Saturday, March 7, 2009

I've moved!

This blog has moved. I've switched to wordpress... which means all previous and future posts can be found at or

See you there!

Hyde Park

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Beatles Studies

From today's Guardian (I wonder what Paul and Ringo have to say about this):

The long and winding road to an MA in Beatles songs
Liverpool Hope University launches UK's first master's course in fab four studies
Sam Jones
Wednesday March 4 2009
The Guardian

Their thirst for reinvention saw the elegantly quiffed Hamburg rockers become the mop-topped fab four, hippy harbingers of sexual liberation and, eventually, druggy psychedelic visionaries.

Forty years on, the Beatles and their songs are to be hauled into the halls of academia and dissected by postgraduate students at a Merseyside university.

The masters degree in The Beatles, Popular Music and Society is being billed by Liverpool Hope University as the first such course in the UK and "probably the world".

Among the topics covered on the course, which comprises four 12-week modules and a dissertation, are the postwar music industry, subcultures, and the importance of authenticity and locality.

Mike Brocken, senior lecturer in popular music at the university, said it was time the band were put under an academic microscope.

"There have been over 8,000 books about the Beatles but there has never been serious academic study and that is what we are going to address," he said.

"The Beatles influenced so much of society, not just with their music, but also with fashion, from their collar-less jackets to their psychedelic clothes."

As well as investigating different ways of studying popular music, the MA will look at the studio sound and compositions of the Beatles and examine Liverpudlian life from the 1930s to see how events helped to shape the music emerging in the city.

Brocken said that the size of the MA course, which begins this September, would depend on the number of applicants, but would not exceed a "possible" maximum of 30 places.

He added that he had already received inquiries about the full- or part-time course from people in the UK and the US.

Asked what employment benefits a course scrutinising songs such as Octopus's Garden, While My Guitar Gently Weeps and I Want to Hold Your Hand might yield in the current economic climate, Brocken said: "I think any MA equips people with extra study and research skills. MAs of any description are vital for the workplace. You will find that once you have done a master's degree it separates you from the pack."

Similar arts and humanities MAs at the university cost around £3,445 for full-time students from the UK. Brocken said that although there might be some bursaries, "people will have to self-fund unless they have some backing from an institution".

Students on the full-time course will attend two evening sessions a week and cover all four modules in one academic year. Part-time students, meanwhile, will attend one evening session a week for two years. In both cases a dissertation will be due towards the end of the following August.

The songs and social significance of John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr have been picked over countless times since Philip Larkin observed that "sexual intercourse began/In nineteen sixty-three/(which was rather late for me)/Between the end of the Chatterley ban/And the Beatles' first LP".

But in recent years, the band and its output have been the subject of academic studies and polemics.

Last year, a Cambridge University historian attacked the view that the Beatles were counter-cultural heroes, claiming they were instead capitalists who milked the booming youth culture for their own financial gain.

"They did about as much to represent the interests of the nation's young people as the Spice Girls did in the 1990s," said David Fowler, who argued that the band provided family entertainment rather than an authentic youth perspective. "They were young capitalists who, far from developing a youth culture, were exploiting youth culture by promoting fan worship, mindless screaming and nothing more than a passive teenage consumer," said the author of Youth Culture in Modern Britain.

Monday, March 2, 2009

XXIV: Conquest

More than 11,000 people ran in the Barcelona Marathon yesterday.

I sort of wish I could say I was one of these people... because that would be quite impressive. But as we all know, I am neither fit enough to run a 26.2-mile race, nor am I excessively desirous to be capable of such a thing. I'd much rather sit on the sidewalk and play my guitar while these specimens of ideal human endurance run past me, than exhaust myself within the first 30 seconds of my lame power-walking attempts.

I don't have a single athletic bone in my body. Which is why the only sport I can take up is snowboarding, where I can just slide down a hill strapped to a piece of wood without ever separating my feet from the ground.

So why even mention it, you ask? Well, because this marathon was precisely the excuse I had for a weekend trip to Spain. Obviously, I didn't run. But my friends Allison and Krysten did. And they both came in with times of 4:26 and 5:06 (hours), respectively. They're amazing... no doubt about it.

The most participation I had was to pin nametags on their backs before the race, take pictures and cheer them on from various parts of the route. I also jogged with Allison for about 20 feet at mile 23 for some moral support. But I was out of breath before she could even break her first sweat.

I guess that means becoming a conquistador is out of the question.

Oh well, at least I got a trip to Barcelona out of it. A whole group of us (4 Americans, an Irishman and 2 Aussies) rented out a 3-bedroom condo right smack in the middle of the city, which was a nice departure from the usual dirty hostel route. And between the 7 of us, it actually cost us much less - a mere 411 pounds total for the whole weekend.

The place was great - exactly the kind of European flat I would love to own, with floor-to-ceiling glass doors and multiple balconies. Not to mention the fantastic weather that allowed me to wear sunglasses outside and only one layer of clothing. I could totally live there. ;P

Barcelona is an interesting city. Oddly enough, it was a bit reminiscent of Manila, Philippines (I can definitely understand the Spanish influence in Philippine architecture and cuisine now) - except it's cleaner and more European. It's significantly more humid than London or LA, has bright skies, has a giant mall with a supermarket on the bottom floor and sometimes, I'd catch a whiff of the same mixture of city pollution (and I mean that in a completely endearing way).

It was also nice being able to use those 3 years of high-school Spanish. And to top it off, it was the first time since being in Asia that the majority of people around me were brunette instead of fair-haired. I felt right at home... especially when I found out that I was a local biscuit celebrity.

Since we arrived after 8 p.m. on Friday evening, and the marathon took up a good portion of Sunday (including post-race recovery and nap time), we only really had Saturday to do anything else.

I got to try some authentic seafood Paella (which was delicious alongside my glass of Sangria).

Then I bought a new pair of jeans for 19 euros on Las Ramblas (we reveled at the "cheap" prices until we realized our excitement was only because we'd been living in one of the most expensive cities in the world for the last 6 months). We ate WAY too much ice cream (fueled by the marathoners' justification of needing the extra calories to burn).

Actually, it seemed like we just kept eating for no good reason - because we could and because the "potatoes in spicy sauce," an appetizer that was on every restaurant menu we saw, were to die for. Lots of tapas, lots of sangria, and lots of dessert. Aside from the marathon, eating seemed to be our common goal.

Sightseeing was a secondary venture. And for the most part, the only thing we kept coming back to was Antoni Gaudi architecture.

La Sagrada Familia (Cathedral of the Holy Family)

Casa Batllo (which looked like it jumped out of a Dr. Seuss book/Tim Burton movie)

It's kind of funny to see Gaudi's buildings because they don't match with anything else around them. They look like beautiful cartoons juxtaposed with the boring real world.

For example, across the street from La Sagrada Familia was a bustling KFC. I don't know what Europeans are thinking - but man, do they love KFC. London, Paris, Barcelona - KFC!!! Yet, obesity is NOT a problem here. Hmmmm.

Okay, sorry for the tangent. But yeah, Gaudi is incredible. Even the insides of these buildings are artistic - with rumpled stone pillars, intricate carvings and ceilings that look like upside-down sand dunes. No wonder the guy has been Spain's national hero for the last century and a half.

Well, even though I didn't get to witness a bull fight this weekend, I'm still pretty happy about crossing off one more city from my travel to-do list. Maybe I'll come back one day (I still need to make it to Espit Chupitos - an unfortunate but necessary scheduling sacrifice this time around). The good news is that my passport's continuing to get a healthy accumulation of stamps... it's only a matter of time before I've conquered the world. :)