iPod Random Generator May 2010
My iPod statistics for the month of May 2010.
Every month a graph will be published here, the playlist of the month will appear on my MySpace blog and the overview of the year will be glued on my MySpace entrance page. Nothing to be excited about.
For those who still want to know the how and what and where and when I give you this old link: Random Blueß aka sucking for statistics
And here are the last 10 songs that enjoyed my life:
Take Five Dave Brubeck Quartet Why Go? (2005 Remix) Faithless Joey's On The Streets Again The Boomtown Rats Shipbuilding Elvis Costello Transitoire I Stephen Duffy That's What We Did Today Kevin Ayers Zanna Luc Van Acker & Anna Domino Lucy Rider Alberta Cross Message From The Country The Move The Flycatcher Roy Harper.
If you want to know how the graph looked like last month: iPod Random Generator April 2010
Penumbra Trilogy: played at last
Entry 1688 posted in: 3. Gamebits
A while ago I wrote that I purchased the Penumbra trilogy game pack at the staggering price of 5 dollars. For the non-initiated, Penumbra is a first person horror game, but not - as most games of these type are - based upon hacking, slashing or shooting your way through a maze of dark lit corridors and tunnels festooned with flesh eating monsters or blood sucking vampires. More a combination of adventure and survival the game takes advantage of advanced artificial intelligence to respond realistically to noises and light, creating stealth-based gameplay.
The last line just above is, of course, publicity techno-babble, although the freeware Penumbra Tech Demo that was donated to the public in 2006 created quite a buzz in gamersland. That game demo was, so the legend goes, the thesis work (or better said based upon the thesis work) of a group of Swedish students and when thousands of fans from over the word shouted for more the guys (game creators are - by definition - male) decided to turn professional.
Warning: the following text contains serious spoilers!
I wasn't completely happy with Penumbra: Overture and I have explained some of the reasons why in a previous post. Basically the stealth-mode play didn't work for me and I ended up killing zombie dogs with a pick-axe, a hammer and in one case, out of sheer annoyance, with a broomstick, instead of avoiding them. Although the physics engine was (and still is) a great invention, some more work could have been done to accurately handle and throw equipment around. When you only have a few seconds before a giant worm will suck your brains out you would like the pick-axe movement to be a little bit more reliable. Luckily there are only two or three run-for-your-life occasions in the game where your survival is depending on quick action. (Of course it all depends on the player's reaction speed, I was a bit annoyed when I read that a player completed the run-and-hack scenario in only three attempts while I was currently at number 35.)
When I re-entered the Penumbra forum a couple of weeks ago (my account was still active after 4 years, another proof that Internet's memory - just like the Tuurngaait - goes on forever) I was a bit surprised that there was a 20 pages long lively discussion about Red.
Obviously Red saves the game. You'll never actually manage to meet him, and probably that is for the best, but he contacts Philip, as the protagonist is called, through a walkie-talkie, instructing him what to do next throughout the quest. Tom Redwood, so Philip learns by reading the reports, memos and hastily scribbled piece of papers that can be find throughout the game on desks, in drawers, filing-cabinets or just lying on the floor, was a 14-year-old miner who went missing in 1970 but managed to survive for 3 decades, mainly on a monotonous lunch of slugs, earthworms, spiders, dogs and even…, but only occasionally though, humans.
There is clearly something wrong with Red: although he is still trapped in the lower mining regions he has the uncanny gift of exactly knowing where Philip is and doesn't hesitate to lead him (you, the player) through various life-threatening situations. Red is not a guardian angel, but neither is he totally bad. When Philip finally finds his hiding spot Red has deliberately imprisoned himself and the only way to end the game is to finish him off.
Red's death, by the hands of Philip, is not really murder because the miner wanted to die, but - for unknown reasons - couldn't take his own life. The Penumbra forum has several theories why he refused to commit suicide, the most believable one is that he was a victim of the Tuurngaait virus and turned into a zombie-like being, although that knowledge will only be revealed to Philip in the second part of the Penumbra series.
Red is one of the most disturbing, and believable, characters I've met in a game so far and like I put before, he is the one who turns Penumbra into a believable quality game horror experience.
Penumbra: Black Plague
Despite its shortcomings Overture was not unsuccessful and received good ratings from the specialised press. But fighting zombie dogs is one thing, fighting game publishers another. At one point Lexicon Entertainment decided to pull the plug, Frictional wryly commented: "It's a plain good old breach of contract done by one company to wreck havoc on all others involved." (A later comment from Frictional Games read: "Our very first publisher didn't really feel like paying us properly for the first game we did in the Penumbra series.")
Luckily a new publisher was found in Paradox Interactive, but that deal was for one game only. The developers decided to abandon the idea of a Penumbra trilogy and revealed that Black Plague was going to be the second, and last, instalment.
This created new problems as originally the makers had foreseen two extra full length games and they were now obliged to condense that into a single one, and rather quick, as precious time had already been lost due the problems with the previous publisher.
Several plot holes seem to indicate this. At one point you, Philip, the player, is informed that the secret base you are trapped in has been build by a secret society called the Archaic, founded in 1519 and endorsed by Leonardo Da Vinci (with all these secret societies he supposedly was a member of one can ask how on earth he found the time to do some painting). Its purpose is to protect earth from xeno (read: extra-terrestrial) influences. Hardly an original idea, this is about all we get to know about Da Vinci and his archaic ET-hunters. This knowledge is of no further importance to the story so one can indeed ask why it was included in the first place; probably it was one of the many ideas that were never developed. And the idea of a secret society building un underground secret base the size of CERN (without getting noticed, even in Greenland) is a bit incredible.
A second plot hole (more an inconsistency) is the start of the story itself. When Philip leaves the mining area in Penumbra: Overture he is attacked by a humanoid creature. Penumbra: Black Plague starts when Philip awakens in a locked room. Obviously his attacker has dragged him there and imprisoned him. But throughout the rest of the adventure all other humanoids (known as the Infected) will always attempt to kill him, and the many corpses from Archaic personnel he meets during his exploration of the secret base proves that the Infected never take any prisoners. So why did this one make an exception? (The reason is of course simple: otherwise we would never have had the second instalment to begin with.)
A third kind of plot holes are slightly reminiscent of the famous Ronald Reagan's bomber pilot story and due to the puzzle-solving-environment of the game. An example: one room contains a cassette player and after some rummaging in a nearby locker you locate a cassette as well. The cassette contains the last words of an Archaic scientist, just before he is murdered by one of the Infected. The obvious question: who took out the cassette from the player and secured it in the locker knowing those murderous zombies normally just leave the bloody mess lying as it is? Perhaps the Infected who killed the scientist had been a cleaning person before.
But the game makers also did some smart moves. Frictional learned that if you give a player a weapon he or she will be inclined to use it. Black Plague no longer contains weapons and the Infected, who are in fact Turngaait-virus-infected humans, are invincible, so the best thing to do is to avoid them and to crouch in a dark corner when they pass by, praying that you will not get noticed.
The atmosphere is so haunting that I literally had to quit playing quite a couple of times to get my nerves back to normal. The forum has testimonies of people screaming out loud, getting the shakes for at least ten minutes or hiding in a ventilation shaft (not literally, but their virtual alter-ego in the game obviously) for half an hour not daring to come out again. Black Plague is haunting hammer horror and not destined for the weaker of us human souls.
What Red was for Overture Clarence is for Black Plague. The character is a manipulatory malevolent ghost, who invades your body and tries to muck with your brain as much as possible, although there are actually a few situations he might help you. When angry he is able to create hallucinations making the dark labyrinth even darker, scarier and more complex than it was before.
Although he was not always reliable Red was an ally which Clarence clearly is not, although as a parasite he wants you to survive in order to survive himself, but when you get a chat from the only (sane and still uninfected) surviving human in the complex you are in for a treat. Amabel Swanson has quarantined herself in her lab, claims to have found a cure against the virus (that you urgently need) and promises you a big hug if you manage to rescue her.
Rescuing Amabel Swanson (amiable swan song?) is something you will fail to do and it is one of the deeper emotional occurrences in the game. It leaves you baffled, battered, angry, sad and more determined to get on with your next mission which will be to get rid of the Clarence voice in your head once and for all.
Amabel Swanson is a character you seldom see in computer games and she may have set a standard for future games to come. Tom Jubert, who devised her character, has written an excellent essay about her:
Who is Amabel Swanson?
More importantly, why does she exist?
The short answer is she was born to die.
Star Trek TOS fans are familiar with the story how the third series (in 1968) was smothered to death by airing the show on a 'graveyard' slot and by cutting the budget to a ludicrous minimum. When the episode Spectre Of A Gun asked for a cowboy ghost town there wasn't a budget to film on location and all scenes were shot in an 'empty' studio with false building fronts. Kirk and Spock (in character) don't hide that they have been put on a stage that mainly exists of 'bits and pieces', but the lack of a proper décor actually enhances the eerie atmosphere of the episode.
As Tom Jubert notes in another, also excellent series of essays on Penumbra, character modelling is time-consuming and expensive and so are explanatory scenes in between levels. Penumbra circumvents that in an intelligent and quite effective way (an exception is probably the invisible, but lethal, werewolf in the dark who roams the dog kennel):
Writing For Indie Games; or
"How to Characterise When You Can't Afford Characters" - Part 1
"How to Characterise When You Can't Afford Characters" - Part 2
The game contains some dark humour as well. Walking through Science Wing A one sometimes hears announcements coming through the speakers. These messages, spoken by a soft, soothing and reassuring female voice, vary from 'always keep your cyanide capsules ready' to 'do not exchange bodily fluids due to virus contamination danger'. Even pursued by blood-hungry zombies I immediately linked these messages to the announcements in Theme Hospital (Bullfrog, 1997) that ranged from 'patients are asked to be patient' to 'patients are reminded not to die in the corridors'.
More about open Theme Hospital
Black Plague combines the 'real world' with imaginary and hallucinatory events. In the beginning you have to pass through a dream sequence level where the walls have fiery arms sticking out of the wall reminding me of Jean Cocteau's La Belle et la Bête, 1946. The ending reveals an aeons old enemy, arriving from outer space on Earth long before the humans appeared. Douglas Adams's Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency (1987), that also contains some body hopping ghosts, had an almost identical enemy.
More about Dirk Gently
When Philip finally manages to exorcize Clarence from his body by injecting a strong antidote (Substance 65, courtesy of Amabel Swanson) the complete hive of infected zombies seems to be (temporarily) disordered, not unlike the ghostlike alien creatures invading the human species in the adult movie Invasion of the Love Drones, who are chased away when a victim, quoting Hamlet’s soliloquy (Shakespeare), injects herself with a venereal virus. But I seriously doubt if that is where the makers of Black Plague got the inspiration from.
More about Invasion of the Love Drones
With the Infected army destroyed (although we are not sure of that) the Tuurngaait alien intelligent being decides not to harm Philip but to ask him a favour (after some pretty weird levels, in one occasion you actually have to die to win). All the Tuurngaait entity ever wanted was to have some eternal peace and it asks to make it sure that its hiding place will never be revealed again.
Philip seems to agree with this, but he mails the coordinates of the Archaic secret base to the outside world with the message: "Kill them. Kill them all." (This could mean that the hive was not destructed and that the Infected survived.)
This game is certainly among the best I have ever played and that is thanks to the atmosphere, the storyteling, the characterisation, rather than to the graphical side.
Dark Plague may well have been the scariest game ever and fans were asking for more. When Requiem was announced it was described as a short and sweet expansion pack of Black Plague that would further investigate in the nightmarish Turngaait world.
Even a million year old alien being can have a bad day, especially when it finds out that the first human being it trusted sends out a message to the world to come and destroy it. Powerless in the real world, it hurls Philip into a dream world where he has to run for his life as virtual, but nevertheless lethal, zombies threaten to rip his heart out. There must be a way to escape, even if it is from just a dream.
Tuurngaait gives Philip the following choice after his betrayal: either he will be immediately killed by the (remaining) Infected or he must cooperate in the preparations for the final battle. As a non-physical being Tuurngaait needs a liaison officer to give orders to the Infected, who are strong but stupid, and he needs to intervene when they are mentally of physically incapable of finishing a difficult task: repairing the generator, starting the main computer system, arm the defence system… Philip is given a room of his own and finds, one day, a message from a freak Infected who still has some human soul hiding in him (or her)…
In reality Requiem is none of the above.
The expansion pack puts Philip in another unexplored part of the underground base, but there are no enemies around. Level after level he has to jump on moving platforms, run through laser beams, swim under water in search for a lever, avoid flying bolts of fire, use gravity pods to make staircase boxes that float in the air and jump through teleporting portals…, exactly the kind of game that we liked to play in 1994, but then Philip was still a young Quetch listening to the name of Twinsen. (Actually the temple of Bù sequence in that game had a horror theme with skeletons chasing you.)
More about Twinsen and LBA: Twinsen Ma Non Troppo
Requiem is quite inventive in its puzzles, but it isn't a Penumbra game. We can only be lucky that the series ended after that, or we might have feared to see a Penumbra: Sudoku appearing soon. Probably the makers were already seriously thinking about Amnesia: The Dark Descent by then.
But Penumbra: Black Plague still stand as a rock although the player behind the computer screen would certainly be more safe hiding underneath it.
If you liked this post - you might be interested in this one as well: Machine Shrink
Meic meets Syd
Entry 1689 posted in: The Holy Church of Iggy the Inuit
Daeth Syd Barrett lawr yno un noson pan o’n i ar fy mhen fy hun yno ’da gitâr acwstig, ac ro’n i’n falch pan gyrhaeddodd Syd y tresmaswr ’da’i gariad, mynd â’r gitâr, iste ar lawr, a dechre chware iddo fe’i hun.
Ro’n i wedi recordio trac y noson honno, o’r enw ‘One Night Wonder’, ac mae e ar Ghost Town, Tenth Planet Records.
Ar lawr y bydde Syd wastad yn iste; doedd dim celfi yn ei stafell, dim ond estyll pren moel neu rai wedi’u peintio’n oren neu’n las, ffôn gwyn, a Fender Telecaster.
Read all about Syd's visits to acid-folk singer and Welshman Meic
Stevens, at, well where else?
At the Holy Church of Iggy the Inuit obviously.
Entry 1690 posted in: e. Adult Oriented Games
Sisters are doin' it for themselves
I have been playing adult games since, let me think now, my Three Sisters' Story days, that was a typical bishōjo adventure. I must have been experimenting with other games before, because - in my mind - Sisters was from the early nineties but know-all Wikipedia tells me that this game only dates from 1996, quite modern to me.
Sisters more or less set a standard for hentai games and isn't that simple to play. Making a wrong decision will often lead to some nice scenes, but these turn out to be one-way as the game will switch to one of its alternative endings, varying from all three sisters literally fighting for your love to the school nurse saying that your little swimmers have made one of the girls pregnant and that you better marry her. Just like in Larry Laffer's first adventure (1987), you'd better used a condom instead.
Three Sisters' Story is originally a Japanese game and flirts with the subjects that Japanese love so much, like eating raw horse meat ice-cream. The game turns around different sexual encounters from the pre-nubile kind and the game can only be ended after a quite disturbing torture and rape scene. Like I said, the usual stuff the Japanese (apparently) love so much.
Replaying the game (in DOSBox, obviously) just for the sake of you, the reader of this blog, only made me think what progress computers have made for the last decade. So let's have a look at what makes our hormones grovel nowadays.
I still remember the days when Shark's Lagoon was a small website that changed place every three months whenever the server owner found out that the lagoon contained some nudity in pixelated form. I had once the intention of writing a very long and serious philosophical treaty about the boundaries between reality, virtual reality and images of reality, but I fear that this project is forever lost in the purgatory of my mind. Perhaps that's for the best.
PayPal deleted Shark's account because his site was diffusing images with a sexual context, but apparently they do not have the same scruples when somebody uses their services to sell first-person shooter games. Apparently the process of shooting down life forms is considered more ethical than the process of creating new life forms, even virtually. Perhaps not that weird, as hunting in woods is still considered a healthy outdoor sport, while copulating in those same woods is not.
Shark's most recent free game is Sweet Anais 2, but I haven't really tried it as it falls a bit outside my sphere of interest, it is a redux anyway from the first version that appeared a couple of years ago. There is also a demo for a brand new game, Morning Temptation, using real actors instead of his typical 3D caricatures, but it still breathes the typical Shark style, which is quite good.
The complete game is not for free, as it is only accessible through his Priv-Box, not that I blame Shark for that, we all have to live. Also in his Priv-Box is Private Consultation, a new episode in his Horny Afternoon series. Usually these games become freeware after a couple of months so the scrimpy ones will have to suffer a bit longer.
Virtual Date Girls
The lagoon community, that I happen to visit from time to time, mainly in my function as gatekeeper of the ArianeB walkthroughs, has also grown exponentially over the last few years and since a couple of months a new batch of game and story creators who want to show their products to the outside world has entered the forum.
In the past this blog has given some attention to Virtual Date Girls and its games Crystal and Leilani, but that bunch has already been expanded with Rachel, Tammy, Kelly, Katie, ArianeB (a mod of the original game) and half a dozen others. Not all is for free at VDG but there is enough to choose from. Personally I find it a pity that Chaotic is too busy creating new games instead of debugging existing ones, but new games is of course where the money is.
The two adult game makers that have impressed me the most, these last couple of weeks are Cugel and Leonizer.
Getting to Know Brenda (a slightly different dating sim) by Cugel
Getting to Know Brenda is a work in progress that will be published au fur et à mesure. At the moment two chapters are ready that can be downloaded, unfortunately at Rapidshare, probably the website with the most deceiving name on the world wide web.
To quote from the readme file:
The game was conceived and developed as a way for the author to learn some stuff about Flash, Poser, animation and the blending of interactions with music and sound effects.
The author's self-imposed game criteria are that the game must
...be a stand-alone Flash application
...require no access to any local or web server files
...have a flow that is like a comic book
...be a male fantasy with a subtle moral compass without being prudish
and last but not least
...have respect for women.
If one considers that this is the first attempt of its creator this is a remarkable game (with some amazing animated parts I haven't seen yet in other games of this genre). Clearly there are still some bugs here and there. One is that starting the game through the html page makes the text unreadable in certain browsers (Firefox), but opening the swf file directly in your browser, Irfanview or GOM player resolves this. Some of the facial expressions and / or body poses are not always a complete success, but as I have tried in the past to create a 3D cyberperson myself I know how painstakingly difficult (and most of all: boring) this is. I gave up, simple as that.
In the game you meet Brenda, who in the first chapter, has some unlucky encounters with the neighbours' cat (hint: be sure to search the house while she is away, but don't be too intrepid). Luckily the cat is gone in the second chapter and all is open for a desert ride on your motorcycle. A small advice to Cugel, as the romantic scene in chapter two is identical to the scene in chapter one (apart from some sartorial changes), I would like to see a different approach for chapter 3 frankly.
Unfortunately there is no Getting to Know Brenda website yet, but the results and download links of Cugel's work are published at the Shark's Lagoon Forum: Getting to Know Brenda.
Jordan 500 by Leonizer
Leonizer is the thriving force behind the Lesson of Passion website. Not all games are top notch, some of the earlier ones are quite raunchy and not even worth the mention, but he pleasantly surprised me with High School Romance a couple of months ago. I liked the softcore approach of the game, although perhaps that is more due to the fact that Leonizer does not use anatomically detailed 3D models in his games (that have to be purchased), but the default personae that are given away for free. I have the distinct feeling that he doesn't own a lot of hairstyles for his characters either, as there is an abundance of bald male types.
With Jordan 500 he has made a nice interactive novel not unlike a dating sim. And not unlike dating sims it also contains all the pros but, I'm afraid so, also the cons of this genre.
Typical (Japanese) dating sims have a male player, usually a student, who has a time limit to win a girl's love from the same university. The girl will only give him some attention after he has bought her some presents, so he has to earn some money first (mostly by finding a job, occasionally to go thieving or to sell illegal substances). At the same time the player needs to get better ratings or achieve some fixed goals: going to school is needed to pass an exam, training at the gym results in a better physical condition, having a beer at the pub makes you more popular and so on… Most simulation driven computer games (SimCity, Age of Empires, Command and Conquer and obviously, also The Sims) put the player before these Solomon's judgments: choosing one option will opt out another and as they all have their advantages (and disadvantages) the player must try to reach and maintain an equilibrium (often there are also hazardous situations that need to be controlled first).
But back to Jordan 500. For once the game is not played from a man's point of view what is quite unique. Jordan is a Hollywood prostitute by choice (although it really is her financial situation that triggered her career, but we will not get into that discussion) hoping she'll meet a movie director during her encounters who will cast her. She starts selling her services at the local park and has 100 days to make it to the high society VIP club. Jordan will score better (and earn more) by changing her looks (buying clothes and make-up), training her body at the local gym, having a sauna or a massage... Besides that she needs to think of her reputation, her IQ, her health, her morale and even her self-defence skills. And obviously there are some clients to please as well. They bring in the money, needed to buy the extras that make her reputation and experience grow.
The problem with these fill-in-your-daily-agenda games is that they are highly repetitive, and if the graphics (or animations) are not adapted to the different situations you can as well play a soccer team management game instead, because all you see is a statistics board with percentages anyway.
Unfortunately this is Jordan 500's main problem. In her line of work Jordan meets 9 types of clients that all have different expectations. But all the screen shows are these damn statistics and the message 'working with customer'. It is as sexy as watching the New York Stock Exchange big board. Having at least a 'polaroid' of the situation would make the game visually more attractive and frankly, a bit less boring. I would have liked more eye-candy.
If certain conditions are met extra events are triggered, all good sims have these build-in mini-games, and Jordan 500 is no exception. One of the first encounters is when Jordan helps a friend by confronting a mafia boss who urgently wants a 1000 dollar loan back. But whatever Jordan's decision is this has no further impact on the game whatsoever and the friend disappears without a trace. The same goes for a romantic involvement with a member of the gym club, right at the beginning of the game and only if certain conditions are met, Jordan meets the man twice, after that he isn't seen anymore until day 100.
Day 100 is problematic as well, especially in Firefox. You can chose between three different endings but whatever you chooses the game always jumps back to the starting screen. I first thought this was deliberate, but after the third attempt I saw an infinite small sign at the bottom of my browser warning me that Firefox had silently blocked a pop-up. All major browsers (and search toolbars and anti-virus suites) block infesting pop-ups nowadays, so ending the game with a separate pop-up screen is about the most ridiculous decision a web-browsed game creator can take nowadays.
From the above it would seem that I am quite unhappy with this game, but I am not. It was fun for the first couple of times. But with some extra work this could grow into a monster with a playability and re-playability that equals ArianeB. We'll talk again when version 2.0 sees the light of day.
Jordan 500 can be found here.
If you liked this (adult gaming) post - you might be interested in the first one (from 2007) as well: Cyberhugging
Three Sisters' Story
some nice screenshots
some not that nice (18+) screenshots
Shark’s Lagoon games that have been discussed here before:
Horny Afternoon: Cyberhugging
Sensual Experiment: Sense And Sensibility
An afternoon at the swimming pool: Autumn Blues
First Time: (insert title here)
Secret Fantasy Dreams: Secret Fantasy Dreams
Desire and Submission: Desiderata
Virtual Date Girls games that have been discussed here before:
The Crystal 1.1 Walkthroughs (1): Love in an elevator
The Crystal 1.1 Walkthroughs (2): Let's have a party
The Crystal 1.1 Walkthroughs (3): Steamboat Willie
The Big Barrett Conspiracy Theory and other FAQs
Entry 1691 posted in: 5. The Pink Thing
Amazing Amazon ⇑
Amazon is a company that continues to amaze me but as the so called quality book- and cd-shops in Louvain refuse to order the books and records I would like to read and listen to I am obliged to use this mogul of mediocre taste.
Plus they have the uncanny habit of actually delivering books to the reader weeks before these arrive in the shops. So when a new Syd Barrett biography was announced somewhere in the beginning of this year I pre-ordered the volume at Amazon France. Any language that has less than 120 million native speakers is considered as nonexistent for Amazon and merits no website of its own but as a Belgian I am lucky because I can choose from three different Amazon webshops in the direct vicinity of my country: UK, France or Germany. Strangely enough the rates are different on these three web shops, so I usually go for the cheapest.
I pre-ordered Rob Chapman's A Very Irregular Head and was - very friendly and professionally - reminded that I didn't need to pay any shipping cost if I ordered a second book but only if I allowed them to send both works in one package.
Amazon was also so friendly and professional to suggest me some other Pink Floyd related books and, more by wimp than by conviction, I clicked on the Pink Floyd FAQ by Stuart Shea.
(A day after I had ordered Amazon let me know that they were going to ship the books separately anyway, without shipping costs, so this had just been the oldest trick in the trade.)
Pink Floyd FAQ - Stuart Shea ⇑
In my very early days of Internet I wanted to know everything of my favourite band: Pink Floyd. Webpages were still something very exotic, and a webpage that changed its appearance once a month even more so, but luckily there was Bear's Echoes mailing list that I still read every day for over a decade and half now.
Subscribing to Echoes would automatically give you a copy of the latest Echoes Pink Floyd FAQ, maintained by that monument of Floyd oddities Gerhard den Hollander. Divided in 10 sections it learned me more about the brothers Floyd than anything else, I kept it close to me just like that other, lavishly illustrated, monument of knowledge and wisdom, Pink Floyd, The Visual Documentary (1980) by (Barry) Miles.
The Echoes FAQ is not updated anymore since 1999, although a feeble attempt to resuscitate it was once made a couple of years ago, but there are zillions of websites and blogs dealing with those matters nowadays and in case of doubt, there will always be Wikipedia. Mailing Group FAQs are now as hip as a telex machine was when the fax came out. So it goes.
Thus when Amazon nicely proposed to send me Pink Floyd FAQ from Stuart Shea I followed their advice, mainly because my memories of the original Pink Floyd FAQ were still short and sweet. The moment I clicked I felt remorse because this book could easily be a rehash of the original FAQ that I already had, updated with news that I already knew and the four reviews I found ranged from "this is a great book" to "the book is one of the most useless publications about that band in years". Nice.
Let me start with the obvious. The book is not half as bad as I feared it would be but neither is it as good as a book could be that pretends to contain a FAQ, a whole FAQ and nothing but a FAQ. The subtitle Everything Left to Know… and More! (exclamation point included) is a bit overzealous if you ask me.
The book does not give a chronological overview of Pink Floyd but ranges its subjects by the subject, as shows the table of contents that you can consult here. Unfortunately the book has got no index, what duly pisses me off, so if you want to know something about, let's say: You Gotta Be Crazy, there is no other way to find it than to start reading the bloody thing all over again. So called biographies and reference books (as a FAQ, by definition should be) without an index (or an alphabetical or chronological filing system) are immediately put aside by me and won't be touched again. Ever. Probably the author won't care, the book was sold anyway.
Got A Moment?
Some of the chapters look like they have been inspired by these non informational page filling articles in pop magazines that keep on appearing whether you like it or not.
What are ten great Syd Barrett moments?
What are ten great David Gilmour moments?
What are ten great Roger Waters moments?
What are ten great Rick Wright moments?
and last but not least the quite ridiculous…
What are ten great Nick Mason moments?
Probably you see it coming, but there is something basically irrational in the previous list. You can most likely find ten memorable Syd Barrett songs in the short period he was with the band (although Stuart Shea can't and cheats by adding Barrett solo stuff), obviously you can find ten memorable Rick Wright collaborations in Pink Floyd, although the song Wearing The Inside Out, that is, in retrospect, his musical testament has been unexplainably overlooked. And so is, Syd almighty, The Great Gig In The Sky. That song, I'm sure, is treated in another chapter, but as the book has got no index, I haven't got a clue where to find that information.
To note down ten notable Nick Mason moments you have to scrape the barrel a bit. Don't get me wrong, I think that Nick Mason probably was the best drummer Pink Floyd ever had and he was a crucial part in creating the classic Pink Floyd sound (on recent albums he insisted to record his drum licks analog instead of digital to name just one useless, but nevertheless interesting, point that is overlooked in the FAQ), but he didn't get a lot of official credits for it.
But let's be honest, only ten great David Gilmour or Roger Waters moments? Roger Waters thinks he has ten great Roger Waters moments between getting out of bed and his morning pee! All fun aside, making a 'ten great moments' list is considered more appropriate for internet fora (with all discussions and no-no-s involved) than for a book.
Bob Dylan Shoes
Although a FAQ can't answer all possible questions, it is - by definition - a list of the most frequent questions, it helps the reader if he finds as much information as possible. If, at chapter 12: what acts influenced Pink Floyd?, Bob Dylan is mentioned it would, perhaps, be interesting to know that Syd Barrett once recorded a tune called Bob Dylan Blues or that Roger Waters covered Knocking On Heaven's Door, but it doesn't. According to Stuart Shea one of the ten most influential bands or artists for Pink Floyd was the legendary disco outfit Chic because Another Brick In The Wall (Pt. 2) carries a hundred-beats-per-minutes beat. I would have preferred to see a reference to AMM or The Soft Machine instead.
And when there is talk of a FAQ, I would also like to have some accurate information as well. Page 132 has a picture from the Floyd with the caption 'The Floyd on an oddly small stage during the early 1970s. By this time, they had graduated to playing large halls'. The fact why the Floyd stands on an oddly small stage is because the picture comes from the movie Pink Floyd: Live at Pompeii (1972). Their rendition of Careful With That Axe, Eugene however was not recorded in Pompeii but in a studio in France and in order to get them all four on screen they had to be standing close to each other. Simple as that. No need to create an extra Floydian fable when there is no need to do that.
Despite the fact that you can answer a lot of Pink Floyd questions (the original FAQ had 10 sections, each with dozens of questions and answers) several chapters do overlap each other, and this happens more than once. How did the US discover Pink Floyd goes one about their early (American) tours, so does the chapter What were Pink Floyd concerts Like in…, so does The 1972 and 1973 Tours, so does A Pink Floyd live top ten…
What I do like is that some articles have been written by guests that ring distant church bells with Pink Floyd fans: Mark Campbell, Steven Leventhal, Ron Geesin, John Leckie, Toni Tennile, Ginger Gilmour… overall the book is fun to read (and written in an agreeable way) but the bottom line is: this is not a Pink Floyd FAQ and certainly not THE Pink Floyd FAQ. Easily read, but also easily forgotten.
People who don't know nothing about the Floyd are, in my opinion, better off with The Rough Guide To Pink Floyd (Tobby Manning) that combines the band's history, has a discography (with reviews for every album) and a thematic approach like 'Floyd's finest 50' and 'Floyd on Film'. This is an excellent book for starters (and as a Pink Floyd fan for over 35 years I enjoyed it as well).
If you would like an in-depth Pink Floyd biography I can recommend Mark Blake's Pigs Might Fly or, if you have a lot of money, the memoirs of Mr. Nick Mason himself (Inside Out). And for anoraks who want to look up the nitty-gritty there is always The Pink Floyd Encyclopaedia by Vernon Fitch (alphabetically) and Echoes by Glenn Povey (chronologically).
I am not entirely sure what kind of public Stuart Shea wanted to reach with his book but what I am sure of is that, throughout the book, the author likes to ventilate his own opinion rather than to stick to the facts. Here is what he has to say about The Cult of Syd Barrett (p.313):
Some Syd Barrett fans are as sick as the man himself was at his worst. Despite the voluminous evidence of his excessive drug use, physical assaults on girlfriends and business associates, disastrous attempts at recording and gigging, and largely incoherent interviews from his post-Floyd period in the late 1960s and early 1970s, there are those who wish to romanticize his illness as a wilful subversion of pop stardom.
Now guess what our next book review is about…
Syd Barrett: A very irregular head - Rob Chapman ⇑
There are now more Syd Barrett biographies around (in the English language alone) than Syd Barrett records and several Pink Floyd biographies consecrate the same amount of pages for the first three years of the Floyd than for the next 30. So obviously there must be something mysterious going on with this Syd character.
The last in line to open Pandora's box is Rob Chapman. He was actually one of the few people (around 30 to 50) who saw Syd's mythical band Stars at the Corn Exchange in Cambridge (24 February 1972) and is still relatively sane enough to recall it. Young chap Robert Chapman even wrote a review for Terrapin magazine, that would disappear a few years later for 'lack of Syd' but also because no three Syd Barrett fans can come together without having a tremendous fight. Try running an internet joint for that lot nowadays and you'll see what I mean.
Writing a biography is a difficult job and I once remarked in a (quite pompous) review that biographers are situated on a scale, ranging from those who meticulously verify, double verify and triple verify tiny facts to those that will not hesitate to add a good, albeit probably untrue, anecdote just because it goes down so well.
Rob Chapman is, and often quite rightly so, annoyed with the many legends around Barrett and wants to set the record straight. I kind of like this way of working. But he doesn't indulge us either in an ongoing shopping list of facts and figures. The art of writing biographies is not in adding details, that is the easy bit, but in weeding out the superfluous so that a readable book (rather than a shopping list) remains.
But sometimes I have the feeling that he weeded a bit too much. The trouvaille of the name Pink Floyd (p. 53) is literally dealt with in a single line. Of course ardent Pink Floyd and Syd Barrett fans alike already know the story about Philips BBL-7512 and its liner notes by heart, but the occasional reader might as well benefit from an extra wee bit of information. And quite frankly it is about time that David (Dave) Moore gets the credits for the mail he sent to Bryan Sinclair on the 14th of March 2005 entitled: “RE: [pre-war-blues] Pink Anderson / Floyd Council.”
Chapman, the fearless vampire killer
You might say, that piece of information is too anoraky and Rob Chapman was right not to include it, but why then, when he can lash out at previous Syd Barrett biographers, doesn't he apply his own rules anymore? Every new biography should have its new findings, otherwise there would be no necessity to write it, and I do understand that you can point out a flagrant mistake that has been made in a previous biography, but Chapman acts repeatedly as a vindictive (and verbally abusive) Von Helsing, wooden stake in his hand, ready to stick it through the heart of a vampire on the loose. Only, in my book, a fellow biographer should not be treated as a vampire but rather as a colleague, perhaps an erring colleague, but still a colleague... Writing that some biographies should have a government health warning on their cover is not nice and is better left to amateur blog authors like yours truly and journalists of The Sun.
We have established by now that Rob Chapman does not like false and superfluous information, but on top of that he also has some theories of his own. David Gilmour recalls how he was invited at the See Emily Play recording session (officially the 21st of May 1967, but, according to David Parker, a first session could have taken place on the 18th) and how he found that 'the golden boy had lost the light in his eyes'. Somewhere around that date Syd turned 'crazy' so we have been lead to believe for the past 40 years…
Chapman is of the opinion that Barrett didn't turn mad, but rather that he was alternatively wired and that, what other people have described as mad behaviour, was really Syd playing cosmic jokes on the rest of the world or setting up dadaist and misinterpreted avant-garde performances.
Just like the proverbial fish in a fisherman's story gets bigger and bigger so have Syd legends accumulated weight over the years. Rob Chapman doesn't like these apocryphal stories and wants to debunk these once and for all. He does a good job at that, but - once again - weeds to much. It is not because you can correct a couple of false rumours that - by definition - all memories from all witnesses have to be categorised untrue. And that is what Chapman implies. Even more, in order to prove his theory, he deliberately skips several events that have happened but that he can't immediately minimise or contradict.
It is good to counterbalance the Syd Barrett articles and biographies that have thriven upon sensationalism (Le premier Pink Floyd from Emmanuel Le Bret comes to mind, luckily that 2008 biography was written in French and completely ignored by the Anglo-Saxon world) but that is not a reason to indulge into a fairytale world of Barrett the mystic, but misinterpreted, genius. That is unethical and close to historical revisionism and it turns the middle part of the biography (covering the Piper and Madcap years) into a somewhat misplaced hagiography.
You will probably not believe me when I tell I didn't do it on purpose, but when Chapman quotes Nick Mason's autobiography Inside Out on page 198, saying that Nick writes that 'Syd went mad' during the American tour of 1967, I grabbed my copy (actually, I carefully took and opened it, as it is quite heavy) and read pages 87 till 97 over again. Three times. I can't find it. I will not conclude that Nick may never have written (or said during an interview) that 'Syd went mad' but it isn't there where Chapman claims it is.
Nick however does write that on two different occasions on the American tour Syd detuned his guitar, one time even 'until the strings fell off'. This apparently made Roger Waters so angry that he 'gashed his hand in a furious attack on his bass guitar', smashing the (lend) instrument to pieces at the end of the show.
Rob Chapman doesn't see where the problem is and remarks joyfully that Syd had been deliberately detuning his guitar in the past (during the Floyd's early free-form jams) and that it was tolerated and even encouraged then. He seems not to realise that there might have been a time and place to detune a guitar and a time and place NOT to detune a guitar. When I visit my doctor, who is looking gorgeous by the way, and unbutton my trousers in front of her she will not be offended, but if I catch her at the local supermarket, choosing a deepfreeze pizza (the living proof that deepfreeze pizzas are healthy, by the way) and dangle my ding-dong in front of her, I will be in hell of a trouble. Not that I have done that, those rumours are incredibly exaggerated and I am again allowed to enter the supermarket anyway.
The Big Barrett Conspiracy
Chapman more or less suggests that, over the years, there has been a Big Barrett Conspiracy going on, claiming that Syd went mad while he was just being artistically misunderstood. It is obvious that Waters, Mason and Wright, and to a lesser extent Gilmour, were behind the conspiracy. They quit their studies and promising architectural career to follow the narrow path of psychedelic pop music and when money was finally starting to come in a whimsical Barrett wanted to turn the clock back (probably through a washing machine) and concentrate on experiment again (proto-Floyd members Bob Klose and Chris Dennis had left the band in the past just because their profession stood in the way). Chapman doesn't even try to hide his disgust for post-Syd Floyd, but more about that later.
What is less understandable is that Peter Jenner and Andrew King are part of the conspiracy as well, because when Syd and Pink Floyd went separate ways, they choose to manage Syd instead of following the goose with the golden eggs. Jenner assisted Barrett during his first batch of sessions for The Madcap Laughs (1968) but commented later that these were 'chaos'. The sessions had been going on from May till July and Jenner reported that they weren't getting anywhere.
Chapman disagrees, he states that during the 6 studio sessions in 1968 Barrett recorded half a dozen of rough tracks dispelling the myth of a 'muse run dry'. I count 9 sessions, by the way, making Barrett's tracks per sessions ratio one third less performing as Chapman wants us to believe, but that is not the issue here. The main problem is not that Barrett was out of songs. Six of them still doesn't make an album, unless you would add the 18 minutes of the avant-garde (read: tedious) Rhamadan. The main problem with Barrett was that the songs never outgrew the rehearsal or demo stadium. Simply said: Barrett wasted a lot of studio time. And these were still the days that a record company expected an artist to cut an entire album in three or four sessions, the only exception perhaps being The Beatles.
I see in Rob Chapman a man with a passion and he is at his best when he
analyses Syd's songs. It takes him 7 pages to scrutinise Clowns &
Jugglers (re-titled later as Octopus),
making it clear to the outside world that Syd wasn't just a young
innocent bloke whose lyrics came to him in a psychedelic, LSD-induced,
dream. Chapman traces back references (and quotes) from:
Huff the Talbot and our Cat Tib (Mother Goose rhyme),
Thomas Nashe's Summer's Last Will and Testament (an Elizabethan masque play),
Shakespeare's King Henry VI Pt. 1,
Kenneth Grahame's The Wind In The Willows
and poems from
Anonymous (Mr Nobody),
John Clare (Fairy Things),
Sir Henry Newbolt (Rilloby-Rill) and
William Howitt (The Wind in a Frolic).
Unfortunately I have in my small collection of Barrett related works a 12-page essay, written in 2005 by Paul Belbin, published at the Madcapslaughing and Vegetable Friends mailing groups, titled: Untangling the Octopus. It describes in detail, almost verse per verse, where Syd Barrett sampled the lines from Octopus from. Although Chapman nearly literally copies the information for 7 pages long, he neglects to mention the source of his findings.
In 2009 a revised and updated version of Untangling The Octopus was published by Julian Palacios, a Syd Barrett biographer who doesn't even appear in Chapman's bibliography, but as Chapman spifflicates the biographies he does mention that probably is a compliment.
Chapman can get downright cynical when he wants to take the myth out of Barrett and this is where the biography as a biography goes astray. Although a biographer may be unconditionally in love with his subject he (she) must at the same time keep a certain distance, be unprejudiced and should approach the subject with at least a glimpse of unbiased neutrality.
Debunking the brylcreem and mandrax anecdote is not bad, but it is not directly original either. Chapman isn't the first one to have done this as shows this forum post by Julian Palacios and also Mark Blake has put some question marks concerning the event.
Apart from some anecdotes that happened at family parties or random encounters on the street with old friends and (past) lovers, we don't know a lot about Syd Barrett's life in Cambridge. So if a witness does turns up it would perhaps be a chance to check him (or her) out. But in a Q&A that was published on the official Syd Barrett website Chapman tells why he didn't contact the Barrett neighbour who has not always been positive about the rockstar next door:
My thoughts, clearly and unambiguously are that I didn’t want to give this individual a scintilla of publicity. (…) I did check him out, quite extensively as it happens, and my enquiries lead, among other places, to a website where he gives his enlightened views on capital punishment and who should receive it – most of us, by the look of it.
It is not because someone has a dubious opinion about capital punishment that his memories about Barrett are - by definition - untrue or unreliable. However Chapman is not that reluctant when a witness turns up who has got some positive things to say about Barrett.
On pages 365 and following, Chapman recites the charming anecdote of a young child who ran into Barrett's garden to ask him a pertinent question about a make-believe horse. Not only did Barrett patiently listen to her dilemma, he also took the time to explain her that in fairy tales everything is possible, even flying horses.
It is in anecdotes such as this that Chapman shows his unconditional love for Barrett, and I confess that it made my grumpy heart mellow as well. Here is the man, who invariably smashed the door to any fan approaching his house, earnestly discussing fairy tales figures with a neighbourhood's kid.
Wish You Where... where exactly?
One of the greatest legends about Syd Barrett is how he showed up at the Wish You Were Here recording settings on the fifth of June 1975. A Very Irregular Head merely repeats the story as it has been told in other biographies, articles and documentaries, including Rick Wright's testimony that Barrett kept brushing his teeth with a brush that was hidden in a plastic bag. Roger Waters however claims that Barrett only took sweets out of the bag. As usual different witnesses tell different stories.
The toothbrush myth is one Chapman doesn't know how to demystify but recently Mark Blake may have found a plausible explanation.
The 'toothbrush' and 'bag of candies' may have come out of the story I heard from somebody else that was at Abbey Road that day. They claimed Syd Barrett had a bag filled with packets of Amplex. For those that don't know or remember, Amplex was a breath-freshener sweet that was popular in the 70s. This eyewitness claims that Syd Barrett was nervously stuffing Amplex sweets into his mouth... another story to add to the pile... but you can see how the story of 'breath-freshener sweets' could turn into a 'toothbrush' and/or 'a bag of candies'. (Taken from May 5, 2010 Roger Waters TV interview at Late Night.)
The Madcap Laughs
Another mystery Chapman can't solve is the exact time frame of the shooting of The Madcap Laughs album cover. He still situates this between August and November 1969 although there is a slightly obscure website on this world that maintains that the pictures date from the beginning of that year.
Chapman does a good, what do I say, a great job by describing Syd's later years. He still can't say a lot about Syd's lost weekend between the mid-Seventies and the early Eighties, although there must be people around who knew or even visited him. Perhaps that insane Holy Church of Iggy the Inuit should try to locate some of them.
In 1982, in the midst of Wall-mania, Barrett left his Syd-character behind by walking the distance between London and Cambridge. For the remainder of his life he would prefer to be known as Rog or Roger.
Chapman managed to talk to Rosemary Breen, Syd's sister, and it is through her that we know a great deal of Barrett's later life. It is a sad story, but one with many laughs, as Rosemary remembers mainly her brother's latter-day sense of humour. That and the story of Syd's life as an adolescent, thanks to the many letters that Libby Gausden has kept for all these years, are the strongholds of this, his, biography.
Just when you thought this review was finally going to end it is time to get personal.
I started reading this biography and was genuinely intrigued by the author's style, his wit, his knowledge, but also his unhealthy habit of demeaning anyone who doesn't share his ideas. But I could live with it, despite the odd tsk-tsk that would leave my mouth once in a while.
The passage that made me loose my marbles can be found halfway the book on page 213. It describes how Syd Barrett and Pink Floyd legally split up. Peter Jenner and Andrew King stayed with Barrett, the rest of the band had to choose a new agency, a new manager and a new recording contract. The rest of the band's history, so writes Rob Chapman, is accountancy.
The Early 70 Tours with the Embryo suite: accountancy?
Meddle (with Echoes): accountancy?
Dark Side Of The Moon: accountancy?
Wish You Where Here: accountancy?
The Wall: accountancy?
On page 317 Chapman infuriates me a little bit more by writing that Waters, Mason, Wright and Gilmour sound like a firm of chartered surveyors. I find this remark as insulting as deliberately mistaking Rob Chapman for Mark David Chapman.
His opinion that, on Wish You Were here, Pink Floyd uses sixth-form imagery to describe their former bandsman (and friend) didn't hurt me anymore. By then Rob Chapman had already become something I usually pick out of my nose.
In Chapman's opinion an entire generation of musicians (in the Seventies) began to make music 'more appropriate to the rocking chair than to the rocket ship'. The man has a way with words, that I have to admit.
I had heard of these Pink Floyd haters before, people who really think that the band died when Barrett left the gang. The problem is that most of these people are aware of Syd Barrett thanks to the fame and glory of the dinosaur called Pink Floyd.
Without Syd Barrett no Pink Floyd, I agree (although it was Roger Waters who invited Barrett to join the band, not the other way round). But without Pink Floyd most of us, myself included, would never have heard of Syd Barrett either.
Thanks to the success of the classic Pink Floyd records EMI kept on keeping the Barrett records in their catalogue. The 1974 vinyl compilation Syd Barrett was a direct result of the interest for early Floyd, after A Nice Pair (1973) had proven successful. Barrett earned 'two and a half million quid' in one year thanks to the Echoes compilation alone.
The backside is that due to Dark Side, Wish You Were Here and The Wall fans from all over the globe started to look for Barrett, hoping he would explain them the meaning of life. Probably Syd would have preferred to be left alone even if it meant not to have all those millions on the bank. But if there is one thing we can't do, it is to change past history, although Chapman tries, more than once, to do so.
Until finally Julian Palacios comes up with a revised edition of Lost in the Woods, Rob Chapman deserves my sincere felicitations for writing one of the most readable Barrett biographies ever. But for constantly exposing himself as an infallible Barrett-prophet, pooh-poohing all those who don't think like him and deliberately ignoring facts that don't fit in his gospel, he deserves nothing more than a good kick on the nose.
Sources: (other than internet links mentioned above)
Blake, Mark: Pigs Might Fly, Aurum Press, London, 2007, p. 95, p. 231.
Mason, Nick: Inside Out: A personal history of Pink Floyd, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, London, 2004, p. 94-95.
Parker, David: Random Precision, Cherry Red Books, London, 2001, p. 136, p. 138.
A quite nice (promotional) interview with Rob Chapman can be found at Youtube.
Other Pink Floyd related books that were trashed by me can be found here:
Pigs Might Fly by Mark Blake: Si les cochons pourraient voler…
Pink Floyd by Jean-Marie Leduc: Si les cochons pourraient voler…
Syd Barrett, le premier Pink Floyd by Emmanuel Le Bret: Barrett: first in space!
Syd Barrett, le rock et autres trucs by Jean-Michel Espitallier: Cheap Tricks
The Rough Guide To Pink Floyd by Toby Manning: The Rough Guide To Pink Floyd
iPod Random Generator June 2010
My iPod statistics for the month of June 2010.
Every month a graph will be published here, the playlist of the month will appear on my MySpace blog and the overview of the year will be glued on my MySpace entrance page. Nothing to be excited about.
For those who still want to know the how and what and where and when I give you this old link: Random Blueß aka sucking for statistics
And here are the last 10 songs that enjoyed my life:
Love Is A Stranger Eurythmics The Turn Of A Friendly Card (Part 1) The Alan Parsons Project If I Had The World To Give Grateful Dead Humanoid Boogie Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band Déjà Vu Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young Charlie's angels by Charles Wilp Thomas Fehlmann Tuesday Afternoon (Forever Afternoon) The Moody Blues The Ballad Of Tom Jones Space With Cerys Of Catatonia Octopus Syd Barrett Green Circles The Small Faces
If you want to know how the graph looked like last month: iPod Random Generator May 2010