Six Damn Fine Degrees #96: Biffy Clyro

Welcome to Six Damn Fine Degrees. These instalments will be inspired by the idea of six degrees of separation in the loosest sense. The only rule: it connects – in some way – to the previous instalment. So come join us on our weekly foray into interconnectedness!

So there are these three Scotsmen who formed a band back in 1995, starting out with unruly punk rock under the equally unruly name of Biffy Clyro, the meaning of which now even escapes the musicians themselves. That doesn’t prevent them from making up stuff – they once claimed that Biffy Clyro was the name of the first Scotsman in space. So anyway – they have become one of the most versatile bands around. They still make a hell of a lot of noise, but they also have one soundtrack (Balance, Not Symmetry), several beautiful ballads (Machines, Opposite, God & Satan) and at least one disco hit (All Singing and All Dancing) under their belt. But their mastery lies in guitar-loaded pop rock with an edge. Listen to the slick mainstream radio tune “Black Chandelier”, or try to heat your flat with “A Hunger In Your Haunt” all turned up. They are highly precise musicians, but they refuse to slow down. If you need a challenge for your ears, listen to the headfuck called “Slurpy Slurpy Sleep Sleep”.

It’s the black oil zombie apocalypse, held in check by three fit young blokes with tats.

And so this guy here bought tickets for their March show a year ago, which got postponed because of some virus, and so finally, finally, they came round here in September. It was in a medium-sized concert hall, and that was part of the problem. The Biff played so loud that it was probably illegal for an indoors concert. My girlfriend, who is not one for earplugs, put them in after the first song (“DumDum”) made the hairs on her arm stand up. What helped her get through the gig was that, very early on, the three guys kept on rumbling half-naked. Not as tall as me, she tried to get glimpses of the trio who behaved like indefatigable Energizer bunnies on stage. She seemed cheerful. I love that woman to bits.

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Six Damn Fine Degrees #92: Hurdy Gurdy Man

Donovan’s Hurdy Gurdy Man (1968) is one creepy trip of a song. Judging only from the lyrics, the hurdy gurdy man should bring solace and tranquility to the suffering of all mankind by simply playing his instrument and softly singing his monotonous, hypnotising hurdy gurdy lyrics. Of course, on some level, it is a drug-addled tune, but the words point to an agreeable nirvana of semi-consciousness. The hurdy gurdy player seems to be some godlike being whose superpower is to reign benign over all of us.

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Six Damn Fine Degrees #86: Grace Jones, I’ve Seen That Face Before

Welcome to Six Damn Fine Degrees. These instalments will be inspired by the idea of six degrees of separation in the loosest sense. The only rule: it connects – in some way – to the previous instalment. So come join us on our weekly foray into interconnectedness!

I was in Florence some years ago, it was a one-week holiday, and it should have gone on longer, because I grew to like the city a whole lot. For instance, in the Nelson bookstore, you could take any book you wanted from their shelves and into their coffee shop and read it or leaf through it. The downside was that some of their books no longer looked pristine. The downside includes that the shop does not seem to exist any longer – at least I was unable to find it, and I seem to remember that it was at one side of a huge square.

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Six Damn Fine Degrees #82: Murder

Welcome to Six Damn Fine Degrees. These instalments will be inspired by the idea of six degrees of separation in the loosest sense. The only rule: it connects – in some way – to the previous instalment. So come join us on our weekly foray into interconnectedness!

It’s an ugly thing to kill someone, and more or less willingly, isn’t it?

There is the sanitized version of murder in countless whodunits, where the rules are clear: someone might be dead by the hand of another, and some clever brain will figure it all out, preferably in a showdown before a chimney fire, holding a long speech that ends in a big revelation. The rules are clear; the culprit, more often than not, is punished by the law, as if this was only slightly more atrocious than any hockey game. And while any sturdily waxed moustaches might have been replaced by squint-eyed scientists, the rules still apply. Miss Marple is never wrong, but science can’t lie.

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Six Damn Fine Degrees #77: Kasabian’s Club Foot (2004)

Welcome to Six Damn Fine Degrees. These instalments will be inspired by the idea of six degrees of separation in the loosest sense. The only rule: it connects – in some way – to the previous instalment. So come join us on our weekly foray into interconnectedness!

On the surface, Kasabian’s Club Foot is a macho song: “One, take control of me? – you’re messing with the enemy.” And there is, after the ominous intro, that one-two rattled beat making sure you are paying attention despite yourself. It’s the best use of a bass guitar outside of the Beastie Boys’ Sabotage. Yes, it’s possible to love or hate a pop song just because of the pace of its rhythm. The song steps straight on, not paying any attention to the left or the right. It’s wearing silver-studded boots, leaving messy prints behind. There is sweaty leather and unwashed hair in that little tune. The title is a red herring if there ever was one: someone is stepping large, seemingly able-bodied, sartorial and not giving a frigging fuck. In your face, Tony Manero. Club Foot is as subtle as a viking attack.

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Six Damn Fine Degrees #73: Robert M. Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

Philosophy? Honestly? Old dudes with beards? Nope, not for me. That was, until I picked up a German soft-cover edition of Robert M. Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (1974). The cover looked good, promising some sort of roadside adventure, the blurb sounded intriguing. Pretty far away from dull old philosophical babbling, I thought.

The book is about Pirsig’s travels by motorcycle with his son Chris. It took me long to realise that the other alter ego in the book, undergoing electroconvulsive therapy because of his schizophrenia, was of course also Pirsig himself. There are some philosophical moments in the book, but by and large, we are witness to the road trip and to Pirsig’s mental illness.

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Six Damn Fine Degrees #68: The trouble with Sci-Fi

To quote Harrison Ford: it took me a long, long, long, long, LONG time to warm up to sci-fi.

You travel through space and time and end up with what is supposed to be an exciting new planet with an unknown species – played by clearly human actors standing around in what looks like – oh, I dunno, the Moroccan desert? Yes, I know, there is a limit to every budget, but sci-fi has such promise to dazzle me with something I have never ever seen before, only to disappoint me with the constraints of movie-making and its financial limits. If you want me to follow you to a place where no man has gone before, make sure the make-up department isn’t already there before us, setting up their trailer. Needless to say, I was never a Trekkie and never understood the exuberance of the operatic derring-do of something like Star Wars. To me, A New Hope looked like fun, but it was essentially a western set in space. It was all too familiar because most things and places and beings looked… too close to home. Not strange enough.

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Rubberband… love? Licorice Pizza (2021)

Acolytes of PTA beware: there be spoilers.

There is a barely hidden secret at the heart of Paul Thomas Anderson’s Licorice Pizza, and it’s just behind the fig-leaf of that tender coming-of-age love story, as whacky as it may be, that we are supposed to take as the main story. It’s that both Alana Kane (Alana Haim) and Gary Valentine (Cooper Hoffmann) know pretty well what they want to do with their lives. That might come to us as a surprise, and to them as well, and their next few months are not without pitfalls and mayor changes, but for all their uncertainty, they have their plans and ideas. And if that includes their gravitating towards each other, then yay, all the better.

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Six Damn Fine Degrees #60: My daughter, the Marvel fan

Welcome to Six Damn Fine Degrees. These instalments will be inspired by the idea of six degrees of separation in the loosest sense. The only rule: it connects – in some way – to the previous instalment. So come join us on our weekly foray into interconnectedness!

I would have liked to dazzle you with a cool origin story, but I can’t remember how and when my favourite daughter found her love for the Marvel Cinematic Universe. I am pretty sure she saw the first few movies in chronological sequence at home on BluRay, too young to have seen then in the theatres, so Tony Stark, Cap and the Hulk came to her at home, and it was probably the first Avengers movie that she saw in an upholstered seat, ticket in hand, with a bag of popcorn, on the big silver screen. But she was hooked long before that.

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Six Damn Fine Degrees #56: J. M. W. Turner, The Fighting Temeraire (1839)

Welcome to Six Damn Fine Degrees. These instalments will be inspired by the idea of six degrees of separation in the loosest sense. The only rule: it connects – in some way – to the previous instalment. So come join us on our weekly foray into interconnectedness!

A year ago, a medical professional recommended that I reserve a spot in my apartment for an object or an image that would just be there for me to look at and enjoy. I made a mental list of possible candidates, getting to my number one by process of elimination, so when a picture of the young Monica Bellucci ended up in second place, it was finally clear what I had suspected all along. I had a framed print of Turner’s Fighting Temeraire leaning against the wall, still unhung. It had been on the list early on, but I never thought it would have made it to the top spot. So up there it went.

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