Last issue, when I said my plans for this six month anniversary edition were grand I was thinking grand as in grandiose, not grand as in large. But here I am, the day before deadline day, looking at a vast battlefield of a draft, strewn with notes and ideas. As the week goes on I tend to drop snippets, sentences, links and ideas into an Evernote template. Then, when I'm ready to start writing, I survey the scene and begin to tackle the snippets one by one. Some, I just don't end up feeling; they might not fit the tone, flow or theme, I might have no further thoughts on what turned out to be a throwaway comment or bon mot, or it might be just too big for this ole publication. (Aside: Publication? Is that right? Or does it only count for something that's physically published? Is terminology largely fluid anyway?) Topics that are deemed too big, those will then end up being a draft for a Story Factory article.
Anyway. The snippets that don't get selected either get expunged entirely, or they get bumped to the next draft. Now, the problem with the latter is the same as with food leftovers: Unless you are disciplined and eat them pretty soon, largely what you're doing is filling up your fridge with rotting food. In the interest of appearing frugal, you're really just kicking the can down the road. It's a future me issue. And future me is more than likely to decide that's a stale topic and it's boring to me.
And this is what I laughingly refer to as "my process". A process that has carried me through six months of newsletters.
SIX MONTHS! That blows my mind quite a bit. Considering it was already a cut down version of the prestige format print-on-demand magazine I wanted to do, I didn't really see me sticking with this, never mind for six months, never mind every single week!
Those 6 months have results in 26 full newsletters, comprised of a total of 35k words. Those 35k words are associated with 12 hours of songs in 20 playlists, not counting the weird ones.
The podcasts didn't fare as well. It's not just that they took a lot of time, they also didn't add much, and virtually nobody regularly listened to them who didn't read the text version. It may return, but probably not this year.
But the newsletter isn't just about what I've created, or the free therapy I get from writing it. It's not just about the new music, TV, movies and current events I have to engage with to make sure I don't slide into an apathetic stasis of mediocrity.
It's about you. It's about all the readers who read, who comment, who email in, who message me with thoughts and thanks and inspiration and encouragement; or just those who just dip in from time to time when their busy schedule allows.
For me it's not about subscriber numbers. There's a number I prefer: I'm probably going to jinx this now, but since the first Notes arrived in your inbox I have had a grand total of... zero unsubscribers. That's pretty amazing, and very special to me. It tells me that even if it's not always of interest, there's at least enough value to make it worth getting yet another email in your inbox.
So thanks. Thanks for sticking around. It really means a lot to me.
(But seriously, also tell your friends. We can always all use more friends)
Sometimes the benefit of not having your finger entirely on the pulse, is that you experience life out of order; like someone hit shuffle on a particular memetic flow of events. Sometimes it confuses, and sometimes it delights. A little while ago TikTok had a trend of people singing a verse from Mika‘s Grace Kelly and harmonising with themselves. I first encountered this via Sarah Cothran‘s version, and I must have heard it about 800 times. Other people’s version were also fed to me by the algorithm, and I’m sure one of those might even have been the ‘original’. But that’s the one that stuck with me. The one that wormed its way into my brain.
The one that now exists overlaid with Ryan Reynolds and Will Ferrell doing the same.
I’m never going to get that song out of my head…
I’m not sure when this became a cover song fan letter, but here we are. It’s not available on Spotify, but have you heard Lil Nas X covering Jolene? Certainly a great addition to the pantheon of good cover songs.
That then led me down a merry path to try and find a half-remembered song from my relative youth. Back in the mid-90s Michael Hutchence recorded a cover of Iggy Pop‘s The Passenger, and I’ve always had a soft spot for it. Sadly, as you can tell by the YouTube link, it’s not available on Spotify. The song was recorded for the Batman Forever soundtrack and it’s a treasure trove of lost tracks. One Time Too Many by PJ Harvey, The Hunter Gets Captured by the Game by Massive Attack and Tracey Thorn, Tell Me Now by Mazzy Star, Smash It Up by The Offspring, to name but a few. This album is not available at all for streaming, so I can’t indulge you. YouTube is your friend or if, like me, you’d like a physical copy of these gems, it can be found for under £3.
And while we’re on the subject, The Specials have spent lockdown recording a covers album of protest songs. I’ve listened to the first few tracks and, to my ears, the feel bland. The high-minded timelines of an album of protest songs doesn’t elevate it very much above Weezer’s forgettable covers album I’m afraid.
None of their songs made the cut for this week’s playlist. And let me tell you, that was a slog to pull together this time around. Unless there are a raft of new, tasty releases coming up soon, it looks like we’ll be venturing into unknown territories next week.
I enjoyed Brand New Cherry Flavour; it took me to some uncomfortable places and was a pretty messed up, peyote-fuelled fever dream. It’s a shame that there’s currently no rumours of a second season. I don’t think it really caught on, and the first season covers only 66 of the novel’s 344 total pages. It’s a full story, but there’s so much more to tell.
The horror show that is getting the good buzz right now is Midnight Mass. It’s by the same creator as The Haunting of Hill House, so the pedigree is good. I hope to get to it soon.
In the meantime, I’ve started watching comic book adaptation Y: The Last Man, which so far I’d rate as solid.
Vigil was also a solid thriller, though I confess I enjoyed Rose Leslie more than Suranne Jones, who always comes across a bit prickly.
I had a free AppleTV+ account for about a year, I think most people did. I barely used it, I watched the odd bits here and there, but only recently did I let it lapse.
To my immense annoyance, Apple have since released the trailer (and first episode?) for Foundation, and it looks tempting.
To my immense embarrassment, all the people who told me to watch Ted Lasso were entirely correct. I watched the first, free, episode and it is excellent. I’ve utterly slept on this, and that’s on me. It has heart and pathos, and I need to watch it all.
So now, having wasted a free subscription, I need to consider paying for a new one. Because I’m an idiot.
There is no relief quite like reading a review by your “favourite” reviewer and seeing they hated a film you love; and I loved The Green Knight. Sadly I didn’t see it in the cinema, but the combination of it appearing on Amazon Prime (for zero moneys?!) and a stomach flu that kept me bed-bound meant I actually got to see it in a timely fashion!
Is it dreamlike, heavy on theme and introspection? Yes.
Is it “plotless”, “free of emotion”, “clunky” or “dull”? Absolutely not.
As ever, your mileage may vary: the movie has an aesthetic and a pace that has little in common with big budget cinema. It is beautiful. Dev Patel is perfect. And I really want a fox familiar.
It’s been four days, and I still think about what I watched pretty much constantly. Maybe I’m just in a mood for the dreamlike and evocative. And Ted Lasso.
Do you like bao buns?
Booze? Bottomless booze?
If the answer to all of those questions is even a tentative ‘yes’, get yourself down to DaddyBao. Yes, I know, it’s in Tooting; way south of the river. But let me tell you, it’s amazing, it’s worth it, and will be hard to unseat as what I consider to be London’s best bottomless brunch.
(Though I’d like to try the one from Little Orange Door in Claphan Common. For science.)
You know what isn’t cool though?
Trying to fabricate a prestige cool factor around your cocktail bar by hiding the door, and having a bouncer pretend it’s full. Soma‘s cocktails were nice, but not enough to counteract the fake pretension. And it was half empty.
Sadly, my favourite underground cocktail bar Milk and Honey has closed down, so I’m going to need to find a new home.
Or just go back to The Blind Pig as I always do.
I’ve been told that the text dominant nature of this newsletter works for them; random header pictures are just something to scroll past rather than adding value. But when I’m not expressing my view of the world in this periodical, I’m representing my view of it in photos. So I’m thrilled to be share this photo with you:
But while your humble correspondent features in this photo, and while it pleases my aesthetic, I didn’t take it.
That accolade is awarded to Oliver Knight for the Image of the Week, and it was taken on our way back from Tooting.
Images will never dominate this newsletter. It was a big decision to add that one, singular photo to it. But I just can’t get over my desire for the big double-page spread. The yearning for less compressed exposition. The lure to physically hold a beautiful artefact in my hands.
Before Notes From The Engine Room there was the idea. It was just called The Engine Room. And it was all of the above.
And come the new year, it will be.
It’s likely to be a one off, but I’m working towards a prestige format print-on-demand magazine. I may well open submissions for this one, of images, stories, thoughts, articles. You heard it here first.
And there we come to the end of it. Six months I’ve been doing this and some of you have been with me since the beginning. For those of you who joined more recently than that: Here’s to the next six months.
There’ll always be something coming out of the Engine Room. I hope it continues to deliver what you want.