Six Damn Fine Degrees #109: Neverwhere

A homeless person lies on the street covered by blankets

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!

Different people experience London very differently. But for Richard Mayhew, the London he ends up in is nothing like any version of London we are familiar with. Well, not if we’re lucky. Up until that point Richard has led a regular life. Office job, an apartment, a fiancée and the small worries that entails. Until, that is, he finds a severely wounded woman on the street and decides to help her. In this world no good deed goes unpunished, and soon after this chivalrous rescue, he starts to become invisible. Or unnoticeable, rather, as his colleagues and even his fiancée seem not to notice him unless he gets right in their face and speaks to them. He has slipped through the cracks into another, more peripatetic London. He rapidly loses everything. Job, apartment, fiancée; because to the people around him he has all but ceased to exist. And so he can think of only one option: descend to the underground into London Below, find the woman he rescued, and somehow make a way back to his previous life.

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Six Damn Fine Degrees #107: Late Remedy for The Cure

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!

There must be something sad and desperate running after your own twenty year-old success. The Cure had their last real hit in 1992 with “Friday I’m in Love”; since then, only hardcore fans might have followed their music for the last 30 years. Curiously, their concert in Basel was sold out, hinting that maybe their show might be a greatest hits show with their new, lesser known music mixed in.

But no. Except for “Lovesong”, Robert Smith et al. insisted on playing their more recent, lesser known stuff so that there was not a flicker of delight among the audience. Granted, we didn’t come to the concert to find party-time cheer and a frightful mosh-pit, but their first 90 minutes were too melancholy and funereal to allow for any kind of musical quality to be remembered.

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Six Damn Fine Degrees #104: They Live! (1988)

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!

They are among us. An alien race, seeking to control us via finance, politics and the media. They are visible only to those who can See. They are everywhere. In the police force, on our newscasts, among our colleagues, and perhaps even in our beds. Some of us humans enable them, perhaps because they believe they can never beat them, because they are intimidated, or because it is in their own self-interest to do so. That is the plot of They Live! (1988).

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Horses you can shoot, trucks not so much: One of These Days (2020)

The premise of One of These Days couldn’t be more American if it tried: once a year, the local car dealership organises Hands-On. This is an endurance contest based on one simple rule: participants must at all times – except for short, infrequent breaks – keep their hands on the pickup truck they wish to win. Meanwhile, spectators drink beers, eat hot dogs and watch the spectacle (if you wish to call it that), which ends up looking like a gruelling, torturous slog for the contestants and boring for the people watching. Who’d put themselves through several full days of this, standing outside, hands on a pickup? And why? Or has the gameshow aspect seeped into the minds of participants trying to become marginally less poor to such an extent that they actually think they’re doing this for fun as much as for profit?

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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 #95: The Awesome Wells of Portugal and Spain

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!

Piece of evidence #1: Orson Welles as a deceptive conjurer in the awful comedy version of Casino Royale (1967) – or just deceptively conjured up himself?

The train has left the station. The literal one, no metaphors, no fakes: The blissful travels of my current teacher timeout have brought me across Spain all the way to Portugal within the past ten days. As I’m leaving Porto Campaña station en route to Lisbon, I marvel at Matt’s shocking revelation from last week about the impossibility of Orson Welles‘ existence. Could it really be true that one of the most famous directors was just a figment of our imagination, an image of one towering director to deceive us all?

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Six Damn Fine Degrees #93: Mank v Welles

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!

Orson Welles ca. 1949, Getty Images
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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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Delirious in Yekaterinburg: Petrov’s Flu (2021)

Petrov isn’t doing well. It’s nighttime, he’s on a bus at night, and he’s got a fever. He sees, and takes part in, things that probably, hopefully, aren’t actually happening: violence, murder, weird, weird shit. The people around him may not have come down with the flu, but the snippets of conversations he hears are just as weird and ominous: the people are highly unpleasant, they’re selfish and paranoid and judgmental, happy to throw each other to the wolves. If Petrov wasn’t ill, he might even almost be relieved when the FSB stops the bus, drags him off and throws him into a van – but it turns out that while this episode really does seem to happen, it’s not the FSB but a bunch of mates of Petrov’s. Oh, and a coffin with a dead person inside. It’s one of those nights, and it’ll only get stranger.

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