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Thinking INSIDE the Box: “We got Love”: A strikingly unoriginal sentiment and Australia’s 2018 Eurovision Entry


So, Australia in Eurovision is now definitely a permanent thing.  We’re all getting completely used to it.  Europe is as Europe does apparently, and Australia just does Europe.  Certainly much better than the UK at any rate.  Australia so close.  Channel so wide.

Jessica Mauboy certainly belts it out here.  The song has very little melodic interest and only the descending sequences of the middle eight offer any real invention.  But being “conventional” isn’t necessarily going to do her any harm.

To go with a very conventional song, there’s a very conventional video here that made me, in turn, think a bit harder about certain conventions of staging that transcend the narrow context of Eurovision:

The frame of a box is a useful theatrical device.  When someone sings and/or dances about in the a box that is not really a box it evokes a sense of easy liberation.  “Here I am in a cage – but it’s only a cage if I want it to be a cage because I can just step out of it whenever I want.”  The cage frame suggests that liberation and affirmation are one and the same thing – that you can free yourself, and possibly others, by individual fiat.

Jessica Mauboy’s got love.  In the best Eurovision tradition, this love is both an individual and a collective affirmation.  The “we” whose love has been gotten can refer both to Jessica + 1, and to a “we” that embraces the entirety of Europe – a Europe of hearts and minds that reaches all the way to Australia.

The great anthemic Eurovision “love” song traditionally harnesses the structure and rhetoric of soppy ballads into an alternative power source.   If two people love each other ever so ever so much, and you pump such romance full of steroids and surround it with lasers and dry ice, then that ice can be plugged into a grid and power a continent.

In short, if I were looking to showcase a song and a performance and a staging that represents Eurovision at its most typical – I might very well showcase this one.  Australia is, after all, a very long way from the rest of the “Europe” is affirms and has to affirm Europe a bit more deliberately.  And yet humbly.  And yet loudly.

Here are some thoughts about some of this year’s other entries:






Does anybody here remember Vera Lynn? On this, her 101st birthday, I remember bombastic late 70s pomp rock paranoia.



Does anybody here remember Vera Lynn?
Remember how she said that
We would meet again
Some sunny day?
Vera, Vera
What has become of you
Does anybody else in here
Feel the way I do?

Vera Lynn has been a living symbol of nostalgia for my entire life.  People have been remembering her fondly since before I was born.  And all my life people have been pointed out that bluebirds are not indigenous to North West Europe, and that if we have to wait for them to fly over Kent for the war to be over, then V.E Day will probably never come.

When I could have been listening to cool music as a teenager, I listened to Pink Floyd The Wall, over and over again, thereby remembering Vera Lynn over and over again.  I can’t even hear the name Vera Lynn without hearing Roger Waters’ sneering vocals, going…

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“Mall” means “Yearning” incidentally. The 2018 Albanian Eurovision entry.


There has been a resurgence this year of Eurovision nations competing in their own language.  This is a wholly laudable phenomenon, though to monolingual ears this creates some points of bewilderment and occasional cheap amusement.

Eugent Bushpepa has a song called “Mall”.  Eugent is an earnest man in his mid thirties, who has released a number of singles, served as support act for aging international rockers touring the Balkans, and has kept (apparently) promising to release an album without ever having quite gotten around to it.  “Mall” means “yearning”.  You sense that Eurovision 2018 is the last chance for Eugent, before he calls it quits the biz and honours the promise he made to his parents to eventually try to get a proper job.

This song is all about its own pulse. POMpapaPOM. The very simple promotional film that we’re supplied with consists merely of Eugent and his band performing and a some camera swoopings designed to make us feel a bit giddy by the end.

It’s a sort of dactylic gallop of a song in 3/4 time. POMpapa/POM (two three)/POMpapa/POM (two three) and so on and so forth. It is surprising, therefore, that the video lacks any equestrian motifs. Maybe Eugent can’t ride a horse. Maybe location galloping horse footage would have strained the budget somewhat.

In Albanian, the pulse of the song works very well.  Fed through Google Translate, the results are rather strange.  (I refuse to believe that anyone fluent in Albanian and English produced this translation).

As by magic, the moon gazes our stares
our eyes meet again, even though it is a fantasy
I will give my life to you

Undried tear, enlighten this night
resound today from the silent soul
Just a moment the pain stops me
This undried tear will drain one day
from the fiery kisses it dreamed
at that moment the pain will stop.

The Albanian equivalent of “the moon gazes our stares” is repeated several time in the song.  Presumably in Albanian the phrase means something.  What the song doesn’t seem to mean is anything that might have a topical or national application.  I know a few people who are well versed in labyrinthine Balkan politics who may disagree with me, but this song really does seem to be about nothing more (or less) than a fairly heated and obsessive passion felt by just one individual for just one other individual.

With its efficient melody, unexceptional lyrics and lack of any sartorial absurdity, Albania’s entry this year is one of the hardest to write any kind of blog about. You’d have to be a complete completist to even try.

Here are a few thoughts about some other 2018 Eurovision entries:





Ronnie Corbett and Laurence Sterne

On this 250th Sternean anniversary, I suddenly remembered that I had an old blog about Sterne and Ronnie Corbett.



A very Sternean comic died on Thursday.

Of course, when I was a grumpy teenager, it was not the done thing to admire The Two Ronnies.  Alternative Comedy was our punk rock (this was if you were an 80s rather than a 70s teenager).  And the repudiation of so-called traditional or mainstream comedy, although very healthy and energetic and cleansing and necessary, was also very unfair in a number of particulars.

The same thing happened with punk in the 70s of course.  John Lydon has recently declared that he does not, in fact, “hate” Pink Floyd.  What he hated was an oppressively reverential culture that surrounded Pink Floyd at a certain point in the mid 1970s.

Alternative comedy was similarly cruel to certain comics who deserved better. Kids are like that.  Les Dawson did not deserve to placed in the same category as Bernard Manning.  They were two large comedians…

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250 Years without Laurence Sterne. And longer than that with him – Sexiness of the Sublime.


Laurence Sterne died 250 years ago. But Laurence Sterne has been cheating death for a bit longer than that. Sterne is one of the living dead, but he’s the opposite of a zombie. A zombie is ambulant but malign and hungry. Sterne has developed a kind of spark of human sympathy that transcends physical corruption.

Why does Sterne survive when (nearly) all his sentimental contemporaries have perished (or – which is pretty much the same thing – do not have conferences and academic journals names after them)? He survives partly because he’s funny, and partly because of a kind of organic materialism or vitalism.

Sterne doubtless thought of himself as a fairly orthodox Christian, and he was very proud of his own reasonably orthodox sermons. He never outgrew the earlier eighteenth-century assumption that sermons were “proper literature” in a way that novels weren’t. But what Tristram and Yorick and Toby and Trim illustrate is that the most rarified spiritual notion on earth may have a fairly earthy physical cause. Linguistic philosophy might be wasted on a hot chestnut dropped through a trouser fly. But is it a waste? If the body acts on the mind then the mind acts on the body and the exercise of imaginative reason quickens the pulse and strengthens organisms. Spirit and flesh are part of a grand continuum.

Similarly, the truest of true love is not reducible to physical desire but neither is it estranged from it. And this is why Sterne is so sexy. Sterne’s sexiness is sublime in the most detailed and accurate way because he’s all about extrapolation. There is more erotic potential in two fingertips accidentally making contact than there is in the entire works of the Marquis de Sade. Sterne’s sense of sexuality in not focused on the genitals but on the heartbeat. His sexy world is pulse-quickening rather than tumescent.

Sterne/Tristram/Yorick fly across Europe to escape Death because they know that sympathetic stimuli is what keeps Death at bay. We never surrender to Death as long as we have a share in the complex partly knowable and partly unknowable lives of others. Sterne quotes from Hamlet and the undesirability of being played on like a recorder. We are not wholly transparent to one another but neither are we so opaque as to deter endless inquiry. No matter how close you are to someone, they will always surprise you. No matter how estranged you think you are from someone – some strange point of affinity may reveal itself.

Sterne is interested in conclusions which might not be conclusions. The joke that concludes Sentimental Journey is based on a sentence that might or might not be concluded. Death where is thy sting?

“—But the Fille de Chambre hearing there were words between us, and fearing that hostilities
would ensue in course, had crept silently out of her closet, and it being totally dark, had
stolen so close to our beds, that she had got herself into. the narrow passage which separated
them, and had advanc’d so far up as to be in a line betwixt her mistress and me—
So that when I stretch’d out my hand, I caught hold of the Fille de Chambre’s——”


Here, yet again, is a fine example of what the right kind of Head of State can offer on a national holiday.

It’s the kind of simple speech that behoves us, in the friendliest way possible, to be a bit better than we already are. It affirms a pride in a national identity while insisting that Ireland demonstrates itself most truthfully through out its inclusions not its exclusions.

It’s yet another reminder that any nation worth believing in is characterised by a complex and imaginative and curious way of being in the world. For sure, Ireland’s diasporic experience might seem “exceptional” but when distinctiveness calcifies into exclusionary “exceptionalism” a critical generosity has been lost. Once any nation boasts too often of its own “exceptionalism”, it tends to lose the ability to recognise the exceptional qualities of others. In so doing, such a nation will become duller than it has to be and will eventually lose the capacity to inspire any authentic version of love or loyalty.

When Michael D. Higgins talks diaspora, he’s deliberately straining the definition of nationhood – because it’s when you strain and stretch the definition of what it means to be Irish that the imagination itself gets exercised. And the straining of the imagination and of the capacity for identification gets very close to a classical Burkean or Kantian definition of the Sublime.

The saying that everyone is bit Irish on St Patrick’s Day is, at one and the same time, a tatty tourist gimmick and a gesture towards sublime transcendence. The trick of being as international as possible on a national holiday is, meanwhile, a very good trick and a very necessary trick.

Oliver: She says I think more of you than I do of her. Stanley: Well you do, don’t you? Oliver: Well, we won’t go into that… Laurel and Hardy in “Their First Mistake” (1932)


The idea that Stan and Ollie are indeed married to each other is variously entertained over the years. In Our Wife  (1931), they are actually tied together legally by Ben Turpin the cross-eyed judge.  In Their First Mistake, this very plausible notion of Stan and Ollie as wife and wife is taken further than ever, as the Laurel-Hardys bicker about broken promises and neglected marital obligations.

I have to say I find this one a little hard to watch.  I worry about the state of child protection laws in the 1930s and about the fact that a baby can just be handed over to Laurel and Hardy within about half an hour of them wandering into an adoption office to make an inquiry.  It’s one thing for Stan and Ollie to wreck each other’s lives on something like a monthly basis, but is it really fair or humane to drag a helpless infant into their strange and violent world?

Mae Busch is Mrs Hardy (again) in this one.  The film starts with her haranguing Ollie for the time he spends with Stanley.  At the most inopportune moment, the phone rings and Ollie pretends that Stan is not at the other end of the line – but rather his boss – “Mr Jones”, someone who promises social advancement for the Hardys and whose very mention causes Mae Busch to beam with a sense of rare excitement at the promise of a husband she doesn’t have to be ashamed of.

When Stan shows up in person, the retribution that is meted out by Mae Busch is so extreme it almost defies representation.  Later on, when Stan and Ollie are sheltering together, Stan comes up with what might be the very worst idea that he’s ever had.  Naturally, Ollie thinks it’s a stroke of genius.  If Ollie were to adopt a baby (reasons Stan), all would be well between the Hardys (and Stan).  All would be well not so much because a child would inspire love and reconciliation but because Mrs Hardy would be preoccupied with maternal care in the evenings, freeing up Ollie to go out with Stan every evening.

No sooner have Stan and Ollie returned (with shocking speed and lack of background checks) from acquiring a baby than they are confronted by a legal envoy in the shape of Billy Gilbert who tells them that Ollie is being sued for divorce and Stan is to be sued for alienating a husband’s affections.  Stan and Ollie are now left, literally, holding the baby. Stan makes a very funny sudden bolt for the door, but to no avail.  They are now, truly, manacled together.

The remainer of the film involves some reasonably amusing jokes.   Their First Mistake has less of an actual ending to it than any Laurel and Hardy film I have ever seen.  There are no explosions, no stunts, no injuries or even punchlines at the end of this one – just a camera running out of film in the middle of an impossible situation.

There are some nice visual moments in this one.  After Ollie has repeatedly called Stan “Mr Jones” on the phone, Stan feels he has to stare at himself in the mirror to make sure he is who he thinks he is.

Perhaps best of all is the moment when Ollie tells Stan to feed the baby and Stan actually starts unbuttoning his shirt, to Ollie’s understandable astonishment.  (Stan has a bottle secreted under his shirt, as it happens.)

Their First Mistake offers Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy clowning at the very height of their powers – but in a rather shapeless way and in a truly bizarre narrative context that a mere twenty minutes of film cannot begin to make any sense of.  Perhaps the bizarre horror of an apartment being destroyed amid dangerous misapplications of electricity while a tiny baby has to be warmed and comforted and fed gets to me a little too much.  Perhaps I’m just unable to stop worrying about babies.  Perhaps I don’t find this film relaxing to laugh at.  Perhaps I shouldn’t find comedies relaxing to laugh at.

I’ve a few thoughts on some other Laurel and Hardy films…


Pack Up Your Troubles


County Hospital:

The Chimp:

The Music Box:

Any Old Port:


“On the Loose”:

Beau Hunks:

One Good Turn:

Come Clean:

Pardon Us:

Laughing Gravy:

The Stolen Jools:

Chickens Come Home:

Be Big:

Another Fine Mess:

The Laurel-Hardy Murder Case

Hog Wild

Below Zero:



Here is Night Owls:


Angora Love:

The Hoose Gow:

They Go Boom:

Perfect Day:

Men O’ War:


Unaccustomed as We are Are:

Bacon Grabbers:

Double Whoopee:

Big Business:

That’s My Wife:

Wrong Again:


We Faw Down:

Habeas Corpus:

Two Tars:

Early to Bed:

Should Married Men Go Home?:

Their Purple Moment:

You’re Darn Tootin’:

From Soup to Nuts:

Leave em Laughing:

Battle of the Century:

Putting Pants on Philip:

Hats Off:

Call of the Cuckoo:

The Second Hundred Years:

Flying Elephants:

Sugar Daddies:

Do Detectives Think?

Sailors Beware!:

With Love and Hisses:

Love ‘Em and Weep:

Slipping Wives:

45 Minutes from Hollywood:

Duck Soup:

The Lucky Dog:

The 133rd Anniversary of The Mikado.



Today is the 133rd anniversary of the first performance of The Mikado.  As it happens, I’ve lately  been wondering (and I’m sure you have too) what would have happened if W.S. Gilbert were still with us today and had been asked to be a guest writer on Game of Thrones.

I think the result would have gone a little something this.

Scene – a blasted heath.  Enter Arya Stark, solus, or is that sola?


Arya’s Song.

As someday it may happen that a victim must be found….

I’ve got a little list – I’ve got a little list,

Of Westeros offenders who might well be underground

(The Mountain and the Hound! The Mountain  and the Hound!),

And who never would be missed – who never would be missed!

There’s that nasty Joff Baratheon

And also Ilyn Payne.

(I don’t think they’d be missed… I’m sure they won’t be…

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What will this look like as a live stage performance? Ireland’s 2018 Eurovision Entry. “Together”.


It’s only March, and already there’s a Eurovision conference on campus tomorrow that I don’t know if I can get to. Ho hum. I wish them well.

I’m prompted and prodded to begin my annual completist survey of Eurovision entries just a bit early though. And here a remarkable Irish promo video to watch…

As this film starts, you instinctively feel that you’re watching something that’s been sponsored by a consortium of Temple Bar pubs and restaurants. Temple Bar is crowded but not too crowded. I don’t think I’ve ever seen Temple Bar crowded but not too crowded – but I’m seeing it here.

But as we watch these two young men bounce playfully off one another, the crowds thin and they start to hold hands and dance. It’s beautifully done, but I’m a bit concerned by the logic of this staging. Much as I love knowing that I’m a citizen of a relatively gay-friendly country, I’m slightly troubled by this crowd-thinning background. Implied in the crowd thinning is the implication that if this were a busy Friday night in Temple Bar, then gestures of same sex intimacy would not go down so well. If the streets had stayed busy while these two men dance together so beautifully, I’d be happier. If the pavements had become even more crowded with appreciative pedestrian spectators, I’d have been happier still. The suggestion that privacy (a rare enough commodity in Temple Bar) is a pre-requisite for same sex dancing is not a happy one.

And someone should do something about those garbage bags piled up outside Costa. They’re a health hazard.

Will this dance be staged live in Portugal? And if so how? There are two dancers in this video – Alan McGrath and Kevin O’Dwyer – neither of whom are Ryan O’Shaughnessy. Are they booked yet? Can we be told?

The song itself does not boast a particularly big chorus or memorable hook. If it is to be remembered on a night congested with tender ballads sung by attractive young men, then it will need a performance of some considerable pathos. Ryan will not just have to hit the high notes, but he will have to linger on those high notes in a state of tremulous rawness. This is, after all, how Portugal won last year.

Somehow or other, the sense of loveliness you get from this dance will have to be translated into the performance of the song. And even if they are on stage with him, reproducing the dance, it’s Ryan who will be the cynosure of everyone’s gaze – Ryan who will be the focus of every camera.

The phrase “dance like nobody’s watching” is perhaps the least Eurovision sentiment ever.

It’s about time I started reviewing all the songs and videos.

Here is the UK’s last EU Eurovision entry pondered:

Fears of a Clown: Revisiting the singing career of Ken Dodd.


The very last words that Ken Dodd ever said in public were an expression of his profound thanks to the NHS staff who had recently taken care of him. That was nice.

I remember as a youngster feeling rather disappointed when the whole tax case came up with Ken Dodd. I subsequently discovered that both Ken Dodd and Eric Morecambe consistently voted Conservative. Eric Morecambe was asked about the phenomenon of the Conservative voting comic and immediately mentioned tax and tax phobia.

Taking a very generous mood of the tax-phobic comedian phenomenon (because that’s the kind of mood I’m in right now), I think comedians, perhaps more than almost anyone else who grew up without money and finds themselves having large amounts of it later on, may develop a fear that fortune as well as fame are desperately transient things. An actor has other actors around them and a story to help to tell, but comedians stand or fall on their own. Many comedians aren’t able to analyse their own success – and why should they be? Some of them I’m sure lived in lifelong state of fear that one day they will walk onto a stage and do the thing they’ve always done only to be greeted with mute uncomprehending hostility. A desire to hoard earnings probably follows quite naturally. And along with a hoarder’s instinct comes a terror that someone will find some legal means of taking away everything that’s already been hoarded.

Given this fear that one day the laughter may just stop – many successful comedians seem to want to develop a sideline. Becoming a children’s author is an obvious road to take, but a bolder solution is to sing.

Ken Dodd sang and sang and sang. If he’d never told a joke in his life, we’d still be mourning the loss of one of the most successful recording artists of the 1960s and one of the most successful singers ever to come out of Liverpool.

His signature song, the one that integrated best into his TV shows, was “Happiness”. The original recording of this song is so buoyant and toe-tapping and affirmative that no sooner do you hear it than you want to hear it again. But in the context of his overall catalogue “Happiness” is quite uncharacteristic. “Happiness” was nowhere near as big a hit as “Tears” – for example.

Ken Dodd had a rich gloopy voice that trembled eloquently when it had to. He would take syrupy ballads that were already quite slow and slow them down even further. And there was not a trace of irony in anything that he sang. He committed himself absolutely to these songs, thereby making himself sound supremely vulnerable. Listen to his version of “She”, for example, and wallow in a decidedly po-faced sense of yearning.

A few people, such as Vic Reeves and Peter Kay, have attempted to restore the tradition of the singing comedian – but nobody committed to song the way Ken Dodd did. Try listening to Ken Dodd’s version of the Beatles’ “And I Love Her” as an example of careful and dramatic phrasing. Of course, the paradox of the madcap comic who sings sad songs is no paradox at all. When a guy who usually wields a feather duster and has mad hair along with more teeth than should fit inside a human head decides to be serious, then something very serious indeed is happening.

Dodd was confessional while singing but evasive in interviews, guarding his rather strange, frugal and reclusive private life while diverting any attempt to “get at him” with priceless humour.

Song is a way to express yourself and protect yourself at one and the same time. It’s a sanctioned outlet for passion. No comic sings like Ken Dodd any more, because comics are supposed to be a bit more arch and knowing (even Peter Kay), but there’s a sense of impoverishment just in knowing that we’ve lost a comic who could belt out ballads that deserved and demanded to be treated with high seriousness. We shall not see his like again.