I played 'Teenage Kicks' on guitar at my wedding. (It's not hard to play.) The wedding band was Joe Hurley and Rogues March. Hurley and his band, now known as The Gents, were opening for the Undertones at the Knitting Factory. To fully round things out, I went with my friend Hub Moore, who wrote and sang the two songs performed at my actual wedding service. And who just happens to be a big American Undertones fan. (Interestingly, he and his friends at Freddy's agreed that 'I Know A Girl', as much as any of the four UK singles, was the big cut in the States from the first Undertones album; I could barely identify the song until the band played it as an encore, proving him right.)

Back when they started, The Undertones seemed of a kind – five Derry boys too provincial to distinguish themselves. 25 years later, there's a clearer delineation that perhaps provides an insight into their original appeal. Drummer Billy Doherty and bassist Mickey Bradley look as boyish as when the band started out, the latter still sporting turned-up jeans, a buttoned-up shirt and a jovial attitude. Brothers John and Damian O'Neill, however, sport the shades-in-a-nightclub look of rock stars; their guitar playing – the former on Fender, the latter on a Gibson – is similarly brash, loud and confident. (It's worth noting that when the Undertones split, the O'Neills went on to a relatively successful secondary career with That Petrol Emotion.) They move almost as a pair, shifting their legs in a similar rhythm; they provide the flash to the rhythm section's deadpan. Coincidentally, they've aged more: John O'Neill, in particular, has grey hair that contrasts with Mickey and Billy's eternal youth. But, in this age of disappointingly fat and ugly Bands Reunited, the bigger surprise is that he's the only one.

As for singer McLoone, he's filling some mighty big shoes. Remarkably, he gets away with it. He's blessed with a Sharkey-like vocal quaver that allows him to pull off even the most distinct of Undertones songs. He's confident enough to play the front man, but wise enough not to try stealing the limelight from the original band members. And though his occasionally fey Morrissey moves seem at odds with our memories of the original band, they indicate that he's very much his own man. We might not pay money to see him on his own, but under the circumstances, he deserves acclaim.

The Undertones, 2004: Damian O'Neill, Billy Doherty, John O'Neill, Paul McLoone, Mickey Bradley.

The set was a solid ninety minutes of, predictably enough, just about every hit, but also almost every obscurity or b-side you could hope for, from the opening 'Family Entertainment' through to a final encore of 'Mars Bar.' (Sadly, I didn't hear 'More Songs About Chocolate And Girls.') Unsurprisingly, the more simple old songs were the most popular: the pretend skinheads down the front moshed particularly violently to 'Male Model,' 'Get Over You' and 'I Gotta Get Her.' Latter-era singles 'Julie Ocean' and 'Wednesday Week' proved less successful, while the new songs were hit and miss: 'Oh Please' and 'Thrill Me' were in the best of the old vein, but some of the others dragged.

The New York audience seemed to view the Undertones as a British Ramones; some of my own American friends view them as an Irish Buzzcocks. But in my opinion, and this is a compliment, they never had either band's sense of image or design; at a time when overly crafted, synthetic new wave was starting to take over the airwaves, the Undertones' unrelenting honesty and simplicity was also their greatest strength. As the lasting power of their original songs and the live energy of their ongoing live shows combined to demonstrate last week, that simplicity should never be mistaken as stupidity. The Undertones were – and, I suppose, remain - among the most superbly crafted pop bands ever to emerge from the United Kingdom/British Isles. In that sense, as they still sing, they were 'Smarter Than You.'

Step On was a riot Friday night. The idea of a 'happy hour' – starting the night with a particular theme, in this case 'Shoegazing' classics – proved enormously successful. It was great fun to have such a sizeable a crowd happily sitting around, getting in the mood, while I played though an hour of neo-psychedelic rock by Ride, the Catherine Wheel, Slowdive, Spiritualized, Swervedriver, the Boo Radleys, My Bloody Valentine, The Verve, Lush and Curve. Thanks to everyone who came out for that hour, especially those who took the time to tell me how much they enjoyed hearing that music in public. We then had a solid hour or more of dancing to the Madchester classics too before Posie played some great dance cuts. I still get disappointed by the reaction every time we truly try and replicate a Hacienda-style spirit by delving into some proper dance beats, but I guess that's just the nature of an indie rock audience: just remember that the Mondays, Roses, Carpets et al. could be found dancing to house and techno more than they could to fellow indie bands. Anyway, after the Undertones gig put such a smile on my face Thursday, I'm considering delving into my 7" punk/new wave singles collection for next month's Happy Hour.

The bar at Step On: original Madchester posters courtesy of ongoing Manchester night Poptastic.

Saturday afternoon found me making the most of Winemakers' Week – a serious promotional effort by importers Louis-Dressner to shift American consumers' focus from industrial, "tax-subsidised" Australian and Chilean wines back to the long-standing French artisans, to the tune of inviting a dozen such producers to the States for a week. After splitting up and attacking various stores in various cities, the entire tour convened for an all-afternoon festival at Chambers Street Wines.

One of the reasons I love this world of wine is that it's so easy to meet and talk to the people who actually make the stuff. You'll be surprised how often you can get them on the other end of a phone line or e-mail. And you should never turn down the opportunity to talk to them in public. Many of the wine-makers who poured at Chambers on Saturday could not speak English; these are rural people who spend most of their time in the vineyards and the cellars, after all. I can only speak a little French, but I know enough wine words to hold a conversation and it's obvious that they appreciate the effort. Those who can speak English delight in talking about their wines to anyone who's interested. They're business people, of course, trying to sell their wares, but they're no less devoted to their art than any of the musicians or authors we write about here. As such, about the only musical event I could compare Saturday's tasting too is the Warped tour, where bands staff their booths pre and post-gig to meet with their fans.

Marc Ollivier of Domaine de la Pepiere, left, details the inexpensive joys of his Muscadets to an enthralled customer, top right, at Chambers Street Wines on Saturday. In the middle, taking a brief respite from pouring, is another Loire winemaker, Isaure de Pontbriand from Domaine du Closel in Savennières.

It was a particular pleasure Saturday to meet people whose wines I've already enjoyed. Among them were Andre Iche of Chateau d'Oupia (I've written about his white Minervois) and Marc Ollivier of Domaine de la Pepiere, whose Muscadets, from vines dating up to 100 years old, are among the greatest and longest-lived in the Loire, and yet which still cost only $12 tops.

There were delightful wines (and equally delightful winemakers) from Savennieres, Alsace, Beaujolais, Chinon, Bourgueil, and Jasnieres. I worked my way down the French map, from north to south, which meant gradually moving from low alcohol to high and from predominantly white wines to predominantly reds. I ended up with Clos de Caveau from Vacqueryas (whose winemaker Jerome Guimberteau looked like he should be out dancing to 2 Many DJ's or Daft Punk, i.e., you know you're getting old when the wine-makers look young to you!), and the marvelous Château Saint-Anne from the particularly notable appellation of Bandol, down on the Mediterranean coast just south of Marseilles. Expect both these regions to show up in the Wine Pages soon.

Sunday morning found the family out in Washington Heights, on the far northern tip of Manhattan, undertaking a 5k 'race' as our first of nine qualifiers towards next year's Marathon. The run was sponsored by the Police Athletic League and had a distinctly impending St. Patrick's Day mood, with bagpipe players and folk singers performing at strategic intervals, but the organizers knew better than to ignore the local Hispanic population. So there was also salsa music and some performing high school dance teams at the finishing line. There were a bunch of kid's races too. We had a classic parental experience with our Campbell stubbornly refusing to participate, even with the assurance of a medal ("metals pollute!" he responded to that one – and you thought they didn't teach kids anything useful any more!), until we simply pinned his number on him and ordered him to enjoy himself. Somehow it worked. He had so much fun on his non-competitive three-block run that he insisted on racing me up and down sidewalks the whole way home!

Look Ma, no steroids: Toddlers sprint down Fort Washington Avenue.

Plans to attend a Sunday night public meeting about the whole Downtown Brooklyn developments were duly scuppered by post-race tiredness and an afternoon spent working on our kid's science project; we soaked up the opening episode of The new Sopranos season instead. I was pleased to see that the Brooklyn Papers are carrying on their own independent investigations into the whole rebuilding/rezoning scheme it rightly calls "More Than The Nets." It occurred to me as I cried away from attending the Sunday night meet that this is very much how the Bruce Ratners of this world want us, so pre-occupied with our own lives and activities, our parenting and consumerism, that we have no time left to learn more about – let alone fight - the drastic plans to reinvent our own neighborhoods than the developers choose to present us with. Fortunately, I'm not the only one out there who feels that what's going on right now is too serious too ignore. This one will turn into a real Battle of Brooklyn.

MAR 1-7: Rhone-gazing, Pop Culture Quiz answers, Who's Hindsight, March Hitlist
FEB 16-29: Lad Lit, American Primaries, New York novels, Candi Staton, the Pop Culture Quiz, World Musics In Context
FEB 9-15: Grammy gripes, Spacemen 3, Replacements, Touching The Void, Moon myths, Voice Jazz & Pop Poll
FEB 2-FEB 8: Suicide Girls in the flesh, Johnny Rotten's a Celebrity...So's Jodie Marsh
JAN 26-FEB 1: Starsailor/Stellastarr*/Ambulance live, Tiswas, Wine Watch, Politics Watch
JAN 19-25: Brooklyn Nets? LCD Soundsystem, Iowa Primary, The Melody, TV On The Radio
JAN 12-18: The Unicorns live, New York w(h)ines, Sex In The City, Curb Your Enthusiasm, S.U.V. Safety, Bands Reunited
JAN 5-11: Tony's Top 10s of 2003, Howard Dean and his credits, Mick Middles and Mark E. Smith, Mick Jones and Don Letts,

DEC 22-JAN 4: Blind Boys of Alabama live, Joe Strummer, Year-End Lists, Finding Nemo, The Return of The King
DEC 15-21: Placebo live, Park Slope, Angels In America, Saddam's capture
DEC 8-14: The Rapture live, Guardian readers change lightbulbs, Keep iJamming! Thriving
DEC 1-7: Cabaret Laws, Ready Brek, Kinky Friedman, Sir Ranulph Fiennes, Jonathan Lethem, Julie Burchill, Blizzard running
NOV 17-30: Lost In Music, Lost In Translation, Neil Boland, Political Polls, Press Clips, Australian Whines
NOV 10-16: Ben E. King live, Hedonism readings, A***nal, Charts on Fire
NOV 3-9: Brother Bear, Oneida, P. Diddy, Steve Kember, Guy Fawkes, Iraq, the Marathon
OCT 27-NOV 2: CMJ Music Marathon report, NYC Running Marathon preview, Prey For Rock'n'Roll, Yellow Dog, Gen Wesley Clark, Halloween
OCT 20-26: Television Personalities, defending New York rockers, Bill Drummond Is Read
OCT 6-19: LCD Soundsystem live, Renewable Brooklyn review, Blind Acceptance is a sign...
SEP29-OCT 5: New York w(h)ines parts 1 and 2, Bruce Springsteen at Shea Stadium.
SEP 22-28: Atlantic Antic, Pacifists for War: General Wesley Clark and the Democratic Debate, Danny Tenaglia, Running Wild, Steppenwolf
SEP 15-21: Radio 4/DJ Vadim live, Manhattan Mondaze, Circle of Light, Renewable Brooklyn
SEP 8-14: Central Park Film Festival, Roger (Daltrey) and me, September 11 Revisited, The Raveonettes/Stellastarr* live, Recording Idiots of America,
SEP1-7: Film Festivities, Party Monster, Keith Moon RIP
AUG 25-31: Punk Planet, Carlsonics, Copyright Protection, Cline Zinfandel, BRMC
AUG 18-24: Black Out Blame Game, John Shuttleworth, British Music mags, Greg Palast, The Thrills live.
AUG 11-17: The New York blackout, Restaurant reviews, The Media as Watchdog, What I Bought On My Holidays
AUG 4-10: Step On again, Shaun W. Ryder, Jack magazine, the BBC, the Weather, Detroit Cobras, football and Rock'n'Roll
JULY 28-AUG 3: De La Guarda, The Rapture, Radio 4, Stellastarr*, Jodie Marsh, A Tale of Two Lions, Hedonism launch photos,
JULY 14-27: Manchester Move Memories, Hedonism is Here, Holiday postcard
JULY 7-13: Chuck Jackson live, Step On, Beverley Beat, British Way of Life
JUNE30-JULY6: David Beckham, Geoffrey Armes, Happy Mondays, Step On at Royale
JUNE 23-29: Ceasars/The Realistics live, weddings and anniversaries, Cabaret laws.
JUNE 9-23: Hell W10, The Clash, Big Audio Dynamite, Nada Surf live, Field Day debacle
JUNE 2-8: Six Feet Under - Over, Field Day, Siren Fest, Crouching Tigher Hidden Cigarette
MAY 19-JUNE 1: Ian McCulloch live, New York's financial woes, Six Feet Under, Hedonism, Tommy Guerrero.
MAY 5-18: Live reviews of The Rapture, De La Soul, Carlsonics, Laptop, The Libertines, Echoboy, The Greenhornes; observations on Chris Coco/The Blue Room, The Apple Music Store, Alan Freed, Phil Spector, The Matrix Reloaded, Rare Earth, Tinnitus and Royale!
APRIL 28-MAY 4: Flaming Lips, Madonna, Bill Maher, The Dixie Chicks, the war
APRIL 21-27: Rotary Connection, War(n) Out, Cocaine Talk
APRIL 14-20: Belated London Musings on Death Disco and CPFC.
APRIL 7-13: London Musings: Madness, Inspiral Carpets, the Affair, the Palace, the Jam
MARCH 31-APRIL 6: Music be the spice of life, London Calling: Ten Observations from the Old Country
MARCH 24-30: Six Feet Under, Peaches/Elefant live, MP Frees and Busted Boy Bands
MARCH 17-23: Röyksopp live, Transmission, Worn-Out War Talk
MARCH 10-16: Live reviews: Stratford 4, Flaming Sideburns, Joe Jackson Band, Linkin Park. Why I Oppose The War (For Now).
MARCH 3-9: The Pursuit of Happiness, Weekend Players, U.S. Bombs, Al Farooq, A New Pessimism, Brooklyn Half Marathon
FEBRUARY 24-MARCH2: Orange Park, Ali G-Saddam Hussein-Dan Rather-Bill Maher-Jon Stewart TV reviews, Stellastarr*, James Murphy, The Station nightclub fire, the Grammys
FEBRUARY 17-23: Village Voice Poll, Singles Club, Smoke and Fire
FEBRUARY 3-16: Snug, The Face, Pink, Supergrass live, Keith Moon, Phil Spector, Gore Vidal
JANUARY 27-FEBRUARY 2: Communist Chic, Spiritland, Daddy You're A Hero, Keith Moon, State of the Union, CPFC and more on Iraq
JANUARY 20-26: Divisions of Laura Lee, Burning Brides, Words On War, Child Abuse of a Different Kind, Losing My Edge
JANUARY 13-19: Pete Townshend, Pee Wee Herman, South Park and more Pete Townshend
JANUARY 6-12: Interpol in concert, Tony Fletcher's Top 10 Albums and Singles of 2002, More on Joe Strummer and The Clash, Fever Pitch and Bend It Like Beckham.
DECEMBER 31 2002 -JAN 5 2003: A tribute to Joe Strummer, Radio 4 live on New Year's Eve

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